Burchfield: The right fit makes a difference

Tom Macaulay of Bergara Rifles instructs a new shooter on the proper fit and how it helps dampen recoil.

Beneath the surface of the ground and within close proximity of the back porch of camp, you could unearth a ton of spent .22 cases. Add to that there is a lot of lead driven into the mound of soft dirt that serves as the backstop to our small shooting range. This is also the place where a lifetime of shooting fun began.

The range was where my brother and I spent time learning the fundamentals of shooting. It served us well.

Early on, dad paid particular attention to how the target rifle matched up to our statue. Any long gun that does not properly fit the individual using it can create a distraction to learning the fundamentals of marksmanship.

To remedy the situation the practice rifle we used was a Stevens single shot bolt action rifle. Not fancy by any means, the barrel length was 20 inches and the stock had a length of pull of 12 inches. Of course dad installed a set of Williams sights that when aligned properly would deliver 40 grains of soft lead to its intended target with accuracy. The rifle was small and served dad’s two boys well.

In addition to learning shooting skills, here was the first place my brother and I were being sized up. Not for how we were developing our shooting skills, but we were being carefully observed to see if the firearm being fired was properly fitted. Our time spent on the range meant one on one time under the watchful eye of dad.

Dad enjoyed shooting to the utmost. He shared his expertise with Mark and myself and paid attention to the details, the little things that always seemed to give us an advantage when it came to handling a gun.

When it comes right down to it, a gun that fits the shooter properly lays the foundation of marksmanship. So where does it begin?

Regardless of the age or stature of youngsters, new hunters, or gender, firearm fit is important.

As a friend of mine said, “The fastest way to discourage a new hunter is to give them boots that are too big or too small, then send them out with a gun that doesn’t fit.” To avoid this situation what are the considerations when it comes to “the fit”?

The length of pull is measured by placing the butt of the firearm in the elbow joint of the arm. The stock is then placed along the inside of the forearm. Ideally the index finger is bent at a 90-degree angle. If the legend of pull is correct, the index finger should fit into the trigger guard.

To determine the proper length of pull, try this simple test. Place the butt of the stock on your forearm above the elbow, then point your index finger 90 degrees toward the trigger. If the finger is above the trigger, the length of pull is too long, below the trigger, then it is too short. Keep in mind that for a proper fit this test should be done wearing the clothing you'll be wearing in the field.

There will be some variation, but the test will let you see if the firearm is even close to fitting the person who will use it. This is why shopping for a new or used firearm at a good gun shop is important. Unlike the mass merchandising shops, the folks who specialize in firearms can help you find the proper fit.

Today the major manufacturers of firearms have offered downsized models of rifles and shotguns. The fact is the standard out-of-the-box rifle or shotgun is produced for the average adult. So why expect a youngster, a lady, or even an individual who is small in stature to have the firearm fit them properly? Simply put, it won't happen. The good thing is that the task of properly fitting a firearm is not an impossible task.

Arms manufacturers have been producing what are called "youth and ladies" model rifles and shotguns for quite some time. Getting started with one of these downsized numbers offers a number of advantages. First of all, in general the length of pull on these firearms is shorter offering a better fit. Second, in many cases the firearm is lighter, not by much, but enough to make a significant difference.

Another important feature is that many of the actions fitted in the downsized stocks can be dropped into an adult stock. So as the child grows, a simple stock conversion turns the youth model into a standard size version. A good example of this is in Remington's Model Seven series of rifles. As an added bonus these rifles come in a good range of deer hunting cartridges that range from a .243 up to .30 caliber.

The caliber of the rifle to be used is an important consideration. For example, a .300 H&H magnum is obviously a caliber NOT well suited for a beginner. Yet some adults will readily place a 7mm magnum or other hard hitting rifle in the hands of a new shooter. That’s nonsense.

Today the .243, 7mm-08, 6.5 Creedmoor and .308 cartridges are good choices and are effective on whitetails.

Learning to shoot is not supposed to be punishing. Besides, if the new marksman expects to hit the target consistently from one shot to the next and they cringe when doing so with a rifle that is awkward to hold, how are they expected to have fun? Much less how do they learn to shoot accurately?

So when choosing a rifle or shotgun to hunt or shoot with, be sure it fits the individual who will be using it. Let’s face it, shooting is a learned skill. Yes, there are those who can quickly pick up the fundamentals. But in reality, learning how to shoot requires trigger time, and that means sending rounds downrange and practicing with a purpose. But to do so begins with a firearm that fits.

Charlie Burchfield is an active member and past president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, an active member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, Outdoor Writers Assoc. of America and the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers. Gateway Outdoors e-mail is GWOutdoors@comcast.net