Keen sporting shot Jason Doyle has been consulting a number of experts on the subject, and it turns out gun fit really is as important as everyone says it is.
The last couple of months have been pretty quiet for me on the clay shooting front, but I have been doing some work away from the clay ground to hopefully improve my shooting. Lately, I’ve been focusing on gun fit and set-up. Now hundreds of articles have been written on the topic of gun fit and I’m in no way an expert on the subject, but I have found a few things that work for me.
The first thing I would emphasise is how important proper gun fit is. I know every gun fitter raves on about it, and of course there is an element of this that is about drumming up business, but I’m a firm believer that you won’t be able to shoot your best with a badly fitted gun, regardless of how used to it you think you are.
It may feel like it comes up nicely enough, but when you start shooting at clays you’ll quickly be caught out. When dry mounting at home, you are concentrating on mount and will instinctively adjust your body position to suit your gun, but when you’re concentrating on a rapidly disappearing clay you need a gun that suits your body shape and shooting style perfectly to ensure the shot goes where you are looking.
I’d always believed that off-the-shelf guns were good enough for me and that I could adjust my mount to suit. Then I bought my first Sporter with an adjustable stock and it really brought home the difference I could make to my shooting by changing the height of the comb.
This slowly brought me around to the idea of a full fitting session, which I booked with Chris Bird at Holland & Holland. Spending the day with Chris opened my eyes to the effects of bad and good gun fit, and I left with a much greater respect for the concept of perfect gun fit. Using a try-gun set up with different measurements and seeing how these affected the fall of shot on a pattern plate cemented the lesson.
I spent a lot of time altering my gun and trying different set-ups around the base measurements Chris had given me and I found a sweet spot that was similar – but ever so slightly different – to what he had recommended.
This difference was a small height adjustment; it seems I shoot better with a marginally higher stock than Chris measured me for. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, my first over-and-under was a Trap gun, and so was every shotgun I owned for 10 years or more, so I’m very comfortable with a slightly high stock. Secondly, being a left-eye-closed shooter, I’m inclined to lift my head slightly on some targets that are obscured by the barrels, so a higher stock helps me by giving me more visibility around the rib.
Armed with my newfound knowledge and a set of measurements, I headed to Mid Wales Shooting Centre for an appointment with the owner, Jonathan Williams, to discuss having a stock made for my Perazzi. I was keen to get away from adjustable stocks because of the temptation to meddle whenever the mood took me. Jonathan is an expert gun fitter and the visit to him was hugely beneficial. As he is also a firm believer in a high stock, we decided on a stock with similar dimensions to a Trap gun.
I chose to go with less drop at heel than normal, and to keep the top line of the stock almost parallel to the rib. There are a couple of reasons I chose this. Firstly, I feel it helps reduce felt recoil against the cheek bone, as the gun slides along the face rather than being pushed into it at a steeper angle. This is most noticeable when shooting game with heavier loads.
Secondly, there are times when my gun mount is sloppy and I don’t place my cheek in the correct position. A more parallel stock reduces the effect of a bad mount, as my eye will still be the correct height above the breech. Thirdly, a more parallel stock changes the position of the gun in the shoulder. While this may not suit everyone, it does suit my body shape, making gun mount feel positive and repeatable. This is especially important for those Sporting disciplines where most shots are taken gun down.
Another feature of the stock that I was keen to specify was the set-up of the pistol grip and palm swell. I favour a palm swell placed low on a reasonably pronounced pistol grip. Some off-the-shelf guns have palm swells that, for me, are too high up the grip, encouraging the right hand to tilt forward and the wrist to pronate.
This can make correct contact with the trigger difficult, and it can also force the elbow up and out during mounting, which makes the movement slower and increases felt recoil. Lastly, I was keen to have quite a heavy stock, as the original Perazzi timber balanced the gun forward of the pin. Most people like that, but I prefer the livelier feel of a 32″ gun balanced further back.
A few weeks of anxious waiting later, I was rewarded with stunning results; I honestly couldn’t be happier. The gun now feels like an extension of me, just as it should. The palm swell feeds my hand nicely into place, low on the pistol grip. This places the pad of my finger perfectly on the trigger, which has had a noticeable positive effect on my timing and vastly improved my trigger control.
The weight of the gun is perfect and it feels far faster and more willing without having sacrificed any control. Mounting on a variety of targets is now accurate and repeatable, with no need for body adjustment. As a result, the confidence I now have in the gun has increased dramatically.
In short, the whole process has been invaluable. Not only do I now have a perfectly fitted gun, I also have a better understanding of what works for me gleaned from superb industry professionals whose advice and teachings cannot be anything but helpful.