Catching Some ZZs

Catching Some ZZs
The object of Helice shooting—shown here at Prairie Wildlife, in Mississippi—is to knock the white cap off of the ZZ bird and have it land inside the outer fence.
By Chris Batha
Photograph courtesy of Prairie Wildlife

The increasingly popular shotgun sport of Helice (aka ZZ shooting or Electrocibles) originated in the 1960s in Belgium when live-pigeon shooting was banned in a number of European countries. The original targets were made of zinc, and the species of pigeons that had been shot had been zuritos—hence the name ZZ shooting. (Another school of thought is that “ZZ” refers to the zigzag patterns of the targets that imitate the erratic flights of live pigeons.)

Though there is still live-pigeon shooting in some European countries and the US, Helice offers the challenges of live-pigeon shooting without the attendant “issues.” Many clays clubs are adding one or more Helice rings alongside their trap, skeet and sporting clays courses to the delight of members.

Initially, Helice may seem similar to standard clay pigeon shooting, but it involves a very different target. The Helice target, or ZZ bird, consists of two pieces: orange “propeller” wings and a white plastic center, or “witness cap,” that looks like a clay target and snaps into the center of the propeller.

The Helice course, or ring, includes five or seven oscillating target launchers arranged in a semi-circle in front of the shooting positions. In five-launcher layouts the traps are positioned between 4½ and 5 meters apart; in seven-launcher layouts the two extra machines are positioned equidistant between machines 2 and 3 and 3 and 4. Twenty-one meters beyond the launchers is a semi-circular fence that stands 24" high.

Most Helice events consist of 25 targets shot in rounds of five birds at a time. When shooters step to the line, or shooting position—which is 21 meters from the traps—they can hold their guns in any safe position, although the majority of competitors shoot with their guns fully mounted in a stance similar to that used in trap shooting. Most launchers are voice activated, and calling “Pull” releases the ZZ bird randomly from one of the throwers.

The target flies fast in a jinking pattern, imitating a live pigeon’s flight. It can take any direction, height or flight path, which is why Helice is considered not only a great shooting sport but also one of the best ways to practice for upland hunting. Just like when shooting chukars, quail and pheasants, you need hard focus and a smooth gun mount; and you must take your shot instinctively, without hesitation.

As in traditional trap shooting, shooters have “full use of the gun,” with two shots being allowed. The target must be hit hard enough to knock the witness cap off the propeller, and the white cap needs to land inside the fenced ring to score. There is nothing worse than to hit the target hard, only to see the witness fall outside the fence.

The majority of shooters opt for over/under guns choked Modified & Improved Modified, though many prefer Full & Full (or “All of It”). There are also a good number of traditional side-by-side shooters—a prime example being the legendary Cyril Adams, who uses a Stephen Grant 34" pigeon gun.

Some Italian trap makers (such as Eurotarget USA) have started making trap machines that resemble a bird dipping its beak—the trap arm hinging into a rotary magazine loading the ZZ birds. The effect closely resembles the release of an actual live pigeon, and the biggest advantage is that there is no need for a team of trappers to run and load the targets after every round of shots.

From an instructor’s perspective, I plan to buy a Helice trap to use for upland bird shooting instruction. It is the best tool I know to simulate live-bird presentations. A ZZ’s random flight, height and direction makes it not only a challenging and fun target but also the ultimate tool for sharpening your bird shooting.

For more information on Helice, contact the United States Helice Association (USHA), And if you want to see some of the world’s top shooters in action, the 2020 USHA National Championship will be held from July 24 to 26 at Prairie Wildlife (, in West Point, Mississippi.

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