Dyspeptic Gunsmith: How to Eliminate “Stock Bite” in a Wooden Long Gun

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TTAG commentator Dyspeptic Gunsmith writes:

The Ithaca 37 is one of the last pump guns made with an all-steel receiver and nice wood stock. They’re very well built. Some people don’t care for the loading/ejection out of the same port, but for those who do, it works, and it serves righties as well as lefties equally well. NB how the price is up in the $1K area for a quality, US-made gun.

What JWT describes in how the stock bites him is a result of the stock having no “toe-out.” This is a complaint that happens often in not only this shotgun, but in many other shotguns. I hear this complaint from men with larger pectoral and women with larger breast development. The solution is to either a) make the stock with ‘toe-out’ in the first place, or b) adjust the stock to have toe-out. So you could seek out a stock maker to make you a new buttstock, or adjust this one.

I was taught how to adjust stocks to have toe-out by an old English gunsmith, he of the Birmingham gun trade, in an operation that, if owners of the guns were to see it, would probably make them hit the ceiling.

You clamp the gun in a fixture that holds the receiver and barrels firmly. The rear of the fixture will have a clamp that attaches to the butt of the stock (sometimes with screws) and allows a torsion to be put on the stock, pushing the toe out.

This technique works on only wood stocks, and the wood on that 37 you’re holding is quite nice.

You wrap the wrist of the stock in rags that are soaked in linseed oil that has been heated. Put a pan under the stock to catch excess oil. Keep soaking the rags in heated oil. The oil could be heated safely to, oh, about 250F+. Keep it under 300F to prevent the oil igniting in the heating vessel.

OK, when you’ve got a layer of cotton rags around the wrist of the stock, and you’ve allowed the heat from the heated oil to work, try to toe-out the stock a bit more. In good, harder woods, you’ll not get much results – but you’ll feel that the wood is getting more pliable. What you need is a bit more heat.

None of the foregoing is what makes the owners hit the ceiling. This next part is.

When you need more heat to get into the wood fibers, you light the outer layer of rag around the wrist of the stock on fire. Don’t let the flames get away from you, you just keep spooning more oil onto the rags. Keep the flame off the wood. This takes practice, so start with a walnut plank for your first practice piece of wood. Let the fire burn for, oh, a minute to 90 seconds, then blow it out. It goes without saying that you should have an extinguisher nearby, but let’s get that on the record.

Let the heat of the fire work down through the saturated rags into the wood. Try putting more toe-out into the stock. As the heat works its way into the wrist, you’ll be able to gradually put more toe-out into the buttstock. If you don’t have enough toe-out yet, you re-light the flames. Lather, rinse, repeat. When you have the toe-out you desire, you pull off the rags, wipe off any excess oil, and leave the shotgun in the fixture to cool. Let it cool, oh, four+ hours in the fixture. You’re waiting for the wood fibers to set up again.

An alternative to this method is to use a steam generator, but you’ll end up with lots of water in the action as the steam condenses on the steel parts. If you go the steam route, you should probably pull the lockwork out of the action and spray the inside with WD-40 to keep water from penetrating into nooks and crannies in there. You’ll also find out that it takes quite a while to heat up the wood enough to get the toe-out you desire with steam, since the steam you can commonly generate outside a boiler will be limited in how hot it is.

All we’re doing here is what fine furniture makers have known for hundreds of years: you can bend or twist wood if you get the fibers hot enough to start them becoming supple and plastic. Hold the heated, now-plastic wood in the desired position, allow it to cool and you’re on your way to becoming the next Sam Maloof.

I’ve done the flaming linseed oil rag technique a couple of times, and the owners who had “toe bite” really appreciate a stock that no longer punches them “right there” as they’d call it. I don’t understand why more shotgun manufactures don’t put at least a little toe-out onto their stocks. The two adjustments that people really seem to appreciate in a stock are cast-off and toe-out (for right-handed shooters).

comments

  1. avatar jwtaylor says:

    Absolute gold.

    1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      Yup. As usual. I saved the one on blueing. Something like this? I’ll let a pro take care of.

  2. avatar Anonymous says:

    The Ithaca 37 is one of the last pump guns made with an all-steel receiver and nice wood stock. They’re very well built. Some people don’t care for the loading/ejection out of the same port, but for those who do, it works, and it serves righties as well as lefties equally well. NB how the price is up in the $1K area for a quality, US-made gun.

    What about a Mossberg 590?

    1. avatar Jon in CO says:

      There’s a small percentage chance I’m wrong, but the 590 is aluminum, as well as the A1 variant. Unbeknownst to me, there might be steel receiver versions, but current production in aluminum.

      1. avatar Jeremy S. says:

        Rem 870 is steel.

        1. avatar Katy says:

          Are we trusting Freedom again? Granted, I’ve been pretty happy with mine, but I do think about what might have been with the Mossberg on occasion.

          Of course that’s what I get for letting folks talk me through my first gun purchase instead of figuring it out for myself. But still, I’ve been pretty pleased with mine.

        2. avatar jjimmyjonga says:

          just the “express” i think…wingmaster is al i believe. i have thrown away 3 in last 4 years as they are unable to extract heavy waterfowl 3.5″ loads reliably as they only have 1 extractor on bolt (lowly mossberg has 2), and modern brass has so much soft metal that common that they expand when fired.

        3. avatar SouthernPhantom says:

          jjimmyjonga,

          3.5″ shells are an awful design compromise. Use high-density non-toxic shot in a 2-3/4″ shell if you can’t hunt with lead. 870 Super Magnum receivers are notorious for issues associated with lengthening the action; the issue is forcing a solid design to use a not-so-solid shell type.

          The problem isn’t soft brass, the problem is that cheap shells use steel bases instead of brass, and it doesn’t agree with many shotguns. Offer a gun to another owner before doing something as idiotically wasteful as throwing it away.

    2. avatar jwm says:

      As far as I know the 590, like all mossberg pumps, is made with an aluminum receiver.

    3. avatar Steve Truffer says:

      Mossberg shotguns have aluminum recievers.

    4. avatar Anonymous says:

      Well… that’s uh… disappointing. I was considering buying one… eventually. I can say I feel more satisfied with my Maverick 88, seeing as it isn’t much worse.

      1. avatar formerwaterwalker says:

        Good to know. I’m picking up an 88 7+1 in a few days.

      2. avatar int19h says:

        What’s the problem with aluminum receiver?

        1. avatar Anonymous says:

          It’s less manly than an all steel receiver, and it lacks the old fashion quality of steel and wood of yesteryear.

        2. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

          Well, it comes down to mostly the finish.

          If you want a gun that’s blued nicely, you’re not going to get there on an aluminum receiver. Aluminum cannot be blued; it can only be anodized or painted.

          Because aluminum is softer than steel, after a few years of hard use, you usually end up with a receiver that’s all scratched up, but the barrel/magazine tube still looks pretty nice.

        3. avatar 16V says:

          Sticking with my A5s/Model11s, thank you very much.

          I haven’t seen an FTF/FTE in tens of thousand of rounds of trap, skeet, or hunting. Maybe I’m just incredibly lucky (highly doubtful) or just buying a quality autoloader is the solution. Mine are all 80-100 years old according to the serial numbers.

  3. avatar strych9 says:

    Question: Most of the Ithica 37’s I’ve seen came with a recoil pad on the stock…

    So is this one just old or what? Ithica’s website advertises that all of their 37’s now come with a “Pachmayr Decelerator Recoil Pad”.

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      All the M37 trench guns are made like this.

      1. avatar Anonymous says:

        I hear this complaint from men with larger pectoral…

        Your pects are too big. You need to drop some muscle weight.

        1. avatar jwtaylor says:

          Heyelz naw! It’s all bout dem gainz.

      2. avatar strych9 says:

        I went back and read your review of the gun and I just don’t get it. The one you have has what appears to basically work like they sprayed some FlexSeal on the stock, but the pictures from Ithica seem to indicate a pad at least 1/2″ in thickness which is basically what my dad had added to his 870 after I gave him an 18″ barrel for it.

        I guess I just don’t get why the back end of your gun is so different from the stocks Ithica advertises.

        As for beating up your shoulder I totally understand that. When I first swapped barrels on my dad’s gun the thing felt like a sledgehammer to the shoulder because it had this hard plastic checkered nonsense on the back of the stock and going from a 28″ barrel down to 18″ greatly increased the felt recoil on that gun.

        1. avatar jwtaylor says:

          This is the gun.
          https://www.inland-mfg.com/Inland-Shotguns/M37-Trench-shotgun.html

          You may be looking at Ithaca’s model 37 defense shotgun. Same basics. Different furniture.

        2. avatar strych9 says:

          Upon review you are correct I was looking at the Ithica 37 Defense on gunbroker.

          I was using my phone and only pulled up a picture of the stock.

  4. avatar Jeremy S. says:

    Couldn’t you just put a shim between stock and receiver? Plenty of shotguns come with a mess of shims to adjust drop, cast, and/or toe. Or shim between recoil pad and stock to adjust pitch? Or install the recoil pad at a wonky angle to effectively change toe haha

    1. avatar Curtis in IL says:

      Some shotguns have recoil pads that can be angled for toe-out.

      Interestingly, I’ve seen plenty of custom fit shotguns that are angled the other way (toe-in).

    2. avatar Mk10108 says:

      Would a max pad and duct tape work?

      1. avatar Curtis in IL says:

        Not really. But I think you could clean a .45 by pulling a tampon through the barrel.

    3. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      Maybe, but usually not.

      Toe-out (or toe-in) is going to be a “twisting” adjustment if you take it all the way up to where the wrist mounts on the read of the receiver.

      Most shotguns that have adjustable shim plates will allow you to adjust the drop and the cast, and that’s it. My Beretta 390 is an example of one such gun.

    1. avatar Red in CO says:

      Ah, thank you. I had no idea that was even a phrase, let alone what it meant.

      1. avatar Geoff PR says:

        I was thinking like car front-end ‘toe out’…

  5. avatar Andrew Lias says:

    In for Youtube video.

  6. avatar Joe R. says:

    Good article and info, thanks for all the tips.

    Do you think a stock could be hot-glass-beaded (the way they adjust metal framed glasses)?

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      No, I don’t think so. Not without making a major refinishing job for yourself afterwards, anyway.

      1. avatar Joe R. says:

        ok. thank You, just trying to get over the burning rags part. Who’s the crazy that tried that first? ? Did he also warn about the rabbit with huuuge fangs?

        1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

          I honestly don’t know, but as I say, it was taught to me by a 80-year-old gunsmith from Birmingham, England, who had spent his entire working life (from 16 to 81 or so) working on guns. He worked in the Birmingham gun trade until his 50’s, then came to the US.

          What you have to realize is that many of the skills gunsmiths develop aren’t unique to guns – only how they are applied is unique to guns. Bending wood to a custom shape with heat has been done for over 200 years by furniture makers. Some of the very best American custom furniture makers have worked in walnut – especially the one I named in my posting, Sam Maloof, a gentleman who if you are more than a casual woodworker, you know was the pinnacle of the American woodworking craft. The skills of bending wood have been around for quite awhile. Gunsmiths have to pick up this knowledge from all sorts of places. Many gunsmiths I know also repair musical instruments (guitars, bass, violins, etc) because the woodworking/metalfitting skills of a gunsmith are the same ones used in repairing a stringed instrument, especially modern guitars.

  7. avatar Hank says:

    Y’all aught hire this guy to write more stuff if y’all haven’t already.

    1. avatar Anonymous says:

      They tried. Several times I believe. But he still writes for them – just in the comments section. They then grab his comments and make a whole article out of it.

      1. avatar Geoff PR says:

        Use Google’s ‘Advanced Search’, you can find most all his stuff that way, but it will take take you time to sort it out. Over the past few years I’ve amassed a fair bit of his stuff and stashed it in a folder, but its cumbersome as hell to go through. In between his larger missives like this one, he’s dropped some real gems in short offhand comments along the way, it’s all there in TTAG, but finding and sorting it is the real bitch.

        And thank all gooodness we got him!

    2. avatar jwtaylor says:

      We’ve all tried. I would like to offer, again, to pay in advance for the DG book on gun making with hand tools.

  8. avatar SteveInCO says:

    Suggest an explanation of what “toe out” is, be supplied. It is assumed the reader knows what it is.

    It’s obvious (from context) that this is a technique for bending a wooden stock, but I’ve no idea (from the article) which direction we’re talking about. I could go to an old CZ-USA catalog, probably, and find out, because I did read some kind of article about shotties years ago.

    tl;dr–if it’s necessary to go elsewhere to find out what the key word in the explanation means, someone didn’t explain enough.

    1. avatar Anonymous says:

      More info here:
      https://www.icslearn.ca/~/media/files/pdf/samplelessons/025-gunsmith-career-diploma.pdf?la=en

      Page 20:

      Toe-out
      Toe-out was the next stock dimension aspect considered for Anne’s custom rifle (Figure 10). We achieve toe-out by moving the toe of the buttstock to one side or the other (to the left for this left-handed stock). Toe-out positions the toe of the stock out and away from the chest of the shooter, rather than allowing it to dig into his or her chest during recoil. Such a situation most likely occurs when mounting the rifle hastily and firing before the butt end of the stock is firmly against the shoulder.

      Steve, this was funny:

      if it’s necessary to go elsewhere to find out what the key word in the explanation means, someone didn’t explain enough.

  9. avatar CarlosT says:

    This is awesome info, and another thing I’m definitely not going to do in my living room. Very cool to read about though.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      What? You have an intolerant woman who won’t appreciate the exotic fragrance of linseed oil at (and beyond!) the smoke point? You can’t explain away soot smears on the ceiling? Having firemen over in a professional capacity may impact your sleeping arrangements with the woman?

      No sense of adventure, Carlos??? 🙂

      1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

        One additional note I need to make VERY obvious.

        PAY ATTENTION TO THIS:

        Remember when you’ve been taught that oily rags, left in a pile, can spontaneously combust?

        And then you’ve left rags soaked with motor oil or other mineral oil for engines/machines/etc out, and nothing happened? You started thinking “Oh, that old wives’ tale about spontaneous combustion of oily rags… feh. Don’t bore me with BS.”

        WRONG.

        Natural oils, such as those used in stock finishing (linseed, tung, danish oil, other nut oils) can and will spontaneously combust if you leave the rags or paper towels used to apply/clean up sitting around. If you can’t burn them off right away (which is what I do), then I highly recommend putting them into a steel 5-gallon bucket that you can seal.

        The house/shop/garage you save will likely be your own.

        1. avatar GeorgeP says:

          Hi from the miserable backwater run by leftists (Greece). Greece is like NJ when it comes to rifled guns rights (NO rights), fortunately smooth bore firearms is a “shall issue” affair.
          Anyway, as DG attests, certain oils of biological origin, as opposed to most mineral origin oils, would slowly emit volatile hydrocarbons, that could be trapped in “pockets” inside a pile of oiled rags.
          Certain of these hydrocarbons are highly flammable with a particularly low flash point. At a very hot summer day, since the pile of rags is usually left in a non-air-conditioned place (your garage), spontaneous fire might erupt. It’s how forests catch fires in the summer. Not always a thunder, or a reflection of sunlight, as many people think. Decaying biomass on the forest ground, emits volatile hydrocarbons with low flash point. All is needed is a very hot summer day, and plenty of bad luck.
          Take care, my American friends.

  10. avatar Hoplopfheil says:

    DG is a legendary humble bragger!

    “Why, simply set your shotgun afire my good man, and soon you’ll find the stock bends with ease! I’ve done it countless times!”

    Good read as always, even if (like most DG rants) it sounds completely unpossible to me.

  11. avatar John P. says:

    Thank you (again), DG, for teaching us all something relevant and interesting.

  12. avatar achmed says:

    Great article. Now, when you say toe out is it the same as cast-on or cast-off? For me, shotguns that have a little cast shoot better and more comfortably for me. Are they synonyms and if not how do they differ?

    1. avatar achmed says:

      Disregard – laid out in the comments. thanks again for the article.

  13. I don’t know. Sounds like long gun snobbery to me. Guess I’m just a creeten. Never understood the “length of pull” customizing either. I mean, the human body is an amazing thing. A lot easier to adjust without setting things on fire.
    This is also why I will never buy a Sleep Number Bed. I will be up half the night trying to find my perfect setting.

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      Please see my comment below. I’ll explain why it is a real thing, and you’ll “get it,” I promise.

    2. avatar 16V says:

      “Guess I’m just a creeten”

      Is that anything like a cretin? Because, well…

    3. avatar Accur81 says:

      A gun that fits is easier to shoot and practice with. And that increases comfort, confidence and accuracy. That’s why so many pros use weirdly shaped guns and shooting gear.

      Conversely, that’s part of the reason why a lot of cops aren’t good shots. We use the same 4006 TSW (or Smith M&P 40c), Sig M400 AR with fixed stock, and Remington 870P for everyone. The NYPD gets stock with the same ridiculously heavy trigger pulls. One size fits all. And if it doesn’t fit you, that’s because you’re the wrong size.

  14. avatar 7.62x54r says:

    “Length of pull” is a thing. Having fired a shotgun very few times I purchased a Remington Model 31 for $150 and took it to the local trap shooting facility. After hitting myself in the nose 50 times with my right thumb on top of the stock I shouldered a friends O/U. Nose nowhere near thumb. Got out tape measure. My length of pull was an inch shorter than his. I think the average person was of smaller stature in the 1930s.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      Yes, they were shorter in stature back then, it was due primarily to lack of nutrition in the growing years (as compared to now)…

  15. avatar Accur81 says:

    Cool article. I do believe I would wind up incinerating my Benelli Sport II if I did this. I may need it more for my AR-10 after a 100 rounds or so, but those stocks would get melted.

    I certainly can’t deceive my wife if I’ve been shooting a lot of big calibers, because I definitely bruise up. If I ever get serious with sporting clays, I’ll look into this. That pursuit would require a whole lot more time and money than I currently have.

  16. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    OK, OK, I get it. I’m assuming that people know what all these terms mean, and I don’t define them when I’m writing. Please understand that I’m just tossing these comments off at 80 WPM in my copious spare time, and then Dan/Robert are making these ad-hoc comments into articles, which doesn’t reflect well upon my writing ability. This is why I’m not writing for TTAG – good writing, well done, takes time. Remember the old saying: “I would have written less, but I didn’t have the time…” Good writing takes time, and I’m not going to commit time that I don’t have.

    Take this posting for example: I’ve had a couple of beers, and it’s been a long damn day. TTAG’s comment system gives only a scant chance to edit for grammar and spelling after submission, so if my English seems a tad compromised, now you know why.

    Let’s start by identifying the various aspects/parts of a stock.

    1. Buttstock: This is the rear portion of the stock, which you grip with your working hand, upon which you mount your cheek and pull it into your shoulder. Even on a one-piece stock (eg, the stock of a bolt action rifle), the part from the grip rearwards is called the “buttstock.

    2. Butt: This is the rear, flat part of the buttstock that mounts to your shoulder, where you might mount a recoil pad.

    3. Comb: This is the top part of the buttstock upon which you mount your cheek. Cheek weld can be fudged on rifles, on shotguns it cannot.

    3. Toe & Heel: These terms come from when a rifle is at your side in a military “order arms” formation. This is roughly like standing at attention, with your rifle by your right side, running straight up your left. In military drills, when your rifle is by your side (your right side), with the butt on the ground and your right hand holding the barrel, the “toe” of the stock is that part of the butt that is closest to your toe, and the “heel” is the top edge of the rear of the comb, which is closest to your heel. Hence “toe” and “heel.” Clear as mud now?

    4. Grip/wrist: This is the part of the buttstock that you grasp with your working hand (ie, typically right for right handers) when you mount the gun. There are straight grips, curved grips, etc.

    4a. Grip cap: This is optional, but on some rifles, the bottom of the grip comes to a flat disc, and upon this disc is mounted a cap to preserve the edges of the grip.

    5. Cheekpiece: This is found on classic stocks, not usually on factory stocks, and it provides more support for your face below the comb line.

    6. Drop: Draw an imaginary line rearward from the center of the bore (on a rifle) or the top of the rib (on a shotgun). Where this line goes over the heel, measure the distance from the line to the heel. That’s your “drop.”

    7. Pull: Measure from the face of the trigger to the butt. That’s your pull length.

    8. Cast: Cast is a deviation of the butt from the vertical centerline of the gun. Most commercial stocks have no cast. Custom stocks usually have 1/4 to 3/8ths of “cast off” (for right-handed shooters) or “cast on” (for left handed shooters). Cast off is always to the right of boreline, cast on is always to the left, even on a left-handed stock. Why? Don’t ask me why. Most of these terms come from the English gun trade (which used to be a thing before the UK caught a serious fit of the stupids).

    9. Toe in/toe out: This is where you twist the stock so that (in the toe out case on a right-handed stock), the toe is twisted outwards from the vertical center plane that runs up the boreline, but the comb line remains where it serves the purpose of allowing the shooter to achieve the proper cheek weld.

    10. Pitch: Pitch is the angle of the butt relative to a vertical line dropped from the bore/rib line that is perpendicular to the bore center/rib line. In the 19th century, you’ll see that many guns had a more severe pitch than guns do today (typically). Some 19th century stocks had absurd pitches on the butt.

    OK, with all of those terms defined, now let’s talk about stock fit. Sadly, with the popularity of the AR-15 and adjustable buttstocks, people have no idea how a stock is supposed to fit them. I’ll give y’all a hint: A stock ain’t supposed to fit you anything like the buttstock of any AR-15. The AR-15 is an embarrassment of stock fit. The AR gets away with it because it is a) a rifle, and b) a light recoiling rifle. I see lots of people shooting an AR with the butt halfway up off their shoulder. If you do that with a hard-recoiling hunting rifle, you will be hurt – possibly badly. If you’re a newbie and you pick up a real hunting rifle after shooting most of your rounds through an AR, forget most everything you know about mounting an AR and work with someone to learn how to mount a real hunting gun on your shoulder properly.

    When you mount a rifle or shotgun to your shoulder and face, you should be able to:

    1. Get the entire butt onto your shoulder; you should not have the butt partially on your shoulder.
    2. Not feel the toe digging into your chest (either your pect or breast, depending on sex of the shooter).
    3. You should be able to have your cheekbone mounted on the comb of the stock,
    4. Which should put your eye in alignment with the sights (regardless of whether they irons, a scope or a shotgun rib),
    5. And your thumb on the wrist of the stock should be 0.75 to 1.25″ in front of your nose. If your nose is touching your thumb, I’m here to tell you that you’re going to have a bad time.

    Now, with a rifle, you can contort yourself into position to be able to shoot the rifle accurately. Most men today have to contort themselves to fit factory rifles because the pull length is too short. Men 100 years ago used to be shorter – heck, even as recently as the WWII generation, men were smaller. If you don’t believe me, go see one of the B-17’s or B-24’s that tour the country during the summer. Pay to take a tour inside. If you’re like me, (over 6′ tall, 44″ jacket, 16.5″ neck), you won’t find a single position in those airplanes that fits you. The ball turrets and tail gunner positions are literally impossible for me to occupy – I’d have to be dead and my corpse mashed into the ball turret like hamburger to fit in there. The pilot’s seat is an exercise in keeping my head out of the overhead panel. It wasn’t just rifles that were designed for shorter men – it was everything. Try being my size and driving a M35 “Deuce-n-half” truck with military seats in it. It’s like driving an oversized clown car for me.

    If you’re over 6′ pick up a 1903 Springfield and mount it, you’ll probably find that your nose is resting on your right thumb. If you pull the trigger, you’re likely to get a bloody nose. Most experienced 1903 shooters of my size will lay their thumb alongside the wrist, so as to preserve our noses.

    A rule-of-thumb about pull is that the length of pull should be about 20% of your height. This doesn’t always work, but it’s close – it can get you into the ballpark. I like a 14.5″ LOP. Most commercial rifles today are running about 13.25 to 13.75″ LOP – too short for tall men, too long for petite women.

    When a LOP is too long, you don’t have the “give yourself a nosebleed with the knuckle of your thumb” issue, but now a different issue arises, and I see this plenty with petite women and hunting rifles: A too-long pull opens up the shooter’s stance, and now they cannot get their shoulder “behind” the butt of the rifle. If the recoil force is high, then the rifle wants to “peel” the shooter’s shoulder off, because the recoil force is hitting the shoulder at an angle. This hurts, as one can imagine.

    The comb should allow you to mount your face and achieve eye-to-sightline alignment with ease – you shouldn’t need to roll your face over the top of the comb, nor keep your cheekbone up off the comb for high sight lines (eg, with a scope on a rifle intended for iron sights).

    A rifle that fits you means you can take more recoil, you can make more shots on target because you’re not being wrung out by the effort of contorting yourself to fit the stock, etc. But for the occasional shot, you can make a poorly fitting rifle work for you. I see lots of people shooting AR’s well, and as I’ve said, the AR is an embarrassingly poor fit for most people.

    Now, all of that fitting we’ve discussed until now concerns a rifle. Let’s talk shotguns.

    The biggest difference in stock fitting between a rifle and a shotgun is this: A rifle has a rear sight, a shotgun does not.

    “OK, DG, what the hell? That’s (*&^ obvious, dude! I haven’t sat through your rambling dissertation to hear such obvious nuggets of truth!”

    Ah yes, this is the typical reaction. Now allow me to explain the significance of this lack of a rear sight.

    When you mount a rifle that doesn’t fit you, you can contort your neck/cheek/arm/grip to “make it work.” People can adapt to some really poorly fit rifles, and if they can handle the recoil, they can make it work.

    Now mount a shotgun that doesn’t fit you. Try to swing on a clay (trap, skeet or sporting clays – doesn’t matter). OK, you hit one. Now dismount the gun, call for another bird and remount it, trying to hit another bird. Do that again and again… for a full round of 25 singles.

    After awhile, you’ll notice something: a shotgun that doesn’t fit you won’t allow you to hit clay after clay. You hit a clay here, a clay there, and you feel like quite the fool because you think you should be shooting better than this. What’s more, you cannot explain why you’re missing so many birds. You get frustrated, and you say “Trap shooting is stupid. Skeet is even more stupid. Sporting clays is more stupid than trap and skeet combined. I’m going back to 3-gun/IPSC/target shooting.”

    Here’s the secret truth about shotguns:

    Your eye is the rear sight. That’s it in a nutshell. Your eye lines up the rib and the front bead, and as you swing, you need to see a consistent sight picture in order for your brain and muscle memory to predict where the bird is going, get out in front of it, and put the shot column out there for the bird to intersect it, all in a couple of seconds. If the stock doesn’t fit you, if you’re having to twist your neck, roll your head over the comb, the pull is too short/long, the drop is too little/much, etc – you’ll have a hell of a time trying to snap that gun to your shoulder and cheek and get a consistent cheek weld that gives you a consistent sight picture. Without a consistent sight picture, you’re hitting clays by accident and fortune, not by design and skill.

    Ah, but when the stock fits you… now you can snap that gun up and blow away a clay without even remembering how you did it. If you start shotgunning seriously, you start by consciously swinging, leading and yanking the trigger at the right time. Once you shoot a shotgun that fits a lot, (and I mean thousands of clays/birds), you no longer swing on the target – or you don’t remember doing so. You see the bird, you mount the gun, and you know from mounting that gun thousands of times what the proper sight picture “feels/looks” like all at once. You actually start mounting the gun where you need it to come up to your sight line to get out in front of the clay. Watch an experienced shotgunner shoot – watch him/her very carefully. You will see the shotgun just mount and fire in one smooth motion. When this happens to you, you won’t remember swinging on the bird – you just mounted the gun and mashed down on the trigger – and poof, there was a greasy black smudge in the sky.

    That’s what happens as a result of your being able to achieve a consistent and repeatable mount of the gun to your face & shoulder, which results in a consistent cheek weld, which results in a consistent positioning of your eye along the rib line, so you get a consistent sight picture – breaking clays suddenly becomes easier – much, much easier. Furthermore, if the gun fits you properly, you can handle hundreds of rounds more recoil. When a gun doesn’t fit you, after your first round of doubles, even with AA or similar trap loads, you’re cringing every time you pull the trigger. This doesn’t help your confidence at all.

    When do you need cast-off vs. toe-out? If you’re getting a good cheek weld that gets you in-line with the rib reliably, but you’re ending up with a bruise on your chest where the toe is digging into you, you need some toe-out to move that point (even with a recoil pad) off your chest.

    Is cast-off the same as toe-out? NO. Most people who want more cast-off have wider faces – especially the distance from their eye to a vertical line intersecting the outside edge of their cheekbone. With a wider face outside of the eye socket, you need to move the comb over so that you can get your eye in-line with the rib. You might also need more drop. If this is what you need, putting toe-out onto the stock won’t do a thing for you.

    Where does toe-out help? If the gun fits you OK, but the toe is digging into your pect or breast, and you’re getting a half-dollar size bruise that is deep and painful, then you need to get that toe off your chest. It is made worse by a lack of recoil pad, but if the butt presents the toe in a fairly sharp manner, a recoil pad will only the delay the damage.

    Most people have never shot a gun that truly fits them. When they do, their reaction is often quite interesting – sometimes they’re skeptical, even tho they can feel the difference in recoil. Many people want to believe that a “gun stock is a gun stock is a gun stock. There’s no way I’m paying big money to have a gunstock fit me. The M-4 I shot in the USA/USMC worked just fine for me, therefore I have no need to fit a stock to me.” Well, that’s OK – until it isn’t. Usually the point when it isn’t is when a hard recoiling gun smacks them around, or they want to shoot trap/skeet, but they can’t make it past 50 rounds in a day.

    1. avatar Accur81 says:

      (For someone who doesn’t have time, you sure are able to expound on your comments!)

      I liked your article, and I appreciate your contributions and personal assistance. When you know a lot, answering a basic question can become involved. If someone asks me something about buying an AR-15, my next question is usually how much time do they have. Ditto for concealed carry, reloading, self defense, tactics, etc.

      I consider you the Yoda of guns, and a lot of TTAG are still Luke Skywalkers. You might as well be talking about how to personalize your light saber. Sometimes we all get lost in the swamp! If anything, I hope I made you laugh.

      Cheers.
      ’81.

    2. avatar John P. says:

      DG: It’s a pleasure to be able to thank you twice in one thread for sharing your knowledge and insights.

      Editors: If you haven’t already planned on doing so, please consider spinning this off as its own article for future (somewhat) ease of reference.

    3. avatar Anonymous says:

      Damn. Here’s another TTAG article right here.

  17. avatar Don says:

    I’ve shot an Ithaca 37 for years and most of my rifles and shotguns have wooden stocks which aren’t modified. I’ve never been “bit”. How do you have to hold a shotgun to be “stock bit” by it?

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      It isn’t just how you are holding it. It has to do with “we’re all made in different shapes.” You might have the body proportions that allow you to never be bit.

      I’ve only rarely ever been “toe bit.” Even tho I pump iron 4X/week, I don’t have the a problem unless I cant the gun inwards – because my shoulders are wider than my chest by a pretty fair bit. So the toe is always recoiling into the space under my armpit, not into my pect.

      But for someone with my pects who didn’t have wide shoulders… well, now they’re likely to get toe bite.

      Similarly, let’s talk about women shooting shotguns. Women who are endowed with (as the old Monty Python line goes) “vast tracts of land” and who are narrow shouldered, can get bit very badly by a conventional stock, even with a recoil pad on it. A woman with an A, B or perhaps even a C cup chest probably might never need to worry about it, unless her shoulders are exceptionally narrow. But from the incidents related to me by customers and female shooters who happen to have larger bustlines, D (or larger) bustlines, combined with regular shoulders or narrow shoulders, coupled with “the wrong bra on the wrong day” can result in absolute misery on the shotgun firing line.

      It all comes down to your body proportions. That’s why there are gunfitters – gunsmiths who specialize in nothing but making or modifying stocks to fit you, the individual shooter.

      1. avatar Don says:

        I’m fairly average sized and have no special muscle to speak of. I guess being average is lucky in this instance!

  18. avatar ACP_arms says:

    DG, Would you know what this thing is called.
    It’s a weight that you drop down the barrel from the muzzle of a shotgun to pop out a shell stuck in the chamber via gravity.

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      No idea, at our range, we use a plastic rod and just sort of whip it down the tube.

      1. avatar ACP_arms says:

        The guy that had it called it a “wad wacker”, but whatever it is its great.
        He said he used it 40 some-thing times in a row at a competition once. Its just a 2-1/2″ or so long cylindrical weight.

        He said if I couldn’t find one he would make me one.
        Its nice because you can easily carry it with you and if a shell gets stuck you just have to drop it down the barrel and you’re good-to-go.

        1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

          That’s what the plastic rod is used most for. Sometimes, a plastic wad is left in a tube after firing. It doesn’t happen often, but you should clear it out of the tube before firing again.

          This is another reason why break-action guns have taken over the competitive clay sports.

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