What’s best thing you can do to put more birds in your bag during the off season? I’m going to sound unoriginal when I say this, but it’s not getting your gear ready, repainting decoys, or binge listening to your favorite bird hunting podcast. In my opinion, it’s breaking some clays. You hear this all the time and it’s true. Nothing will be more frustrating than putting in the hard work to get on the X come opening weekend, only to find you are still knocking the cobwebs out of your barrel and can’t hit the broad side of a barn. I’ve been there on the Dove field and it’s no fun.
Is All Clay Shooting Created Equal?
If we all agree shooting clay in the off season will make you a better shot, then what kind of a clay shooting will make you a better Snipe hunter? Skeet, Trap, Sporting Clays, 5 Stand? For my money as a Snipe hunter, if I could only shoot one kind of clay it would be Trap.
Now don’t get me wrong, any form of shooting is better than no shooting. But Trap lends itself especially well to Snipe because it best mimics the kinds of shots you encounter.
Brothers from Another Mother
Here’s a few parallel traits shooting Trap and Snipe share.
The standard distance from a Trap shooting position to the house is 16 yards (15.6 meters). Turns out 16 yards is consistent with the average distance Snipe tend to flush at. Yes, sometimes they hold super tight in the early season or flush early if they haven’t been pressured, but we’re talking typical situations.
The flight of a Trap clay is a rising shot in a fast-straight line, that when left unbroken, lands 50 yards away. During their initial flush, Snipe too take a low to high rising flight away. Quite often, especially if you don’t get a shot off, Snipe will contently land about 50 - 100 yards away. You can see where this is going. The BIG difference is that after that immediate jet rocket away, Snipe take on their characteristic erratic flight pattern. So, hit them fast and hit them close before they get the better of you!
I mentioned that Trap clays fly in a straight trajectory, but not always straight ahead. You never know if the clay is going right, left, or straight out. And guess what, Snipe will keep you equally on your toes.
Pro Tip! Snipe love to flush into the wind. Even if their initial flush isn’t into the wind, they will quickly make a correction and head into the wind. On a day with any decent breeze you can stack the odds in your favor by working the cover with the wind at your back or side so the birds are rising towards you, not away.
Overcoming the Intimidation Factor
I’m not going to lie. Stepping up to the Trap line for the first time can be intimidating. Especially when the line is shoulder to shoulder of seasoned shooters, dusting clays with beautiful, purpose built over unders. Trust me, this is how I felt walking up with my 20-year-old 870 pump the first time I went. Just remember, everyone else had to walk up to the line for the first time as well. Here’s some advice if you are starting out:
Avoid the busy times. The weekends, especially morning and midday, are going to be packed. 5 shooters and often a wait list. If you do go on the weekends, try later in the afternoon after the weekend warrior crowd has come and gone.
Start on a weekday. Like almost any other hunting or fishing activity, the weekdays are less crowded. It doesn’t take long to run through a couple boxes of shells, making this something you can squeeze in before/after work or over lunch.
Ask for help. The range officers tend to be clay shooters as well and can be a great source of coaching. Let them know you are just starting out, and they will gladly walk you through the sequence, safety practices, and often look over your shoulder to help call your shots.
Find a mentor. Those same intimidating looking seasoned shooters are also great sources of help. Where I shoot, these old-timers are more than willing to take someone under their wing and they love to help you tune up your game. Just ask and you may find yourself with a private tutoring session, especially on a weekday.
Take a lesson. If your budget allows, find a shooting instructor. Private lessons will give you one on one coaching on a private field, where you can really dial in your game. Without the constraints of other shooters, you can also set the house to only throw straight always before moving on to left and right shots.
This summer, find a Trap and Skeet Range in your area and go break some clays. When you dust that first Snipe of the year, flushing low and away, you’ll think back and give thanks to your time at the range.
Tip your range officer. These guys and gals work hard in the heat so we can have a great time. A few bucks go a long way in saying thanks.