Meeting Women’s (Different) NeedsAs a full-time shooting instructor, I teach men, women and children. As a female shooting instructor, I teach a lot of women. Not only do I teach a lot of women, but I also field a lot of questions about guns that are suitable for women. Sometimes the questions come from the women, but more often they come from the men. Husbands, boyfriends, fathers and grandfathers, all thrilled that a special female in their lives might want to share the joy of a day on the clays course, an early morning duck hunt or an afternoon in the field.
It is these men who purchase more gift certificates for shooting lessons for the women in their lives than anyone else. Often they show up at the lessons as excited—or more so—than the recipients. It is these same gentlemen who again are so excited that they cannot wait to go buy that new gun for that special someone. In fact, about half the time that is just what they do. I’m not kidding. Women show up at their first lesson with a new gun purchased in advance for that lesson. I often sit and listen to the men describe the pros and cons of the newly purchased gun—one “light enough for her to handle.” Often I smile to myself and wonder how excited this guy is going to be when he tells all of his friends that his wife shoots and “even has her own gun!”
I also realize that this can be a great reason (excuse) to add to an existing gun collection. You know, one of those “our guns.” I have a friend who really wanted his wife to shoot with him and encouraged her to take lessons. When she agreed, he happily went out and purchased her a beautiful Krieghoff K-20 he had been eying. He brought both his wife and “her” new gun to the lesson. We looked over the gun and let her shoot it, but when it was noted that the stock needed to be shortened and a few other adjustments made, my friend seemed to flinch a little. The next day I got a phone call: “Are you sure we need to shorten the stock? I was hoping that gun would also serve as my bird gun.” I gently suggested that after the lesson and all of his wife’s excitement that he probably should resign himself to having to use a butt pad to lengthen the stock for his own use.
Let’s face it: Most “off the shelf” guns are made to fit the average man—and in case you haven’t noticed, this is not how the average woman is built. Women, in general, tend to have smaller body structures, with narrower shoulders, longer necks, higher cheekbones, smaller hands, and the distinctly female feature that dictates that the butt of the gun fits against their bodies at a slightly different angle than on a typical man. Thus, with the average off-the-shelf gun, the length of pull is probably going to be too long, the drop at comb is likely to be too low, and the pitch may need to be adjusted. Of course, the gun’s weight and balance are important, as well, and remember that most shotguns are manufactured for the right-handed shooter, complete with a slight cast-off—which could be a problem, given that about 65 percent of women are left-eye dominant.
Before continuing, I should explain some of these critical measurements, why they are important to proper gun fit and how they can be modified to achieve proper fit for a woman.
Length of pull (LOP): basically the distance from the trigger to the middle, or center, of the gun’s butt. (If a gun has two triggers, it is measured from the front trigger.) If LOP is too long or too short, it can adversely affect the gun mount and how you shoot. Ideally, your nose should be about 1¼” to 2″ from your thumb knuckle where it meets the trigger hand. This is an easy fix on most guns, as a wood stock can be cut down to the correct length. (Adjustments to the stock mentioned below can be done at the same time.) According to Chris Batha, women’s LOP generally falls between 12¾” and 14¼”.
Drop at comb: This is the vertical distance between the comb, or nose, at the front of the stock and a straight line extending from the muzzles to the gun butt. Often combs are too low for a woman’s longer neck, resulting in the head being lifted off of the stock in an effort to see the bird. There are several ways to fix this. Adding moleskin, readily available at drugstores, is quick and simple. Other products, such as the Accu-Riser by The Leatherman or the Beartooth Comb Raiser, look a bit better, and a more permanent fix would be adding an adjustable comb to the stock. Semi-automatic shotguns are available in left- or right-handed versions and often have shim systems that allow for some modification of the comb height and also cast (addressed below). The proper drop at heel (the vertical distance between the heel, at the back of the stock, and the line extending from the muzzles to the gun butt) depends on where the gun hits the shoulder, and we want it to be such that the collarbone is avoided.
Cast: This is the bend in the stock—right or left of center—as it relates to the line of the barrels, allowing for proper eye alignment down the rib. Many guns are cast-off (bent to the right) for right-handed shooters, so buyer beware again, as many women are left-eye dominant and may need a stock that is cast-on. (Changing a stock from cast-off to cast-on requires a significant amount of work—i.e., bending.) Cast allows the gun to sit into the shoulder pocket while allowing the shooter’s eye to align with the rib.
Pitch: This is the angle of the butt of the stock as it relates to the barrels. You want as much surface against the shoulder pocket as possible, but you also want it to be at an angle, to be comfortable. Women with larger chests require more down (negative) pitch, whereas women with smaller chests require more up (positive) pitch, to prevent the toe from digging into the chest. The angle of the butt also affects how high or low the gun shoots as well as the amount of felt recoil, especially at the face for women. Another consideration is the amount of cast at the toe, as the proper combination of pitch and cast—often more at the toe than at the heel—makes a gun more comfortable to shoot and helps combat things like canting the barrels, improperly mounting the gun and excessive cheek slap.
Grip: The size, angle and type of grip affect LOP and the angle of the wrist. Women’s smaller hands dictate that the grip be narrower for comfort. This also applies to the forend of the gun. There are pistol, semi-pistol (also known as round knob or Prince of Wales) and straight grips. The choice is personal, and the best choice is the one that puts one’s finger in the proper relationship to the trigger.
All of these “touch points” on a gun are important considerations when getting a gun sized properly. Gunfitting has been addressed by many fine writers and experts in the field. There is no magic formula to make it perfect. Perfection comes from the shooter’s desire to become proficient with the shotgun. And proficiency comes from consistency. Until you can mount the gun in the same place over and over, the fit will change constantly—as fit has as much to do with how you mount the gun as it does with the shape of your body.
What most instructors know and the industry is realizing is that for women to develop this proficiency, their guns should at least come close to fitting. As noted by Lars Jacob of Covey & Nye: “The gun mount should be one fluid movement. When the average lady mounts a gun with the average man’s dimensions, the gun mount is made in stages as the shooter is fitting herself to the gun. Not only is this inefficient, but tiring and inconsistent.” Yes, certainly there are women who can shoot guns straight “off the shelf.” But often these are women who are taller and/or who have been shooting a long time and are able to work through some of the nuances mentioned above.
So why all the hoopla about guns for women? Because women currently are the largest growth sector in the shotgun industry. And when women get involved, families start getting involved. That is what we need for the sport to continue to grow. One thing is for sure: While women have been competing in shotgun sports for years, more and more are entering the recreational-shooting world. I personally have watched the number of women shooters grow exponentially. Ten years ago I started a women’s shooting group called G.R.I.T.S. (Girls Really Into Shooting) with four women and myself. In November 2014 we made it an official membership organization, and in just more than one year we had 320 members, nine chapters and 10 gun clubs cheering us on. The gun industry is embracing women shooters and answering with more and more “off the shelf” guns for them (see below).
Recognizing the growing interest in shotgunning among women, a number of manufacturers have begun producing purpose-built guns for female shooters. Following is a short rundown of some of the models that are available.
Blaser Ladies F3
Blaser’s Ladies F3 is based on the company’s patented F3 receiver and was designed specifically for women. The over/under has an adjustable length of pull and a four-way adjustable comb, and it can be set up as either an ejector or extractor gun. Recoil is mitigated through a system designed by Ken Rucker at Speedbump Stockworks. The gun comes with a 10-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Blaser USA, 210-377-2527; www.blaser-usa.com.
CZ Lady Sterling
New to market this year, CZ’s Lady Sterling was built on the Upland Sterling receiver and features stock dimensions that allow most women to keep their heads up and eyes on the target. Increased pitch (about 8°) makes the O/U’s stock more comfortable in the shoulder pocket. The gun comes with extractors and has a five-year limited warranty.
CZ USA, 800-955-4486 or 913-321-1811; www.cz-usa.com.
Franchi has used its popular Instinct series as a basis for the new-for-2016 Catalyst—an over/under with a stock completely redesigned for women, including optimized drop, cast, pitch, length of pull and grip length. The fit and light weight allow for a smooth, balanced swing. (The Catalyst also has a sister autoloader: the Affinity Catalyst.) The gun comes with a seven-year limited warranty.
Franchi USA, 301-283-6981; www.franchiusa.com.
Perazzi Ladies Sporter
Based on Perazzi’s popular MX-20 and made with standard dimensions that reflect those of the average female, the Ladies Sporter O/U is designed to not only fit better but also provide the weight, balance and ergonomics that make it easy to shoot. The company changed the balance point to behind the hinge pin in order to accommodate the average forehand position of a lady that results from much narrower shoulders. The gun features a Boss-style action, a slender pistol grip and a slim Monte Carlo stock, and it can be ordered with a custom length of pull. It comes with a two-year warranty.
Perazzi USA, 626-334-1234; www.perazzi.com.
The entire Syren line, which includes 10 models of over/unders and autoloaders, is designed specifically for women. The new Elos Sporting, for example, combines dependable performance and stunning aesthetics with female-friendly features like a Monte Carlo stock, a smaller grip, increased pitch and cast, and a trigger that is adjustable for length of pull. All Syren guns come with a five-year warranty.
Syren USA, 410-901-1131; www.syrenusa.com.
Five years ago I was approached by a gun manufacturer to design a stock that would fit 70 to 75 percent of women. It was a lofty goal, but we set out to achieve it. I had well-known stockmaker Tom Smith rough out a stock with some general measurements that we felt would work for the average female, with no cast and no palm swell, and then we set out to refine those measurements by letting women of all sizes and shapes shoot it. I took friend and stockfitter Danny Patton with me, and we watched and made notes. Then Danny whittled and tweaked, and together we came up with a stock that a lot of women shot very well and were comfortable with. We conceived the idea that the gun would be offered with three different recoil pads, so the LOP would be adjustable. We got G.R.I.T.S. member and world-renowned engraver Lisa Tomlin to design a beautiful engraving pattern for the gun, and in May 2011 we revealed the prototype at an all-women’s event at the Homestead, in Virginia. It received rave reviews, but unfortunately the company went out of business before the first gun was produced.
Obviously it is important to me that women have options when selecting guns. While great women-specific guns are being made by various manufacturers, many other guns can be readily adapted to fit women as well. As mentioned, there are many options and solutions available for achieving the desired fit and comfort level needed to enjoy success.
When purchasing a shotgun, some of the first considerations should be the gauge and what the gun will be used for most. The adjustability, weight and balance of the gun are things to think about as well. I often suggest Beretta or Benelli 20-gauge autoloaders as good all-around starting guns. I also love over/unders and suggest trying several models before buying.
Another option is to modify guns that already are owned. Often during shooting lessons I will improvise and make “quick fixes,” such as raising the comb with moleskin or the other products mentioned earlier; shortening the LOP by removing the buttpad and replacing it with a thinner, temporary one; or, if need be, even lengthening the stock by leaving the existing pad on the gun and adding more length. Either way, to shorten or lengthen the stock I use one of my personal favorite gizmos: the Beartooth Recoil Pad Kit, which comes with four thicknesses of foam that can be inserted into a neoprene sleeve that slips onto the butt of the gun. I have been known to loosen the screws of the butt/recoil pad and change the pitch by adding washers or even slipping in a dime or two.
There are many gunmakers who offer simple options for adjustability, and many, for a nominal charge, can tweak their guns to fit you better. Krieghoff does it by offering right- and left-handed stocks, with or without adjustable combs, and the company will modify the length of pull as well. Kolar, Rizzini and Caesar Guerini do it too. Get a gun close to fitting, and as your shooting develops and skills improve, your gunfit requirements will change also. Once the proficiency has developed, there is always the option of getting a custom stock. Having had several made, I can tell you that it is a wonderful thing. Well, until after 15 years of shooting you decide to switch shoulders—but that is a another article in the making . . . .
Someone recently shared with me an advertisement from the 1960s of a woman lying on the floor in her perfectly pressed “June Cleaver” dress reading the directions for her new Hoover vacuum, all smiles and full of excitement about the wonderful gift. Seriously? Made me gag. Bottom line is that we have, indeed, come a long way, baby! Look out fellas; the ladies are going great guns!