Head Position Vs Stock Fit

Dear Technoid,

The issue you talk about in an earlier question on gun fitting has bothered me for a long time. Over and over you read and hear how you need to have your gun fitted. I have read where gun fitting is done as close as 1/16 of an inch. But! when I press my face to the stock I can get different site pictures down the rib depending upon hard I press my face into the stock. I can mount my gun see a “figure eight” then press down a little and line the beads up. If I press hard I don’t see the rib at all (if I shoot the gun like this I will get punched in the face).

I don’t see how anyone could fit me down to 1/16 (comb height). So how do you judge “firm” ?

(Completely different question- Is the trigger on the Urika 391 made out of plastic? I have been told it is by a very reliable source, but it doesn’t look like plastic.


Dear D,

Great question.

You are quite correct in stating that 1/16″ of an inch is about as close as makers can fit you or cut a stock. Wood moves around with changes of humidity. 1/16″ is generally considered close enough for gummint work.

Equally clearly, even with perfect placement more or less cheek pressure can change your line of sight by a 1/4″ or more due just to the thickness of your flesh. To compound this, an alteration in stock placement on the face, say from cheek notch to jaw edge, can change fit far more than that. If your stock slopes rearward from nose to heel, as most stocks do, where you place your head on the stock will affect sight line. Your fit requirements also move around with changes in weight or clothing. With all these variables, it is amazing that a stock can be fit at all.

But they can be and are. The reason is that an experienced shooter learns to place the stock in the same place and use the same pressure each time he shoots. With practice, it becomes instinctual. You just automagically know how much to push the stock into your face because you’ve done it so often before. Possible cheek pressure varies from “painfully on the bone” to “just barely touching”. If it helps, I personally shoot with about a 70% pressure, a bit closer to on the bone than just touching. The idea is to mount firmly enough so that you can repeat the mount with consistency. You don’t want to use too much pressure as that will be uncomfortable and may also promote a slight head bob when you tuck in. Too little pressure will not be reliable. It all varies with the shooter and shooting style. I’ve seen remarkably consistent shooters shoot barely touching the corner of their jaw. They rely on hand/eye coordination and instinct. Works for some. Just think about all the birds you’ve hit when you knew you screwed up the gun mount and it wasn’t any where near your face. Some people happily shoot like that and do very well. The majority of good shooters don’t. They use every advantage they can get and proper head placement on the stock produces a consistently more reliable mount.

The better shooters in the low gun games (sporting clays, International Skeet, hunting) learn to watch only the target. They may quite aware of the muzzle/bird relation as the gun is being raised to the face. Indeed, most better shooters establish their leads as the gun is being raised, not after. Once the gun is felt to be properly into the face, the shot is taken as quickly thereafter as practical. The shooter fully concentrates on the bird, never the muzzle or rib at this time. Looking “back” to the rib at the moment of the shot almost always ensures a miss. When the gun “feels” right in the face, the seasoned shooter knows that he has obtained the proper eye/rib alignment and he can take the shoot. He doesn’t have to check back with his eyes. He does it by feel and a properly fit stock allows you to do that.

You would certainly think that with so much going on, it would be almost a certainty to introduce a few degrees of mismount. It probably would be if all you were trying to do was to mount the gun. But what you are really trying to do is to get the correct barrel bird relationship. That’s the primary goal. Not mounting the gun. Natural instinct somehow makes it easier to do this. A good example is when you were a kid and your maiden aunt asked you to bring her a cup of tea. As you walked across the living room fixedly watching that cup of tea the whole time, you were almost certain to slop it into the saucer. If you looked straight ahead, not at the tea cup, your natural balance worked fine and you didn’t spill. It’s sort of the same thing with mounting and shooting a shotgun. As in life, it’s usually best to look ahead to where you are going, not concentrate on where you are.

Since the gunstock has to have some sort of measurement, it’s just as easy to set it up right as wrong. A good way to check gun fit is to mount the gun many times with your eyes closed. When the gun is mounted, open your eyes and hope to see sort of a squashed figure eight. If your gunmount isn’t very consistent yet, try to take an average. Then, and this is the most important part, go shoot the gun at a pattern plate and then on known targets like skeet low seven and any others you are very comfortable with. Make sure to start with a low gun and mount and shoot in your normal way. Don’t start with a mounted gun unless you are fitting the gun for a pre-mounted sport like trap or American-style skeet.

It may be that the squashed figure eight won’t have your particular gun shooting just where you want. All guns are a bit different and points of impact are not constant between guns. If you find that you have to “cover” the target to get the point of impact you want, you might consider using a different gun with a lower rib or lower point of impact built into the barrels. Stock fit alone won’t cure all point of impact issues. It’s point of impact that counts. If you have to set up your stock to get the point of impact you want and the rib “picture” isn’t exactly right, you either live with it or swap guns. Rib picture is particularly important to trap shooters as their setup often includes focus on the rib to reaffirm head position. Just as an aside, most guns with flat, parallel ribs shoot 50/50 for me when I see a squashed figure eight or the equivalent approximate 1/1/6″ of rib. The setup that results in a 50/50 pattern for you may vary from what works for me. You wouldn’t think that it would. It would seem that a certain sight picture would always result in a certain point of impact on the same gun, but it doesn’t. It can vary with the person. Perhaps it varies slightly with the amount of forehand you use or how hard you hold the pistol grip. I don’t have an answer for that one.

So, bottom line, even though the potential variations in your mount exceed the tolerances of a proper gun fit, that doesn’t mean that gun fit isn’t important. You don’t want to compound a poor gun mount with a poor gun fit. You’ll learn to mount the gun with surprising consistency by cheek pressure feel. A properly fit stock will ultimately give you the consistency that you have earned with your gun mounting practice.

As to the trigger guard on the Beretta 391, your information was quite right. It isn’t exactly “plastic”, but it is some sort of space age polymer. They used to be aluminum in the 390s and previous. No Beretta autos that I am aware of ever had steel trigger groups. I haven’t heard of any problems with either material. Lots of pistols (like the Glock) have polymer frames these days. They work fine and are quite durable.

Best regards,

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

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