Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dale Tate and the art of gun fitting

When I began working on a story about gunfitting for a California magazine earlier this spring, I knew exactly what I wanted to go with it: photos of gunmaker Dale Tate.

Dale's the guy who almost singlehandedly transformed my shooting last December after I'd spent a year coming home from the duck blind emptyhanded more often than not. My shotgun hadn't fit me properly - until Dale worked his magic on it.

Shotgun fit matters for everyone, but it's particularly important for women because we're generally smaller than the men guns are made for. Your ability to rest your cheek on the stock in the same spot every time - positioning your eye perfectly as the rear sight of the gun - depends on three things: the stock's length, its cast (left or right tilt, depending on which hand you shoot with) and its drop (vertical tilt). All of those elements must match your proportions.

Dale had already adjusted my gun in December, so I needed to photograph someone else's fitting. That's where Sarah came in.

Sarah's uncle had just given her a shotgun, and she knew it wouldn't fit correctly because she's 5-foot-2, a good 6 to 8 inches shorter than the hypothetical man guns are made for. And beyond that, she's left handed, and most stocks come out of the factory cast for right-handers.

Last week, Sarah and I took the gun to Dale's shop at the Camanche Hills Hunting Preserve, about an hour and a half outside of Sacramento, and Dale got to work immediately. He had Sarah mount the gun - my favorite part because it is so unnerving seeing someone's face right in front of your muzzle. Then he started making adjustments, sawing off a big chunk of the back end of the stock and gently filing down parts of the front of it, where it meets the action, to change the cast.

He also gave her gun a new recoil pad, but not before etching his initials into the back side of it to leave his mark for the ages.

After he put the gun back together, we went out to one of the sporting clays courses at Camanche, where Dale would give Sarah a shooting lesson and check the fit of her gun where it matters most - in the field.

But wait, you didn't think I'd go all the way to Camanche without my gun, did you? After getting Sarah rolling, Dale put us in side-by-side goose blinds, gave each of us a box of shells and told us he was going to start firing off clays randomly. Our job was to shoot them down.

It was crazy fun. At least twice Sarah and I pulled the trigger at the same time on the same clay, so who knows which one of us broke them. It didn't really matter, though, because I wasn't keeping count of what I hit, and I don't think Sarah was either - we were just having a good time.

OK, Sarah was more than having a good time. Before this day, she had never shot consistently. After Dale fitted her gun, she hit her first double ever. She was jubilant.

These aren't the best photos from the day - I've saved those for the magazine, which will come out sometime this fall. You don't have to wait that long for my advice, though: If you hunt with a shotgun and you're not shooting consistently, get it fitted. It'll cost ya, but it's worth it to hit your targets.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


Blessed said...

I completely agree with you! Fortunately for me my youth model 20 gauge fit me pretty good out of the box - one of these days I'm going to have a nice shotgun though and it will be fitted to me!

SimplyOutdoors said...

Looks like a great idea and an awesome time of shooting.

The picture of Dale looking down the barrel of the gun is pretty crazy. I'm sure that must feel real awkward letting someone do that when you're holding the gun.

Anonymous said...

Looks like a good time. Having my gun fitted when I get one is something I will definitely have to do. I have small hands and I'm not that tall, so guns don't always fit me well.

Can't wait to see the article when it comes out. You will make sure we see it, won't you?

HELLEK said...

Just talked to a man who is a champion trap/skeet shooter and has guns valued at around $12,000. While he has a longstanding relationship with his guniftter in SoCal, he says that Dale is the best in NorCal.

Will absolutely be taking my gun to him when I buy one later this summer. Tho it's unnerving to see the pix of him taking it apart!

Holly Heyser said...

Hellen, you must be done with grading! I'm not. Wah. Fifty-five portfolios to go...

Tom Sorenson said...

I love a professional that really knows their stuff and enjoys what they do. Dale seems to fit that bill - very cool.

shotgunner said...

Hi Holly. Thanks for the lead to Dale. I spoke to him last week. I'll be visiting him in a few weeks on my way to or from an Oregon trip I have planned. He is going to fit my 2 Benelli M2's! I am excited about the ability to fit a synthetic stock. Plus I get to hold a "try" gun.

Thanks again


Tox said...

Hello Holly,
Thanks for the pointer to Dale Tate, and for your writings about 12 vs 20g. I ended up buying my girlfriend a 391 for christmas, and she picked it up the day before her birthday - when I took her to Mr. Tate for fitting. Now that she has a shotgun that actually fits her, it opens up many more opportunities to shoot together (my Benelli fit her poorly enough it was a bad idea to shoot it). Dale says hello!


Holly Heyser said...

I <3 Dale Tate! He rocks!

Just remember all his advice - fit is only half the equation. The rest is practice-practice-practice!

Anonymous said...

I just got home after a 6 hour drive to see Dale to have by brand new 391 Beretta Teknys Gold Target fitted by Dale and what an amazing experience!! Thank you so much for your article on him otherwise I might have never found him. Anyone else out there looking for a gun fitter....SEE DALE!!! You will be glad you did. I know I am.

Holly Heyser said...

I'm so glad to hear it! Dale's awesome, and you're getting off to a great start by having it fitted right away.

It blows my mind to hear how many people don't know that fit matters. An unfitted gun is like wearing a shoe that's the wrong size: It throws everything off.