Know Your Target by Mike Westjohn

Brian Skeuse, vice-president of Reagent Chemical and president of White Flyer Targets. Photo courtesy White Flyer Targets.

ast winter I was in my living room absentmindedly watching the snow fall. I was considering how to improve my trapshooting skills without being out in that cold weather.

I began trying to focus on just one snowflake out of the many, watching it from the top of the window all the way to the ground. Maintaining a sharp focus on a single snowflake was a unique challenge. I began to wonder if this exercise would be helpful in sharpening up my skill of seeing clay targets more distinctly in flight.

I recalled my first quail hunt with my dad. He had his short barrel Model 12 and I carried a 20 gauge Remington 870. After two hours of hunting the dense 30? wide fencerows, Dad had put down three quail and I had yet to fire a shot. I obviously was not seeing what my dad was seeing. All I saw was a flash of darting movement, all moving in somewhat the same direction in the heavy brush and briars. The unnerving roar of a covey of quail coming off the ground didn’t help matters either. I was feeling frustration at not being able to fill the plates of the family at supper time. Dad saw that and called a halt to the hunt. He had Jack, our liver–and–white Pointer, heel, which Jack didn’t much care for because he lived to hunt anything that had feathers. We unloaded the shotguns and Dad pulled a male quail out of his hunting coat. He showed me what that bird really looked like, from beak to tail feathers, from the eyes to the bottom of the feet and with the wings spread out. Dad was a good teacher and was trying to give me a better visual understanding of our target. With that quick, in–the–field education, I now knew what to look for and focus on in the dense fencerows.

My mind raced back to present time and I realized that, like my first quail hunting experience when I knew very little about what to look for, I needed to know more about snowflakes and clay targets to be more visually attuned to them. I decided it was time to visit the local library for a better education on snow as well as some time to reread the Amateur Trapshooting Association Rules Book as to what it states about clay targets.

The ATA Rule Book has three rules about the clay target.

  1. The target must measure no more than 4–5/16″ in diameter.
  2. The target must measure no more than 1–1/8″ in height.
  3. The target should weigh between 95 and 105 grams. (100 grams is about 3.5 ounces.)

My experience has shown me a shooter has a higher level of visualization when he/she has a more–detailed knowledge of a clay target. At the 2014 Grand American I thought it best to go straight to the source and asked the designer of the Winchester AA White Flyer clay target, Brian Skeuse, for an interview. We had an opportunity to get together after we compared our squad numbers and determined we both would have some time between events.

poker chip of the target

The “Poker Chip” of the target helps catch some of the shot and makes the target less prone to hopping on windy days.

Mike: Brian, tell us about the history of Reagent Chemical.

Brian: My dad, Tom Skeuse, Sr. started Reagent Chemical in 1959. In 1979 the company acquired the rights to make the White Flyer clay target. Today, we have four plants in the U.S. making almost all of the clay targets used in registered shooting. We also ship clay targets all over the world. We concentrate on producing targets with very high levels of consistency and quality.

Mike: How many different clay targets and colors do you make?

Brian: We make nine different targets with four different colors. For the sporting clay shooters, we make a sporter, rabbit, battue, mini and a midi. The four colors are orange, white, pink and what the industry calls green. The smallest is 60 mm in diameter (that’s a bit less than 2–3/8″), and the largest is the international target at 110 mm in diameter. It is a thicker stronger target and slightly larger than 4–5/16″.

Mike: Where did the White Flyer name originate?

Brian: It originated in England during live pigeon shoots many years ago. When a white pigeon was released against a white background, it presented a very difficult target. If the shot was successful, someone would say “You got a white flyer.” That was congratulations for making a tough shot.

Mike: What is the center of the target called?

Brian: It’s called the “poker chip” and has two functions. The poker chip is recessed (by ¼ of an inch) so that it will catch some of the shot when the target flies at a slightly upward angle. Also, the recessed area makes the target less prone to hopping in flight on windy days.

Mike: What does the bead above the poker chip do?

Brian: The bead helps the aerodynamics of the top surface.

Mike: What is the purpose of all those little pockets on the rounded part of the target?

Brian: There are 150 dimples, 30 rows of 5 on a diagonal. They have two functions also. The first is for flight stability (aerodynamics), and the second is for catching some of the lead shot.

Mike: Does any one size of shot pellet perform better than the other legal sizes?

Brian: The size of the shot doesn’t matter at all, but I prefer 7½’s when the target is farther away.

target dimples

The 150 dimples on a White Flyer target serve two purposes: aid flight stability and catch shot pellets to help break the target.

Mike: What are the three slots for on the largest horizontal face?

Brian: When the targets are stacked on the throwing–machine carousel, if they get rained on, the rain cools the targets and in turn cools the space between each target and creates a vacuum. The rain gets between the targets, and the vacuum prevents the bottom target from dropping cleanly on the machine’s plate to be ready to be thrown. The three reliefs (slots) relieve that vacuum.

Mike: What are the functions of the two vertical faces?

Brian: The largest diameter gives added stability in flight, and the smaller diameter is where the rubber part of the throwing arm contacts the target.

Mike: White Flyer makes quite a few sizes of targets and in several colors, but what is the paint on the targets that most trapshooters see?

Brian: It’s a fluorescent orange, latex paint.

Mike: We have completed the discussion on the outside of the target, so let’s explore the underside of a clay target. In the middle of the underside of the poker chip is a number, what is the purpose of that number?

Brian: The number tells the inspector at the factory which mold molded that particular target. If a certain target is not up to our standards, then that numbered mold can be replaced.

Mike: What is the slots’ function?

target underside

The underside of the target showing the mold number in the center of the target and teh 16 grooves that break the target when pellets strike it in flight.

Brian: The target has 16 grooves. The grooves are there to help the shooter break the target. On the mold itself, they are called fins.

Mike: What is the purpose of the bottom bead?

Brian: The bottom bead allows the target to slip more freely on the plate of the trap. The small surface area of the bead reduces friction and that increases the amount of spin of the target in flight.

Mike: What are all the materials in a target?

Brian: It is a mixture of pitch and limestone. The pitch is similar to the tar in an asphalt road. White Flyer buys the limestone already crushed. These products are mixed and heated so they can be easily molded into a target. The target is then spray–painted. We also make a bio–degradable target for the clubs that have concerns about the environment.

Mike: Brian, thank you for the clay–target education.

Knowing more about a clay target has a positive outcome to a shooter’s score. Each shooter has his/her level of interest in shooting. Each shooter decides if it is a game or sport, but everyone wants to have a good day on the range. Knowing more about a clay target, I sincerely believe, is another technique to improve our skills and raise our scores to the next level.

Mike Westjohn has shot skeet and trap targets as well as over 375,000 registered ATA targets over the past 42 years. He ranks at number 421 on the ATA’s Grand Slam list. He has earned three positions on the ATA’s All–American Men’s Second Team and placed 7th on the All–American Veterans First Team. Named to the Illinois All–State Team 18 times, Mike is currently Captain of the Illinois All–State Veterans Team. Mike believes his trapshooting accomplishments of the last five years have been due to his increased efforts to improve his mental game. He has been married to a great lady, Debbie, for 33 years and still counting.