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Can Shooting Clays Improve Your Defensive Shotgun Skills?

Often in this column I harp on the importance of practicing, because there is no new gun, proven tactic or clever shortcut that can be a substitute for familiarity with your defensive gun. When the chips are down, the light is low and hearts are beating fast, you must be so familiar with your shotgun that you can move, shoot and load with minimal conscious thought. But, we all know this. The problem is, after a while drilling starts to seem like work. However, I believe there is a form of practice that can lead to general shotgun mastery all while being fun and entertaining: clay-target games. 

Before I get into it, allow me the following disclaimer: Tactical gurus abound who discount any notion that clay-target shooting can be compared in any way to the act of using a shotgun to defend your life. I do not argue that the two uses are, of course, night-and-day different. But, in my view, the shotgun and the fundamentals of using it to hit whatever you are shooting at are inherently similar. Certainly, the pressure placed upon the shooter in a life-or-death situation compared with a silly clay game is not remotely similar, but if a shotgunner can consistently flip the safety, mount the gun smoothly and orient the barrel quickly and accurately enough to hit small flying objects, nearly any target encountered in any situation will likely be easier. 

In other words, I’ve never witnessed a great wingshooter who couldn’t quickly be trained in tactical applications, because this person already has the fundamentals of shotgun shooting mastered. Of course, there are differences in technique—the main ones being stance and weight distribution—but these can be quickly learned. The shotgun, whether a Remington 870 pump with a short barrel and an extended magazine or a 32-inch-barreled over/under clays gun, remains similar in form, and, when used as intended, functions as an extension of the body to hit targets. Of course, in a defensive scenario you will need to aim the shotgun at the target in a manner similar to a handgun or rifle, whereas when shooting clays you move with the target and lead it, but ask yourself, which is harder: aiming at a stationary or slow-moving target a few feet or yards in front of you, or a fast-moving, small target flying on a path designed to be challenging?

On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of decent tactical shotgunners who couldn’t use their shotgun well when they were removed from a static range with stationary targets and placed in more fluid scenarios where unpredictable, moving targets were encountered. Based on my experience, I believe it’s best to master the shotgun via practice until it can be effectively used at an almost subconscious level. One efficient way I’ve found to do this is via clay games that are challenging, yet enjoyable.

The best part is, you need not journey to a hoity-toity trap-and-skeet club where you’ll pay $10 per round plus ammo and tips. Rather, a simple clay pigeon thrower, an open field and a buddy to help is simple, inexpensive and just as much fun. You can use your defensive shotgun of choice here without taking jeers from the gallery; likewise, you can shoot while using some tactical elements, including moving around, taking cover and loading your magazine to its maximum—all things that would give a skeet-field range officer a blood-pressure spike before booting you from the premises.

While any target shooting can help build familiarity with the shotgun in terms of mounting and building gun-eye coordination so that the gun prints its pattern where you look, I especially like low-angle, incoming and outgoing targets that are released by a buddy who should try to surprise you with their launch.

Begin with the shotgun at the high ready, safety on, just as you would if you were clearing your house. This element of surprise forces you to find the target, assume a balanced stance, manipulate the safety while mounting the gun and then hitting a small and fast-moving target—all in a matter of milliseconds—ultimately making you more prepared for whatever may happen in your home. 

Provided you also practice some tactical skills—shooting at man-size targets while seeking cover and tactically reloading—to keep sharp, clay games and even upland hunting can only help you become a more proficient shotgunner, and thus a more confident home defender.

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