History of Skeet

In 1920 in Andover, Massachusetts, a small group of upland game hunters took to shooting clay targets as a means of practicing their wing shooting. As friendly rivalries started to develop amongst the group, a uniform series of shots was developed to keep the competition fair and even for all. It was from this crude beginning that the modern day version of skeet shooting developed into what is now an international sport practiced by hunters and non-hunters alike. 

At some point, years ago there was a nationwide contest held to name this new shooting sport that tested a marksmans ability to shoot quickly at a challenging target, chamber another shell, refocus on a second target with a completely different flight path and then make him or her do it again from a different angle. The winning entry was taken from the Scandinavian word for shoot, and skeet became part of the American language. 

Skeet has developed into much more than just an aid to better wing shooting or a substitute for hunting. It is now a competitive sport equaled by few in universal appeal. Matches are conducted for all gun gauges, against others of like ability. Competition is held for four gauges of shotguns, 12, 20, 28 and .410, though many people never use more than one. Shotgun - Skeet

Guns must be capable of firing two shots since four sets of doubles are included in the regulation 25-shot round. In addition, competitive Doubles events are offered at many tournaments. The gun may be a double barrel (side-by-side or over-and-under), a pump gun or a semi-automatic, depending on the shooters preference. Major manufactures offer specially made skeet guns, and you should consult them or a good gunsmith before buying a shotgun for skeet. Details such as weight, choke, drop and pitch and fit of the gun vary with individual shooters. It is actually better to try out several guns, all types if possible, before buying.


The gauge of a shotgun, as it refers to guns and shells, originated from the number of lead balls the diameter of the barrel needed to make a pound. For example, a 12-guage shotgun had a bore that, without a choke, would be able to take one ball, 12 of which would weigh a pound. This outdated terminology does not apply to todays standard of measuring a gauge, but it is still used in shotgun marketing. Referring to current day shotguns, the smaller the number means the larger the gauge. This means that a 12-gauge gun has a larger barrel than a 16-gauge gun, and a 16-gauge gun larger than a 20. Because the bore is larger, a 12-guage shot shell holds more shot than a 16-gauge shell, allowing the larger gauge to hit a flying target easier. 

The .410 is the smallest commercially available shotgun, but is probably not the best choice for the beginner due to the small amount of shot in its shell. A better choice is the 20-gauge shotgun. The amount of shot is less than the amount in a 12-gauge, and it produces lighter feeling recoil against the cheek and shoulder, which encourages accuracy. A 12-gauge kicks back against the shoulder more and can be responsible for eye closing and flinching. This can result in poor accuracy. The 12-gauge, however, is the most versatile and widely used shotgun. Other gauges available include 10, 16 and 28. 

The rules of skeet shooting allow for the use of any gauge smaller than 12 for shooting 12-gauge events. Examples of 12-gauge events would be league shooting, recreational shooting and the 12-gauge or all bore event at a registered skeet shoot. 

Types of Guns

There are a wide variety of guns available in all gauges. Several manufacturers produce pump shotguns in all 3 gauges and the 410 bore. In addition to pump guns it is possible to buy semi-automatics, side-by-sides and over-under shotguns in 12,16, 20, 28 and .410. The advent of the tube set allows for even greater variance in gun usage. 

Most people shoot skeet using either a semi automatic or an over-and-under, but all of the following guns can be used in the sport: 

Pump gun - Shooters operate the pump gun by moving the forearm in a backward motion followed by a forward motion. This action unlocks the breechblock, extracts and ejects the fired shot shell, transfers a live shell from the magazine to the chamber and relocks the breechblock.

Shotgun - SkeetSemi-automatic - The semi automatic is so named because all the shooter does after loading the 1st shell is pull the trigger and the gun ejects the used shell and chambers the new one on its own. There are two basic types of semi-automatic shotguns: the gas operated and the recoil operated. As you might guess the basic difference is whether or not the expanding gases from the shot shell are used as part of the cycling process of the guns action. Gas operated shotguns tend to have less recoil while recoil operated guns tend to jam less.

Side-by-side - The side-by-side is a double-barreled shotgun with the barrels located in a side-by-side configuration. Some people regard the side-by-side as the classic shotgun. It is mainly used for upland game hunting instead of clay target shooting. Many models are relatively expensive, and some users say that target sighting is hindered because the width of two barrels tends to obscure the target. Some grades also have two triggers, which makes it slightly more difficult to fire in competition.

Over-and-under - This is a double barrel shotgun but with the barrels one above the other. These are available in some 12-gauge models suitable for special sets of insertable tubes or with interchangeable barrels of differing gauges or as a dedicated gun in the gauge of your choice.

Tube Set - Tube sets are used to change the gauge of double-barreled shotguns. This is accomplished by sliding a precisely dimensioned tube down the barrel of the shotgun. In most instances the tube is custom built for the gun and the inside dimension of the tube is that of any alternative gauge you wish to select.


There is a wide variety of ammunition available for todays shooting sportsman. There are four specific types of ammunition used specifically in skeet shooting. The rules stipulate that shot shells not be longer than 2-3/4 long (except the .410, in which 2-1/2 is the maximum size). The general specifications for skeet shells are outlined below: 

Shotshell Characteristics

Weight (Ounces)

Weight (Grains)

Shot Size

Shot Diameter

App. # of
pellets per load


1 1/8 oz






7/8 oz






5/8 oz





.410 bore

1/2 oz





In shooting skeet, a squad of five shooters is placed on a semi-circular course with eight different shooting stations. Each shooter takes his/her turn at every station during the round. The targets are launched from two locations or houses. A high house, which is 10-feet above the ground is on one side of the course and a low house, that is no higher than three feet above the ground, is on the other side. In this shooting game, you can start with your gun in either the mounted or unmounted (off the shoulder) position.

There is no guesswork in skeet shooting about where the targets will come from because targets always follow the same sequence: 

Stations 1 and 2:
A single bird (called a single) from the high house;
A single from the low house;
Two birds (called a pair) from the high house, and
A pair from the low house.Shotgun - Skeet

Stations 3, 4 and 5:
A high house single, and
A low house single.

Stations 6 and 7:
A high house single;
A low house single;
A low house pair, and
A high house pair.

Station 8:
A high house single, and
A low house single.

The 25th shot, completing the round, is called the option and it can be taken at the time of your first miss, or, if you break 24 consecutive straight, from Station 8 shooting the low house bird.

Skeet Shooting Events 

Competitive skeet shooting has four basic categories or events, based on the gauges of shotguns used. As the gauge decreases, shooting becomes more difficult. (Remember that a 12 gauge (bore) is larger in diameter than a 20 gauge, etc.) 

  • All Bore Event: Open to 12 gauge or smaller.
  • 20 Gauge Event: Open to 20 gauge or smaller.
  • Small Gauge Event: Open to 28 gauge or smaller.
  • Sub-Small Gauge Event: Open only to 410 bore. 

    According to tests performed by the National Shooting Sports Foundation in 1980 and repeated in 1995, as a typical beginning shooter you can expect to break 11 out of 25 targets in your first try and, like trapshooting, gradually improve through the high teens and low 20s. A perfect score of 25 is a reasonable goal to shoot for. You can shoot skeet for practice, for fun or as a registered event. To shoot registered targets, however, you need to join the National Skeet Shooting Association (NSSA).


    Shotgun - SkeetShotguns - Prices will vary by locations, but in general you can expect that shotguns will range from around $425.00 for a basic 12-gauge to $700.00 for an average skeet gun in the same gauge. While a full range of models and prices are available, 20-gauge shotguns are typically slightly less than 12-gauges, but the lower price does not necessarily hold for 28-gauge and the 410. Again, used guns are also usually available from local retailers.

    Ammunition - These are the same as for trapshooting, costing from $4.50 to $6.50 for a box of 25, depending on where you buy them and the brand and load you select.

    Range fees - At a typical public range, expect to pay from $3.50 to $5.50 a round. 

    Further Information

    National Skeet Shooting Association/National Sporting Clays Association
    5931 Roft Road
    San Antonio, TX 78253
    Member Services:  (800) 877-5338
    Phone:  (210) 688-3371
    Fax:  (210) 688-3014

    (Material courtesy of National Shooting Sports Foundation)