In the sport of clay shooting, the special flying targets used during competition are known as clay pigeons.

Up until 1921, live pigeons were used for this sport, but this practice was outlawed for humanitarian reasons, and clay targets replaced the live birds, hence gaining the name “clay pigeons”.

These special clay targets are used in a variety of arrays and shooting formations. The largest following of clay shooting involves over 20 different disciplines, including trap, skeet, and English Sporting.

Usually, a shotgun is used to fire upon the clay pigeons, which break apart and are disposed of after the competitions.

All About Clay Pigeons

clay pigeons

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There are a number of features of clay pigeons that make them interesting and novel. Before clay targets were invented, people would use gun targets made of glass, stones, and sometimes even potatoes.

The glass shooting targets would consist of glass balls stuffed with feathers launched by a trap like a catapult, and when struck with bullets, the glass would shatter, and the feathers would fly all about, simulating a live pigeon.

The first clay pigeons were invented in the 1800s, made of clay and resembling saucers, these targets quickly developed the nickname “mud saucers.” Although glass targets were popular, they created unwanted debris and were gradually replaced by the clay pigeons over time.

Clay pigeons are typically manufactured in the shape of inverted saucers, constructed from a mix of pulverized limestone rock and pitch. They are made precisely to not break apart when launched at very fast speeds, but soft enough to disintegrate easily when penetrated by a shotgun blast made up of a few pellets of steel or lead. These clay targets are usually colored black, fluorescent orange, yellow, or white. These colors are primarily used so they can be seen against a range of different backgrounds and in various light conditions.

All clay pigeons are made to precise specifications and are subject to a rigid set of international standards.

Several types of clay pigeons exist, and a size of 108 millimeters make up the most often used in the American Sporting, skeet, and trap disciplines. International clay pigeons are made to 110 millimeters for the same disciplines. Trap and skeet use only either the 108-110 millimeters size clay pigeons, but the clay sporting discipline, however, uses a wide variety of different size and type of projectiles for shooting targets.

There are a variety of different clay pigeons for use with all the different clay shooting disciplines, listed here:

  • ZZ: This standard-sized target is made of plastic, centered with a two-blade attachment that causes it to fly in a jagged, irregular flight path, testing the skills of the shooter considerably.
  • Battue: This target is very thin and measures from between 108-110 millimeters in diameter. It flies extremely fast and suddenly falls off like a duck; usually more expensive than most targets.
  • Rabbit: This standard target is 108-110 millimeters but is made to be thicker than the rest of them. Shaped like a wheel to run along the ground, simulating a rabbit’s path.
  • Standard: This is the most commonly used clay pigeon, with a minimum weight of 105 grams and a regulation size of 110 millimeters with a height of 25-26 millimeters for International competitions. For American competitions, weight must be 100 grams, and the size must be 108 millimeters with a height of 28-29 millimeters.
  • Midi: Similar to the shape of the standard, but the size is merely 90 millimeters. This target is known to be faster than ordinary clay pigeons.
  • Mini: About the size of a bumblebee (60 millimeters in diameter and 20 millimeters in height).

How Clay Pigeons are Used

Clay pigeons and how to use them

Image via Cabelas

Clay pigeons are used in a variety of different ways.

Typically, a device known as a trap will launch the clay pigeon from a base known as a “house.” Sometimes, people throw them up in the air themselves, and some are able to throw up to 10 targets at a time.

Usually though, the trap will launch them either automatically or manually, with the aid of hand-cocked and hand-released action. Some of these machines will hold up to 600 clay pigeons at a time, although they must be manually loaded, they will release the clays upon demand, which is ideal for competitions.

The target speeds of the clay pigeons, as well as trajectories and flight paths, can be modified to accommodate the different styles of the various clay shooting disciplines.

Traps are rotational, spring loaded flywheel devices made for the express purpose of launching clay pigeons automatically for the purposes of clay shooting. These devices can be set to launch the clay pigeons either by pressing a remote-control button, or voice actuated to the sound of the shooter, or others, by voice.

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