Pictured above: Here's a way to roughly estimate whether your gun's stock fits you. After verifying your gun is unloaded and pointed in a safe direction, sit it in the crook of your elbow and check to see if you can reach the trigger comfortably.
Reason dictates that if our clothes do not fit and aren’t comfortable, we do not feel relaxed and can have a hard time focusing on what we’re supposed to be doing. It’s the same with guns. Is there anything “off” or uncomfortable about the way your gun feels? If there is, you could be suffering from gun fit problems.
One problem is that many assume most rifles and shotguns fit from the factory. In reality, most long guns come with standard measurements for the average shooter…and who among us is exactly “average” in all our measurements? (If the answer is “you,” then this article isn’t really for you…but it may help a friend or family member sometime!) Many shooters do not fit their guns to their anatomy, and that can absolutely affect your marksmanship.
1. Seek Guidance from a Pro
When I began working with shotguns specific for sporting clays, so to get the opinion of an expert, I ask my friend Michael Mohr, a Level III Clays instructor at 7 Springs Mountain Resort in PA for assistance in adjusting my new shotgun. Then due to such tweaking under his guidance, I shot better as does most anyone if the fit is perfect at that time.
2. Clothes Matter
What is also a big consideration for gun fit concerns clothing and what will be worn as per weather conditions. Be aware that clothing affects how a rifle or shotgun fits in a big way, and that is highly correlated to the weather. In general, the thickness of your clothes needs to be matched to the length of the stock. Here are some tips to fit that firearm to you.
3. Rifles & Shotguns:
For a natural mount to where you are automatically looking down the barrel, the length of the stock is the most obvious influence related to an effortless mount and natural aim. If a stock is too short, the recoil also tends to be sharper (and with a scoped rifle, this is when those scope bites commonly occur. If the stock is too long, it cannot be rapidly and properly mounted on the shoulder. Also, scope height is important! For this easy fix, mounts come in heights from low, medium, high and extra high…and the right ones make a big difference.
4. Keep it Short
When hunting groundhogs during the summer months, it is warm out and a thin shirt is worn. To increase the length of my stock a little, since the rifle I may be using was fitted with a jacket on for cold weather hunting, I add a slip-on-pad. Some hunters make the mistake of having a pad permanently added, and the gun fitted as when wearing a thin shirt. Then when they’re out hunting in cold weather, that heavy jacket adds enough bulk that now the stock is too long. A rapid mount is more difficult and one’s mind is distracted from the target to shouldering the firearm. To experience this, shoot some clay targets with a shotgun that does not fit and start holding the gun in a low position as you would when hunting. It’s not comfortable!
5. Optic Position and Eye Relief
It is critical that when you shoulder your rifle, then as you look through the scope, all of the image of the target should be visible. As a guide, scope manufacturers list eye relief—the distance from the scope’s eyepiece or lens to where the eye is positioned to view the full picture. Such data for the power of the scope should be used as a guide when mounting or positioning your scope on the firearm. A stock that fits also has a lot to do with making it simple and intuitive to have a consistent eye relief when placing your rifle on your shoulder to fire.
6. Shotgun Patterning Boards
I learned the importance of shotgun patterning boards when my wife and I took a seminar on sporting clays from pros Gil and Vicki Ash at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Pennsylvania. Gil had each of us mount and fire at a pattering board’s center circle to see if the impact of the shotgun was truly centered. While doing that, we found that my wife’s 1100 Remington custom stocked shotgun needed to be refitted, as its pattern was consistently to the right of the dot. The length of the stock was ok for her, but its “cast” was not. (What this refers to is the deviation of the gun’s butt away from the center line of the shotgun.) When centered, it is much easier to naturally align the front sight with the shooter’s eye. The patterning board visually demonstrates if the stock is cast neutral or off as where the pattern prints. To resolve this, Gill recommended steam bending her stock by a professional gunsmith, which helped greatly when rapidly pointing on target or ahead.
7. The AR Feature
Their beauty is that modern sporting rifle stocks can be easily adjusted for length. What I like about this type of firearm is that when teaching a young individual or someone with a smaller build to shoot, for the stock to fit, squeeze the lever on the stock to rapidly lengthen or make it more compact. One day at the range, a friend who is 6 ft. 5 lent his “stock lengthened for his size” rifle to his friend to try. His 5 ft. 10 friend immediately struggled to aim through the scope. Both realized this was not going to work with his friend stating that he needs to buy himself a rifle that fits his build. I then lent him my AR for a few shots since the stock was easily lengthened or shortened, and what a difference that made!