top of page

Scotland's Outdoor Centre information on Clay pigeon Shooting

About Clay Pigeon Shooting

We are fully authorised by Police Scotland for the provision of “mobile” clay target events

Clay Pigeon shooting, is an internationally recognised sport which has Olympic status. A Standard clay pigeon is an upside-down saucer shaped disk, 110 mm in diameter and used to be made from a mixture of Calcium Carbonate (Limestone) and Pitch. Now Bio degradable clays are available. Clays come in several shapes, sizes and colours to allow a wide variety of targets to be thrown against both light and dark backgrounds.  For example a Standard Blaze (painted bright orange) clay could be used to produce a medium speed clay passing in front of dark undergrowth. A Mini Black (an unpainted clay is black in colour) clay (similar shape to a Standard but only 60mm in diameter) may be used to produce a deceptive overhead target. The clay can be black as it will be silhouetted against the sky and deceptive because a mini will leave the trap at a high speed but loose its speed rapidly – this makes it difficult to judge how much lead to give. The small size of the clay also makes it appear to be much higher in the air (shooters assume it is a Standard size clay) making it difficult to judge lead.

Rabbit clays are similar in size to a Standard Clay but made with thicker walls. Rabbits are rolled along the ground, at speed by a purpose built Rabbit trap. The rabbit clay will frequently jump into the air to produce a random and challenging target.

Clay Pigeon Traps

Clay pigeons are thrown into the air to produce a flying target by a machine known as a trap. A trap can fling a clay out to a distance of up to 120 metres. Most modern shooting grounds use automatic traps (fully automated, electrical powered machines that will throw a clay pigeon every time a remote button is pressed or acoustic sensor is operated) to produce consistent targets, allow greater target flexibility and increase operator safety. Here at Scotland's Outdoor Centre all our traps are automatic and are button release.

Clay Shooting Guns

Shotguns are used to shoot clay pigeons. Each shot from a shotgun contains hundreds of small metal balls (usually lead shot) that spread out to form a cloud of rapidly moving projectiles. This makes it easier to hit a rapidly moving clay target, as it only requires approximately three pieces of lead shot to break a clay pigeon (a scorer has to see at least one piece of clay pigeon break off for a hit to be recorded). Most clay shooters use Over and Under Double Barrelled Shotguns– a gun with two barrels mounted one above the other, although the more traditional Side by SideShotgun is also used. Most clay shooters will use a shotgun with a barrel diameter of around 18.5 mm. This is known as a 12 bore or 12-gauge shotgun. Smaller diameter guns are also used (16 or 20 gauge) as these are lighter in weight (often suitable for younger or smaller framed shooters). The internal diameter of the barrels often reduces at the end. This is known as choking and is used to alter the pattern of shot that fires from the gun. A barrel with parallel sides towards its end will produce a cloud of shot that spreads out more rapidly than a barrel that chokes down at the end.  A fully choked barrel will ensure that 70% of the shot will be delivered within a 30 “ diameter circle at 40 yards. A more open barrel may only keep 50% of the shoot within the circle. Many shotguns have fixed chokes (often one tighter than the other), others are known as multi-chokes that allow a sleeve to be screwed into the end of the barrel. The sleeves have various diameters to allow different shot patterns to be produced.  The distance the clay target is away from the shooter will often influence the selection of choke. A close target is easier to hit with an open choke as this allows the cloud of shot to spread out faster. A distant target is best shot with a tight choke as this will ensure the shot cloud stays closer together for longer – making it more likely for several pieces of shot to hit the clay and break it.


The cartridge contains lead shot, wad, charge and primer . A plastic case contains the components to allow rapid and easy loading into the shotgun. One end of the cartridge is made from metal and holds the primer. When struck by the shotguns firing pin the prim The charge in modern cartridges is a Nitrocellulose based (far safer and more stable than the historic black powder). The explosion pushes onto a plastic (sometimes made from biodegradable fibre) wad containing the lead shot (usually between 24 and 32 grams of lead). The wad and shot emerge from the barrel of the gun at around 1200 feet per second (400 metres per second). The lighter wad quickly looses its momentum and drops to the floor leaving the lead shot to gently spread out towards to the target. The diameter of the lead shot is carefully controlled to ensure each cartridge contains shot of a similar size. Larger shot will travel further (better for targets at a longer range) whilst smaller shot will slow down faster. The weight of shot and the size of shot are printed onto the side of a cartridge. A typical clay shooting cartridge would contain 28 grams of 7 ½ size shot. This equates to around 350 pieces of lead shot with a diameter of around 2.4mm.  Certain disciplines (such as Skeet) involve close up targets and are usually shot with smaller shot – for example 28 grams of size 9 shot (580 pieces of 2mm diameter shot). The increased number of smaller sized shot makes it less likely that a clay pigeon will manage to pass through the cloud of shot unscathed. Using cartridges larger than shot size 7 can be dangerous, as the shot will travel much further. Clay shooting grounds use a 300-metre downrange safety distance – this may be compromised if a larger shot is used (larger shot is used for game shooting). er produces a small explosion that ignites the main explosive charge. 


There are a number of potential dangers whilst clay pigeon shooting. The obvious danger involving firearms exists but due to the gun control legislation and the self-imposed safety principles used by shooting grounds this danger is minimal. Less obvious risks include noise, recoil and falling broken clay.   Noise All clay shooters should wear hearing protection using either earplugs or earmuffs. The noise from firing a shotgun (approximately 150 decibels) will lead to permanent hearing damage unless suitable hearing protection is used. Recoil A 12-gauge shotgun will produce a healthy recoil (28 grams of lead shot coming out the gun at over 400metres per second produces a fair amount of reactive force – i.e. recoil). Holding the gun correctly and standing correctly are vital if you want to avoid getting a bruised shoulder / cheek. Novice shooters should be taught the correct shooting techniques by qualified instructors using low recoil ammunition. Smaller guns can be useful for smaller shooters, although a smaller gun can produce as much if not more recoil as a normal 12 gauge shotgun (a 20 bore will often still fire 28 grams of lead – producing the same amount of recoil as a 12 gauge but the lighter gun can’t absorb as much recoil as the heavier 12 gauge). Falling Clays Although most shooting grounds will ensure pieces of broken clay pigeon fall in a safe area it is sometimes impossible to prevent a rogue piece of clay from landing where shooters are standing. The nature of certain disciplines, such as Sporting, encourages exciting, challenging and varying targets. It is not uncommon for the wind to change direction or strength half way through a shoot resulting in broken clays landing in unexpected areas.   It is advisable for shooters to wear a hat to protect their head, as a piece of broken clay has sharp edges and can fall at great speed! Safety glasses are also important.

Who Can Shoot

Clay Pigeon Shooting can be enjoyed by a wide range of people. There are however limitations on age and gun licensing as described below: Age limits Shooters as young as ten can take part in clay shooting, but small children will find a shotgun heavy.  Lighter guns, such as a 20 gauge, are available but it is advisable to start all new shooters off with professional tuition. A bad experience with recoil, due to poor gun mount, can leave a young shooter with a bruisedshoulder and a reluctance to shoot again. Upper age limits are irrelevant. As long as you can see the flying clay, control a shotgun throughout and be safe to everyone around you (including yourself) you are welcome to give it a go. Gun Licensing You need a shotgun licence to own a shotgun or to buy shotgun ammunition. You do not need a shotgun licence to shoot IF the shooting ground has permission from the Police under Section 11(6) of the Firearms Act 1968. 

All about Clay pigeon shooting: About
bottom of page