In an age where politics and personal opinions seem to reign supreme, the essence of “fun” has been lost in many areas. The sporting world is no exception. Polarized by 2nd Amendment conversations and passionate posturing, the shooting sports have been hit hard by current societal norms. That said, I am an incurable optimist. If you’re ready for good news, read on!
The Fun Factor
Enter: sporting clays. A few decades ago, the idea was conceived to create “hunting-reminiscent” shooting scenarios to both entertain and challenge the intrepid bird hunter. So, shotguns in hand, shooters across America took to the sporting clays course and tried their hand at dynamic target presentations and diverse shooting scenarios set within more natural environments.
Sporting clay shooting is one of the fastest-growing sports in America, with some 13 million estimated participants in the United States, it’s hard to imagine a time when it wasn’t a major part of the shooting landscape. (Source: Brays Island)
Today, sporting clays has morphed into its own realm, with many participants engaging in that shotgun shooting discipline only. This means a couple of things. First, the guns and gear are somewhat different for sporting clays than the more traditional disciplines of trap and skeet, thus opening up entirely new markets for manufacturers. Second, and more important for our conversation, sporting clays is an experience, not just a sport.
Let’s look at that last thought and how it creates a gateway, not just a sub-set.
Golf With a Shotgun
When I explain to non-shooters what the different shotgun games entail, I describe sporting clays as “golf with a shotgun.” It’s a cultural experience focused on multi-location challenges, focus, mental game, physical fluidity and competitive acumen. It also happens to involve guns.
On the competitive side, an “X” means a broken bird. Most sporting clays courses are set in a baseline of 50 targets with the option to shoot 100. The more Xs on the score card, the better!
Here is where sporting clays become the gateway to the sporting world. Some non-shooters/anti-gun enthusiasts shut off when “guns” are mentioned. Sporting clays takes the emphasis off the gun and puts the focus on the skill, capacity, social desires and competitive edge of the individual instead. The upshot to this is that individuals previously completely opposed to “going to the range” now have a much more socially acceptable outlet in which to participate.
The Basics of Sporting Clays
Let’s break down three components.
- Safety is priority number one. This is an unwavering concept found across the shooting disciplines, including sporting clays.
- Etiquette: In addition to the golden tenets of gun safety, there are also range etiquette mores sporting clays shooters are expected to follow. This can include (but is not limited to) things like, the number of show birds a squad may receive, guns remain open and empty unless in the stand and ready to shoot, no back up shooting, conversation volume while a shooter is in the stand, etc… Generally, there is not a dress code specific to the sport, but there may be one for the actual course/venue.
- Stands: On the subject of stands, there can be a lot of latitude here. Some sporting clays courses have elaborate structures that are covered, boast comfortable seating and feel like spacious pavilions from which you happen to shoot. Other courses have a stake or hula hoop in/on the ground delineating the general area for the shooter to stand.
- Recoil: Recoil can limit endurance and accuracy over the course of an afternoon round. Recoil pads like FalconStrike can make a round of sporting clays more enjoyable.
To traverse from stand to stand, the options depend upon the place. Some courses have concrete cart paths and golf carts putt from one stand to the next. Others have more of a walking focused course, with the overall distance and terrain geared toward those looking for more physical engagement.
Whether walking a narrow, wooded trail to a primitive station or cruising a double-wide cart path to a luxurious station in a custom cart, there is an undeniable symmetry when the gun closes and “Pull” rings out. Sporting clays is the ideal recreational access point for people of diverse ages, personalities and priorities to engage in the shooting sports.
For those of us already living and loving life at the range, it is our calling to share this experience as positively and prolifically as we can. Sporting clays is the gateway to the shooting world. It helps create community amongst strangers and social acceptance in previously unacceptable (to some) activities.
When that new shooter steps up to the stand, calls “pull” and breaks that first target, the only thing that matters is the universal “I got it” smile when they step off the stand. That’s what sporting clays is about – fun, community, camaraderie and breaking barriers like they’re clay targets. Shooter ready?
By Andrea Bogard
Andrea has been an NSCA Level 1 instructor since 2001, specializing in introducing people of all ages to the shotgun sports. She is an avid hunter and has chased both fur and feathers in locales around the world with rifle, shotgun and bow. She resides in Northern Michigan with her two sons. Learn more at andreabogard.com