The ‘fit’ of a rifle or shotgun is determined primarily by the shape and design of the stock. Specifically: a) length of the butt (called the ‘pull’) and drop at heal, b) height of the comb, c) shape of the cheekpiece, d) shape of the pistol grip, and e) shape and position of the forend.
When you buy an expensive custom-made shotgun or stalking rifle, an expert stock maker will make and fit the stock just for you, so that when you raise the firearm the sights will be perfectly aligned with the target. This ‘perfect fit’ is possible because, in the case of a shotgun, it will be used in a single standing stance.
Figure 52.1: Stock Terminology
However, a target rifle may be used in a variety of shooting positions: prone, sitting, kneeling or standing (offhand), and with static or moving targets. Therefore with a modern target rifle, the stock lengthy, butt plate and cheek piece of the stock, the handstop/swivel, and the height and distance of the sights are often fully adjustable.
In contrast, a sporting rifle, used in a variety of positions, with a ‘fixed’ stock and a telescopic sight is a compromise. The shooter needs to adapt his or her head position, to match the shooting position.
When you get a new rifle expect to spend a day at the range adjusting the stock, plus sight height and distance from eye, to obtain a perfect, comfortable fit for your shooting position(s). With a target rifle used only in the prone (or standing) position and in a single sight plane, it should be possible to achieve an exact fit so that your head and eye align perfectly with the sights, and your body is relaxed and comfortable when you shoot. With a rifle used in 3 Position competitions (prone, kneeling, and standing) the stock needs to be fully adjustable and you need to find and note the correct configuration for each stance.
Stocks come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and materials. Stocks are either a single piece or two pieces (a stock and separate forend), with a variety of adjustable components. The materials used extend from traditional expensive and beautiful walnut, cheaper beech, wood-laminates, and modern carbon fibre materials with trade names such as Kevlar and Zytel, plus metal.
Figure 52.2: Fully Adjustable Rifle Stock (HPS-TR) As we discussed, when a stock fits you perfectly, you are able to raise the rifle or shotgun to your shoulder and look through the sights directly at the target with no (or minimal) head movement. As mentioned, this requires the correct length of stock (called the ‘pull’) and comb height plus position of cheekpiece, and correct height of sights.
As a well-tried test, with your eyes closed, raised your firearm and aim at an imaginary target. Then with your eyes still closed, gently swing the firearm back and forth until you are comfortable and you ‘feel’ the firearm is pointing at the target.
Firstly when you open your eyes the firearm should be directly aligned with the target. Secondly you should be looking directly through the sights. Thirdly the cheekpiece and comb should touch your cheek bone without moving your head and your head should be erect. If not adjustments are needed.
Next we look at the design of rifle stocks.
Stocks range from traditional one-piece wooden stocks, through stocks with adjustable combs or butt stocks, to targeted rifle stocks with fully adjustable stock length, butt angle, comb height and cheekpiece position (see Figure 52.3).
Figure 52.3: Types of Rifle Stock
The basic types of rifle stock are:
The majority of rifles have round or oval forends (see Figure 52.4), which are comfortable to rest in the palm of the hand, without the fingers touching the barrel. However, for disciplines where the rifle is supported by a front rest such as F-Class and Benchrest, triangular and square forends are popular.
Figure 52.4: Types of Rifle Forend
Shooting disciplines using a sling attached to the forend either have: a) a rail for a handstop inlet into the base of the forend (e.g. Fullbore and Smallbore) or a swivel fixed near the middle (e.g. Service and Sporting Rifle).
As discussed, the important stock measurements for good ‘fit’ are: length-of-Pull, drop at heel, and comb height (see Figure 52.5). The length of Pull is the distance between the trigger and butt. The Drop at heel is the measurement from the line of sight to the top of the heel. This varies from 2” (5cm) for a scoped rifle to 2¾” (7cm) for a sporting rifle. The smaller the drop at heel the less the recoil or kick.
Next the Comb height (C) should ensure the shooters’ eye aligns with the sights. Finally the Cheekpiece should allow the shooter’s cheekbone to rest comfortably on it. The lower part of the cheekpiece is typically ½-⅝” (13-16mm).
Popular target rifle stock are available in wood (McGee and others), fibreglass (McMillan Robertson), and most recently in aluminium framework (Gemini, Ross-Gilkes). All should be equipped with a forehand rail, an adjustable cheekpiece, and either an in-out-up-down-cant buttplate, or at the very least an up-down buttplate.
Shotgun stocks are broadly similar to rifle stocks, with manufacturers even starting to supply adjustable stocks for clay pigeon shooters.
Shotgun stocks range from the classic Straight or English style (see Figure 52.6) to the adjustable stocks increasingly seen on competition shotguns. The English style is typically found on traditional side-by-side shotguns, whereas most under-and-over shoguns have full pistol grips or adjustable stocks.
Figure 52.6: Types of Shotgun Stock
Shotgun forends come in four main types: a) a Splinter forend and a push button locking mechanism found on European side-by-sides; b) a larger Beavertail forend found on American side-by-sides; c) the standard forend found on Under and over shotguns; and d) the Sliding forend found on Pump action shotguns.
Figure 52.7: Types of Shotgun Fore-ends
Five measurements are important in determining the fit of a shotgun stock. These are: a) length of Pull, b) drop at comb, c) drop at heel, d) pitch and e) cast-off for right-handed shooters (and cast-on for left-handed).
The Pull, as discussed, is the measurement taken from the (front) trigger to the middle of the buttplate. The correct length of Pull is one allowing the shooter to mount the shotgun to his or her shoulder, easily clearing the clothes, not having to strain to reach the trigger, and keeping the thumb a safe distance from their nose when the gun is fired.
The next measurements are the drop-at-comb and drop-at-heel. Drop at comb is the distance from the line of sight to the top of the comb. The correct amount of drop allows the shooter to press their cheek against the stock and look directly down the rib or barrel. Too little and the shooter sees too much barrel and shoots high; too much and the shooter shoots low. The typical drop-at-comb is 1½”-2” (4mm). Drop at heel is the distance between the line of sight and the heel of the stock, the aim being to mount the gun on the target. This measurement is typically 2”-2¾” (6mm) on standard shotguns and 1½”-1¾” (4mm) on specialist trap guns, since this lessens the recoil and aids in fast mounting.
Lastly, pitch and cast determine whether the butt fits firmly against the shoulder. Pitch is the angle of the buttplate and is measured with respect to the muzzle. Cast is the angle of the stock to one side of the line of sight, so that when the stop is placed against the shoulder the master eye looks directly down the barrel. Most guns are made with a cast-off to the left of ¼” (0.6mm), with the toe cast off more that the heel to allow the face of the stock to follow the anatomy of the shooters shoulder.
This section summarises the ‘adjustments’ for improve your rifle or shotgun stock fit. For a novice, the starting point is actually knowing that a better fit is obtainable and then knowing which adjustment to make. Here advice from an expert in the discipline who can observe you shouldering and sighting the firearm is invaluable.
The variables affecting firearm ‘fit’ are influenced by: a) the number of shooting disciplines, b) the different shooting stances, and c) by the types of target.
Fortunately the majority of shooting disciplines are shot in a single position, typically prone, at fixed ranges and at static targets allowing the firearm to be optimised for perfect fit. However, there are a number of disciplines such as 3 Position (3P), High Power (ATC/XTC) and Sporting Rifle that are shot in various stances possibly requiring the rifle stock to be adjusted between positions.
The classic positions are prone, seated or kneeling, and standing. If the same rifle is to be used, a fully adjustable stock is beneficial. Specialist target rifle stocks have accurate scales on the stock, so that once the rifle is set up for a particular position it can be quickly re-set for the new shooting position.
In contrast, for Field Sports disciplines shot with sporting rifles and air rifles the settings of the stock and telescopic sight may need to be a compromise for each of the three positions. For example, in the prone position your head comes forward and down, therefore closer to the reticle of the telescopic sight, favouring low scope mounts and short eye distance. When standing the head is back and higher, favouring high scope mounts and increased eye distance. Since it is easier to move your head in the prone position than standing, then you should probably optimise the standing position, and adjust you head for prone and kneeling.
As discussed above, for static targets at fixed distances it should be possible to obtain a near perfect fit of stock length, comb height and drop-at-heel.
Likewise for moving targets, such as Running Boar (Sporting Rifle), it should also be possible to get a perfect fit because it is shot in a standing position, at a fixed distance, in a single plane, and ideally wearing the same clothing. Here the most important element is smooth mounting of the firearm without having to adjust your head position.
In moving target shooting, the ready position starts with the firearm out of the shoulder. Then keeping your head perfectly erect, you must be able to mount the rifle (or shotgun) to the shoulder, so that the sights are perfectly aligned without having to adjust your head position in any way. For smooth mounting, the buttplate should be convex (not concave), of a smooth material, and possibly with a short spur on the butt toe, to help locate the rifle vertically. More important in fixing the height of the muzzle is the cheekpiece. When the firearm is raised, the cheekpiece should be firm against the soft lower part of your face; pressed against your cheekbone. Finally the sights should align with the eye; which may require extra high scope rings.
Given the number of potential stock and sight adjustments, you need to systematically improve the fit, by: a) only make adjustments when you are sure that your position and movements are not too blame, b) write down the problem and what you want to achieve, c) decide on which parts of the stock need adjustment and by how much, d) turn the settings in small increments, and e) only adjust one setting at a time.
The ideal position is attained by ‘natural point of aim’ in that no undue muscular tension is required to keep the sights on target. When you acquire a new rifle (or shotgun) - to check the fit – with the rifle unloaded, bring it up to the shooting position with your eyes closed and the cheekpiece firmly again your cheekbone. When you open your eyes, are you on the target, and can you clearly see the image through the sights? Typical problems are: your eye is not aligned with the sights (adjust the comb height), the muzzle is above or below the target (adjust the buttplate or stock length), the image is blurred (for telescopic sights, move them back or forward) etc. Then repeat the exercise with your eyes closed, until the rifle is perfectly aligned with the target.
The selection and fitting of target sights is covered in detail in Chapter 52.
When you mount your rifle you should be able to see the target clearly through the aperture. Adjustments are made to the comb height, stock length and drop-at-heel, and position of the hand stop for natural point of aim.
When you mount your rifle you should be able to see the target clearly through the scope, without adjusting your head position. If the image is blurred, you can adjust your head position forward or back. For major adjustments you will need to reposition the scope.
For completeness, we next look briefly at pistol grips.
As with stocks, pistol grips come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and materials. Grips are made from a variety of materials: traditional walnut, cheaper beech, wood-laminates, and modern carbon fibre materials, such as Kevlar and Zytel.
Pistol grips broadly subdivide into a) factory revolver and pistol grips with minimal hand contouring, and b) anatomical target grips moulded to the shooter’s hand, as illustrated in Figure 52.9.
Your shooting discipline will dictate the type of grips. For Practical and Service shooting disciplines, the pistol is drawn and fired, and requires factory grips; whereas target pistol disciples requiring straight trigger pull and demands anatomical grips.
Figure 52.9: Pistol Grips
When choosing grips, it is important that the grips fit comfortably in the hand. For factory grips, the volume of many semi-automatic pistols with large capacity magazines is often uncomfortable for women and young people with smaller hands. With target pistols where fit is crucial, especially for straight trigger pull, anatomical grips come in a) standard and thick volume, and b) hand widths of small (85mm), medium (90mm) and large (95). In addition, anatomical grips have an Adjustable Palm Rest that allows you to adjust the grip width precisely, with your hand in the grip.
A comprehensive list of target shooting organisations can be found in the appendix.