Range time is key for most of us, but for some of us, only the real thing seems to teach. photo from Howard Communications

“Are you shooting straight?” I asked the guy behind me in the lunch line at a Ronald McDonald House charity sporting clays event. These benefit shoots attract everyone from casual hunters to serious tournament shooters.

“I’ve hunted my whole life and never seen one of those orange things come out of a fenceline,” he said, the implication being, I can hit real birds but not those silly clays. I smiled, nodded politely and thought “Yeah, right,” just the way I do whenever someone says that. Fact is, most hunters don’t shoot very well, and most who can really shoot learned on clay targets because that’s the only way you can pull the trigger enough times to get good.

There are exceptions. Some people shoot so many birds they don’t need to practice on clay. Gun writer L.P. Brezny is one of the best field shotgunners I know, but he has no interest in clays—perhaps because he can’t eat them—and he just sort of waves his gun at them. On the other hand, he shoots many game birds. He’s never out of practice and he’s deadly in the field.

My friend Travis Mueller is a rep for Avery Outdoors. Waterfowl hunting is his job, but fishing is his passion, and he wouldn’t think of shooting clay targets while there are walleyes to be caught. But, his eye-hand coordination was good enough for him to play Single-A baseball, and he hunts non-stop from September through January. When Travis shoots at a duck or goose, he folds it.

Me, I was an awful shot on game until I started shooting targets. Whatever success I have hitting birds comes directly from practice on clays. The best display of wild bird shooting I’ve ever seen was put on by Andy Duffy, my partner on a Ruffed Grouse Society national hunt. Duffy is a Sporting Clays champion and has shot 100 straight several times.