The Different Types of Clay Pigeon Shooting

Shouldering a well-crafted over & under, shouting “Pull!” and smashing clays has got to be every shooting enthusiast’s favorite pastime. 

Even if you have not tried clay shooting before, most people will have at least heard of it. But do you know that there is more than one type of Clay Shooting and the difference between these? After this article, you will.

Clay pigeon shooting has a long history and quite a few etiquettes that have arisen as a result of it. The correct terminology, instead of saying “types” of clay pigeon shooting, is different “disciplines”.

You will also hear the target referred to as the “bird”, the machine that releases the bird is the “trap” and when the target is to be released the shooter shouts “pull”.

These terms date back to the origins of the sport when the trap door was pulled open to release the birds. It was in the 1880s after inactive objects were introduced as targets that clay shooting began evolving into the different disciplines that we know today.

Different Types of Clay Pigeon Shooting

Before we delve into the finer details of Trap Shooting, let me explain that although it may be obvious to some, the sport of shooting clays has its origins in game bird shooting.

As time developed and more shooters got involved in the sport, authorities quickly realized that soon there would be a shortage of birds to shoot, and hence they developed clay targets to mimic game birds, allowing shooters to fire more shots per session and introducing the sport to a broader spectrum.

Different geographical areas started to formulate slight variations to the rules to create degrees of difficulty, simulate different types of hunting, and introduce new shooting skills to the sport. Let’s explore the details of each disciple below. 

Trap Shooting

Trap Shooting was the first discipline that was developed to simulate pigeon shooting, the word “trap” comes from releasing the pigeon from the trap so that it may fly and the shooter attempts to hit it.

Clay targets are thrown by a machine within a “house” or “bunker”. The position of the house is usually at ground level and to an angle behind or in line with the shooter. The clays are thrown up and away from the shooter.

With the machine being out of the shooter’s sight, they do not know in which direction the clay will fly until they call for it by shouting that famous term “pull!”.

Disciplines of Trap 

That is the basic explanation of Trap Shooting, but furthermore, there are sub-categories of Trap Shooting, all with varying rules and objectives.

Down The Line

This is the most commonly practiced trap discipline worldwide, where one trap is placed in the center of a layout, with five stations placed in a line behind it.

Shooters take 5 turns at each station, rotating stations until they have shot a total of 25 targets. A single target is thrown once the shooter yells ‘Pull!’ and that shooter has two shots to hit the target.

Three points are awarded for hitting the target with the first shot and two points if they manage to hit it with the second. Zero points are given if the shooter misses completely. 

Each station is designed to change the position at which the shooter faces the target, and offer a different angle of the target.

The target is thrown at 45 miles per hour. If a clay breaks as it is being thrown from the trap it is considered a “no bird” and the shooter may take another turn. 

 Olympic Trap

This variation is the one we see most often completed at the Olympic Games and is also referred to as International, Bunker, or Trench Trap. There are five groups of three traps concealed in a trench in front of the shooters.

The shooter standing at their designated station is unaware of the exact flight the target will take, as it can come from any one of the three traps concealed in front of them.

In competitions, shooters take turns firing from the same station before moving on to the next. There are 5 stations in total.

Scoring is rewarded as long as the target is hit, regardless if it is on the first or second shot. A total of 25 clays are thrown at a speed of 68 miles per hour.

American Trap

Types of Clay Pigeon Shooting

This is the most common disciple of Trapshooting found in North America. A single trap is used that can launch targets in a 54-degree arch. Shooters stand at 1 of the 5 stations positioned 16 yards behind the trap. 

In singles, the targets oscillate or release at an unknown angle, and the shooters take 5 turns at each station. So 25 shots in total. 

With doubles the trap does not oscillate, releasing the targets at a fixed angle, but it releases two targets at a time. Each shooter attempts to hit a pair of targets from each station, a total of 50 shots. 

In Handicap competitions, the trap behaves in the same manner as with Single Trap, but the shooter is handicapped by standing further away from the trap house.

The minimum distance allowed between shooter and trap is 18 yards and the maximum is 27 yards.

Each time a competitor wins an event or scores higher than 96 points, they are moved an additional yard from the trap house, or “get punched.” This is done to increase the difficulty and challenge the best shooters. 

Double Trap

Double Trap is the newest discipline of Trap Shooting and was invented to test the skills of shooters even further.

A bunker with 3 traps is used and 2 targets are released simultaneously but can have a variable delay of up to 1 second between launches. The targets will fly at different angles and a faster speed of 50 miles per hour. 

Skeet Shooting

Types of Clay Pigeon Shooting

In Skeet shooting the targets are thrown from two trap houses that are situated 40 meters apart. The targets can come out as singles or doubles and they are discharged at predetermined trajectories and speeds. 

What makes Skeet shooting interesting is the shape of the field. The trap houses are at opposite ends of a semicircular arc with seven shooting positions even spaced along the circular line of the field.

It is this particular shape of the field that adds to one of the main differences between skeet shooting and trap shooting.

With trap shooting, the clays move away from the shooter, while with skeet shooting the targets cross one another in front of the shooter.

With regards to the two trap houses on either side of the field, they serve various purposes. The Low House releases the target at 3.5 feet high, while the High House releases the target at 10 feet. Once the targets reach the center of the field they are at a height of 15 feet. 

It should be noted that there is an English, US, and Olympic version but the concept remains relatively the same, with a few small rule changes.

The biggest difference between the US and English versions is that with the US version once the shooter calls for the targets they come immediately, while there is a delay of three seconds before the target is released in English skeet shooting.

Sporting Clays

Often referred to as the “gentleman’s pastime” and an extremely popular sport in the United Kingdom. Sporting clays were designed to resemble game bird shooting by offering different targets and scenarios that shooters would come across out in the field.

This is not to be confused with the origin of trap shooting, where pigeons were released from traps before being shot, here Sporting clays derive from hunting wild game birds.

In this discipline stations are positioned across varying terrains, whether they be in hills, on farmland, woodland areas, or in short brush conditions, it depends on where the shoot is taking place and what type of game bird hunt the competition is trying to simulate.

I suppose one could refer to it as “golf with shotguns” because of the varying terrain and courses that each competitor needs to navigate, and similar to golf, it is customary to remain silent and keep the noise to a minimum while the next shooter prepares for their shot.

It is not only the terrain and station positions that vary but each target or clay used is slightly different, which means they will travel at different speeds, angles, and directions.

Some targets are designed to give the impression they are flying faster through the air than they are.

Rules vary according to regions, classes, and countries. Generally, competitions follow a 100-target style competition and maybe shot over as many as 10 stations.

Targets can come in pairs or singles and are released either at random, upon request, or upon report, which means once the first shot is fired, a second target is instantly released.

The winner is the shooter which hits the most targets within the round while taking the least amount of shots, again rules and points do vary with each class and category of Sporting Clays.


Before I started hunting I used clay pigeon shooting as a way to hone my reflexes and become comfortable operating a gun.

For me it was never more than a means to an end, to improve my skills as a hunter. To other people, the fact that it does not involve live prey might be  

the main attraction. I know many excellent clay shooters who have never shot an actual animal, nor do they want to. The skill and comradeship of belonging to a shooting club are enough for them.

Whether it is a means for you to stay sharp between hunts, or a challenge for you to perfect a skill, the satisfaction of seeing that orange clay plate breaking apart never gets old. 

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