In trap, skeet, and sporting clays breaking 100 out of 100 targets in a round is a perfect score. It’s an accomplishment any shooter (especially a new shooter) can be proud of. Heck, don’t even worry about 100 straight – 25 and 50 straights are pretty sweet, too. Gun club websites and bulletin boards are justly cluttered with pictures of shooters holding those 25, 50, and 100 straight patches. Each one is a memorable milestone in the development of a competitive clays shooter.
You’ve probably walked off the range with a shooter who just shot a straight. He or she will almost always wear a big smile, but despite the accomplishment might say in feigned humility, “Boy, that was ugly!”
Ugly!?! How can a perfect score be ugly?
Sometimes shooters can chip and chunk their way to a straight. That means many of the targets were barely hit. Clay targets that broke in half or cast off a barely visible chip were ALMOST missed. They are signs the target was hit by as few as two or three pellets.
You’ll sometimes hear someone refer to the “golden BB” when a target is barely broken. That means the break was so feeble it looked like it was hit by only one lucky BB flying well outside the gun’s normal pattern. In fact, it normally takes two or three pellet strikes to visibly break a target. A single pellet strike usually results in that tiny puff of smoke you occasionally see before you hear the scorer call, “Lost!”
The rule in all the clay target games is a target is counted as “dead” only if the shot breaks off a visible chip. While a lot depends on light conditions, the distance, and the acuity of the scorer’s eyes, a visible chip is usually about the size of a dime or larger. (A word about good sportsmanship. When the scorer calls a loss for a target on which you saw a chip, you should speak up immediately. If it was your target, the scorer will probably poll the other shooters to ask if they saw anything. However, you should also speak up if the scorer calls a loss, but you saw a chip from one of your fellow shooter’s targets.)
When it comes to a score sheet, all breaks are scored with an “X” and all misses are scored with an “O.” As a friend once put it, “In sporting clays, we score the targets. We don’t judge them.” That’s a characteristic appealing to many participants. Black or white. Hit or miss. Dead or lost.
While the score sheet reveals no difference between soot balls and dime-sized chips, how a target breaks reveals a lot about how a shooter is seeing the targets on any given day. Especially in skeet shooting, you can tell a shooter is “on” when he or she is hitting the front half of most targets. In fact, they call the front of the target, “… the money side.” If hits are on the back half, don’t be surprised if that shooter struggles in later rounds. In sporting clays, your buddies will probably kid you about “sending the dog” when you have light hits or break the back half of the target.
In competition, all hits are scored the same, but in practice rounds, how targets break is revealing. Practice is the time and place to make adjustments and experiment. On the skeet field, for example, you can work on adjusting your leads based on how the targets are breaking. If you overcompensate in practice, nothing’s lost.
How targets break can also tell you about the pattern a gun is producing with a particular load and choke combination. Say for example, on the trap range you have an improved modified tube in your gun. From 16 yards you’re inking target after target. That’s great, and it’s a wonderful confidence builder, but it also might be telling you that in competition you could go with a modified or even improved cylinder choke to give you maximum margin for error. That might buy you an extra target or two in 100, and that can make all the difference.
The beauty of reading breaking targets is you can coach yourself to better hits. The problem with missing completely is you often can’t tell how you missed. You may need an instructor to look over your shoulder to figure it out.
As you navigate the path to breaking your first straights, how the targets break make great trail markers. Read them carefully, and you’ll progress faster.