What shotgun shells to use for clay pigeons?

What shotgun shells to use for clay pigeons? Clay pigeon shooting, often referred to simply as “clay shooting,” has established itself as a beloved and competitive sport worldwide. Enthusiasts from all walks of life come together to test their shooting skills, accuracy, and focus against clay targets launched into the sky. It’s a sport that combines precision with the exhilaration of the chase, and mastering it requires dedication and the right tools.

In the world of clay pigeon shooting, one critical aspect often overlooked by newcomers is the selection of the appropriate shotgun shells. Your choice of ammunition can significantly impact your performance on the shooting range. Whether you’re a seasoned shooter or just starting out, understanding the nuances of shotgun shells is key to achieving success in this exciting sport.

This blog post aims to shed light on the essential considerations for selecting the right shotgun shells for clay pigeon shooting. We’ll explore the various types of shotgun shells, the importance of gauge, the ideal birdshot sizes, and much more. By the end of this guide, you’ll have the knowledge you need to make informed decisions and enhance your clay pigeon shooting experience. 

So, let’s dive in and learn how to choose the best shotgun shells to elevate your performance in this captivating sport.

If you want to take your clay pigeon shooting to the next level, then you should check out our Skeet Master. The ‘father’ of the TrapMaster.


SkeetMaster is the “father” of the TrapMaster, which applies the same technology, the gyro effect, to launch the clay pigeons. SkeetMaster is designed for the shooter, which seeks a longer training session than our TrapMaster offers. We’re expecting to launch SkeetMaster in the spring of 2025.

In development

What shotgun shells to use for clay pigeons?

Understanding clay pigeon shooting

Explanation of clay pigeon shooting as a sport

Clay pigeon shooting, often referred to simply as “clay shooting,” is a thrilling and rapidly growing sport that simulates the act of hunting by shooting at clay targets. These targets, known as clay pigeons or clay targets, are launched into the air using specialized machines known as traps or throwers. The objective is to accurately hit and break these targets with a shotgun.

What sets clay pigeon shooting apart from other shooting sports is its dynamic nature. The clay targets can be launched at various speeds, angles, and trajectories, mimicking the unpredictability of game birds in flight. This adds an element of challenge and excitement that draws both beginners and seasoned marksmen to the sport.

You can learn more about clay pigeons and how you throw them here.

Different types of clay targets used

In clay pigeon shooting, several types of clay targets are commonly used, each with its own unique characteristics and challenges:

  • Standard Targets: These are the most basic type of clay targets, typically launched straight into the air at a consistent height and speed.
  • Skeet Targets: Launched from two different traps in a crossing pattern, simulating the flight of birds rising and crossing in front of the shooter.
  • Trap Targets: Thrown away from the shooter at varying angles and heights, replicating the flight of game birds flushing from the ground.
  • Sporting Clays: Often considered the most versatile, these targets mimic a variety of game bird flights, including incoming, outgoing, and crossing patterns. Sporting clays courses offer diverse shooting scenarios.

Importance of accuracy and consistency

At the heart of clay pigeon shooting lies the pursuit of accuracy and consistency. Whether you’re a casual shooter enjoying a weekend at the range or a competitive sportsman, hitting the target consistently is the ultimate goal.

Accurate shooting requires a combination of factors, including precise aim, smooth trigger control, and proper gun mount. Consistency in your shooting technique is equally vital, as it ensures that you can replicate your success shot after shot. This sport challenges your ability to adapt to changing target trajectories and angles while maintaining both accuracy and consistency.

Understanding these fundamentals of clay pigeon shooting is crucial as we delve deeper into the topic of selecting the right shotgun shells. The right ammunition choice can significantly impact your ability to achieve accuracy and consistency on the shooting range. Stay tuned as we explore the various types of shotgun shells best suited for this dynamic and challenging sport.

For a long time clay shooting have left a negative impact on the environment and that’s why Nordic Clays have developed the Bio Clays. You can also read our blog post about the evolution and Sustainable Future of Clay Pigeon Shooting

Overview of the common types of shotgun shells

When it comes to shotgun shells, there’s a wide variety available, each designed for specific purposes. In the context of clay pigeon shooting, three primary types of shotgun shells are commonly used:

  • Birdshot: Birdshot shells are loaded with multiple small pellets, making them ideal for hitting fast-moving targets. These pellets spread out as they travel, increasing the chances of hitting a flying clay pigeon.
  • Buckshot: Buckshot shells contain larger, fewer pellets, designed for close-range defense against large game or predators. They are not suitable for clay pigeon shooting due to their limited range and potential danger.
  • Slugs: Slugs are solid, single-projectile rounds designed for accuracy at longer distances. They’re used for big game hunting or in situations where pinpoint accuracy is required. Like buckshot, slugs are not suitable for clay pigeon shooting.

Explanation of the differences between these types

The key difference among these shotgun shell types lies in the size and quantity of projectiles they contain:

  • Birdshot: Birdshot shells are filled with numerous small pellets, usually made of lead or steel. These pellets are relatively small in diameter and spread out as they travel, creating a wider pattern.
  • Buckshot: Buckshot shells, on the other hand, contain fewer, larger pellets. These pellets are designed for close-quarters use and are typically much larger than birdshot pellets.
  • Slugs: Slugs are solid, single-projectile rounds that are much larger and heavier than pellets. They are designed for precision and accuracy at longer distances.

Emphasis on why birdshot shells is typically used for clay pigeons

For clay pigeon shooting, the most commonly used shotgun shell type is birdshot. This choice is primarily driven by the sport’s requirements:

  • Accuracy: Birdshot provides the necessary pattern spread to increase the chances of hitting a fast-moving clay target. It allows for a margin of error in aiming while still breaking the target.
  • Safety: Birdshot poses less risk of damaging the shooting range infrastructure or causing harm to bystanders, as the individual pellets lose energy quickly and disperse over distance.
  • Target Preservation: Birdshots are less likely to shatter the clay pigeon into tiny fragments, making it easier for the target to be reused.
  • Versatility: Birdshots are versatile and can be used in a variety of shotgun gauges, making it suitable for shooters with different firearms.

In summary, while there are various types of shotgun shells available, birdshot stands out as the preferred choice for clay pigeon shooting due to its accuracy, safety, and suitability for the sport’s specific needs. As we continue our exploration of shotgun shell selection, we’ll delve deeper into the factors that determine which birdshot size is best suited for clay pigeons.

What shotgun shells to use for clay pigeons?

Gauge selection

Explanation of shotgun gauge and its significance

Shotgun gauge refers to the bore diameter or internal diameter of the shotgun’s barrel. It plays a crucial role in determining the size and type of shotgun shell the firearm can safely and effectively use. Understanding shotgun gauges is fundamental when selecting the right ammunition for clay pigeon shooting.

Shotgun gauges are typically expressed as a fraction of an inch. For example:

  • 12-gauge: The bore diameter is approximately 0.729 inches.
  • 20-gauge: The bore diameter is approximately 0.615 inches.
  • 28-gauge: The bore diameter is approximately 0.550 inches.

The lower the gauge number, the larger the bore diameter, resulting in a larger shell. As a general rule, larger gauge shotguns have more recoil but can accommodate larger and more powerful shotgun shells.

Recommendation of suitable shotgun gauges for clay pigeon shooting

When it comes to selecting the right shotgun gauge for clay pigeon shooting, several options can work well. However, two gauges are commonly recommended for this sport:

  • 12-Gauge: The 12-gauge shotgun is the most popular choice for clay pigeon shooting. Its versatility, availability of ammunition, and variety of shotgun shell loads make it a great option for both beginners and experienced shooters. The recoil can be managed with practice, and it can handle various clay target scenarios.
  • 20-Gauge: The 20-gauge shotgun is a slightly smaller and lighter option than the 12-gauge. It offers reduced recoil, making it an excellent choice for novice shooters, young shooters, or individuals who are recoil-sensitive. While it may have slightly less shot capacity, it can still effectively break clay targets.

Advantages and disadvantages of different gauges

Each shotgun gauge has its own set of advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages of the 12-gauge:

  • Versatile and widely available.
  • Offers a wide range of shotgun shell options for different clay target scenarios.
  • Suitable for shooters of all experience levels.
  • Effective at breaking clay targets across varying distances and angles.

Advantages of the 20-gauge:

  • Reduced recoil compared to the 12-gauge, making it more comfortable for some shooters.
  • Suitable for younger or smaller-framed shooters.
  • Effective for most clay target scenarios at moderate distances.

Disadvantages of the 12-gauge:

  • May have more recoil, which can be challenging for beginners.
  • Heavier than the 20-gauge, which can be tiring during long shooting sessions.

Disadvantages of the 20-gauge:

  • Limited shot capacity compared to the 12-gauge.
  • Fewer ammunition options in certain regions.

In summary, the choice between the 12-gauge and 20-gauge shotgun depends on factors such as your shooting experience, physical comfort, and the type of clay pigeon shooting you plan to engage in. Both gauges have their merits, so it’s essential to consider your individual preferences and requirements when selecting the right shotgun for your clay shooting endeavors.

Choosing the right birdshot size

Introduction to birdshot sizes and numbers

Birdshot ammunition comes in various sizes, and they are typically denoted by numbers, such as 7.5, 8, or 9. These numbers indicate the size and quantity of pellets in a shell. Smaller numbers represent larger pellets but fewer pellets pr. shell, while larger numbers represent smaller pellets but more pellets. It’s essential to understand these sizes and their implications when selecting the right birdshot for clay pigeon shooting.

Discussion of the ideal birdshot size for clay pigeons

When it comes to clay pigeon shooting, the ideal birdshot size typically falls within the range of 7.5 to 9. These sizes are favored for several reasons:

  • Spread Pattern: Smaller shot sizes like 8 and 9 produce a tighter pattern, which is beneficial for hitting clay pigeons at a distance. The pellets stay closer together, increasing the likelihood of striking the target.
  • Adequate Pellets: Even though these pellets are small, a single shotgun shell can contain a significant number of them. This provides ample opportunities to hit the clay target and break it.
  • Reduced Recoil: Smaller shot sizes generally result in less recoil, making shooting more comfortable, especially during extended practice sessions.
  • Minimized Damage to Targets: Smaller pellets are less likely to shatter the clay pigeon into small fragments, making it easier to recover and reuse the target.

Factors affecting birdshot selection

Choosing the right birdshot size isn’t a one-size-fits-all decision; it depends on several factors, including:

  • Target distance: For close-range clay pigeons, such as trap shooting, 7.5 or 8 birdshot may be suitable. For longer-distance shots in sporting clays, 8 or 9 birdshot may offer better accuracy.
  • Weather conditions: Wind and weather conditions can affect pellet performance. In windy conditions, larger shot sizes like 7.5 may provide better stability and accuracy.
  • Choke selection: The choke on your shotgun’s barrel can influence the spread pattern of the shot. Different chokes may work better with specific birdshot sizes, so it’s essential to consider choke selection when choosing your ammunition.
  • Personal preference: Ultimately, personal preference plays a role in birdshot selection. Some shooters may find that they shoot more accurately and consistently with one size over another, so experimenting with different sizes can be beneficial.

Remember that clay pigeon shooting is as much about skill and technique as it is about ammunition selection. It’s a good practice to try different birdshot sizes during your training sessions to determine which one suits your shooting style and preferences best. With experience, you’ll develop a keen sense of which birdshot size is ideal for different clay pigeon shooting scenarios, allowing you to consistently hit your targets with precision.

Shotgun shell brands and quality

Importance of choosing reputable brands

When it comes to shotgun shells for clay pigeon shooting, the brand you choose matters more than you might think. Opting for reputable and well-established brands ensures that you receive a product that meets consistent quality standards. Here’s why it’s crucial to choose trusted brands:

  • Reliability: Reputable brands have a track record of producing reliable ammunition that functions as expected, reducing the risk of misfires or malfunctions.
  • Consistency: Quality control measures at established brands lead to consistent performance in terms of shot patterns, velocities, and overall reliability.
  • Safety: Choosing trusted brands means you can trust that the ammunition is manufactured to high safety standards, reducing the risk of accidents or issues on the shooting range.
  • Availability: Well-known brands typically have widespread distribution, making it easier to find the ammunition you need for clay pigeon shooting.

Factors to consider when evaluating shotgun shell quality

When evaluating the quality of shotgun shells for clay pigeon shooting, consider the following factors:

  • Shotshell construction: Examine the shell’s construction, including the crimp, hull material, and primer. High-quality shells have sturdy construction that can withstand the rigors of shooting.
  • Shot quality: Quality ammunition uses consistent and round shot pellets, which contribute to consistent shot patterns and accuracy.
  • Powder quality: The type and quality of powder used can affect velocity and recoil. Reliable shells use consistent, clean-burning powder.
  • Recoil management: Some shotgun shells are designed to have reduced recoil, making them more comfortable for shooters. Consider your recoil tolerance when selecting ammunition.
  • Ammunition specifications: Read the specifications on the ammunition box, which should include details on shot size, load, and velocity. Ensure it aligns with your shooting needs.

Recommended brands known for clay Pigeon shooting

While there are numerous reputable ammunition brands on the market, several have gained recognition for their quality and performance in clay pigeon shooting. Some recommended brands known for their reliability in this sport include:

  • Federal: Federal ammunition offers a wide range of shotgun shells suitable for clay pigeon shooting, known for their consistent performance and reliability.
  • Winchester: Winchester has a long history of producing quality shotgun ammunition, with options that cater to various shooting disciplines, including clay sports.
  • Remington: Remington is another trusted name in the ammunition industry, offering shotgun shells suitable for clay pigeon shooting, known for their consistency and performance.
  • Fiocchi: Fiocchi is known for its premium-quality shotgun ammunition, including a variety of loads tailored to clay shooting.
  • Eley: Eley specializes in clay pigeon shooting ammunition and is renowned for its precision and performance in the sport.

While these brands have established themselves in the world of clay pigeon shooting, it’s essential to remember that personal preferences may vary. It’s a good practice to try different brands and loads to find the ammunition that best suits your shotgun and shooting style. Ultimately, selecting the right shotgun shell brand and quality ensures a smoother and more enjoyable experience on the shooting range.

Environmental considerations

Addressing environmental concerns related to lead shot

As responsible clay pigeon shooters, it’s crucial to be aware of and address the environmental concerns associated with traditional lead shot. Lead is a toxic material that can harm the environment, wildlife, and even humans if not managed properly. Here’s why addressing these concerns is essential:

  • Environmental impact: Lead shot can contaminate soil and water, posing a threat to ecosystems and wildlife.
  • Health Risks: Consuming game that has been shot with lead ammunition can expose humans to lead poisoning, a serious health risk.
  • Regulatory changes: Many regions have implemented or are considering bans on lead shot due to its environmental and health hazards.

Alternatives like steel and non-toxic shot

In response to the environmental concerns associated with lead shot, many shooters are transitioning to alternative materials like steel and non-toxic shot. These alternatives offer several benefits:

  • Environmental friendliness: Steel and non-toxic shot do not pose the same risks to the environment and wildlife as lead shot.
  • Health safety: Non-toxic shot eliminates the risk of lead exposure to humans when consuming game.
  • Legal compliance: Many areas have adopted regulations that require the use of non-toxic shot for waterfowl hunting and, in some cases, clay pigeon shooting.
  • Performance: Advances in ammunition technology have improved the performance of non-toxic shot, making it a viable option for clay pigeon shooters.

Compliance with local regulations

When selecting shotgun shells for clay pigeon shooting, it’s essential to check and comply with local regulations regarding the use of lead shot. Regulations can vary from one region to another and may dictate the type of ammunition you can use and where you can shoot.

To ensure compliance:

  • Research local laws: Familiarize yourself with the laws and regulations in your area pertaining to ammunition and shooting sports.
  • Use approved alternatives: If lead shot is prohibited, opt for steel or non-toxic shot to ensure you are in compliance with local regulations.
  • Practice responsible shooting: Regardless of the ammunition you use, always prioritize safe and responsible shooting practices to protect the environment and wildlife.

In summary, clay pigeon shooters have a responsibility to be environmentally conscious and comply with local regulations. By transitioning to non-toxic shot alternatives and staying informed about the rules in your area, you can enjoy clay pigeon shooting while contributing to the preservation of the environment and the health of both wildlife and humans.

Practical tips for clay pigeon shooters

Storage and handling of shotgun shells

Properly storing and handling your shotgun shells is crucial for both safety and performance. Consider the following tips:

  • Dry and cool storage: Store your shotgun shells in a dry and cool place, away from direct sunlight and moisture. High humidity can affect the integrity of the ammunition.
  • Check for damage: Before using a shell, inspect it for any signs of damage, such as dents or corrosion. Damaged shells should not be used, as they can be unsafe.
  • Keep shells in original packaging: Shotgun shell boxes are designed to protect and organize your ammunition. Keep shells in their original packaging to prevent damage and confusion.
  • Rotate stock: If you have a stockpile of shotgun shells, use the oldest ones first to ensure that your ammunition remains fresh.

Maintenance tips for your shotgun

Regular maintenance of your shotgun is essential to ensure its reliability and longevity. Here are some maintenance tips to follow:

  • Cleaning: After each shooting session, clean your shotgun thoroughly to remove fouling, debris, and residue. This helps maintain proper function.
  • Inspect for wear: Periodically inspect your shotgun for signs of wear or damage. Pay attention to the action, trigger, and barrel. Address any issues promptly.
  • Lubrication: Apply a light coat of lubricant to the moving parts of your shotgun, such as the action and hinge points, to ensure smooth operation.
  • Check chokes: If your shotgun has interchangeable chokes, inspect and clean them regularly. Ensure they are tightened properly and not damaged.
  • Storage: When not in use, store your shotgun in a secure and dry location, preferably in a gun safe. This helps protect it from theft, damage, and environmental factors.

Practice and experience

Improving your clay pigeon shooting skills requires consistent practice and gaining valuable experience. Here are some tips to help you become a more proficient shooter:

  • Regular range Time: Dedicate time to visit the shooting range regularly. Practicing different clay target scenarios will improve your accuracy and consistency.
  • Seek instruction: Consider taking lessons from experienced clay pigeon shooters or certified instructors. They can provide valuable guidance on technique and safety.
  • Variety of targets: Challenge yourself by shooting at various clay target presentations, including incoming, outgoing, crossing, and bouncing targets. This broadens your skills.
  • Record progress: Keep a shooting log to track your progress, noting improvements and areas that require attention. This helps you set goals and work towards them.
  • Mental focus: Develop mental discipline and focus when shooting. Concentrate on each target and maintain a consistent routine for every shot.
  • Safety first: Always prioritize safety on the shooting range. Follow safety rules and guidelines, and wear appropriate protective gear.

In conclusion, clay pigeon shooting is not only an enjoyable sport but also one that demands attention to detail and dedication to continuous improvement. By following proper storage and handling practices for shotgun shells, maintaining your shotgun, and committing to regular practice, you can enhance your skills and make the most of your clay pigeon shooting experience.

What shotgun shells to use for clay pigeons?


In this comprehensive guide, we’ve explored the critical aspects of selecting the right shotgun shells for clay pigeon shooting. Here’s a quick recap of the key points we’ve covered:

  • We introduced clay pigeon shooting as a thrilling sport that demands accuracy and consistency.
  • We discussed the different types of shotgun shells, emphasizing the use of birdshot for clay pigeons.
  • We explained the significance of shotgun gauge selection and recommended 12-gauge and 20-gauge as suitable options.
  • We delved into the importance of choosing the right birdshot size, typically ranging from 7.5 to 9.
  • We highlighted the significance of selecting reputable shotgun shell brands known for their quality and performance.
  • We addressed environmental considerations related to lead shot, emphasizing the shift to non-toxic alternatives.
  • We encouraged compliance with local regulations to ensure responsible and sustainable shooting practices.
  • We provided practical tips for storage, handling, and maintenance of shotgun shells and your shotgun.
  • We emphasized the value of consistent practice and gaining experience to improve your clay pigeon shooting skills.

As you embark on your clay pigeon shooting journey or continue to refine your skills, it’s essential to make informed decisions when selecting shotgun shells. Your choice of ammunition plays a crucial role in your success and enjoyment of the sport. By considering factors such as shotgun gauge, birdshot size, and the environmental impact of your ammunition, you can make choices that align with your shooting goals and ethical responsibilities.

In conclusion, clay pigeon shooting offers a unique blend of challenge, precision, and excitement. The right choice of shotgun shells can enhance your performance, allowing you to break more clay targets with confidence. It’s a sport that not only provides enjoyment but also fosters skill development, discipline, and camaraderie among fellow shooters.

Frequently Asked Questions about shotgun shells for clay pigeon shooting

What is clay pigeon shooting?

Clay pigeon shooting is a sport that involves shooting at clay targets (clay pigeons) launched into the air. It simulates hunting and challenges participants’ accuracy and consistency.

Why is choosing the right shotgun shell important for clay pigeon shooting?

Selecting the right shotgun shell is crucial because it can significantly impact your accuracy and success in breaking clay targets. The right ammunition choice enhances your overall shooting experience.

What are the common types of shotgun shells?

Common shotgun shell types include birdshot, buckshot, and slugs. Birdshot is typically used for clay pigeon shooting due to its spread pattern and suitability for fast-moving targets.

What shotgun gauge should I use for clay pigeon shooting?

The choice of shotgun gauge depends on your personal preference and shooting style. The 12-gauge and 20-gauge are the most common choices for clay pigeon shooting, each with its advantages and disadvantages.

Which birdshot size is ideal for clay pigeons?

Birdshot sizes 7.5 to 9 are generally considered ideal for clay pigeon shooting. Smaller shot sizes provide a tighter pattern, enhancing your chances of hitting the target.

Why should I consider non-toxic shot alternatives?

Non-toxic shot alternatives, such as steel shot or non-lead materials, are preferred for environmental reasons. They reduce the risk of lead contamination in the environment and protect wildlife and human health.

How can I ensure I’m complying with local regulations for shotgun shells?

To ensure compliance, research and familiarize yourself with the laws and regulations regarding ammunition and shooting practices in your specific area. Always use approved ammunition types to meet local requirements.

What maintenance should I perform on my shotgun?

Regular cleaning, inspection, and lubrication of your shotgun are essential for safety and reliability. Keep your firearm in good working condition to ensure consistent performance.

How can I improve my clay pigeon shooting skills?

Practice regularly, seek instruction from experienced shooters or instructors, and challenge yourself with various clay target presentations. Maintaining focus and adhering to safety guidelines are also crucial for skill development.

Are there recommended shotgun shell brands for clay pigeon shooting?

Some reputable brands known for producing quality shotgun ammunition for clay pigeon shooting include Federal, Winchester, Remington, Fiocchi, and Eley. However, personal preferences may vary, so experimentation is encouraged to find the best fit for your shooting style.

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