To say that we are overwhelmed with how much we like the way our guns fit is a real understatement. We have been shooting shotguns a long time, and as professional coaches have seen a lot of “fitted” guns, and have fitted our share of guns for shooters all over the world. Well, at least we have given them measurements from a fitting. We have always included the comb shape at the nose, face and heel so the stocker knows what the comb on the try gun looks like and can make adjustments from there. On almost every clay’s gun we have shot, Gil has adapted the stock by bending or cutting the comb and reshaping the stock to our dimensions, and that works, but the difference between making one from scratch and adapting one to fit is huge.
These are actually the first guns we have ever had that were actually fitted to us from scratch. We were able to add little things to our guns that we have seen or felt when shooting a client’s gun, such as making the curve in the pistol grip more of a “Prince of Wales” shape rather than a really pronounced 90-degree pistol grip. We have found that a Prince of Wales grip is much more forgiving to mount with respect to length of pull, so when wearing coats or bulky clothing or rain gear, our guns are just as easy to mount.
Also in the grip, rather than a round mid-grip we changed them to an oval with a small palm swell that perfectly fit each of our hands, which totally changes the swing dynamics. Most factory stocks have large palm swells or a palm swell on both sides, which makes the grip more rounded. Instead, we made our stocks right-handed with small palm swells that just fit our hands.
On the forearms, we took the Schnabel off and smoothed it out toward the front, which allows for a front hand position anywhere on the forearm. When we shoot the ShotKam, the added weight seems easier to handle if our front hand is a little more forward, but with the Schnabel fore-end, it puts the index finger right up against the Schnabel and sometimes under recoil it gets hit. We realize that all of these things might seem small to you, but to us they are huge and make our shooting experience just that more enjoyable. The other big thing is that our guns pattern flat with a 50/50 pattern, which is what we recommend for sporting and hunting–but they pattern this way with slight cheek pressure!
Why slight pressure? Because the more cheek pressure you have to put on the gun to make it shoot flat and straight, the worse you will shoot it. Realize that when shooting a moving target with a shotgun, you never have the opportunity to look down the barrel of the gun to see if the beads are lined up because your eyes are looking at the target, which has to be behind the barrel if you are going to hit it! When you mount a shotgun and look down the barrel to “see if it fits,” your brain applies enough cheek pressure to make the beads line up, but you don’t have that opportunity when actually shooting the gun at a moving target. So just how much cheek pressure do you apply? Slight pressure is slight pressure regardless of the distance, direction and speed of the target, and with slight pressure it keeps the neck, arms and shoulders relaxed through the shot, which makes the swing smoother. The more you must jam your cheek down on the gun, the tighter the neck, arms and shoulders become and the more difficult it is to follow the bird with the muzzles. The reality is that with a lot of cheek pressure you are actually moving the gun with the body, and the swing starts just above and behind your knees, which makes the swing anything but smooth and forgiving.
So the cobblers son has no shoes and we are sure you are asking yourself why we have never taken the time to do this before—well, so are we. We guess we spend so much time shooting customers’ guns that we have learned to adapt and shoot guns that don’t fit us, and it is just something that we never took the time to do. Well guess what? That is gonna change, and the next gun Gil will do this with will be his K-20 that he takes to Argentina to shoot the ShotKam shots as it shoots a little high. Vicki has threatened Gil and has said not to touch hers, as it is perfect for her!
Now before you make your mind up to get a custom fitted gun, there are some other things you need to consider. As sporting clays shooters for 31 years, gun fitters, and more importantly, as professional shooting instructors, we have almost a 95% perfect gun mount 100% of the time because that is what we do. Before you go out and get fitted for a gun, spend time with a gun that reasonably fits you and shoot at least 1,500 to 3,000 times in a month and get used to mounting the gun. What you don’t want to do is shoot with a mounted gun when doing these shots. You will never shoot a shotgun well until you learn to mount it well without thinking about it. There are still people out there who, for whatever reason, have not put the time into learning to mount the gun in a shooting/hunting situation. Like skating is to a hockey player and dribbling is to a basketball player, mounting the gun into the shot without having to look at it must become second nature to a shooter. Having a custom fitted gun will not make you shoot better; however, it will make you enjoy shooting more, make shooting effortless and fun, and in some instances make you more consistent. But it will not make you shoot well.
“You will never shoot better than the quality of your basic move and mount,” says Vicki Ash. The quality and consistency of your move and mount determine how well a gun fitter can get a gun to fit you, as well as you being able to know what you are looking for in a fitted gun. So many times the Stocker will make suggestions based on his/her shooting style that might or might not be something you need or want. Here is where it’s helpful having an experienced coach go with you through the process, making suggestions along the way knowing how and how often you use the gun and for what game bird or clays game you pursue. If you are just beginning to shoot clays or avidly hunt birds, as your mount improves your gun fit will change as many as three times in two years provided you learn to mount the gun. Once your gun mount is consistent, having a gun fitted is much easier and using a pattern stock at the beginning is the best and safest way to achieve that end.–Gil & Vicki Ash