How Sporting Clay Shooting Came to America

Since sporting clay shooting is one of the fastest-growing sports in America, with some 13 million estimated participants in the United States, it’s hard to imagine a time when it wasn’t a major part of the shooting landscape. The sport—which simulates the unpredictable nature of live-bird shooting—is often referred to as “golf with a shotgun,” because it features 10 to 15 trap stations with trap machines that shoot six to 10 targets each. The result is a challenging shooting game that helps participants sharpen their skills out of the field.

Clay Shooting

Though relatively new to America, the sporting clay shooting dates back to the early 1900s, when British shooting schools began using clay targets rather than live pigeons for trap shooting. The objective was to develop a form of sport shooting that closely mimicked real bird hunting, so courses were designed with differing target angles and sizes to more closely recreate the conditions of hunting in the field. The game attracted a large following, and England’s first British Open Sporting Championship was held in 1925.

America, Meet Sporting Clay Shooting

America got its first official introduction to this form of fast-flying shooting in a feature article entitled “A Clay Target Game for Hunters,” published in the July 1980 issue of Field & Stream. Written by sportsman Bob Brister, the piece detailed how some American marksmen visited a shooting school in England and got the idea to replicate the high-crossing target game common there. They created the first known American version by setting up a trap machine on top of an oil storage tank to replicate the duck tower stations used in England.

According to Brister, this setup was novel to Americans because there had not yet been a clay target game that so effectively simulated the actions required to shoot birds out in the field. “For the first time, it occurred to me that there is simply no station at trap or skeet that simulates the long leads and steep overhead angles so frequently required in pass-shooting game,” Brister wrote.

Nor was there, until then, a skeet or trap station that so precisely simulated the sudden and unexpected departures of quail and pheasant when shooting from the low-gun position. But that’s only part of the reason why the sport was so intriguing to Brister and others back home. “It is also a whale of a lot of fun,” he wrote. “I see no reason why it would not go over big in America.” Unsurprisingly, clay shooting became immensely popular in the U.S., and Brister became known as “The Father of Sporting Clays in America.”

pair Clay Shooting

The First American Sporting Clays Tournament is Held

Just two months after Brister’s piece was published in Field & Stream, the first sporting clays tournament was held in America, at Remington’s Lordship Gun Club in Connecticut. Gerald Quinn, an employee at Remington’s Bridgeport, Conn. headquarters, worked with Brister to introduce the concept of sporting clay shooting to America through this historic event, which hosted 90 shooters.

Around the same time, Brister traveled to England to experience the sport firsthand. Not long after, he met with Quinn, leadership at Remington and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) to create a 16-page brochure about the game. The NSSF distributed over 100,000 of these brochures in 1981-82. Remington subsequently worked with English shooter Christopher Cradock to design a course at Remington Farms in Maryland, which earned the sport much publicity.

Throughout the 1980s, many major clay shooting competitions emerged, including the Orvis Company’s U.S. National Sporting Clays Championship in Houston (now known as the Orvis Cup). The governing and promotional body of the sport, the National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA) was formed in 1989. In the past 40 or so years since then, sporting clay shooting has amassed a large and loyal following, with over 600 sporting clays clubs in the U.S., according to the NSCA’s club directory.

Clay Shooting area

A Premier Sporting Clays Course at Brays Island

The shooting grounds at Brays Island were designed by British gun-maker and course designer Holland and Holland to provide a captivating, challenging experience for clay shooters at all levels. Our course features 15 stations set amongst a picturesque natural landscape and was named one of the Top 10 Sporting Courses by Shooting Sportsman. Whether it’s your first clay hunt or you’re a seasoned shooter, we invite you to come and visit to experience our world-class sporting clays course to get a taste of this exciting sport.