There are many factors involved in shooting a shotgun accurately, but one of the most important and least understood is gun fit. Most manufacturers offer a standard stock dimension, something that fits the average shooter. Since shooters don’t have an opportunity to choose between different stock sizes and configurations, they just accept the gun as it was built and learn to shoot what they have.
In a perfect world that wouldn’t be the case – every hardcore target shooter would be able to walk into a gun store, just like walking into a shoe store, and pick a gun stock as perfect as the right pair of shoes. It may seem daunting, but getting the right fit isn’t nearly as complicated as we make it out to be. The measurements are easily understood and it would behoove every shotgun shooter to be on speaking terms with them. The most important thing to keep in mind is that almost all stock measurements start at the rib line and go down.
Here’s a run-down of some of the measurements in a rough order of importance.
Length of Pull
One of the most important measurements in fitting a shotgun to a shooter is length of pull (LOP). Shown as measurement ‘A,’ it is measured from the center of the butt to the center of the trigger and is seen as a fairly direct measurement of the length of the butt stock of any firearm.
Too long a distance here will force the shooter away from the gun, moving his or her cheek back from the point of the comb where it belongs. The butt will also tend to catch in his or her clothes as the gun is quickly mounted.
Too short a distance is uncomfortable to get lined up, forcing the shooter to ease their face back, away from the breech, in order to line their eye up correctly. A too-short length of pull will also result in having the thumb smack the shooter in the nose or safety glasses under recoil.
Length of pull is dependent on many factors: length of arms, length of neck, shoulder width and stance. Similarly-sized people they can have completely different LOPs based on stance alone. A good middle ground is 14 ½” for field guns and 14 ¾” for target models. For shorter/smaller shooters we make a number of shotguns, including the 712 ALS, 720 ALS, Redhead Reduced Length and the new Lady Sterling.
Drop at Comb
To find drop at comb, a perpendicular line is drawn down from the rib line to the point of the comb and a measurement is taken (‘B’). This drop is one of the most critical of all the factors involving fit, allowing the cheek to rest at the right height, which in turn allows the eye to fall naturally in line with the rib. The proper drop allows the gun to be thrown up for a quick shot and not have to be adjusted before firing.
If the comb is too high, the eye is forced high and we will tend to shoot high. To counteract this, shooters mash their cheek too hard against the stock, trying to lower the eye. This isn’t a comfortable, natural way to aim and will lead to more felt recoil from the gun.
If the comb is too low, the eye will be too low and we will tend to shoot too low. To avoid this, shooters place their cheek too lightly on the comb or even raise off the stock a bit and neither is good for accuracy.
Drop at Heel
Drop a perpendicular line from the rib line to the heel, as at ‘C,’ and the measurement is called the ‘drop at heel.’ Whereas a small change in drop at comb can make a big difference, a fairly wide range of measurements of drop at heel can be comfortably accommodated by the average shooter. One thing that does change with this measurement is the amount of felt recoil.
A gun with a little drop at heel is said to have a straight stock. Since the force is directed straight back into the shoulder, there will be less perceived recoil. Stocks with large drop at heel can have a bit more felt recoil as the gun rotates up into the shooter’s cheek, but typically feel much more comfortable during the mount and swing.
Drop at Toe
This is the distance from the rib line down to the bottom tip of the butt, ‘D.’ This is the lowest portion of the butt stock and is also the lowest part that contacts the shoulder. Drop at toe is equally as important to felt recoil as drop at heel, but for a different reason.
Comparing the drops at heel and toe, the more the difference, the longer the butt pad is and in turn the larger the recoiling surface is. The larger the pad, the more distributed the recoil is on the shooter’s shoulder. A small pad, having little difference between drop at heel and drop at toe, will result in a gun that sends all its force through a smaller surface, resulting in more felt recoil. When shooters complain about a shotgun bruising their shoulder, many times it comes down to too little drop at toe or too little pitch.
Drop at Monte Carlo
This is the furthest comb measurement before the heel, ‘E.’ Not all guns have Monte Carlo style stocks, but those that do tend to fit the shooter much better than traditional style stocks. Common on target guns, it is important to realize that the Monte Carlo has a huge effect on the drop at the heel and the drop at the toe, resulting in a gun that is comfortable for high volume shooters as it allows for better fit and considerably less felt recoil. Field guns many times do not have Monte Carlos because of the increased dimensions translate into more weight.
The CZ Redhead Target and Sporter models all come standard with Monte Carlo style butt stocks.
Pitch is the angle of the butt pad’s back surface, measured off of a perpendicular line drawn down from the rib (‘F’).
Pitch is most important for people with large chests, usually women. For those shooters, a stock with too little pitch will distribute recoil with only the toe section of the butt, creating an uncomfortable experience and many times bruising their shoulder. By having more pitch, the stock will distribute recoil through the entirety of the butt pad, making the gun more comfortable to shoot.
It should be noted that there are several ways to measure pitch. Measuring the angle of the pad is one way, but another way commonly used in the US is to draw a line from the heel across the top of the breech and into the air above the front sight. The distance from the muzzle up to that line is measured in inches and is then referenced in relation to the amount of pitch in the gun. The problem with measuring pitch this way is that barrel length has to be taken into account, since an identically-stocked gun with longer barrels will have a different measurement for pitch.
CZ shotguns have approximately 8 degrees of pitch. To appeal to female shooters, the Lady Sterling has been introduced with unique stock dimensions and 12 degrees of pitch.
Simply put, cast refers to the deviation of the butt away from the center line of the gun. A shotgun with no cast is straight and a line down the rib will continue straight down the center of the butt stock, when viewed from above. When looking from the back of the gun, a cast-off stock will show the center of the butt slightly right of the center of the rib line. The opposite is true of a cast-on stock.
Cast allows a shooter to look straight down the rib, so a cast-off stock is meant for a right-handed person and a cast-on stock for a leftie. Mounting a cast-off stock left-handed results in the shooter looking down the right side of the rib, meaning their eye will not align naturally with the rib.
All wood-stocked shotguns that CZ-USA offers are cast-off for right-handed shooters. The 712 ALS, 720 ALS and 712 Utility have neutral cast for both right-handed and left-handed shooters.
The right combination of these measurements will make a shotgun ‘feel right.’ When the proper fit is achieved, a shooter will be able to focus on the target, not the shotgun, giving them one less thing to worry about. To help shooters select the right shotgun, we’ve included these measurements for our lineup in a special specifications sheet at the back of the shotgun section.
By Dave Miller, Shotgun Product Manager and Pro-Shooter for CZ-USA. He has over 20 years of experience in the competitive shooting community and has lived to see the sport evolve into the world’s fastest growing shotgun sport. He is respected as one of the most knowledgeable individuals in the sporting clays community with a Master class title, and one of the best shooters in the United States. He is also the main star on the Outdoors TV show CZ-USA American Gun Dog TV. Dave recently accomplished setting a new Guinness World Record for the most sporting clays targets shot in 1 hour. This article was first published by the Missouri Conservation Federation.