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#5 FINDING THE FIT
Generally speaking, you can pick up any scoped rifle and shoot it reasonably well if it’s properly sighted-in, but the same can’t be said for shotguns. If a shotgun doesn’t fit well, it simply won’t point where you’re looking. Many international hunters will tell you that when they travel to a foreign destination to hunt big game, they’ll borrow a rifle from the outfitter. When they travel to wingshoot, however, they say the benefits of taking their own shotgun outweigh the headaches of travelling with firearms. The reason? Fit.
In his 1949 classic The Shotgun Book, renowned American outdoor writer Jack O’Connor sums it up best: “A well-fitting gun doesn’t make a crack shot out of a dub, a poor fit doesn’t make a dub out of a slicker, but everyone does his best shooting with a gun stock that fits.” In short, fit is all about ensuring your shotgun shoots where you’re looking, with the buttstock functioning to keep your eyes in the proper position.
To determine if your gun fits you well, go to a range and shoot at a paper target from about 30 metres with the choke/load combination you most frequently use. Shoot first from a solid rest, then snap-shoot as you would in an actual hunting situation. What you discover may surprise you. Even from a dead rest, your shotgun may not shoot where you’re looking, something that’s often exacerbated when you quickly shoot off-hand. This can be a gun problem, but most often it’s a fit issue.
There are three primary measurements to consider when assessing a proper stock fit. First there’s length of pull (LOP), which is the distance from the middle of the butt pad to the middle of the trigger. If it’s too long, you’ll catch your gun under your armpit or on your clothing; if it’s too short, you’ll often experience greater felt recoil, with your hand bumping your nose when you touch off.
Next is drop at comb (DAC), which is the distance from the line of sight, or rib, down to the comb of the stock. Too much DAC and your eye will be too low when you mount the gun, resulting in your shot charge flying below the target; if there’s too little, your charge will be above the target.
Finally, drop at heel (DAH) is the distance from the line of sight to the heel of the buttstock. This is less important than DAC, as most of us can comfortably accommodate a wide range of DAH, but too much can lead to increased felt recoil.
What should your LOP, DAC, DAH and cast measurements be? There’s no easy answer
Another factor that influences fit is what’s known as “cast,” which is a lateral bend in the stock designed to centre your dominant eye over the rib or barrel. Right-handed shooters need “cast off,” a bend to the right; southpaws need “cast on.” Most American-designed shotguns are built with little or no cast, while European shotguns often have notable cast. With no cast, it’s common for a right-handed shooter’s pattern to be centred to the left of where they’re looking.
So, what should your LOP, DAC, DAH and cast measurements be? There’s no easy answer. Modern manufacturers have addressed the problem by designing today’s smoothbores with stock dimensions designed for the average shooter. Unfortunately, the manufacturers have different opinions as to what constitutes average, and few of us are built average in any case.
Fortunately, minor adjustments to LOP, DAC, DAH can be made with the shims conveniently provided with many of today’s shotguns. If you can afford it, you can also have a shotgun custom-fitted for you, with stock alterations designed to bring out the best in your shooting. My best advice on achieving the proper fit, however, is to shoot as many shotguns as you can until you find the one that feels—and shoots—best for you.