NSCA Sporting Clays, also referred to as English Sporting, is a shotgun shooting discipline wherein clay pigeons, also called "birds" or "targets", are thrown from a launcher, called a "trap", with the shooter trying to hit and break them. The sport originated in England in the early 1900's and was created by bird hunters who wanted an off season way to practice. Hence the original idea behind the trap setup was to simulate the flight path of some sort of game bird (or rabbit), so often you will hear shooters describe a specific target as a "spring teal", or a "fast rabbit". However, in recent years, as shooters have become better and the competition more intense, target setters have let their imaginations go unrestrained and often set presentations that no living bird or animal could duplicate.
The sport came to the United States in the late 1980's and is today the fastest growing shotgun shooting sport with over 20,000 members in the National Sporting Clays Association, based in San Antonio, Texas. California has the third largest membership behind Texas and Florida, with approximately 1100 members.
A sporting clays competition or "shoot" usually consists of one or more separate events: the main sporting clays event of consisting of 100-300 targets, possibly a preliminary sporting clays event of 100 targets, a "5-stand" event of 50-100 targets, a FITASC event (a misnomer, more properly called International Sporting, administered by La Federation Internationale de Tir aux Armes Sportives de Chasse (FITASC) based in Paris), perhaps sub-gauge (28g., 20g., and .410 bore) events consisting of 25-100 targets, and even side-by-side or pump gun only events, usually 25-100 targets each! A simple monthly club shoot might consist of just a 100-bird main event, or maybe a main plus a 25-50 target 5-stand event. Major tournaments often include all possible events and even two or more prelims or 5-stand competitions which can total 800-1200 targets shot over 4-5 days.
SPORTING CLAYS MAIN EVENT
The main event is carried out at a series of "stands", with shooters walking (or driving a cart) from one to the next in sequence, with anywhere from 4-10 targets attempted at each stand. Not all stands need have the same number of targets, and every stand commonly offers a different type of target presentation. The targets may be presented as singles (the shooter can shoot one or two shells, either of which can result in a hit), report pairs (the shooter calls for the first bird and the second is released on the "report" of the first shot), simultaneous or true pairs (both released at the same time, with the shooter deciding what order to attempt them in), or following pairs (the second bird released a fixed time after the first, irrespective of when the shooter fires his first shot).
The total number of targets typically totals 100, 150, 200, or even 300, with events with more than 150 targets usually spread across multiple days. Scoring is binary: you add up your hits or "dead birds" and that is your score for the event. Each event is scored independently of the others, although occasionally there will be an "Iron Man" or "Top Gun" or other aggregate category which takes the total of two or more other specified events.
A prelim event is typically a 100-bird sporting event held prior to the start of the main. Same rules, same process.
This is a fast paced game with 6 or more traps that are shot in round robin fashion by a squad of shooters from five different stands or cages, arranged in a line separated by 12-15 feet between each, with some combination of the 6 or more traps attempted from each stand. The pace of this event is much quicker since the distance between stands is so short. In round robin fashion, each shooter usually shoots a single in order, then each shooter gets a pair (report, true, or following), and finally another pair. In a given stand, the targets are usually all different. After each shooter has been given five targets total, the group of shooters rotates one stand to the right and the targets are repeated, starting with the shooter that was in the first (left-most) stand at the beginning.
With 5 stands, and 5 targets at each, the total for a course would be some percentage of the 25 total targets presented to each shooter. 5-stand events with more than 25 targets usually have 2-4 separate 5-stand setups, although it is possible to shoot multiple target "menus", or even different sets of traps, from a single set of stands.
This international version of sporting is conducted on a different type of course with a different flow of shooters. There are "old style" and "new style" courses, with the old style being more common in the United States.
Old Style Layout
Shooting is conducted from 1 meter squares or circles, called "pegs", at three different locations usually 10-30 meters apart. Usually six shooters constitute a squad, with all shooters taking turns first at a series of singles and then at one or two pairs. One important difference between International Sporting/FITASC and English Sporting is that International Sporting is always shot gun low while English Sporting may be shot with the gun in any initial position. The heel of the stock must touch the body at or below a horizontal line drawn on your shooting vest or shirt 25 cm. below the top of the shoulder. Your shooting number must also be displayed on your back.
In an old style layout, or par cours, the shooter will usually get 4 singles and 2 pairs at 2 pegs, or a total of 8 birds at each. At the third, there is usually 5 singles and 4 pairs, for a total of 9, making the total of 25 for each par cours. Since the traps are shared across three pegs, only one squad is on a given par cours at a time. As in 5-stand, multiple layouts get you event totals greater than 25 with 100, 150, or 200 being common.
New Style Layout
In new style layouts, there will be a minimum of 3 traps per station or peg, with each shooter shooting singles then doubles, for a total of 4-6 targets. With 5-6 pegs, and with different squads on each peg at the same time, more shooters can be accommodated in a given period of time, albeit requiring more referees and more total traps. Shooting new style layouts is much akin to English (NSCA) sporting in that you each shoot once at a station and then move with your squad to the next.
SUB-GAUGE, PUMP & SxS EVENTS
The sub-gauge events can be conducted on either a 5-stand course or a standard sporting course, with the rules of either applying. The only difference is that the shooter is limited to the particular gauge or smaller, and load specific to the largest gauge, allowed in the event. So for a 28g. event, the shooter can shoot either a 28g. or a .410 bore shotgun. The only requirement for the pump gun event is that you shoot....a pump! Any gauge will work, although you will be competing with 12g. pumps and the accompanying heavier loads. Likewise, for side by side, any gauge is acceptable so long as the shotgun is a side by side. There are also maximum shot loads for each gauge (see below).
Books have been written extolling the virtues of one type of shotgun over another, or one brand over the others. The two main categories are, of course, the semi-automatic and the over and under (O/U). Advocates of each can cite the reasons their favorite is best: the semi-auto shooters refer to less recoil, lighter gun, and faster movement resulting from the single barrel out in front, while the O/U crowd will refer to lack of compromise on choke selections and smoother swing resulting from the two barrels out in front, and higher reliability of the action.
Those shooters that include the sub-gauge events in their activities often prefer to use "tubes" that fit in a 12 g. or 20 g. barrel and allow the use of the smaller gauge shells, rather than carry a separate and distinct shotgun for each gauge, or even a separate barrel for a single action. Normal 12 gauge barrels are honed to thin the walls and thus reduce the weight such that this "carrier" barrel plus one tube set weighs (and even balances) identically to their normal 12 gauge barrel set!
Suffice it to say that either type of shotgun, properly fit to the shooter, is capable of supporting a national championship, as history has shown!
With the exception of FITASC International Sporting, which has a maximum 28 gr. load, each gauge has a maximum acceptable load:
Shot Load Maximums
12ga (1 1/8 oz)
28ga (7/8 oz)
20ga (3/4 oz)
.410 bore (1/2 oz)
Shot may be sized #7.5-#9 for lead, and #6-#9 for steel. Amalgam (Hevi-Shot) shot is not permitted, although plated shot is.