“If you don’t innovate, you don’t grow; and if you don’t grow, you eventually die.” So says Mark Baltazar, a competition sporting clays shooter who didn’t shoulder his first shotgun until 10 years ago, but has since traveled the world to shoot.
American Field Sporting, the latest game in the shotgun discipline of sporting clays, was recently developed by Baltazar. It takes its name from the fact that it’s a hunting replication sport. He describes is as “an addition and an experiment, hopefully becoming a shotgun game regularly played around the world. If we don’t continue to evolve and innovate sporting clays, participation and interest will wane. I hope AFS brings more people into the game of sporting clays, and gives those who already love the game more reason to participate.”
What separates AFS from other clay-target games is that it is shot in four different formats on four different fields: red, white, blue and green. Depending upon the location and available space at any given shooting facility, one, two, three or all four fields may be set up. Although AFS was developed with 12-gauge shooters in mind, sub-gauges may also be used—it’s shooter’s choice.
How the Game Is Played
A round of AFS clays on any of the four fields is 25 targets, shot as singles or doubles. Squads, usually consisting of five shooters, are allowed two previews of targets thrown as singles, but no previews of pairs of targets. Targets are attempted as one-shot singles, two-shot singles, report pairs, following pairs, true/sim pairs and a fun feature known as an XBird.
A two-shot single, an XBird is attempted only once per field, and is the most challenging target on that particular field. A shooter loads two rounds before calling for an XBird. If the XBird is broken on the first shot, it counts as two points. If the XBird is broken on the second shot at the same target, it counts as one point. That said, a perfect round is 26 points (24 hits, plus 2 points for breaking the XBird on the first shot, equals 26.) A perfect score on all four fields equals a total of 104 points.
A Midwest Debut
American Field Sporting held both its first test shoot and first registered state shoot at Eagle’s Nest Sporting Grounds in central Ohio in 2020 and 2021 respectively. Owned by national shotgun competitor Dan Bailey, Eagle’s Nest sporting clays, five-stand and FITASC courses are operated by Bailey and his range manager, Christina Loudenslager, who is also a national-level shotgun competitor.
“My favorite shotgun game is FITASC,” said Bailey, “and AFS is more like FITASC than it is sporting clays. The AFS white field is set up similar to a FITASC course, meaning more open-field type shooting, and the targets are not as repetitive. In other words, a shooter doesn’t shoot the same targets or pairs of targets over and over.”
Loudenslager likes the AFS red field “because it’s different from any other shotgun game,” she said. “As a shooter, I’m always looking for something new, something different. In my opinion, AFS is not like sporting clays, super-sporting or FITASC. A target setter can do whatever he/she wants, as long as the targets are fair for everyone. For instance, the XBird target could be monstrous, whereas the other targets could be fluffballs. You just never know, which keeps up the interest.”
Bailey and Loudenslager appreciate AFS from a business aspect, as well. “The reason we got on board early with AFS is that it’s not only fun, but it also creates another reason for shotgunners to come to Eagle’s Nest to shoot,” said Bailey. “Anytime we’re throwing targets we’re making money. So, it doesn’t matter to us what game shooters choose to play; we like to give them options. Surprisingly, no other clay-target range in Ohio yet offers AFS.”
Loudenslager added that AFS is also a way to encourage shooters to try FITASC. “AFS is kind of a transition game or stepping stone between sporting clays and FITASC,” she said. “Once a shooter tries AFS and discovers that they can break targets, FITASC doesn’t seem so daunting. And people seem to relax a little more when shooting AFS as opposed to sporting clays or FITASC, likely because they’re learning a new game and aren’t expecting too much of themselves.”
To help keep costs down for range owners, Baltazar designed AFS to be facility-friendly, meaning that a range can use much of its existing equipment when setting up any or all of the four AFS fields. For instance, existing target throwers and shooting stations can be used. Creating new shooting stations can be as simple as placing a plastic hoop on the ground for shooters to step into.
AFS is definitely increasing in popularity with shotgunners across the United States and internationally, having been shot in 30 states and half a dozen countries. In addition, it’s now an official clay-target game sanctioned by the National Sporting Clays Association.
One of the goals of AFS is for shooters to have more fun, but with fewer formal rules than other clay-target games. Adding to the fun are the targets themselves, which can be any or a mixture of the following: international, standard, 90mm, 70mm, 60mm, battue, rabbit, flush, and ZZ bird.
The AFS National Championship shoot this year is scheduled to take place at Big Red Oak Plantation in Georgia on September 23-25, and all interested clay-target shooters are welcome to participate. For more information about the championship or AFS in general, go online to www.AmericanFieldSporting.com.