By Irwin Greenstein
Caution ladies: If your husband or boyfriend hands you one of his old shotguns for a round of clays shooting, say “Thanks but no thanks.”
Anecdotal evidence points to the above situation as a sure-fire way for a woman to never pick up a shotgun for the rest of her life. Why?
Shotguns are made to fit the average right-handed guy who stands 5-foot-9, weighs 165 pounds, has a 33-inch arm length and wears a size 40 regular. That means the gun will be too big for most women. The result is a massive recoil-driven thrust to your shoulder and cheek bone that will hurt for a very long time and likely cause some bruising. Who needs that, right?
If you are truly interested in the proper way to learn wing and clays shooting, forget your significant other and his shotgun, and instead find a professional instructor. Here’s what to look for in an instructor:
An inventory of shotguns that will fit women and children. Chances are, if you have a particularly small frame, a youth gun will fit you better than an adult sub-gauge shotgun such as 20 gauge and 28 gauge.
You’d be advised to find an instructor who has been certified by the National Skeet Shooting Association (NSSA) or National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA). That’s because part of the curriculum includes effective communications with women. The instructor will need to touch you when it comes to mounting the gun, foot position and checking for gun fit and so it’s important that etiquette is observed.
Some instructors will trot out their collection of tournament trophies as proof that they know how to shoot. What’s more important, however, is their ability to effectively communicate, otherwise you’re wasting your time and money. If they can’t articulate an idea in a clear manner, who needs them?
Shotgun Fit for Women
The typical shotgun is likely to hurt when you pull the trigger due to recoil. This is not necessarily the result of the recoil itself, but because the shotgun isn’t properly positioned against your body to manage the recoil. Compared with men, women have longer necks, shorter arms, bigger breasts, smaller hands, higher cheekbones, weaker muscle groups and compact skeletons. Each one of these anatomical differences has an impact on your ability to handle an off-the-shelf shotgun. Having a shotgun that fits you correctly can make all the difference between enjoying and reviling the shotgun sports.
You shouldn’t have to mash your face against the stock or stretch your arms to shoot a shotgun. The shotgun should fit you, not vice-versa. As a woman, here are vital points you need to consider in owning a well-fitting shotgun that reduces excessive bruising while at the same time increases your chances of successfully hitting a target.
Adjustable-comb An adjustable comb lets you fine tune the height and cast of your shotgun for better comfort and shooting performance.
A shotgun meets your body at five points: recoil pad against the shoulder, cheek against the stock, trigger hand on the grip, trigger finger on the trigger blade and left hand (for righties) on the forend. If all of these points are in proper alignment, the gun should feel comfortable, be easy to swing and allow your eye to form a straight line down the rib. Ultimately, you want a comfortable shotgun that shoots were you look (remember you point a shotgun but aim a rifle).
Therefore, five important shotgun stock dimensions that need to be evaluated specifically for women:
Cast (angle of the stock relative to the axis of the barrel). You want the cast to be “toe out.” Toe out cast dictates that the recoil pad will be angled outward, toward your shoulder, for a more natural fit in that area to help reduce felt recoil around the breasts. Cast can also be addressed with an adjustable comb which is a cut-out in the stock that lets you set the cast and height. As an aside, make sure your bra strap doesn’t rest under the recoil pad since that could cause bruising.
Pitch (angle formed by the butt of the stock in relation to the barrels). Women should have a positive pitch on their shotgun stock. For men, the typical pitch angles the recoil pad down into their arm pit area. For women, it should be the opposite given the shape of their body around the breasts. The pitch should reflect the contour of the point where the recoil pad fits into “the pocket.” A simple wedge shaped insert between the recoil pad and the stock butt can inexpensively provide the correct pitch.
Length of pull (length of the stock as measured from the middle of the trigger finger to the butt). Length of pull is often the quickest fix to women shotgun fits. It simply involves cutting the stock from the back to make sure your trigger finger is well-positioned. In some cases, shortening the stock may be sufficient. However, do not take for granted that length is the only dimension that needs attention. Also, pay attention to the balance of your shotgun after the stock is cut. You could find yourself with a barrel-heavy shotgun that is difficult to swing. If so, consider adding weight into the stock to achieve perfect balance around the hinge pin. For example, you may be able to insert an after-market recoil reducer that adds necessary ballast while using either mercury or springs to absorb recoil.
Drop at the comb (distance of the angle formed between the barrel rib and the comb and heel of the stock). Because women generally have longer necks than men, they should look for a shotgun with a Monte Carlo stock, which is easy distinguished by a bump-up that raises the comb. Some Monte Carlo stocks also feature an adjustable comb — a cut out section that can be altered for drop and cast. An adjustable comb will let you raise the stock to the appropriate height.
Drop at heel (the distance from the plane of the rib to the stock’s heel). Long-necked shooters such as women would need additional drop at heel. However, other aspects need to be considered such as slope of the shoulders and forward-leaning gun mount which would contribute to less drop at heel.
Irwin Greenstein is the publisher of Shotgun Life – the first online magazine dedicated to the best in wing and clays shooting. You can read Shotgun Life at www.shotgunlife.com.