Clay target shooting is the art of shooting at (and hitting) flying targets with a shotgun. The target is a small clay disk, about 10 centimetres in diameter. Clay target events, or clay "pigeons" as they are known, have a worldwide enthusiastic following and are the most visual of shooting competitions. Who will forget the film of Richard Faulds exploding the clay disk into a cloud of pink dust to win the Olympic gold medal in Sydney - a palpable and visual hit!
Competitors in clay target events use 12 bore shotguns. The shotgun cartridge discharges a small cloud of pellets. The clays are made from a mixture of pitch and chalk shaped like an inverted saucer designed to break up when hit by just one or two of the pellets. The clays come in a variety of colours to suit the varying backgrounds or light conditions, but usually they are either fluorescent orange or yellow.
Shooters have to have lightning reactions. Some of the disciplines allow the gun to be in the shoulder when the command "pull" is given to launch the clay is given. But in the demanding Olympic skeet, with its mix of single and double targets, the gun can only be raised to the shoulder after the call has been made and the target has appeared. The time taken by the top shooters from the launch to successful shot has been timed at less than half a second.
Once the course of fire is completed the top six shooters fire in a final at a further 25 targets, and the aggregate highest scorer is the winner. The disciplines are:
- Olympic trap (men): an underground trench in front of five positions (called "stands") conceals 15 traps arranged in five corresponding groups of three; competitors in groups of six take it in turns to shoot at target from each position before moving in a clockwise direction to the next stand. On the command pull, the target is launched immediately in a sequence from any one of the three traps corresponding to the shooter's stand. Two shots may be fired at each target: each target hit scores one point. The course of fire is 125 targets shot over two days;
Olympic trap (women): as for men, save that the course of fire is 75 targets which may be shot in one day;
Double trap (men): the shooter has to hit two clays thrown simultaneously from the central group of three traps in the trench. The course of fire is three series of 25 pairs of targets, making 150 in the day;
Double trap (women): as for men, but three series of 25 pairs of targets, making 150 in the day;
Olympic skeet: targets are released in a combination of singles and doubles up to a total of 25 targets per round. Targets are launched from high and low houses on fixed trajectories at fixed speeds. Shooters rotate through the eight stands. The target is released within three seconds of the command, and only one shot is allowed per target. The gun can be shouldered after the call is given and the target has appeared. There are 125 targets over two days;
Olympic skeet (women): as for men, save that the course of fire is 75 targets which may be shot in one day.
Use this link to access the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association website for more about clay target shooting in the UK.