- It is more difficult than trap or skeet.
- It involves shooting clay targets while positioned at multiple locations (called stations).
- Unlike trap and skeet, which are games of repeatable target presentations, sporting clays targets are thrown in a great variety of trajectories, angles, speeds, elevations and distances.
The original idea behind sporting clays was to create an experience that more closely reflects actual hunting conditions. Whereas top-tier trap and skeet professionals may have hit ratings nearing 100%, the best sporting clay shooters hit their targets only about 93% to 95% of the time.
Although the sport is challenging, it is quite popular with novice shooters and ordinary hunters. While many shooters opt for expensive double-barreled shotguns, the game is equally enjoyable with an inexpensive pump-action shotgun or autoloading (semiautomatic) shotgun.
Course layout and play
A typical course will consist of 10–18 stations, each station having a pair of clay-throwing machines, called traps (see photo). Varying numbers of clay pairs are shot at each station, with the total shots for an outing adding up to 50 or 100 (two or four boxes of shells, respectively). Advanced shooters have the clays thrown as simultaneous pairs (called true pairs in most of the US, and sim pairs in the UK), while novice or intermediate shooters can opt for the clays to be thrown on report (the second clay launched on the report of the shooter’s gun, hence the name report pair). Targets are thrown at different angles and speeds; sometimes across the shooter’s view (crossers), towards the shooter (in-comers), away from the shooter (out-goers), or straight up in the air (often called “teals”). The shots are intended to simulate hunting for quail, grouse, pheasant, pigeon, or other game. Many courses have traps which throw targets from tall towers simulating high-flying ducks or geese. Some courses have targets that roll and bounce along the ground to simulate rabbits. There are also targets, called ‘battues’, that loop in the air — this does not simulate any particular animal, but it is usually a challenging target.
The speed at which a trap throws a clay can also be controlled by the course setter, and many of the traps are made to be relocatable on the course. Therefore, the configuration of a sporting clays course (trap location, clay trajectory, and speed of the clay) can easily be changed, allowing various levels of difficulty and a multitude of layouts.