How To Sell Clay Target Shotguns to New Shooters

Though many new shooters want a one-size-fits-all shotgun, retailers need to explain the crucial differences between semi-autos and over/under models

Man aiming a rifle
It’s all about surprise, delight, and exhilaration—really.Shot Business

There’s a thrill to smashing a clay target with a shotgun that punching paper at the range can’t match. It’s a mix of surprise, delight, and exhilaration, and a lot of the people who try clay shooting once want to experience that feeling again and again. They take up trap, skeet, or sporting clays—sometimes all three. And there are more of these shooters every day.

Clay shooters make up a growing market that you shouldn’t ignore. While hunting-license sales may be down, clay target participation is up. Youth programs have brought thousands to the sport and keep it growing. Sports shooting participation among adults, especially in sporting clays, continues to increase, too.

If you can steer your customers to the right target gun, they’ll be back for accessories and ammo to feed their growing clay habit. Here’s a cheat sheet on what you need to know to sell clays guns.

The Customers

A lot of the people who come into your store looking for a new clay-target gun will be complete newcomers to shooting or to the clay-target sports. Some will be hunters who discovered clay targets first as hunting practice. Many will be middle-and high-school students and their parents. And a few will be experienced target shooters. Somewhere between 10 and 20 percent will be women.

They may want a gun for a specific discipline. They may want one gun for all the clay-target sports, or even a gun for both hunting and clays. They may not actually know what they want, and it then becomes your job to find the right gun for their needs. If you can help them get a good start, they will be back for accessories, ammunition, and maybe even reloading equipment and upgraded guns.

Target Guns vs. Hunting Guns

Although all clay-target sports began as hunting practice, they have evolved into ends in themselves, and a gun that’s good for hunting isn’t necessarily good for clays.

Target guns have to be reliable and durable. Even a gun that’s used for only 50 targets a week in trap league will fire many more rounds in one summer than most hunting guns will in a couple of seasons. You do neither yourself nor your customer a favor by selling them a gun they’ll bring back to your shop for repairs. That rules out some, though not all, cheap shotguns.

Target guns are longer and heavier than hunting guns. The extra weight absorbs recoil, and the length adds weight to the front of the gun, so it’s easier to move smoothly to the target. Trying to hit targets with a short, light gun made for carrying all day in the field is frustrating. Almost no one ever wishes they had bought a shorter-barreled target gun.

Many target guns feature adjustable combs and pads to allow shooters to tailor the fit. Such devices tend to add weight and are not popular on hunting guns. Target guns come with other extras, too: fiber-optic beads, ported barrels to reduce muzzle rise, and extended choke tubes for quick changes.

Action Types

Man firing a semi-automatic weapon.
Semi-auto shotguns kick far less than traditional over/unders, a key selling point for some new shooters.Shot Business

Over/unders and semi-autos dominate clay-target shooting, with O/Us being the most popular. Both will fire two shots in quick succession without the shooter having to manually cycle the gun. That’s a help in sporting clays, skeet, and doubles trap.

Over/unders have reliability to recommend them; they rarely malfunction. They offer two chokes for close and far targets (sometimes a consideration in sporting clays), and they don’t make you bend over to pick up hulls, a plus for reloaders and anyone who has to police their empties. They will function with ammunition that might hang up in a semi-auto, too.

Gas semi-autos have one big advantage over any other action: They noticeably reduce recoil. Therefore, a semi-auto can be lighter than an O/U and still kick less. For that reason, gas guns make a good choice for smaller shooters or anyone without the upper-body strength to hold a heavier gun, as well as anyone who prefers the balance of a single barrel. In addition, semi-autos often feature stock shims and spacers to let you customize the fit, and they often cost less than O/Us.

Pumps make reliable, affordable guns for singles trap, and you can get by with a pump for skeet shooting. It’s tough to cycle pumps quickly enough for doubles trap and sporting clays, however.

Trap Guns

Dedicated trap guns—whether single-shot, O/U, or semi-auto—are so specialized, it’s hard to do anything with them but shoot trap. They’re 12-gauges, with stocks and ribs designed to make the gun shoot high, an advantage for shooters who want to “float” the rising target over their gun barrel. If a customer will only shoot trap—the most popular target game, and by far the most common discipline for scholastic team shooters—they’ll shoot their best with a dedicated trap gun.

Skeet and Sporting Clay Guns

A gun for skeet or sporting clays should be a semi-auto or O/U, as the games require shooting doubles. Twelve and 20 gauge are the most common choices, though both disciplines include small-bore events. The trend in both is to longer barrels, because they add weight up front for a smoother swing. Thirty-inch barrels are popular on pumps and semi-autos, while most O/Us have 30- and 32-inch barrels. Currently, 32 inches is the most popular length.

These days, almost all dedicated skeet guns are high-end guns intended for serious tournament competition; most manufacturers no longer offer entry-level skeet-specific guns. For most shooters, a sporting-clays gun will serve for both games, and a lot of sporting shooters also enjoy skeet. If someone wants one gun for all disciplines, steer them to a sporting-clays model. It is easier to shoot trap with a sporting-clays/skeet gun than it is to shoot skeet and sporting with a high-shooting trap gun.

Field Guns for Clays

Some people, especially some parents of high-school and middle-school competitors, want to buy one gun for all clay-target sports and hunting and be done with it. In my opinion, a 12- or 20-gauge gas semi-auto with a 28-inch barrel is the most versatile shotgun made, and it will handle any field or target situation. It’s a “jack of all trades, master of none” solution, but for some people, it’s the perfect gun for their needs. For young customers who want a gun for hunting and singles trap, a Remington 870 or Benelli Nova pump might be a great solution.

Gun Fit

Three people at a shooting range.
When a new shooter learns how much fun breaking clays can be, they’ll come back to you for more gear.Shot Business

To sell guns to new shooters, you should know the basics of gun fit, though you don’t have to be a gun fitter. You should also be able to show a novice how to hold a shotgun properly, and help them find a stock with the right length and a comb height that puts their eye over the rib.

Gun fit with new shooters needn’t be an exact science. Until a shooter is practiced enough to mount and hold the gun the same way shot after shot, gun fit can be approximate. Later on, they may need to fine-tune the fit. If you have a gunsmith on the premises, then you can shorten and lengthen stocks, add pads or adjustable buttplates, and do more to solve fit problems. Meanwhile, your job is to put them into a gun that will keep them happy and breaking clays, so that you see them coming back to your shop time and again for accessories and ammunition.

Eight Good Target Guns

  1. WINCHESTER SXP TRAP: Inexpensive but well-thought-out and well-made, the SXP comes with all the competition features in both full-size and micro versions. SRP: $479.99. Booth #13334.
  2. BERETTA A300 OUTLANDER (FIELD AND SPORTING): The field version is affordable, dead reliable, and can work as a target gun for all disciplines in a pinch. The dedicated clays version is a terrific all- around target gun. SRP: $900 (field), $1,100 (sporting). Booth #11221.
  3. REMINGTON 1100 COMPETITION: An all-around clays gun, this is one of the softest-shooting semi-autos out there. SRP: $1,305. Booth #14229.
  4. BROWNING BT-99: A simple, trouble-free, single-shot trap gun, the 99 is a gun you can buy as a novice and shoot in serious competition, too. Available in full-size or compact version for smaller shooters. SRP: starts at $1,469. Booth #12740.
  5. BROWNING CITORI CX: A good value in an all-around O/U, and it has 3-inch chambers, so it can be a field gun, too. As with the BT-99, a micro version is available. SRP: $2,139. Booth #12740.
  6. BERETTA 686 SILVER PIGEON I SPORTING: Beretta’s entry-level sporting O/U will shoot forever. SRP: $2,400. Booth #13956.
  7. CZ ALL AMERICAN: Available in trap or O/U configurations, this competition gun comes with all the adjustable features of guns costing much more. SRP: $2,572. Booth #11221.
  8. BERETTA A400 XCEL: Distinguished by its bright-blue receiver, the A400 Xcel is a great choice as a sporting/skeet gun or an all-around gun. There’s also a totally adjustable A400 Multi-Target that can truly serve as one gun for all clays sports. SRP: A400 Xcel, starts at $1,750; A400 Xcel MultiTarget, $3,000. Booth #13956.

Ammunition

Keep a good supply of high-quality, inexpensive target loads on hand in as many configurations as you can. You’ll need heavy loads to sell to people whose semi-autos won’t cycle lighter loads, and lighter stuff so you can help new and young shooters get started without experiencing too much pain. Stock some low-velocity, low-recoil, 1-ounce and 7⁄8-ounce 12-gauge loads, and even some soft-shooting 3⁄4-ounce 20-gauge ammo.

Accessories

According to a recent NSSF survey, these are the top 10 clay-target accessories you should stock:

  1. Gun-cleaning products
  2. Eye protection
  3. Non-electronic ear protection
  4. Hard and soft gun cases
  5. Clay targets
  6. Choke tubes
  7. Shooting vests
  8. Range bags
  9. Shooting shirts and jackets
  10. Electronic ear protection
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