Gun fit is vital for consistent results, so why do some of us use guns that no longer suit us, asks Paul Quagliana?
Each year a farmer friend of mine is kind enough to invite me on a driven day towards the end of the season. I look forward to it with great expectation.
Due to lockdowns and work I had hardly been out with a gun for months, and was pleased with a left-and-right at a cock and a hen pheasant on the first drive. My old Browning B125, which I acquired 36 years ago, was still cutting the mustard, but as I got older I found my shooting can be erratic.
I went through a patch around midday where I was missing birds that I shouldn’t have, but regained my form in the afternoon.
Why was this so? It may be due to possibly sloppy gun mount, lack of practice, or daydreaming, or it may simply be down to the fact that my trusted Browning’s gun fit is no longer right – and hasn’t properly been for years.
Ask yourself two questions – based on the assumption that you are no longer a teenager: have you kept any of your clothes from your teenage years? And, if so, do they still fit you? Just for fun, try wearing them.
One of my most cherished possessions is my old Frank Thomas biker’s jacket, which I wore with great pride when I enjoyed a few years on motorbikes in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is even adorned across the back with artwork that a friend of mine applied at photography college with a Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison design.
The truth is, if I tried wearing it these days it would be like trying to extract myself from a straightjacket. Zipping it up could result in injury. I have grown bigger; it hasn’t. It now hangs in the wardrobe as a happy remembrance of times past.
If, like me, you are using the same gun you had as a teenager, is there not a fair chance that you will encounter the same problem?
We change shape as we get older and the stock on my childhood gun is now a bit too low and too short. If you built up good skills as a youngster, then potentially these skills will probably be cancelled out as your gun fit may get worse as the years pass and your body shape changes.
Instead of improving your shooting skills, if gun fit isn’t addressed there is a fair chance that you will head in the opposite direction.
So why have I not bothered to get my gun altered? Partly laziness; partly cost; and partly because I hit enough to make me happy to continue as I am. But I could do better. I also have used the excuse that a short stock means that I can wear thick clothing in winter, which sort of compensates for the shortness. Whatever, an ill-fitting gun is a bit like a mismatched fly fishing rod and line, you end up fighting with the rod and while still capable of casting, it is simply never going to be a smooth affair.
There are also those among us who are, quite rightly, proud to be using their grandfather’s or father’s gun. But does this fit them and, if not, have they bothered to have it adjusted? It never ceases to amaze me how many shooters spend a fortune on game shooting and associated equipment but have never had a few shooting lessons or have a gun that is fitted specifically for them.
A gun that does not fit can only lead to frustration. I recently watched what I assumed was a father at a clay pigeon shoot attempting to teach his son, who looked about 13.
The gun the lad was wielding was too big and the stock was too long; the lad was leaning back and didn’t have his head on the stock.
If this situation persists, no matter how hard he tries, or how much money his father spends, he will never be a good shot. He will also probably suffer bruising, another feature of ill-fitting guns, which may be off-putting and cause him to dread a day out rather than enjoy it. He may also develop a flinch.
Another firearm that seems to pass from one relative to another is the old .410. I think everyone should own one. I have fond memories of using them. However, they are not ideal to teach a youngster with and are thrust into young hands with little thought as to whether the gun fits.
Aside from the most important task of teaching gun safety, little may be learned from their use.
An area of gun fitting that I believe is also neglected is rifle shooting. In the case of my rifle, which came with a low power scope, I fitted a more powerful scope with a larger objective lens that sat higher on the rifle and caused me to lift my head off the stock.
A homemade comb raiser largely solved the issue, but rifle fit is something worth considering if you buy a rifle or switch scopes. This is particularly so if you are shooting driven boar. This is something I have never done but good fit is vital for results, as the rifle has now crossed into being used in the fashion of a shotgun.
Clothing is another issue. Is your favourite jacket still comfortable when worn with several layers underneath? Baggy clothing can snag a stock while clothing that is too tight can restrict movement.
Putting too many cartridges in each hip pocket can drag the shoulders down and restrict fluid movement. Placing wallets and phones in the inside chest pockets can also be uncomfortable and restrict movement.
- What to wear when clay shooting – don’t miss our helpful guide
- Best shooting jackets – get the right sort for the occasion
Country clothing can be something of a lottery depending on the time of year. You can either end up freezing or wearing too much and sweating, which can leave one feeling flustered and uncomfortable.
Poor fitting clothing and poor gun fit if neglected will cumulatively lead to problems. I would advise seeking out recommended reputable gunshops or clay grounds that offer professional advice; places where they may have a ‘try gun’ and where you can be properly measured.
See if you can shoot with a straight stock or if you need some ‘cast’. There are now guns available fitted with stocks that have adjustable combs and extendable stocks. Both of these are becoming increasingly popular and where clothing is concerned the stock can be shortened or lengthened depending on the season.
If the foundations are shaky, it is almost certain to lead to future issues. However, one can always knock the house down and rebuild a more solid one. Just ensure that you employ the right builders, not cowboys.
Speaking of which, I once heard a story of a gunshop that sold a left-handed shotgun to a right-handed shooter, just to make a sale. Now those were cowboys!