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For achieving the best results when shooting a shotgun, you should ensure it fits you correctly. The precise fit of a shotgun that you need depends on a few different factors, many of which will be unique to you.
Why does the fit of a shotgun matter? There are a few reasons for this. It’s important to remember that the fit and configuration of a shotgun must suit you, the shooter.
You should find it comfortable and easy to handle. If you find the gun does not fit to your satisfaction, that will only be a detriment to your use of the weapon later.
The fit of a shotgun affects how well you can shoulder and fire the weapon smoothly and accurately. It also affects your ability to manage the recoil.
Elements of Shotgun Fitting
There are multiple elements to proper shotgun fitting that you should be aware of. These include the following:
Length of Pull
The first point of improper fit to correct, the length of pull is the distance from the face of the trigger to the butt stock. As a rule, shooters of smaller stature require a shorter length of pull, and shooters who are tall require a longer length of pull.
Butt stocks that fold vertically or horizontally usually offer no adjustment in this regard. But telescoping or collapsible stocks often do.
If you own a shotgun with a collapsible butt stock, akin to that of some modern military and civilian rifles, this offers the simplest solution to the problem of how to fit a shotgun to yourself. Simply depress the locking lever and collapse or extend the stock until you find the setting that’s most comfortable for your build.
If, however, your shotgun has a fixed stock, you still have a few options. One is to unscrew the butt plate and replace it with one of greater thickness. Another is to add a butt plate that can host a series of spacers.
However, if neither option proves satisfactory, you may simply have to replace the butt stock entirely with one of the appropriate length.
The comb is the top of the butt stock, and the part against which you rest your cheek. It’s important that you’re able to place your cheek on the same part of the comb every time to achieve consistent eye relief when using a sighting system.
If the comb is too low, you’ll have to raise your head to see the bead front sight, barrel rib, or rifle sights (if your gun is so equipped).
There’s also what’s known as the “drop”—the downward slope of the stock in relation to the barrel rib. As this slope is continuous, the drop at the beginning of the comb will be different from the drop at the heel.
The precise drop that you will need to maintain sight visibility and comfort will depend, in part, on the shape of your face. If you have a rounder face, for example, you may require more of a drop than someone with a narrower face shape.
If you’re willing to replace the stock, you may consider choosing one with an adjustable cheek piece, allowing you to lower or raise the comb at will until you find the setting that suits you. A comb with a more suitable slope can correct this mismatch without the need for a separate piece.
The cast refers to the degree to which the stock is curved or bent away from your dominant eye. If you’re a right-handed shooter, the stock is bent away from your right eye—this is called “cast off.”
The purpose of the shotgun’s cast is to ensure that when you mount the gun, your dominant eye is looking straight down the barrel rib. If you’re a left-handed shooter, the stock is bent away from your left eye—this is called “cast on.” The precise cast and comb dimensions will depend on you; the shooter and custom fitting can help determine the perfect combination.
You may also require a neutral cast, depending on whether you’re cross-dominant—e.g., left-eye dominant but right-handed.
One way to determine the cast of the shotgun is to ensure the gun is unloaded, and look down the barrel or barrels, finding reference points for alignment. The first should be the trigger guard. Next, align the muzzle, the trigger guard, and the toe of the stock using your dominant eye. You should be able to determine in which direction the stock is curved, if at all.
Some shooters prefer to see more or less of the barrel when shooting.
The fit of a shotgun stock affects how the recoil impulse is delivered to your firing shoulder. You should brace the stock firmly against your shoulder, seating it in the pocket. This allows you to effectively absorb the recoil, improve your comfort, and recover your sight picture more rapidly.
In addition to the fit of the stock, you can also buy butt stocks or butt pads designed to reduce the recoil. These can range from a hard rubber butt pad that compresses, slowing down the rearward velocity, to stocks containing special buffer assemblies.
Sometimes, the question isn’t how to fit a shotgun to yourself. Sometimes it’s, “Do I need a professional to fit it for me.”
If you decide that you want to have a professional fit the gun, you can find stock makers and gunsmiths specializing in this practice.
The first order of business is to have you mount your shotgun as you would normally. The most popular way to determine proper fit is to measure the distance between the knuckle of the thumb on your firing hand and your nose. This dimension should not, ideally, exceed two and a half finger widths.
If you need to have the length of pull corrected, this may require trimming the stock, whereby a gunsmith will remove material from the butt, reducing the length of the stock and the gun.
When you’re having your shotgun fit customized, the drop at the comb should enable you to see a perfectly flat barrel rib. If the gun has a center bead and a mid bead, they should be aligned when you mount the gun. If you’re looking at the barrel rib from a downward angle, the gun will shoot high.
However, it’s always important to remember that a custom gun fitter can’t give you a consistent gun mount.
You should take your shotgun to a firing range and practice your gun mount until you’re able to shoulder the weapon the same way every time. Once you have a consistent mount, you can find a custom gun fitter and start figuring out how to customize the weapon to suit you.
Whether you adjust your shotgun stock’s fit yourself, change the stock, or pay a professional to fit it for you, proper fit is essential to accurate, intuitive shooting. The gun should fit naturally and point the same way.