Beat The Springing Teal

By Brian Lovett

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shooter shooting a shotgun outside near a pond

When sporting clays became popular in America, it introduced many shooters to a challenging new target: springing teal. Of course, duck hunters were somewhat familiar with similar targets, as green-winged teal sometimes rocket toward the heavens at great speeds. But really, teal stations presented most shotgunners with another trick shot to master. And many quickly learned the learning curve could be steep.

Springing teal stations, as the name implies, involve a report—or true pair of clays launched vertically. The clays rise at great speed until they peak and then—provided they haven’t been broken—fall. Some courses use standard targets, but many offer midis, minis or even battues, increasing the shot’s difficulty.

Through three decades of clays shooting—and more missed teal than I care to count—I’ve picked up a few tips about breaking these challenging targets. Full disclosure: I am not a champion shooter or wing-shooting coach. However, my experience can hopefully help you master this tricky shot.

Pre-Mount & Mount

Before calling for the birds, make sure your gun is in good position and you have a clean line of sight to the target. Some shooters pre-mount their shotguns. Others prefer the low-gun style. I prefer the latter, as it makes me focus on the target, not the gun or bead. Further, clays shooting, in its essence, is practice for hunting, and the trickiest part of field shooting often involves correctly mounting your gun before shooting.

close up of a shooter looking down a shotgun

Either way, don’t cheat the gun too far down toward the house or too high toward the target’s anticipated peak. The former requires unnecessary movement to catch up to the target, and the latter inhibits your swing and view of the bird. Instead, pre-mount your gun at a comfortable position between the house and target apex, and focus intently on picking up the bird as it leaves the house. Then call for the bird, and be ready to move your barrel in concert with the swift clays.

In Motion

Let’s assume you’re shooting true pairs of teal. The same principles apply for report pairs but don’t involve the difficulty of switching focus after the first shot. Pairs can be tough because many shooters fret about shooting both birds. Instead, focus intently on breaking the first target. Then worry about the second. Part of that involves deciding which teal to take first. Simple. Shoot the one that will peak and begin falling first. Then you’ll have ample time for No. 2. As the birds rise, swing on them as you would any target, but make sure your gun stays somewhat to the side of the clays so you can see them continuously. Passing the barrel through the bird blocks your view of the target, which often makes you stop or slow your gun—a critical mistake.

Often, you’ll be tempted to let the target slow down or peak at its zenith. That presents the illusion of an easier shot, but it makes you slow your gun and often puts you in terrible position for the second bird. Instead, flow through and ahead of the first bird, and shoot when your brain says go. This is the same principle that applies to any swift, relatively straight target, such as crossing shots from the No. 4 high house in skeet. It’s just that you’re swinging vertically versus horizontally. I can’t tell you how far to lead the bird. Just make sure your gun is traveling at the same speed as the clay, get ahead of it, and continue your swing after firing in good follow-through form.

shooter looking down the sites of a shotgun

After firing at the first target, quickly refocus on the second bird, which ideally will be near its peak. If so, readjust your gun speed and lead, and fire. But if the second target is already falling—which happens often—reverse your gun’s motion, and follow the bird downward, again maintaining focus on the target, swinging through the bird and following through. Just remember the falling target is accelerating, so don’t wait too long to shoot. The closer the bird is to the ground, the tougher the shot.


Some folks are talented snap shooters who can take swift targets very quickly. Most shooters, however, cannot, and should avoid the temptation of trying to snap-shoot the first bird in a pair of teal. That often leads to misses because of a poor swing and follow-through. Be quick and aggressive, but don’t overdo it.

Conversely, targets that travel in relatively straight lines can also tempt shooters into “riding the bird out,” meaning they continue following the target for too long while using the extended-lead method of shooting. That leads to slowing or stopping your shotgun, which typically equates to a zero on the scoresheet.

sporting clay breaking in the air after being shot

If you miss one or both teal in a pair, try to determine why. Often, the answer will be obvious, as you probably took the wrong bird first, slowed your gun or weren’t far enough ahead of the target. Correct those errors. If you still have trouble, chat with the range boss about the target. Usually, solid wing-shooting form will trump everything, but sometimes, a simple tip can help with a difficult teal station.