Why Women Have Difficulty Finding the "Right" Shotgun
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Author:  Rollin Oswald [ Wed May 11, 2016 9:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Why Women Have Difficulty Finding the "Right" Shotgun

The information/advice below is from my book, Stock Fitter's Bible, Second Edition.

If you have questions, feel free to email me - [email protected] or call me - 920-422-6124 (New Wisconsin number).

8/24/18 edit: My main cell number (above) will be out of commission until the end of the month due to a change in cell providers.

Warning: This thread is long. You may want to have a drink and a snack nearby.

Shooters come in a large number of sizes and shapes. Unfortunately, there is little variation in the stock dimensions of most guns. For that reason, like shoes, one size does not fit all. This can be a serious problem because to a great extent, a gun’s stock dimensions determine the shooting form that shooters use and some forms are better than others.

Fact: Men and women are shaped differently.
Fact: Women are often smaller than men.
Fact: Women have proportionally longer necks than men.
Fact: The average woman does not have the strength of an average men.
Fact: The vast majority of guns have stocks designed for men who are 5’ 10”
tall and weigh 165 pounds.

The above are reasons why it is such a challenge to find a gun that fits a particular woman. "Fit" describes how well a gun’s weight and stock dimensions compliment a particular woman's size, shape and strength.

Particular Problems
The stocks on shotguns are too long for the majority of women. This makes the guns feel too heavy and impossible to swing smoothly and accurately.

- The “comb,” the top surface of the stock on which the cheekbone is snugly placed, is often too far below the level of the gun's rib. When the gun is mounted to the shoulder, the receiver or action blocks the shooter’s view of the rib.

If the cheek is raised to allow looking along the rib, which is required to shoot well, the eye will not remain aligned with the rib during swings. Something must anchor the face and eye to the stock. That something is the cheekbone‘s contact with the comb of the stock.

To make matters worse, the barrel-rise that occurs naturally when the gun is fired, can drive the comb (which also rises during recoil) into the cheekbone (ouch).

The pitch on a gunstock is the angle formed by the recoil pad and the rib (approximately 90 degrees) and is often wrong for women shooters. The bottom of the recoil pad sticks out too far and jabs them in the chest. Not only is this painful but it also increases the recoil-driven barrel rise so much that the cheekbone is injured by the rising comb, even when the cheek is making snug contact.

The gun's 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, and as a result, it shot timing is upset - knowing exactly when the gun will fire. Here is a possible solution:

- Guns are quite often 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. This will significantly increase the recoil felt by the shooter, any shooter.

- 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 rather, to support the weight of the gun as the upper body rotates at the waist and hips to move the barrel left and right.

It is usually best to support the gun with a somewhat open palm, gripping it only lightly to prevent it sliding off the hand as upper body rotation begins. A light grip also helps avoid "arm-swinging" the gun, which is likely to cause misalignment of the eye with the rib and destroy shooting accuracy.

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 fitted 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. This is known as the shooting form. A good form promotes shooting success. A good form also helps reduce felt recoil (kick) and will delay fatigue.

In order to use a good shooting form however, a gun’s stock dimensions and the 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. (Shooters attempting to shoot a gun that has a stock that is too long, often shoot their shotgun like a rifle with the shoulders nearly aligned with the direction of the shot. This is not good. One reason is because it hampers swings in the direction opposite the side of the gun mount.

To moving targets clearly and to aid in keeping the eye aligned both vertically and horizontally with the rib during swings, it is best when both the head and neck are in a naturally erect[/] posture. The neck should not need be leaned forward and require the cheek to be lowered to the comb. With the gun mounted, a very slight forward nod should put the cheek on the comb.

Gun weight
The gun should be able to be mounted comfortably and be easily supported with the forward hand during a full day of shooting.

Keep in mind however, that heavier guns kick less 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) are quite commonly available. They recoil significantly less than shells with 1 1/8 ounce of shot with a velocity of 1200 feet per second (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 gun that is being used. There are even subsonic velocity shells available, but they are less common than 1 1/8 ounce shells with a velocity of 1200 fps, which until quite recently, was the most common 12 gauge clay target load.

Winchester 12AAFL8 Low Recoil Low Noise shells are sub sonic and have a very low recoil. Know in advance however that they will not cycle semi auto guns.

Also available are 1 oz. SS12L1 Estate shells at 1180 fps. Although they are not sub sonic, they are still low recoil shells. With these shells, like the Winchesters, may or may not cycle semi auto guns.

Smaller gauge gun for a new shooter?
A 20 gauge rather than a 12 gauge is sometimes considered for new or smaller shooters. However, generally, 20-gauge guns weigh less than 12 gauge guns. For that reason, 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 heavier 12 gauge gun.

When choosing a gun it should be one that can be comfortably handled and repeatedly mounted during a normal day’s shooting, but one that is no lighter than required (unless it 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, (since most guns have stocks designed for men who are 5' 9" or 10" tall and weigh 160 - 165 pounds).

The easiest way to get a gun to fit you is to visit a good stock fitter.With considerable luck, there will be one near you. He can change the stock's dimensions and allow the use of a good shooting form. The good ones will also teach a good shooting form and then change the stock's dimensions so it can be used when the shooter returns home. (You must remember to use it, though.)

How Well Does it Fit?

The following will give you an idea of how well a particular gun fits you. Remember: guns' stock dimensions are very similar but not identical

A stock's "pitch" is the angle formed by the recoil pad and the rib (approximately 90 degrees).

How to learn if it is right for you: As the gun is being mounted and brought back to your shoulder with the barrel raised to a normal shooting height (Get help supporting the barrel if necessary.), the pitch is correct for you when the whole recoil pad, top to bottom, makes [i]simultaneous
contact with your shoulder.

If the bottom, pointed, “toe” of the recoil pad makes contact very much before the top of the pad, the pitch on the stock will punish you and should be corrected by a stock/gun fitter or by a qualified gunsmith.

Stock length - length of pull (LOP) Not that you care, but a stock's length of pull is the distance from the front of the trigger to the end of the center of the recoil pad.[/i]

Check the LOP for correctness
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 second knuckle of the trigger-hand thumb should be separated by 1" to 1.5 ".

If there is much more separation than that, the stock is too long for you should be shortened. The size of the grip and the need to slice the hand up and forward on the grip to reach the trigger will affect the nose/thumb separation so take this into consideration when determining your correct LOP.

A stock that is too long will make the gun feel heavier and can make it awkward to swing. It may also cause you to shoot with too much weight on your back foot resulting in an increase of felt recoil.

It will also make you want to rotate your stance so a line across your shoulders will nearly point in the direction you are shooting. As was explained earlier, this is not good.

"Drop at the comb"
The comb is the top surface of the stock upon which the cheek is placed when a gun is mounted. The drop describes the distance of the comb below the level of the gun's rib.[/i]

Check the drop at the comb.
With the gun mounted with snug cheek pressure on the comb, you should be able to look along the surface of the rib (or, look very slightly down-onto the surface when the gun will be used for trap shooting and its rising targets).

Combs often need raised for women shooters. This can done by having an adjustable comb installed (+/ - $250) or by adding moleskin or a commercially available comb pad to the top of the comb.

Recoil pads
Regardless of the type of clay target shooting you will be doing, there should be a recoil pad on it. The effects of recoil are best avoided whenever possible. Good recoil pads significantly reduce a gun's kick and make shooting more enjoyable.

Barrel lengthThe barrels of most hunting guns are usually shorter than they are on guns designed for clay target shooting. Common barrel lengths for all shotguns are from 26" to 34."

Semi auto barrel lengths range from 26" to 30." 30" is best only if you not be using the gun for hunting and can deal with the additional forward weight of a longer barrel. Take this into consideration when shopping for a semi auto.

Longer barrels offer longer sighting planes, which is beneficial. And, the additional weight forward of a longer barrel promotes smooth swings, which is also beneficial.

If you are new to shooting or weigh much less than 140 pounds, you are probably better off with a semi auto than with a pump, break-open or over and under shotgun. This is because semi autos are considerably softer shooting.

Longer barrels offer longer sighting planes, which is beneficial. The additional weight forward of a longer barrel also promotes smoother swings, which is also beneficial.

Shotgun types
Of the different types of shotguns, semi-autos as was mentioned, are considerably softer shooting (have less felt recoil) than other design.s Of the semi-auto guns, gas operated semi-autos are softer shooting than inertia operated semi-autos. Be sure to check when looking at semi-autos if reduced felt recoil is desired.

Selecting a gun
If at all possible, shoot a gun before you buy it. When this is not possible, realize that most stock dimensions can be changed to fit you with the possible exception of the grip.

Knowledgeable stock or gun fitters can fit most shooters of course, but so can some gunsmiths if you can tell them what dimensions need to be changed and by how much. (Shameless plug for my book)

There are also guns that come with an adjustable comb, that have an adjustable LOP and a few that have stocks that are specifically designed for women. These slightly rare guns usually come closer to fitting women than do guns designed for "average" men, the ones who weigh 160 pounds and are 5' 10" tall.

Considering everything before buying a gun, will reap big rewards, not the least of which is money saved by trading guns less frequently attempting to find one that can be shot comfortably and one that offers more rapid improvement with greater shooting experience.

Review: Questions to ask yourself
How did the recoil pad make contact with my shoulder?" Did the bottom toe of the recoil pad make contact well before the top of the pad?

With my cheek on the comb, was I able to look along or slightly down-onto the surface of the rib?

Did I have 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 a little to reduce the neck lean and the cheek lowering? (Allow no more than about 3/4" of the recoil pad to extend above Your collar bone.)

Ask someone to check the distance between the tip of your nose and the second knuckle of your trigger-hand thumb. Is it 1.5" or less? (The closer to 5' in height your are, the less separation needed, down to about an inch.)

How heavy does the gun feel? Does it seem to be balanced between your two hands? (If not, can you move your forward hand farther forward or back to help balance the gun?) Could you mount it 25, 50 or 75 times during a day of clay target shooting without becoming too tired to handle the gun without straining?

Take your time deciding
Do not 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 shoot it.

Your attention to detail when choosing a gun will improve your chance of getting the right gun for you, one that you will enjoy shooting for many years. So, do your best to make it happen the first time.

I hope this will help you find and choose the best gun for whatever type of shooting you will be doing.

Good luck and God speed.

Author:  Chip Kolar [ Thu May 12, 2016 8:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Why Women Have Difficulty Finding the Right Shotgun

Rollin Oswald, well done! My wife (5' 3") selected a Syren Tempio 20 ga 30" and she loves it, which has led her to love shooting which means I get to spend time with the love of my life doing something we both love doing. Chip

Author:  Rollin Oswald [ Thu May 12, 2016 11:51 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Why Women Have Difficulty Finding the Right Shotgun


A well deserved reward for a deed well done.

Author:  slotracer577 [ Sat May 14, 2016 11:08 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Why Women Have Difficulty Finding the Right Shotgun

Well done. We went through a lot of those issues getting a gun fit for my wife. We ended up with a 3/4" raised rib and adjustable comb. That fixed here cheek slap by lowering the gun on her shoulder since her shoulder to cheek bone distance was longer. Now she shoots well and has had thousands of pain free rounds.

Author:  SquirrelGirl [ Sat Oct 20, 2018 11:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Why Women Have Difficulty Finding the "Right" Shotgun

Thank you for posting this. While I'm not new to rifle hunting, I just tried clays yesterday and, boy, was it fun. However, even the comb on a Rizzini women's gun was too low. I'm struggling to get across to others that stock length is generally not a problem because I have long arms but the distance from the grip to the trigger is too long. We're going on a trip next week when I plan to shoulder as many more as I can but I've printed out your post and highlighted the critical pieces to wave at the guys who try to push a compact or youth model "because the stock is short." Sigh.

Anyhoo, I joined the forum so I could actually post my appreciation for your contribution.

Author:  Rolexdr [ Sun Oct 21, 2018 8:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Why Women Have Difficulty Finding the "Right" Shotgun

Very well written

But damn from reading this I’m built like a woman lol

Good sound advice (and for slight built males as well)

I have struggled getting a gun to fit my 5’11” 150lb frame
Long neck, thin face, longer lop it took a while to get set up (I should of went to a proper fitter)

Author:  Rollin Oswald [ Sun Dec 02, 2018 2:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Why Women Have Difficulty Finding the "Right" Shotgun

Thank you for the compliment.

Consider investigating units known as pad adjusters. These units mount between the stock and recoil pad. They allow the recoil pad to raised, lowered and rotated. In your case, with a longer than average neck, you would lower the recoil pad.

Two of several of these units are the Jones and the 100-Straight.

You should not need a longer stock UNLESS you shoot your gun like a rifle with your stance/body rotated more than 45 degrees.

I suggest you try squaring your stance slightly and see how your ye lines up with the rib when you mount your gun with your eyes closed.

Don't wiggle the gun on you shoulder just mount it naturally. Open your eyes and note how your eye is aligned or misaligned with the rib.

If it is not aligned, you may have discovered that your stock does not fit OR, it may indicate that you just need practice mounting the gun. It requires practice before you will be able to mount any gun consistently. (And it is well worth the practice.)

Author:  toadstool [ Sat Dec 08, 2018 9:48 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Why Women Have Difficulty Finding the "Right" Shotgun

My wife and I just purchased a new Citori CXS 20GA. I did the "elbow" test and this thing is 2" to long :shock: . We took it to the gunsmith today and he verified my findings. Holy moly she must have sort arms. :lol:

Author:  Rollin Oswald [ Sun Dec 09, 2018 9:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Why Women Have Difficulty Finding the "Right" Shotgun

The elbow test is a poor way to determine the correct length of shotgun stocks.

A far better way to judge the correct stock length is to have your wife mount the gun and put cheek on the comb with her head in a natural and normal head and neck posture.

If the stock is the right length, her nose and her trigger hand thumb will be separated by about 1.25." This assumes that her hand is in a position on the grip that she can pull straight back on the trigger.

If she has to slide her hand up and forward on the grip to reach the trigger. the nose thumb separation can be slightly greater than 1.25."

"Pitch" is the angle formed by the rib and the recoil pad and is close to 90 degrees. If the pitch is right for your wife, the whole recoil pad (or butt plate), top to bottom, will make simultaneous contact with her shoulder as she finishes mounting the gun.

I'll bet the pointed "toe" of the recoil pad makes contact before the upper "heel" of the pad, in which case, it should be corrected when the stock is being shortened.

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