Why are Clay Targets Called Pigeons?


Written by George Digweed

June 21, 2024

Why are Clay Targets Called Pigeons?

Years ago, people used to shoot real live pigeons out of boxes. When people decided to stop doing that, they tried to find an artificial target to replace the live birds. First, they tried glass balls flung from a spring-loaded launcher. They came in many colors – amber, blue, and green were among the most popular – and sometimes were filled with feathers, trying to mimic live birds as best as possible. But glass balls were exceptionally fragile, and hard to transport. If you can find some today, they can be worth a fair amount of money. In the 1880s the first clay target emerged, shaped like a tea saucer. It proved easier to transport and throw, it had superior aerodynamics, and it didn’t leave broken glass scattered across a field. George Ligowsky, the clay target’s inventor, organized a series of big-money promotional matches to demonstrate its superiority. Over time, the clay edged out the glass ball target, and by the 1920s it was the standard for shotgun shooting competition. Because the target was replacing a live pigeon, people started calling them clay pigeons. They basically are the same today, though they now come in multiple sizes and colors.

This article is adapted from 28-time world champion George Digweed’s videos on shooting, available at claytargetinstruction.com


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