Fitting A Shotgun

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Reprinted courtesy of Hayley Lynch, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources

Dove season is here, and any hunter who has emptied several boxes of shells to get their daily limit knows how important good technique is to a successful day afield. But one thing many shooters don't consider is the crucial element of gun fit.

Many shotgunners don't know that the factory stock on their new-in-the-box smoothbore probably doesn't fit. They struggle with a stock that is too long or too low, and a gun that smacks of recoil as a result. This is because stocks are made for the "average" shooter, and many of us don't fit the mold.

There are several adjustments you can make to your existing gun, without shelling out thousands of dollars for a custom-built stock. Two of the most important adjustments are to the length of pull and drop of comb.

Length of pull is the distance from where your shoulder touches the stock to where your finger touches the trigger. Most shotguns are made with a factory length of pull between 14 and 14 ½ inches. This might be just right for some, but is often too long for many women or shorter men, not to mention youth shooters. On the other hand, the factory length of pull may be too short for taller shooters with long arms.

To determine whether your shotgun fits, bend your arm in a right angle then put the stock in the crook of your elbow. Lay the stock sideways along your forearm with your hand flat. Now line up your index finger with the trigger. The trigger should hit the first joint of your index finger, just below the finger tip. If this joint extends beyond the trigger, you may need a longer stock. If it falls short of the trigger, you may need a shorter stock. This test will give you some idea of your correct length of pull.

Small adjustments can be made by buying a thinner or thicker recoil pad. Slip-on recoil pads are less expensive than those that screw into the end of your stock. Large adjustments, however, may require cutting the stock down or adding spacers.

Gunsmiths often charge by the hour for stock work. Getting a gun stock cut runs $100-$200 or more depending on the gunsmith. Spacers cost $8-$10 each but must be ground to fit the stock. This will cost you about $50. Don't forget to ask around the shooting range - many shooters have stock fitting experience and may be able to do the work for you.

The next measurement to check is the drop of comb. With a properly adjusted shotgun stock, you will naturally look straight down the barrel whenever you bring the gun to your shoulder.

The comb drop is the vertical distance from where your cheek rests on the stock - the "comb" - to the sight plane or rib of the gun barrel. Drop is a crucial measurement because it directly affects your line of sight. If the comb of your gun is too low, you will see the back of the gun's rib rather than straight down the top of the barrel. You'll have to lift your head off the stock to see, sacrificing accuracy as well as comfort when the comb smacks your face after a shot.

Adjusting drop can be easier than adjusting length of pull. While some shooters have adjustable combs installed - allowing them to move the top of the stock up and down and even side to side - you can fix this problem cheaply. A few thin layers of closed-cell foam on top of your existing comb, fastened with good-quality double-stick tape can "build up" your stock for under $10. Add more layers, or take them off, until you can see perfectly down the gun's rib when your cheek is planted firmly on the comb. You should see nothing but the sight bead at the end of the muzzle - add layers until you can see it, and take a layer off if you can see the rib itself. A piece of suede or neoprene on top of the closed-cell foam helps if you don't like the look of the foam or want greater comfort.

Many other adjustments, from major to minor, can make your shotgun fit better. But adjusting the length of pull and drop are good first steps. You'll know you're closer to a perfect fit when you bring down more birds with fewer shells.