Get­ting the right bal­ance

Mal­colm Plant dis­cusses the best way to ar­range a sport­ing lay­out for all lev­els.


“There is no point in ask­ing some­one to shoot some­thing they can­not see”

We have a con­tin­ual de­bate in our club about how easy or dif­fi­cult the 40 tar­get lay­out should be for our sum­mer­time Thurs­day evening shoots.

Each week we have ro­tat­ing teams of mem­bers set­ting up the speeds and an­gles on our auto-traps un­der the watch­ful eye of club Safety Of­fi­cers.

Maybe it’s be­cause I have helped set up count­less shoots over the years, but I in­stinc­tively know when go­ing from stand to stand whether it’s a young blood or an old wrinkly who has been do­ing a bit of plan­ning and plot­ting to catch us out.

We have the full spec­trum of mem­bers, all ages and both sexes, from novices to very com­pe­tent shots, and the se­cret is to en­able ev­ery­one to go home af­ter shoot­ing with­out feel­ing de­mo­ti­vated and yet pro­vide chal­lenges for the good shots. I’m sure it’s the same at your own club. So how do you go about get­ting the right bal­ance?

The ques­tion I ask my­self when it’s my turn to put out the traps is: “What scores do you want to see be­ing posted? The an­swer to this is to look at the CPSA av­er­ages for English Sport­ing and ap­ply them to your mem­bers’ needs and abil­i­ties. For our lo­cal DIY and small club clay shoots, I try to set a course where the win­ner hits 85 to 90 per cent of tar­gets or more, a com­pe­tent shot should hit about 75 to 80 per cent and most mem­bers get half the tar­gets or more.

With com­pe­tent coach­ing ad­vice,

a rel­a­tive novice ought to be able to move quite quickly to hit­ting about half the tar­gets.

What to avoid

None of the clays and their tra­jec­to­ries should be a test of eye­sight for club mem­bers. There is no point in ask­ing some­one to shoot some­thing they can­not see, or they only see the odd one, rather vaguely.

We shoot in a quarry with trees and un­der­growth scat­tered about so a black clay com­ing out of dark scrub on a grey evening is im­pos­si­ble – es­pe­cially if it is the sec­ond tar­get of an “on-re­port” pair where you have just a mi­crosec­ond to pick up the sec­ond tar­get and its flight­line.

Re­plac­ing it with a “day glow” orange or yel­low clay makes a world of dif­fer­ence. When the set­ting-up team have po­si­tioned a trap and es­tab­lished a clay flight­line, it is im­por­tant they check what the tar­get looks like from where peo­ple are ac­tu­ally go­ing shoot it!

Equally the tar­get should not be a test of the car­tridge pat­tern in a club shoot. A 50 yard long-crosser puts a lightly choked gun fir­ing light loads to a real test – just the com­bi­na­tion many ladies and young­sters may be us­ing on their visit.

We ac­tu­ally have a me­mo­rial tro­phy called the “Long Crosser” in mem­ory of one of our mem­bers for whom this tar­get was a ma­jor strength, shot in de­light­ful slow mo­tion! But even this com­pe­ti­tion only has a cou­ple of tar­gets like that to re­mind us of him, the rest of the clays are the usual mix.

Sep­a­rat­ing sheep from the goats

Very of­ten you will see “speed and an­gles” re­ferred to in ar­ti­cles about clay shoot­ing com­pe­ti­tions and these are two of the se­crets to the built-in dif­fi­culty fac­tor of any shoot.

If you deny a shooter time on a tar­get, he or she is re­ally go­ing to need a reper­toire of dif­fer­ent shoot­ing tech­niques to con­sis­tently hit speedy clays in the many guises they can be pre­sented in.

It may, for in­stance, be a tar­get shown in a gap be­tween trees, a rab­bit dis­ap­pear­ing be­hind straw bales or a per­fectly

vis­i­ble black clay dis­ap­pear­ing into dark wood­land.

An­gles are par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing.

Most shoot­ers can quickly learn con­sis­tent gun move­ment in two di­men­sions such as the hor­i­zon­tally cross­ing tar­get, the “true driven” clay straight over their head or the “trap” type tar­get go­ing more or less straight away from them. This is not to say that these tar­gets are easy, but the gun move­ment is rel­a­tively sim­ple.

But turn the tar­get into a three di­men­sional move­ment and the com­plex­ity in­creases sig­nif­i­cantly.

A good ex­am­ple is a “quar­ter­ing” clay that starts high up above and be­hind, wide of your left shoul­der with a flight­line out in front to your right. Hit­ting this re­quires a tricky gun move­ment with the sig­nif­i­cant dan­ger that your head will come off the stock as you swing the mounted gun.

If you fol­low that clay with a “dolly drop” of a sec­ond bird sit­ting up in the sky out in front, then you’ve given all your mem­bers some­thing to hit. But I bet the com­pe­tent shots will oc­ca­sion­ally miss the first clay and then “in­ex­pli­ca­bly” miss the sec­ond. You’ve got into their brain!

Vari­able back­grounds are use­ful com­modi­ties to play with if you’re seek­ing to add a bit of com­plex­ity into the game. If you want to find out if the shooter is re­ally fo­cused on a tar­get throw one that has a back­drop of sky, trees and grass hill­side some­where on its tra­jec­tory. The clay has got to be vis­i­ble, of course, but the com­bi­na­tion tests even the best. We use the quarry walls at our club to great ef­fect for back­ground “tests” of this kind – put a time win­dow, three di­men­sion move­ment and back­ground to­gether and you are cook­ing on gas!

Try this…

Throw a fast cross­ing orange rab­bit, left to right across a quarry floor, on re­port with a di­ag­o­nal orange clay track­ing high left to low right across the shrub-cov­ered quarry face. It’s tricky, par­tic­u­larly for right handed guns, be­cause they’re be­ing pre­sented with two left to right “back­hand shots” in quick suc­ces­sion.

Af­ter a stand of that kind you will def­i­nitely need to fit in some “dolly drop­pers” so that the in­ter­me­di­ate shots don’t go home feel­ing sui­ci­dal!

Gun tran­si­tion be­tween shots

For each clay you en­counter there is an op­ti­mum spot along the flight­line where you can see it, the gun hold point and your cho­sen break area.

You may also have your pre­ferred shoot­ing tech­nique, “swing through”, CPSA method “pull away” or “main­tained lead”. With these var­i­ous tech­niques the gun starts (in re­spec­tive or­der) be­hind the clay, point­ing at the clay or al­ways in front of the clay.

The Machi­avel­lian course set­ter can – and will – up­set your cho­sen tech­nique so you need to learn all tech­niques if you har­bour dreams of be­com­ing a suc­cess­ful com­pet­i­tive Sport­ing clay shot, or cham­pion at your own lo­cal gun club.

For ex­am­ple, on a re­port pair the only place you can shoot the first clay leaves your gun a long way from where you would nor­mally choose to start from for the sec­ond clay.

In fact, a badly set up stand might mean a sec­ond shot is prac­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble and the ques­tion be­ing asked be­comes silly.

But a chal­leng­ing-de­signed pair might en­able you to shoot your cho­sen CPSA method on the first tar­get, but it en­sures that you have to chase af­ter the sec­ond clay us­ing swing through. All sorts of com­bi­na­tions are pos­si­ble.

The ca­pa­ble Sport­ing shooter will view the tar­gets and read what ques­tions are be­ing asked. And it’s a real bonus if you know what tech­nique(s) you use at the mo­ment. A coach can help.

The first clay of a “re­port pair” could be rel­a­tively easy for ev­ery­one to en­joy, then you can rack up the pres­sure on the sec­ond.

There is no end to the fun when it be­comes your turn to set up the tar­gets down at your club!

Per­cent­ages Mal­colm sets his course where the win­ner hits be­tween 85 and 90

per cent of tar­gets

Coloured clay

Us­ing coloured clays can help when shoot­ing against a tree back­drop

Back­hand shots

A fast cross­ing rab­bit with an on-re­port di­ag­o­nal left to low right is a tricky tar­get


A mis­chevi­ous course set­ter can up­set your pre­ferred

shoot­ing tech­nique

Quick fire

A speedy tar­get such as a rab­bit can deny your shooter time

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