Tough Courses

Dear Technoid:

Let me start with the grease….Thanks for a terrific forum for us shooting sportsters to learn, laugh and reply!

That said, I would like to comment on the recent discussions concerning tough and soft target presentations. I believe it should be noted that what appears to be the majority of shooters at the local clubs I shoot at are, like myself, not into it for the big competitions that cost reasonably high $$$. Most shooters appear to be guys and gals that like to shoot the local circuit for the fun and fellowship of it all. Local clubs sponsoring the shoots realize that courses set up too tough drive many people away to the other clubs.

Remember the laws of supply and demand? Give the MAJORITY of the people what they want and you will successfully sell that product! It must be remembered that for the most of us this is a hobby much like golf. When I play golf I like to play courses that don’t eat up a bag full of balls with water hazards and the like.

So there you have it….for what it’s worth. I’m certainly not suggesting we shoot all soft courses…I’m merely pointing out that to market anything successfully you need to remember who is your market. Let em’ set the big competitions as tough as you like, however when it comes to so called practice courses I believe you need to keep “Joe Weekender” in mind if you want to keep him coming back. I say make it more interesting, not necessarily tougher!

Again, thank you for the forum.


Dear Terry,

I think that you and I are pretty much in general agreement. Any time you sell a product (in this case a game involving clay targets) you have to give the customer what he wants. Even more so in a free market situation where he can drive on down the road to your competition.

If “feel good” courses are what the bulk of your customers want, then that is what they get. The thing is that I don’t think that most people want that kind of course. Many courses derive more of their income from the constant patronage of the regular than they do from the occasional visitor. The problem often arises in giving the experienced “regulars” enough of a challenge to keep them interested, while not scaring off those who are new to the game.

I do most of my sporting clays shooting with in an hour’s drive from my home in Florida. The local practice courses are generally interesting and challenging. Around here it is the “soft” courses or courses that do not change often enough that lose the customers, not the tough ones. Newer shooters in this area know that they are shooting medium to hard birds and they learn to take pride in hitting half. When they go out of the area and shoot soft courses, they feel like heros- bored heros, but heros.

I think that you and I have more in common than not, but a common definition of “hard”, “interesting” and “challenging” as applied to courses is escaping us. Like most discussions, it helps to define the terms first. To me an “advanced” course is not necessarily one with 60 hard edge-on battues or 40 yard going-away rabbits. “Advanced” to me means optically challenging and clever. Any boob can design a hard course by throwing 80 yard crossers. Hard that way does not mean interesting.

A long time ago, I was at a monthly match at a NY club. A couple of our own members set the course. We had 117 guns, most of them quite experienced. The winning score was a 90 and there were about 10 scores in the 80s. Everyone else was south of there. About 1/3 of the shooters got less than half. Most people would consider these scores to be representative of a moderately difficult layout.

Now here is the interesting part- of the fifteen stations, only two involved shots much over 30 yards, and those were only about 35 yards. Only one of the stations had birds with any real speed. A few of the stations were in the woods, but none of those had trees in the way. Generally, all the shots were well in the open. Most of the station sequences started with two two-shot singles before switching to pairs. And yet, the scores were relatively low and the course was clearly of contest caliber.

The scores certainly indicate that the course was a somewhat difficult one, but all the shots were completely within range and out in the open. What made the course appear simple, but actually be very interesting was optical illusion and sleight of hand. It was a contest course in the most advanced sense. What you saw was most definitely not what you got. The hot shot pros were pleased with the challenge and yet the beginners couldn’t blame the course for their low scores because everything was right in front of them just waiting to be hit.

Clever design really is the solution to pleasing both the avid and the occasional shooter. The problem is that it takes real skill and talent to design a clever course like this. Most range owners simply do not know how to do this or will not make the effort. I think that you CAN have your cake and eat it too. It just takes better course design than we are usually seeing.

Anyone can set up a course with 8 gimme stations, one medium and one impossible. The scores will be great, but that doesn’t make the course worth shooting. The biggest complaint that I hear about courses concern the stations that test you eyesight, not your shooting ability. There is not excuse for that kind of target. Again, sight tests are hard, but hard for the wrong reasons. No one likes them.

One last point while we are sharing the soap box. I really like your golf analogy, but my experience has not been similar to yours. Most of the golfers that I know play their club, or local public, course most of the time whether or not it has a lot of water hazards. The beginners that I have met play the same course as the pros and yet never complain. Golf courses aren’t dumbed down for the newbies. Somehow golf has managed to convince the novitiate that it is OK for the pro to shoot a 60 while he shoots a 120. His ego survives because he knows that he has to pay his dues until he gets better.

Maybe your golfers are more sophisticated than ours (our town has a really good, really cheap public course that EVERYONE plays), but I have never heard a new golfer complain that the course was too hard. He complains about his poor performance and goes and gets some lessons so that he can be better. Golf’s handicapping really doesn’t affect the beginner until he becomes enough of a regular to get rated. Most weekend golfers who are casual players just play against their friends.

What is it about sporting clays that makes the casual shooter’s ego so much more fragile than the casual golfer’s ego? Do we all think that we were born with the ability to shoot, while we know that golfing is an unnatural act? I just don’t have the answer to that one.

For myself, I think that the ideal sporting practice course would be one were all targets were within range and at reasonable speed, but where I got a ZERO the first time I tried it. Now that would be a mountain worth climbing. I can guarantee you that I would keep returning to that course until I had figured it out. What is the point of paying to practice on stuff that you already know how to do?

When you and I become co-kings, we can shape this mess up.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid
(Often in error, never in doubt.)

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1 Response to Tough Courses

  1. Richard Jones says:

    Excellent comment Bruce, I shoot bunker or universal trap somewhere between 12-21 per round (yep I know I need work) but I get a buzz from every hit. I get half way through a round of trap and start wondering where my car keys are. There seems to be a desperate need for a lot of casual shooters to hit 24/25 and they would prefer easy targets. Not so much golfers hitting par. Re the golf analogy who wants to play a par 3 golf course every round, says no-none.


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