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Article 7 – 2019 (August)

person aiming shotgun at target range

Russell Mark

Australian Shooter Magazine, Question and Answers

Article 7 – 2019 (August)


Question: I hear lots of talk around about how clay targets are either “soft” or “hard”. Is this due to many clubs using environmentally friendly targets and is there a strategy to adopt when you know that you are shooting at a target that is hard to break. I don’t shoot a lot, but I do shoot all disciplines of clay targets from time to time so I am curious if it is the same everywhere.

Kelvin Shelton, Liverpool, NSW


Answer: It certainly isn’t a new topic Kelvin as the composition of clay targets has been the subject of many heated debates at shooting ranges for as long as targets have been produced.

The traditional clay target has been basically made of a mixture of lime and pitch. More lime in the mixture means tougher targets. These days of course there has been a swing towards environmentally friendly targets that are made from a variety of non-toxic substances. The breakability of some of the earlier forms of “eco-targets” was certainly questionable in my opinion, but the quality has now come a long way. The International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF) now require all world competitions to be conducted on environmental targets and the scores so far in 2019 have been arguably higher than ever.

Perhaps the discipline where the hardness of the target is under the microscope more than anywhere else is in the domestic discipline of Trap, commonly called Down The Line (DTL) here in Australia. There has been a culture grow in this area where nothing other than a black ball of soot in the sky is considered to be acceptable by those competing in it. The black ball of soot can only be caused by a certain type of pitch that sadly, is not considered to be environmentally friendly, so to progress the sport forward in the future I believe this culture will have to disappear. There are alternatives and I guess the argument is as long as everyone is shooting at the same targets then what does it matter? No argument from me there, but in answer to your specific question that basically asks “are all targets the same?”. Well no, definitely not.

The most popular target in DTL is a high dome (taller) target with a high degree of breakability. DTL targets are only thrown to a maximum of fifty metres so they can be designed to be “softer” because they don’t have to survive the torture of an ISSF target machine that propels the clay up to seventy-six metres, or Sporting Target that sometimes has to be thrown up to 100 metres. This of course requires a tougher target.

So what is best to break a tougher target? The first thing most shooters will say is more choke. Well that of course would help because the more hits on the surface area of the target will help break the clay, but just because the target becomes harder to break doesn’t actually mean you suddenly become a better and more accurate shooter that a tighter choke will require you to become. From my experience to break “harder” targets all you need is larger shot. Many ranges and some disciplines let you shoot a number “6” shot. Some disciplines actually state the maximum size of shot permissible in millimetres whilst other disciplines rules state nothing more than a shot size. Be warned that amazingly American, European, English and Australian shot sizes differ, but in essence I would find the largest permissible shot and use it.

The trade off of course is less pellets in the shot pattern with the larger size shot. You can’t have the same pattern density with larger shot, but in my opinion at up it won’t make much difference. Larger shot will often pattern marginally tighter than smaller shot so this counteracts the tighter choke argument somewhat.

As I always say, “nothing will replace accuracy”, so try not to think about it too much. I know that is easier said than done especially if you are surrounded by people in the car park blaming their poor shooting on the composition of the clay target ahead of their accuracy.

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