Shooting with an ill-fitting shotgun is a fruitless exercise and cannot be ignored, no matter how experienced the user. Martin Puddifer asks gunsmith Bill Elderkin for his perspective on gunfit.
Why do you think that, historically, gunfit has not been at the forefront of the minds of British shots when buying or indeed using guns?
“If you go back to when I started in the workshop here in 1977, we very rarely altered a shotgun. There was also very little in the sporting press about gunfit. Back in the late 1970s we’d send out a basic fitting form, where customers measured from the inside of their elbow (when the arm was at a right angle) to the break on their index finger. We’d also ask them for their height and then the measurement across from their shoulder to the base of their neck. From that we’d work out, within reason, the length of the stock and the amount of cast and drop that was needed. In those days, and perhaps a little earlier, customers bought a gun and tended to adapt to it. Not many people shot clays either; they just went straight into the field and shot game, pigeons, etc. Over time, with the increasing popularity of clay shooting and the sporting press writing more on the subject, your average customer started to think about having their off-the-shelf shotgun fitted in the same way as bespoke makers at the higher end of the market.”
More often than not, is it only slight changes that are required to a customer’s gun to make it fit perfectly?
“Well, everyone’s different. Stock lengths when I started were mostly 14.” – AYA shotguns were 145⁄ 8”, Brownings were 14.” and Mirokus were 14.”. Nowadays most people are taller, and so most of the shotguns that come to us are around 15” in length. Something else we’re seeing is that if you take the measurements of the 1970s and compare them with those of today, the alterations to cast and drop are influenced by clayshooting, where there’s a set stance that customers have learnt to shoot from.”
What are the most common alterations you find yourself making to customers’ guns?
“The most important measurement is cast, so that your eye is looking straight down the barrel. Some customers like to see more barrel, others less, so it’s down to the individual. Length is important but not as important as people think – it depends where the customer’s leading hand is placed on the fore-end. It’s about finding that happy medium of where you need to be. A quarter of an inch out on/off the cast makes you roughly six feet out when shooting a target from 35-40 yards away. One of the things customers tell us is the gun is shooting ‘high’, and they often think their stock is too short, but length of the stock concerns where the butt hits your shoulder, and the comb meets your cheek. What they’re really talking about is drop.”
Do you think customers sometimes fear having a gunfitting session in case they have to “learn to shoot again”?
“It all depends on what the customer wants. If they want to start from scratch with their newly measured shotgun I would advise them to go to a shooting ground and see an instructor to tell them what to do. Usually with gunfit the gun needs to adapt to your own style. I am a big believer in altering the gun to the customer, not the customer to the gun. I like to see a customer with their own gun rather than a try-gun. Where the measurements can fall down is if you have a ‘normal’ comb, then a ¼” cast on or off might be right, but if you’ve got a fat comb then it might want ½” or ¾”… it all depends where your face sits. That’s why you could have three shotguns with three different measurements all shooting in the same place.”
Once a customer has had their gun fitted, what should they do? Should they go straight to the clay ground to practise or concentrate on dry-mounting the gun at home?
“Both. If at home, the easiest way to check if the gun fits is to mount the shotgun to your own dominant eye with a mirror facing you. This is what they’d do if I were with them – remembering to look at their dominant eye and not think about the shotgun. Close your other eye and see where your dominant eye is looking.”
How should a customer come dressed to a gunfitting session?
“Obviously come wearing something more than a T-shirt; anything like a gilet, jumper or a light shooting jacket would be OK – you wouldn’t have to turn up wearing all of the garments you’d have on during the winter.”
How will a customer know if their gun doesn’t fit or if they are just lacking practice – what sight picture should they be able to see when the gun is mounted?
“Again, mount the shotgun to your dominant eye in the mirror, or if you can, go to a pattern plate at a shooting ground and see where the gun is firing. Obviously you’ll know the gun doesn’t fit if, when mounted, your dominant eye isn’t looking straight down the rib. For the height to be right you’d need to see about six inches between the end of the barrel and the bead.”
What physical signs/ injuries are most common when using an ill-fitting gun?
“Bruising under the cheek, the jawbone, the shoulder and even the forearm are signs that a gun doesn’t fit correctly. You can also get injuries to the index finger from the trigger guard.”
Useful terms to remember when having your gun fitted
Cast off: This is the degree to which the shotgun’s stock is offset from its centre point and to the right. The aim is to allow the right-handed user’s line of site to be directly down the centre of the rib from the breech to the bead at the muzzle end. It should also feel comfortable in the right shoulder pocket. For a left-handed shot, the reverse is known as ‘cast on’.
TOE, CENTRE AND HEEL
Toe: This refers to the bottom rear section of the gunstock, and is at the opposite end to the “heel” with the “centre” in between. A trick for remembering which is which is to set an unloaded shotgun on its butt alongside your feet with the trigger guard facing away – the toe of the stock and the toes on your feet will be side by side.
Also known as “pull”, length is the measurement from the centre of the trigger to the centre of the butt.
Drop is the difference in height between the top of the stock comb and the rear of the rib, and it is measured at the comb and the heel. A gun with less drop normally shoots higher, and a gun with more drop shoots lower. As a general rule the measurement is correct when the gun is mounted and the user is able to see the bead and a little of the rib from the breech end.
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