Not all clay targets are created the same
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
If you shoot sporting clays, you know the mental aspects of your game — such as focus and concentration — are just as important to breaking targets as your ability to master the techniques of gun mount and swing. But there's another mental war being waged you may not be really pay attention to, and that's the battle of wits between you and the target setter.
Clays-shooting sports, such as trap and skeet, require standardized target sizes and flight trajectories — making them predictable. Sporting clays and five-stand, though, give the target setter open season in terms of clay target variations and their presentations. The target setter usually sees his/her job as doing whatever it takes to trick you with optical illusions and mixed pairs that fly at completely different speeds and angles to play with your judgement.
The target setter's arsenal includes the trap machine, the terrain and the clay targets. You may not realize it, but there are several different types of clay targets, and each has its own flight characteristics.
This chart provided by White Flyer shows the different target types. The flash target, when hit, explodes with a smoke plume for exhibition and night shooting.
The general rule is that the smaller targets leave the trap machine faster than the larger ones, but decelerate faster. The larger targets leave the trap machine slower while maintaining their velocity for a longer distance. And when thrown high, the bigger targets drop faster than the smaller ones.
With exception of the rolling rabbit target, other clays targets share similar characteristics. They're made from a mixture of pitch and pulverized limestone to achieve that calculus of durability and brittleness to break when hit by a few shotshell pellets. There are biodegradable targets that over time dissolve into the soil, but otherwise perform the same in terms of being molded into a saucer shape that combines drag and lift for assorted aerodynamic qualities.
We tend of to think of clay targets as fluorescent orange, but we now see targets in other fluorescent hues like green, pink and chartreuse. The combination of colors, especially when the targets are thrown as a simultaneous pair, can add a surprising degree of difficulty.
Most targets are the standard fluorescent orange. But target setters will use different colors to trick your eyes.
To help with your results at sporting clays and five-stand, it's best to learn about the variety of targets, since it can be hard to tell the difference on the course. Once you can identify the target type, its particulars become easy to understand in deciphering the actual presentation to improve your scores.
Your standard 108mm target, this one manufactured by Lawry.
The most common clay target for the recreational shooter is the standard 108 mm diameter. You'll see it at skeet and trap clubs, and it's used often in sporting clays and five-stand.
Although these targets are the most recognizable, they are subject to any number of variations depending on the trap machine settings. Still, they are the most easy to hit based on size and flight attributes. You may encounter its international cousin, which is a slightly bigger at 110 mm, but these are usually reserved for European, Asian and Middle Eastern tournaments.
The next smallest target is called the midi. With a diameter of 90 mm, target setters love them because they can appear farther away than they are — screwing up your ability to provide the correct lead for a break.
Midis also play with your eyes. Because they are smaller than standard targets, they leave the trap machine faster to create a blur effect (that's why you need to keep your eyes focused more on the break point in the flight path than further back at the trap machine).
Next up is the dreaded battue target. The same diameter as standard targets, the battue is extremely thin and flat, providing little visibility during its usual looping arc flight path.
Battues are designed to turn and provide full-face as they peak and drop, which is when you're supposed to shoot them. The problem, unfortunately, is that once it starts to fall, the razor-thin profile has no aerodynamic resistance — it accelerates to the ground quickly.
Mini targets are the smallest at a 60 mm diameter. Consequently, they are difficult to see. Once you determine the break point, just shoot it like a regular target.
The rabbit target is designed to roll along the ground. It has the same 108 mm diameter as the standard, although the edge is flatter and thicker for roll, balance and durability. Because of their thickness, even if you hit the target it won't always break so it's best to go for the center.
The rabbit's juxtaposition against grass and dirt can wreak havoc with your break-point perception. Most people tend to miss in front. When it comes to rabbits, think of the old saying "miss behind."
As you can see, the rabbit is thicker with a flatter edge than other clay targets.
Now that most sporting clays and five-stand course are fully automated, you no longer have the advantage of asking the trapper what kind of target is being pulled. That's why you need to understand what you're up against.
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