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Gun fitting - with Simon Ward

Simon Ward on the simple route to better shooting - getting your gun fitted. Here he explains the benefits of having a gun that fits you properly and what to look out for.

The Greats always knew it, but increasingly more and more are discovering that gunfit holds an important key to good shooting. 

But having a gun professionally fitted will only be of real benefit if you have learnt to consistently mount your gun smoothly and accurately onto a moving object. Your master eye is the backsight of your gun so good gunmounting is paramount to your success. I mention this at the outset in order that you get the most out of a gunfitting.

The fit of your gun comes in three stages.

Stock length

There are three important stock measurements but the one which most people refer to is the length, which is the distance from the trigger blade to the centre of the butt of the stock, normally anywhere between 14½” to 15¼”. But while these are average lengths, it should be remembered that ¼” can make a lot of difference to both comfort and accuracy. You may be partridge shooting in a cotton shooting vest in early autumn, but by mid-winter you might be wearing thermals, a thick sweater and waterproof coat, which could add anything from 1/8” to ½”.  To resolve this dilemma the simple solution is to have a recoil pad fitted into your shooting vest. This will automatically add anything up to ¼” which will compensate for not wearing your usual winter shooting garb. It will also give you kinder shooting on those hotter days.

Gunmounting is difficult with a short stock - the gun is not so controllable and likely to give the user some knocks. While a stock which is too long will result in the user mounting the butt onto the end of his/her arm as opposed to in the shoulder pocket. In which case both the cast and drop measurements will work against you, and definitely not for you.

Your master eye will be out of alignment at the breech, looking down the side of the rib rather than the centre. The eye will be lower than it should be, the drop measurement increased, the cast in effect reduced.

I mentioned that there were three stock measurements - centre, heel and toe. Reducing the toe measurement can be helpful for ladies or men who are fuller in the chest, and make it easier to achieve good contact in the shoulder pocket.

Cast

Cast is the sideways movement of the stock from the central line of the gun.  Cast is referred to as ‘On’ for left and ‘Off’ for right, whilst there is cast at comb, face, heel and toe.

Cast on your gun adjusts the east and west movement of your pattern. The amount of cast needed on a side-by-side or over-under is determined by the use of a try gun to make and take accurate measurements so that when the shooter’s eye is placed centrally over the breech with a natural head position, the gun fitter will make small adjustments until he sees the perfect eye/rib correlation

The amount of cast on or off is wholly dependent on the shape and width of the Gun’s face, and what it takes to get the master eye in the correct position when the stock is correctly mounted.

You tend to find that someone broad in the face requires considerably more cast at ‘face’ than someone who is slimmer, with more narrow facial features.

Drop

The drop measurement on your gun adjusts the north and south placement of your shot pattern. There are three measurements in drop - at comb (top of the stock), at face (midway position between nose of comb and heel of comb) and heel.

This is one measurement which makers of off-the-shelf side-by-sides and over-unders frequently get wrong. Unless we are talking about trap guns, the majority have too much drop in the comb. 

Generally the length is OK, and for cast they tend to opt for standard measurements of 1/8”at comb, 1/16” heel and ¼” toe. But drop at heel can be anywhere from 1½” to 2½” - and the latter is simply far too low for most people. Certainly for driven shooting. And remember just 1/8” out on the cast or drop measurement at face equates to the centre of the pattern being 6”off the target at 40 yards. 

Too much drop results in the master eye looking at the top lever rather than the quarry,  casusing headlifting and subsequently the stock banging the cheek and resulting in a stopped swing.

So therefore small adjustments such as 1/16” can make a huge difference to the point of aim of your gun - at 40 yards we are talking about the difference between killing a partridge and wounding or missing it underneath.

In my eyes comb height is a crucial measurement in gunfit.

But a word of warning... always remember that a little knowledge can be dangerous so before you start tinkering with your gun I suggest you seek the advice of a professional gunfitter who will tell you whether your gun fits or not. You will want to go to someone who has a good reputation and several years experience with a try gun and has the ability to give confident and accurate measurements at the end of a fitting session.

For the game Shot who specialises in grouse I would suggest the comb height be set so that half the pattern is placed above and half below the aiming mark at 40 yards. For the driven pheasant Shot I would suggest that the comb height is set a little higher ie. 2/3 above and 1/3 below. This results in the pattern being thrown a little higher than the aiming mark at 40 yards in the field,  thus reducing the chance of wounding rising/crossing birds and enables the Gun to see a little more of the bird in flight.

Once you have been for a fitting with a professional then you can have adjustments made to your gun(s). But first, I would suggest a session on the clays under his guidance, just to make sure that both of you are happy with the result.

Then leave well alone and concentrate on some practice for next season.

The fitting

When you visit a shooting school for an appointment with a professional gunfitter be prepared for a 2-3 hour session. As soon as you walk through the door he will be making an assessment of your height and body shape in order to set up the try gun for an approximate fit to yourself.

He will ask you to dry mount the gun and if he sees any imperfection in your gun mounting skills his task will be to rectify them before using the try gun.

The try gun has three key adjustments - length, cast and drop. But the fitter will also look at your gun to check the measurements and if he finds that length and cast are OK, but spots that there is a little too much drop at face he may well opt to put the try gun to one side. Instead he will achieve the correct amount of drop by using comb raisers (easily attached to the stock with tape). Most fitters will agree that it is better to let clients shoot their own gun, if possible. They shoot more naturally.

Pattern plate

Whether it’s your own gun or the try gun, once the fitter is satisfied that the measurements are OK he will then take you to the pattern plate, which is a big steel plate, erected upright and coated with whitewash. It’s a simple but tremendously effective and useful aid.

Typically the fitter will start you off at 16 yards from the plate and he might spend up to 15 minutes getting you to stand and mount correctly.  It’s pointless proceeding if the mounting skills are not up to much - a full choke at 16 yards doesn’t lie and you can quickly see if the gun is shooting off point of aim.

Once he is happy with this then he will take you back to the 40 yard mark, which is a range that covers most driven game, and one which will highlight the quality of the gunfit.

You will then fire a sequence of shots at the aiming mark. The fitter may make small adjustments to the try gun at this point. And if there is still anything amiss, he will check that the gun is unloaded and ask his client to dry mount the gun. The fitter will then look down the barrels from the muzzles to check the position of the eye over the top of the breech. Only a fitter should do this - do not try it at home.

Once both the fitter and yourself are happy with what you see on the plate then it’s time to move onto the shooting ground to tackle a variety of angles of clays. When the session is complete and both of you are satisfied with the result, you will then retire to the gunroom where the fitter will take the measurements from the try gun and write out a fitting sheet for you (both parties will have a copy). The gun will then be adjusted to the measurements on the fitting sheet - a stock can usually be bent accordingly.

Triggers 

At some point during the appointment, it would be a good idea to get the fitter to check the trigger pulls on your gun. Again if these are too heavy it could be seriously affect your shooting, without you realising.

Standard pulls are: Single trigger 3½lb first barrel and 3¾-4lb second barrel. Double trigger 3lb and 4lb. 

Anything heavier than this can induce a flinch or checked swing.

If you have been suffering with a bruised index finger due to the stock being too short or if you are holding the grip incorrectly, thus putting too much trigger finger around the trigger blade so that the index finger is butting up on the back of the trigger guard, it will cause a nasty swelling. But if you instead hold the gun a little further down the grip so you are reaching the trigger, pulling it with the tip of your finger you will notice a nice gap will appear between the trigger guard and the index finger.

But check with the fitter - your stock could possibly be too short.

Beware

When trying a different gun, new or second hand, it is easy to feel that it fits. Swinging it around in a room or gunshop, and away from the shooting field, you can make practically any gun seem the right one for you. But you’ll be very lucky if this initial judgement is correct.

One other word of caution... don’t be put off having a gunfitting because of cost. Compared to the price of game shooting it represents a remarkably good investment as well aiding you to kill your birds more cleanly. There are countless people out there in the shooting field with either the wrong gun or an ill-fitting gun and as a consequence will never shoot to their potential. But with a properly fitted gun their shooting and enjoyment from their sport could be transformed. What price on that?