How can I determine whether a shotgun fits (or can be easily adapted to fit) me without having the chance to test fire it? (And without spending thousands of dollars for customization?)

Whether for shooting clays or birds we know that "fit" of a shotgun to a shooter can be critical to the shooter's ability to hit what he points at. When I take people clay shooting I bring several different guns. Even with first-time shooters, I can see that if they're missing wildly with one gun, simply handing them another with a stock of different proportions can allow them to start making consistent hits.

Can this sort of general shotgun fitment be done without access to a range? If so, how?

2 Answers 2


I have had good luck taking a shotgun in hand and then picking out a spot at a typical bird type height and distance, often where the ceiling meets the wall in a corner. Then I stare at the spot, and mount the shotgun. Without moving, I shift my focus to the bead and see how close the bead is to my intended target. You can do a similar process by closing your eyes and mounting the shotgun. Open your eyes and see where you are looking first, then check how close the shotgun is in alignment to where you are looking.

If you do this procedure with one shotgun, you can't tell much, but if you do it with two or three, you will find that one is probably coming up very well aligned and one is coming up way off. I have shot the guns that come up naturally much better than I have guns that don't. I also am primarily hunting live birds, so every shot is from an unmounted start. If you are just doing trap or skeet where you can set your mount very deliberately, this technique might not tell you as much.

As a note, once I buy a new shotgun, I use this same drill over and over again to practice the mount and disengaging the safety. I often say the word "Bang" instead of pulling the trigger, then I check the bead alignment visually. This really helps me dial in and get the gun pointing how I want it.


The general rule of thumb I've always read/heard is does the trigger hand placement naturally allow the finger to reach the trigger if you were to set the butt on the inside of the elbow - stick your arm out to your side, bend it so your forearm is pointing up, set shotgun/rifle on your arm out by your elbow. Does your hand naturally reach the grip so you have proper trigger position? If not, you either need spacers or to have the stock length shortened.

The second thing would be your non-trigger hand reaching the forearm. I have short arms so I just have to deal with most pump/SA shotguns and hold it as far to the rear as I can. You normally want to have the supporting arm to have a fair bend or you'll tire quickly if shooting competitions. Not as big a deal for hunting where you're not shooting for much time.

Third thing is sight line. Is your eye aligned with the sights when you naturally rest your head on the comb? Do you have to tilt your head up, down or to the side? You may need to add or remove material if it's not adjustable (most aren't). This is more important in competition where you must be fast.

Fourth thing is balance. Most shotguns are barrel heavy, which helps facilitate smoother swings while tracking birds, but some could be uncomfortably heavy for weaker or smaller shooters, especially if they'll be shooting for longer sessions. If you can stand in position for a couple minutes with no discomfort it should be OK.

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