Stock length is a fundamental element to the perfect gunfit says Mike Yardley
We have been progressing steadily with our consideration of gunfit in recent months. Now it is time to consider some of the main variables in more detail.
A well fitted gun is one that points naturally to where the eye or eyes are looking and controls recoil effectively. It should suit the physique and shooting style of the user, as well as being well matched to the application or discipline.
The primary variables in fit are length – length of pull (LOP) – drop and cast. This month we look at length in greater depth. It is normally measured from the middle of the trigger (or front trigger in double trigger guns) to the middle of the butt-sole. A special extended calliper gauge may be used or a tape measure may be pressed into service – though they are not quite as accurate as dedicated instruments.
There is more to length than this simple measurement of LOP: the length to the heel and toe of the stock will determine a gun’s pitch. Pitch is sometimes measured in degrees – I do not usually measure it in this way, but some do, especially in the USA where degree of pitch is a common consideration with Trap shooters considering their fit requirement. My approach is to ensure that the shooter has a comfortable view of the rib and one that results in the right pattern ratio at the plates for the given preferred ‘picture’ – usually 60:40 or 50:50 – and that there is even flesh contact throughout the length of the butt-sole – top to bottom.
The toe must not dig into the chest and the heel, or bump – the slight protrusion just under the heel – must make good contact at the shoulder, which also helps greatly in recoil control. This should be assessed by watching the client mount the proven empty gun side on and obliquely from the front. I also like to feel for toe position physically – be careful to explain to ladies what you are doing and ask for permission – and make sure, amongst other things, that the heel is in contact with the shoulder/pectoral muscle and is not sitting in space under the armpit – indicating poor mounting technique or cast that is inappropriate.
As in most things, you will find different instructors and gunfitters expressing different opinions with regard to length. I like to keep it simple. With regard to length of pull:
1 A stock should not be so long that it is difficult to mount or impedes swing
2 It should not be too short lest it increases felt recoil and reduces pointability
It is notable that as we progress in our shooting careers and become more proficient at gun mounting, many show a preference for a slightly longer stock. It is also true that we have on average become taller over the years, so standard length measurements have increased. 14 ¾-15” now constitutes a standard measurement (1/4 to ½” more than 50 years ago). Let me also note that as we age, a slight reduction in length may sometimes be useful to make a gun more manageable: as we become older and stiffer a longer stock may impede both mount and swing.
Other considerations: some allowance needs to be made for clothing when fitting for length. What is needed in shirt sleeves in the summer may differ significantly (by as much as ½”) to what is ideal in thicker winter apparel. Single trigger guns often need a slightly reduced LOP compared to double trigger guns. This is also true of guns with well-proportioned stocks and notably those with Monte-Carlo combs. Too long a stock may create a problem with the functioning of some single trigger mechanisms – it is important that the trigger finger should not pressure the trigger blade excessively between shots – as may happen if the stock is too long or the grip badly conceived.
When fitting for length, I have three standard tests: I like to see a gap of between one and two fingers between the tip of the nose and the base of the thumb when the proven empty gun is mounted in the horizontal plane. However, I also check for the angle between bicep/upper arm and inner forearm. In my experience this needs to be 90 degrees or so for maximum control and efficiency. I have found the 90 degree method a pretty accurate guide to most people’s LOP requirement. Everything is subject to testing and observation, though.
Arm length is an important consideration when looking at stock length. If someone has particularly long arms they probably want a longer stock! Men with long necks may also be served well by a longer stock, although a deeper, Monte-Carlo style comb may be a better option – a Monte does not have to be especially high. Be on the lookout for those shooters who are ‘stock creepers’ and may mislead you with regard to their length requirement just as those who apply insufficient or excessive head pressure may mislead you about drop unless you have spotted their habits and errors. You must also watch for shooters who tend to place the head too far back – this may be because they have a poor mounting style and/or an eye dominance problem.
Returning to my testing routine, for length, I like to see a client take an overhead, vertical or near vertical, bird when considering their ideal stock length – I apply this test to most disciplines, which may surprise you. It shows me if the gun stock is creating any tension on higher presentations as the gun is raised. I like to see a person being fitted for a Skeet or Sporting gun take close, fast presentations gun-down. If there are any glitches (assuming, problems with sticky pads and so on have been eliminated) a slightly reduced length may be recommended.
Do not get the idea that short stocks are always better – they’re not. Generally speaking the longer the better, within the parameters stated. So, what about the old ‘crook of the arm test,’ where the proven empty gun is held up with finger on trigger and butt-sole in the crook of the arm – the angle created by bicep and inner forearm? Well, I won’t say forget it entirely, because it can give some idea of grip length and style requirements and it can sometimes be used as a quick, rough guide for beginners. Generally though, it is an unreliable indication of gunfit as far as length of pull is concerned.
Just to state all sides of the case – and to make the point that there is room for different opinions in gunfit – this is what Peter Croft, an excellent Trap instructor and top Trap competitor, has to say about length of pull as it relates to guns for his discipline: “I think many people shoot longer stocks than is necessary. If you look at most top Trap shooters, they have their head well forward. If you think about it, it makes sense to have your eyes as close to the rib as possible, you’re not looking at it, you’re looking along it, and consequently there are fewer margins for error. So, whilst a gap of a couple of fingers between the base of the thumb and the nose may be about right for Sporting or Skeet, my preference for Trap – and indeed most disciplines – is a little less. I believe that it is easier to shoot with a stock that is slightly too short than one slightly too long.”
It is easier to adapt to a gun that has too short a stock than too long a stock – one may merely move the front hand a little forward – though our ideal here is to achieve a perfect fit for you. Let’s end with a few practical points. You can use a butt extender to experiment with increased length – remember you may also pack the heel out if need be to increase the length to heel. If your gun is fitted with a recoil pad or butt plate, you may be able to loosen a screw and pack out the heel or toe for subtle experiments with pitch; I frequently find myself putting a coin between pad and wood at heel to increase this measurement. Recoil pads generally may be used as a means of increasing length, although you may need to alter the vertical angle of the butt-sole relative to the rib axis to make alterations for pitch. It is also possible to grind pads or butt plates at the toe to reduce this dimension or to eliminate an uncomfortable sharp edge.
Lengthen a stock that has anything but a parallel comb and you may be lowering your head position too. If you shorten a stock, you may, in effect, also be raising it – assuming there is some slope to the comb. The reverse is true as well: with regard to pitch, standard measurements relative to LOP would be +1/8” at heel, and +3/8” at toe. I have found, however, that +1/4” and +1/4” works well for many middle-aged men with well-developed chests, but it is all subject to observation and experiment. Women may also benefit from a reduced toe measurement. Some companies like Beretta and Benelli offer recoil pads in different lengths that may be changed without serious gunsmithing – very useful. Some of the Benelli pads just plug in and out. If only all changes to length were as easy!