Sporting Clays - Golf with a Shotgun

By: Carla G. Harper


Photography: Lindley Battle Photography

Photography: Lindley Battle Photography

Sporting Clays is a game based on attempting to break clay targets (birds) with a shotgun. The sport is often described as golf with a shotgun. Its boom in popularity as an easy access outdoor outing for the entire family or group of friends shows no signs of slowing.

 As of 2019, nearly five million Americans aged six and up enjoy the sport. There are around 600 public clubs in the USA registered with the National Sporting Clays Association. You’ll find at least that many associated with some of the most innovative and prestigious resorts around the country. For example, Primland Resort in Meadows of Dan, Virginia, maintains beautiful sporting clay courses and five-star resort amenities.

 One of the fastest-growing clubs in North Carolina is Shane’s Sporting Clays in Summerfield. Shane Naylor, a five-time North Carolina Sporting Clays Championship winner, opened the first sporting clays range in North Carolina in 1987. Shane, Trish, Grant, and Drake Naylor run the popular spot as a family.

 As a veteran of the sport, Shane attributes the growing popularity of sporting clays to “people’s love of the outdoors and the unique nature of the sport.”

 He says, “It’s a fun alternative to golf, and it involves shooting.”

 There are over twenty public and private clubs scattered across North Carolina and North Central Virginia.

Photography: Lindley Battle Photography

Photography: Lindley Battle Photography


History of Sporting Clays

 British shooting schools created the sport in the early 1900s to practice for live game bird shoots. But it was not until 1980 that sporting clays came to America by way of a Field & Stream magazine article. A year later, Bob Brister, the Field & Stream outdoor writer, helped bring the first sporting clays event to Connecticut. By 1985 the United States Sporting Clays Association (USSCA) was formed in Houston, TX.


What’s the difference between Sporting Clays, Skeet, and Trap?

 Sporting clays, skeet, and trap all involve shooting clay “bird” targets ejected into the air by mechanical “throwers.” The primary difference is that trap and skeet are games based on the repetition of targets, while sporting clays mimic the unpredictability of live bird and rabbit hunting. Each sporting clays course is unique, offering variation in trajectory, angle, speed, distance, and more. There are six size variations in clay targets to give even more simulation of real hunting conditions.

 Sporting clays involve “squads” of two to six people. Courses include up to 15 shooting stations with up to four shot presentations at each. Courses are designed in harmony with the natural features of the land, much like a golf course.


Safety and Etiquette

 Safety is always number one with sporting clay shooters and range owners. If you go for the first time, expect a safety brief. You’ll note signage everywhere reminding you to never walk around with a loaded shotgun and a few other essential safety tips.

 Treat every gun as if it is always loaded.

 Sporting clays is a very social sport. It is okay to talk in a low voice while waiting for your group’s turn at a station. When your turn comes around, step into the station. Only then load your shotgun, ensuring it is always pointed toward the firing area. When loaded and ready, you call “pull.”

 Your “trapper” will push the right button, and as soon as you see “the bird,” shoot and watch it break.

After your turn, always open your gun and remove the used hulls before stepping away from the shooting position.


Gear, Skill, and Cost

 You’ll need a 12- or 20-gauge shotgun able to fire at least two rounds. Many clubs rent shotguns if you are not yet a shotgun owner. Get out and experience the sport. Eye and ear protection is mandatory and always available at a gun range. Sunglasses or clear safety glasses will suffice. The disposable earplugs work fine.

 Attire is casual, like going on a hike. Avid sporting clay fans get shooting vests and other accouterments to make it easy to carry shotgun shells and other items. For women shooters who like to bring fashion into the game, Proper Jane is a woman-owned company based in Charlotte, NC, that makes unique shooting vests.

 Since the game’s object is to break orange discs made of clay called “birds” as they soar across the sky, the secret is keeping both eyes open and concentrating on “the bird” and not the gun’s barrel. The “bird” is called “dead” if you break any part of it.

 Courses are generally laid out to shoot 50 or 100 clay birds. If you bring your shotgun, the cost of breaking 50 clay birds and the shotgun shells will run you around $60.00. Many clubs rent golf carts for those who don’t care to walk the course. Expect to pay between $15 and $25 for a cart rental.

Photography: Lindley Battle Photography

Photography: Lindley Battle Photography

Why Americans love shotgun sports

 Jim Cogdell opened the 1500 acres Fork Farm in Norwood, NC (Stanley County) in 1999. The working farm boasts a world-class equestrian facility, multiple sporting clay courses, thirty-eight miles of hiking trails, a lodge, and much more. Cogdell says, “Sporting clays is growing fast, especially among the ladies.”

 Sporting clays is fun, challenging, and a great way to spend time outdoors with friends and family.

 “We have not even seen the tip of the iceberg with female interest in sporting clays. And, it’s also a sport growing with the youth because of wonderful educational opportunities,” notes Cogdell.

 Don’t wait. Pick a Sporting Clays course from the list below and go break some clays. Tell them The Scout Guide Triad sent you.

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Where to Shoot in North Carolina and North Central Virginia

Ashe County Wildlife Club, Laurel Springs, NC

Claybreakers LLC Shotgun Range, Lexington, NC

Deep River Sporting Club and Shooting School, Sanford, NC

Dewitts Outdoor Sports, LLC, Ellerbe, NC

Drake Landing, Fuquay-Varina, NC

Four Branches Sporting Preserve LLC, Polkton, NC

Hunters’ Pointe Sporting Clays, Washington, NC

Hunting Creek, Harmony, NC

Hyatt Farms Sporting Clays, Polkton, NC

Kidds Place Sporting Clay Range, Holly Springs, NC

North River Sporting, LLC, Beaufort, NC

Rose Hill Farm Sporting Clays, Nashville, NC

Shane’s Sporting Clays, Summerfield, NC

The Fork, LLC, Norwood, NC

Brushy Mountain Club Inc, Hurt, VA

Central Virginia Sporting Clays, Palmyra, VA

Flying Rabbit Co, Mt. Crawford, VA

Summit Springs, Inc., Ferrum, VA

Triangle Sportsmen’s Club, Bluefield, VA

Primland Resort, Meadows of Dan, VA

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Carla G. Harper is a North Carolina based writer, publisher, and marketing professional. Learn more about her services at Reach Carla at [email protected]. Sign up for her Leadership Quote of the Day free service here