The Importance of Shooting Clays for Bird, Small Game Hunters

A man shoots clays.

Just like tuning your scope at the range or patterning your shotgun, those who will hit the uplands or duck blinds should do a round of clays

FAIRFIELD, Pa. – Who’s ever turned down a round of shooting clays?

If you know someone who has, I doubt they’d do it again when given the chance to knock some out of the sky at a place like Orvis Hill Country shooting grounds in Fairfield, Pennsylvania.

A day at Orvis Hill Country

Orvis provides a beautiful 15-round shooting experience that mimics what you see on waterfowl, upland, and small game hunts – quick overhead shooting interlaced with bouncing “rabbit” clays that zip down a path in front of you. Plus, the rules are what you see in most bird seasons: a three-shell limit.

Patrick Vega, a Smithsburg, Maryland, resident – and my girlfriend’s father – introduced me to the course. We packed up his pump-action 12-gauge Browning shotguns, hit the road, and pulled into the grounds around 1 p.m. We met our guide, Danny Stockslager, a longtime friend of Vega, and hopped in the side-by-side that resembled more of a golf cart than a UTV.

Upon our arrival at the first station, I broke back into one of my favorite activities as if I had shot the day prior. In reality, I hadn’t gone clay shooting since I was in middle or high school and even then it was over a hillside at a family friend’s farm in Washburn, West Virginia. Vega and I each missed one of our three shots, not horrible for the first round, and continued our hike through the course.

In between stations, Stockslager, a calm-mannered guy from Cascade, Maryland, told us of his elk hunting journeys out west and shared his thoughts about how the sport has evolved.

“Back about (20-30 years) ago, if you accidentally cut your leg while skinning an animal, you were going to die in the mountains,” he said laughing, “but nowadays (technology has advanced) so that doesn’t happen.”

He further explained the different packages folks can purchase for extended hunts, from primitive cook-your-own camping trips to the most boujee package that includes a personal chef.

Stockslager is also a master at crafting European mounts for trophy ungulates. A trophy holder can bring him one that’s been cleaned and bleached, or he’ll do it himself. Those interested can reach him at Quirauk Mountain Skull Works, or by calling (301) 331-6916.

After the final station – a free-firing, 18-shell madhouse – Vega and I hit the road ready for more waterfowl hunting in the coming months.

The importance of preparation

So what’s the long introduction other than a story of a good time with two fun guys? The lesson to take away is that, just like a big game hunter adjusts his scope at the range or a turkey hunter patterns their new TSS load with their shotgun, upland and waterfowl hunters need to practice their wingshooting.

There are two feelings as a bird hunter will, at some point (or many times) experience: the disappointment of missing a bird, and the pain of crippling a bird.

Let’s start with the latter. While shooting clays won’t always prevent a hunter from crippling a bird, it does allow you to practice with different loads. The various shot sizes pattern different, so knowing the effective range of, say, a No. 7 steel load compared to a No. 3/5 bismuth combo load will train you for future hunts. You’ll know when your shot has reached its effective distance.

Finally, the other feeling – which hunters will experience many times before they hang up the shotgun – can be mitigated by frequent practice on clays.

You don’t have to spend the money at a place like Orvis Hill Country, either, as many sporting goods stores sell clays and handheld launchers. You can also buy the mechanical launchers.

So, before you head out this season, make sure you’re getting in the necessary practice. You’ll thank yourself later.

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