Considering buying a clay target gun? Whether you are a new shooter or even a more experienced shooter there are so many choices and conflicting information and this can be confusing. If you're considering an all purpose shotgun it is really important to understand what you are buying and why. Although every shooter has a budget, remember when shopping for a gun, price does not necessarily correlate to quality, durability or play a part in the actual suitability of a gun for a particular shooter or the sport in which they intend to participate. You can pay a tremendous amount of money for a gun and not shoot any better than you would a more economical version. With that said, quality manufacturing and durability are critical.
For the new shooter it is important to identify which sport will be primary i.e. trap, sporting clays, skeet? Maybe you wish to do some upland shooting? Waterfowl? Back in the day, it may have been common for a shooter to have had one 12 gauge gun and that "did it all".... Perhaps the gun was used for a variety of activities, but in reality, how well did the one gun really “do it all”? The point is, in the shooting sports a shotgun is the tool, and in order to be an effective tool, one must consider that different sports require the shotgun to have different characteristics and features. Some critical considerations are rib height, weight, barrel length, balance, swing, and FIT! The one size fits all approach leaves many shooters frustrated and leads to lots of gun swapping, trading and sometimes a lack of enthusiasm about shooting at all. It is so much more fun when we have some success! The idea of the 'all sport gun', while always nice for those of us who like to have the newest gadget and for manufacturers and dealers to have something new to sell, is not necessarily the best investment that a shooter can make. Of course, if one is a recreational shooter, trying a variety of sports just every few months, not intending to improve skill or compete, maybe any old gun will do.
Here's my quick 2 cents for what it’s worth...
The correct sporting clays gun is really derived from a hunting gun, but with an increased weight and longer barrels. In sporting clays themed shooting sports, there will be a wide variety of target types and presentations. Therefore the gun must be lively, yet smooth to swing. Barrel length should be relative to length of pull, and the average weight of a sporting clays gun should run 7 3/4 lbs to about 8 1/2 on the heavier side. Most shooters will do best with the flat rib gun, as this positions the hands closest to the eyes for an intuitive feel. Some shooters will prefer a more heads up gun mount, so there is a place for the slightly raised rib gun in sporting...but this is not the best gun for a shooter who wants to have a more conventional “into the gun” mount.
The skeet gun, while similar to the sporting clays gun, will usually have a shorter barrel. Whereas the 30-32" barrels are the norm in sporting clays, 28"-30" barrels are the most common in skeet due to the target presentation being at a closer range. American skeet is shot with a pre-mounted gun, therefore the "lively" feel we look for and a sporting clays gun is not so important for someone shooting primarily skeet. Shooters who shoot sub gauge tubes are adding a minimum of 10 ounces to the barrels with the sub gauge tubes, so the concept of "lively" cannot apply. When choosing a skeet gun, it is important to decide if sub gauge tubes will be used as there are considerations when choosing the gun to accommodate this type of set up.
U.S. trap guns are a hybrid developed for the ATA trap sport. The sport uses a pre-mounted gun and there is very little gun movement; the guns will be quite heavy to be stable and reduce recoil. Very high ribs- in many cases, ribs adjustable for point of impact are used on trap guns to allow a better, lower peripheral view in order to quickly pick up targets right or left out of the trap house. A trap gun is a highly specialized, and oftentimes individualized gun set up specifically for the trap sport.
Again, unless one is an occasional shooter just in it for fun and "playing around' with a variety of shooting sports, my recommendation is to pick a sport, pick a gun, get the basic fit correct and practice. Gun mount is very important-- proper fit and practice leads to consistent gun mount and more success in any sport! If one truly wants the best set up for a particular shooting discipline it really can't be found in one gun, there are subtle variances that work better for each sport.
Other than choosing a gun which is of good basic quality, and is produced by a reputable manufacturer, and appropriate for your sport, the big piece is fit! More on fit next time, but we’ll leave you with this regarding fit and function:
If you were going to run a marathon you wouldn't wear the wrong size shoes or bowling shoes or baseball cleats would you? How can one have true success or reach full potential in the shooting sports with a gun that doesn’t fit or has the characteristics really designed for another discipline?
More on gun fit next time. Safe and happy Shooting to you!