Gun fit and what it takes to get it just right

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

It is a com­monly known fact that, if you want to shoot well, your gun must fit you. Every­one knows this, talks about this, and pro­fesses that their gun fits them like a glove right off the shelf; but what is gun fit? How does it work, and what does it in­volve?

The bead at the end of your gun is your front sight – a point of ref­er­ence that does not change. Now, imag­ine that your eye is the ‘rear sight’ of your shot­gun. In terms of ri­fle shoot­ing, if your front and rear sights are not aligned, you will not be hit­ting the bulls­eye, how­ever hard you try! The con­cept of gun fit is ad­just­ing your ‘rear sight’ to ‘zero’ your shot­gun.

This might seem a strange anal­ogy, but it is the only way to truly ex­plain the fact that even if your swing is per­fect, your lead is per­fect, and the stars are aligned ‘just so’, you will never hit the tar­get if the gun isn’t point­ing where you are look­ing. Some peo­ple ad­just them­selves to their gun, which is very pos­si­ble, but I have al­ways said that shoot­ing is hard enough with­out wor­ry­ing about the gun; that bit, at the very least, should feel nat­u­ral and com­fort­able.

To as­sess the suit­abil­ity of some­body’s gun fit, we must first make two grand as­sump­tions...

The first is that they can mount a gun prop­erly, ef­fec­tively, and con­sis­tently. With­out this, there is lit­tle to no point in do­ing a gun fit. Of course, with ex­pe­ri­ence you can tell what some­body will need, but all too of­ten com­plete novices come in want­ing a gun fit­ting, hav­ing held a gun for a mere 10-shot trial. The ba­sics of gun fit can of­ten be achieved, but a per­fect fit will re­quire fur­ther work. I should say at this point that it is bet­ter that they learn with a gun that has been ‘first fit­ted’; this should help to avoid any bad habits when mount­ing a gun, but with a re­al­iza­tion that fur­ther work will need do­ing.

The sec­ond as­sump­tion is that the per­son isn’t set to a sort of gun-fit auto-cor­rect. Too of­ten peo­ple will make do – rolling their head over, hunch­ing up and gen­er­ally ma­nip­u­lat­ing their bod­ies so that their eye is in the right place – re­gard­less of what gun they have picked up. It is pos­si­ble to achieve ad­e­quate re­sults with this, but they will al­ways fail with cer­tain types of bird. It can eas­ily be seen, and some­times a word to them to just open both eyes and re­lax

If you are a com­plete novice, start­ing with a gun that fits will avoid any bad habits creep­ing in. But be aware that once you have per­fected your gun mount you may need fur­ther ad­just­ments to be made. ‘Even if your swing is per­fect and the stars are aligned ‘just so’, you will never hit the tar­get if your gun isn’t point­ing where you are look­ing’

‘When your eye can be­come the ‘rear sight’ of the gun, in­stead of re­ly­ing on the rib, you will re­lax and shoot more con­sis­tently’

can have them han­dling the gun much more nat­u­rally. Of course, some guns will be so far off be­ing cor­rect for their own­ers that they are bet­ter off start­ing again with some­thing that more closely meets their needs.

So, imag­ine the per­fect client walks in… they have some shoot­ing ex­pe­ri­ence but know that their gun isn’t quite right and ask for a fit­ting. What do we do?


Check­ing length is quite an in-depth process. The old trick of putting the stock into the in­side of your el­bow and see­ing if your fin­ger touches the trig­ger just doesn’t cut it. There are a mix­ture of fac­tors that go into the stock length of a gun, and the fol­low­ing list is not ex­haus­tive. What do you wear when you shoot? What do you shoot at? How do you shoot? How tall are you? How long are your arms? How long is your neck? What shape are your shoul­ders (bone/ fat/mus­cle dis­tri­bu­tion)? How do you mount a gun? All of th­ese are im­por­tant fac­tors in get­ting length cor­rect. A quar­ter of an inch can make all the dif­fer­ence; make sure you get it checked by some­body with fit­ting ex­pe­ri­ence. Once a length has been de­ter­mined you may need to have your gun al­tered. To make it shorter might re­quire wood to be re­moved and a pad re­fit­ted; if it needs to be longer an ex­ten­sion is in or­der. The op­tions for what to put on the end of your gun are end­less, from high-tech re­coilre­duc­ers to pol­ished buf­falo horn, but what you choose is usu­ally de­ter­mined by a mix­ture of the gun’s ap­pli­ca­tion and aes­thet­ics. A wal­nut ex­ten­sion is one of the hard­est to fit, as the grain must blend in and, al­though a per­fect match is es­sen­tially im­pos­si­ble, a match from 10 me­tres away is of­ten achiev­able!

Once a ma­te­rial has been se­lected, it must be fit­ted to the gun. Most af­ter­mar­ket butt pads are ‘grind to fit’, mean­ing they come over­sized and are not sim­ply a bolt-on at­tach­ment. To at­tach one of th­ese the orig­i­nal pad is re­moved and the end of the gun, and the new pad, are checked for a good flat con­nec­tion. The pad is then at­tached, with new holes drilled and old ones plugged as nec­es­sary. The ex­cess of the pad is then marked with a scribe and the pad re­moved. This ex­cess ma­te­rial is then painted white, ear­mark­ing it for re­moval. This is done with a mix­ture of tools – a band­saw, a lin­isher, a file, and var­i­ous other hand tools suit­able for the ma­te­rial at hand. Once this ex­cess is re­moved, the (usu­ally rough) sur­face is sanded down through the grits un­til a qual­ity fit is pro­duced. To gain a seam­less join, the pad must be fin­ished on the gun and the wood­work re­fin­ished; al­though, tak­ing into ac­count the fit­ment of pads on fac­tory guns, most peo­ple are happy with a pad worked on off the gun. Read­ing back, this seems very easy to do, but hav­ing seen a few home-jobs I would per­son­ally take it to a gun­smith and let them do the work!

Ex­pect to pay any­where from £80 for a fit­ted af­ter­mar­ket pad, to up­wards of £300 for some­thing out of the or­di­nary.


Once a sat­is­fac­tory length is achieved it is time to look at eye align­ment. This is af­fected by the cast and drop of the gun – i.e. the way a gun stock is ‘bent’ from the line of the bar­rel. This is checked by hav­ing the client mount their gun up to your fin­ger tip, which is placed at dif­fer­ent points be­tween your eye and theirs. This is some­thing you can do at home in the mir­ror, but it is dif­fi­cult to see the smaller ad­just­ments that are needed with­out an ex­pe­ri­enced per­son hav­ing a look. Al­ways bear in mind what you are us­ing the gun for, as dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines as well as per­sonal pref­er­ences re­quire you to see vary­ing amounts of rib. Shoot­ing a gun over a pat­tern plate can be a very telling ex­pe­ri­ence, and is def­i­nitely worth do­ing if you have ac­cess to one.

To cor­rect any is­sues with cast we must adapt the gun to suit. This can be done in a cou­ple of ways. Ad­justable combs can be used to adapt to where your eye line sits and can very eas­ily be ad­justed, with zero per­ma­nence; this can,

Af­ter­mar­ket add-ons can be used to tem­po­rar­ily achieve a good gun fit

The op­tions for stock ex­ten­sions are end­less

Some­times a gun needs com­pletely re-stock­ing

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