Harry Winchester


History of Clay Shooting

Clay Pigeon Shooting or Clay Shooting is most simply described as the sport of shooting moving Clay Targets  or Clay Pigeons with a shotgun. I refrain from describing the Targets or Clays as being shot into the air to simulate the flight of pigeons as the sport attempts (or at least originally) attempted to simulate the flight of several types of birds and movement of animals such as rabbits.

The sport is known by several terms such as Clay Target shooting and trap shooting but the original: ’Clay Pigeon Shooting’ is the one that helps us understand the history of clay shooting the best.

A Gentleman and Gamblers Sport.

The origins clearly lay in game shooting and were developed in England as a means by which ‘gentlemen’ could practice shooting in preparation for the shoot at Lord Soandso’s estate, as, such meets were vital to their social standing. The gentlemen of the London clubs devised a means by which their appetite for betting and shooting could be satisfied. Just as the game of Cricket was developed on the back of gambling so was the sport of ‘Clay Pigeon Shooting’ but in the beginning the targets were not Clay Pigeons.

Live Pigeons Trapped Under A Hat.

As mentioned, the purpose was to allow the participants to practice their game shooting technique so real pigeons were used. In the days when men wore top hats, their head attire was used as a trap under which they would put captured pigeons. The hats would be placed at varying distances from the shooter on the ground and when ready the shooter would call: ‘Pull’. A string or cable would be ‘pulled’ and the top hat would topple to release the pigeon. As the sport developed the pigeons would be held in specially designed traps and the trap mechanism would be opened, again by means of pulling a tether with the command: ‘Pull’.

The first dedicated shooting club for such shoots is believed to be at the ‘Old Hats’ Tavern in Ealing, then a village to the west of London. Although one suspects that the nature of the participants would mean you probably had a shooting club to take your respectable friends to and then the ‘Old Hats’ Tavern, so, there are likely to be lots of other venues as well.


Clay Pigeon Shooting History is Shared with the Hurlingham Club

Shooting Glass Balls.

By the time shooting live pigeons from live traps was made illegal in the U.K. in 1921, the sport of shooting moving targets that simulated birds had already evolved in several ways. Whether it was to enable a more consistent target or to allow shooting when there is a shortage of pigeons (When would that be?) the shooting of glass balls filled with feathers was started. When shot, the Targets would shatter leaving a cloud of feathers.

This type of shooting is attributed to have been invented in the U.S. by Charles Portlock. (It may have been developed in Europe in around 1850) but the limited method of launching did not create a particularly interesting pastime and the launchers of the time had a limited range. It was not until about 1877 when Captain Adam Bogardus invented a catapult that could launch the balls further with a varying launch pattern did the glass ball alternative take off (quite literally). In a classic piece of early marketing Bogardus appeared with the show men of his day,such as ‘Buffalo Bill’, in exhibition shoots and the spectacle gained a set of rules by which everyday men and women could enjoy the sport.

The Clay Pigeon Arrives On The Scene.

It was not until 1880, however, when more familiar clay pigeon was invented. George Ligowskican be credited with this invention (His patents are on record). He had earlier patents for Glass ball targets but saw the development of the clay disc as an  improvement for the sport being better in  flight, where the range was further and the launching could be done to replicate the flight of birds  more realistically. He also developed a method of launching the discs and demonstrated his inventions with the same marketing zeal as Bogardus. He arranged frequent demonstration competitions which included Bogardus. The cost of manufacture, the absence of broken glass and the variety of flight meant that eventually the clay pigeon replaced the glass ball and the trapped live pigeon shooting disciplines.

The sport of Clay Pigeon Shooting has not, however, stood still and just has it evolved from a number of geographical and social areas, it continues to encompass different disciplines and disciples, from your Olympic Athletes to your Occasional fun participant, it can be enjoyed by anybody and everybody.