Sporting clays field

A diagram of a shooting sports complex featuring skeet fields, trap fields and a 19-station sporting clays range.

In my Feb. 10 column about shooting sports, I went over the basics of trap and skeet shooting. Today, let’s get into sporting clays. This activity has become one of the most popular clay-target events in the country.

I had no idea how popular it was until I made a recent phone call to the National Skeet Shooting Association/National Sporting Clays Association in San Antonio, Texas. I had just read my monthly NSSA/NSCA magazine and noticed there were almost 700 registered sporting clay shoots scheduled for 2017 across the United States. A gentleman I spoke to on the phone said there were right at 25 million targets thrown last year in registered shoots.

That’s right ... 25 million! With that kind of number, I thought I needed to look into this a little deeper.

Sporting clays is the closest one can get to actual field shooting of game birds. The site for this shooting can be up to 30 or 40 acres, depending on how many traps and shooting stands are used. Generally, there are between 5 and 20. Targets are thrown in a variety of angles, speed and distance, and squads are usually made up of two to six people. The game can test the best of hunters because of all these crazy angles and speeds used. There is even a target thrown across the ground called the “runnin’ rabbit.”

I have watched a number of shoots at the Kern County Gun Club, and it seems that scores in the low-to-mid 80s when shooting a hundred targets are near the top of the field. A score in the low 90s will usually win an event.

Any type or gauge of shotgun can be used, but the most popular are the 12-gauge and 20-gauge. If I had only one choke to use on a gun, it would probably be a modified. Improved cylinder could be used, which would be better for close shots of less than 30 yards, but you do not have much of a pattern past that distance. I would guess one could change chokes if targets at one of the stations were fairly equal in distance.

The key to a good score in this sport is keeping your head down on the gun stock, especially when taking two shots. And make sure your gun fits you in length of trigger pull and drop at the comb. Someone between 5-foot-6 and 6 feet tall should have a trigger pull between 14 and 14-1/4 inches. When your cheek is firmly down on the stock, you should be able to look right down the rib with the middle and front beads on each other. If there is space between them, your stock is too high. And if you cannot even see the rib, then your stock is to low. These items need to be taken care of if you want the best chance of shooting good scores.

Last, don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are a new shooter. Like I have been saying for more than 50 years, shooters are the some of the nicest people in the world, and we are all trying to do the same thing ... Break ‘em all!

In my last column about trap shooting, I mentioned that back in the 1800s, passenger pigeons were used by shooters for targets. This was before clay targets were invented. That made me think about one of the most fascinating books I have ever read, “The Silent Sky,” authored by Allan W. Eckert. The following is an excerpt from the prologue of that book:

“It was around noontime on an autumn day in 1813 when the great artist and naturalist John James Audubon set out for Louisville, Kentucky from his home in Indiana. He had just began traveling when he heard a roar from the north and turned to see a tremendous flock of passenger pigeons coming his way. They stretched out of sight to the east and west and he could see no end to the flock to the north.

“They flew so close together that they blotted out the sun as if by an eclipse. Audubon followed the Ohio River road to Louisville, arriving there at sunset, and all this time the birds had continued flying past in undiminished numbers. The river banks were crowded with men and boys who were shooting the pigeons as they passed quite low. Curious as to how many birds might be in this flock, Audubon carefully calculated the number in a segment only one mile wide and three miles long traveling at the rate of 60 miles per hour. He arrived at the conclusion that from the time he had left his home until he arrived in Louisville, a total of no less than 1,115,136,000 birds had crossed the Ohio River, and such a flock would require 8,712,000 bushels of food per day ... and this was only a small part of the flock which took three full days to pass, and was only one of dozens of migrating flocks across the eastern United States.

“That a creature with such a tremendous population could have been made extinct at all is difficult to believe, and yet, almost exactly 100 years after this day, the passenger pigeon had ceased to exist.”

I will cover a little more of this story in a later column.

Ken Barnes is an experienced outdoorsman and Kern County native. Email him with comments or column ideas at

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.