If you’re not hitting with your shotgun as much as you’d like, odds are it’s because you’re using a gun that doesn’t really fit you. Gun-to-shooter fit affects accuracy and results more in a shotgun than any other kind of firearm. The problem is, most shooters don’t know the factors that go into a good fit, or how to make a gun they already own fit them better.
A shotgun that fits you as it should works better because it mounts naturally in your shoulder pocket, doesn’t beat you up with recoil and lets you look out over the barrel without head tilt or neck strain. In short, when your shotgun fits you, it naturally shoots where you look. That means more downed birds and broken clays.
The problem is, most shotguns are made for the “average” adult male. That means someone about 5’10” and roughly 180 lbs. The reality is, only a small percentage of us fit that description. If you’re shorter, taller, have longer arms, a rounder face…whatever…most off-the-shelf shotguns won’t fit you as well as they could or should.
There are a number of factors that affect gun fitting. The primary ones are:
Length of pull – The distance between the back of the butt pad to the trigger. This one’s critical to a good fit as a gun that’s too short or too long results in a bad cheek position, negatively affecting your sight picture and won’t stay in your shoulder pocket as you swing with your target.
Drop at comb — The distance between the shotgun’s rib height and the highest point at the front of the stock closest to the receiver. Too low and your load will fly under your target. Too high and your shot string will consistently be over the bird.
Drop at heel — The distance between the shotgun’s rib height and the top of the stock at the rear. The right drop at heel ensures a good, consistent mount and keeps the stock firmly in your shoulder pocket, minimizing felt recoil.
Pitch — The angle of the gun when the butt is mounted in your shoulder pocket. Depending on how you’re built, your shotgun could be tilted to the left or right. There are adjustable butt pads that let you angle the pad to keep the left or right in order to keep the gun vertical while maintaining solid contact with your shoulder and easing recoil.
Cast on or cast off — Any amount a stock is angled either toward (on) or away (off) from the shooter versus the center of the shotgun. Depending on how you’re built, you may need to adjust the angle of the stock from the shotgun’s natural center line to get a straight, consistent sight picture with your dominant eye down the rib of the gun when you mount it.
Sadly, most of us can’t afford a custom-fitted shotgun. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make your scattergun fit you a lot better than it does. The good news is that a lot of shotgun makers include tools to adjust your shotgun’s stock to better fit your unique physique right out of the box.
Some include spacers in front of the recoil pad to adjust the length of pull (LOP) for your arm length.
There are also shims to fine tune drop, as well as cast on or cast off, to help you get the correct gun mount.
Some models will come with an adjustable comb for your cheekbone and/or butt plate to let you get the perfect shotgun stock length, comb height, pitch and even cast. There are also good gunsmiths out there who can install these in a gun you already own. For a price, of course. A good gun fitter can help you get a specialty fit for games like sporting clays, skeet, trap, or other shotgun-shooting clay target games.
Finally, if you can’t or don’t want to alter your stock, there are aftermarket options like this Boyds At-One stock. They let shotgunners replace their existing stocks and give you a number of easy adjustment options to significantly improve your performance. In many ways, it’s like a custom “try-gun,” a shotgun fitting device that allows the gun fitter to adjust the stock to align the shooter’s eye with the top of the gun without having to adjust shims or spacers on an over-under or side-by-side shotgun.
So before giving up or wasting a lot of time and lead on missed birds this fall, make sure your shotgun fits you they way it should. Then, just like getting to Carnegie Hall, all you’ll have to do is practice.