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Clay Shooting for Beginners: How to Avoid a Bruise

Published September 2017

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At our little clay shoot in Chester, we teach a lot of beginners, many of them visiting us for a stag or hen party or with their family. One common complaint from those who have tried shooting before is the recoil (i.e. the kick back from the gun) with many having suffered from a bruised shoulder in the past. However, this is a problem that really doesn’t have to trouble beginners so long as the instructor considers: (1) the size and fit of gun, (2) the type of cartridge used, and (3) what they’re wearing. 


If you’re interested in shooting and want to know more about how we ensure that participants don’t get hurt, read on.

Choice of Shotgun: So this is going to be a bit technical, but the size of the gun is important. In an ideal world all of our participants would be strong enough to hold a traditional 12 bore over and under shotgun and move it around with ease. Unfortunately this is seldom the reality as many people find the weight of the gun just too much to handle. In this instance we need to reduce the weight of shotgun:

This can be done in two ways:

  • Firstly we stick with a 12 bore but move to either a single barreled auto or a lighter double barreled. My preference is usually the auto as this brings the benefit of reduced recoil as well as less weight. It’s worth remembering that with lighter double barreled guns comes more recoil as there is less weight to absorb the kick.
  • The second choice is to move down to a lighter caliber i.e. 20 bore. This shotgun will typically be both lighter and shorter, making it ideal for ladies or those with shorter frames who might be struggling to hold onto something with a long barrel and stock. The choice of whether to select a single barrel, auto or double barrel is one for the instructor but the most common option is a 20 bore over and under.

On our shoots we have sometimes, although rarely, used 410’s for participants who really struggle with even the lightest/shortest 20 bore. Generally this will be youngsters, older shooters or very lightly framed individuals, either way having a 410 on standby can allow people to take part who otherwise would physically struggle to do so. 

Type of Cartridge: Considering the vast majority of beginners on any range will only be shooting at fairly easy targets 20-30M away, it makes no sense to use heavy loads. Too much power is simple a waste not to mention increases recoil meaning there is a more significant kick back. Lighter loads are the way forward here. These light power cartridges have all the power you need to hit the targets and as we are looking for broken clays and not bruised cheeks are a great alternative to more powerful shots. A simple 21grm/fibre wad is fine for all occasions, no matter what other shooters may tell you.

What to Wear: Never underestimate the importance of what someone is wearing to a shoot, especially novices. When the weather is warm and sunny most will turn up wearing very little, in this instance we tend to hand out skeet jackets (which is essentially a shooting waistcoat) to provide a little more padding and to ensure that the gun sits securely in the shoulder.

On the other hand, when it’s cold you can expect lots of layers, coats and scarves. Normally this isn’t a problem but we still need to check that the additional clothing doesn’t hamper an individual’s ability to get the gun in tight to the shoulder or that a scarf doesn’t stop them from bringing their head to the gun. 


Clay Pigeon Shooting is a fantastic country sport and is great fun for beginners. With expert instruction and the right equipment there is no need for anyone to be bruised by a shotgun. If you’re interested in trying your hand at clay shooting, please get in touch.



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