The Shot Doctor

Five ways to make a good gun better.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Missing birds lately? go ahead and blame your gun. Every once in a while the fault really lies with the shotgun, not the shooter. Here are five easy fixes for the most common scattergun maladies. Now the next time you miss, you'll know what to blame.

(1) Fiddle With the Fit
If the stock doesn't suit your proportions, your gun won't shoot where you look, and you will hit targets or kill birds only by accident. The best, costliest remedy is a formal session with a fit expert and a try-gun, which has a jointed, infinitely adjustable stock. Then you give your measurements and your gun to a stock specialist who softens the wood with hot oil and then bends it into shape.

Typically, fittings run around $350; stock bending, about $200. Fieldsport (231-933-0767; www.fieldsportltd.com) in Traverse City, Michigan, and Michael Murphy & Sons (316-775-2137; www.murphyshotguns.com) in Augusta, Kansas, offer both.

There is a less expensive option for some guns. An increasing number of autoloaders come with shim kits that enable you to alter stock dimensions with nothing more than a screwdriver. Pre-fit recoil pads from Pachmayr (800-423-9704; www.lymanproducts.com) and Sims (877-257-2761; www.limbsaver.com) allow anyone to change a gun's length of pull in a few minutes. For instance, I shot over targets with my Beretta 391 until I swapped shims and lengthened the stock with a Sims LimbSaver pad. Now, the gun shoots dead on, and I have only myself to blame when I miss.

(2) Tune the Trigger
Almost every shotgun comes from the factory with a creepy, heavy trigger. A gunsmith can hone most to a crisp, light pull, with 3 to 31/2 pounds being about right for a hunting gun. It's a wonderful, inexpensive improvement, and not just for deer and turkey guns. Wingshooters also benefit from a trigger that has been smoothed by a smith. **(3) Replace a Spring **
If your auto isn't spitting out empties and slamming home fresh rounds with its customary verve, or if your slide action turns sluggish, your gun's springs may have lost their snap. Tucked away in the stock and magazine tube, they are out of sight, out of mind, and probably rusting away. The mainsprings in synthetic-stocked autoloading waterfowl guns are especially vulnerable. It's a simple job to change these components in many guns. The Brownell's catalog (800-741-0015; www.brownells.com) is an encyclopedic source of parts for most popular models. If you'd prefer to go the high-performance aftermarket route, try one of Sure Cycle's (877-337-7873; www.surecycle.com) stainless systems, which are rustproof and increase a gun's cycling speed. **(4) Add a Bead **
Fiber-optic beads are in these days, especially among sporting clays shooters. The bright glow helps you keep track of the muzzle in your peripheral vision as you focus on the target. Aftermarket beads from TruGlo (972-774-0300; www.truglosights.com) and HiViz (800-589-4315; www.hivizsights.com) attach to most ribs without gunsmithing. Some snap on; some use screws; others stick on with magnets. The magnetic beads are fine for target shooting, but they can be knocked off and lost if you rap the barrel sharply against a branch or drag it through the bushes.

(5) Clean It
Prevent a malfunction and avoid costly service by giving your gun a thorough cleaning. Take it apart completely (if you don't know how, give the job to a gunsmith and ask him to strip-clean it). Soak autoloader gas system parts and choke tubes in Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber and leave them in a tightly closed jar overnight. Remove the mainspring and magazine spring and clean out their respective tubes with a .45-caliber brush for the former, a 10-bore or chamber brush for the latter. If the magazine doesn't come apart readily, blast the inside of the tube with a spray can of Gun Scrubber or Liquid Wrench.

Run a patch soaked with solvent through the bore and let it sit for several minutes to attack the fouling before you wipe the barrel clean. When you reassemble the gun, use tiny amounts of oil on moving parts and a little dab of Shooter's Choice grease on the hingepins of break-action guns.