Saturday, September 27, 2008

The key to success: a shotgun that fits

After just two years of hunting, I can't claim to be an expert at much. But this I'll swear by: If you want to do well in waterfowl and upland game hunting, the two most important things you can do are practice shooting, and make sure your shotgun fits properly.

I am a notorious slacker on the practice part. I spent my whole summer hunting big game, so I spent most of my practice time at the rifle range, not the skeet/trap section of my local shooting center.

But the gun fitting I took care of last year, and it made a huge difference in my success ratio. Season One? Three birds. Season Two? Twenty-six. 'Nuf said.

I was so impressed with the results that I wrote an article on the subject for California Waterfowl magazine. I gave a little preview on the topic here back in May, and the article came out this month.

Because the magazine is published only in California, and only for members of California Waterfowl, many of you may not be able to get your hands on it, so I'm posting the article here. Click on the image below to see the photos - these are the ones I didn't post on the blog back in May - and look below the image for the article. If you're interested in a reprint, that image below may not print out very well - just email me here and I'll send you a pdf.

Now, excuse me, but Boyfriend and I need to get to the shooting range.

Here's the article:

Annie, Get Your Gun (Fitted)!

Shooting a shotgun is the easiest thing in the world, right? With that 40-inch spread of shot, hitting your target should be no problem.

In theory, that’s true, but for the beginner, there are two keys to success: The first is practice, both in front of the mirror and outside with clay targets. You’ve got to repeat the perfect mount so often that it’s automatic. The second is gun fit. Because your dominant eye serves as your rear sight on a shotgun, it’s vital for the stock to have the proper length and tilt to make it easy to position your cheek on the stock and line up your eye over the barrel.

Who needs gun fitting? For some people, a new gun may fit perfectly without adjustment. “If you’re 5 feet 8 inches tall, 150 pounds, have a medium long neck and a medium cheekbone, most of them will fit you out of the rack,” said Harv Holcomb, a shooting instructor at the Cordova Shooting Center in Rancho Cordova who’s also a former champion competition shooter.

But if your body doesn’t meet those specifications – and if you’re left-eye-dominant, meaning you most likely shoot left-handed – you probably need to get your gun fitted.

What’s the tip-off that fit is a problem? “You’ll be very inconsistent, and you’ll be having a hard time getting the gun mounted properly,” Holcomb said. A shooting instructor would spot the problem quickly.

How do you fit a shotgun? Some shotguns come with spacers that set the drop (vertical tilt) and cast (horizontal tilt) of the stock. They can be reversed to switch from the factory-set “cast-off” for right-handed shooters to “cast-on” for left-handed shooters. Spare spacers included with the gun can increase the drop.

If you are intrepid and armed with the correct tools, you can make these basic adjustments yourself, using the instructions that come with the gun. If your gun does not include these, or if you don’t have a torque wrench or whatever tool is required, you need to go to a trained professional.

Holcomb recommends not just a gunsmith, but a “stock man,” someone trained and equipped for stock fitting. “There are probably 12 or so in the country that are competent,” he said, adding that there are amateurs who also do it reasonably well.

How do you find a good stock man? Simple, Holcomb said: Talk to the competition shooters in your area. They’ll know who’s trustworthy.

What can you expect after you’ve gotten your gun fitted? You should definitely shoot more consistently, Holcomb said, but only if you practice.

“Off season you have got to practice,” he said. “You need to pull the shotgun out at least twice a week and practice (in front of the mirror) if you’re not going to shoot clays. When you start getting close to hunting season, you practice every night. It’s got to become one with you.”

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


Brandon Darnell said...

It's amazing to me how much the fit does count for. I realized I was holding my shotgun at a slight angle, which was throwing my line of sight off a bit, and causing me to miss. A different butt stock (I didn't have it custom-fit...yet) got me a lot more accuracy.

Excellent photo, btw. I can see why you blew that one up for her.

Othmar Vohringer said...

Great advice! The two most underestimated factors in shooting, and ultimately hunting success, are a gun that fits and been able to hit what you aim at. My father and shooting mentor used to say, “A gun has to fit you like a pair of shoes. If they’re to big or to small you can’t walk right. Same with a gun, if it doesn’t fit you cant shoot right.”

Spending a lot of time at the shooting range with bow, crossbow, muzzleloader, rifle and shotgun, I am continually amazed how many hunters turn up a week or a few day before hunting to practice with their weapon of choice. It is usually this same segment of hunters that complain the loudest –often blaming the weapon – when they end the season without filling their tags.

Blessed said...

It really does matter - when we finally found a gun that fit me right it made all the difference in the world for my waterfowling.

Now we just need to work on that "practice, practice, practice" part!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Yeah, that is the key, and it's so hard to find time.

We took a quick trip to the range yesterday, and fortunately I haven't lost much ground. I've found that following Harv Holcomb's advice of practicing mounts while looking in the mirror helps a LOT - the more I do that, the better I shoot. Of course, that means taking the gun in and out of the safe a lot, but it's worth it to hit well.

SimplyOutdoors said...

I don't waterfowl hunt much, but I can say that a good gun fit is a plus no matter what you go after. It definitely does make a difference.

That photo is awesome.

NorCal Cazadora said...