Skeet Hoopla

Clay target shooting has many disciplines. Among them are American Skeet, International Skeet, ATA, PITA and Olympic Trap, Helice, Sporting Clays, Crazy Quail, Powder Pigeon and others. People who shoot these various disciplines do so because they like the way the various games are played. I believe their preferences stem from the unpredictability of the target presentations while others emulate hunting situations.

So, my story today is about standard American Skeet. It is the clay target discipline I have been shooting competitively for almost 30 years. I like the individuality of the game…it is not a team sport. It is you against the field, and more importantly, the elusive perfect score.

Over the many years I have shot this game, I have had people tell me they did not like skeet because it is too regimented, meaning the target presentations are always the same. Those of you who shoot skeet know that to be true, but the difficulty in the game is that to win it is a game of perfection. For a competitor to win at the highest levels, you must break a perfect 100 out of 100 in any given gauge (12, 20, 28 gauge and .410 bore) and, in most cases, that only gets you to the shoot-offs. As many of you know, it is not out of the question for a good shooter to break 400x400 or 500x500, which includes the Doubles.

When one is just starting out, there are classifications from AAA all the way down to D class. In the 12-gauge event only, it even goes to E class. That gives the new shooters a chance to shoot against competitors of equal skill level. As you get better over time, naturally your classes will improve. Eventually you may reach the pinnacle of skeet and that is AAA. AAA is much like pro golf. It is scratch against the best shooters in the world. The good news is regardless of gender or age, you can compete at a very high level if you have the skill set.

With that basic background, I want to make some points about skeet I feel are important, as compared to the sporting clays discipline. Sporting clays, from station to station, has many variable target presentations, whereas in skeet the targets are the same presentation at each station. In addition, the competitor knows where the target is coming from, where it is going, how fast it is going and when it is going to be released, within one second. In other words, it is a very predictable game.

So, let me detail some of the finer points of the article. Along the way, I am going to refer to something I think is important — the Rules of Skeet.

First, let us understand the layout of the traditional skeet field. The field consists of a High House and a Low House. They are a specific distance apart (120’-9” pad 1 to pad 7). There are eight stations, seven in a semi-circle around the center stake, which is 63’ from the front of each station. The last station is Station 8, which is equally spaced between Stations 1 and 7. By the way, the targets at High and Low 8 do not pass overhead like you would think, they pass through a hooped location 18’ out and 15’ up from level ground at Station 8.

For the novice among us, on Station 1 a going-away High House is shot followed by an incoming Low House. Then a pair is shot shooting the High House bird first. The same shoot sequence from Station 1 is done on Station 2. Station 2 is a prescribed distance from Station 1 (26'-8 3/8") This distance is true between all stations around the semi-circle. I emphasize the measurement for a reason. Skeet is a game of measurements, speed and angles.

For Stations 3, 4 and 5, a single shot is taken from each house, always starting with the High House.

For Stations 6 and 7, one repeats the same shooting sequence as Station 1, only the low bird is shot first on the Doubles.

At Station 8, one shot is taken from the High House. Then once the squad has completed the High House, one shot is taken from the Low House.

If you counted, there would only be 24 shots taken in the sequence, so there is an option shot taken at the point of the competitor’s first miss. If you are straight to Low 8, then you will take two shots at Low 8, giving you a perfect 25.

Once you understand the layout of a skeet field, as I mentioned, skeet is a game of measurements, speed and angles. With practice, you can learn exactly what lead is right for each shot. Todd Bender has been known to say the key to shooting skeet well is to minimize the variables. This can be accomplished by following a process.

I am not going to attempt to give a skeet lesson. I only want to point out the process would include proper foot positions, gun mount, hold point (both in distance from the house and height of the barrel relative to the window) followed by look point and lastly the break point. To the experienced shooter, these observations will seem obvious. That is because you already do the process over and over, but to the beginner, it is something that will need to be learned until the process can go from the conscious mind to the sub-conscious.

So, now I need to get to the point of my article. Remember when I said you know where the target is coming from? Well, that is also a precise location. The High House target will appear in the window 10’ from the level ground above Station 1. The Low House will appear in the window 3’-6” from level ground and 30” right of the pad at Station 7. The target should pass through the center of a 3-foot hoop which is 18' out from the center of Station 8 and 15' up. This gets us back to where the targets should be going. Again, from a visualization standpoint, the targets should pass from the High and Low Houses through the hoop at the center stake and continue to the distance marker. The targets must be in the hoop to be considered a regular target.

At this point, let me quote you the Rules of Skeet regarding a “regular target”. Obviously, anything not a regular target is irregular and thus not a legal target. The referee should declare no bird for any irregular targets. The rule I will be quoting is from the National Skeet Shooting Association’s Official Rules & Regulations. The definition of a regular target can be found in Section III Shooting Procedure Subsection A-4. A regular target that appears after the shooters call and within a period not to exceed one (1) second, and which passes within a three-foot circle centered at a point 15 feet above the target crossing point. The target-crossing point shall be measured from the level of Station 8. The target, in still air, must carry to within a distance equivalent, on the level ground to 60 yards from the skeet house when passing though the center of the hoop, with an allowance tolerance of plus or minus two yards.

So why am I going to so much trouble defining a regular target? Because it makes a difference as to whether you can break it consistently, especially if you have practiced with regular targets. Not only is the direction established by this hoop process; the speed of the target is determined by this rule. The key component in this rule is the wording “in still air”.

Well, folks, if you live where I do, you don’t often have still air. There are those novices to the game that attempt to apply the rule literally to every situation, so they will increase the spring tension of the machine to throw a target into the wind to get it to carry to the distance marker. The novice may even slow the target down, in a downwind situation, to keep the target from going past the distance marker. Unfortunately, the result of that effort will cause the target to be faster or slower depending upon the wind direction than it should be leading one to miss High Two, one of the fastest angle shots on the field, or mess with the timing of your Doubles.

In my opinion, off-speed targets are the most detrimental to good shooting in the Doubles Event. When you have been shooting Doubles as long as I have, you develop a cadence on the pair at Station 4. If you try to maintain that cadence on off-speed targets, it will most likely result in a miss.

So here is the meat of this article. As a skeet shooter, you have the right to shoot “regular targets”, which are those that meet the NSSA definition under the rules. That is why it is so important to hoop the targets when you practice or go to a tournament. You should not let an inexperienced shooter or a pro, for that matter, call for a target not in the hoop as prescribed in the rules. I say this because everyone deserves to be on a level playing field. If you have practiced shooting regular targets at your home club, off-speed or targets out of the hoop can cause you to miss.

So, what do you do when the wind is not ideal? The NSSA allows for the use of a radar gun. This is especially helpful in windy conditions and when, due to the terrain, the distance marker cannot be placed properly or at all. Note: the distance marker, when appropriately placed, will indicate on the post where level ground is located.

The NSSA Rules state the use of a radar gun by shoot management for setting the targets is permissible so long as the height and distance requirement, specified under Rule III-A-4, Definition of a Regular Target are complied with. My interpretation, at this point, is when you have windy conditions, you cannot comply with the regular target distance rule. Remember, the rule states “in still air”. They go on to say recommendations for the use of a radar gun are available on the NSSA Member Services posted on the NSSA website.

Here is a quick recap for setting the targets with a radar gun. While pointing the radar gun at the center of the hoop, adjust the target speed for the High House to be 46.0 to 46.9 m.p.h. For the Low House, you should adjust the speed to 48.0 to 48.9 m.p.h. Just in case you are wondering why the High House target is slower than the Low House, it is simply due to the fact the High House target, while traveling the same distance as the Low House, will only increase in height from 10' to 15' (center of the hoop), an increase in elevation of 5'. On the other hand, the Low House target must travel from 3'-6" to 15' (center of the hoop), an increase in elevation of 11½'. Thus, the Low House target requires an increase in speed to achieve the correct height.

Folks, I have traveled and shot at some of the best clubs in the country, and shoot management will make every attempt they can to provide the appropriate “regular targets” for all competitors. But when the wind is blowing, there is no way to accomplish this task well without a radar gun.

Just an observation, for the most part, Singles can be accomplished with off-speed targets. However, if you practice Doubles, an off-speed target from one or both houses will wreak havoc with your timing, to say nothing about messing with your head.

So, put up the hoop and set the targets in accordance with the rules “in still air”. If you have wind, use a radar gun, it is quick and simple. Simply adjust the speed and put the target in the hoop. One other tip, at most clubs the skeet machines will have the ability to cant or tilt the machine in order to overcome crosswinds that force the target off line. Where appropriate, ask the support staff to apply cant, where possible, to attempt to keep the targets on line. The whole purpose of this exercise is to get the best possible target assisting you to achieve the best possible score.

There are any number of radar guns on the market. Some are more sensitive than others measuring in tenth of a mile per hour where others measure to the nearest m.p.h. Retail prices on radar guns range from $499 to over $1,100. The difference in prices pretty much relates to the feature set and the distance at which they can measure the speed. We are not talking about a great distance to measure the speed of a skeet target. Remember, the front of Station 1 to the hoop is only 63’. These guns are used by pro scouts at baseball games to determine the speed of pitches. Note: if you are interested, you can call the manufacturer and many times they will have used product. Baseball scouts tend to trade in last year’s models for the latest and the greatest, affording you the opportunity to get an excellent product at a significantly reduced price.

Here is one final piece of advice, don’t be reluctant to ask for the targets to be in the hoop and at the correct speed. I don’t know how many years I have suffered the frustration of going to a shoot-off and standing in line when the targets that were just hooped are raised to accommodate the wishes of the first competitor, or at least, the first few. Just because someone else feels macho and thinks they can handle whatever is thrown at them, you may not, and you have a right to a regular target as defined in the skeet rules and regulations.

I probably shouldn’t talk — I was also too reticent to speak up with all those top shooters nodding in approval, and it wasn’t long after I was going to the car having missed in the shoot-off. You see, when I practice at my home club, I hoop the targets and get them to the correct speed, by rule or radar gun. So that is what I have practiced week in and week out. Now I get to the shoot-offs and people want to move the target from the “regular target” as defined by the rules to something very different, often higher. Don’t let other people make the rules…follow them. SS


John Bulger started his skeet shooting career in 1988 at 42 years of age. He shot his first 100 straight the following year in the 28 gauge and since then has broken a total of 239  perfect scores: 90 in the 12 gauge, 77 in the 20 gauge, 54 in the 28 gauge, 10 in the .410 bore, and 8 in the doubles. John has been on 16 All-American Concurrent Teams, 21 Texas State Teams. John has earned both his AA and AAA pins including a 4x50 Pin earned at the Hodgdon Mini-Southwest in 2010. John’s most memorable accomplishments were winning the Briley Bradshaw in 1997, the Texas State 12 gauge Champion in 2002 and the Texas State Doubles Champion in 2011. That same year John was awarded the Earl Barroso Award for winning the Senior HOA at the Texas State Championships. John was also the Senior HOA Champion at the Mini-World in 2010.  During his career John has shot 170,050 registered targets. While he’s had a couple of 399s, a 400x400 is still on John’s bucket list. John served on the TSSA Board of Directors from 1997-1999 and has been a member of the Dallas Gun Club since 1989. John has been a contributing writer to Shotgun Sports since 2013.

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