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Clay Target Games Are a Good Way to Sharpen Bird Hunting Skills

December 15, 2005

Across the U.S., the shotgun shooting sports, including skeet, trap, sporting clays and five stand are being enjoyed by more men, women and youth than ever before.

According the National Shooting Sports Foundation, there are nearly 20 million active target shooters in the U.S., and national participation in target shooting has increased by 48% over the past five years.

Most target shooters agree these clay bird games are a good way to sharpen bird hunting skills. Skeet, they say, provides great angles for all bird shooters; trap improves shooting accuracy, especially for those hunting ground-flushing birds and sporting clays and five stand are considered to be the closest things to actual field shooting.

But according to Jerry Hall, a member of the Natural Resources Commission whose lifelong passion and favorite game is hunting pheasant, shattering clay targets also is a great way to exercise the body, mind and the soul when hunting season is over.

"Target shooting is fun," Hall said. "It's challenging and it's a year-round activity the family can enjoy together."

Hall believes trapshooting is the best way to introduce beginners to the shooting sports.

color trapA round of trap consists of 25 shots, five each from five stations located 16 yards behind the trap house. The gun, usually a 12-gauge, is shouldered, and the target is released following the gunner's familiar command, "pull." In order to simulate the unpredictable flight patterns of birds taking wing, the targets are sprung from the trap at various angles and in various directions. The targets rise to minimum height of about 10 feet and, unless hit, travel about 150 feet from the trap.

"The challenge is to get them on the incline before they start to drop," Hall said. "With a sharp eye and learning the proper swing, many beginners will find it's easier to hit the angles than the straightaways."

Although trapshooting has its roots in England and dates back to the late 1700s, at a time when live birds were released from a box, the game of skeet began in Massachusetts in 1920, 40 years after the invention of the clay target.

The word "skeet" is derived from the Scandinavian word, "shoot."

color skeetOn a skeet range, the targets emerge from a high house (10 feet above ground) on the left and from a low house (three feet above ground) on the right. The two houses face each other and are about 40 yards apart. There are eight stations, and a round of skeet consists of 25 shots, beginning with a high-house clay target at station one. The targets always follow the same sequence and shotguns used in skeet must be capable of firing two shots, because four sets of doubles are included in the round.

In contrast to trap, skeet is a short-range game with most targets broken within 25 yards or less.

"I prefer skeet to trap because it's more challenging," Hall said. "There's a much shorter shooting distance, so everything's much quicker. You break low 8, for instance, at only four yards."

color claysThe fastest-growing shooting sport in the nation is sporting clays, a game designed to simulate actual hunting conditions. Courses are laid out in natural surroundings and typically include 12 to 15 shooting stations, with shooters moving from one station to the next to complete the course. Each station presents shooters with a different type of shot. Targets may be thrown as singles, simultaneous pairs, following pairs (one target following another), or report pairs (the second target is launched at the sound of the gun being fired at the first target).

To further challenge shooters, the size of the target varies from the standard trap/skeet clay target to the smaller "midi" and "mini" targets, or the flat, disc-shaped "battue" target, which imitates the flight of the wood duck. There even are special "rabbit" targets that zip across the ground at amazing speeds.

"It takes about an hour-and-a-half to complete a sporting clays course that typically includes 50 targets," Hall said. "All courses are designed differently, and all the stations, targets and combinations can be changed daily."

color standA variation to sporting clays is the game of five stand, which like trap, allows each shooter to take five shots from each of five stations, but instead of using just one trap in front of the shooter, there usually are eight traps located around the field that throw a wide variety of targets. No two five stand fields are exactly alike. Shooters may have the choice of two or more levels of challenge and there usually is a menu card that advises the shooter of the sequence of the targets.

"Five stand is a great way to get the same kind of shooting experience that you will find on a sporting clays course, but the stations are close together," Hall said.

Michigan has more than 140 shooting ranges across the state; more than 80 are open to the public. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources encourages you to contact a shooting range in your area to learn how you can join the growing number of Michigan shooting enthusiasts. You also can find a list of shooting ranges on the DNR Web site at www.michigan.gov/shootingranges.

Illustrations provided courtesy of Clay Shooting Magazine
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