How to hit looper targets in clay shooting

Andy Powell explains two preferred methods of consistently hitting the dreaded looper target.

It’s vital to analyse what the target is doing before your turn to shoot

It’s one of the hardest things to get to grips with in shotgun shooting: understanding first what the target is actually doing, and then how you and your gun working together can hit it consistently to increase your score and your average.

The first part of this is knowing where your gun is shooting at set distances of 25 yards and 45 yards with the cartridge and chokes you would normally use.

This needs to be done on a pattern plate with sound professional help from someone who really understands how you shoot as an individual and the type of shooting or discipline you are going to want to do. Take time to find the right coach and advice – it will be an invaluable exercise going forward.

Once you have established this, then the next part is to start to understand
what the target is actually doing when it is moving through the air. Over time you will start to build up a catalogue of knowledge, which will help you decide what to do with any given target that you are presented with in a competition.

Scary loopers

Of all the targets you might see on a Sporting layout, the looper is the one that clients most often tell me they dread. The looper can certainly be daunting and difficult to read, especially as a novice.

That leads to misses, and so the dread grows and grows. So let’s try to break the target down and look at its movement, and see how best to shoot it consistently.

On a typical looper, going from left to right at about 20 yards out, the trap will be on the left hand side of the of the shooting position and the target will travel across the front of you in an arch shape to the right hand side of the shooting position. You can see the whole face of the clay moving through the sky through all of its journey.

First we need to determine the speed and line of the clay we are about to shoot at. If you are a right-handed shot then extend your left arm out to where you see the clay appear.

With your arm extended try to keep your finger on the clay as it moves through the air. You can do this from outside the shooting position while waiting to shoot, or when you enter the stand and are shown your pair of targets.

The rule regarding seeing a pair of targets first can vary from discipline to discipline and can depend on whether the referee feels you have had enough opportunity to see multiple targets whilst you were waiting to shoot.

According to current CPSA rules, for on report pairs you are allowed to see one of each target, but for simultaneous pairs you are entitled to see two pairs.

Seeing the target

Let’s assume for the purpose of this exercise you are first to shoot, and you enter the cage and ask to see your pair. Remember if you’re a right-handed shot then extend your left arm out, and the opposite for a left-hander. This is the arm that drives the gun, so you need to teach it the speed and line of any target you intend to shoot.

At this point we have a very short time to take in as much information as possible. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Where do I see the clay first appear?
  • Where is my pickup point?
  • Where is my hold point?
  • Where is my break point?
  • What is the background like/any reference points? 
  • How fast is it traveling?

You need all the answers before you can make a plan for how you are going to shoot this target. If you miss out anything, or get it wrong, then your chances of missing the target are increased dramatically.

So we have made a plan and we are ready – or are we? At this point around three-quarters of my clients tell me they intend to push the gun to the back of the target at the hold point, then follow the arc of the clay, overtake it and shoot it, as shown in Diagram 1 – big mistake!

That might work once or twice, provided you have more than a large helping of luck on your side, but that’s not the best or even a recommended way to tackle this type of target.

There are several established methods of shooting targets – with names like ‘swing through,’ ‘pull away’ and ‘maintained lead.’ You could easily use all of these methods during a typical round of Sporting clays – each one is suited to particular types of targets, although there’s a degree of personal preference involved too.

The ‘swing through’ method is not a good choice for a looper, though. Applying it to the looper you will probably never catch the target up, and will more than likely miss behind.

The only exception would be if you were brave enough to shoot the target on its upward trajectory, but that’s super risky because it’s hard to pull off consistently, especially in a competition when every hit counts. Instead I suggest you use one of the following two ways to tackle the looper.

Either of these two methods will bring you results, but you need to find the one that you prefer and feel more comfortable with, and that suites your style of shooting. Practise both and stick with the one you get the best and most consistent results from.

Method 1: On the drop

What goes up must come down – and the first way to successfully hit the looper is to treat it like a crosser and hit it on its downward trajectory.

To achieve this, we would need to move the gun horizontally across the arch and then shoot it as it starts to fall – ignoring the arch completely and moving from left to right in a straight, horizontal line.

This method has been used very successfully by many shooters, including some of the absolute best. It isn’t the way that I tend to shoot loopers – but then again, I myself am no world champion as I write this article!

Method 2: At The Peak

The other – and arguably less risky – way is to shoot the target just at the peak, or at the very least just before it starts its downward trajectory.

We adopt a similar hold point to the previous method but now instead of moving horizontally across the arc of the clay we move diagonally up to the point where the target reaches the top of its arch and shoot it there.

This is my preferred method on this type of target as it takes the fall out of the equation completely. 

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