Having a shotgun custom fitted is something that most understand the importance of, but at the same time haven’t a clue what it is and don’t posses the shooting mechanics to actually follow through with it. We must share that when we decided to take on this topic we certainly did not know how many different aspects the process would take in and once started we decided to have custom stocks made for ourselves so we could talk about the process step by step. We were discussing stock fitting with Neal Bauder (Neal Bauder Custom Gun Maker) when the subject of comb height and thickness came up and how many shooters don’t understand that just because you have a try-gun fitting doesn’t mean that those are your real dimensions. The discussion lead to the concept that just because you have a custom fitted gun will not make you shoot better which is the way many shooters think. I will bet we have your attention now so let us explain.
We do about 150-175 fittings each year and have for the last 20 years so we do have some experience with this and the real purpose of this article is to inform you not only of the process but what is your responsibility in the process. The first thing we must address is your ability to move and mount the gun consistently because if you can’t mount the gun consistently then we can’t fit it to you properly. As professional instructors for more than 20 years we deal with gun mount on a daily basis and have said and been quoted in articles world wide as saying, “You will never shoot better than the quality of your basic move and mount”. Why you ask? Well when you shoot a rifle you have time to adjust the mount and cheek placement, line up the sights and then aim at the animal but the animal is still, which is a very static situation. When the target is moving the situation all of a sudden becomes dynamic and the shooter must be looking at the target and without looking at the gun, point the gun ahead of the target and take the shot. It is the not looking at the gun that creates the lion’s share of the confusion when shooting a target painted or feathered and there are just as many perceptions of what it looks like, as there are shooters. By the same measure it is the “not looking at the gun” that creates the necessity for having a gun fit the shooter so that when they are able to mount the gun consistently it is indeed mounted correctly and to the same place on their cheek each and every time.
Most shooters we see who are recreational shooters, or wing shooters, have not taken the time to learn to mount the gun and as a
result this makes fitting a gun to them difficult at best. The gun mount is a dynamic process that is one move not a series of three moves like with a rifle. With a rifle the gun is mounted to the shoulder the head comes down and the sights are aligned with the target and the trigger is pulled. With a shotgun it is a very different sequence of events that are in sync with the pace and direction of movement of the target. It goes something like this. When the target is spotted and the shot is determined to be a safe one the shooter focuses intently on the target. As the target approaches the kill point the shooter begins to move the muzzles ahead and with the speed of the target and inserts the muzzles ahead of the target as the gun comes to the face and shoulder at the same time. As soon as the mount is complete and the muzzles are adjusted to the speed of the target the shot is taken.
This whole graceful movement takes about 1.5 seconds and it must be done without thinking or the eyes will go to the muzzle and the gun will stop and the bird will be missed. How many times does it take to get your move and mount to a certain proficiency level so that it happens 95% perfect 100% of the time? The scientists tell us that it takes about 3,000 to 5,000 repetitions to get the neuro-circuit insulated enough to fire without thinking consistently enough to become skillful. It is the art of moving and mounting the gun consistently to the face and shoulder each time that is essential for consistent results on the target and this is essential for being able to fit a gun to a person. We often find ourselves faced with doing a gun fit on a person who can’t mount the gun so what we do is what we call a novice gun fit. This would be to get the length of the stock close and install enough drop and cast so the gun could be shot without hurting the shooter and then we have them go shoot the gun 2,000 times and do the OSP Flashlight Drill every day to develop their move and mount. After they have gone through the process of learning the mount they not only understand gun fit better when we shoot the pattern plate we have a result we can build on and our goal of a custom fitted gun begins to be better defined to both the shooter and the fitter.
As professional shooters we can move and mount the gun so lets skip to the next process, which would be having Neal make us a pattern stock on our K-80 Parcour 12gauge guns. We sent our guns to him with some dimensions that we already knew will work for us and he took out current stocks and reshaped them and added Bondo to the comb and grip so we could reshape them and shoot them and make sure the fit was perfect. Yes Bondo is the stuff they use to fill dents in the side of your car and it makes a great surface for a gunstock because it is easy to quickly take an orbital sander and take some off the comb and if you take too much just add it back and do it again. After doing the final sanding on the stocks we use clear packing tape to seal the stocks before the shooters shoot the guns and if the customer is going to shoot the gun a lot we seal it with spray paint. This is something we do often with customer’s guns if they want us to make a pattern stock out of their stock so they can shoot the gun before having a custom stock made. Gil ends up cutting the combs on stocks on a weekly basis and shooters are amazed at what a difference thinning out the comb and lowering the comb makes in their shooting but then they have a good gun mount. How long should you shoot a pattern stock? Well the answer is until you have shot it enough to know it fits and it is exactly what you want in the grip and the comb is low enough and cast enough so you can shoot consistently well with out getting hurt. We have had customers shoot their pattern stocks for a whole hunting season and after the season closes then send their stocks to Neal for him to start the process of installing their wood and finishing their stocks.
Having a fitted gun is one of the most pleasurable things about wing shooting or clay target shooting and at the same time it is one of the most misunderstood. In this series of articles we will be discussing some of the misconceptions as well as the essential elements in the process of having a perfectly fitted gun.–Gil & Vicki Ash