Learning what is the correct way to shoulder a shotgun is a good idea, because otherwise you’re going to be in for a sore shoulder and you won’t want to ever shoot a shotgun again.
You can shoulder an AR improperly and it’s no big deal because shooting .223 is the BabyTown Frolics. A shotgun – say a 12-gauge, the most popular bore size – is more serious business and if you don’t shoulder it properly, you’re going to be in for some lively times. Not using a shotgun correctly will hurt more.
So… where to start?
A Gun That Fits
First is with a common mistake that many shooters make, which is not getting a proper gun fit or selecting a gun that doesn’t fit them to begin with.
Granted, there’s a difference between getting a workable fit and getting a custom fit. Most people can get “good enough” easily; the latter requires getting measured by someone who knows what he’s doing. Typically, you’ll only get a custom fit if you’re getting a bespoke double shotgun.
Also, my mall ninja amigos will be disappointed to learn that Holland & Holland doesn’t make a tactical model. Blue steel and wood shall be thy lot, and much shall be required to pay for one. But they sure do make a beautiful gun.
The utmost in precise fitment is a larger topic for another time. For now, we’re going to cover the basics. You can tell in a matter of seconds if a gun fits you, which is what we’re going to focus on here.
In the gun store, bring the gun up to your shoulder. Can you easily seat it in your shoulder pocket, or does it feel like the stock is too long or too short? If you feel like it comes up and seat easily and naturally, that’s good. A correct fit means that when you shoulder a shotgun, it sits firmly and securely into the shoulder. This actually minimizes recoil as you will feel MORE of it the more the stock moves.
Your shooting hand should be able to easily grasp the grip, and your trigger finger should comfortably rest on the trigger face. If you have to reach to get to the bang switch, that means your length of pull (how far you have to reach to the trigger) is too long. If you have to move your hand back to reach it, it’s too short.
You should be able to easily get your cheek down to the comb of the stock and get a decent cheek weld, your cheek resting comfortably on the stock. This matters, as you should be able to easily and quickly acquire a sight picture down the barrel. If you have to move your head or neck very much at all, it isn’t a good fit.
The rib and sight (usually a bead or – more common these days – fiber optic) should align on target. If the sight picture is wrong, the gun is wrong for you.
Pay attention to the grip itself. Can you easily get something like a firm handshake grip on the shotgun grip itself? Or do you feel like it’s too thick? If it feels too thick, it is.
Do you have to reach to get a good hold of the foreend, or does it seem like the gun mounts itself easily? If so, you have a winner. If not, you need to find a gun you can hold more easily.
Why does this matter?
If your gun doesn’t fit correctly, you won’t shoulder the shotgun correctly. You won’t shoot it well and it will not feel good to shoot…which will lead to buying another shotgun that DOES fit you well later on. Buy one that does the first time.
Next, the shooting stance…your shooting position. The classic shooting stance is to start by standing perpendicular to the target, with your weak side closest. Then, move your weak side foot to the side until it’s at about a 45-degree angle or a little shallower with your feet about shoulder-width apart or maybe a little wider.
Your back foot and strong side shoulder should be in line with your target, almost like in a boxing stance.
As you bring the gun up to your shoulder, bend your knees a little and lean into the gun. You should have about 60 percent of your weight on the front foot. This provides some push-pull – much like the classic Weaver stance – and helps with recoil management. As the gun comes up to the shoulder, you lower your head down to the comb of the stock and your strong-side eye (normally the dominant eye) acquires the sight.
In this regard, it’s much like classic off-hand rifle shooting, because it’s basically the same.
The butt should fit tight into the shoulder pocket, the space between the shoulder and the pectoral muscles. Again, if you shoulder a shotgun correctly, it won’t move much at all under recoil. It should be tight into the shoulder.
Your support arm elbow should be bent, with your elbow tucked into the body for proper support of the fore end of the gun. This provides a strong platform with which to shoot, whether your shotgun shooting includes pump-action shotguns, semi-autos or break-action guns.
The goal is for your body to hold the gun firm and stable. You’ll want to practice assuming the stance and bringing the gun up into a low-forward position, with the barrel below the line of sight. This way, you get your eyes on the target before bringing the gun up and getting the sight onto the target. This is something you can do at home.
Remember, being sure of your target is a must. It’s important at the range and is also a vital part of any hunting plan. Do you know the difference between a duck and a loon? Between a Canada goose and a brant? Just like needing to know if you’re looking at a buck or a doe that’s standing by some branches, you’d better be sure before you pull the trigger!
So, the proper way to shoulder a shotgun – any shotgun – is first to have a good fit, and you’ll know pretty soon if you have a comfortable fit. The proper stance will give the gun good support, and also enable you to shoot more comfortably, with good control and sight picture. You should be able to operate the shotgun smoothly and swiftly.
Practice shouldering the gun before hitting the range. If you get a good feel for it – which won’t take too long – then you’ll be in a better position to run the gun well.