HOW TO STAY ON TARGET WITH PROPER GUN FIT
By Brad Fitzpatrick
There are a lot of choices that must be made when purchasing a new rifle or shotgun. Gauge or caliber is an important consideration, and action type is another critical choice. But very few hunters ever spend time finding a gun that fits them, and that might be a mistake.
Improper gun fit can lead to a host of problems. First, a gun that doesn’t fit properly is oftentimes difficult to properly align on the shoulder and with the face, so the negative effects of recoil are aggravated. If the distance from the trigger to the rear of the stock (generally called length of pull) is too great then it is difficult to lean into the gun to absorb the rearward kick. A gun that is too long makes the shooter lean back, and leaning back means that you are not able to properly absorb recoil. The result? Increased pain and discomfort. A gun with a length of pull that is too long leaves the shooter reaching for the trigger and, as a result, shooting form deteriorates.
Guns with a length of pull that is too short for the shooter don’t typically result in as much discomfort as guns that are too long, but short stocks can cause problems. I was firing a powerful .416 Remington Magnum that had a stock with a short length of pull. I didn’t immediately recognize that the stock was too short, and the reduced length caused my shooting hand to creep up the pistol grip farther than normal when I pulled the trigger. The gun’s heavy recoil drove the bolt handle back against my trigger finger with great force, and the result was a cut and a deep bruise that ached for almost a week. The recoil from a .416 Magnum is quite severe, and most bolt action rifles don’t cause injury when the stock is too short, but it can happen. Short stocks also encourage shooters to move their eye closer to the scope, and that can result in a nasty scope cut.
Improper fit can also compromise accuracy, especially with shotguns. Consistency is the key to good wingshooting, and a gun that is too long or too short makes it hard to properly align the cheek on the stock the same way every time. The result is shots that are not consistent, and many new shooters who think they are simply bad shots are, in reality, shooting a gun that doesn’t fit them. Shooters with arms of various lengths mount a firearm differently, and various facial features can change the way we press the stock to our cheek and the relationship between the comb (top of the stock) and our eye. For that reason you can’t expect a rifle that someone else has zeroed to be dead-on for you. It will probably be close, but you’ll have to make some minor adjustments.
Identifying Length of Pull: Length of pull is measured in inches, and most major firearms manufacturers give their guns an average length of pull to accommodate most customers. But that length isn’t right for everyone. In general, most hunting rifles have a 13.5 inch stock, which will be perfect for some but not others. Signs that your stock is too long include reaching for the trigger and difficulty leaning into the shot with your weight on your front knee. Most shooters with a gun that is too long look like they are leaning back when the gun is mounted. If the gun is too short the arms will be bent at an angle less than 90 degrees. The best way to test length of pull is to pick up several rifles and shotguns at a gun shop and compare the way they feel. The other option is to have a competent gunsmith measure your arms and determine length of pull, but most hunters can identify proper LOP for them by mounting a few firearms on their shoulders and comparing.
Addressing Length of Pull Problems: If you find that most guns have a length of pull that is too great for you consider buying a compact shotgun or rifle. Companies like Weatherby offer semiauto and pump shotguns with shortened length of pulls, and companies like Weatherby and Ruger offer spacers for their firearms that allow you to adjust length of pull as needed. This makes it easy to add and remove spacers for a perfect fit, and it’s a fantastic feature on firearms for kids. As children grow and their arms lengthen spacers can simply be added to the stock for additional length of pull, so there’s no need to buy a new gun. If you have a stock that is too short you can buy aftermarket spacers or slip-on recoil pads that add additional inches and will help the gun fit properly.