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Skeet shooting

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Photo by Mark Stephenson

Skeet shooting in a cow pasture is alternative to commercial ranges

By Ben Norman

You don’t have to take the family to a commercial shooting range to enjoy an afternoon of fun breaking clay targets.

“Pull!” shouts Ellen Norman as her 13-year-old nephew, Charlie Elliott, releases a clay “bird” from the trap.

Norman makes a direct hit with a load of Number 8 shot from her 20 gauge and the “bird” disappears in a cloud of black smoke. She has just “smoked” her first clay target in an afternoon of informal clay target shooting with family and friends. From the look of satisfaction on her face, she’s just discovered what might be her newest favorite sport.

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Ellen Norman takes aim as Charlie Elliott releases a clay target. Photo by Ben Norman

Shooting skeet, sporting clays or trap is excellent practice for the coming dove, duck and quail season. It is also great recreation for anyone with no interest in hunting but who enjoys the shooting sports.

Sporting clays has become very popular in the United States in the last 30 years, attracting thousands to its ranks annually. Sporting clay shooting simulates actual hunting conditions more than trap or skeet shooting. There is even a large “rabbit” clay target that skips along the ground like a cottontail rabbit. Shooting a sporting clays course is a lot of fun, but shooting at a commercial range can become expensive if one desires to shoot frequently or has to pick up the tab for the whole family.

There is an alternative to shooting at a commercial range. Most of us have access to a suitable area for shooting clay targets. A pasture, open field or sparsely wooded areas with a safe shot fall zone is all you need for an afternoon of shooting clay targets. The only cost involved for informal clay target shooting is the cost of the trap and clay targets, assuming you already have a shotgun and shells.

Target throwers or traps will run from $5 to $25 for a hand thrower to several thousand dollars for a professional model. Manual cocking traps start at around $30. The type of trap to buy depends on what you want to accomplish. If you simply want to brush up on your wing shooting skill or introduce the family or friends to the sport, a hand trap or inexpensive spring trap will probably meet your requirements.

One of the best traps I have used is the Trius One Step trap. This trap is loaded by hand but cocked and released all in one downward motion of your foot. It is very similar to depressing the clutch on a straight shift vehicle. With this trap you use the weight of your body to depress the spring rather than having to use upper body strength to cock it. Another advantage of the Trius One Step is that the shooter can operate it without assistance, making a solo practice session possible.

If you really get the clay target shooting bug, you may want to invest in in a commercial grade trap similar to the ones used at official courses. These traps are made for continuous use and are built to take it. They also provide a wider range of angle and speed adjustment than the less expensive spring traps.

Ben Norman enjoys clay target shooting in his field with family. Photo by Mark Stephenson
Ben Norman enjoys clay target shooting in his field with family. Photo by Mark Stephenson

Clay targets can be purchased at sporting goods stores and large discount stores. They are often used as leader items just prior to dove season every year and this is a good time to stock up on them. Another excellent time to find a discounted price on clay targets is after the hunting season is over.

Most any open choked shotgun can be used for informal clay target shooting. While semi-autos and over/under shotguns are the most popular on sporting clay courses, a pump, side by side or single barrel can be used. Young shooters or anyone of small stature will be less intimidated with recoil from the smaller gauges. The 20 gauge is preferred by many shooters because it offers a good shot pattern and low recoil. The 28 gauge and 12 gauge with light loads are also popular.

Shot shells are a matter of personal choice. Many shooters are happy with the bargain shells offered at the big discount stores while others prefer shells designed for sporting clays. The Winchester AA load is a longtime favorite of many experienced shooters. My favorite load for introducing a beginner to clay target shooting is the Winchester AA Low Recoil/Low Noise load. According to Winchester’s Laci Warden, their engineers used clean burning powder, a hinged wad and reduced load weight to offer a soft recoiling load while still maintaining excellent on-target performance.

As with any shooting sport, safety and ear protection should be a primary concern. Pick up a hand or spring trap, a box of clay targets and take the spouse, kids and a few friends to the back 40 to burst a few clays. It’s good family fun.

Ben Norman writes from Highland Home.