Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Proper Hold Points for Sporting Clays

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The trickiest thing in sporting clays is finding the best hold point. By hold point, we’re talking about the magic spot where you place your gun just before you call for the target. Hold your gun too far back, and you’ll end up chasing the target with all probability of never catching it. Hold your gun too far out front, and you often end up spot shooting the target with little to no swing.

Either way, the results are the same: dismal.

That’s why we tapped Gary Phillips to talk about sporting clays hold points. Gary is the former British Open Sporting Champion, American National Champion, Canadian Open Champion, U.S. Open Champion in addition to holding many titles from sporting clays competitions around the world.

by Gary Phillips

When it comes to sporting clays, many shooters seem to throw away the book on hold points.

They know where to hold the gun for each skeet station and each trap station, but when they step onto a sporting clays station they almost seem to short circuit in trying to find the perfect hold point.

In a way, it’s perfectly understandable.

Skeet and trap make it easier for you to reliably find a consistent hold point. You can use distance markers, a trap house and standard hold-point guidelines based on geometric fields.

Sporting clays, however, presents a more challenging shooting environment that can really spook a shooter.

Since sporting clays is played in a natural setting, the time of year, sunlight, shadows -- anything that Mother Nature feels like throwing at you -- can affect your mental game. You know what I mean…shooting orange targets in peak autumn foliage with low sun and mottled shadows.

The speed and distance of sporting clays targets also vary compared to skeet and trap.

Did you ever imagine that a slow incoming target could be more difficult to shoot than your standard skeet target?

Then there are the crossing tower shots that are so high and far away you feel like your shooting at a UFO.

But all of these shots can be made, and the place for you to start is your hold point.

What we’ll do in this lesson is go over the basic hold points for the most popular types of sporting clays targets. Once you feel confident with your hold point, the rest of the game starts to fall in place for you.

Now just one thing before we get started.

What I’m about to tell you applies to two-eyed shooters, or shooters who wear patches. In fact, sporting clays should be shot with both eyes to maximize your peripheral vision. You want to give yourself every available advantage to see the target as early as possible -- and that starts with both open eyes.

One of the most common mistakes I see in sporting clays shooters is they hold their gun too far back. They confuse a visual advantage with an extreme hold point.

For example, with a quartering away target why would you want to hold your gun 10 yards further back than necessary? All you end up doing is chasing the target.

By moving your hold point 10 yards further out, you’re giving the target a chance to slow down and your eyes to focus on it. Otherwise, all you see is a blur.

The problem gets worse on a report pair where you’ll find yourself swinging the gun all over the place with inconsistent results as you try to catch up with targets.

Holding your gun too far back puts you at a disadvantage.

Remember: Economy of movement will guide to the best hold point --regardless of the target presentation.

By using that rule myself, my hold points are so good that I hardly have to move the barrel. In fact, I’ve been accused of a cardinal sin in sporting clays, which is spot shooting (where you let the target run into the barrel).

But the fact is I do swing my gun -- only minimally. Now I admit, this comes with practice. To do that, however, you first have to believe that economy of movement really does work for you.

So with that in mind, let’s get started…

Crossing Targets

For a crossing target, you want your hold point to be approximately half way between the trap and the break point. That way, you don’t have to chase the target and once you follow the target for a short period of time you can smoothly pass the target to the appropriate lead.


For teals, your hold point should be at least half way or two-thirds up its flight path. If you have the gun too low the target will beat you and you’ll swing wildly past it. The proper hold point lets the target gently appear over the barrel before you shoot it.

Quartering Away Target

The best way to determine your hold point for these targets is to follow the target with your finger when you get your looker. Imagine that your finger is the gun barrel, and it helps determine your hold point.

Also, see if you can find a marker in the landscape to identify the start point.

From the low-gun position, when I mount the gun and the stock actually touches my cheek I like to be on the target or slightly behind it. That way, you can break it before it gets away from you. After I break the target, I keep the gun moving.


For the sake of this lesson, we’re not talking batus or chandelles. Basically, we’re referring to arching, crossing targets.

You match the target speed. The best break point is just after the target has peaked. Simply hold the gun halfway between the trap and the apex of the target. You pull the trigger immediately after it reaches the apex.

What I’ve heard some people do is draw an imaginary line parallel with the ground and let the target drop into the shot. That’s a good way to become inconsistent. If you have the gun barrel on or slightly behind the target, all you have to do is move smoothly in front, or if it drops, move slightly under. Hoping it drops into the target is just luck.


The hold point for a rabbit depends if it’s a crossing rabbit or quartering away. If it’s quartering away, you aim straight at the target. Just make sure when you mount the gun that the bead is right on the target. If it’s a crossing target, your point is about halfway back between the trap and the break point. In both cases, you treat the rabbit like an aerial target.


Economy of movement is the best way to consistently break sporting clays targets. Minimal gun movement reduces the chances of you chasing the target. This method also gives you an advantage in the natural settings of sporting clays courses by allowing you establish the target right before you’re ready to break it. Also, always remember to shoot with both eyes open and to swing your gun through the target.

Economy of movement takes some practice, but if you follow this approach you will see an improvement in your scores.

Gary Phillips is available for lessons and may be reached at (302) 354-2531 or via email at