The ISSF Academy

The Fundamentals of Olympic Clay Target Shooting

By Kevin Kilty


Michael Diamond (AUS)

This course book covers the basics of shooting technique for the Olympic clay target events. The course will cover the basic ready position for all three shotgun disciplines, how the shooter controls the movement of the gun to the target and finally the triggering of the shot.

The three disciplines are discussed concurrently, where they share common ground in the technique. Where they differ they are discussed separately.

We will also examine the basic problems that are encountered during these phases and how we might go about correcting them.

This is a standardised course, it does not favour one particular shooting style over another but it does try to provide a rational and logical method to teach students. As a foundation for coaching it provides a platform from which a beginner or a newcomer to the Olympic disciplines can start, under the proper guidance of a coach.

  • The Trap & Double Trap Stances
    • The Shooting Stance is a very personal and individualised component of the ready position. While the ready position for Trap and Double Trap finishes with the gun in the shoulder whilst for Skeet it finishes with the gun in the down position, the basic principles underlying a good stance are somewhat common in all disciplines.

      The starting point of the ready position is the adoption of a balanced and stable stance or foot position. The overall shooting position is relative to the target pick up point and coincides in the direction downrange of the trap. We also need to take into account the range of movement that the shooter must make due to the flight of the target. For instance in Trap, the movement can be visualised as a angle extending to 30˚ each side of the shooter making the full range of movement 60˚ in total.

      Double Trap Stance

      In Trap, it is usual to adopt a position on each stand as if shooting the centre target from the group. As the targets from the group will cross each other within a small area to the front of the centre point, by setting our position forward and relative to the centre of the group it gives us the best orientation to optimise the movements of the shooter irrespective of which target is released.

      In Double Trap, the target direction is known and we can orientate our foot position to align the shooter with the target pair. It is perhaps more suitable to bias the position of the stance for the second shot rather than the first shot as the first shot is usually taken with a stationary gun.

      The purpose of the stance is to provide a stable platform for the body to perform the movements necessary to bring the gun smoothly to the target in a timely fashion and to perform a successful shot. Any actions and movements which do not add to this are superfluous to the shot and should be removed from the ready position routine.

  • Skeet Stance
    • Typical Skeet Stance

      The Skeet stance requires flexibility of movement in the horizontal and vertical axis to complete the shot. We must also take account of the need in doubles to halt and then reverse the movement of the gun to accommodate the second target. The timing and the need to change the direction of the movement, calls for a stance which aids the body to make a fluid, balanced and comfortable movement of the gun to the target.

      As the target direction is known to the shooter, he has the ability to pick the point at which the shot will be taken. Knowing this “hit” point, the stance is orientated to provide the shooter with the greatest opportunity to make the shot while keeping a particular emphasis on balance, stability and ease of movement.

      An overall feature of the stance should be its uniformity of use. It is not advisable to adopt a different stance between each stand. This is not to say that the direction or orientation of the stance does not change but that the position of the feet relative to each other is consistent. It is much better to perfect one stance and to have full confidence in it.

  • Devising a Standard Stance
    • Every shooter has a different physical makeup and we must make good use of their anatomical features to derive a set of positions which will offer the shooter a stable platform. A one size fits all method is not something we are trying to achieve but we can develop a standard methodology for determining the positions which will produce an individualised ready position for each shooter.

      The shooting movement by its nature involves varying degrees of rotation of parts of the body. The hips and legs play greater roles in Skeet and we can see that an open stance where the heels are closer together than the front of the foot provides for the ankles, knees and the hips to become involved to give control to the rotational movement of the upper body.

      If however, the feet are turned inwards to each other they limit the ability of the ankle, knees and hips to rotate and thus limit the ability of the shooter to create a controlled turning movement to the target.

      Parallel & Offset Stances

      A good starting point to examine the stance and its many variations is to look at the normal stance and gait of the shooter when not shooting but just standing as in a conversation pose.

      As we stand naturally it is common for the feet to be slightly open. This is called a v-shape or offset stance. Some might stand with their feet more parallel to each other. Keeping in mind that the purpose is to provide a stable base for the body to remain upright we can extrapolate the features and functions that we need the stance to perform for us when shooting.

      We require the body to rotate through the hips and the torso. In Trap and Double Trap, the starting point for movement is with the gun in the shoulder with a slightly forward leaning position to the upper torso. For Skeet, the position is more fluid as the gun is in the down position and both the movement of the gun and body will occur simultaneously.

      With these requirements in mind, we can see that the starting position for the stance will depend on the physique, strength and overall size of the shooter. As the feet act as the base through which the centre of gravity of the shooter will act we must examine how much that centre of gravity is shifted by the shooters body position and the additional offset weight introduced by the gun.

      Some shooters can maintain their balance with a close foot to foot relationship but generally the feet have a gap of approximately 15cm between them at the heel. The distance between the fronts of the feet is determined by the choice of the shooters preference for the offset or parallel stance.

      Parallel stances can help in controlling the forward lean of the shooter particularly if they are offset at right angles to the trap. They do however create a restriction on the ease of movement before the ankles and hips become involved in the rotation of the body towards the direction of the target flight line.

      For Skeet, parallel stances control the amount of lateral play the knees and ankles can bring to the movement. It fosters a greater use of the hips and upper torso in controlling the movement from side to side. It is also a factor in stabilising the gun when the movement required is comprised of mostly vertical movement such as on station one and seven.

      Over time shooters will adapt the chosen stance to suit their requirements but starting with a standardised stance allows for consistency in the teaching method whilst not introducing any unnecessary complications into the stance.

      40˚ Standard Foot Position

      Example of a 40˚ foot position with the centre of balance shifted towards the front foot as indicated by the red circle.

  • Body Position
    • In deciding what position of the body the shooter should adopt we must take into account the overall physical shape of the shooter, their centre of gravity and the symmetry of their ability to rotate left and right.

      During training it is essential that the coach correct any body position issues as early as possible before they become ingrained in the shooters technique. Time lost in dealing with such issues can compound the problem and make it harder for the shooter to adjust to a correct position. As coaches we should not neglect early issues of position.

      Many different styles of shooting have emerged over time so it is important that we familiarise ourselves with the features of current popular styles and to make ourselves aware of the pros and cons of each style position. For purposes of this course we will concentrate on a standardised stance mostly commonly used.

      Skeet - Standard Position

      This position is characterised by a slight bending of the knees with a forward leaning position over the front foot.

      The slight bend at the knees facilitates a strong but comfortable rotational movement. The centre of gravity is pushed forward over the front foot. The head is projected forwards to facilitate greater visibility of the target and to allow the stock to touch the cheekbone prior to taking the shot.

      The degree of the forward bend of the torso can vary as some shooters adopt a lower head position in the ready position to facilitate a shorter movement of the gun to the shoulder.

      Trap & Double Trap - Standard Position

      So how can we determine what is acceptable as a standard body position? Again, we can use the anatomy of the shooter as the basis and adjust to take into consideration their balance position, height and strength.

      At this point we should consider the affect on the balance of the body due to holding the gun in the shoulder. This element in itself creates several forces that the body must adapt to in order to maintain balance.

      In the following section we will deal with the specific forces exerted through the weight of the gun and how we can use the position of the hands to support the gun. However, at this point we should consider the effect on the vertical position of the body while supporting a leveraged weight to the body which is a multiple of the weight of the gun.

      This leads us through to a position which also must be capable of dealing with the recoil force in such a manner as not to destabilize the body position and allow for the continued control of the gun.

      When we combine the requirements we see the need for a slightly forward of centre balance point that will put approximately 60% of the weight over the front foot.

      The body leans forward from the upper torso while maintaining flexibility in the knees and hips. This flexibility and a relaxed musculature are essential to allow the body to rotate.

  • Centre of Balance
    • Centre of Balance towards the front foot

      For all shooting positions one single factor that must be taken into consideration and understood comprehensively in order to evaluate the performance and ultimate success of the stance. This is the centre of balance of the shooter. In all disciplines an appropriate centre of balance is one the major determining factors for the successful control of the gun throughout all phases of the technique.

      If we promote a stance where the centre of balance is to the extreme of the foot position we create a situation where the body is put under strain to maintain the position. The likely outcome is that while it might succeed for a short period, fatigue and error will create an unstable and uncontrollable gun movement.

      The centre of balance cannot extend beyond the foot position. If it were to do so the shooter would topple over. Indeed, this situation can be seen in some shooters who over lean into the shot and who also suffer a misfire. They over extend and must correct by stepping forward to regain balance.

  • Hand & Arms Position
    • It is necessary to adequately position the arms and hands to support the gun through the range of movement to the target. The position adopted must be conducive to a smooth and controlled movement and one that is sustainable for the shooter for the duration of the competition. A position which fatigues the shooter quickly cannot be considered a good position and should a shooter begin to adopt such a position then careful consideration should be given by the coach and also the shooter as to the reasons for adopting the position. 

      The positions described here are universal and apply to all disciplines

      Fore-end Hand Position

      Fore-end Hand Position

      Most guns are balanced within an inch or so of the hinge pin. By moving the supporting hand forward of this position we can dramatically reduce the force exerted on the supporting hand.

      As the length of the shooters arm is fixed, we can find an optimal point between the start and end points of the fore end. The caveat to this is that the further we support the stock from the body the less effect that the bicep muscles can exert in supporting the weight.

      There is a trade off in terms of the control of the gun; if the arm is extended too far our ability to control is restricted as the ability of the arm to provide support is diminished. If we go to the other extreme and shorten the support point back towards the hinge point we end up in a situation where our ability to support the gun is better but our ability to control the movement is reduced.

  • Trigger Hand Position
    • The trigger hand position is largely determined by the geometry of the stock and how it is shaped for the grip of the hand. The shooter can make a small range of adjustments but it is preferable to have a stock which is sized for the shooters hand. The orientation of the hand particularly the angle from the wrist should be comfortable for the shooter and as much as possible avoid a stressed wrist position.

      The grip of the stock also offers the option for the shooter to have it anatomically matched to the shooters hand. Some grips will feature “palm swells” which provide the shooter with a positive and full feeling when gripping the stock. The stock can also have a “thumb groove” to allow the shooter to maintain a consistent grip during the raising of the gun in skeet.

      A key purpose of the grip is to bring the trigger finger to the blade of the trigger in a means which is comfortable and provides the best position for the shooter to trigger the shot without over reaching the hand or finger.

      Trigger Finger Position

      Trigger Finger Position

      This is again a very personal choice amongst shooters but the general guidance is that the finger is placed on the blade of the trigger to that the crease of the first joint. Using the pad of the finger tip is not recommended as it is an area of the finger which is rich in nerve endings. Whilst the shooter may feel he has more control over the triggering it is also likely that false signals or flinches may result from over sensitivity under pressure.

      By using the crease of the first joint we are utilising the lack of nerve endings in the crease of the joint to reduce the possibility of this occurring. It is also one less joint that must be articulated to make the trigger action.

  • Head Position
    • Head Position

      Where and how the head is positioned to meet the stock must follow some basic guidelines and requirements in order to support the function of aligning the eye to the rib of the gun. Many facets must be considered in this position including the individual physical characteristics of the shooter and the geometry of the stock.

      To the shooter the position must be comfortable and capable of being easily adopted by the shooter as part of their regular gun mount.

      Excessive adjustment and movement by the shooter to bring the eye over the rib line should be avoided. The movement of the head to the stock should be made in a positive fashion, in one fluid movement, as part of the gun mount.

      Ideally, the eyes will be level as this provides the best possible position for the visual system. We naturally view the world this way and tilting the head to bring the eye across the rib creates an unnatural view.

      Cheek Position

      Cheek Position

      The placement point of the cheek on the comb has a direct effect on the consistency of the shot. If the placement is not consistent then the sight picture will vary and consistency will be hard to achieve.

      As coaches we must understand the potential affect that each position might have on the performance of the shooter, some of which will be beneficial and other which will not, depending on the makeup of the shooter.

      As a general rule of thumb, the cheek when placed on the comb leaves a gap of approximately 1 inch to the end of the comb. Should the distance be any shorter, the trigger hand can end up touching the cheek and create issues of gun control and with recoil.

  • Gun Hold for Trap & Double Trap
    • Trap gun hold position

      Where do we hold the gun just before calling for the target? This is something we can largely determine with confidence for Double Trap and Skeet as we know the trajectory of the targets. For Trap we must use a position which affords the shooter the best opportunity to move the gun onto whichever target is released from the group.

      Trap Hold Position

      In trap the point of origin for all targets in a group will be to the front and from below of the shooters position.

      A traditional hold position is to place the bead of the barrel at or just above the leading edge of the trap house. This position affords the shooter the ability to see the targets flight from the beginning and positions the barrel at the closest point to its exit.

      A high gun hold can be defined as any hold which places the gun higher than the traditional hold point. How high this point is determined by the shooters preference and can be influenced by the design of rib on the barrel.

      The gun hold position must take into consideration the visual hold point. If the angular difference between the two is too high then the shooter can lose the relationship between the barrel and the target.

      The physical orientation of the traps can affect the crossing points of the targets. These crossing points should be factored by the shooter into the downrange direction

      Double Trap Hold Position

      In Double Trap the trajectories of the targets are known to the shooter. This knowledge provides considerable advantage to the shooter as the target trajectories can be observed from your stand as other shooters on your squad shoot.

      Double Trap target trajectory

      The common approach would see the double trap shooter intercepting the first target by using a stationary gun hold. This position is horizontal with the orientation of the barrels at the point where the first target reaches the same horizontal position of the gun.

      Video: Double Trap Shooter Hakan Dahlby (SWE) showing a stationary gun hold for the first shot and the hold point.

      The horizontal position is important as a lower position will require the shooter to react quicker to the target flight with less opportunity to see the target while the shooter is also required to straighten up their body position to make the second shot

      This position must be worked out for each stand and a distant reference point used to ascertain the position. An object in the background or the shooters own hand, held out with open fingers to the front and aligned with the horizon.

  • Gun Hold for Skeet
    • In skeet we are dealing with known trajectory of targets and a semi-circular shooting position. This gives us the opportunity to pre-determine the hold points based on practice and training experience. The hold points are not fixed but can vary due to the conditions of light, background and weather.

      It is common practice for the following shooter to stand over the shoulder of the active shooter as they take their shots in order to confirm or mentally adjust the eye hold and gun hold points. This is an important step in preparing to shoot and using the forehand to trace the barrel movement to the target further reinforces the action.

      The gun hold position for skeet is a function of the speed with which the shooter can raise the gun to the shoulder. The quicker that this movement can be achieved the shorter the gun hold point shifts to the target hit point.

      A shooter who needs more time to achieve this motion will need to adjust their hold point closer to the target hit point.

      Skeet Hold Start Position

      Skeet Hold Finish Position

      As a shooter does not vary the speed of their shooting from stand to stand, the components of hold position and hit points remain relatively static.

      Barrel Position

      For skeet the barrel position is always such that the tip of the barrel is just below that of the flight line of the target. The logic for this is to reduce the amount of movement necessary to bring the gun to the target. As we know the flight line of the target and we are faced with the task of raising the gun to the shoulder so that the barrel and target alignment is on the same horizontal plane.

      Video: Skeet Shooter Valerio Luchini (ITA) showing gun hold position for station 2.

  • Mounting the Gun
    • Transition to the Shoulder - Trap & Double Trap

      We have described the details and areas of importance in what makes up the components of the ready position. The ready position for the trap disciplines is composed of three stages, an starting position, transition phase of mounting the gun and final position prior to calling for the target.

      So far we have covered the starting and final position and how the body is positioned at these stages. We now must look at the transition phase and see how that movement is effected and completed. During the raising movement the barrels will point safely downrange at all times.

      Shouldering the Gun - Trap & Double Trap

      The action of shouldering the gun has become individualised with many variations.

      The key to keep in mind with all the variations is the importance of bringing the gun consistently to the same point in the shoulder while orientating the head and ultimately the eye in line with the rib of the barrel.

      Horizontal Barrel

      Horizontal Barrel Hold

      This is perhaps the most common method and the easiest to teach and for new shooters to learn. It has the advantages of being economical of movement and places the head in an upright and neutral position on the stock. It also requires less re-positioning of the body to bring the barrel to the hold position.

      The horizontal position relies on pushing the gun forwards to that the barrel is almost horizontal. In doing so the upper portion of the torso leans forward as the neck and head are pushed forwards. The gun is then retracted so that the butt of the stock engages with the shoulder at the same time as the comb of the stock slides along the cheek.

      The gun is now in the shoulder with the head in position at a horizontal level with the ground. The gun can be lowered to the shooters chosen hold point and the shooter is now ready for the next stage in the shooting technique – calling for the target and moving the gun to the target.

  • Shouldering the Gun in Skeet
    • The shouldering of the gun is a concurrent action with the movement of the gun to the target. As such it is a more complex set of individual actions which are performed simultaneously.

      This movement is not a series of steps but a coordinated action and to break it down can into individual steps can create artificial breaks in the movement that can lead to a loss of controlled movement.

      When teaching this movement it is best to start slowly, just as you would with any complex skill. The speed of movement should come only when the technique is perfected and it will come as a natural consequence of the training.

      The movement can best be demonstrated as a simultaneous occurance of the following:

      I. Lifting the gun to the shoulder and cheek of the face

      II. Rotating the body in the direction of flight of the target

      III. Keeping the barrel tip just below the flight path of the target trhoughout the movement

      When this is accomplished as a synchronous movement, the gun will come to the shoulder and cheek of the face at the same time as the barrel reaches the target. The important aspect to keep in mind is when teaching the mount is that the movements should be performed slowly while ensuring that the timing of the mount completes with the simultaneous arrival of the gun stock to the shoulder and face. Do not allow the shooter to develop a shoulder first then face second gun mount.

  • Flight of the Target
    • Once the target is called for the only movement the shooter should see is that of the target in flight. This is a critical time in the shooting technique as the next few fractions of a second will determine the likely outcome of the shot.

      How we react on what information we react will determine the success of the shot so let us examine how this information is obtained and processed.

      Time of Realisation

      From the moment the shooter calls for the target we have a period of approximately 1/10 second where we must evaluation the trajectory of the target. This is not a lot of time but it is sufficient if we take the maximum advantage and use it to ensure that we do not begin our movement until the target is clearly identified in flight.

      See the Target

      The optical characteristics of the target vary due to weather and lighting conditions. During poor light and cloudy days, the target can appear perceptively smaller and can create the impression of increased speed in excess of its true velocity.

      As coaches we should ensure that our shooters take the time to examine targets on the range before they shoot. They must use this time to observe the effects of the background and of the light on the target. We must avoid being taken by surprise when we first call for the target, this will cost targets and destroy of the confidence of the shooter early in the round.

      Eyes First

      The first movement of the shooter once the target emerges is made with the eyes. It is a very short movement that happens as the flight trajectory is realized. This movement must quickly be followed up by the initial movement of the gun. During the movement to the target, the eye, gun and target will converge. A common problem is the eye jumping too far ahead of the barrel of the gun leaving the shooter to believe that the gun is on the target when it is only the eye that is on the target.

      Both Eyes Open

      Keeping both eyes open during shooting provides many benefits above and beyond the obvious. Our eyes are positioned to provide binocular vision. This provides us the ability to gauge speed, perceive the depth and distance to an object.

      When we close an eye we remove our ability to perceive depth. This creates a hurdle for us in determining the trajectory of flight of a target.

  • Movement of the Target
    • The first movement of the shooter must be controlled and smooth in nature. This is an easy statement to make but a much harder one to implement and instil within a shooters technique.

      Having kept the gun steady through the period of the call, the shooter begins the initial movement by engaging the upper body and the shoulders in moving the gun towards the target.

      This is a coordinated movement involving all the major muscle groups of the upper torso, back and legs. It is difficult to break down the individual movements and perhaps it is better to describe the overall effect and purpose instead.

      Time to Target

      Much emphasis has been placed on this timing by many well-respected coaches. It forms the basis of some teaching methodologies but we should take the time to examine the logic and the practicalities involved in shooting based on timing.

      Synchronous Movment

      The arms and body must move together in synchronous movement to maintain a correct and accurate alignment of the eye along the rib of the barrel. We must avoid using the arms to push the gun to the target of to make a sudden correction to the trajectory of the guns movement.

      The end result is likely to see the stock move from the cheek and create a visual disconnect between the gun and the target. The term “shooting with the arm” is a direct reference to the technique where the shooter pulls the gun to the target using the fore hand as the driving force.

      Initial Movement in Double Trap

      The conundrum provided by intercepting the first target gives rise to the initial movement in Double Trap coinciding with the start of movement to the second target in the pair.

      This movement is created by the switching of vision from the recognition of the first target rising from below the barrel to the flight of the second target. Automatism takes over for the first shot which once the flight is recognized is a function of timing. Through the use of timing we have the opportunity to switch the focus to the second target just as if it was the only target we were firing at. The fraction of a second advantage we create by doing this gives a better opportunity of establishing the flight trajectory and interception point for the second shot. Due to the nature of the target trajectory the second shot is always performed as a movement to intercept the target in flight and not a catching up to the target as in Trap. The position of the gun after the first target is hit is never in the same plane of movement as that of the second target.

  • Transition of the Target
    • Smooth & Controlled Movement

      This period of movement is characterised by a controlled and smooth movement to the target. The range of angular movement can be up to 30˚ which requires the shooter to be comfortable in their movement over that range and beyond it.

      It is perhaps to simple just to describe the transition to the target as being comprised of a controlled and smooth movement. We should perhaps delve deeper into what happens physically when we perform this movement and the factors that come into play.

      Speed of the Target

      The target speed is relatively constant over all the target trajectories, varying between 96km and 106km per hour.

      Direction of Flight

      Some target trajectories are easier to read than others. The shorter angled and higher angled targets present more face of the target to the shooter for a perceptively longer time period. The risk to the shooter is that they may believe they have more time to shoot the target.

      Gun Speed

      The shooter is responsible for the energy required to initiate the movement of the gun. As we have seen the ultimate goal is to control this movement and have it act in a smooth fashion. The gun speed must be sufficient to overtake the target within the control zone of the target, the zone in which we expect to fire the shot.

      Overtaking the Target in Trap

      As discussed in the previous sections for trap the gun is travelling at an angular velocity in excess of the target. The gun will catch and overtake the target if the velocity is in excess of the target. We do not need to concern ourselves with forward allowance for the shot as the velocity at the point at which the gun reaches the target provides a built-in allowance which is sufficient to break the target if the shot is taken within the normal distances.

      First Shot in Double Trap

      The visual pickup point is always going to be below the barrel of the gun and visibility below the barrel is helped with the use of a high ribbed barrel. The timing of the first shot must be learned by trial and error through practice on the range. Due to the speed of the target and the relative positioning of the barrel to the hit point, the timing remains constant from each stand on the layout.

      The second shot in Double Trap follows the same characteristics of Trap in so far as the forward allowance is a factor of the speed of the gun in overtaking the target.

      Forward Allowance in Skeet (Lead)

      The effect of the circular shooting positions introduce and interesting phenomenon of perceived or relative forward allowance. The position of the shooter relative to the target trajectory switches from being close to 0 degrees on station 1 to a full 90 degrees on station 4. Consequently the amount of forward allowance the shooter must give the target appears to grow in distance as your move around the semi circle of the layout.

  • Triggering the Shot
    • Eye-Barrel-Target Relationships

      This is for many shooters a difficult relationship to explain but which is often described a sense or feeling that the time is right to pull the trigger. However, it is the coming together of these three objects which will trigger the mental response in the shooter to trigger the shot.

      The first relation of the eye to the barrel is a constant that we must maintain for the correct outcome of the shot. Any lifting or deviation in the cant of the barrel can alter this relationship and result in placing the shot behind or below the target.

      The approach at this point is to push the barrel through the target and as the barrel touches the target we pull the trigger.

      Shot Realisation

      Once the trigger is pulled and the shot is released we must concern ourselves with the eventual result of the shot. In this case we must visually detect that the shot has been successful and or in the case of a miss evaluate the error and make a suitable correction for the second shot.

  • Follow Through & Dismount
    • Once the first shot has been fired it is essential to keep the forward momentum of the gun moving to allow for the use of the second shot in the event of a miss. If the gun movement is stopped when taking the first shot, that movement must be started again before the second shot can be completed.

      Dismount & Reset

      The final act of the shooting technique is to dismount the gun. This should form the completion cycle for the shot and should be a positive and reaffirming action by the shooter. Dispose of the spent cartridges in a non-aggressive manner irrespective of the result of the shot.

      If the shot was a failure and the shooter proceeds to demonstrate a negative reaction to the shot the likelihood is that they are setting themselves up to repeat the error and compound the result of the previous shot.

      The actions of the shooter should give no indication as to the outcome of the shot, a missed shot is always treated the same as a successful shot.