When Italy’s Luciano Giovanetti won his second consecutive gold medal at the 1984 Olympics he was asked what was the secret of his success. His reply was “gun fit, gun fit, gun fit”.
There was, of course, much more to it than that – but I believe he meant that his carefully fitted gun had been a key ingredient. In the past some excellent shots have treated gun fitting with scepticism, having never experienced its benefits. However, I would suggest they had an instinctive feel for what suited them in terms of weight, balance and dimensions. Very often they were practical people who had worked with their hands and had an innate skill and a deftness with tools of any kind. I believe there is now enough evidence, both documented and anecdotal, to suggest that gun fitting based on well understood principles is of real benefit to most clay target shooters.
Gun fitting is not an exact science. Rather it is a matter of translating the requirements dictated by a person’s physical characteristics into a gun stock so they can point their gun more accurately and manipulate it more easily and comfortably.
My intention here is to highlight how gunfit relates to the different forms of clay target shooting, and hopefully persuade more clay shooters that accurate gun fit is fundamental to successful shooting at any level.
If any mystery still surrounds gun fitting and gun fit, I hope this piece helps dispel it. The art and science of gun fitting is entirely benign and its practitioners’ only wish is for their clients to be able to shoot as well as they possibly can.
Made to Measure
Clay guns may have different requirements in terms of their specifications, but their stock dimensions are calculated in the same way as they are for game guns.
Length of pull: This is a measurement taken from the centre of the trigger to the centre of the butt. Too long a length of pull and the stock may sit out on the upper arm, causing discomfort and inaccuracy. Too short and the shooter will almost certainly experience excessive recoil.
A gun fitter will also take measurements to the heel and toe. This determines the amount of pitch – the angle of the butt as it meets the shooter’s shoulder. By adjusting these measurements, a skillful fitter can ensure evenly distributed pressure on the shoulder. This creates stability for the stock in the shoulder pocket, preventing vertical or lateral movement under recoil.
Drop at comb: A particularly critical dimension, as it influences where the centre of the shot pattern will be placed in relation to the point of aim. Drop at comb determines the elevation of the aiming eye above the rib. Too little will place the shot pattern high; too much drop and the gun will shoot low. Opinions differ between gun fitters and shooters as to how much of the pattern should be placed above the point of aim. Some shooters insist a 50/50 placement above and below is desirable, while others like a pellet distribution that places two thirds of the shot above the target. If we are to believe the shooting coaches – and I am inclined to – most targets are missed below and behind, meaning that a relatively high shooting gun is to be preferred.
Cast: This represents a bending of the stock right or left that places the rib comfortably under the shooter’s eye to provide lateral accuracy. This is something else the beginner may be inclined to shy away from, but human beings were not designed to shoot guns, which means we have to make guns to fit people. For many years the Americans dispensed with cast by adopting an oblique stance to the target and using more drop at comb. Most Europeans are inclined to adopt what might be described as a more natural stance: square to the target with toes pointing to one o’clock and three o’clock. This offers a more solid gun mount with a greater area of the shoulder supporting the gun.
Fit For Purpose
As stock dimensions are determined by a shooter’s physique and stance, so they are also dependent upon a gun’s intended use.
Sporting: Sporting clay targets replicate game shooting, at least to some degree, and so the Sporter’s stock dimensions are similar to those of a game gun. It needs to assist the shooter in achieving accuracy on targets with a greater variety of heights, angles and distances than Trap or Skeet. Another consideration is that the shooter needs to shoot comfortably and accurately starting from the gun-down position.
Trap: For shooting with a pre-mounted gun at targets that are always going away and rising at varying heights and angles, a stock that is higher at the comb and heel is required. For shooters with long necks and sloping shoulders, a Monte Carlo stock with a parallel comb and then a significant amount of drop at heel can be a useful variant.
Skeet: For Skeet, of course, one needs a stock suited to targets with a fairly flat trajectory. This means that it shouldn’t place the pattern too high. If used from the gun-down position, a little more drop at heel may be required to accommodate a natural head-up stance.