A Practical Guide on the Sport of Skeet Shooting

Shooting skeet is a competition game. Clay pigeons (shotgun discs) are flung from two fixed houses at either end of a semicircle. Shooters use a shotgun to break the clay pigeons. There are several different types of skeet, including US skeet, international skeet, and Olympic skeet.

There are also other forms of competitive shooting like sporting clays and trap shooting, which have similar characteristics but different rules, courses, and types of targets. Let’s dive into the basics of skeet shooting rules.

About Skeet

man shoots at a clay target used in skeet shooting

The American version of skeet uses clay discs measuring 4 and 5/16 inches in diameter and 1 and ⅛ inches thick. They are mechanically flung from two fixed houses at either end of a semicircle and fly for 62 yards.

People generally use a double-barreled shotgun with an over-under configuration, 26- to 30-inch barrels, and an open choke. However, some may choose slightly different specifications like a tighter choke pattern, a semi-automatic, or a break open shotgun. It’s a matter of preference for the shooter.

Skeet simulates bird hunting and can be an effective way for hunters to practice. The game is laid out on a skeet range which is a semicircle with a radius of 21 yards. There are seven stations around the outside of the semicircle and an eighth station in the middle of the two houses.

Two houses at either end of the semicircle launch targets into the air. One house is the high house and launches from ten feet above the ground while the other house is the low house and launches three feet off the ground.

These houses launch the targets, called traps, to a point that’s eighteen feet outside of station 8 and fifteen feet above the ground. The trajectory of the traps intersect at this point.

Station 1 is at the six o’clock position next to the high house while station 7 is at the twelve o’clock position next to the low house. Stations 2-6 are positioned around the outside of the semicircle from five o’clock to one o’clock.

The shooter shoots from each of the eight stations for a total of 25 shots. At stations 1 and 2, the shooter must hit a single target launched from the high house first, then the low house. Then they must shoot two targets that are launched simultaneously, called a double. However, they must shoot the target from the high house first.

At stations 3, 4, and 5, the shooter shoots single targets from the high house first, then the low house.

At stations 6 and 7, the shooter must shoot single targets from the high house first, then the low house. Then they must shoot another double, but shoot the low house target first.

At station 8, the shooter shoots a high target first, then a low target. If the shooter misses any targets, they must go back and shoot the target they missed first. If they didn’t miss any, their 25th shot at a low house target from station 8.

This last shot used to be called the shooter’s option, and the shooter could take it wherever he preferred, but in competition rounds, it speeds up the game to require the shooter to shoot two low targets from station 8.

A diagram of people skeet shooting
Photo Credit – Hethrir (talk) 18:10, 10 October 2011 (UTC) / CC BY-SA

History of Skeet

Skeet was invented in Massachusetts in 1920 by Charles Davis and William Harnden Foster. Davis was a grouse hunter and Foster was a painter, illustrator, and grouse hunter. He authored a book called “New England Grouse Hunting.”

They decided to invent a game they called “shooting around the clock.” It was a full circle with a 25-yard radius. It was marked off like a clock and there was a trap at the twelve o’clock position.

They shot in all directions until a chicken farmer moved in next door, at which point they had to shoot in a semicircle instead. The game evolved quickly into what it is today and by 1923, there was a second trap at the six o’clock position.

Foster was determined to make his game a national sport, and in February of 1926, the game was featured in both Hunting and Fishing magazine and the National Sportsman. There was a $100 prize for anyone who named the sport.

Gertrude Hurlbutt submitted the winning entry, for the word skeet, which comes from the Norwegian word for shoot. The first national competition was in 1926, and it wasn’t long before the National Skeet Shooting Association was developed.

The game was used in the military during World War II to teach gunners how to time flying targets. William Foster is known as the father of skeet, and in 1970 he was named one of the first members of the National Skeet Shooters Association Hall of Fame.

Types of Skeet

There are several different types of skeet. They vary in the timing and size of the traps, the number of targets the shooter shoots, and way the shooter holds their shotgun, among other subtle differences.

Olympic skeet

Vincent Hancock in the men's skeet finals at the 2008 Summer Olympics
Vincent Hancock in the men’s skeet finals at the 2008 Summer Olympics

Skeet earned its Olympic status in 1968. It was a coed sport until 1992, when women were disallowed from the competition. This raised a lot of eyebrows given that the 1992 champion was Zhang Shan, a woman from China.

However, women had a skeet world championship of their own, and in 2000, the Olympics reintroduced a female skeet event.

There are several differences between American skeet and Olympic skeet. Olympic skeet has a random delay between 0 and 3 seconds when the shooter calls for the target. It’s more unpredictable and a bit more difficult. In American skeet, there’s no delay.

Olympic skeet requires the shooter to hold the buttstock at their mid-torso until they see the target, making the game more challenging. It also requires shooting doubles rather than singles at stations 3, 4, and 5. Station 4 is a reverse double, shooting the target from the low house first.

International skeet

The target for international skeet has a larger diameter, at 110mm, but it’s thinner, at 25.5mm. The dome center is also thicker, which makes it harder to break. The targets are thrown from the same height, but they fly farther, at 70 yards. This results in a higher target speed.

American skeet

American skeet, as described above, is slower than both the Olympic skeet and the international skeet, and there’s no delay after calling for the targets. The shooter may also pre-mount their gun rather than holding at the torso level until they see the trap.

American tournaments involve five events. The first four events are shot with a series of maximum permissible gauges. These gauges are 12, 20, 28, and .410 bore. The fifth event involves doubles at stations 1-7 and is typically shot first. The maximum gauge allowed for doubles is 12.

All five events use 100 targets, and ties are broken with sudden death doubles shoot offs at stations 3, 4, and 5.

Skeet, Trap, and Sporting Clays

Trap and sporting clays are also types of shooting competitions, but the structure of the game is a bit different. Many who don’t shoot don’t understand the differences. They seem subtle, and the games are similar, so it can be confusing. Here are some brief points on trap versus skeet versus sporting clays.

Trap

man trap shooting
Photo By: Airman St Class George Goslin

For trap shooting, the targets are launched from a single house rather than two houses. They’re launched away from the shooter. There are many variations of trap shooting, practiced all over the world.

Trap shooting is also an Olympic sport, as is double trap. There’s also international trap, bunker trap, trench trap, Nordic trap, and Down-the-Line. American trap is played primarily in the United States and Canada.

Trap was invented for bird hunters to practice and was originally played with real pigeons. These pigeons were hidden under hats or traps and then released. It has been a sport since the late 18th century. The use of real pigeons ceased shortly after the game was invented.

Sporting clays

man shooting sporting clays

This form of clay pigeon shooting is laid out over natural terrain. It involves a series of 10 to 15 stations and the course size is typically at least 35 acres. Many people refer to sporting clays as golf with a gun, because the idea behind the course mimics that of a golf course.

While trap and skeet have repeatable target presentations, sporting clays better simulates how unpredictable live shooting can be. It offers a variety of speeds, angles, trajectories, distances, sizes, and elevations.

Sporting clays was developed in the early 1900s in England. It gained in popularity quickly and was introduced in America in a Field & Stream article shortly thereafter. While there are sporting clay competitions, it is not an Olympic event like skeet or trap.

Skeet Shooting Tips

Whether you’re experienced at skeet or you are just thinking about picking it up, here are some quick tips to help improve your game.

  1. Get familiar with your gun. One of the best ways to improve is to practice. The more you practice, the better you’ll know how your gun shoots, which will give you an edge over someone picking up a new gun for the first time. It can also help you be more efficient with the safety, the trigger pull, and all of the little intricacies that can get in the way.
  2. Balance your stance. Putting your feet in the right place is important to your aim. About 60% of your weight should be on your front foot while your off-hand hip should be pointing at where you plan to aim.
  3. Practice at home. Mounting can be one of the trickiest things to nail down. You can practice mounting at home over and over again to get the mounting down pat for a more efficient time at each station.
  4. Sometimes, a good shell can make up for a bad shot. Reliable ammo goes a long way to boosting your confidence and getting the most out of your skeet game.
  5. Improve your lead. Matching your lead up with where the pattern flies, practice crossing using good shells, and use colored wads for better tracking against a dark backdrop.
  6. Know the point of impact. Not all shotguns will send your pattern perfectly downrange. Some are off center, so practice at the appropriate distances so you know how your gun needs to be patterned. If the point of aim doesn’t line up with the point of impact, fix it.

Recreational Skeet

man shooting skeet clay pigeons on shooting range

While there are skeet competitions for more experienced shooters, recreational skeet is a great way for all shooters to practice. It’s also a fun game for kids to learn how to shoot in a safe and controlled environment.

Whether you’re interested in shooting skeet for fun or sport, there are shooting parks all around. You can also get spring loaders and clay pigeons at stores that sell guns and set up the game yourself in a safe space.

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1 thought on “A Practical Guide on the Sport of Skeet Shooting”

  1. Outstanding article Brady. My father was a skeet shooter and spent a lot of time at tournaments during his high school and college years. I have shot a little skeet and a lot of trap over the years. One of my favorite games is wobble trap which is actually below you while you are on a deck and you never know which direction or which height the clay target is going to escape from under you.

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