A Newbie’s Introduction to Sporting Clays

by: Maureen Athow

I’m from New York, a Democratic, Liberal state with strict gun laws. The idea of shooting a gun never occurred to me. I was born in the Bronx, not exactly the place for a soothing walk in the woods looking for fowl, more like…elevated subway trains and honking car horns. I was introduced to Clay Shooting in somewhat of an obscure way. One of my patients (my full time job is in a dental office) showed me some photos from an outdoor sporting fair. I came across a photo of a woman at a table with a big banner. “G.R.I.T.S.” which stands for “Girls Really Into Shooting.”

I was intrigued, so I googled the name and sure enough, I found the group. The first meeting of the Hudson Valley Chapter was that week. How lucky was I?! When I showed up at Orvis Sandanona in Millbrook, New York (about an hour and half ride from New York City) on a warm Friday morning, I was surprised that there were BMW’s parked next to pickup trucks. At first, I saw a lot of men who seemed to be from all walks of life, so I wondered, “what would the women of GRITS be like?”

My initial impression was one of relief. The “girls” were not haughty, snobby or dull. They were completely not what I had feared. They were made up of all different sizes, backgrounds and personalities. They are a really fun group. At the first meeting, we were fortunate to hear from the founder of the organization, Elizabeth Lanier. She’s a NSCA Level III Instructor. Yikes–I would be attempting to shoot in front of a pro! I was pleased to find that Elizabeth and the friends that she brought with her from Virginia were extremely supportive.

Truthfully, I was a little intimidated. I didn’t know the first thing about any type of gun. Would the shotgun be heavy and complicated? Would it give me such a “kick” that I would land on my tush? How fast would the orange targets fly? I was clueless. I stepped up to the shooting area and loaded my ammunition. I was shooting with a 20 gauge over/under (meaning the barrels are on top of one another, not side by side, and not a single barrel). I was ready and told my trapper I was ready. Then I firmly shouted, “PULL”, and off went the orange clay. Well, on my fourth try I hit the clay and my next shot hit, too. Whooping and hollering is part of the GRITS way, and for a newbie they gave me quite the initiation and welcome! The feeling of hitting the clay target was truly one of empowerment, not to mention pure fun! When the clay shatters, it’s like scoring a long putt on the green or shooting a three-pointer on the court. They do say that shooting clays is a lot like golf with a shotgun. You go from station to station, attempting to the hit the flying discs from different angles and heights to simulate actual bird or rabbit hunting with targets. One does not “aim” the shotgun, but rather you point it at the target, and follow the moving target with a fluid motion until you successfully hit it.

The first step in shooting at any level or any type, whether sporting clays with shotguns or using a .22 semi automatic at the range is SAFETY! When you carry the shotgun, it is always carried open with the long barrel facing down the butt of the gun over the shoulder or under the arm.
When the instructor is working with the gun he/she always shows you that the gun is empty. There are different gauges of shotgun, the most common is 12 gauge and others are a 20 gauge or 28 gauge. Each gun has matching ammo.

What do you need to get started? When you call a place to inquire about Clay Shooting, ask about a rental for the shotgun. Also ask if you can purchase ammunition there or if you need to bring your own. Eye and ear protection is a necessity…you will not be allowed to shoot without them. Then of course, girls, there is the fashion aspect!! Yes, why not look fabulous or just comfortable or both?! As in any sport, it is important to wear the proper attire. You wouldn’t go running in boots! A shooting vest or jacket with large pockets is helpful for two reasons: One, a shooting vest often has a pad on the shoulder with texture to keep the gun in place once mounted, and Two, it provides a convenient place to hold your shotgun shells. Or, you can always wear an ammo pouch. Jeans or any type of pants are acceptable.

Good Luck, Have Fun, and PULL!

For more information about G.R.I.T.S. please go to https://gritsgobang.orgFor more information about Elizabeth Lanier, please go to