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July 10, 2020

NSSF’s First Shots Clay Targets Turns First-timer Clay Busters into Return Shooters


“Gun clubs need to be warm, friendly and inviting,” says Skip Smith, General Manager of Drake Landing in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina. “You need your base of regular shooters and members, but you also need to attract new shooters. If those new shooters don’t feel welcome and if they don’t have fun, they will find something else to do with their time and their money.”

The first thing you notice about Smith is how much he loves to teach. A Level 3 National Sporting Clays Association instructor, Skip is happiest in front of a group of new shooters who are about to experience the fun of breaking clays in a beautiful setting—and he’s found NSSF’s new First Shots Clay Targets program is a great way to make that happen.

“First Shots® Clay Targets is about learning the basics,” Smith asserts. “I never rush people or put them on shots they won’t hit. I try to make them successful, because that is what brings them back.”

First Shots Class Materials

NSSF® recently launched its First Shots Clay Targets program. Based on the highly successful First Shots introductory handgun events, the new First Shots Clay Targets program allows outdoor ranges to capitalize on growing interest in the clay target sports and engage those new to shotgun handling by delivering a safe, entertaining and personalized experience.

Prepare for the Myths—Deliver the Fun

Smith spends the first 15 to 30 minutes of the 90-minute course getting his students comfortable with the game, including a short history lesson of sporting clays and explanations of the different types of shotguns and clay targets. Then he hands out the eye and ear protection and explains both firearm safety and course rules.

First Shots Classroom

He works to keep students engaged with stories and frequently pauses for questions like this one: “Is this going to hurt?” This question most often comes from women or youths who are worried about the recoil, particularly if they’ve had an experience shooting with a family member who might have had them use a bigger, heavier shotgun unsuited to their physique. To help these students get comfortable, Smith makes sure to fit the gun to the person, and then when they’re in shooting position on the station or field, he has them start by shooting the gun in a safe direction, but not at a target. He inevitably hears, “That wasn’t so bad,” usually accompanied by a big smile.

“Remember, if it hurts, the game is over. If they aren’t having fun, they won’t be coming back,” Smith cautions.

Another frequent question he hears: “Is the gun going to fit me?” Smith knows that if a student had any previous shooting experience with a shotgun, it was most likely with a gun that didn’t fit them and or that no one taught them how to hold the gun properly. He makes sure First Shots participants are in the proper position when they fire so the recoil doesn’t knock them backward.

First Shots Range Training

A lot of women ask, “How many women do this?” They don’t want to feel like they’re the only women at the range. Smith says it helps ease things for these new shooters if they arrive for their class during a time when they’ll see other women coming into the store or heading out to the course and shooting. This, he says, helps them to realize it’s not a completely male-dominated sport.

“How hard is it to break a target? Are they made of steel?” New shooters are concerned that it’s difficult to break a clay target. Smith reassures them that the targets aren’t really made of clay or even steel, but rather a mixture of pitch and pulverized limestone. To prove how easy it is to break a clay and make them feel at ease, he sometimes has students just stomp on a target in the grass. “Now you’ve broken your first target! Let’s go have some fun!” he says to them.

Broken Targets and Big Grins

Smith starts the hands-on part of the class at the nearby 5-Stand where he determines eye dominance and right-/left-hand shooter comfort. Before he even releases a target, he has new shooters take a shot out over the course, just to feel the recoil of the shotgun on their shoulder. Next comes one-on-one introduction to help each participant break a clay as it sails into the air in front of the stand from one of the trap machines.

“It’s important to remember that we’re a training facility,” Skip says. “Keeping score isn’t the point. I try to make them successful, so they want to come back and shoot again.”

After each student has a chance to shoot and connect with their first clay, he moves on to the sporting clays course. A ride in a clays cart through a beautiful course like Drake Landing’s is another way to hook a new shooter!

First Shots - Group Photo

After a couple stations and more broken clays, the 90 minutes is up and Smith brings his new shooters back to the club house for any final questions and a reminder to complete the First Shots survey to receive their $25 reward certificate. Drake Landing offers First Shots classes two or three times a week, depending on the season, and charges $45 for the 90-minute class, which includes instruction, firearm and ammunition. It’s found that the best time for these sessions is 3:00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays, with the Sunday session generally reserved for youth shooters. By hosting the First Shots class later in the afternoon, participants don’t feel like they are rushed to get through the lesson because other shooters are waiting in line to use the facility.

“First Shots is working for us. It’s bringing people back in, and it’s especially good for youth education,” said Smith. “We’ve also found that our First Shots participants come back and shoot on our handgun range once they’ve been here. Either way, my goal is to make them successful. I love to pique their interest and see the joy on their face when they break their first target.”

Complete details about NSSF’s First Shots Clay Targets program are available here. This brochure also provides more information. For questions, please contact Zach Snow, NSSF Director, Retail & Range Business Development, at or 203-426-1320 ext. 224, or Ann Gamauf, NSSF Retail & Range Business Development Coordinator, at or 203-426-1320 ext. 247.

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First Shots Clay Targets

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