The History of Sporting Clays


In movie and tv shows, sporting clays is one of the most popularly depicted shooting practice beyond the shooting range. In particular, it is usually associated with hunting shows and even on political shows, when presidential characters (or their families) enjoy past times other than running for office. For example, the popular NBC political drama Scandal has shown sporting clays in several episodes.

In the United States, sporting clays has a unique history in our modern shooting culture with shotguns. Many even equate the sport to “golfing with a shotgun.” One of the many reasons it draws so many people to the sport is the variety of courses and scenarios that can be made and the skill that it requires.

The sport was originally developed in the late 1700s. Then, people would actually release live birds as a means to practice. Later, glass target that mimiced birds were used, but the glass was dangerous, expensive, and messy to clean up. Almost a century later, around 1880s in England, a man was inspired when he saw children playing with rocks and shells and he created clay targets. The popularity of clay targets grew quickly. Over time, the sporting clays took a new meaning to sport as competitions arose between groups and countries. The first known international competition was between England and Scotland in 1925 (Scotland won).

They were later developed to mimic not just birds, but other fast animals like rabbits. They also were shot in a variety of scenarios. The targets don’t have standard distances or angles as it is supposed to mimic the unpredictable nature of fast moving animals. There are six different uniquely styled clay targets ranging from large bulky targets to small mini targets commonly coined as the flying aspirin. There are also different ways that the clays will be shot out by the operator. You can either do singles or some combination of multiples. Sometimes the multiples are timed with a few seconds between, sometimes they are sent out once you’ve hit the first, and other times they are sent at the exact same time.

Today, the shooting targets have expanded even more to include 10-15 scenarios across a developed course similar to golf courses, hence the common reference to “golfing for shotguns.” Not only do people participate in these for practice and hobby shooting, but these are often where many shooting competitions take place.

You can learn more about sporting clays in Tennessee at the Tennessee Sporting Clays Association.

This article is brought to you by Nashville Armory, which features climate controlled pistol and rifle rated bays and a training center offering a wide variety of classes for any skill level lead by certified instructors. Visit for more.

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