Philip Bourjaily’s Recipe for Perfect Shotgun Dimensions

My mother always told me I would be above average, but I grew up to be the “average man” for … Continued

My mother always told me I would be above average, but I grew up to be the “average man” for whom production gunstocks are made. At 6 feet even, 190 pounds, with a thin face, I’m the crash-test dummy of shotgun fit.

Not everyone is blessed with such ordinariness. Tall, short, round-faced, or heavy-chested folks all may need stocks altered to shoot well, or even comfortably. Take, for instance, my 6-foot 7-inch friend John, who went on his first hunt years ago with a borrowed gun stocked for a 5-foot 10-inch adult. Every time John pulled the trigger, the recoil drove his knuckles into his nose. A properly fitted stock will not beat you up, and it will shoot where you look.

MAKING YOUR GUN FIT Here’s how to test gun fit by yourself: Take a bedsheet or a 3×3-foot piece of paper, make a mark in the center, and hang it 30 or so yards away. Without deliberately aiming, mount the gun smoothly and shoot four or five times at the mark.

If the point of impact varies, you need to work on your gun mounting. But if your pattern is consistently high, low, or to one side— or if mounting and shooting are uncomfortable—you need to alter the stock. Some new guns come with shims and extra pads that enable you to tinker with the stock on your own. If your gun doesn’t, you have two remedies.

The first is to repeat the shooting test at a measured 16 yards; at that distance, every inch off center equals 1/16 inch of alteration to the stock. Bring the targets and the gun to a gun-smith who specializes in stock work. (Black’s Wing & Clay, available at bookstores, lists such specialists.)

Your second option is to experiment with different dimensions by building up the comb with moleskin, by putting cardboard shims between the butt and the pad, or by making a temporary spacer that fits between the stock and the receiver of a pump or autoloader. Once you’re comfortable mounting the gun, and it’s shooting where you want it to, bring the altered gun to a gunsmith.

What the gunsmith does depends on where your pattern is. If you’re shooting to one side, he may heat and bend the stock, at a cost of $125 to $150. Or, if you’re shooting high, he might rasp some wood off the comb and re-finish it, a job that runs a few hundred dollars. If the stock is too short or too long, a thicker or thinner recoil pad, costing $50 to $75, should solve the problem.

CUSTOM FITTING For a perfect fit, you need to be measured by a pro. Last summer I had a full-blown fitting session costing around $300 with shooting instructor Gil Ash (800-838-7533). Ash had me mount and shoot a try-gun, a shotgun with a stock that adjusts for pitch, cast, drop, and length, over and over again while he made minute modifications.

Afterward, I sent my measurements along with an old Monte Carlo—stocked trap gun to Briley Manufacturing (800-331-5718; www.briley.com). It came back shaped to my proportions and beautifully refinished. The result? I am more confident and consistent with this gun. Even when I mount it wrong, it seems to wind up in the right place. Of course, even with a custom-fitted gun, I still have to lock my eyes on the bird. No amount of stock bending will make a bird fall from the sky if you don’t shoot straight.

STOCK ALTERATIONS

DROP: This determines the elevation of your head and eye in relation to the barrel. It’s usually measured at the heel and at the comb. Too little drop, and you’ll shoot high; too much, and the gun shoots low.

LENGTH OF PULL: If LOP is too short, you’ll punch yourself in the nose; too long, the gun will hang up on your coat. The right length is whatever feels comfortable and maintains about two finger-widths between your thumb and your nose.

PITCH: The angle or pitch of the butt determines how the gun fits against your shoulder pocket. Too little pitch means the butt will dig into your shoulder. With too much, the gun may slide up and slap your face.

CAST: Guns for right-handers have cast off; guns for lefties have cast on. Shooters with thin faces need very little cast; Charlie Brown would need extreme cast. If your gun isn’t cast properly, your eye won’t line up over the rib when you mount it.