What Are the Differences Among Sporting Clays, Skeet, Trap, and 5-Stand?


Shotgunners have several different clays-shooting options.
Photo via orvis.com

Much of the Orvis wingshooting culture has evolved around game shooting, and our investment in the clay-target-shooting world has been based in sporting clays, which allows shooters to replicate live-bird presentations. However, wingshooting opportunities are not limited to disciplines that enhance the hunting experience; to the contrary, several shooting “games” exist that stand alone as unique sports, having been refined over a period of decades. This article serves to define these disciplines in simple terms, and to differentiate one from the next. The four clays games that we will address here are those that we see most commonly at gun clubs and shooting facilities in North America.

Sporting Clays was first defined to an American audience in 1980, in a Field and Stream article by shooter Bob Brister. Forms of the game, however, have been in place for perhaps a century in both the UK and US. In simple terms, Sporting Clays is a chance for shooters to see target presentations reminiscent of real hunting situations. Shooters follow a course through the landscape, shooting different size targets presented differently over a series of (typically) 10-15 stations. Targets are thrown in combinations of singles, pairs, and occasionally triples, with generally 6 to 10 clays thrown per station. A full round of Sporting Clays in most cases requires shooters to perform 100 shots.

Not coincidentally, Orvis has been a presence in the Sporting Clays world for decades, sponsoring the first U.S. National Sporting Clays Championship, which was held in Houston Texas in 1985. Sporting Clays enhances the game-shooting tradition at the core of the brand, and allows realistic off-season practice for bird and duck hunters. Orvis owns and operates Sporting Clays facilities at the Manchester Shooting School (VT), Orvis Sandanona (NY) and Orvis Pursell Farms (AL).
Widely misused as a generic term for all clay target shooting, Skeet is in fact a distinct and widely played shooting game. Skeet was created in the 1920s by Massachusetts natives Charles Davis and William Harnden Foster, a noted grouse hunter. The sport is quite specific in its layout and rules. A skeet field incorporates a high house and a low house at either end of a semi-circle whose radius is 21 yards. Beginning beside the high house, shooters move through 7 positions around the semicircle, shooting an established combination of shots at each station. Station 8 is placed between the high house and the low house, and the final shots require the shooter to break a target from each. The end result is a round of 25 targets presented, and scores are based on numbers of targets broken.


Skeet shooters move around a semicricle, taking turns.
Photovia Wikipedia

Skeet is, by design, highly replicable. Though the targets are presented comparatively close and fast, their presentation is the same regardless of the skeet field. For this reason, competitive shooters often establish a shooting technique based on repeated motion and muscle memory, shooting most often from a pre-mounted position. Success in skeet is due largely to hours of practice.


A standard trap set up.
Photo via Wikipedia

Trap has multiple variations that have evolved geographically, but all revolve around the principle of 5 shooters breaking targets launched from a single trap positioned ahead of them. These presentations are all going-away shots, though in most American Trap games, the trap oscillates, making each shot slightly different. The line of shooters takes 5 shots from each of 5 stations positioned side-by-side, with station 1 shooting first and station 5 finishing. Only one shot is allowed at each clay, so single barrel guns are often employed.

The final game which has seen a spike in interest of late is 5-Stand, which incorporates 5 stations laid out next to one another, somewhat as in Trap. That said, 5-Stands typically employ cages rather than simple cement pads, as shots can be crossing, incoming, springing, and so on.


Pursell Farms has a gorgeous 5-Stand facility.
Photo via orvis.com

Each station requires the shooter to take 5 shots. The shots are laid out in a menu, beginning with a single, then a report pair, then a true pair. The menu indicates which of the 6 to 18 traps the clays will be thrown from. Traps are scattered around the course, and generally an overhead, an incomer, a battue (fast falling), and a rabbit are included in the assortment. Shooters rotate from one station to the next, taking their 5 shots at each.

5-Stand manages the variability of Sporting Clays in the small space requirements of Trap or Skeet, which explains its recent popularity. Gun clubs lacking the space for an overland course can fill a similar need by building a 5-stand, and by moving traps regularly; the presentation opportunities can prove limitless.

This is a general overview of the predominate clays games. There are certainly variations within each discipline, but by and large, these are distinct games with distinct rules, shot on specialized fields or courses. In general terms, one “shoots clays” or “shoots clay targets” in the back field or sandpit, but when one goes “skeet shooting,” he or she is taking part in a very specific game.

To learn more about getting involved in wingshooting, visit the Orvis Schools page.

2 thoughts on “What Are the Differences Among Sporting Clays, Skeet, Trap, and 5-Stand?”

  1. Went to Prado rifle range in Chino this past Saturday & thoroughly enjoyed our time. Rory was the employee who assisted us. His professionalism, patience (me being high-maintenance), friendly demeanor & vast knowledge completed our visit for a pleasurable day.

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