Inconsistent accuracy? Sore shoulder? If so, you may want to take a look at how your weapon actually fits.
I went to a shotgun range recently with some buddies for a little fun and it struck me (again) what a wide range there is with how shooters approach their weapon choices and set up. One of the guys brought his own 12 gauge with him (he was a little smug) but was lamenting how he couldn’t hit anything when he hunts and that he feels like he’s been hit by a truck every time he shoots. Keep in mind that he’s a small guy and only breaks the gun out a few times per year for some weekend bird hunts.
When he began to shoot, he caught the attention of the instructor who immediately noticed how he was struggling. A quick inspection revealed that the gun was in no way set up for his size or body type and that it was also too big and heavy for him. The guy admitted that he had simply bought the gun off-the-peg at a sporting goods store and that no one ever gave him any direction one way or the other. The instructor was good. He gave him some pointers, told him to go with a 20 gauge for his size and get it fitted properly this time.
Now on the other hand, the instructor cracked open his case to show us a real deal competition shotgun. This thing was beauty and completely tricked out and customized for him. Sure he’s a serious shooter, but what a difference. It was actually a good education and certainly highlighted a bunch of elements that I had probably underestimated before.
To state the completely obvious: proper fit = good and poor fit = bad, and it’s the stock that can make a big difference. Because the gun’s stock is the real physical connection to the shooter, it can have a huge impact on your performance and how comfortable you’ll be while shooting. Most all standard weapons are designed for shooters of an average size and shape, and may not always be ideal. Everyone is put together differently and there will also be variations in shooting style. You have to consider what you’re shooting as well. Whereas most rifles are aimed at the target, shotguns are pointed, so it’s even more important for the fit to be just right.
This isn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff, but the importance of the fit-factor might not occur to a Newbie. Ideally, you’ll want to have your dominant eye looking straight down the barrel (or centered on the optic) – not too high and not too low. This helps with more accurate target acquisition, avoids the necessity to move your head or lean back and minimizes the risk of your non-shooting eye being engaged.
The other thing to consider is overall shooting comfort and avoiding feeling beat-up after a trip to the range or a day of hunting. An ill-fitting stock won’t seat properly at the shoulder, thus resulting in greater felt recoil. There’s also the chance of getting bruised under the cheek, on the jaw, the forearm or even injuries to the finger from the trigger guard.
Ultimately, your performance and experience can be affected negatively if you get mixed results with your accuracy in general or if the anticipation of the recoil impact creates a flinch response. Shooting with confidence is always best. In this way, you can ideally raise your weapon, point/aim and fire smoothly and more consistently.
We tend to focus on the length of the stock as being the real culprit in a bad fit, but that’s likely a little one dimensional in its thinking. Shotguns or otherwise, there are some other specific elements that will apply to long gun fit to help optimize performance and avoid injury. Depending on who you talk to, there will be some differences of opinion as to the importance of each, but it’s important to understand what the terms all mean.
Length of Pull
Measured from the centre of the trigger to the centre of the butt, this is one of the most common issues that shooters can encounter. Too sort, and your position will be cramped and you’ll feel more of the recoil. Too long, and the weapon will feel more cumbersome and your head will probably have to come up to see what you’re shooting at.
Comb Height & Angle
Too high, too low or with a sharp downward angle, and your sight line will be affected. The downward angle will also increase the transfer of recoil to the face. A straighter comb is a good compromise and there are many adjustable models available.
This is the difference in height between the top of the comb and the rear of the rib. It is normally measured at both the comb and the heel of the butt. A stock with less drop would tend to shoot higher, with the opposite being true for a gun with more drop.
The angle of the butt pad’s back surface is important in that it affects the distribution of the recoil to the shooter’s shoulder and chest. Having a greater pitch typically spreads the recoil impact out more evenly, thus making for a more comfortable experience.
This is the degree that the stock is offset, depending on which hand is used to pull the trigger. ‘Cast Off’ means that the stock bends away from the right cheek for a right-handed shooter, with a ‘Cast On’ bend for left-handed shooters. This allows for a direct line-of-sight down the length of the barrel and will also feel more comfortable in the shoulder pocket.
If you’re serious about shooting, having your gun properly fit your body and your style is key. There a number of stock types out there that are sure to work for you, including adjustable models and products like slip-on butt pads etc. For my money, I’d have a qualified instructor watch you shoot, and then pay a visit to a good gunsmith if you need to make any substantial modifications.
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