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Published Apr. 7, 2022

The best clay pigeon thrower makes shotgun shooting more fun, more affordable, and it makes you a better shot. It lets you throw clay targets that test your scattergunning skills. With your own trap, you can shoot when you want to, not when gun clubs are open, and you don’t have to pay range fees. As long as you have access to a few acres, you can set up a clay pigeon thrower for family fun, friendly competition, for teaching new gun owners, or for serious shooting practice. There are plenty of choices in clay target throwers depending on how much you want to spend and what you want a thrower to do. The following guide will help you find the best clay pigeon thrower for you.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Clay Pigeon Thrower

You can spend as little as $10 on a simple hand thrower, or well over a thousand dollars on a professional quality machine. There are plenty of options in between, too. To help narrow down your choices, think about these questions.

Where will you shoot?

Clay pigeon throwers vary from simple hand-held plastic throwers to 65-pound commercial grade machines that also require a 50-pound marine battery. Obviously, the hand thrower is much more portable while the commercial machine is best left in place, or wheeled a short distance on a cart. A traditional hand-cocked spring thrower transports easily, too, but any time you add a battery, you have a heavy weight to carry.

Will you shoot by yourself?

Unless you have three hands, it’s hard to throw a target and shoot it by yourself. There are traps, both electric and mechanical models, that you can use to shoot alone, however. Those traps can be activated by foot pedals so you can throw targets hands-free.

What kind of targets do you want to shoot?

Most people use trap throwers for straightaway targets like the type you might see in trap shooting or upland bird hunting. If you want to practice other angles or more difficult shots, you can stand far behind the target or set up for crossing or even incoming shots to resemble ducks and doves. This will require a machine that can be operated remotely, either with a long cord or wireless remote control.

Who will you be shooting with?

Clay pigeon throwers are great for training young shooters, but if you want to shoot, too, you will have to make sure the machine can be operated safely by young hands. It takes strength to cock some manual spring clay pigeon throwers, and the fast-moving metal arm of the trap can cause injury. Some young people may not be able to throw birds with simple throwers powered by arm strength. Make sure to consider user ability and operation.

How much will you shoot? 

If you are serious about shooting practice, you need a machine that will hold up over the long haul. While manual traps can last forever, some electric models stand up to heavy use better than others. Also, electric throwers have varying target capacity, which means you can throw more birds without reloading with some machines. There are electric throwers that hold 30 clay birds or less, while some commercial-grade throwers with carousels might hold 250.

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Best Overall: Champion Workhorse

Champion Range and Target

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Why It Made the Cut: The Workhorse lives up to its name and will throw targets trouble-free for very little money.

Key Features

  • Power: Battery
  • Weight: 32 pounds
  • Capacity: 50 standard clays

Pros: 

  • Great price
  • Throws targets up to 75 yards
  • Holds 50 clays
  • Lightweight for an electric thrower
  • Upgrade accessories like wireless remote and cart are available

Cons:

  • Safety ring and piece at the top of the magazine are plastic and subject to breaking
  • Requires a marine battery that weighs more than the trap
  • Only throws single targets and only accepts standard size clays

The Champion Workhorse does nothing but work. These traps deliver trouble-free performance year after year. Once attached to a deep-cycle battery they will throw clays up to 75 yards and you can adjust the elevation through a 30-degree range, although speed is not adjustable. 

You can stack up to 50 standard size clays in the magazine and launch them one at a time using the 25-foot cord and foot pedal that comes with the unit. The pedal makes it a great trap for practicing alone. And, if you get more serious about your practice (or about your fun), you can upgrade it with an oscillating wobble accessory to throw random angles and heights. You can also add a wireless remote which allows you to set the trap up to throw crossers or incomers. Although Champion does offer an outdoor cover for the Workhorse, I would keep mine inside between uses if there was any chance of rain or snow. The target magazine pops off easily, making it no problem to remove and transport the trap in a car trunk.

Best Budget: MTM EZ Throw 3

Why It Made the Cut: Smart redesign of this inexpensive old favorite makes it easier for everyone to use.

Key Features

  • Power: Hand
  • Weight: A few ounces
  • Target capacity: One at a time

Pros

  • Cheapest thrower on the market by far
  • Easy to take anywhere
  • Redesigned hinged arm makes it easier to throw targets farther

Cons

  • Takes practice to throw consistent targets
  • Some may not be able to throw with it

Simple arm-powered clay target throwers have been around forever. They are cheap, portable, and a staple in hunting camps for informal practice before and after the hunt. The old-style one-piece throwers could be tricky to use. Not everyone had the arm strength or coordination to use them. By adding a hinge to the arm and making the one-piece thrower into two, MTM made the EZ Throw 3 much easier to use. Younger or weaker users can throw a good target. People who could use the old style will find the new version throws birds much farther. This thrower is completely ambidextrous, too, so right left-handers alike can use it. 

The birds don’t always fly straight out of the EZ Throw 3 and the targets can be erratic. That can make this more fun for experienced shooters, but a little frustrating if you’re trying to teach a newcomer, which is most easily done with a consistent throw. You’re also limited to standard-size clays only, and it only throws one at a time. You can’t throw doubles. But for what it is, the EZ Throw 3 is a great product and a definite improvement over older models.

Best for Shooting by Yourself: Trius One Step

Why It Made the Cut: The combination of a manually cocked trap and foot pedal release is unique in the market, and it works.

Key Features

  • Power: Spring
  • Weight: 21 pounds
  • Target Capacity: Throws singles and doubles

Pros

  • Portable at 21 pounds
  • Throws singles or doubles
  • Foot pedal leaves your hands free

Cons

  • Only throws straightaway targets
  • Has to be manually cocked

Trius is an old and trusted name in traps, and the One Step is their latest model. Unlike other manually triggered spring traps, you don’t cock this one, then pull a string to release it. You load one or two targets on board, get ready to shoot, and step on the pedal to both cock and release the arm in one motion. It’s simple, and it works.

You can adjust the elevation of the trap to throw low grass-cutters or, with the aid of the high angle clip to keep birds from slipping off, very high rising targets. As with most spring traps, you can adjust spring tension to change the target speed. You can also stack two targets for a piggyback double and the pair will separate in flight. Because you stand on this trap to operate it, there’s no need to bolt it to a tire or a sheet of plywood, nor to pound the sharp ends of the arms into the ground. You set it down, put clays on the arm, and step on the pedal. It’s that simple to use.

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Best Double Thrower: Champion Easy Bird Double Feed Auto Trap

Champion Range and Target

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Why It Made the Cut: This two-bird-at-a-time thrower doubles down on Champion’s deserved reputation for making durable, reliable traps.

Key Features

  • Power: Battery
  • Weight: 91 pounds
  • Capacity: 100 standard (108mm) or international (110 mm) clays; throws two at a time 

Pros

  • Throws true doubles
  • Affordably priced 
  • Can be upgraded with wobble attachment
  • Target height is adjustable

Cons

  • Heavy at 91 pounds
  • Throws 35-50 yards, not as far as comparable traps throw singles

This trap does everything Champion’s popular Workhorse and Wheelybird traps do, and it throws two clays at a time. Connect it to a deep-cycle battery, load 50 clays in each of the two vertical magazines, and press the foot pedal to throw a challenging true double. Attached to a fully-charged battery it will throw 3000-5000 pairs. Although it will not throw doubles as far as other traps can throw singles, it can still throw a pair 50 yards, which is the official distance targets must be thrown in ATA double trap competition.

You can accessorize the Double Feed trap with the wobble accessory that constantly oscillates to throw different heights and angles, and there is also a wheeled cart available to hold the trap and a battery for transport to and from your vehicle. As with other Champion traps, the magazines come off for easier transport. The Double Feed is the only electric double trap in its price range, but that’s okay because even if it had competition, this is the one you’d want.

Best Manual: Do All Outdoors Backyard 3/4 Cock Clayhawk

Do-All Outdoors

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Why It Made the Cut: The ¾ cock design requires much less strength to operate and the trap tilts up, down, and sideways to throw countless target presentations.

Key Features

  • Power: Spring
  • Weight: 22 pounds
  • Capacity: One or two targets, holds any size from mini to 110mm international 

Pros

  • ¾ cock requires less strength and is safer to operate
  • Solid construction
  • Trap can be tilted and angled and can even throw rabbit targets along the ground

Cons

  • Assembly is required and instructions are poor

The ¾ cock design of this trap is the same as you see in sporting clays courses that still use manual traps. You only have to push the arm a short distance to cock it rather than pull it back through 180 degrees, so it’s both easier and somewhat safer since it can’t slip out of your fingers. The tripod design is made to be anchored to the ground with the included tent-like stakes or you can mount this to a piece of plywood or something heavier if you plan to leave it out and in one place. The trap can be tilted up, down, or sideways, which not only allows you to throw tricky curving targets but you can turn it perpendicular to the ground to throw bouncing rabbits (special targets required) or curving chandelles. It can also throw doubles. It’s a versatile, durable trap—and while it costs more than many inexpensive full-cock versions, it is easier to use and it will outlast them.

Best Professional: Atlas AT 250 Clay Target Thrower

Why It Made the Cut: A mainstay at sporting clays ranges, the sturdy, well-made Atlas also makes a good choice for serious back 40 shooting.

Key Features

  • Power: Battery
  • Weight: 65 pounds
  • Capacity: 250 clays, single targets only

Pros

  • 250 clay capacity
  • Throws up to 95 yards
  • Relatively light 

Cons

  • Only throws single targets, standard clays only
  • Requires an accessory cart 

If you shoot enough to warrant buying a commercial-quality machine, the Atlas 250 is the answer. Made of stainless steel and aluminum, it can hold up to a lot of shooting. If you keep the target carousel covered when it’s not in use to protect the clays, this thrower is tough enough to leave outside throughout the shooting season, and it’s perfect for serious individuals or a gun club. You can use it on its own, or buy several for your own 5-stand or sporting setup.

The carousel holds 250 clays and with a cycle time of 1.2 seconds, this machine is fast enough for report or following pairs. The spring can be tightened or loosened to throw targets from 30 to 95 yards and the trap can be tilted up and down and canted for a wide variety of presentations. It comes with a 75-foot cord and release button but can also be wired to a foot pedal or to a wireless remote. An accessory cart makes it easy to move the trap and a battery to set up different shots.

How I Made My Picks

Over the course of 30 plus years of writing about shotguns, I have had the opportunity to use and observe most clay pigeon throwers on the market. The models I chose all distinguish themselves from the pack for the following reasons:

  • Reliability: Nothing ruins a day of target shooting like a thrower that doesn’t work or breaks clays. These machines will work as they are supposed to.
  • Ease of Use: Clay pigeon throwers that are difficult to use are frustrating and can cause injury. While you always have to be careful around throwers, the throwers I chose are all easy to use compared to others in their category.
  • Durability: Flimsy clay pigeon throwers won’t hold up under heavy use. All of the throwers here are proven to work well over time.
  • Value: Shooting is a costly sport, but that doesn’t mean you should throw money away. Getting a good return for your money is very important. I looked for good values in clay target throwers, and it’s no coincidence that the best value, the Champion Workhorse, was also named best overall. 

FAQs

Q: How to set up a clay pigeon thrower?

Set up a clay pigeon thrower in an area that allows at least 250 yards in front of the thrower for a safe shot fall zone. Limit your ammunition to shot sizes 7 ½ or smaller or it will carry farther. Many lighter weight traps will have to be staked or anchored in some way so they don’t flip over from the force of the arm when it releases. Cock and load it safely, staying behind the arm whenever possible, and be sure anyone cocking a manual trap is strong enough to cock it. The puller should stand behind the shooter when they throw the clay. If you have a long cord or a remote it’s safe to set the thrower in such a way that it throws crossers or incoming targets.

Q: How does a clay pigeon thrower work?

A clay pigeon thrower is basically an arm with a spring attached to one end. Cocking the arm stretches the spring. Releasing it lets the spring snap back. The arm travels in an arc and throws the target. All clay pigeon throwers work that way. Some are manual and have to be cocked by hand, some are automatic, and powered by batteries. Manual traps have to be reloaded every time while automatic throwers have magazines you can load with up to several hundred targets. You can adjust the tension of the spring to change the target speed and tilt the body of the trap to change its elevation. Some traps also can be canted from side to side.

Q: How to load a clay target thrower

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With automatic traps you have to load the correct size target (most often a standard 108mm clay) into the magazine or carousel. Fill it to the top, and start shooting. With a manual trap, you have to know how to load a clay target thrower. Most will accept any type of clay, including smaller midis and minis. Where you set the clay on the arm affects which direction it flies. Many traps can throw doubles. If you set two clays side by side on the arm they will fly at different angles. Stack them and they will separate but fly in the same direction. For a fun double, nest a mini underneath a standard. The mini will stay inside the standard until the larger target is broken, then fly on its own. Many manual traps have a “high angle clip” to prevent targets from sliding off the arm when you set the trap to throw very high birds.

Q: How to use a clay pigeon thrower?

There are several ways to use a clay pigeon thrower to have fun and improve your shooting. Practice your gun mount by calling for the target with the gun held at the ready, then when you see the bird, bring the gun to your face and shoulder and shoot. If you have more than one shooter, you can stand side by side and either race to see who can break the target first, or let one shoot, and the other shoots backup or tries to break a piece of the shattered target. If you are teaching a new shooter, stand behind and to the side and pull targets for them. Try to watch the shooter for errors in form instead of the target.

Q: Is the skeet and clay thrower easy to use?

Skeet and clay throwers are easy to use. Some strength is required to cock the arms of most manual throwers, although ¾ cock machines are easier to cock. Electric throwers are easy to use, although it takes some strength to handle the batteries, a cart that holds the thrower and the battery makes it handier to move around. Finally, while some struggle with hand-throwers, most people who try the hinged MTM EZ Throw 3 Clay Target Thrower report that it is much easier to use than other types of hand-throwers.

Q: Is the clay thrower safe?

Clay throwers are safe in the same way guns are safe. If you treat them properly with respect and common sense, they are completely safe to use. They can also hurt you if you’re careless. The arm of any thrower whips around very fast. Cock throwers from behind the arm, not in front. If possible, release the arm on an electric thrower if you have to work on it at all. Stay behind throwers, too. Clay pigeons come off the arm traveling up to 50 mph and you don’t want to get hit by one. Sometimes, too, clay pigeons break on the arm, and the shards are sharp enough to cut skin. Be sure to stand behind the thrower, not in front.

Q: Are clay pigeons biodegradable?

Many clay pigeons are biodegradable. The traditional kind, which contains talc and petroleum resin, does not biodegrade. While the talc is harmless, the resin/pitch and paint can be toxic to certain animals, like hogs. Biodegradable clay pigeons are made out of natural ingredients like pine resin, and they will break down completely over the course of a couple of years. Some shooters believe the old type of targets were easier to break than bio birds, but scores keep going up, not down, as shooters and equipment improve.

Final Thoughts

The best clay pigeon thrower is the one that suits your needs. Every one highlighted here works for a slightly different purpose. While mechanical clay pigeon throwers work well, serious shooters should consider stepping up to a machine like the Champion Workhorse. Besides allowing you 50 shots before you have to reload it, it can be moved all around and operated remotely, greatly increasing the variety of shots you can practice. For that reason, it is our choice as the best clay pigeon thrower.

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