Subgauge Handicap For Sporting Clays

Dear Technoid:

Blair, who used to shoot with the Connecticut Travelers, and who I occasionally shoot with at RiverBend in S. Carolina, told me about your handicap system. He said it worked, but he did not know how it came about. Did you base this on actual scores derived by shooters using various gauges and actions or estimate what it would be and it worked? By the way, I enjoy your Clay Pigeon articles.


Dear Rodney,

While it certainly sometimes seems that my Technoidal meanderings are created out of whole cloth, every now and then I actually do base something on fact. Not often, mind you, but just often enough to keep the skeptics confused.

The Connecticut Travelers subgauge handicap system was worked out over a period of time. They keep detailed records of every shot fired at each event. This is is a good thing for the Travelers. Since they shoot a finite number of courses in the course of the year, after a while things start to fall in place. I started by guesstimating the handicap and then adjusted it as the numbers rolled in. It took about two years of data to finalize.

12 ga = 0
16 ga = +3
20 ga = +5
28 ga = +10
410 bore = +20

Pump or SxS configuration gets an additional +5 birds, thus a .410 pump would get +25 added to their raw score. Shot loads per gauge are the same as in NSSA skeet, except that the 16 ga gets one oz.

Having said this, as I understand it, the handicap is no longer in place for the 20 gauge and larger. It seems that shooters were getting pretty proficient with their 20 gauges, and with the handicap, they were winning a disproportionate number of shoots.

One of the biggest problems with handicapping a subgauge is that the gauge itself is only part of the equation. We operate on the assumption that the shooter’s main gun is a 12, so when he shoots subgauge he’s using something he’s not really fully familiar with. So there’s a “different gun” quotient to the handicap in addition to the shotcharge. That’s why few people shoot 7/8 oz as well in a 20 as they do in the 12. I’m not aware of any 20 gauge guns being seriously used in ISSF Olympic competition, even though the 24 gram (7/8 oz) load would work well in either the 20 or 12.

The other thing to consider in the Travelers subgauge handicap system is what we wanted to achieve factoring in the kind of courses we shoot. Travelers courses are generally quite hard. It’s not at all unusual for an 85 to be the top score out of over 100 guns. Anytime you get 100 fanatic sporting clays shooters together, you know that you have a few good ones in there, so that 85 is a real number. The fact that the handicap is pretty accurate for eight or nine local courses doesn’t mean it will be spot on for other parts of the country. The only way to find out is just to test it over a dozen shoots and see how it comes out.

Second, my philosophy in devising the handicap was to make things as even as possible, but NOT to ever give the little gun the edge in anyway. I didn’t want people going to subgauge to get an edge of any kind. We set the handicap up so that if you wanted to shoot a little gun you’d have a bit of a chance, but you’d always be better off with a standard competition 12.

The Travelers subgauge handicap has worked quite well and is popular, but not dominant. The vast majority of our shooters still use the 12, except when we have a subgauge only shoot or when the bird guns come out in the fall. This is the way we intend it to be.

To me the biggest advantage to the subgauge handicap system is that it enables you to shoot subgauge on a standard “big” course and not be relegated to some insulting little dedicated subgauge course set up just for the small guns. That’s no fun. The whole idea of playing with the little guns is to see how well they do in real situations. You absolutely, positively can break a 40 yard crosser with a .410 load of #8s. Maybe not all that often, but it can be done. And when it is accomplished, it’s a hoot. Of course, we all know that the 28 shoots better than it’s supposed to, but our records show that the 20 ga wins more.

All sorts of subgauge methods are tried. In addition to using a standard little gun, people use tubes of all lengths (short, medium and full length). There are also barrel sets and carrier barrels. I’ve often felt that a full length tubed carrier barrel was the way to go because it would handle the same as the original 12, but other stuff that is less well balanced wins just as much. Equipment will take you only just so far. It’s shooting skill that really counts. I even had a 32″ 28 gauge Perazzi MX8/20 made for subgauge clay target fun (and Argentina dove). Everyone I loan this gun to shoots it great, but sometimes struggle. I have to admit it’s probably a skill thing. Now if I could just come up with some kind of handicap for total incompetency. I might have a chance.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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