Clay Pigeons: What Are They Made of? – Biodegradability and Safety

If you are wondering what clay pigeons are made of, you’re in the right place as I’ll guide you through their composition and discuss their environmental impact.

I’ll also touch upon biodegradable and non-toxic clay pigeons, as these targets are becoming increasingly popular as environmental awareness grows in the shooting community.

What are Clay Pigeons Made Of?

Clay pigeons are not actually made out of clay, neither are they shaped like a pigeon. It is just a name they’ve acquired over the years in honor of the tradition of actual pigeon shooting. Clay pigeons are made out of pitch or resin, clay pigeons are extremely stable in flight. Some clay pigeons make use of materials other than petroleum pitch to keep the sport sustainable and intriguing for a wider audience.

How are Clay Pigeons Made?

Clay Pigeons differ in composition depending on what kind of disc you opt for.

Traditional clay pigeons are based on a mixture of calcium carbonate (limestone)/talc and petroleum pitch.

For traditional clay pigeons, industrial blenders mix talc and petroleum resin together at a high temperature to make a paste out of them. The paste is then fed into a molding machine that shapes the paste as it is cooled into the final form.

Since shooting ranges usually order clay pigeons in bulk amounts, they are stacked on top of each other and shaped into a pillar of pigeons, making them easier to transport and load.

clay pigeon

Traditional Clay Pigeon Dimensions

Clay pigeons are available in different sizes and weights. The most used variations have the following dimensions:

  • Clay pigeons meant for Olympic competitions are large, clocking in at 101.6mm.
  • The standard ones weigh 105g and measure 110 mm in diameter.
  • Midi clay pigeons are a tad bit smaller and have a diameter of 90mm and a height of 23mm. Midi units weigh around 75g.
  • Mini clay pigeons are used for higher accuracy and sharpshooting. These feature a diameter of 60mm.
  • Battue is a specialized kind of clay pigeon that is flatter than the rest, which helps it descend faster and emulate a descending bird. Its diameter is up to 100mm with a height of 10mm and a weight of around 70g.
  • Rabbit is a flat clay pigeon with a diameter of 110mm and is specifically made to fly low close to the ground. It has a height of 17mm and weighs 105g.

Nowadays, there are different variations of clay pigeons available on the market. and many of them are offered in different colors, and the paint can be either toxic or non-toxic.

Are Clay Pigeons Biodegradable?

The talc used in traditional/standard clay pigeons is bio-degradable and does not harm the environment. However, resin/pitch and paint are not biodegradable. These substances can prove harmful to animals as they will never decompose even when the particles are not visible. The tiny particles from the broken clay pigeon are retained in the soil forever.

An average clay pigeon takes about two years for about 95% of the dissolution. If the weather elements are harsh, then the dissolution process will speed up, but only a biodegradable one will dissolve completely.

Environmental Concerns Over Clay Pigeons

Resin or petroleum pitch is like tar and is obtained from the petroleum cracking process. It is one of the derivatives, and its use in manufacturing acts as a bonding material, whereas chalk acts as a filler.

Even biodegradable clay pigeons can prove to be a hazard to the soil. This is because they make the pH of the soil more acidic as they dissolve into it. This can prove detrimental to plants and may upset the natural balance of the soil forever if no corrective action is taken. Non-biodegradable clay pigeons are also a choking hazard for wildlife and will never completely dissolve. Furthermore, heavy metals are extremely harmful for both animals, plants and humans.

Non-toxic Clay Pigeons

Non-toxic clay pigeons use reactants and even paint that is totally non-toxic. This is particularly helpful if animals frequent the shooting range as the toxic materials can prove detrimental to their health.

Certain manufacturers take corporate social responsibility very seriously and strive hard to keep their operations environment-friendly. This initiative has led to non-toxic clay pigeons. These bio-targets are made up of non-toxic ingredients that do not pose a threat to either the environment or the wildlife. They are the preferred kind of discs for clay shooting practices.

You must note that non-toxic clay pigeons and biodegradable clay pigeons are not the same. Non-toxic merely means that the materials are not detrimental to the health of living beings in the vicinity. Non-biodegradable ones can be both toxic and non-toxic. Similarly, biodegradable ones can also come in both types. One never knows what kind of animal frequents the field during quiet hours, so non-toxic ones might be the better choice.

clay pigeons

Biodegradable Clay Pigeons

Biodegradable clay pigeons employ a similar manufacturing process except for the fact that the reactants are biodegradable. Instead of petroleum pitch, 100% natural resin is used that will eventually be reclaimed by nature.

Non-toxic clay pigeons might uphold the CSR of their manufacturer, but biodegradable ones are the best kind of clay pigeons. They have a minimal footprint and are made up of degradable and safe ingredients that are all sourced from nature. Sugar, water, and birdseed are some of the most commonly used ingredients that make up biodegradable clay pigeons. In some regions, grain is used in place of birdseed as well.

Biodegradable Material

Biodegradable clay pigeons are made of the same key components except that the resin is purely natural. The natural resin makeup of the clay pigeon allows the disc to break down to just 5% in around two years. The remaining part is slowly reclaimed by nature as all the inputs or reactants are sourced directly from it.

The resin used in all biodegradable clay pigeons is purely natural. Pine resin “rosin” is a popular choice and takes fewer than two years to dissolve completely. In some places where natural resin is not readily available, birdseed and grain are the top choice. This does not offer the best experience, but the end product is satisfactory.

Biodegradable Clay Pigeon Manufacturers

Corsivia, White Flyer, and Champions BioBird are some of the top manufacturers of biodegradable clay pigeons. Corsivia Green Dream is claimed to be a 100% pitch-free clay target and ISO 14021 compliant. Similarly, Champions BioBird Clay, White Flyer Bio Targets, and Daisy Shatterblast follow similar processes and carry the 100% biodegradable claim.

All these top manufacturers offer their clay pigeons in packages of different sizes and quantities.

Are Biodegradable Clay Pigeons Safe?

The biodegradable nature of clay pigeons is only an indicator of the fact that the bio-target will eventually be reclaimed by nature and will not leave a footprint as polythene bags do. But, to think that these clay pigeons are totally safe would be a mistake. As mentioned earlier, these biodegradable clay pigeons can slowly bring a reduction in the overall pH of the soil. This can prove to be catastrophic as the increased soil acidity will prove detrimental for the plants and grass.

Certain species of plants thrive in acidic conditions, but that would mean changing the shooting field and making way for the plants. This is not a bad idea as it would allow a certain area of land to experience a ‘cooling off’ period, where the area is reclaimed by nature and can be put to use again in a few years.

Final Thoughts

I personally recommend using a biodegradable clay pigeon if you’re looking to restock. For me, they are a step towards the right direction as some leisure time fun must not take a toll on the planet we’ll leave behind for the coming generations.