Proper shotgun fit is key to your shooting success; for women, most shotguns simply weren’t designed to fit our bodies
There was a moment while dog training when my husband asked me to shoot because he needed to keep his hands and attention on the dog. He said it was okay if I missed the bird because he was working the dog to be steady to shot. He handed me his shotgun, and while I didn’t feel the pressure of needing to accomplish much beyond safely expelling a shot, I still felt some anxiety and fear about what my first shot from a shotgun would be like. The dog went on point, I walked up and flushed the bird, and as if it was some kind of automatic reflex, I took the shot. Based on what resulted from that sequence nearly 12 years ago, I’m sure that my eyes were tightly clenched and the stock several inches away from my body when I actually pulled the trigger. I left the field with my ears ringing, a bruised and sore arm, and full intention to never again assist with broke dog training.
It wasn’t much later that I was overcome by the desire to have that special bond that develops between a bird dog and its owner while hunting. I wanted my own gun, one that wouldn’t hurt me nor fatigue my arms after carrying it around the field for hours. I went into a sporting goods store feeling eager and excited, knowing that I would soon be walking out with my first shotgun. The process unfolded as I had expected: the guy behind the counter handed me five shotguns to shoulder and asked me how each of them “felt.” Having no previous experience or knowledge of what a shotgun should feel like, I replied that they all felt good. I could lift them up to my shoulder, look down the barrel, and only noticed a difference in weight between them. I opted to buy the most expensive option, merely because it was the lightest of the options. Two seasons and a considerable number of missed birds later, I decided that ruffed grouse wasn’t the most beginner-friendly upland bird species to pursue as a novice to hunting and shooting.
Modifying your gun stock for better fit
I spent several weekends that following summer shooting sporting clays. At one point a bystander commented that I would be hitting more clays if my gun fit me better, and suggested that I visit the club’s pro shop. The gunsmith confirmed that my shotgun didn’t fit me, so I paid a good amount of money to get the stock shortened. Eight more seasons rolled by with some birds in the bag, plus some “how the hell did I miss that?” moments. I set a goal of spending more time at the range because, with more hunting trips on the calendar, I wanted my shooting abilities to match the amount of training I’d put into my bird dogs for that season. It was the first time I had a shooting instructor, and he immediately acknowledged that I was canting, or tilting my head over the stock. He said the reason I was canting was because my shotgun didn’t fit me correctly and recommended that I get my shotgun modified—again.
I was upset. Why did the guy behind the sales counter sell me a shotgun that didn’t fit me? And why didn’t the stock alteration I had done previously solve the fit issue? I decided that at this point, it would make more sense to buy a new shotgun. I reached out to some friends who hunt and asked them which shotgun they used and would recommend for me. Their suggestions were quite specific: a youth model or one that would need to be cut down to fit me.
Unique design considerations for women’s shotguns
I don’t know why it didn’t seem more obvious to me at the time, or even from the start, that it would be difficult to find a gun that fit a woman in the same way that it fits a man. The majority of women’s bodies have more curves, a smaller frame, higher cheekbones, longer necks, and a weaker upper body when compared to that of a man. All of these unique features play a factor with the touch points of a shotgun. Of course, some women may prefer the fit and feel of a full-size shotgun, just as some men prefer the fit and feel of a women’s shotgun.
Acknowledging the obvious differences between male and female bodies, coupled with the rising number of women involved in shooting sports, a few companies now have shotguns available that are designed with the intent to fit the majority of women right out of the box. A women’s shotgun will typically have:
- Shorter length of pull (shorter stock length) to better fit a shorter arm
- Reduced grip radius to allow a smaller hand to more comfortably reach the trigger and to provide a better grip and feel
- “Toe out” cast and “positive” pitch which sets the recoil pad toward the shoulder rather than feeling the recoil around the breast
- Monte Carlo-style comb to accommodate a longer neck and create a better fit against the cheek
In addition, some women’s shotgun models that are more commonly used in competition shooting offer adjustable features such as the comb, trigger, and rib. Some models also offer the option to change out the pad for one that may absorb more recoil.
Available options for women’s shotguns
Currently, Syren is the only shotgun company that provides a full line of women’s shotguns, with 10 models to accommodate the variety of shooting venues including sporting, trap, field, and waterfowl guns. Other companies have also added a women’s shotgun model to their lineup including Franchi, Fausti, Beretta, Blaser, CZ-USA, and Krieghoff. Of these various options, the weight typically ranges from five to eight pounds. Barrel length is typically 28 or 30 inches, with a length of pull around 13.9 inches. Women’s shotguns are most commonly found in 12 or 20 gauge, though there are a few 28 gauge and .410 models available.
While cutting down the stock of a full-size shotgun will provide a more comfortable feel in hand, it will often result in an imbalance of weight distribution. Syren points this out, saying, “The Syren guns are engineered to balance perfectly at the hinge point right out of the box and fit most women, so there’s no need to severely modify them for fit. Small modifications, if needed, can still be made without altering the overall balance and weight, which is part of the magic of what makes a great shotgun.”
Is it worth the money to invest in a women’s shotgun?
How a gun fits you and how it feels when you shoot it are different factors, yet both are equally important. Shouldering a gun will help determine the fit while shooting a gun will determine its feel. Before I made the purchase of a Syren 20ga Tempio Light, I spent time with a gun dealer who offered a demo center where I was able to shoot multiple women’s shotguns, in addition to a few full-sized shotguns for comparison.
While price is always a consideration with any purchase, I put it into perspective by considering how I shop for a new pair of field boots. My approach is to buy whatever fits the best and will last, so that you don’t have to compromise on comfort and durability. I’ve heard people say, “If I paid that much for a shotgun, I wouldn’t want to take it hunting.” However, we take our best bird dogs hunting–they’re our family pet, we’ve invested an incredible amount of time and money into them, and we have an emotional attachment even though we know that something could happen to them at any moment. By this same logic… spend the money, get a shotgun that fits you, and have a great hunt.
I spent this past summer getting familiar with my new shotgun. My confidence grew exponentially at the range and in the field while training my dogs. I even went outside my comfort zone and gunned at several of our local NAVHDA training days, which is pretty high-pressure to be responsible for shooting birds so that others can train their dogs. While I can’t say that I didn’t miss a bird this past season, my percentage definitely improved. But more importantly, I had my most enjoyable season to date.
Whether you’re chasing birds through the woods, across the prairies and grasslands, up and down mountains, or sitting behind a blind, it’s important to have a gun that fits so that you can use it feeling comfortable and confident.
Courtney is the Founder of Her Upland and is the Education and Outreach Director at Northwoods Collective. She is passionate about sharing knowledge and experiences for DIY upland hunting and all things bird dogs. When she’s not chasing feathers, you’ll find her training and testing dogs for NAVHDA and AKC Hunt Tests and Horseback Field Trials. Courtney hails from Wisconsin and currently resides in Montana with her husband, two toddlers, Bracchi Italiani, and German Wirehaired Pointers.