Sporting Clays & State Events Keep Hunters Sharp

By Nick Simonson

With the Fourth of July in the rear-view mirror, it won’t be long until birds take to the skies in front of hunters across the northern plains. Keeping shooting form and eye function at their peak requires practice during the off season and one of the best ways to do it is on a sporting clays course.  Through the presentation of a variety of targets thrown in ways that simulate any one of the dozens of flushes and incoming birds in the field or along a slough, sporting clays provides a fun and exciting way to stay sharp and ready for the upcoming hunting seasons, and benefits hunters in many other ways, according to Mark Sandness operator of Capital City Sporting Clays east of Bismarck, N.D. 

“A lot of people call it golf with a shotgun. You’ll walk a course, some courses are short, some courses are long, some are hilly, and some are flat, it depends on what state you’re in.  What you’re doing is stopping at different stations and shooting different presentations, and those presentations can be quartering at you, quartering away, over your head, straight aways, incoming. It hits all those aspects of the hunting world; like if you’re in the decoys, walking after a pheasant or sitting by a pond waiting for a duck to come in,” Sandness explains of the variety offered by the shooting sports pursuit which also has various sizes of targets to test shooters.

From the surprising vertical flush of a grouse to the straight-away sprint simulating a pheasant, to the bounding and bouncing path of a clay thrown on its edge along the ground to imitate a rabbit, sporting clays targets at each station are set up in a way to provide shooters with challenges that mimic what they may encounter in the wild.  Unlike trap and skeet which more often than not are shot with a dedicated gun, many shooters take their favorite hunting firearm with them to the sporting clays course, to keep the mount familiar so that it blends into the open seasons in the fall. This, Sandness explains helps them maintain muscle memory and preserve good form as summer wanes.

“The best thing it does is help with that muscle memory of mounting the gun.  People say “once you know how to ride a bike, you never lose that,” that’s not true.  You lose that muscle memory, it doesn’t become that strong,” Sandness advises of shooting sports, adding, “but during practice it helps keeps it staying at that great level, and then it helps you move your eyes on the target as you see it.”

The National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA) North Dakota state sporting clays championship will be held at Capital City Sporting Clays located about 10 miles east of Bismarck, N.D. on the morning of July 30.  In the afternoon of the same day, Sandness along with coaches of the Williston High School Clay Target League Team have put together a high school state sporting clays event open to all North Dakota State High School Clay Target League participants from the spring 2022 season.  Sandness hopes that, while participation is limited in the discipline due to there being only four sporting clay facilities throughout the state, the open-style event will allow more exposure and show how fun the varied targets and stations can be for young shooters. 

Registration for both events on July 30 can be completed online at, and is open until July 23 for the 100-target competitions. For more information on sporting clays or to learn more about the Capital City Sporting Clays facility, contact Sandness at 701-220-1003.

Simonson is the lead writer and editor of Dakota Edge Outdoors.

Featured Photo: The author takes aim on a sporting clays course from an elevated stand. The varied targets and shooting positions keep hunters sharp in the off season. Simonson Photo.

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