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Game On! Popular Variations On The Games Of Clay by Mike McAlpine

hile driving home from setting targets at the Colorado State Shoot a while back, I got a call from Johnny Cantu at Shotgun Sports magazine. Johnny had called a few weeks earlier to see if I would be interested in writing a few articles for the magazine and was checking up on my progress. I hadn’t gotten around to picking a subject, but my buddy, All–American sporting clays shooter Monte Sims, who was riding home with me, had been talking about all the clay–target games we had played in our shooting careers. As much as we enjoy the usual sports, it’s fun to add a little spice with a new game now and then. I had found my story idea!

Monte’s list consisted of mostly games played today and made up from the sporting clay disciplines. What would you expect from a pup who had been shooting clay targets a mere 15 years? I am five years younger but had picked up the habit of smoking targets some 40 years back. Being a trap and skeet shooter in my early years, most of my games were made up of presentations from those disciplines.

What I would like to do here is describe all the “games of clay” I have enjoyed shooting. I think playing these games increases your pleasure and appreciation of the clay–target sports. And they can help improve your skills.

I have provided some of the basic rules for each game. I hope you will try all of them and have as much fun as I have had over the years. For you tournament shooters, just remember these are all great practice for the serious side of the sport, too. Any time you compete and put something on the line, your mental game will be enhanced. One thing to remember is these games are found across the country and will have slightly different rules and names, depending on where you are. The rules listed here are from my part of Texas.

Make–A–Break®

There are a total of eight machines used for Make–A–Break®. Two machines are designated as Number 1 and then there is a single machine for the 2 through 7 targets. Each machine is clearly marked with the appropriate number. Two competitors shoot head–to–head, alternating back and forth between pairs.

Make-A-Break®. Photo by Johnny Cantu.

Make–A–Break® is a popular game with both mandatory and optional frames on which to score points. The shooter with the highest point total at the end of the mandatory frames leads off the option frames. The shooter with the highest cumulative point total at the end of the option frames is declared the winner. Make–A–Break® is copyrighted by Clay Sports International, Inc., so anyone wanting to throw this game must contact them for permission.

Photo by Johnny Cantu

There are seven mandatory “frames” shot as 1–2, 1–3, 1–4, 1–5, 1–6 and 1–7. The No. 1 bird must be broken before the second bird of the pair is thrown. If the No. 1 bird is missed with the first shot, it must be shot again. If the pair is killed, the point total for both birds is recorded. For example, if 1 and 2 are hit, the score will be three points. If only the No. 1 bird is killed, the score is one. If no birds in the pair are broken, the score is recorded as zero. The point total is accumulated as the seven mandatory frames are shot. The best possible score for the mandatory round is 33. After the mandatory frames are shot, the shooter with the most points leads off the “option” round.

There are seven additional “optional” frames. The score from the mandatory frames is the starting point of the optional frames. The shooter with the highest total after the mandatory round leads off on the optional round. After each option frame is shot, the shooter with the highest score leads off and can choose any pair he or she desires. The second shooter does not have to shoot the same pair as the lead shooter; he/she has the option to choose any pair.

Make-A-Break®. Photo by Johnny Cantu.

In Make–A–Break®, there are two traps designated as Number One (one on each side of the shooter’s stand). The first shot of each pair must be taken at the No. 1 target thrown. If the No. 1 bird is hit, the second target is thrown. If the No. 1 is missed, the second shot must be a No. 1 as well.

Photo by Johnny Cantu

The option frames always include the No. 1 bird, just like the mandatory round. The option frames can include any pair that includes the No. 1 plus any of the other targets, 2 through 7; however, the 1–4 and 1–5 pairs may only be shot once.

The shooter with the highest cumulative total at the end of the optional frames is declared the winner. Please remember, Make–A–Break® is copyrighted by Ray Foreman at Clay Sports International. Anyone who wishes to throw this game must be licensed through Ray.

Snooker

Snooker is very similar to Make–A–Break®, but, like its billiard counterpart, Snooker is shot in rotation. In the billiard game, the player must first shoot a red ball and then a numbered ball. The red balls are worth one point, while the numbered balls are worth their numerical value.

In the clays game, the shooter must shoot the No. 1 trap and then the No. 2 trap. Then he or she must shoot the No. 1 trap again, then the No. 3 trap. The targets get harder as the point value on the traps increases. All hits are scored and tallied, and the shooter with the highest score either wins or, in the case of a tie, will shoot off for prizes.

Nine Ball

Nine Ball is my own creation and follows the rules of the billiard game with the same name. It is again very similar to Make–A–Break® and Snooker.

The score is again tallied from the point value of each trap. The difference between the two previous games and Nine Ball is, at the end of the normal eight traps, there is a ninth trap. This is a very hard target, usually something like an 80–yard crosser or a 70–yard Teal. Normally a little luck is involved in breaking this target.

As in the billiard game, anyone who breaks the No. 9 bird will automatically be given the highest possible score. If a shooter runs the targets, his score will be 43. A shooter may miss all the targets except the final bird and then hit the No. 9 bird, and his score will also be 43.

The reason I came up with this game was to let all shooters, no matter what class or shooting ability, have a chance to win. The entries for this game usually far exceed the games that require skill only. The old saying “I would rather be lucky than good” can apply to this game! Many really good shooters think this game will cost them money when, in reality, the pot will build to a much greater amount. It’s a lot of fun for all kinds of shooters and a good game for clubs to make money.

Annie Oakley. Photo by Mike McAlpine.

Annie Oakleys (or “Wolf Chase,” as it’s known in my neck of the woods) can use any number of shooters. The shooter on the far left of the line begins the game by taking the thrown target on the rise. If he/she misses, the second shooter attempts the shot. If that shooter misses, the third shooter tries, and so on, until the bird is broken or hits the ground. There are many variations of this game around the country, as well as minor variations in the rules. It is a game that is a lot of fun, but, as with all these games, safety must be a priority!

Photo by Mike McAlpine

Annie Oakley

Also called “Wolf Chase” in the South, this is a game that lets everyone have a chance to win, no matter how good or bad a shot they may be. I have shot this game my entire shooting career. It was probably the most popular game in Texas in the 1970s and ’80s.

A normal round of Annie Oakley/Wolf Chase consists of a group of shooters positioned in a straight line. I say “normal” because there are several variations of this game. The line runs across the 27–yard line of a trap field, and there can be any number of shooters; in fact, the more, the merrier.

Starting with the shooter on the far left end of the line, the shooting begins. The first shooter calls for a target and must shoot the target on the rise. If he hits the target, the next shooter to his right will call for a target. If the first shooter misses his target, the second shooter must shoot at it. If he hits the target, the first shooter is out. If the second shooter misses the target, the third shooter has the option of shooting at it. If he hits the target, the first and second shooters are out. If he misses it, all shooters are safe and the second shooter will start the next round.

This sequence is repeated down the line. When the next–to–last shooter is first, it makes the person on the far left the third shooter. The rotation will continue until there is only one shooter left. A shooter who shoots out of turn or shoots at a target that has been hit will be out.

Normally, each shooter puts up a fee; for example, three dollars. If there are ten shooters, the pot will be half of the money collected. In this case, the winner would receive $15, and the club would receive $15 to pay for the targets and make a profit. This game is often used to raise money for different charities and causes. I can tell you from a lot of experience, this is a fun game. The best shooter does not always win, because the third shot may require a little luck and put the good shots out. This is a game that is also fun to watch.

Pick Your Poison

This is another game I created. It is simply Make–A–Break® and Annie Oakley combined. To play, you shoot a normal round of Make–A–Break® with two shooters, and everything is the same, with the exception of how the score is added up. Oh, you still add up the point values of each target thrown, but in this game the person not up or the second shooter can shoot at any target the first shooter misses.

In Make–A–Break®, if the first shooter hits the No. 1 target, he gets one point. If he misses it, he may shoot at it again. If he hits the second shot, he still gets one point. In Pick Your Poison, if the shooter misses the No. 1 target, he can’t shoot at it again, but the other shooter can shoot at it. If he hits it, he gets three points. This puts a lot of pressure on the first shooter to hit the No. 1 target.

Anytime the first shooter misses a target, the second shooter can shoot at it. If he hits it, he “steals” the point value from the first shooter. If there is a doubt as to who hit the target because the second shooter shot too fast, all ties go to the first shooter. This makes the second shooter slow down a little.

In the optional round of the game where the shooters get to choose, the shooter must be careful about picking a target that is too high because, if he misses it and the second shooter hits it, he will get either farther behind or, if he is in the lead, can lose targets and fast become the loser. You can see how the score can change at anytime, which makes Pick Your Poison a fun game!

Quail Walk. Photo by Mike McAlpine.

This game is called Quail Walk. I first played it in the early 1970s. Targets can be thrown from either the skeet house or trap bunker. With skeet houses in use, the right–handed shooters start at Station Two and walk to Station Six; left–handed shooters start at Station Six and walk to Station Two. That keeps muzzles always pointed downrange.

Photo by Mike McAlpine

Quail Walk

This is a game for hunters. I first played Quail Walk in the early 1970s. The club management would have a “fun day” twice a year for all members and guests. We played many of the games mentioned here. Being relatively new to clay–target shooting at that time, I was a little intimidated by shooting most of the games, but when it came to bird hunting, I figured I could hold my own.

Quail Walk can be shot on either a skeet or trap range. On that day, we were shooting on a skeet field. All right– handers started on Station Two and walked around the sidewalk to Station Six. All left–handed shooters started on Station Six and walked to Station Two. This was to keep the muzzles pointed downrange, as safety is a major concern.

As the shooter is walking, the person in charge of the pull cord throws targets one at a time. Most of the time, ten targets are thrown during the shooter’s walk. The best score out of ten is either the winner or ends up in a shoot off.

Sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? Well, in my experience, as long as the shooter was on his leading foot, there wasn’t much of a problem, at least with being able to make a good attempt at the bird. But when the puller saw catching the shooter off–balance caused misses, the fun really began. The best clay–target shots often looked like beginners. Being a hunter and hunting a lot of quail in my life, I often cleaned up on this game.

If you want to use a trap range, start on Station One at the 27–yard line and just walk forward. Once you make it to the 16–yard line, you have to unload the gun and move to Station Two. You never know when a target might come out, but you can bet if you have a puller who has shot this game, you will get targets while you are out of position! Also, as long as you are walking, the puller can release the target, so remember to stop walking when you shoot.

We always play this game with only one shell loaded at a time. While being a safer way to play, it also confuses the shooter who would nearly always keep walking, even though his gun is empty.

Five & Ten Bird Races

This game is played mostly on the trap range, but I guess it could just as easily be played on a skeet field or 5–stand. On a trap range, five shooters — one on each station (beginners start on the 16–yard line and experienced shooters start on the 27–yard line) — shoot either one or two targets. This depends on which game you are playing. You will shoot one target in Five–Bird Races and two targets in Ten–Bird Races. Additionally, due to the great yardage difference, safety demands that beginners (16–yard shooters) and experienced (27–yard) shooters do not shoot on the field together.

After each shooter has finished at the station, they rotate just as in a round of trap, clockwise, to the next station. After all five stations have been shot by each shooter, the hits are tallied and the winner is announced. Shoot offs are common in these games.

“Five–Up” and “Five–Back” are the same as the Five and Ten Bird Races, with the exception the five shooters each shoot a target from each station on the 16–yard line and then on the 27–yard line. The highest score wins.

Follow Me

Yep, the game is just what it sounds like — follow the leader. Whatever the first shot does, everyone else has to do. This can be anything from just shooting the target to shooting it one–handed. As long as it is safe, anything goes.

The first shooter in line always leads off. If he hits his shot, all those who follow must also hit their shots. Those who don’t are eliminated. If the first shooter misses and one or all of the other shooters hit the target, the first shooter is out. The next shooter then starts off, and the process is repeated until only one person is left.

This was my bread and butter during the early part of my shooting career. I got beat in the first Follow Me I shot, but I came in second. After that, I practiced as many weird shots as I could to be ready for the next Follow Me. It cost me a lot of shells and targets to learn the shots, but I retired undefeated (except for the first one). Of course, after awhile no one wanted to play with me!

Buddy Back–Up

Buddy Back–Up is just like a Ten Bird Race, with the exception there is a two–man team on each station. The first man on the team shoots. If he hits the target, the team gets a point. If he misses the target and his team member hits it, the team still gets a point. If they both miss, the team is out of luck and no points are awarded. Each team shoots their two targets on each station of the trap range. The highest score wins, and the team members split the pot.

A tip: Never shoot at a target that has been hit! If you do, you will lose a point.

“Monkey Buddy” is a spin–off of Buddy Back–Up. The only difference is, when a target is hit, the team member who is second shoots at a big piece of that target. All hits, whether a whole target or a piece, receive a point. Open chokes are the norm here!

Flush

I am sure many of you have shot a flush while hunting. This game was very popular in the early years of sporting clays but seemed to die out some in the last few years. There are several types of flush games. The most common is shot on a skeet/trap overlay.

Thirty birds, ten from each house — high, low and trap — are thrown in 60 seconds. Yes, that is one minute! Usually two shooters make a team. The high score wins or goes to a shoot off.

This is a great game to watch. If a shooter gets out of rhythm, the score won’t be good. Other flush games can have more shooters and more targets.

Flurry

A flurry is nothing more than a large flush. The first Flurry game I shot was at the Sporting Clays National Championships in San Antonio, Texas, back in 1993. It consisted of five shooters and 125 birds in five minutes. Talk about fun!

Ray Foreman, the inventor of 5–stand* and Make–A–Break®, created software he calls the Bird Brain Controller designed to throw targets in a random order. This software made it possible for each team to get the same targets but just not in the same order. While I really enjoyed it, Flurry was never as popular as a two–man Flush. (*Note: The 5–stand we shoot today is NSCA 5–stand and differs from the original game.)

Long Bird

This game is played at many shoots across the nation. It is nothing more than a real long presentation. While most people believe shooting birds at 70 yards and farther is mostly luck, I can guarantee you that is not exactly the case. I teach long–bird shooting in some of my clinics and have found the long ones can be broken with some consistency. You just can’t imagine the thrill of breaking a target out at 100 yards with a shotgun!

While I do agree that distance is pushing the limits of a good pattern, it can be done. I even have a 100–Yard Club for those who make this shot. In no way am I suggesting targetsetters throw these ridiculous distances for registered shoots, but learning what the lead looks like at such distances will make a 50–yarder look like a skeet target!

Country Doubles

Until sporting clays came across the big pond, Country Doubles was the game that fulfilled the needs of many South Texas shooters. Country Doubles comes from South Texas and was a favorite of many early shooters who came to sporting clays. I have only seen it thrown with a manual trap.

Targets are split at very different angles and heights and have lots of spring. In the early years, we were all looking for a different type of challenge other than trap and skeet, and this game did that very well.

Wobble Doubles

A favorite game among shooters at the San Angelo Claybird Association, my home club in San Angelo, Texas, was and still is Wobble Doubles. Use a wobble trap, set it to doubles, and let the fun begin!

You will never know what kind of pair you will get. We shoot this game from the 16 to the 27–yard line. Perfect scores are rare (at least for me).

A Combo Game

Cindy Barton of Shooters Pages asked me several years ago to come up with a new game that was made up of skeet, trap and sporting. I told her there already was one and it was called 5–stand, but she said, “No, I want a game that has equal numbers of skeet, trap and sporting targets.”

After a few days of thinking and trying different ideas, I think I got it. The game is played on a skeet/trap overlay. On most overlays, the 24–yard line on the trap walks is also the skeet line. By shooting all trap stations One through Five, you also have three skeet stations. For example, Station One on the trap field is also Station Three on the skeet line, Station Three on the trap field is also Station Four on the skeet line, and Station Five on the trap line is also Station Five on the skeet field. Stations Two and Four on the trap line are in between the skeet stations, so those presentations are skeet presentations.

For the sporting clays targets, all a club has to have is four sporting traps. One will be a big incoming target, another will be a Teal set in front of the traphouse, the third machine will be set 40 yards out from the 24–yard line on the trap range, moving from left to right, and the last machine will be a quartering–away Chandelle with the machine set on the outside of the low house far enough away to be out of sight, and the target will move from right to left.

The menu in front of each cage — and, yes, I think cages are needed for safety — will read “Two trap singles, one true–pair skeet double and one report–pair sporting targets.” There will be six targets per station, or a total of 30 targets.

Not only will this game get shooters to try each of the three disciplines, it will also provide a new game to be played on existing skeet and trap ranges and let clubs that don’t have room for a walk–through sporting clays range or the money to build a complete 5–stand offer a game that has sporting in it.

Cindy wanted to call the game “Zip Line,” but there is already a ride called that. I haven’t come up with a name for this new game, so I am open to suggestions. Please send your ideas to me in care of this magazine.

Have Fun!

There are a lot of games that can be played on clay–target courses, and there are many more some devious person will come up with. Shooting clays doesn’t have to be serious all of the time. Try these games at your club to add some fun and bring in more revenue. Better yet, come up with a clay–target game or two of your own to attract more shooters to your club. The more, the merrier!

Mike McAlpine is the owner of Clay Target Academy and Claybird Specialties. His three–day Target Reading & Presentation Seminar (TRAPS) teaches shooters of all levels how to read targets and their lines, as well as how to break any presentation. Mike was NSCA Chief Instructor for seven years and is a member of the Texas Sporting Clays Hall of Fame. He is recognized nationally as a premier targetsetter and course designer and has set targets and taught in three countries and 40 states. Claybird Specialties builds equipment for clubs and ranges. You can reach Mike at (325) 656–6319 or visit his website.