Sharpening Skeet Skills

Skeet Skills

Skeet targets offer a unique combination of speeds, angles and distances over eight stations. Here the shooter is taking a target at Station 7, beside the Low House. ThaddiusBedford/liquidimage.com

By Chris Batha

It’s hard to believe that a clay-shooting game that is now enjoyed around the world and has achieved the high bar of any sport—a place at the Olympic Games—was invented by a couple of grouse hunters in Massachusetts.

In 1920 William Harnden Foster (author of New England Grouse Shooting) and Charles Davis, both avid upland hunters, set out to create a way to practice typical grouse shots using clay targets. Initially, the technique they developed involved shooting from behind a single manual trap. However, they recognized that grouse burst from cover with strong, quick wingbeats, making them some of the fastest and most evasive upland gamebirds. And because grouse offer such a large variety of shots at different angles, speeds and distances, they knew they needed to expand the range of target presentations.

The two friends created a practice field that positioned the trap at 12 o’clock on the circumference of a 25-yard-radius circle, with shooting stations placed at the hour hands of a clock.

The skeet field as we know it today came about in 1923 when a neighbor opened a chicken farm on the adjoining property and, understandably, asked Foster and Davis to cease shooting in the direction of his farm. 

Foster is credited with the suggestion of in effect folding the field in half and positioning a second trap at 6 o’clock, with eight shooting stations situated in a half-circle between the two trap houses and one station directly between them.

Today the High House is on the left side of the field and throws targets from a trap 10 feet above the ground. The targets are about 15 feet high when they reach the center of the field. The Low House is on the right side of the field, and the targets are thrown from about 3½ feet above the ground. They rise to about 15 feet when they reach the center of the field. 

This eight-station “clock shooting” arrangement evolved to shooting singles and pairs in a set sequence, with a round of skeet consisting of 25 targets: 17 singles and eight pairs. With a box of 25 cartridges, a shooter could shoot two or four shots at each station. If a participant missed a target, he could shoot a second shot. If he had not missed after shooting 24 targets, he could call for the last target to complete 25 shots, referred to as “Shooting a Straight” (assuming he hit the 25th as well).

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The game grew in popularity, and in February 1926 a purse of $100 was offered by the National Sportsman and Hunting and Fishing magazines to whomever came up with the best name for it. Gertrude Hurlbutt won the prize with her suggestion of “skeet,” which is a phonetic derivation of the Scandinavian word for “shoot.” Now the game of “shooting around the clock” officially became known as “skeet.”

There are subtle differences in the ways that domestic and international skeet are shot, but following is the sequence of shots set forth in the National Skeet Shooting Association rules.

Stations 1 and 2: High House single; Low House single; High and Low House simultaneous pair, with the High House shot taken first. This makes for a total of four shots taken at each station.

Stations 3 through 5: High House single, Low House single, for a total of two shots taken at each station.

Stations 6 and 7: High House single; Low House single; High and Low House simultaneous pair, with the Low House shot taken first. This makes for a total of four shots taken at each station.

Station 8: High House single, Low House single, for a total of two shots taken at each station. If at the end the shooter has missed no targets or has not opted to take a second try at the first target missed at any station, the 25th shot is taken at a Low House single.

Though domestic and international skeet are shot on the same range layout, there are differences between them in terms of target speed and the order of shots taken. Also, in international skeet every shot is taken from the low-gun-mount position, and that rule is strictly enforced.

In US competition skeet usually is shot from the gun-up, or pre-mounted, position, because it removes the potential for errors or misses due to poor gun mounting. For top competitors skeet is a game of perfect—one dropped target could lose a championship. Of course, the upland hunter using skeet as practice for the field should shoot from the low-gun position, as the number-one cause of missed gamebirds is a poor gun mount.

Because skeet was developed as practice for upland hunting, a whole range of shotguns—including side-by-sides, over/unders, pumps and semi-autos in many gauges—is used. Traditional skeet guns had 26″ and 28″ barrels (a nod to upland shooting) and were choked, appropriately, Skeet & Skeet. Today, as more shooters are shooting all three of the major disciplines—skeet, trap and sporting clays—30″ and even 32″ barrels are being used.

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Skeet competitions are four rounds, or 100 targets. The game is also shot through four gauges: 12, 20, 28 and .410. In the early days the 16 gauge was included, but as the number of sanctioned competitions increased, there were complaints about there being “too many gauges.” As the 16 gauge was considered too close to the 12 gauge and the 20 gauge already had been chosen, the 16 was eliminated. This resulted in the demise of the 16, and cartridge manufacturers stopped making shells in large numbers.

I use the skeet field in my instruction for teaching lead, which is made up of three components: speed, angle and distance. Because of skeet targets’ unique combination of speeds, angles and distances over the eight stations, you can practice all of the flushing, crossing and incoming shots that an upland hunter will encounter.

For waterfowl and dove shooters, whose shots often are taken from blinds or buckets with swivel seats, skeet shooting offers excellent practice. The incoming targets on stations 1, 2, 6 and 7 imitate waterfowl coming into a spread. The outgoing targets on stations 3, 4 and 5 offer practice for flushing birds and pass-shooting. 

The majority of misses for both clays and game are low and behind. Practicing on the skeet field teaches you to judge the speed, angle, distance and, most importantly, “line and lead.” If you start and finish on the line, you can miss only in two places: in front or behind. 

Now that the cold weather is behind us, this is a great time to visit your local skeet club and begin sharpening your skills for the coming season. Joining a skeet league and shooting even one afternoon a week will help you groove your gun mount, “get your eye in” and be ready for opening day. 

For more information on skeet shooting or to find a club near you, contact the National Skeet Shooting Association.


Chris Batha’s most recent book, The Instinctive Shot, can be ordered by visiting chrisbatha.com, which includes schedules of shoots and clinics with the author.


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Shooting Sportsman, May/June 2020

May/June 2020

Chris Batha

Chris Batha’s latest book, The Instinctive Shot, can be ordered on his website (below). The advice in this article is included in a series of two- to three-minute videos that are available by searching www.Clay CoachOnline.com.

2 Comments

  • Reply May 18, 2020

    Dr. Jim Ransom

    Enjoyed this article. It is clearly and cleanly written, and I liked the history and the mention of how the name skeet arose.
    I was introduced to skeet fairly late in my life. I’m better at trap, but believe that skeet is better practice for the field. At the top levels, trap is really a game of attrition—who tires first. Skeet is likewise, but usually more demanding than trap.
    For pure fun and also challenge, I like shooting driven birds in Scotland; you’ll often get a mix of partridge, pheasant, woodcock, and even a flight of ducks. I have to say my main motivation for skeet and trap is to keep myself in shape for that trip.

  • Reply May 22, 2020

    Ron Jones

    Beautifully written, and extremely informative. I would add that the grouse hunters game, as played until 1952, included a random delay of up to 3 seconds after the skeeter called for his target. And the shooter was not permitted to begin his gun mount until the target was visible in the air. Fields were equipped with timers to provide for this random delay. The same delay was originally incorporated in Bryan Bilinski’s “Hunters Clays” which he developed for Orvis in Texas. Unfortunately, competitive shooters soon eliminated this critical component of the “Bird Hunters Game” in order to shoot higher scores. But devoted wingshots can still manually incorporate this delay in their daily practice rounds. It will play BIG dividends in the fall.

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