by Naomi K. Shapiro
In a previous article, we mentioned in passing how sport shooting can improve your hunting abilities. Sporting clays is one way to get some needed improvement when it comes to upland bird and waterfowl hunting.
Sporting clays is a form of clay pigeon shooting. A sporting clay is a circular disk made out of clay that is the size of a large saucer, and painted. These sporting clays are launched or thrown out in front of shooters as targets. Sporting clay shooting is an enormously popular and fun activity which also can improve a hunter's accuracy. As one wag put it, "sporting clay shooting is basically golf with a shotgun."
Sporting clay shooting is usually done at specialized ranges or shooting clubs. There are courses set up with any number of shooting stations. Shooters move from station to station. The person (usually in some type of protected bunker) who operates the launcher releases these sporting clays at different angles/directions, trajectories, and speeds -- and more often than not, with multi-disc releases. These variable releases closely mimic almost every type of hunting situation that one will encounter in the field. You don't know what you'll come up with when you're in the woods, and you don't want to know which way the sporting clays will be released.
As opposed to trap or skeet, where some marksmen/women can score at a 100% success rate, it isn't often that anyone will do perfectly when shooting sporting clays. Things are just too unpredictable when it comes to sporting clays, and Phil says the best he's seen was someone hitting 90 per cent of the targets.
As for what type of shotgun to use: Most anything will work, including "gauge." Phil Schweik says the most popular shotgun used is a 12-gauge. And when it comes to what shells to use, don't use expensive "regular" shells. There are any number of specific sporting shells that are considerably less expensive than the general hunting shells, so buy those; or if you are a true enthusiast who shoots a lot, you may well want to do your own reloading.
As we said in a previous article, you and your friends can do sporting clays "on the cheap," by going to some legally useable, out-of-the-way, big, open field, and, with your own hands or using a small mechanical launcher, toss used pop cans half filled with water or sand. Phil Schweik only recommends this type of activity for experienced enthusiasts who have extremely strict safety standards as far as where to set up, where people locate/stand/shoot/release, and so forth.
Finally, one of the great fun things to do is pack a picnic lunch and go to one of the many sporting clay competitions that abound everywhere. You'll meet some extremely nice, warm people, and see some of the greatest shooting you'll ever witness. And of course, if you do participate, whether you win or not, your hunting skills will surely get better—and that means more pheasants, grouse, geese and ducks to enjoy at dinner with your family and friends.