So often sporting clays, the firearms competition that combines skeet shooting with a golf-course-like format of challenges, is thought of as a substitute. For hunters, it's practice for game hunting. For animal lovers, it's a bloodless alternative to the real thing. But judging by the way it's gathered enthusiasts recently, this stylish British import now holds its own without need of reference to anything else.
Shooters stalk their clay prey while walking a rural course, stopping at a series of 12 to 20 stations that each pose unique targeting situations meant to replicate different prey: mainly birds flying in different directions, but some clays skitter along the ground like rabbits. As in golf, course designers gain notoriety for the sadistic trials that they confront contestants with—and then change every day.
The simulation of hunting may have spawned sporting clays, but even some who aren't squeamish about blood feel it sometimes betters the real thing. After all, the season lasts all year and the amount of game is endless. It's an effective way of pitting shooter against shooter without the repetition of skeet and trap shooting. And judging from the amenities at the tonier shooting clubs, some enthusiasts just enjoy the chance to dress for the occasion—tweed jackets, plus fours and Wellington boots—and dine on lavish buffets between clay slaughters.
You can outfit yourself with a shotgun and eye and ear protection—for less than a set of golf clubs, and course dues typically run about the same as moderate greens fees. Of course, you can also blithefully shoot the hell out of your budget with fine firearms, such as the Holland & Holland Royal over-and-under shotgun pictured ($450,000, www.hollandandholland.com) with its engraving and other bespoke options, or other equally elegant guns from Beretta (www.beretta.com). Both firms also deal in apparel. Holland & Holland maintains a shooting ground in England for competition and instruction, and the Italian company supports events.
The National Sporting Clays Association (www.mynsca.com) in San Antonio, Texas, puts on the national championship and also posts a wealth of information about the sport, clubs and competitions on its Web site.