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Shooting in the Off Season

Sharpening Skills for Upland Success

Summer shooting
Summer Shooting Practice

Upland bird hunting is arguably one of the most thrilling types of hunting. Virtually invisible game birds hiding in their cover until they are abruptly flushed by a well-trained bird dog gives the anticipating hunter a jolt of adrenaline, regardless if he or she is a novice or expert wingshooter. Unfortunately, accurate shooting is not like riding a bike- practice is needed to maintain and improve precision. Hunters must keep their shooting skills honed in during the off season if they expect to have successful upland hunts this fall and winter.

If we expect to keep our bird dogs sharp in between seasons, as hunting partners, we should keep ourselves sharp as well. Shooting a gun is a skill that can be improved with practice, and clay pigeon shooting is the best way to get this practice for upland hunters. There are three main types of clay pigeon shooting: trap shooting, skeet shooting, and sporting clays. These kinds of practice shooting can be found at shooting and sporting facilities around the country.

Trap shooting is the most commonly practiced form of clay pigeon shooting in sporting and shooting clubs today. Dating back to the 18th century, this is the original way to practice wing shooting. In trap shooting, the clay pigeons are launched at a consistent angle from a single machine or “trap house” located in front of the line of shooters, lowered into the ground. There are five shooting stations, and the trap shooters are required to take five shots at each station before moving right to the next station.

summer shooting
Summer Shooting Practice

Improvement of fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, strengthening of the shoulders, arms, and core muscles, and improved balance and coordination are just a few of the benefits of trap shooting this summer. Plus, trap shooting is a fun way to practice as well as socialize with fellow hunters in friendly competition. Considered beginner-friendly, it is a great way to develop and keep shooting skills on point.

Skeet shooting was developed in the 1920’s by a grouse hunter. Differing from trap shooting in the way two clay pigeons are launched, each from a separate house, at a variety of angles and heights, skeet shooting is designed to mimic more precisely the shots upland bird hunters encounter on the hunt. A wider variety of possible hunting scenarios is attainable when shooting skeet rather than trap.

One benefit of skeet shooting is that it can be done relatively inexpensively at home, provided the space, safety, and local regulations allow. There are multiple skeet throwers in a wide price range available on the market, from manually-operated clay throwers, to automatic throwers, to handheld manual throwers. Other benefits include the sharpening of the shooter’s reflexes and increased ability to adapt shots to varying angles and speed.

Shooting sporting clays is the closest thing to an actual hunt out of all the ways to practice with clay pigeons. Differing from skeet and trap where the clays are thrown from somewhat standardized heights, distances, and angles, targets may be thrown from any, yes any, height, distance, speed, or angle on a sporting clay course. Using multiple throwers, the course designers are able to play with scenarios that simulate the actual flushing of upland birds. Different sizes of targets are thrown as well, giving the shooter the most accurate experience of what he or she may encounter on the hunt.

Besides the ability to most accurately simulate an upland bird hunt, perhaps one of the biggest benefits sporting clays offers is not only physical, but the psychological aspect of upland hunting it procures as well. There is nothing like being on a quail hunt waiting for the flush, but a sporting clay course comes awfully close. Chuck Duggan, General Partner and Co-Owner of Hollywood Farms, a sporting estate in Jeffersonville, Georgia, explains on a sporting clay course like Hollywood Farms, the course guide can even call “rooster” or “hen,” and the shooter better be ready to hold for a hen. This development of mental discipline required in upland bird hunting is what sets shooting sporting clays apart from trap or skeet.

summer shooting
Summer Shooting will help your skills

According to Chuck, “No matter what skill level you are, beginner to advanced, summer clay shooting will help your shooting skills.” First and foremost, he cautions all hunters and shooters to remember to be safe when handling guns. “Shotguns are wonderful tools and beautiful to look at, but in the end, they are deadly weapons,” he states.

This summer, Chuck recommends taking your clean, unloaded gun and mounting it to shooting position over and over. “Do this 25-30 times consecutively, and it starts getting heavy after about the twentieth time,” Chuck says. This builds muscle memory and works on conditioning the muscles involved in shooting as well. Strengthening muscles you might not expect is another benefit of keeping your skills sharp in the off season.

Above: Fausti Wingshooting at Hollywood Farms

Other off season activities hunters can focus on this summer include thoroughly cleaning their shotguns and patterning the guns too. It is important to remember not to use target load shells only this summer. Practice some shooting of clay pigeons with the load you plan on using during the actual hunt. Another great way to prepare for fall and winter upland hunts is to go on an early season dove hunt. These small, migratory birds are similar in size to clay pigeons and provide an exciting and challenging way to test your efficiency of wingshooting for other upcoming upland bird hunts this fall and winter.

Regardless of which type of shooting appeals to you, practicing with clay pigeons will help you develop and enhance the skill of leading a target on the move, which is a necessity in upland bird hunting. Shooting clays from multiple angles diversifies target movement and builds gun-eye coordination. The confidence built through shooting practice in the off season creates a more instinctive and intuitive upland hunter this fall and winter.


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