Selecting a Shotgun

Jan 19, 2024

Arguably the most important piece of equipment for any clay target enthusiast is their shotgun.

With a plethora of options available across various price ranges, finding the right shotgun can be overwhelming for a new athlete.

Making this selection is a significant decision in one’s shooting journey but it should not be intimidating.

While clay target sports can be enjoyed with any gauge of shotgun, the 12-gauge and the 20-gauge are the most popular and versatile for trap, skeet, and sporting clays shooting.

A variety of available shotgun gauge shells.

The term ““gauge” refers to the bore diameter of the shotgun” and the smaller the gauge, the heavier the shell needed to break the target.

Athletes with smaller frames often find the 20-gauge favorable due to its smaller and lighter build. 12-gauges are typically larger and heavier, but absorb more recoil due to their size.

The action is made up of “the moving parts that allow you to load, fire and unload your shotgun.”

Athlete with a semi-automatic shotgun.

With shotgun actions, the four common types are semi-automatic (pictured), pump action, side-by-side, and over-under (also known as break action). The most popular options for clay target shooting are semi-automatic and over-under. 

Having a shotgun that “fits” can make the biggest difference in consistent scores. What do we mean by “fit”? Watch below to learn from Gil Ash of OSP Shooting School.

Many shotguns often feature standard or add-on adjustable components for complete customization of the fit. 

An adjustable comb allows the stock to be fit to an individual’s unique facial structure and improves their ability to see down the barrel. Adjustable butt plates can improve the way the shotgun fits your shoulder, and can even change the length of pull. All of these features are especially important for youth competitors. Adding these adjustments can be an investment up front, but will allow the shotgun to “grow with the athlete” over the seasons. 

Shotguns vary in price, ranging from a few hundred dollars to custom shotguns that can surpass the cost of a car. Before making your first purchase, seek advice from your coach and local shooting range manager for personalized recommendations.

Oftentimes, you can find a used gun for a reduced price. While higher prices do not necessarily equate to better quality, do your research to determine the best and most reliable options in your budget. Investing a bit more for a shotgun that withstands frequent use is a worthwhile decision.

Pro Tip: Searching for a versatile shotgun that is suitable for clay target shooting, waterfowl hunting, turkey hunting, and more? A gas-operated 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun can do it all. Our Tennessee SCTP manager’s pick is a Beretta A400 because of its durability, reliability, and reasonable price range. 

For more information on other essential items needed for shooting sports, visit

More From Tennessee Wildlife Federation

A Guide to Scorekeeping

A Guide to Scorekeeping

Scorekeeping is crucial in Scholastic Clay Target Program competitions. Learn to excel with our comprehensive video guide for scorekeepers.

read more

Get the latest conservation news and actions to take!