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Nov 2011 cover image

Skill Builder: From Every Angle

Sporting clays can help you hone your skills before hunting.

By Terry Erwin

Sporting clays is one of the fastest-growing shooting sports in Texas. Often described as golf with a shotgun, the sport challenges the shooter with a variety of experiences and incorporates the natural terrain to simulate shooting live game. Unlike trap and skeet, which presents the target in the same fashion each time, sporting clays stations vary in elevation, angles, speed, distances and target sizes to represent ducks, geese, quail, dove, pheasants and, sometimes, rabbits.

Sporting clays is an excellent way to hone shooting skills before hunting season and, in fact, was designed for this purpose in early 20th century England. The hard work and dedication of two men — the late Olympic shooter Jack Johnson and Bob Brister, known as the “father of sporting clays” — brought sporting clays to the forefront in the early 1980s. The first national competition was held in Houston in 1985. Today several ranges in Texas host major competitions under the guidance of the National Sporting Clays Association.

The sport doesn’t require special shotguns, just a 12-gauge or even a smaller shotgun that can shoot two cartridges. According to the National Sporting Clays Association, the most popular shotgun types are over and under, semi-automatic and pump action using traditional cartridge shot sizes of 9, 8 or 7.5.

As with any shooting sport, proper ear and eye protection are mandatory, and firearms safety procedures must be followed at all times while on a course.

The sporting clays course typically has 10 or more stations set up to simulate different hunting situations, offering a chance to practice a variety of shooting skills. The speed, angle, height and even the type of clay target will vary from station to station. Targets may be thrown from the ground or a tower, and come rolling, arching or flying toward or away from the shooter. Just as with real hunting, the shooter must be able to respond quickly, safely and accurately.

Each station typically has five to 10 targets per person, thrown as singles or pairs. A pair of targets may be thrown as a true pair (thrown at the same time), as a following pair (thrown sequentially) or on report (the second clay launched on the report of the shooter’s gun).

An additional form of sporting clays was developed in 1982 during a hunter education training session in Alberta, Canada, and became known as 5-Stand. In 5-Stand, shooters rotate through five stations (or cages) lined up in a row while attempting to shoot targets from a variety of angles.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department mobile shooting range manager Charlie Wilson travels throughout the state with a mobile 5-Stand range and developed the very popular Whiz-Bang events for the Texas 4-H Shooting Sports Program in the early 1990s. In addition, Wilson designed the Ag 381 Trap Program for students taking the wildlife, fisheries and ecology management elective. (Wilson was recently inducted into both the Texas and National Sporting Clays Hall of Fame.)

The popularity of high school shooting sports has taken off like a rocket in Texas. Just four years old, the program has grown from just a few schools and 63 shooters in 2008 to 43 schools, 100 teams and more than 475 shooters in 2011.

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