More and more women are taking up the shooting sports, and that means more and more women are discovering that when it comes to long guns, fit is very important—perhaps most of all with shotguns. The shotgun’s general design may not be suitable for all; we are all built differently and due to that, would shoot better with a firearm matched to our build and strength. Here are some suggestions for adjusting a shotgun to you.
Male vs. Female
Anatomically, we are basically the same, yet different. What usually separates us is body size/height and muscular mass. When it comes to equipment, it is these differences, be it for a male or female, that make it so no one shotgun is perfect for all. Visit a dealer, however, and it becomes obvious that most shotguns are designed for the average man, who is about 5' 10" tall and around 185 lbs. Sure, there are some models designed for youth, a few others for women and then general models for “everyone else” … but the truth is that most of us—male and female alike—aren’t really “everyone else,” because our bodies are all unique.
That said, here are some female anatomical features that you may find are be hindering your best shotgun performance: smaller hands and shorter arms, breasts, higher cheek bones, longer neck and most important, generally weaker muscle groups. Wondering why having a long neck might be a problem? If you have a long neck, you may find it more difficult to secure a good, solid cheekweld on your stock because it’s not built up high enough to snug into your cheek.
One suggestion from a tall woman with whom I was on a sporting clays squad is to use a high ribbed shotgun. For most of us, when a shotgun is positioned on the shoulder, it is usually best when one’s head and neck are erect—our natural body position. With a high-ribbed gun, your longer neck lets your cheek sit naturally on the stock’s comb.
Speaking of combs, the one on yours may need to be raised. The solution can be an adjustable comb, a feature available on many shotguns, which allows the shooter to tune the stock as to its height and cast. Own an older gun? No problem; a gunsmith should be able to help you with it. A less expensive way is to put something like moleskin on top to build it up. I knew a shooter who did this, and had to double it up but it worked. When properly adjusted, your cheek can then rest at a comfortable height on the stock.
Another adjustment you might want is to the cast. All that is, is the stock configuration or deviation of the butt away from the center line of the shotgun. Set properly, you look straight down the rib. Being a left- or right-handed shooter, this is important. When you point a shotgun at a circle on a target board and shoot, the pattern should be where you were looking, and not off. My wife had this problem with one shotgun which, when modified, made a difference.
When I see someone leaning back to shoot, I look at the shotgun—which is usually too long overall, so the shooter is fighting to keep it level. It is that extra weight of a long barrel (which allows for a longer sighting plane) that adds just enough weight to tax that person’s upper-body strength while shooting. That extra weight is positive for some since it dampens a little recoil, so a weight training program can help boost your ability to hold the shotgun longer and more steadily. However, you may find that your ability to maintain a proper shotgun stance with a lighter, shorter shotgun makes the shotgun’s recoil much more manageable.
Suggestion Before Purchasing
Look in a store for options, then go to a shooting facility where you can rent a shotgun. With different models, be aware that there are other aspects that may not be to your liking. Take the pistol grip! Women’s hands are usually smaller, and a shotgun with a heavy/thick pistol grip simply makes a comfortable hold impossible. After trying and holding various models, hopefully with the shooting vest you will be using, purchase what feels best. Then practice at home (with a verified unloaded firearm, and pointing in a safe direction). Mount it into your shoulder and point it on an object on the wall. If mounting the shotgun onto your shoulder feels good, you are making progress.
Now continue with your eyes closed, which helps with concentration. Also, when you open your eyes, if you are aligned with the gun’s rib, it is likely that your shotgun fits. Then when you’re out there shooting, you will see how all of this comes together.