An ill-mannered 12 gauge jabbed my face repeatedly, and my cheek felt as though it had been in a fight -- 25 brutal onslaughts to be exact. Talk about taking it on the chin. The sporting clays range was quickly getting the better of me, or to be more precise, the standard field stock on my Browning Gold Fusion, designed to fit the masses, did not fit me. My cheek was sore, and the thought of doing this again next week was not an inviting one.
Sutton takes a measurement on a shooter's stock.
The problem is common, but what can be done short of having a custom stock made, costing hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars?
Most often, a gunsmith can fit the standard stock that comes on your shotgun. In this case, I decided to go straight to the source.
The Browning facility in Arnold, Missouri, handles all of Browning's North American distributions. Also housed there is their service and repair facility in which 20 gunsmiths are employed to service all of Browning's current firearms.
Gunsmith Kent Sutton, a 39-year Browning veteran, has fit countless numbers of stocks on all Browning firearms, from the now highly collectable Superposed to the latest Gold Fusion, so there was little doubt he would be able to fit this gun to me.
After the usual pleasantries, I told Sutton I thought the length was good. The stock fit on my forearm with the butt against my bent arm, and I was able to wrap my finger around the trigger. Sutton smiled. "That tells you the length between your arm and your trigger finger, not much about how the stock fits you when your gun is mounted," he replies.
Sutton asked me if I shot with both eyes open, which I do. Then he asked me to mount the shotgun. He stepped into my line of sight and looked down the barrel from the other end to see where my eye was positioned on the stock. By doing this, he could tell the comb was too high. Sutton asked me if the gun was going to pull double duty as both a hunting and sporting clays gun. I thought little of the conversation until it hit me; Sutton was fitting the gun not only to me, but also to my shooting style.
"The stock must fit the shooter. The shooter needs to have the proper sight picture and see the rib and the beads. Trap shooters want to see a certain amount of rib and the beads in a figure-8," Sutton states. Most target guns (trap and skeet) have a mid bead, as well as a front sight bead, forming a figure-8. The mid bead forms the bottom of the 8, and the front sight forms the top half. "Sporting clays and field guns are different," Sutton explains. "Most shooters look straight down the rib of these guns."
Sutton steps into the line of sight to determine where the shooters' eye is positioned on the stock. The firearm is carefully inspected to ensure it is unloaded before Sutton walks into the line of sight.
As Sutton was busy taking off the recoil pad, I wondered to myself how many stocks he had fit as it seemed almost second nature to him, nearly effortless.
"The stock needs to be comfortable and fit the discipline in which the shooter uses the gun. So many things enter the equation when obtaining a sight picture. I size up the shooter physically when I begin fitting a stock, taking into account the size and build of a person," he explains. "A barrel-chested man will need a different stock than a thin man. Fitting a woman differs from fitting a man due to obvious physical differences. Facial structure also comes into play; a thin face with high cheekbones will be fit differently than a shooter with fuller facial features. I always talk with the customer to obtain their knowledge of shooting to see if they know what they want."
"I never tell a customer how to shoot," Sutton assures me. "I have the customer mount the gun so they are comfortable, then I fit the stock to them so they obtain the sight picture they need to see."
The most common of Sutton's duties is shortening or lengthening a stock and taking the comb line down. It's much easier to take away wood than to add it.
Sutton will tape cardboard or a shop rag to a stock to increase the height of the stock. If the height of the comb needs to be higher, an adjustable comb or stock of higher dimensions may be needed. If the comb height needs to come down, a wood rasp and a little elbow power is applied to bring the comb down.
"All shotgun stock measurements, including the drop of comb and drop from the heel, come from the sighting plane, the top of the rib. Even down pitch is affected. Down pitch is the angle of the butt of the stock. A lot of shooters overlook down pitch, but this is what makes a gun fit comfortably in your shoulder." Sutton believes that a properly fit stock needs the pitch re-cut so that it is square to the sight plane after the comb line has been adjusted to the shooter.
Sutton making adjustments to a stock for a young shooter as her father watches a "master" at work.
Sutton carefully eases into the final dimensions with a smooth file and sandpaper. He prefers a protective coat of finish applied on the stock after the comb height is altered and asks the shooter to take the gun home and shoot it, not just once but several times, to see how it fits. If the comb needs to come down a bit more, it is done before the stock is refinished. If the fit is correct, the stock is returned to be refinished at the Arnold facility.
The European influence has started to show up on American firearms. "European stocks tend to be longer because European shooters shoot in a heads-up style. Americans typically shoot with their knees bent in a semi-crouch style, head down and tucked in tight to the stock, resulting in the need for a shorter stock. "Field stocks will run around 14-1/4 inches. Target guns will measure a bit longer, usually about 14-3/8 inches. The reason for the length difference is that target guns are mounted before the birds are called for," commented Sutton.
Sutton concluded our meeting with some advice, "To achieve an accurate fit, bring along the clothes you hunt or shoot in or several layers of clothing to simulate hunting coats and vests to make the fitting conditions as close to actual shooting conditions as possible."
Thanks to Kent Sutton's expertise, I'm shooting a custom-fit stock made to fit me for much less than a new stock. However, I now need a new excuse for my misses; the folks at Browning were unable to take them out of the gun.
My scores have increased some, but not by much. However, an extra bird here and there sure does a lot for a fellow's ego. Hopefully I can keep it up when bird season rolls around.