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How to start clayshooting

It's important to learn properly right from the start, says Graham Brown of Purbeck Shooting School

shooting clay pigeons

So you’ve decided to venture onto a clay ground with a view to taking up the sport. Here are some tips so you start off on the right foot.

Starting out clayshooting – some tips

Finding a ground to learn

To find a good clayshooting ground near you with good instruction check the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association club finder here. Clayshooting is an extremely accessible sport and many grounds have good facilities for shooters in wheelchairs.

Clay shooting grounds near London 

Clay shooting grounds 


pistol grip shotguns

These shotguns all have a pistol grip which is recommended for beginners. A good instructor will advise you on buying a gun.

What gun is best for a clayshooting novice?

  • When I recommend a shotgun I suggest the heaviest gun the novice can handle while retaining good posture.
  • I go for shorter barrels to begin with because they are more manoeuvrable, and then move to longer barrels at a later stage.
  • I would also recommend a shotgun with a pistol grip which aids control of the gun
  • To being with I would also recommend those starting out clayshooting use an over-and-under.

Why an over-and-under?

Although heavier over-and-unders aid recoil suppression and allow for a greater field of view. I would look initially at the pupil’s eye dominance and establish their ‘handedness’ – right or left handed – which is all part of good gun fit.

Wherever possible I would try and get people to shoot from the shoulder beneath the dominant eye. I am against the closing of an eye or any vision correction ‘aid’ as I believe we live our day-to-day life with both eyes open. A correct fitting gun will overcome any visual problems.

shotgun cartridges in different bores

From left to right: 12,20, 28 bore and .410. Novices should stick to 20s and 12s and avoid the smaller bores initially.

What about cartridges?

Buy the less expensive range you can when starting out clayshooting and with the lowest recoil. As a novice you will not be shooting long targets where more expensive cartridges come into their own. You don’t need to spend a fortune on guns and cartridges at the novice stage.

There is no hurry

  • It is better to have fewer shots concentrating on posture and technique rather than rattling off cartridges without really learning anything. Quality not quantity is the name of the game.
  • I normally start a novice with the gun in the ‘gun up’ position before looking to move to ‘gun down’ as soon as possible. The reason for this is because as a shooter progresses, it is highly likely that they will be required to start from a gun down position in certain disciplines or in the game field.
  • The ability to control the timing of the shot is the most important thing. It is easier to speed up a slow shooter than to slow down a fast one.
one cartridge in shotgun

One cartridge at a time only for beginners.


At this stage I load the gun with only one round. As confidence builds I let the pupil handle it themselves and would look at the safety aspects of shotgun shooting as the lessons progress. The rhyme I teach them is ‘On the wood is good’, i.e. keep your forefinger extended on the woodwork above the trigger until it is time to shoot.

Safe placement of trigger finger before shooting

The correct and safe placement of the trigger finger before shooting

First time lesson

One of the clays I would normally show 
a first-timer is a ‘floppy crow’. It is a 
slow, near vertical incomer which teaches muzzle-to-target awareness because there is plenty of time to become visually aware.

starting out clayshooting

Getting ready to shoot the crow clay with finger in the safe position and the muzzles about halfway up the clay’s trajectory

Floppy crow technique

This target is a slow, near vertical, incomer which teaches the beginner muzzle to target awareness as there’s plenty of time to become visually aware.


1. As the clay is halfway up its trajectory, start moving the gun on it.


2. Keep following the clay as it is nearing the apex of its trajectory

shooting clays

3. The clay is almost stationary at the peak of its trajectory – this is when you should fire

shooting clays

4. From the shooter’s view, the clay should be just about the muzzle

Powdered clay

6. The clay is powdered. One you hit a succession of five or six you can move to gun down

Practising on clays

People often think that practice is going out and shooting 50 or 100 targets around a layout. In fact this does very little. Practice should be disciplined, concentrate on a minimal number of 
targets and experiment with different shooting techniques. This way you can really start to understand what works for you as an individual. A good instructor will tell you what you should be focusing on.

Clayshooting beginner’s checklist

  • Choose your local ground; the cost will reflect the facilities. If they’re offering a glamorous clubhouse and acres upon acres of shooting the price will shoot up.
  • Book a beginner’s lesson! I cannot stress how important this is. Learning the basics of safety and technique are vital to dusting that first target.
  • Prices for a one-on-one lesson for an hour’s shooting will range from £40 to £60 (but many grounds offer discounts for a shared lesson).
  • Don’t worry about kit or clothing – everything you need including the gun and cartridges are part of the lesson cost. A sensible pair of shoes are advisable and keep an eye on the weather to decide on how many layers to wear.
  • After a couple of lessons, head for a few clays without an instructor – to test your new skills and help keep the cost down.
  • If you start missing, don’t worry! Remember what type of clays are getting the better of you, book another lesson and tell the instructor about your new nemesis. Even the pros have an off day.
  • Before long, you’ll be signing up to local competitions or maybe looking to get your first gun, but that’s another story …