Importance of good gunfit
Top game shooting instructor Simon Ward offers his thoughts on the importance of good gunfit and how best to achieve it.
Although a lot game shooters tend to be more aware of the importance of gunfit these days, I do still see a lot of ill-fitting guns in the shooting field.
If a gun fits you perfectly, it will only shoot exactly where you look if you mount it correctly.
And something that a lot of people don't realise is that using an ill-fitting gun will not only make things difficult for you, but will also teach you bad habits. Over time, you will subconsciously make the required adjustments in mount and technique and, most importantly, you will get used to shooting in this manner. So bear in mind that you will only derive the full benefits of a gun that fits you like a glove if you mount it correctly. Therefore, I would suggest that if your technique needs any attention, you should address this first, before worrying about gunfit.
Where to start?
Physiologically, we are all different, so, in an ideal world, we would all shoot with bespoke gunstocks, built to fit our own unique shape and dimensions. However, realistically, this option isn't available to the vast majority who either make do with grandfather's old side-by-side, or buy a standard off-the-shelf gun from a gun shop.
Understandably, most off-the-peg guns are produced with stock measurements to suit Mr. Average who happens to be 5ft 10" tall, right-handed and of average build. This equates to a length of pull of between 14 and 15" (but some manufacturers now make guns which come with a set of interchangeable recoil pads which range in thickness), 1/8" cast off at heel, a drop measurement of between 1 and 13/8" at comb and between 2 and 21/4" drop at heel.
But each manufacturer and model will have slightly different stock designs and dimensions. Guns made for sporting clays, for instance, will have a lower comb than those designed for trap shooting. And traditionally, the game model's comb may be lower still.
It is also important to note that all guns, even identical models, can be slightly different. So the fact that you shoot particularly well with a friend's standard, off-the-shelf 12 bore Beretta Silver Pigeon, for instance, doesn't necessarily mean that you will shoot well with every 12 bore Silver Pigeon. There may well be slight differences in comb height and cast. And bear in mind that even a 1/8" difference in either drop or cast can have a huge effect on your shooting.
Opinions in the world of shooting vary, with some people suggesting that a game gun should shoot exactly to point of aim (50/50) while others argue that a slightly higher point of aim is better. My personal preference is for the latter (60/40), as this not only gives you a better sight picture on crossing birds, but it also gives you a touch of inbuilt lead on straight driven birds.
So, what are the options?
Your first port of call should be a reputable shooting school. You'll need to book a one- or two-hour session with a game shooting instructor who specialises in gun fitting. If you are planning on buying a new gun, they will be able to establish the right stock measurements and dimensions for you with the use of a try gun. If you already have a gun of your own, the fitter will very easily be able to ascertain whether or not it needs any adjustments made to it.
The first thing the instructor/fitter will get you to do is mount your gun repeatedly which will assess not just the fit, but also your gun mounting skills and technique. At this point, they may ascertain that the gun fits you perfectly but you actually need to work on your mounting skills. Alternatively, they may find that you have in fact been compensating for an ill-fitting gun and that an adjustment is required to both your stock and your technique.
However, once the fitter is satisfied that your technique and gun mounting skills are up to scratch, he or she will then take you to the pattern plate, starting you off at 16 yards before progressing to the 40-yard mark. This will very quickly establish where the gun is shooting, relative to point of aim which, in turn, will tell you if any adjustments are required.
The good news is that, in my experience, up to 90 per cent of guns can easily be adjusted or altered by a reputable gunsmith.
This is the distance from the trigger blade to the centre of the butt of the stock, normally anywhere between 14" to 15". Note that a 1/8" can make a lot of difference to both your comfort and accuracy.
Length can be reduced or increased by either removing or adding a section of wood to the back of the stock (a good gunsmith will be able to do this very subtly) or by applying a thinner or thicker recoil pad or Kick-eez (above). This will depend on how much of an adjustment is needed.
Cast is the sideways movement of the stock from the central line of the gun, with measurements taken at the comb, face, heel and toe of the stock. Referred to as ‘on' for left and ‘off' for right, it essentially adjusts the east and west (right/left) movement of your pattern.
Cast is adjusted by putting the gun in a jig and heating the grip section whilst applying lateral pressure to the stock. Over a period of about 48 hours or so, the stock can be ‘bent' either on or off, to a certain extent. However, this bending of a stock is by no means an exact science as each piece of wood is different and can behave differently. All it takes is a slight (and often hidden) imperfection in the wood and you can end up breaking the stock at the grip.
Bear in mind, also, that wood has memory, so you tend to have to bend it further than you want because it will bend back slightly. Plus it may change when it gets wet, hot/cold etc.
Note: Good head position and a gun that fits. The master eye is positioned directly over the breech without having to cant the head.
Whereas the cast measurement on your gun adjusts the east and west (right/left) movement of your pattern, the drop measurement on your gun adjusts the north and south (high/low) placement of your shot pattern. There are three measurements in drop: at comb (front of the stock), at face (midway position between nose of comb and heel of comb) and heel.
Once again, small adjustments such as 1/16" can make a huge difference to the point of aim of your gun – at 40 yards this could translate to being the difference between killing a bird and wounding or missing it underneath.
Comb height is a crucial measurement in gunfit and will be determined to a certain extent by the type of shooting you do. For instance, the regular driven pheasant Shot will benefit from a slightly higher comb than the walked-up grouse Shot and vice versa.
Adjustments to a gun's drop measurements can be done in two ways. If you are lowering the comb, you can either take a little bit of wood off the top, or you can have it heated and bent downwards. Conversely, if you require the comb to be raised, this can be done by using a temporary comb raiser, by adding wood to the top of the stock or by heating and bending the stock upwards.
With a side-by-side or over-under without a stock bolt, you could potentially raise the comb by as much as " at heel, " at face and 1/8" at comb. However, with a modern, factory-made gun with a stock bolt, you can only adjust the stock to a certain extent before you weaken the grip section and run the risk of it cracking or breaking.
If the distance from the breech face to the nose of the comb is too short, the trigger finger will extend too far forward (as above). There should also be a gap between the trigger guard and the third finger (Below).
How well a gun fits your hand is important for your own comfort and can affect your gunmount. It is determined by a number of measurements: 1) diameter or circumference of the grip, 2) grip length (from trigger blade to the bottom front edge of the grip), 3) grip depth (from the nose of the comb to the bottom of the grip) and 4) nose of comb to breech face.
All of these measurements are important as they will dictate how comfortable the gun feels in your hands which, in turn, will affect the consistency of your gunmount. Anything that takes your focus off the bird is going to be counterproductive.
For example, if the measurement from the breech face to the nose of the comb is too short for the size of your hand, your trigger finger is going to extend too far forward and you will end up pulling the trigger with the wrong part of your trigger finger. This will often result in the trigger pulls feeling heavier than they are. Moreover, a grip that is too thin in diameter will cause you to grip too firmly which, in turn, can cause tension through the movement of the gun and hinder the smoothness of your swing.
The importance of trigger pulls
You should also have your trigger pulls checked. I have seen people with a gun that fits them like a glove but their trigger pulls are too heavy which can cause them to pull off the line of the bird and stop the gun from moving. A nice crisp trigger pull of 3 and 3lb are ideal for most game Shots.
Does my gun look big in this?
Good shooting stems from consistent and accurate gunmount, sound technique and footwork, and a gun that fits like a glove. But something that is often overlooked is the fact that all of these things may change over time. Your posture and build will invariably change as you age and either put on or lose weight. So it's important to recognise that having your gun fitted when you are 30 doesn't necessarily mean that it will still fit you in 10, 20 or 30 years' time.
When you find that your shirts are a bit tight around the collar and your trousers are restricting the flow of blood to your nether regions, you can either blame the washing machine, or accept that you have wintered well and buy some shirts with a larger collar size and breeks with a little more room. But will you even consider the fact that your gun may no longer fit as well? You really should.
And maybe you should stay off the mince pies for a while, too.