Adjusting your gun to improve your shooting
Tony Bracci on what you can do to remodel your gun to help refine your shooting
We are always looking for the perfect gun to allow us to shoot to the best of our ability. Sometimes we might shoot with a different gun and it all seems a bit different and easier, almost as if the gun is helping you. So what makes the difference? Even with the same make and model of gun, differences can be apparent, but should you rush out and buy a new gun or can you make adjustments to your gun to get the same feel? There are always going to be limitations on what you can do, and there are certain parameters that gun manufacturers stick to for a standard gun. You can have a stock made to your specific requirements but a lot can be done with minimal cost. (Read what you need to know about adjustable shotguns.)
The main reasons for making adjustments to your gun are to help make your gun fit; to ensure your eyes are in the right place and the gun is comfortable to shoot. We can also make adjustments to the gun to make it handle in a way that suits your shooting style and method used. All adjustments and alterations should be done to aid good shooting and not to compensate for bad habits. However, such adjustments could render the gun useless to anyone else and therefore reduce its value if you wanted to sell it at some point. (You might like to read more on adjusting an inherited gun to fit you.)
Adjustments to the gun
Adjustments to the stock to make it fit should always start with length as this will determine where your cheek will be positioned on the comb. The right length when mounted will produce a gap of two to three fingers in between your nose and the back of your thumb holding the grip and create a 90-degree angle at the elbow joint of the same arm. The length of pull is measured from the trigger to the centre of the butt. If just a small adjustment is needed, another butt-pad of different thickness can do the job. If it needs to be longer, then spacers or a wood extension can be added. To reduce length, wood can be removed.
I would not recommend doing this at home unless you have the right tools. A gunsmith can remove it in a way that at a later date it could be replaced with the smallest of hairline joints. As we are talking about the stock, we should mention adjusting the pitch of the butt. This would be done to get a better connection between the butt and the shoulder. The average pitch angle is 86 degrees, but this isn’t perfect for everyone; if your current pitch angle doesn’t allow all of the butt to connect with your shoulder, then it may feel uncomfortable as the recoil is all felt through the part that is in contact with your shoulder. This may also make the gun move as it rotates into the spaces where there is a gap, pulling you off line and making it harder for second target acquisition.
Comb height is an important factor in the stock dimensions – getting your eye in the same place every time is going to be beneficial to your shooting. If your comb height is too low you will have to float your head above the stock to see along the rib; if your comb is too high it will make you shoot high as you look down on the rib. Adjustable stocks are increasingly popular, manufacturers offer them, but you can also transform a standard stock. Rubber comb raisers help lift comb height and come in 5mm, 10mm and 15mm sizes. For small adjustments, leather covered raisers are available.
Another type is like a gel pad and is added to the top and sides of the stock. Although comfortable, they push your head away from the stock as much as they raise it, which is fine if you need less cast. \
Wood cut into your existing stock to create a Monte Carlo stock can look nice, or finally, look for a Trap-variant stock to replace your existing one. Comb height is rarely too high but the only option is to remove wood. This is best done professionally as the bare wood will need to be refinished.
Adjusting cast can be done by a professional, but if only a small amount is needed then it can be done with an adjustable stock. The other cast consideration is twist – the difference in cast at heel and cast at toe. This is to help accommodate the shoulder pocket while keeping the barrels vertical. An adjustable butt-pad can help you apply extra twist, as it rotates on two plates, keeping it compatible and the barrels vertical.
The position of your back hand can affect the way you shoot and release the shot. If your hands are bigger than normal and the circumference of the grip is small, you can find yourself hooking your trigger finger around the trigger, giving inefficient trigger-pulls. Stick-on palm swells can help this. Major changes to the grip radius can be achieved by removing wood and adding some moulding compound to tighten the grip radius. The end result is a comfortable grip without stress in the wrist which handles better but does nothing for the gun’s looks. (Read more on adjusting trigger pull weight.)
The balance of the gun can have a massive effect on how the gun handles. To help this process you first have to find the point at which the gun will balance – or point of balance. On an over-and-under, the hinge pin can be used as a reference point. There is no correct point of balance, just what feels right for you. The further back towards the stock, the more quickly the barrels will move; the more forward the point of balance, the more effort required to move the gun. I think the balance should be roughly in between your hands, depending on how you hold the gun, and a small bias back or forward depending on how fast you like your gun to handle. The easiest way to do this is to remove your butt-pad and add lead weights. If the opposite effect is needed, remove wood from inside the butt or put small lead weights inside the fore-end. Some off-the-shelf shotguns have adjustable weight systems front and back.
In summary, you can work with what you have to maximise the efficiency of your gun. But I would not do anything that will reduce its value, as when you do find the gun that feels just right, you may want to trade your old model in.