why Sporting Clays is one of America’s fastest growing sports.

The Vernon National Shooting Preserve is set among meadows, woodlands, and varied terrain to provide an exceptional Sporting Clays experience.

The Vernon National Shooting Preserve is set among meadows, woodlands, and varied terrain to provide an exceptional Sporting Clays experience.

Grab your shotgun and come with me. I just shot my first round of Sporting Clays and I’m hooked. The sport is fast, challenging, and more fun than is normally legal. Now that the weather has warmed up, it is a great way to get outside, and it isn’t too expensive.

It all started with an invitation from a friend to shoot a round of Sporting Clays at the Vernon National Shooting Preserve (VNSP) in Central New York State (www.vernonnational.com). It’s a lush 500 acres of rolling hills, standing timber, open fields and hedgerows. The attached photos don’t do it justice; you really have to see it for yourself to appreciate what a find it is. For those of you who think of New York City when you hear the words New York, be advised that NYC makes up less than 1% of the geographical area of the state. Most of the remaining 54,250 square miles is primarily rural. It’s one of the most beautiful states in the Union made up of woodlands, mountains, streams, lakes, rivers, and meadows. The summer weather is gorgeous, a welcome reprieve from the blistering heat of Dallas. The people are genuinely friendly and guns are welcome!

A typical station, this is the “box” from which you shoot.

A typical station, this is the “box” from which you shoot.

The Vernon National Shooting Preserve Sporting Clays course, set up by Owner and Hunt Manager, Ron Acee, is state-of-the-art. Each of the 14 stations has a remote control for launching the clays. If you get a prepaid card for the clay targets, you can shoot anytime, day or night. They even have a delay that can be set on your card so if you’re shooting alone you have time to push the button and get your gun ready before the birds launch. In addition, there’s a 600 yard rifle range, pistol range, live pheasant hunts (no hunting license required, bring your dog), and a clubhouse. It’s for members only, but the membership fee is only $100. In other words, it’s a steal.

So what should you expect on a Sporting Clays course?

A course is comprised of a series of shooting stations equipped with one or two traps to launch the round clay targets. They’re the same targets that are used in skeet and trap shooting, but the presentation is much different. First of all, you shoot in a uniquely different setting for each station. One may be in a field, while another has you shooting into the woods, over a ravine, or across a pond. Besides making the course more interesting, it also makes it more difficult to judge distance and the speed of the targets or “birds.”

: This trap is mounted on a lift to simulate a bird coming out of a tree. It’s launched behind the shooter and flies directly over your head for a straight-away shot.

: This trap is mounted on a lift to simulate a bird coming out of a tree. It’s launched behind the shooter and flies directly over your head for a straight-away shot.

Secondly, the traps are set up to launch the clays in a number of different trajectories. You’ll see quartering birds that fly away from you at various angles…or towards you. There are crossers that fly straight across from one side to the other. One of the most challenging is battues or chandelles that fly a high arc and turn over in flight. You’ll see these basic presentations at various distances and speeds which makes it necessary to vary your gun speed and leads just as you’d have to do shooting live birds in the field. In fact, sporting clays is the closest to actual field shooting of any shotgun sport, and the naturally varied terrain and flight paths of the birds is great practice to prepare for bird season.

The third element that makes sporting clays so much fun is that you generally shoot birds in pairs. There are what’s called “report pairs” and “true pairs.” When you’re shooting a report pair, the second bird isn’t launched until you make your shot at the first bird. In a true pair, both birds are launched simultaneously. You have to decide which bird to shoot first and you have to be quick to get them both.

In the presentation of true pairs you’ll find one bird stacked on top of another, or one bird in front of another, or birds that diverge. That’s the setup that gave me the most problems.

Rita shows how it’s done by powdering the black rabbit. She got the orange one on her second shot.

Rita shows how it’s done by powdering the black rabbit. She got the orange one on her second shot.

Finally, there are rabbits and squirrels. Oh yeah, not all of the birds are launched into the air. Rabbits are clays that roll past you similar to quartering birds or crossers, but on the ground. And when they hit a mogul or bump, they jump! Squirrels are the same as rabbits except they’re aimed at a tree so they run up the trunk before you break them or gravity wins out and they drop to the ground.

Because sporting clays courses are all different, shooters travel from course-to-course to experience the full diversity the sport has to offer, similar to why dedicated golfers like playing on different courses. But, unlike golf, sporting clays courses regularly change the setup of their stations to provide shooters with a new experience without having to travel. At the Vernon National Shooting Preserve, Ron confided that he tries to keep a balance between being challenging enough for the more experience shooters, while not being so hard that it would discourage new entrants to the sport. In my humble opinion, he does a fabulous job.

These are the two guns we shot. Rita’s A400 and a sweet shooting Beretta 682 Limited she brought for me to use.

These are the two guns we shot. Rita’s A400 and a sweet shooting Beretta 682 Limited she brought for me to use.

Equipment and costs

My host, Rita Scharman, a local businesswoman and regional sporting clays competitor, not only hosted my shoot, but provided some valuable instruction for this newbee, including what it takes to get started in the sport:

  • All you need is a shotgun that can fire two rounds fairly quickly. Doubles and semi-autos in 12 gauge or 20 gauge are the favored guns, but when someone shows up with a pump action, people pay attention. You’ve got to be really good to score well with a pump.
  • If you’re planning on buying a gun to shoot sporting clays, shoot as many different guns as you can first. You’ll know when you have the right gun. Many sporting clays courses, including the Vernon National Shooting Preserve, have guns to rent.
  • Watch the bird, not the sight on your gun.
  • Shooting well requires intense concentration. But if you just want to have fun and fling shot at the birds with your buddies, that’s OK too. It doesn’t have to be a competition.
  • Try the sport. If you like it, get some instruction. Most courses have instructors. They may not work full time at it and you may need to do it by appointment, but it will greatly accelerate your learning curve.

Buy a Beretta A400 on GunsAmerica: /a400

Buy a Beretta 682 on GunsAmerica: /682

Rita prefers Fiocchi target loads although all of the major manufacturers make similar rounds. Look around to see what’s most available in your area and experiment with different brands to learn what works best for you.

Rita prefers Fiocchi target loads although all of the major manufacturers make similar rounds. Look around to see what’s most available in your area and experiment with different brands to learn what works best for you.

How about the costs? The biggest costs are the shotgun, ammunition, and targets. For ammo, Rita likes the Fiocchi Target loads (www.fiocchiusa.com ). They run about $7.50 a box when you buy them in flats which are comprised of ten boxes of twenty-five rounds each. All of the leading ammo manufacturers make skeet and target loads so check out your favorite brand. They are typically loaded to propel a 1 or 1 1/8oz. load of #7 ½ or #8 shot at about 1200 fps with relatively mild recoil.

Rita’s favorite gun is the 12 gauge Beretta A400 XCEL with a 30” barrel (www.beretta.com). She’s a serious competitor and likes the way the Beretta shoots. She can get it on target fast and the recoil doesn’t beat her up. The action in a semi-automatic absorbs some of the recoil and some guns, like the A400 Xcel, also have a recoil absorber in the stock. She brought along a very nice Beretta 682 Limited over-and-under (O/U) for me to shoot. Although this isn’t a rule, what I saw was that men generally shoot O/Us and women generally shoot semi-automatics. No doubt the recoil absorbing properties of gas operated semi-autos is a major consideration for smaller shooters. The advantages of the O/Us are that they’re shorter for a given barrel length and they have two choke tubes to facilitate breaking near and far birds.

This trap at the bottom of a ravine is difficult to see. It throws a bird that’s nearly as difficult to break.

This trap at the bottom of a ravine is difficult to see. It throws a bird that’s nearly as difficult to break.

Although new Beretta A400s list for $1,895, I’ve seen them for around $1,500-1,600. Of course there are much more expensive offerings from manufacturers like Perazzi, Krieghoff, and Blaser. Got a spare 85 grand, knock yourself out. But you can also get a TriStar Viper G2 semi-automatic with a synthetic stock for around $400. I even saw a Ruger Red Label O/U on GunsAmerica for $950, used but 98% condition which is virtually a new gun. In other words, there are a lot of great shotguns available to fit anyone’s pocketbook if you don’t already have one.

For ammunition, look around to see who has the best prices. Or if you’re into reloading, load your own. The more you shoot, the more you’ll save. Targets (clays) run about 30 cents each when you buy in quantity at the range. A typical 100 bird round will use 100 birds plus two to look at before you shoot at each station. You should figure in some breakage too since the clays are fragile and occasionally break coming out of the trap. 150 birds will run around $45-50.

Rita takes a shot at a quartering bird moving away.

Rita takes a shot at a quartering bird moving away.

Technique

I’m hardly qualified to give advice on how to break clays on the range, however Rita provided some advice which helped to improve my shooting. There are basically two things going on in sporting clays shooting. First is the mechanics. Basically a geometry problem, you need to figure out the speed and direction of the target and position your gun so that when you pull the trigger your shot pattern will hit the bird. Fortunately, you don’t have to measure everything and calculate an answer. The human brain is pretty good at estimating these things. It’s even better at determining the exact moment to pull the trigger.

The idea is to set yourself up so that what you’re doing is repeatable, target-to-target. One of the basics is to launch a pair of birds to look at them and see where they go. At some point in the bird’s flight it will appear to slow or it will appear larger and you’ll be able to see some detail on the target like the rings and ridges. Where that happens is where you want to break the target. You can use a tree or stump or cloud in the background to help mark the spot. Face that spot with your body like you were going to take the shot, then move your gun barrel back toward the trap a little bit and you have your hold point where you’ll pick up the bird before you shoot it. From your hold point, call “pull” and whoever is launching birds for you will push the button that sends the target on its way. Pick up the bird and move the gun barrel in front of it at whatever lead you feel you need while focusing on the bird. Don’t look back at your barrel. When it feels right, press the trigger and you should see the bird disintegrate into a puff of color. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Take a look at the Pat Lieske’s promotional video in this article (www.sunriseproductions.us).

Pat does a good job of demonstrating the analysis and movement necessary to break targets consistently. By-the-way, this isn’t a paid ad. I bought a video from Sunrise Productions myself and thought it was good so asked if I could use this preview to give you a little better idea of how shooting Sporting Clays looks. There are a lot of other good videos available online as well. If you can, get a coach to spend a session or two with you to improve your form and correct any problems you may be having. It could make a big difference.

The Clinton Fish & Game Club hosted a charity competition for the benefit of the Make-A-Wish Foundation on their beautiful Sporting Clays course.

The Clinton Fish & Game Club hosted a charity competition for the benefit of the Make-A-Wish Foundation on their beautiful Sporting Clays course.

Social aspects

While I was in NY, Rita took me to a Sporting Clays tournament to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation which grants wishes for children with life threatening medical conditions (www.wish.org). The shoot was held at another fabulous course — the Clinton Fish and Game Club (www.clintonfishandgameclub.com) near Clinton, NY. The members are a warm hearted group of people and the club has granted sick kids a thousand wishes in the 15 years they’ve been doing this. So not only did I have a lot of fun and meet some great people while enjoying shooting, but also did something very worthwhile that will have a positive effect on kids fighting for their lives. Wow!

There were trophies for a number of categories plus one for the overall best score. Rita won the women’s division. But, get this — the overall best score was shot by a 14 year old girl! I’m telling you, this is a sport for the entire family.

Rita won the women’s division. What a fun way to help such a worthwhile cause.

Rita won the women’s division. What a fun way to help such a worthwhile cause.

Sporting Clays is a rewarding sport and a lot of fun. You get to shoot a lot, what you learn is transferrable to hunting, and it’s a perfect excuse to get out into the woods on a nice day. More than 3 million people of all ages shoot Sporting Clays. The sport is dominated by men but more women are joining the ranks every year.

The governing body in the US is the National Sporting Clays Association (www.nssa-nsca.org). Check out their website to learn more.

Resources

Beretta – www.beretta.com

Clinton Fish & Game Club – www.clintonfishandgameclub.com

Fiocchi Ammunition – www.fiocchiusa.com

National Sporting Clays Association – www.nssa-nsca.org

Make-A-Wish Foundation – www.wish.org

Sunrise Productions – www.sunriseproductions.us

Vernon National Shooting Preserve – www.vernonnational.com

Each station on the Vernon National range has state-of-the-art remotes to control the launching of the targets.

Each station on the Vernon National range has state-of-the-art remotes to control the launching of the targets.

Rita likes to shoot. She doesn’t like waiting around for fussy photographers.

Rita likes to shoot. She doesn’t like waiting around for fussy photographers.

Station 11 at Vernon is a “report pairs” station. That means that the second target is not launched until you make your shot at the first target. At a “true pairs” station, both birds are launched simultaneously.

Station 11 at Vernon is a “report pairs” station. That means that the second target is not launched until you make your shot at the first target. At a “true pairs” station, both birds are launched simultaneously.

Yours truly misses a rabbit. These rabbits are true pairs moving right to left. You generally shoot the rear target first and sweep through the front target. They look easy but can be challenging, especially when they hit a bump and jump.

Yours truly misses a rabbit. These rabbits are true pairs moving right to left. You generally shoot the rear target first and sweep through the front target. They look easy but can be challenging, especially when they hit a bump and jump.

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Mark Wakefoose May 18, 2015, 8:37 pm

    That 14 year old girl was my Daughter Brooke!
    She had a great time at Vernon National Shooting Preserve.
    I agree it is fun for the hole family!

  • Rich Guarniero Sr. May 15, 2015, 6:33 pm

    A great place to get your son or daughter exposed to firearms in safe environment with people who are always willing to help.
    My son was thirteen when we started shooting there and there were only three or four traps in an open field behind the club house.
    Over the the last eleven years we have watched Vernon National grow into the first class facility that it is today!
    Thanks to Ron and his family my son and I have many great memories and wish him continued success at Vernon National Shooting Preserve.

  • BRASS May 11, 2015, 10:47 pm

    Check out this Five Star Sporting Clays facility at a shooting park ~ (I’m not affiliated with the Clark County Shooting Park other than being a resident of the valley and a supporter of the County owned range.)
    Sporting Clays enthusiasts need to make it to the Clark County Shooting Park in Las Vegas, NV for a treat. They host a state of the art five star facility that is surprisingly affordable and great fun to shoot. The expansive course is automated, provides a great view of the valley and the strip from a beautiful mountains edge location several hundred feet above the valley floor.
    Gold cart type vehicles specially configured for shotguns and riders are available along with a very nice pro shop, restaurant and other facilities. The pro shop has a great Baretta connection with rentals available.
    For vacationers and RVers, the facility includes many large covered RV parking spots with utilities in a secure area on the facility. Additionally, the Shooting Park includes a rifle, pistol and archery ranges with pro shops as well as instructional opportunities.
    A truly great family experience professionally run, safe and secure. The Park leadership includes a champion shotgun competitor and experienced recreational shooters as employees and volunteers. Truly a great experience when in Vegas and away from the high prices and crowds of the strip.
    http://www.clarkcountynv.gov/shootingcomplex

  • Joe May 11, 2015, 8:37 pm

    Myself and a couple old friends used to enjoy going out to a field and one of us would load up my skeet thrower with two clay pigeons at a time and send them across at low elevation while the other two took turns shooting them.
    But the sport today is like having a drill sgt. Baby sitting a bunch of people taking forever to shoot their turn .
    Eff all that stuff, my browning auto sits in the safe and the thrower sits in the garage because the game isn’t what it used to be…

    • Russ May 12, 2015, 1:38 am

      Go break that shit out Joe.
      You need to practice for Drones.

      • Joe May 13, 2015, 7:33 am

        Now that could be FUN !!

    • Jason May 13, 2015, 11:38 am

      Joe, I understand what you mean. I’ve been to clubs where you wait around to shoot and need a trap boy to monitor you around the course. My father is the owner of Vernon National, and like many courses we have a fully automated system. Stop in the club house to get one of our clays cards and go have fun with your buddies. Become a member, prepay a card, come and go as you please, whether we’re open or not. not sure where you located but look for a club with electronic automated systems and you’ll be hooked again

  • Demi Howard May 11, 2015, 1:42 pm

    As an experienced Sporting Clays shooter, I’ve got to say that your article was one of the best primers on our sport that I’ve seen. Thank you for a well documented, accurate and well written piece. The only thing I could add would be a link to a good resource for finding local clubs near you: http://www.claytargetsonline.com/index.php

    Good Shooting!

    Demi

  • Michael Paciello May 11, 2015, 8:19 am

    Vernon National is a great place to shoot sporting clays, or target shoot . The owners and staff are very helpful and courteous. I shoot clays at least once a week and enjoy my visits. The Tuesday steak dinners are something else.

  • DRAINO May 8, 2015, 8:09 am

    Welcome to the world of creative Skeet shooting….uh, I mean sporting clays. No question it is more fun than should be legal. Would LOVE to see more SC ranges around. Then maybe prices would be more competitive and drop into the realm of what us average income folks can handle on a more frequent basis. Most SC ranges in GA are owned/operated by clubs which are again, out of range for us average Joe’s. But I am glad to see it becoming more popular. Would love to see it make the Olympics.

    • Bill Bain May 11, 2015, 10:16 am

      I believe that the nearest SC course to Atlanta is Etowah Valley. They have a 50 target course which is fun to walk and a 100 target course as well. They have a website, and IIRC they are open to the public on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There’s also a course near Hiawassee as well that is open to the public on certain days of the week but I don’t recall the name of it right now. Of course, there’s always 5 stand at the Tom Lowe facility near the airport as well.

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