Friday, December 7, 2007

Guns for Grrrrrrls - Part Two

I hate shooting badly, so I'm always looking for the reasons that I miss my targets. The primary one has to be that I'm just new at this, and it's going to take a little practice to become a modern Annie Oakley.

But after posting recently about a thread on the Duck Hunting Chat on guns that fit women, I got to thinking about how my shotgun, a Beretta Urika AL391, fit me. It's a thought that ultimately led me to spend this morning to the Camanche Hills Hunting Preserve with gunmaker Dale Tate.

When I took my first shooting lesson last year, my instructor said my gun seemed to fit pretty well, and that I should just adjust the cast - the left or right tilt of the stock - for left-handed shooting. I did that, and things seemed to go well at the shooting range. For a while.

This summer, though, I found myself in an irritating slump on skeet. My instructor happened to be on the range during one of my stunning exhibitions of bad shooting, and he suggested I set up a lesson with him to see what was ailing me. I did, and he did that unnerving thing where he stands right in front of the muzzle, looking down the barrel to see where my eye is. It took him a millisecond to realize I wasn't positioning my cheekbone snugly over the stock, which is vital. He stepped over to me, mushed my face down on the stock, and proceeded to watch me slay clays.

Cool, I thought.

But I started to realize that it was really uncomfortable getting my face in the right position, and what was merely uncomfortable on the range was, in practice, nearly impossible in the field when the sight of a bird coming into range causes my adrenaline to explode. Perhaps it was my gun's fit.

My boyfriend had gone to this fantastic gunmaker, Dale Tate at the Camanche Hills Hunting Preserve near Ione, to get his gun fitted, and I decided perhaps I should do the same. Today was the day.

Dale took one look at me this morning and repeated what all my hair stylists have said: Long neck, high cheekbones. For my hair, this is a plus - the gift of many options for hair style. For my shooting, this means an off-the-shelf gun simply won't fit. This is why it was uncomfortable smushing my cheek on the stock - I was contorting my neck.

He got to work, adjusting the drop of the gun so the butt tilts down lower, and the cast so it tilts more sharply to the left. We went out one of Camanche's sporting clays courses so he could see how I was shooting, then went back inside his workshop for further adjustments.

The whole affair - gun adjustments and the shooting lesson that came with them - set me back about one-third the cost of the gun. But my gun feels a LOT better, and I did some decent shooting today.

The lesson was huge - Dale was very clear on the fact that practice is vital, and gun fitting alone wouldn't do the trick. When I first started shooting, I would diligently practice mounting my shotgun in the mirror, but once I started shooting regularly on the range or in the marsh, I stopped practicing. Bad move!

But Dale also confirmed what I'd begun hearing: Women don't need special guns made for a woman's size; they need what all shooters need - guns that fit them properly.

Now that I've got that, it's up to me to hold up my end of the bargain: practice, practice, practice.


Phillip said...

Congrats on taking probably the second-biggest step to improving your wingshooting.... good gun fit.

It's amazing what a difference it can make.

I'm pretty fortunate in that I am apparently built to the standard that most factory firearms are based on, but I've seen several people benefit from even slight customization of their gunstock.

The only thing left, as you pointed out, is practice, practice, practice.

Good luck on those waterfowl. With weather finally moving in, the hunting should improve drastically!

NorCal Cazadora said...

I get my first chance half an hour before sunrise tomorrow! We've got a reservation at Yolo Bypass - the site if my recent Duck-Duck-Goose adventure (good omen No. 1, a forecast for a north wind (good omen No. 2) and the same hunting party I went with on opening weekend, which was a great shoot (good omen No. 3).

Oh no, look how I just set myself up for a fall! If I don't post tomorrow, I'm either taking time to digest the crow I'll be eating, or I'll be plucking all night. Cross your fingers for the latter!

Phillip said...

Get to plucking!

Looked like pretty much a bluebird day, but I'm sure there were some birds to be found somewhere.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a great point. I tried shooting for the first time over Labor Day, and my biggest problem was that the gun I shot didn't feel right. I could contort myself to get good shots, but that isn't something I would want to do long term.

Anonymous said...

I realised the other day that I have been shooting for forty years! The golden rule was always 'Never, never let your gun pointed be at anyone ...' and I have adhered firmly to that rule for the past several decades of rifle and pistol shooting. Having only recently started shooting clays, I can sympathise with your unease at being asked to point an unloaded gun at your instructor to check for 'fit'. I can't remember the last time I felt so uncomfortable with what I was doing! Nigel, Is. of Jersey, UK.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Yes, it's definitely more uncomfortable than, say ... oh, pick your least favorite medical exam.