Wife As New Shooter

Dear Bruce,

My angel of a wife allowed me to take her shooting for the first time last week. We have been working toward this moment for more than a year. She liked it! I’m overjoyed (I nearly cried) and perplexed. What gun should I get her? She is 5′ 6 1/2″ and very strongly left eye dominant. The range we went to rented us a 20 gauge 303 with a youth/female stock. She was able to shoot without noticing the recoil and really enjoyed shooting the low house until she got hit with a couple of ejected cartridges. One hit her shoulder, bounced, and hit her in the face. After that her concentration was noticeably affected. My conclusion: She needs a left handed gun, in 20 gauge. I’m steamed no one is offering a light weight left handed 20 gauge semi-auto (shame on you Beretta, Browning and Remington). Why not a 12 gauge? After shooting 20 rounds her arms were noticeably tired from holding the forearm. I’m guessing she would be best off with something in the low 6 lbs range or below.

My current thinking is to purchase a Beretta 682 Whitewing in 20 gauge, get the stock cut down and the angle of the butt changed for her feminine physique. I was thinking of the 28″ barrels but reading past messages I see you feel the standard barrels are already too nose heavy. I am taking some of your earlier advice, I’ve signed up for The GunList. Any comments from you would be appreciated.

As the saying goes, “when it rains, it pours.” On the other hand, here in the Northwest we are in the midst of the second driest year on record. In any case, my 8 year old daughter announced her desire to hunt pheasants with me next fall. She attended and passed the hunter safety course and I get the pleasure of purchasing her first firearm. After extensive deliberation I have decided to purchase a Beretta AL-391 20 gauge for her. Since the youth stock is just a cut down version of the adult, I’m leaning towards the adult stock. Either way I need to get it cut down to 12 1/2″ LOP (I measured her BB gun which just fits). That way when she grows I can have the stock “stretched.” Why not a Remington? They list their gun as weighing substantially more, I like the shims on the AL-391 and I love my 12 gauge AL-391Comments?

One last observation: Benelli answers e-mail technical inquiries, Beretta acknowledges receipt but doesn’t respond. I was able to reach Beretta customer service on the phone (10 minute wait) and got great information. In particular, AL-391 stocks can be cut as short as 10″ LOP before you run into the recoil tube and the limiter to fitting a young shooter is their ability to wrap their trigger hand thumb around the stock. Since my daughter was able to do this on a 12 gauge 391 and the 20 is supposedly slightly smaller, I concluded we are ok.

Thank you for providing this service. It’s unique, it benefits lots of shooters and it has helped me reconnect with a hobby I love.


Dear Jeff,

If your wife wants to try shooting, you are blessed. Because of this you want to be VERY careful to make her shooting experience comfortable in every way.

I don’t know of any currently produced lefty 20 gauge autos other than the Benelli. I don’t recommend the Benelli for clay target shooting. It is as reliable as any other gun, but it’s recoil action delivers considerably more punishment. Nice enough in the field, but skip it for clays. Remington used to make a left handed 1100 20, but no longer. If you can find one used, well and good. If not, then you have to look elsewhere. Once she gets it into her head that a right hand ejecting auto will occasionally flip a shell back into her face, there’s no point in pushing it.

I don’t like 20 gauge O/Us for teaching women. They kick too much. Some of the really light weight 20s can be savage.

A beginning women has a number of challenges that a beginning man might not even notice. First of all, most women don’t have the upper body strength that a man has. That 7-1/2# O/U that feels like a feather to you, will feel like a railroad tie to her. Secondly, women are smarter than men. At least so my wife tells me. A guy will just stand there and take the recoil, figuring it’s part of the game. A woman won’t. As I said, they are smarter.

When my wife became interested in shooting, I started her on 12 gauge autos. Too heavy and there was the “fingernail issue”. Then a lighter weight 12 O/U with 7/8 oz loads. Too heavy. Then a 20 ga O/U. Too much recoil. Than a 28 gauge O/U. Voila! Bingo! Dah ansah!

For the past 20 years she has been shooting a 6-1/4# 26″ Beretta 687 28 gauge O/U. She can shoot it all day at any of the clay games and do reasonably well. She has confidence in the gun. It fits her. I make her special “magic” reloads. She is also simply deadly on pheasant, quail and chukar with the thing. There is virtually no recoil and the gun is light weight. She has faith in it. She likes it.

Yes, I know that the 20 has far more versatility than the 28. But in guns of equal weight and design, the 20 seems to have noticeably more recoil than the 28. It is far more important to buy her a gun that she likes and enjoys shooting rather than saddle her with a gun that might have some slight technical advantage. Perception is everything. By the way, skip the 410. Don’t even think of going there.

Remember, you are getting a gun that SHE likes, not one that YOU secretly want. Make sure that she has a hand in selecting the gun. The Beretta 686/7 28 gauge is adequate quality for normal amounts of shooting. The Citori 28s are stronger and more durable, but can weigh more and have a slightly “fuller” feel. If you get her a gun that she doesn’t like, she won’t shoot it for long and it won’t matter how long it lasts. Ruger might be a consideration, though I generally don’t like them for serious target work. The 28 is the best O/U they make.

The Beretta Whitewing is a superlative gun. Even though it’s Beretta’s “stripper” model, I like it the best of any of their 686 series guns because it is lighter up front due to the lack of side ribs. But they don’t make a 28, so skip it.

Naturally, ladies differ and what suits my wife might not be what your wife enjoys. At the local sporting clays matches, the ladies shoot the same guns that the guys do. But for a beginner, where success is vital to your happiness, start with a light, soft recoiling gun that is simplicity itself to operate. The 28 gauge O/U fills that bill. Buy a MEC reloader in 28. It will pay for itself in a couple of months and will give you access to varied shot sizes.

Then get your wife to an instructor for lessons. Unless you instruct for a living, don’t do it yourself. Get an instructor who is good with women. One that goes slowly, makes it fun and helps her remember that it is just a game. Get a coach that believes in praise and success. Ask if he does dry fire practice with snap caps, one of the very best ways I’ve found to start a shooter. I’m always amazed at the number of guys who will willingly spend $1500 on a gun for their wives, but chintz out at hiring an instructor for a couple of lessons because they feel that they can do it themselves and save a few dollars. With very few exceptions, you don’t want to teach your own wife to shoot. How would you like her to teach you how to drive? Oh. I understand. Those lessons are already on-going. Same with me.

A good instructor will also help fit her to the gun. Women’s faces are smaller than men’s, so women almost always need higher stocks. You can do that temporarily with tape. So long as the stock isn’t absurdly long for her, leave it alone for a bit. A long stock ensures a solid shoulder mount and less recoil. Too short a stock always kicks more. If the stock is really too long, pull the recoil pad off and tape the butt to protect it. With the 28, there won’t be a change in felt recoil and you can experiment with stock length without committing permanently.

For your right handed daughter, the Beretta 391 youth model 20 is a marvelous gun. If you feel that she is mature enough at eight, that’s up to you. I’d completely plug the magazine and make the gun a single shot for a while. Autos are inherently more dangerous than O/Us because it is harder to tell if the gun is open. I know that you will work with her on that.

Of course, if your daughter and your wife are somewhat close in size, they could share that 28 gauge O/U. Make it fit your wife. Kids are more flexible.

Best regards,

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

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2 Responses to Wife As New Shooter

  1. Tim DeVries says:

    My wife tried several various shotguns, I loaded what I thought would be an ideal load for her, in 20 and 12. Result was bruises and sore and “are you shooting clays again this weekend, didn’t you shoot last week?” Enter Syren XLR5. Maybe she is the exact woman this gun was built for, Or maybe it’s actually as good as the builder claims. One thing for sure, she is crushing targets and having a ball! She told me she has two words of advice for a novice woman shooter, Syren and a sports bra!


  2. Bob Shemeld says:

    When my wife agreed to try shooting I was pleased as punch. She took to it and soon she was shooting a 686 Silver Perdiz, 12 gauge, 28” barrels. She tried a number of smaller gauge and gas guns, but the felt recoil was less with the 12 gauge and the noise from the action in the autos bothered her.

    She is 5’ 9” with a long neck and thin face; great for a cocktail dress, but not for gun fit. One Monday morning after a weekend of sporting clays she was called into her companies HR office. The HR Director said it was obvious she was being abused, presumably by her husband. My wife laughed, thanked her then explained that her shotgun didn’t fit very well and was smacking her in the cheek. I suspect the HR gal is still puzzling over that answer. Our next visit was to a Beretta Gallery where we had the gun professionally fitted; that and a moleskin did the trick.

    I couldn’t agree more about instruction, It’s one thing for a husband to give a pointer from time to time, but not instruction. I am very fortunate to count Johnny Cantu as a close friend; for those of you who don’t know him, he is a world class shooter and the Executive Editor of Shotgun Sports magazine. He was kind enough provide instruction to my wife until she could shoot as well or better than anyone in our club, including me. I should add that the men in the club could not have been more supportive.

    A couple of tips: Get her a shooting vest made for women, it will look better and she will feel better. Discourage the wearing of jewelry, rings scratch the woodwork and earrings can get snagged. Have her adjust that little buckle on the bra strap or she will have a splendid ‘tattoo” of the buckle on her arm. There are a number of woman’s shooting groups, encourage her to join. Don’t load her up with too much advice on chokes, shot size, leads, etc.; she’ll get it soon enough. Teach her how to assemble, lube, carry and clean the gun then let her do it; stay away, it’s her gun.

    The rest of you guys encourage your wives or girlfriends to shoot, it’s great fun and good for the sport . . . woman vote.


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