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Is Your Stock The Right Length? Story and Photos by Johnny Cantu

as anyone ever asked you “Why do you shoot such a long stock?” Or has anyone ever said “Boy, I could never shoot your gun. It’s way too short for me.” Comments like these may not mean much in the overall scheme of things, but then again, they might.

I think stock fit is important, and I’d like to share my thoughts on what comprises good stock fit and, in particular, my opinion of stock length. Some of you may disagree with my views, but if my opinions on this topic can help even one shooter achieve a better, more secure feel when he or she is “in the gun”, that’s a good thing.

Length–Of–Pull

Like all of you, at one time I was a total newbie in shotgunning. I had no idea what good gun fit was all about. I didn’t know the difference between “drop at heel” and “negative pitch.” Almost all my previous firearms experience had been with BB guns, small to medium–bore rifles and revolvers.

Not long after having the good fortune of being introduced to clay–target shooting, I purchased a new over & under. I recall it being a 30″ Armsport with some nice features, such as a 12mm–wide rib, two beads (both of which were white) and, most notably, a nicely grained and colored stock that was almost 15″ in length and finished in a clear polyurethane hard coat. I also remember having to nearly meld my cheekbone into the comb of the stock in order to achieve anything resembling a flat sight picture.

Length-of-pull

Two different shotgun designs with two different stock lengths. The upper over & under is a Beretta 682 that sports a 13¾″ LOP with a 1″–thick recoil pad and noticeable pitch toward positive on the pad. That gun fits me like a glove; although I’ll admit it has other features that allow it to work well for me. The bottom gun is a Beretta semiautomatic 390 with a normal field stock with 14½″ LOP and neutral pitch.

Don’t get the idea I knew what I was doing regarding length–of–pull (LOP) or sight pictures. I only knew the gun was difficult to be comfortable with. I used that shotgun for about two years. Even though I eventually did shoot my first 25–straight with it, I never felt secure or confident with the gun mounted to my shoulder and cheek.

Why did I bother with that gun for two years? Probably because I made the same beginner’s assumption many new shooters have made: I figured the gunmakers knew much better than I what I needed in the way of stock length, stock height and other critical dimensions. What I did not know was they have to make their best guess when it comes to how they will configure their stocks, and a shotgun that doesn’t fit is not conducive to good scores.

Typical mount

Here my oldest son David demonstrates a typical mount to the face and shoulder with the 14½″ LOP on my Beretta 390. I believe this is more distance between the thumb and cheek than would benefit most shooters. It’s too easy to allow the head and eyes to disconnect from their position behind the receiver with that much room, especially on right–to–left crossers for a right–hander (vice–versa for a lefty).

Fast–forward to circa 1984. I was shooting one afternoon with Jess Briley, founder of Briley Mfg, one of the keenest minds on the subject of shotguns and all things related to them. Jess commented he believed many shooters shoot with stocks that are too long for them. He was of the opinion if they shortened their stock, they would improve their chances of scoring better in any discipline. His reasoning was a shorter stock allows the shooter’s hand and face to be in closer proximity to one another, giving the shooter better overall control of the gun. I mentally filed his comment away under “Things That Might Make An Improvement In My Shooting” and told myself to give this notion a try at the earliest opportunity.

The shotgun I was shooting at the time was a Beretta 687 Silver Pigeon with a nice–looking piece of wood on the rear. Before I actually cut my stock, I decided to try Jess’ idea in a more painless way. I changed out the 1″–thick waffle–style recoil pad that gave me a LOP of 14¼″ to one that resulted in a 14″ LOP. It didn’t look very different, but I was anxious to test–fire the shorter LOP at the range.

Upon mounting the gun, I could feel the positioning of my right hand closer to my cheekbone. It felt a bit awkward, and I started to feel I might have made a mistake. But I wanted to give the new dimension a chance to prove itself. I shot a round of regular skeet and ran the round with my 20–gauge tubes. More important than my score, however, was how I hit the targets and how the gun felt in my hands.

In the gun

Here David has mounted the 682 with 13¾″ LOP. Notice how much less distance there is between his right hand’s thumb atop the stock and his right cheek. For many shooters, this relationship can provide more of an “in the gun” feel. For me, it feels more secure and provides a solid mount between the face, hand and shoulder.

The birds were hit with total authority, almost every one smoked, and control of the barrel was more precise and deliberate. My squadmates were impressed with the devastation of the birds, so I ran another round of regular skeet and got similar results. Midway through the second round, I began to notice my right thumb was pressed firmly against the corner of my right nostril and upper lip. I felt no pain, just a light pressure. It felt more secure, allowed my head to stay firmly on the stock and kept my eye glued in its place behind and over the rib. I could see the birds better, too, since I was a tiny bit closer to the rear of the receiver and at a point that gave a tiny bit less drop on the comb. I have to admit the slightly higher drop at comb forced me to “float” birds more than I was used to, but I adjusted to it quickly.

After the regular rounds, I shot three rounds of Doubles at Stations 3, 4 and 5, dropping only one target. Jess’ comment had produced some very positive results! I might have done just as well with my longer LOP, but I surely would not have felt as comfortable or confident doing it.

I saw Jess later in the week and related to him my success with trying out his suggestion. He was glad to hear of the good results. I have suggested trying a shorter stock to many skeet, trap and sporting clays shooters since that day, and of the ones I heard back from, most seemed to enjoy similar results. There were a few dissenters, but I genuinely feel a shorter LOP could benefit many shooters.

Making Adjustments

How do you know whether you’re a candidate who could reap benefits from a shorter LOP? Does it matter what clay–target discipline you participate in? Both are good questions.

First, upon mounting your gun to your face and shoulder, do you notice any distance of “free gap” between your cheek and the meaty part of the base of your gripping hand’s thumb? How much? An inch, 2″ or more? Although many stock builders and shooting coaches like to see at least a two–finger gap there, I believe this free space can allow too much movement of the head on the stock sometimes.

Jo Ellen Collin

NSSA All–American Jo Ellen Collin demonstrates the sort of face–to–hand spacing seen used by many clay–target shooters. I feel this much distance can lead to a less–than–solid feel when your gun is mounted. That can be remedied by a shorter length–of–pull.

I’ve seen any number of shooters with their head turned ever so slightly on the stock when shooting, particularly on crossing birds. Righties tend to move their head on the stock past the proper alignment point of their eyes over the barrel when chasing a hard right–to–left bird. Their eyes are on the bird as they should be, but their eyes are no longer aligned with the barrel properly, especially at the moment they trigger the shot.

I realize eyes–to–barrel alignment shifts slightly to provide proper lead allowance during a shot, but sometimes the eyes are allowed to shift more than slightly because the head actually turns. In this situation, a shooter can miss a target and never understand why because the shot “looked good.” The same affliction can befall a lefty on hard–angle shots going from left–to–right. In truth, any target presentation for a right–hander or left–hander can allow your head to move when there is too much gap between the cheek and thumb.

Does it matter what clay–target game you play? No, it does not. Pre–mounted shooters, like those in trap and skeet, can gain a more secure “in–the–gun” feel with a shorter overall stock dimension, and so can sporting clays aficionados.

Just how much shorter do you need to make your stock in order to feel more “in the gun?” Measure your LOP as it exists and determine the amount of reduction you’ll need to have your rear, controlling hand’s thumb sit just a fraction of an inch in front of your cheekbone when mounted. The accompanying photos show a “typical” LOP and a shortened LOP, as well as what they should look like when in the mounted position.

You can achieve a reduction in LOP by either simply changing out your current pad to a thinner one or having a gunsmith or stockmaker cut your buttstock a bit. “What’s a bit?” you might ask. I’d suggest not reducing the length by more than 1/8″ at a time, as it might take several attempts to get the right length and feel for your mount and shooting style.

Other Ways To Tweak Stock Fit

Although I’m not a professional woodworker, I have performed wood modifications on my guns with acceptable results. A few additional modifications I have performed on my gun stocks for the sake of added control and better feel are reducing the overall circumference of the grip area (includes lessening the size of any palm swell, if needed), increasing the length of draw (distance from the face of the trigger to the tip of the grip), shaving the left side of the stock at the grip area (to allow my eye to become centered behind the rib) and changing the pitch of the butt on the stock (to allow more bearing surface to meet my shoulder). These modifications give me better sight–picture alignment, a more secure feel, confident control of the gun and increased comfort under recoil.

Sometimes the assistance of a pro was needed to complete modifications I started. One such pro is Paul Lindke of South Fork, Colorado (719–983–9890). Paul checkered the stock and forearm on my Blaser F3 Super Luxus with a beautifully outlined fleur–de–lis pattern that I often get compliments on. I highly recommend the aid of a professional woodworker or stockmaker to ensure the quality of the modifications, whether cutting the stock shorter or changing the thickness of the comb.

I shoot a stock that is just at 13¾″ in length. You may not want or need a stock that short, but with a stock properly shortened, a little at a time, you might be the beneficiary of more control and a better feel “in the gun.”