The information/advice below is from my book, Stock Fitter's Bible - Second Edition.
If you have questions about anything, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
or call me at 920-464-0124 (Wisconsin).
Warning: This is a long thread. You may want to have a drink and a snack handy.
Shooters come in many shapes and sizes. There is little difference between the stock dimensions of most guns. For that reason, one size does not fit all. To a great extent, a gun’s stock dimensions determine the shooting form elements (gun mount, stance, head/neck/body posture) that shooters use. Some elements of form are much better than others. (Explanations to follow)
Fact: Men and women are shaped differently.
Fact: Women are often smaller than men as are many younger shooters.
Fact: Women have proportionally slightly longer necks than men.
Fact: The average woman and smaller youths do not have the strength of average men.
Fact: Most guns have stocks designed for men who are 5’ 10” tall and weigh 165 pounds.
Fact: Women of all ages are often visually cross dominant. Their dominant eye (the one that focuses more quickly) is often opposite their handedness (If they are right-handed, their dominant eye i9s often their left eye).
Fact: A shooter's height will require different stock dimensions before the gun will fit him or her. (explanation to follow).
Male eye dominance can change toward middle age and can causes serious problems when shooting with both eyes open (the preferred way of shooting moving targets).
The above are reasons that guns do not often fit many shooters. “Fit” describes how well a gun’s weight and stock dimensions match a shooter's size, shape and strength to allow a good shooting form to be used. (Shooting form describes the stance, gun mount, weight distribution and the head, neck and body posture used by the shooter.) Common Problems
- The stocks and barrels on shotguns are too long for many women and youths. That makes the guns feel too heavy because so much of the weight is forward. It also makes the guns very awkward to swing and can quickly tire the hand supporting the gun.
- The “comb” (top surface of a stock on which the cheekbone is snugly placed) is often too far below the level of the gun's rib for smaller shooters. When the gun is mounted to the shoulder, the receiver or action can block the shooter’s vision along the rib when the cheek is on the comb. This is a serious problem and should be corrected as quickly as possible.
- The pitch
(angle formed by the recoil pad and the rib (approximately 90 degrees) is often wrong for many shooters, especially women, youths and barrel-chested men. The bottom of the recoil pad can stick out too far and jabs the shooter in the chest. Not only is this painful but the wrong pitch will also increases the recoil-driven barrel-rise during recoil, often to such an extent that the cheek is injured by the rising comb, at times, even when the cheek is making snug contact. If the pitch is wrong, it should be corrected.
Tall men with longer than average neck lengths, often due to their height, must lean their necks forward to put their cheek on the comb. This results in their having to look "up" to see targets. It narrows their field if vision and promotes visual fatigue.
When the neck needs to be leaned forward, there is also a tendency to raise the head during swings to return the neck to a normal posture.
The vast majority of coaches recommend shooting with a natural and erect head and neck posture. This is impossible when the neck must be leaned forward and should be corrected.The pistol grip
- The size (radius or distance of the inside of the grip to the trigger) of the grips on stocks is often too large for the smaller hands of women and smaller youths. They must slide their hand up and forward on the grip, which then requires them to pull up
rather than straight back on the trigger.
This is problematic because it is harder to pull the trigger up to fire the gun than it is to pull it back. As a result, the timing of shots is upset (knowing exactly when the gun will fire). Here is a possible solution: http://www.addagrip.com
- Guns are sometimes too heavy for smaller shooters to mount and to swing easily and accurately. It may not feel heavy at first, but it will seem to gain weight during an afternoon of shooting. A gun that is too heavy can also cause smaller shooters to shoot with too much weight on the back foot, which will significantly increase the recoil that is experienced.
- Many smaller shooters complain that the forward wood on a gun, the forearm
, is too large to grip easily with their smaller hands. This feeling is partially due to a misunderstanding of the purpose of the forearm. It should not be used to swing the gun left and right, but instead, be used only to support
the weight of the gun as the upper body rotates at the waist and hips to swing the barrel left and right.
Ideally, the angle formed by the barrel and an imaginary line across the shoulders, should not change during swings. Arm swinging the gun is not good because it can easily cause misalignment of the eye with the rib.
Most smaller shooters can shoot most shotguns, regardless of their weight, barrel length and gauge. But when a gun does not fit, many will suffer excessive felt recoil, are likely to tire quickly and will have difficulty hitting targets of any type. Put simply, shooting will not be nearly as enjoyable as it would be if the gun fits the shooter.
Generally speaking, to shoot well, shooters need to use a good gun mount, stance (placement of the feet) as well as good body, head and neck posture. As was mentioned earlier, this is known as the shooting form
. A good form promotes shooting success, reduces felt recoil (kick) and delays fatigue.
In order to use a good shooting form however, a gun’s stock dimensions and its weight must
match the size, shape and strength of the shooter.Good Shooting Form
The shooter should stand with the body rotated no more than 45 degrees from the anticipated direction of the target. .
To see clearly along the gun's rib and to help keep the eye aligned with the rib both vertically and horizontally during swings, it is best when both the head and neck are in a natural
, erect, posture (repeated because it is important). The neck should not be leaned forward and require the cheek to be lowered to the comb.
Nor should the neck be leaned toward the stock, sometimes done to vertically align the eye with the rib.Gun weight
The gun should be able to be mounted comfortably and be easily supported by the forward hand during a full day of shooting.
Keep in mind however, that heavier guns have less felt recoil than lighter ones. The easiest way to reduce recoil is to shoot shells with a reduced weight of shot. 3/4 or 1 ounce for 12 gauge shells moving at velocities of 1100 or 1150 feet per second (fps) rather than 1200 fps. These shells are quite commonly available. They significantly reduce recoil compared to shells with 1 1/8 ounce of shot with a velocity of 1200 fps.
When the shooter is new to shooting or weighs considerably less than 160 pounds, shooting the lightest and slowest shells is a good idea, regardless of the gauge and weight of the gun being used. There are even subsonic velocity shells available but they are much less common than 1 1/8 ounce, 1200 fps shells, which until recently, were the most common 12 gauge clay target load.Smaller gauge gun for a new shooter?
A 20 gauge rather than a 12 gauge gun is sometimes considered for new and smaller shooters. However, 20-gauge guns usually weigh less than 12 gauge guns. For that reason, 20 gauge shells with an equal weight of shot, moving at an equal velocity will kick considerably more in a lighter 20 gauge gun than they will in a 12 gauge gun.
When choosing a gun, one goal is to find one that can be comfortably handled and repeatedly and consistently mounted during a normal day’s shooting. It should be no lighter than required unless the gun will be used only for hunting, when carry-weight becomes more important than smoother swings and reduced felt recoil.
The best advice for shooters, regardless of their size, shape and familiarity with shotguns is to make the gun fit when it does not. Since most guns have stocks designed for men (who are 5' 10" tall and weigh 160 - 165 pounds), this will often require changing the gunstock dimensions.
The easiest way to get a gun to fit is to visit a good stock/gun fitter. With luck, there will be a good one near you. But a warning: Like any other profession, stock fitters vary widely in their expertise. Just because someone says he can fit stocks, check his reputation before setting an appointment.
Good stock fitters can change a stock's dimensions so they will allow you to use a good shooting form. The best fitters will also teach you a good shooting form and then change your stock's dimensions so it can be used when you return home. (You must remember to use it, though.)How Well Does it Fit?
The following will give you an idea of how well a gun fits: The stock's "pitch" - the angle formed by the recoil pad or butt plate, and the rib, approximately 90 degrees:
Checking the pitch: As the gun is being mounted and brought back to the shoulder with the barrel raised to a normal shooting height (Get someone to help support the barrel if necessary.), the whole recoil pad, top to bottom, should make simultaneous
contact with the shoulder.
If the bottom “toe” of the recoil pad (or butt plate) makes contact with your shoulder very much before the top of the pad, the pitch on the stock is wrong for you and shuld be corrected. Stock length - length of pull (LOP):
With the gun mounted (ideally, with the head and neck in a normal, erect posture) and with the finger on the trigger, the nose and the trigger-hand thumb should be separated by 1 to 1.5 inches.The "Drop at the comb" dimension:
As you may recall, the comb is the top surface of the stock upon which the cheek is placed when shooting. This drop dimension describes the distance of the comb below the level of the gun's rib.
With the gun mounted with snug cheek pressure on the comb, the shooter should be able to look along the surface of the rib or, look very slightly down-onto the surface of the rib when the gun will be used for trap shooting with its rising targets.Recoil pads
Regardless of the type of clay target shooting for which the gun will be used, it should have a good, relatively soft recoil pad. The effects of recoil are best avoided whenever possible and a good recoil pad will reduce felt recoil and make shooting more comfortable.Barrel length (LOP)
The barrel length of hunting guns is usually no more than 28”. The barrel length of many guns designed for clay target shooting is greater: 30” for pumps and semi-autos, 30” or 32” for over & under guns and 34” for single shot, break open, trap guns.Shotgun types:
Of the different types of shotguns, semi-autos are considerably softer shooting (have less felt recoil) than other designs. Of the semi-autos, gas operated semi-autos are softer shooting than inertia driven semi-autos. Be sure to consider semi autos if reduced felt recoil is important.Choosing a gun
If at all possible, shoot a gun before you buy it. If this is not possible, be aware that most stock dimensions can be altered to fit most shooters (with the possible exception of the grip). Although knowledgeable stock fitters can fit most shooters, so can most gunsmiths if
you tell them what dimensions require changing and by how much.
Some guns come with an adjustable comb and a few with stocks that are designed for smaller shooters. These somewhat rare guns come much closer to fitting women and youths out of the box than do guns designed for "average" men.
Considering everything before buying a gun will reap big rewards, not the least of which is money saved by trading guns less frequently while trying to find one that can be shot comfortably and offers more rapid improvement with shooting experience.
Take your time and consider everything. The type of gun (semi-auto, over & under, pump, single shot) makes a difference not only in the initial cost but in the shooting comfort and even resale of the gun. Shoot, or at least handle a gun before you buy it.
However, it is very beneficial to know what a good shooting form is so you can better judge how well a gun fits before you buy it. This knowledge will also let you know what stock dimensions will need to be changed to make the gun fit.Questions to ask yourself:
How did the recoil pad make contact with my shoulder? (Did the bottom toe of the recoil pad make contact before the top of the pad?)
With my cheek snugly on the comb, am I able to look along or slightly down-onto the surface of the rib?
Do I need to lean my neck forward and lower my cheek down to the comb? If I did, could I raise my gun mount on my shoulder just a little to reduce the neck lean and cheek lowering? (Allow no more than one inch of the recoil pad to extend above the collar bone.)
Ask someone to check the distance between the tip of your nose and the second knuckle on your trigger-hand thumb. Is it 1.5" or less? (The closer to 5' in height you are, the less separation that is needed, down to about 3/4" given a consistent gun mount.)
How heavy does the gun feel? Does it seem balanced between your two hands? If not, you may be able to move your forward hand farther forward or back to improve the balance. Could you mount the gun 25, 50 or more times during a morning or afternoon's clay target shooting without becoming too tired to shoot without strain and noticeable fatugue?Take your time deciding
Don't be rushed by a salesman (or your significant other). This will be your
gun. You want to feel good, both physically and emotionally when you are shooting it.
Your attention to fit details when shopping for a gun will improve your chance of getting the best gun, the one that is right for you, which you will enjoy shooting for years to come.
So, take your time and do your best to make it happen the first time. You will save money and reduce frustration by avoiding trading guns, trying to find one that "shoots better."
Good luck in your search to find the right gun.