The idea of a gun fit is nothing new but it can still be overwhelming and confusing. It’s hard to absorb all the different terms and numbers: length of pull, cast, pitch and drops. Numbers in inches ranging from 1/8 inch to 16 inches and numbers of degrees like -2 or +5. But the truth of the matter is that gun fit is a very important component to help you become the best shot you can be. The first thing to do in simplifying gun fit is to understand what is happening during a fit.
Proper dimensions allow correct body extension and head carriage and puts the balance point of the gun center between the hands.
When you plink with your .22 caliber rifle with iron sights you adjust the rear sight’s windage and elevation until you’re punching holes in the center of the target. The adjustment of the rear sight was the direction you wanted the bullet to go. If you shot high you would move the sight down. If you shot left you would move the sight to the right. In shotgunning, your eye or, to be more precise, your pupil is the rear sight. If you are shooting high then the pupil needs to come down closer to the plane of the barrel rib. This is done with the drop in the stock (elevation). If you are shooting to the left then the pupil needs to move to the centerline of the barrel rib. This is done with the cast in the stock (windage). Just like your .22, small adjustments at the gun make for significant changes down range.
Textbooks tell us that the numbers—or dimensions—in shotgunning are based around your physical features. Pupillary distance in relationship to face width can determine cast; length of face and shoulder slope affect the drops at comb and heel; and neck and arm length gives us length of pull. If it were that simple then all we would need to do is find two gentleman standing 5 feet,10 inches, weighing 175 pounds with 32-inch shirt sleeves and with similar facial, neck and shoulder configurations and give them both shotguns with identical dimensions. Alas, that’s not the case. We are human and humans have so many variables and quirks that we could not fit them all into a textbook regardless of the number of volumes.
Shotgun dimensions chart for determining the best fit.
Over my years of instruction and gun fitting I have coined a phrase, “subconscious reaction to barrel mass distraction.” This part of the gun fit has to do with the eyes and how the peripheral or subconscious vision reacts to the different barrel configurations – single, over/under or side-by-side. More than 80 percent of the time a shooter will end up with different dimensions between their side-by-side fit and their over-under fit. Other factors that are typically subjective to the individual are adopted stance, body positioning and head carriage. These are usually determined by athletic ability, sense of balance, upper body strength and whether the shooter is being fit for field or clay.
In clays the presentation is known. A plan is created and then applied. Focal point, hold point and break point are predetermined so the shooter’s stance can favor where the shot will be taken. This allows for a longer, more aggressive stance and forward head carriage. Wingshooting, on the other hand, is an efficient reaction to an unpredictable presentation. The shooter’s stance is more square and his or her head is upright to help better acquire the bird and make the necessary adjustments. These differences can affect length of pull and stock pitch primarily, but other dimensions could also be affected.
Gun fit is an ingredient that, combined with other ingredients, will make you the best shot you can be. An old mentor of mine used to say a gun fit without instruction will make you a lousy shot with a well-fitted gun. For beginner shooters the most important numbers are the big ones. Proper length of pull will help the new shooter practice correct stance and gun mount with minimal head movement. Proper pitch for the individual will eliminate discomfort, making the sport more fun to learn. Once technique is embedded and forgotten then a more thorough gun fit will determine the smaller numbers of cast and drop.
A stock-fitter’s tools of the trade include a side-by-side vari-length and side-by-side and over/under try-guns.
If you do have a go-to gun, it is possible to measure without the proper tools. A tape measure can give length of pull which is from the trigger (front trigger when measuring a double trigger gun) to the center of the butt of the stock. Turn the gun upside down and rest it on it’s rib with the bead hanging off the edge of your desk. Measure up from the desk to the nose of the comb and again up to the heel—this will give you your drops. A small diameter string with a loop tied to one end can help you determine cast. Place the gun on its bottom panel with the stock suspended off the edge of the desk. Take the loop and put it over the front bead and stretch the string over the stock keeping it center with the rib. If the stock is center to the string the gun has neutral cast; if the stock favors the right of the string it has cast-off, which is best suited for a right-handed shooter; if it favors the left it’s cast-on, which benefits the left-handed shooter.
That said, by no means are these measurements accurate enough to build a bespoke gun or alter guns you already own. When the time comes, you will need the help of a professional gun fitter and the accuracy of proper tools. But the home measurements will help you determine why you have a go-to gun and another that you can’t hit beans with that never leaves the safe.
Unless Lars Jacob is running dogs, wetting a fly line or turkey hunting, everything he does revolves around shotgunning. Jacob has been teaching the finer art of wingshooting for over 30 years. He has run programs and gun rooms for the Dutch River Club, Covey & Nye and Orvis Company to name a few. Jacob is the founder and CEO of Lars Jacob Wingshooting, LLC and LJW Roving Syndicate. In addition to instruction, Jacob is recognized as one of the country’s finest gun fitters and recently worked with Perazzi’s Al Kondak to develop the Perazzi Ladies Sporter. He has a soft spot for side-by-sides and has introduced thousands of shooters to the nuances associated with shooting such shotguns. For more information visit www.larsjacobwingshooting.com.