Lee Clancy: Skeeting shooting now will put grouse in your vest later

While we’re all out tending our gardens, mowing lawns, fishing with the family and enjoying all things summer, it’s easy to forget that the Minnesota ruffed grouse hunting season is just 69 days away.

Lee Clancy Skeet.jpg
When shooting skeet, try holding your firearm as you would when hunting. The repetition of mounting the gun will greatly help in reducing the number of grouse you miss this season.

While we're all out tending our gardens, mowing lawns, fishing with the family and enjoying all things summer, it's easy to forget that the Minnesota ruffed grouse hunting season is just 69 days away.

Hard to believe, I know. It seems as though summer has just begun.

Nevertheless, if you're hoping to improve your percentage of harvested birds this autumn, it's time to pick up your shotgun and hone your craft on the skeet range. There's still plenty of time for improvement before the season begins.

My first few seasons of grouse hunting in northern Minnesota were a lesson in humility. As a 20-year-old that possessed a fairly respectable natural shooting instinct and an ego that could hardly fit in the vast woods of Chippewa National Forest, I assumed that ruffed grouse would offer little challenge.

I couldn't have been more wrong.


A tough target

As any grouse hunter knows, these beautiful birds are hard to hit. They fly fast, low, and seemingly weave through the myriad of tangled aspen trees where ruffed grouse commonly reside. Paired with relatively low numbers and the fact that these critters spend most of their time in some pretty gnarly cover, I harvested an embarrassingly small percentage of the birds that I flushed.

As if hitting a ruffed grouse isn't difficult enough, try hitting a bird with ol' quick-draw Gary Clancy hunting by your side. Despite Gary's various health problems, and his advancing years, I had never seen a quicker or more accurate upland game shooter. Though he would never admit to sandbagging, I'm quite certain that the few birds I did happen to shoot were birds that Gary allowed me to shoot.

To improve my harvest to flush ratio, and hopefully beat my father-in-law to the shot, I began skeet shooting at my local club in Zumbrota. Fortunately for me, a newcomer to the sport, the Zumbro Valley Rifle Club is frequented by shooters of all skill levels. There are plenty of knowledgeable shooters eager to answer questions and offer valuable instruction for becoming a better shot on the range and in the woods.

A round of skeet involves the shooter progressing through eight shooting stations arranged in a semicircular pattern, with two clay-pigeon throwers positioned in enclosures on opposite sides of the range. On the left side of the skeet range, directly behind station one, resides the "high house". Targets from the "high house" are launched from an elevation of 10 feet. On the right side, directly behind station seven, is the "low house" that throws targets from three feet above the ground.

In contrast with trap shooting where the clay-pigeons are thrown in varying directions, skeet targets are thrown exactly the same each time they are flung from their respective "house." The shooter moving from station to station forces alterations to the shot angle and lead distance as the round progresses.

The targets on the skeet field are thrown in a manner that, in my experience, closely resembles the flight of a flushing grouse. The shots taken in skeet are typically close, fast paced, and offer the opportunity to shoot at pairs, much like the shots often presented in the grouse woods.

The requisite equipment for a round of skeet is quite simple. All you'll need is a pair of safety glasses, hearing protection, a box of shells, a shell pouch for holding unfired ammunition and spent shells, and a shotgun. A nail pouch or old tool-belt can easily be substituted for a shell pouch if you're trying to avoid any additional expenses.


Typically in skeet, shooters abandon the use of pump shotguns. The added time needed to cycle a pump shotgun, as compared to a side-by-side, over-under, or semiautomatic, can make it quite difficult to hit pairs of clay-pigeons. However, some shooters enjoy the added challenge of using a pump.

I would recommend an over-under or semiautomatic shotgun.

Practice for the field

If perfecting your shot for the grouse woods is your top priority, I would highly suggest shooting the gun you'll likely be carrying while hunting. For most hunters, a missed bird is typically the result of poor gun placement during the process of mounting the gun to your shoulder and subsequently not properly aligning your head and the stock of the gun. Gaining a supreme level of familiarity with that firearm through repetition of mounting the gun to your shoulder will have an immense impact on your hunting results.

Shooting each station of skeet with your gun held in the position you typically carry it during the hunting season will also pay huge dividends when the season arrives. Shooting skeet in this manner adds more difficulty to an already difficult game. So, be aware that it's likely your skeet scores won't be as high as those who choose to shoot skeet with their gun at the ready. But lower scores are irrelevant if your true intentions are to bag more grouse.

If you're sick of that disappointed look your bird dog throws your way when you miss a grouse, then head to the range and brush-up on your shooting skills before the season starts. Skeet shooting helped to make me a better shot and drastically improved my success in the grouse woods.

Not to mention, shooting clay pigeons is a lot of fun! Give it try.

More information on shooting skeet at the Zumbro Valley Rifle Club can be found online at

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