Face Slap


I’ve read in your reports that face slap (splat?)is a fitting problem. I’m an experienced, 50yr old, bird & “fun” sporting clays shooter. My current SxS seems to fit ok as it shoots 60/40 patterns to POA and I shoot it very well, but 50 rounds of 1oz. loads in a 6 1/2lb. gun leaves the skin under my cheekbone red & puffy.

My question is this: would a stock with more drop at comb & less drop at heel resulting in the same “drop at cheek” result in a more straight back recoil? I don’t want to mess with the cast as I have very wide shoulders & need it for the gun to come up correctly.

Any suggestions welcomed as I am considering ordering a gun soon. Mostly I want to be aware of options before I go get “fitted.”

Often in error AND doubt,


Dear Steve,

Long range gun fitting is an iffy thing. Heck, short range gunfitting is tough too. Like you, I am right in the midst of ordering a new SxS and am trying to conjure up my own dimensions. I already have a SxS (1926 Webley & Scott 500 28″ 2-1/2″ 12 bore) which I use for grouse and woodcock in my native New England. It is ideal for the purpose and fits perfectly for the rough and tumble type of shooting we do. My new gun-to-be (an Italian Flip Poli) is meant to be a heavier, longer range gun more suited to pheasants with full power 2-3/4″ 1-1/4 oz loads. This will mean that I want it a bit longer. I did a gun review of a Poli SxS and found that the gun shot extremely flat, even when showing a large amount of rib. Much more so than my lighter W&S.

I go into this just to show that you can’t pull the dimensions from one gun and use them on another without thinking about it and doing some interpolation. That’s the bad part. The good part is that if you get your new gun in the ball park, a little bending later on can make it perfect.

Face slap (flap?, slace?) is a funny thing. Some of it depends on your particular shooting style. Some depends on stock configuration. I think that you are basically right when you are looking to straighten out your comb, by lowering the front and raising the rear. Anything that you can do to make the stock slide along your face, instead of into it, is good.

A good way to analyze it is “reductio ad absurdem”. It’s a faulty debating technique, but handy in the gun fitting business. If you are curious about what cast off or comb drop will do to face slap, envision the stock with an extreme amount of either. Take slope at comb- the difference in height between the nose (front of comb) and heel (rear of comb). 3/4″ to 1″ is quite common on modern field guns. None to 1/2″is common on trap guns. The reason is face slap.

Instead of a 1″ drop, envision a 5″ or 6″ drop from nose to heel. The comb would be at almost a 45 degree angle to the cheek bone. When the gun recoils, it comes mostly straight back. By exaggerating the amount of drop, you can easily see how an angled comb can whack you in the cheek. Same with cast-off. Exaggerate it a tremendous amount and you will see how it can cause pain.

Now envision a stock which has a parallel comb and absolutely no cast-off. When it recoils to the rear, it slides past the cheek bone, not into it. Go further and envision a stock with a negative comb slope, pitched forward like the Weatherby rifles, or a cast-on stock which comes into the face. Under recoil such a stock actually recoils AWAY from the face as it comes back. This may be impractical, but it is comfortable.

None of this means that you don’t want some cast-off or some slope at comb, but you usually don’t want too much. You must do whatever it takes to line the stock up with your eye. If you can’t accommodate the stock, the stock must accommodate you. Also, you might notice that some comb drop from nose to heel seems to help the shooter “adjust” to the stock in the catch-as-catch-can world of game shooting. Note that no English Best field gun that I am aware of has had a parallel comb. Some slope at comb in a field gun seems to accommodate the different head positions for high overheads and level crossers.

What can you do with a gun that you shoot well, but which slaps your face? What you want to do is to straighten out the comb to make it more level (though not completely so). I’m ordering my new gun with 1/2″ drop from nose to heel. You indicate that you are thinking of this and I think that you are on the right track.

As to cast, there are a couple of ways to handle that. If you need to move the gun into your face from an outward shoulder pocket, you can try a couple of things. Increasing cast (and thus face slap) is the obvious and easy way. But you could also remove wood from the face-side of your stock, making the stock thinner. Remember, cast is really the distance from the place on the stock where the cheek rests to the centerline of the rib. A fat stock with cast and a thin stock without cast can actually measure the same distance. The thin stock will be straighter and thus more comfortable.

One final thought on cast has more to do with shooting style. If you shoot with a high elbow, it enlarges your shoulder pocket, but also brings it out, requiring more cast. If you shoot with a dropped elbow, the pocket is smaller, but it isn’t as far out either.

Two more areas of stock fit which can produce face slap are length and pitch. Longer stocks kick less and have less face slap than shorter ones because longer stocks are firmer against the shoulder and can’t move back as much on recoil. The standard rule of thumb is to shoot the longest stock which you can comfortably handle. In a field gun, you may have to compromise between maneuverability and comfort. My SxS close cover grouse SxS is 15-1/4″ LOP. My new gun, meant for heavier shells and more open shooting, will be 15-3/4″. It’s easy to remove length if you guess wrong (unless you are ordering a checkered butt).

Pitch (the angle of the butt vis a vis the plane of the rib) is another possible area of face slap. Most guns come with 1-1/2″ to 2″ of pitch, though many trap guns are set up with zero pitch. The English often simply pitch their guns with the butt at right angles to the comb. A little bit of pitch will help keep the gun from sliding off your shoulder when you shoot, but too much will obviously greatly increase face slap as it causes the gun to ride up into the face on recoil. Visualize a tremendous amount of pitch on a gun and you will see what I mean.

And finally, one very last thing- the recoil pad. A soft recoil pad allows the gun to come back a bit more than a hard butt plate does. Any amount that the gun is free to come back increases face slap (see the long stock argument). Personally, I prefer a thin rubber recoil pad on my SxS game guns as opposed to a slipper checkered butt because I think that the friction of the rubber pad helps keep the gun in place when I screw up my gun mount. Checkered butts may be pretty, but they were invented by the Audubon Society to preserve our feathered friends. Checkered butts also let guns fall over when carelessly propped up in corners and gun racks.

The best book on gunfitting still available is Michael Yardley’s “Gunfitting, the Quest for Perfection”. You can get it from Amazon. If you access Amazon through Shotgun Report’s “Shotgun Books” portal, we’d appreciate it. We get a little cut when you do it that way, though you don’t pay any extra. Any books which you buy from Amazon through our portal, whether we list them or nor, helps support SR.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error, never in doubt.)

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