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Those of you who are new to clay shooting may be somewhat overwhelmed by the vast range of shooting gear available nowadays, from your style of shooting vest and all the other clothing items that are going to keep you comfortable shooting in all weathers. You will quite naturally want to dress the part and look like an expert clay shot. If you think that you look ‘good’ — you will feel ‘good’:
Your budget will of course dictate which items of shooting clothing that you choose and prioritise; however I am writing this article to help you understand what types of clothing are important in the clay shooter’s wardrobe.
If you’ve had your first shooting lesson I’m sure your clay shooting school will have introduced you to the crucial safety equipment; shooting glasses, ear defenders and a shooting hat which are all essential for protecting yourself from the ever present danger of flying clay target fragments.
Style and safety aside, my main priority when clay shooting is being comfortable in all weather conditions.
Warmth - staying warm and dry affects your performance. If you are traipsing around shooting grounds early in the morning or during winter months when it is cold/wet and you haven’t got the appropriate clothing on, you will quickly start to feel cold, wet and uncomfortable. Your concentration will rapidly diminish and your muscles may well stiffen up, speeding up the onset of fatigue; destroying your chances of performing to your best and maximising your enjoyment.
Self-confidence - clay shooting is largely about confidence and feeling happy with your own performance. When your discomfort and reduction in concentration starts to lower your scores, you will naturally start to feel less confident.
So, what you are wearing really is an important aspect of your ‘feel good’ factor: always remember those all-important three C’s of clay shooting — Comfort, Concentration and Confidence.
Let us take a look at what you may need to keep you warm, dry and comfortable during inclement conditions. Starting with the extremities of our bodies:
Hat; well you got one of those during your first shooting lesson, and the right one will have a stiff front and peak to protect your head and face from clay fragments. It will also help to keep you warm, remember two thirds of our body heat is lost through our heads. The peak will also help to keep cold rain off your face and/or reduce the glare from a low winter sun.
Gloves; all good shooting retailers offer a wide range of shooting gloves that are fine enough not to affect hand and finger sensitivity whilst keeping your hands warm. The best quality ones can also be waterproof.
Footwear; everyone is aware of the very distracting discomfort caused by cold/wet feet. But also bear in mind that you are going to be standing and walking on a variety of ground surfaces for a few hours. Do ensure that you are wearing your most comfortable foot wear. Thick soles are a must, which may be provided by shoes/ trainers/boots of your personal choice. Breathable Gortex boots/trainers are ideal.
Staying dry; an important garment for every clay shot, is a lightweight water proof suit. The one that you use to wear when playing that silly golf game; would be ideal!!! Do make sure that your waterproof over trousers have zips at the bottom of the legs, making them easy to slip on and off over your footwear. Choose a suit of material that breathes easily with the jacket having a hood to provide extra protection during those rain squalls.
Tip for economy and widest choice: visit your local outdoor pursuits/camping outlet to secure the best deals on suitable shooting footwear and waterproof suits.
Recoil reduction: those of you that have read my previous articles and/or my books; will know that I place very high priority on reducing recoil. You will also know that recoil reduction is mainly achieved by fitting butt/cheek pads, a good gun fit, a well-practised gun mount and a careful selection of light load cartridges.
Your final shooting comfort will be ensured by treating yourself to the best quality shooting vest that you can afford. Your vest will have padded patches at the shoulders (most modern shooting vests have patches on both shoulders to suit both right and left handers). The shoulder patches have very important functions. They don’t actually prevent recoil, but greatly aid shooting comfort by providing extra layers between the gun butt and your body. The gun butt moves each time a barrel is fired; without these non-slip patches your flesh would quickly suffer tenderness caused by the moving butt. The shoulder patches also facilitate the most comfortable gun mount by preventing the stock slipping during firing and of course aiding accuracy.
The best quality modern shooting vests have pockets inside each shoulder allowing the use of slip in recoil pads. (Some now come to the shelves with customised recoil pads included.)
When purchasing a clay shooting vest, consider the following:
There are three main styles; by far the most common being the sleeveless all cloth. Second in popularity is the sleeveless vest made of very lightweight material that has a meshed back (and sometimes front) to provide the best comfort on those hot summer days. The third style has sleeves and is made of wind and waterproof material for those very cold/wet clay days when the lightweight waterproof suit may feel inadequate.
• Fitting - make sure the vest is well fitted; which in reality will probably require you to move up a size. Remember you may wish to add layers and an extra sweater and you may be wearing it over the top of a waterproof suit. Whilst you are wise to go up a size, do ensure a good fit at the chest so that there is no extra material to cause the gun stock to catch when mounting.
• In regards to length, make sure the pockets can be comfortably accessed to retrieve cartridges during shooting. Do take your gun with you so you can practice your gun mount when choosing your new shooting vest.
• Ladies, don’t feel you can’t find a well fitted vest! There are various styles to suit different builds and personalities: ladies-shooting.com has a great article on clay shooting clothing specifically for women.
• Vest pockets - make sure the pockets are a good size. All best quality vests will have pockets that will hold at least 25 cartridges comfortably. Whilst you don’t want to be carrying too much weight in your pockets, you do need to carry the appropriate amount of cartridges for the discipline that you are shooting. If you are on a traditional Sporting Clay layout having around a dozen cartridges in one pocket should be ample. However if you are on a Trap, Skeet, Compak or F.I.T.A.S.C layout you may need to be carrying up to 50 cartridges to allow for ‘No Birds’ and/or ‘Second Barrel’ kills.
• It is unlikely that you will go the whole hog with your clay shooting wardrobe but I recommend purchasing some quality key pieces that have been mentioned here to start with. You can build up over time as your shooting ability changes and you get a feel for your style. Just think how pleased your family will be when you hand them your list of shooting clothing requirements, saving them the brain racking for Birthday/Christmas presents.
• There is no all-round perfect shooting vest. Your first choice will depend on your preference and budget, after which you will add other types/styles over a period of time. Buy the best quality you can afford and they will serve you well for many years. (I have built up a collection of 5 different styles, all in regular use dependant on weather and shooting requirements.)
I have selected just 3 clay shooting vests representing typical current samples from the market.
This vest has been praised by shooters for its comfortable nature. It has large pockets to comfortably contain your cartridges. Also to reduce recoil it has a Gel Tek recoil reducing pad. There are large mesh panels at the front, as well as large gun mounting shoulder patches.
The Deluxe Skeet Vest is ideal for skeet and trap shooting. It features full-size reinforced cartridge pockets, a breast pocket and a zipped inner wallet pocket. It is supplied with an ear defender loop and detachable hand towel.
A clay shooting vest that is popular for its recoil reduction features (pockets inside the shoulder pocket areas to allow the insertion of recoil pads). It has dual shoulder patch reinforcement patches which can facilitate comfortable gun mounting whether you are right or left handed. Musto claim that the “intelligent molecules lock together to absorb shock when subjected to impact”.