Florida Sporting Clays: 'Golf with a Shotgun'

    By Terry Gibson

    A few years ago, my family joined the South Florida Shooting Club and became one of more than 3 million people of all ages now participating in “sporting clays,” one of the fastest growing sports in America.

    It’s improved our shotgunning skills, and provides so much wholesome family fun time. We are so lucky to live in South Florida, where several awesome shooting sports facilities make the region one of the epicenters of this exciting, challenging pursuit.

    Having grown up hunting, we like that sporting clays courses are designed to simulate field shooting. Courses are laid out in natural settings and typically include 10 to 12 shooting "stations." Shooters move from one station to the next to complete the course. Shooters are challenged with a wide variety of targets that duplicate the escape tactics of wild game. Clays “flush” like quail, hop like rabbits, and speed across the sky fast as the swiftest waterfowl.

    Some describe it as, “Golf with a shotgun,” and as a lot more fun. Each station has a different set of challenges that requires forethought and variations on the swing.  Instead of picking between irons and woods, you adjust the chokes in the shotgun depending on the shot distance.

    Many avid shooters have moved to Everglades region so they can enjoy the sport year-round in the warm sunshine. Year-round tournaments draw competitors to South Florida from all over the world. And organizations often include a friendly sporting clays competition as part of team-building staff retreats.

    Charities also know that a tournament is a sure way to raise money for good causes.  But most of all, families are realizing that clay shooting is a safe, exciting and affordable sport to be enjoyed together. Some of the best types of sibling rivalries are born on the course. Here’s a guide to some of South Florida’s finest facilities.

    The orange clay exploded seconds later, when the “shot string” caught up with it.

    - Peter W. Cross for VISIT FLORIDA

    florida sporting clays

    Sporting clays courses are designed to simulate field shooting. Courses are laid out in natural settings and typically include 10 to 12 shooting "stations."

    - Peter W. Cross for VISIT FLORIDA

    South Florida Shooting Club

    Avid shooters move to the beautiful Treasure Coast to shoot at this world-class facility, which hosts many nationally recognized National Sporting Clays Association tournaments.

    The club features a magnificent collection of shotguns in the gun room. Shooters are challenged by eight trap fields under stadium lights, four fully automated sporting clay courses with 15 stations on each, two skeet fields, a FITASC parcours, as well as a fully automated ZZ ring. With diverse levels of difficulty, professional instructors, and a family friendly clubhouse, the club caters to the needs of all levels of shooters.

    Various types of membership are available, and the club welcomes requests for charity and corporate events. The South Florida Shooting Club is located in Martin County, in Palm City, close to I-95 and about one hour from the Palm Beach International Airport.

    The elegant interior of the South Florida Shooting Club’s Clubhouse, near Stuart, Florida.

    - Peter W. Cross for VISIT FLORIDA

    sporting clays florida

    The South Florida Shooting Club, is one of the nation’s premier shooting destinations.

    - Peter W. Cross for VISIT FLORIDA

    Markham Skeet, Trap & Sporting Clays

    Located just minutes from the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International AirportMarkham Park, one of the most popular facilities open to the public, is operated by Broward County.  It boasts a unique setting including camping adjacent to the Everglades Water Conservation areas, and offers trap and skeet fields, a challenging 5 stand and a shady, 12-station sporting clays course. Competitors look forward to monthly sporting clays tournaments.

    OK Corral Gun Club

    Located near the north shore of Lake Okeechobee, about one hour from the Palm Beach International Airport, the OK Corral Gun Club is a destination unto itself. Stay in the deluxe cabins while enjoying 50 acres of sporting clays courses, five stand and wobble trap, among other shooting disciplines. Enjoy great food at the High Noon Café. The Ranch House is a great place for weddings, meetings and retreats, as well as an exciting place to have a party for any reason.

    Quail Creek Plantation

    Also located in OkeechobeeQuail Creek Plantation offers two scenic sporting clays courses, and a covered 5 stand field, plus quail, turkey and pheasant hunts during their respective seasons. Between shooting and enjoying gourmet southern meals, relax in the dog-friendly cottage and suites. Anglers, there’s great fishing on site, and of course on nearby, iconic Lake Okeechobee. Quail Creek offers discounts for members.

    Okeechobee Shooting Center

    This 100-acre facility offers trap, skeet and 5 stand fields, along with excellent instructors. The Okeechobee Shooting Center staff pride itelf on their “First Shots” program, which offers an introduction to firearms safety. Stay tuned for “Camp Okeechobee,” the center’s RV and tent campground, which is under construction.

    Gulf Coast Clays at Port of the Islands

    Surrounded by Everglades National Park and the Fakahatchee Strand State Reserve near NaplesGulf Coast Clays offers a uniquely natural setting to enjoy a round of trap, skeet, five stand and sporting clays. It offers discounts to members as well as day members. Enjoy the kitchen before or after shooting.

    Vero Beach Clay Shooting Sports

    Located off Florida’s south-central coast in Vero Beach, this facility offers double trap, wobble trap, 5 stand, skeet, trap, and sporting clays, as well as shooting lessons tailored to fit your needs.  ELITE SHOTGUNS, the new owners of Vero Beach Clay Shooting Sports, are planning improvements which include a new clubhouse with an expanded Pro Shop for guns and gear sales. The grounds are also available for fundraisers or parties, with the option of including meals or even instruction as part of the package.

    Other Clay Shooting Disciplines

    For more information about the different, exciting clay-shooting games, visit claytargetsonline.com/about-the-games/.

    sporting clays accross florida

    Terry Gibson shoots on the Whitetail Course at the South Florida Shooting Club, which also has eight lighted trap fields, four automated sporting clay courses with 15 stations on each, two skeet fields, and more.

    - Peter W. Cross for VISIT FLORIDA

    The Winchester Model 21 side-by-side shotgun is an American classic. This engraved Model 21, on sale at the South Florida Shooting Club for about $26,000, comes with 20- and 28-gauge barrels, is a collector’s item.

    - Peter W. Cross for VISIT FLORIDA

    Shotgun Nomenclature

    For a helpful glossary of terms, visit the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The term “gauge” refers to the diameter of a shotgun’s barrel or “bore.” The smaller the number the bigger the bore, and the more pellets or “shot” the gun can fire relative to the size of the shell and shot size selected. Generally, clay shooters will fire 2 ¾-inch shells containing No. 8 shot.

    12 gauge shotguns are standard for competitive sporting clays shooters, unless competing in specialty events where smaller gauge guns are required. Hunters will practice on sporting clays ahead of hunting season with the guns they use in the marshes or field, which may be 12- , 16- , 20- , 28- , or .410-gauge guns.

    Because they are lighter and don’t recoil or “kick” nearly as much as a 12 gauge, many recreational shooters opt for 20 gauge shotguns. You do not want to develop a “flinch,” a reaction to the recoil that causes a shooter to lift her/his head off the stock, which can be very difficult to cure. I strongly recommend that beginners first shoot with a 20 gauge, unless you’re accustomed to shooting a 12 gauge in other sporting settings. Most really young shooters begin with the petite .410.

    The Over/Under-style shotgun, where two barrels are stocked on top of the other, is the most popular style, due to balance, reliability and the advantage of being able to select a different choke in each barrel depending on the range of the target. You will shoot a series of two clays at each station, and you may have to break each one at a different distance. The choke determines the flight patterns of the shot. A more open choked (skeet or improved) offers a wide pattern good for closer shots. A tighter choke, (modified or full) holds the pattern together longer for shots, so that there are fewer “holes” in it 35-plus meters away.

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    Eye and ear protection must be worn at all times.

    - Peter W. Cross for VISIT FLORIDA

    It’s like the gun exhales after making a tough shot.

    - Peter W. Cross for VISIT FLORIDA

    Many serious shooters opt for semi-automatic shotguns mostly because “autoloaders” reduce recoil. It’s more comfortable to shoot a hundred shells or “rounds” with certain semi-automatic operating systems, and the reduced recoil allows for easier acquisition of the second target. The drawback with the autoloader is that with only one barrel you have to break both clay pigeons with the same choke.

    Regardless of the action, the most important consideration is fit. Your eyes and the barrel must be on the same plan, or you will struggle to hit the target. Ask the resident pro to help you find a gun that is cast for a left- or right-hander, mounts properly and to make sure the comb is adjusted so that you’re looking truly down the barrel.