Sporting Clays

You don’t have to be a gun enthusiast or a burly hunter to enjoy sporting clays, the game that challenges shooters to strike clay discs traveling at high velocities with a well-timed shotgun blast. If you golf then you already possess the necessary physicality and mental faculty needed for this increasingly popular game. And like the golf course, cigars are encouraged, both for camaraderie and easing frustration.

Imported to the States from Britain almost 35 years ago, the sport’s origins date back to the early 1900s when wild-fowl hunters ditched using live pigeons for target practice in favor of ones molded from clay. Thrown from machines called traps, these clay “birds” (which, today, are actually a mixture of pitch and limestone) vary in size and either fly through the air at differing angles and distances to simulate a fowl’s flight, or bound along the ground to mimic a rabbit. 

To play, squads of two to six shooters venture forth at a leisurely pace on a course laid out over natural terrain, most of the time in carts. They will follow a specified path and stop at designated shooting stations, each with its own unique challenge. Birds are released one at a time or as a pair, either simultaneously, sequentially or “on report,” meaning the second bird is thrown after the shooter’s first shot. It’s this unpredictability that keeps the game challenging for both neophytes and experts, and makes each station a separate adventure.

Fees are about equal to 18 holes on a nicer golf course, with guns and carts available for rent. The National Sporting Clay Association’s website,, offers a listing of courses throughout the U.S. For more lux accommodations, though, check out the venues listed under Beretta’s Trident Program. The nearly 500-year-old Italian gun maker has created a sort of Michelin-star rating system for shooting sport venues, taking into consideration everything from the shooting layouts to the quality of the resort amenities provided.

And should you catch the bug (you will), a visit to an outfitter like Beretta is a must. The company’s 12-gauge DT11 shotgun ($8,999), an over-under barrel design that stacks the barrels, is a handcrafted marvel used by many Olympic champions. The company’s Trident Shooting Glasses ($85) provide protection and interchangeable colored lenses, so you can adjust for weather conditions and see the bird better. The padding of the Two-Tone Clays vest ($129) protects from recoil, and helps one mount the gun when aiming.

With a little practice, and perhaps a private lesson from an experienced instructor, you’ll feel the elation of punching birds through their centers and watching them explode like fireworks in no time.