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Fit for purpose Part 2

Shooting

Article written by 05 September 2014

Last time we looked at why shooters should have their gun properly fitted to them. In this article MIKE MONTGOMERY examines how a fitting is carried out in practice.

I went down to the Oxfordshire Shooting School near Chipping Norton to talk to experienced gun fitter Tom Payne and watch him as he took a subject through the fitting process.

“There’s little point in getting a full gun fit if your shooting technique is all wrong,” said Tom. “It’s much better to spend your money on some lessons first. A good instructor will pick the right gun for you to learn with. If the client is a novice, then all I worry about is getting the length right.

“The correct order of approach is:

  1. Get professional shooting instruction
  2. Have a proper gun fitting session
  3. Buy a gun that’s a good basic fit
  4. Have the gun adjusted to suit

“You need to be able to instruct on shooting technique before you can fit a gun. For novice shooters I gently correct any faults in stance and mounting technique. Everything from the ground up affects the gun fit. If the basics aren’t right, gun fitting won’t really help. A shooter needs to have at least a 75 per cent consistent mount in order to benefit from a fitting. Consistency is the key to getting the most benefit from it. So much is down to your shooting technique.

“For experienced shooters who have already developed a style which works for them I try to fit the gun to the way they shoot unless they are doing something terribly wrong. You should never adjust the shooting to fit the gun.

“When starting a fitting I can size up the client by eye and get a pretty good idea of the measurements, and set up the try gun from that.

“Most people worry about the stock length but there are two other measurements that are important – cast and drop.”

The cast (the side offset between the stock and the barrels) brings everything into line: your eye, the barrels and the target in the horizontal plane. It is measured at the heel in distance off-axis.

Tom explained; “The direction the cast is angled (cast on or cast off) depends on whether you are a right-handed or left-handed shooter and to some extent your stance. A slim shooter won’t need much cast but a big guy with a wide frame will need more.”

The drop is the distance in the vertical plane from the top edge of the stock to the rib, measured at the front (comb) and the heel of the stock, and brings things into line vertically.

Tom said; “For me drop is the most important factor. I want to see the whole eye just visible on top of the rib. If it’s too low your vision will be obscured by the breech and you won’t see the target without lifting your head off the stock – a common fault.”

Stock length dictates the ‘pull’ (the distance from the trigger to the middle of the butt) and this is crucial for a comfortable and consistent mount. By also taking measurements to the heel (top) and bottom (toe) of the butt end the fitter can arrive at a profile to suit how the subject mounts the gun into the shoulder.

“If the pitch (the angle of the butt end to the line of the barrels) is too great, it can throw the head forward and cause problems,” said Tom.

The next step is to see how the client mounts the gun to the shoulder, noting the stance, how the head lies on the comb and where the hands are placed.

The try gun can be adjusted at this stage if necessary, before taking the client onto the clay ground to actually shoot some targets.

“I don’t use fixed pattern plates because it’s not a natural way you will shoot in practice.

I use clays as moving pattern plates – a springing teal, a going-away bird and a driven pheasant – and watch how the client holds the gun, mounts and shoots to spot any problems and knock any edges off. Then I can adjust the try gun again.”

Once the try gun is adjusted so the client is shooting consistently well enough, Tom fills out a gun fit form with the required measurements. The client can then take this to his preferred gunsmith, or more usually for clients of William Powell, to a local craftsman like Rupert Blackwall in nearby Charlbury, who will make the adjustments to his own gun.

If necessary the stock is bent using heat lamps and pressure until the correct profile is achieved.

There are other factors to consider:

If you are having a bespoke gun made, it can take several months, so if you gain or lose a lot of weight in the interim, it alters the fit. If you do have a significant weight change or an injury which affects your shooting style, get another gun fit.

And if you mainly shoot game, and wear thick clothing, don’t go for your gun fit in the summer wearing just a shirt as it won’t take into account the extra padding on your shoulder in the season.

Try guns are different, each with their own quirks. The adjusting mechanics alter the normal balance of a gun so this has to be taken into account, as do factors such as the type of grip favoured by the client and whether the gun will have a single or double trigger.

Tom’s subject for the fitting was Josh Keyte, a land management student on work placement with William Powell. After a brief session on the clay ground he was hitting the clays with impressive consistency.

Josh said; “I have been using a lot of different guns and was throwing my head around all over the place when I shot, but with this fitted try gun I’m up there instantly. As soon as it’s in my shoulder it’s ready to go.”

“Doing gun fitting makes you realise how many people out there are battling against their guns. An ill-fitting gun will create a lot of bad habits,” said Tom. “Gun fit is all about getting the gun to point exactly where the shooter is looking. A minor movement, or wrong fit at the shooters end is hugely exaggerated at the distance where the target is. It is a very precise procedure from the fitter’s point of view, but I don’t explain the technicalities to the client because they will be tempted to over-analyse their shooting and become distracted. It’s like catching a cricket ball – you don’t look at your hands, you look at the ball and your natural co-ordination takes over.”

A gun fitting session takes about two hours and costs £100 -£200 – a very worthwhile investment if you take your shooting seriously.

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