Why Should I Get A Shotgun Fitted To Me?
If you've ever shopped for a suit, you know how hard it can be to find one that fits. Jackets vary by chest size and sleeve length. Pants come in different waist sizes and lengths. And if any of these measurements fit you off the rack, you're lucky. For most of us, adjustments must be made.
Shotguns are similar. Right off the rack or out of the box, few fit right. Adjustments must be made. But why? What is shotgun "fit" and why does it matter?
Getting To The point
Unlike rifles, which are aimed, shotguns are pointed. To shoot a shotgun well, you need to keep your eyes on your game (a flushing bird, an arcing clay) and raise, mount and fire all in a single, fluid movement. There's no scrunching down on the stock to find your sights or align the barrel with your target. Bird goes up, gun goes up, boom!
When a shotgun fits, this process is natural and effortless. Because the gun matches your body's dimensions, it rises right to your shoulder and cheek and aligns instinctively with your shooting eye. This makes the gun shoot right where you're looking, your forward hand is pointing, and your target is flying.
Comfort Is Another Benefit
Recoil is an unavoidable byproduct of firing a gun. When you pull the trigger, lead shot pushes out the barrel and the entire gun pushes back into you. Regardless of what you do to a gun, you cannot reduce the recoil a load generates. All you can do is manage the way this "Felt recoil" feels.
The simplest way is to shoot a semi-automatic shotgun. Semis siphon off a portion of the recoil and use it to reload and cock the action. You can also manage felt recoil by adding weight to a gun and/or by adding a soft pad or other recoil absorber to the butt of the stock.
A third way to manage felt recoil is to be sure your shotgun fits. This adjusts how the stock impacts your body and makes felt recoil easier to deal with and as comfortable as possible.
The Measurements That Matter
When you fit a shotgun, you adjust its stock measurements to the proportions and shapes of your body and the type of shooting you do. The stock measurements include:
- Length of Pull (LOP): This is the distance from the middle of the trigger (the front trigger if a gun has two) to the middle of the end of the stock. LOP determines where your cheek meets the stock, how your eye aligns with the barrel, and how naturally the gun mounts. It's a byproduct of the length of your arms and the build of your chest and upper body.
- Drop at Comb (DOC): This is the distance the stock's "comb" sits below the barrels. The comb is where you rest your cheek. To measure DOC, imagine a straight line extending from the barrel (or barrels) and out over the back of the stock. The distance between this line and the front edge of the comb is the Drop at Comb. DOC affects the how your shooting eye aligns with the barrels. It's determined by the distance between your cheekbones and your eyes.
- Drop at Heel (DOH): This is the distance the stock's "heel" sits below the barrels. The heel is the top of the butt of the stock and it sits highest on your shoulder when you mount a gun. You measure DOH just like DOC: By imagining a straight line extending from the rib of the barrel (or barrels) out over the back of the stock. The distance between this line and top of the butt of the stock is the Drop at Heel. Like DOC, DOH also affects how your shooting eye and the barrel align. It's a byproduct of length of your neck and the how you position your head when you mount your gun.
- Cast: This is the amount of bend a stock has to the right or left compared to the barrels. Measuring it requires a special tool. Cast aligns your shooting eye and the gun from side to side. It adjusts the stock to match the shape of your face. Stocks bent to the right are said to be "Cast off". Ones bent to the left are "Cast on".
- Pitch: This is the angle of the of butt of the stock. The butt of the stock presses against your shoulder when you mount the gun. Pitch adjust how a gun shoots up or down and affects how recoil is distributed across your shoulder and chest.
Everyone's mix of these measurements is different, and a single change here or there can make the gun shoot lower, higher, more to the left or more to the right.
Finding Your Fit
Putting all these measurements together in a way that works for you requires three things: An experienced shotgun fitter, a Try Gun, a shooting range with a patterning plate.
You can find experienced shotgun fitters at shooting and sportsmen's clubs around the country. Some focus on competitive shooting, some work with hunters, and others fit shotguns for both. Be sure you ask a fitter about their expertise before starting the process.
A Try Gun is a shotgun with a fully adjustable stock. All the measurements noted above can be tweaked and altered to fit you. Once you find the right fit, these measurements are recorded so you can apply them to your own shotgun.
Note: Side-by-sides and over-unders fit differently. So, do target guns and game guns. Be sure your Try Gun you use matches the gun you use and style of shooting you do.
A patterning plate is a circle drawn on a board. During a fitting, the you mount the Try Gun and fire at the patterning plate. Your fitter will note the position of your pattern and adjustment the Try Gun. Then you repeat the process. And repeat again. Eventually, the Try Gun will shoot to the correct spot. That's when the gun fits.
Fitting is 75% science and 25% art, so don't hurry the process. The longer it takes and the more adjustments your fitter makes, the better off you'll be. In the end, you come away with measurements that make your shotgun easier to use and more comfortable to shoot.