You’ve bought a shotgun. Congratulations! You’ve shot a tree stump, maybe a cantaloupe or two, and now you’d like to try something more. Trap, skeet and sporting clays all sound like fun, but you’ve never been to a gun club. What do you do? What do you bring?
It’s intimidating for a lot of people to make their first visit to a club. The best thing to do is introduce yourself to the person behind the counter as a novice. Most places heartily welcome new customers and will help you get started.
Don’t try to act as if you’ve been there before, but do come prepared with three essentials besides your shotgun: ear and eye protection–most clubs require it—and something to hold your ammunition while you’re shooting. There are some accessories you might want to consider as well. Here’s a rundown of everything you need, and some good choices in each category:
1. Hearing Protection
Repeated shotgun blasts will damage your hearing. Spend any time around old duck hunters or trapshooters and you’ll know that’s true.
The good news is, with proper protection, you can shoot without going deaf. The effectiveness of hearing protection is expressed in NRR or “Noise Reduction Rating,” and the higher the number —typically they run from about 22 to 32 dB—the better.
Surprisingly, simple and cheap foam earplugs, properly worn, are very effective in protecting your hearing. You have to roll the plugs in your fingers to compress them, then reach over the top of your head and pull the top of your ear up with one hand while inserting the plug into your ear canal with the other. You should feel the foam expand to seal the canal. Buy a reusable set that comes with a case, such as this $2.99 pair from RangeMaxx, or spend $10 more and splurge on a 32-pair pack of Radians Disposable Foam Earplugs.You’ll be set for the season, and you’ll have extras for guests. Both products boast 32 dB NRRs.
The next step up from foam plugs are moldable plugs. Those used to be a custom proposition, but now you can buy a kit, such as the $15.99 Radians Custom Molded Earplugs and mold the plugs to fit your ears quite inexpensively. Some people find them more comfortable than foam plugs, although they offer a lower NRR of 26 dB.
I wear ear muffs over foam plugs for maximum protection. Some shooters don’t like ear muffs because they can click against a gunstock when they mount their gun, but I don’t have a problem with them and I definitely notice an improvement in protection. Slim muffs, such as Walker’s Pro Low Profile Folding Ear Muffs, work best for shotgun shooting and reduce the chance of the stock knocking against your hearing protection. The Pro Low Profile Muffs, which cost $17.99, also have a high 31 dB NRR.
One downside of wearing both muffs and plugs, though, is that you can’t hear your fellow shooters very well. For me, the solution is to wear electronic muffs that contain microphones that amplify normal sounds but shut off at the report of a gun to protect your ears. I like Caldwell’s E-MAX Low Profile electronic muffs. Although they have a much lower 23 dB NRR, they give great protection when paired with ear plugs yet let me hear what people are saying. Volume control knobs allow me to tune out any heckling from my friends. They cost $34.99.
2. Eye Protection
Target shards, ricocheting pellets, and unburned powder blowing out of an action can all get in your eye. I’ve seen someone who wasn’t wearing glasses get cut just underneath one eye by a piece of a claybird. That was all the convincing I needed to wear safety glasses when I shoot.
Shooting glasses, even very inexpensive models, are impressively shot-proof. I’ve blasted them at 10 yards with a load of 7 ½ shot (the largest shot allowed at gun clubs) and all the pellets do is dimple the lenses. Your everyday sunglasses may or may not be shot-proof. They also may not sit high enough on your face so you see through them, not over them when you mount a gun. And, unless you’re looking right into the sun, dark glasses are a poor choice for target shooting because they make it harder to see the target. You want shooting glasses.
The best lenses for clay target shooting are clear, or orange/rose tints, which make orange clays seem to glow. Many people like yellow for hazy days, and dark lenses can come in handy on sporting courses where some stations face into the sun. A pair of $15.99 Champion Open Frame Shooting Glasses in rose will get you through most clay shooting situations, but if you want to tailor your lenses to the light conditions, you might want the $39.99 Browning Claymaster glasses, which come with five interchangeable lenses in orange, yellow, clear, smoke, and blue.
If, like me, you need prescription shooting glasses, you’ll need something like the Randolph Rangers that I wear. Mine cost $170, but they have interchangeable lenses in over a dozen colors and can be ordered with prescription inserts.
3. Shell Pouch or Vest
A round of trap or skeet consists of 25 shots—conveniently, the same number of shells that come in a box. You can carry the box around, or put shells in your clothes pockets, but it’s a lot easier if you have a pouch on your belt that holds a box of shells and your empty hulls. If you plan to reload (or sell your hulls to reloaders), it’s nice to have a place for your empties, and it keeps them off the ground at the club.
A simple pouch, like the $29.99 Redhead Classic Double Shell Bag, is all you need. It has two pockets: the top one for live shells, the bottom pocket to hold your empties. The empty hull pocket unzips at the bottom to make it easier to put your hulls in the trash can or another container.
Some shooters (I am one) prefer a vest instead of a pouch. A vest has some padding on the shoulder, and pockets for choke tubes and glasses. I like vests with a mesh body so they aren’t too hot in the summer, and a pouch in the back for empties, such as the Redhead Sport Shooting Vest, which costs $39.99. A hunting vest works fine, too, and you can stash empties in the game bag.
4. Range Bag
If you shoot sporting clays, you will need something to carry up to four boxes of shells, plus a couple of extras, around the course. That can be as simple as a plastic bag or a bucket, but for any clay target game it’s nice to have a bag to carry your ammunition along with glasses, hearing protection and other accessories to the range, plus a bottle or water or two. The $79.99 RangeMaxx Shotgun Range Bag holds six boxes of shells, and has places for glasses, muffs, choke tubes (see No. 7) and other gear.
Shooting gloves aren’t a necessity, but they feel like one on those very cold days at the range. You will need gloves if you shoot a double gun with a forend so thin that you have to grip the barrels, which will heat up and become uncomfortably hot to the touch after only a few rounds. You want thin gloves that allow maximum dexterity, such as Redhead’s Shooting Gloves, which will help you keep a firm grip on your gun. Price is $29.99.
6. Choke Tube Wrench
Some shooters like to change chokes during a round of sporting clays to deal with targets that may be very close or very far, or you might want to change from a tight choke for trap shooting to an open choke for Skeet.
Your gun came with a choke tube wrench, I know, but it’s probably a flat piece of steel. Once you try a wrench with a handle, like the Carlson’s Choke Tube Speed Wrench you’ll never want to use the flat wrench again. The $20 crank spins out tubes in no time, and it give you extra leverage for getting a sticky choke turning.
7. Choke Tubes
Interchangeable choke tubes allow you to vary the spread of your shot pattern to properly engage targets near and far. Most guns come with at least three tubes, although the Remington 870 Express comes with only a Modified choke. Usually guns come with an Improved Cylinder for close range, a Modified for medium (25-35 yard) range, and a Full for long range. Those three chokes will also see you through your first rounds of trap, skeet and sporting clays. If you want to add, say, a wide open Skeet choke for the close-range game of skeet, or if you need IC and Full to round out the selection for your Express, Redhead Choke Tubes cost around $20 and fit a variety of guns.
8. Shell Catcher
If you shoot trap with a semiautomatic shotgun, you will want something to stop the hulls from hitting the person next to you as they fly out of your ejection port. A rubber band slid down around the receiver over the ejection port works in a pinch. Better is a $15-$20 catcher made by T&S that snaps on and off the receivers of many popular semiautos, or Birchwood Casey’s $20 Save-It Shell Catcher, which goes onto your gun with sticky tape and has an arm you can move out of the way when you’re not shooting trap.