Zen and the Art of Gun Fitting: A Chat with the Country Gentleman (Part I)
During last summer's Grand American Trapshooting Championships, in Sparta, IL, I had the opportunity to spend some time chatting with Todd Nelson of the Country Gentleman Gun Fitting Shop. With the summer trap season quickly approaching, now seems like the perfect time to present a series of articles about gun fit, shooting form, and all things trap. If you read my article about buying a trap gun at the Grand American (You can see the article here
), you'll remember that it was a conversation with Todd Nelson that sent me shopping for a new trap gun in the first place. You may also remember that the Winchester 101 that I purchased was stone stock and in need of some custom stock work to get me into a decent shooting position. Naturally, this led me back to The Country Gentleman.
My latest visit with Todd actually began well before the Grand American. Every year, Todd makes the trip from his home in Cherokee, Alabama to Sparta, IL for the SCTP National Team Championships in July. During the week of the SCTP nationals, I just happened to be traveling South for a canoeing trip in Missouri. Along the way, my family and I made a detour through Southern Illinois to see Todd. (A special thank you to my wife for putting up with yet another detour to spend money on a trap gun!) Despite the fact that Todd was up to his elbows in stock work for many of the SCTP youth shooters, he took a few minutes to check my gun fit, shooting form, and gun mount. He pointed out a few problems that I already knew I had, as well as a few that I hadn't even noticed. As I suspected, I had gun fit problems. I was shooting the Winchester pretty well in it's original configuration, but I had to fight to get it shouldered correctly. It was impossible to mount the gun consistently and I had the inconsistent scores to prove it. Fortunately, the condition wasn't terminal. But, major surgery was in order. #1 - The buttstock needed to be shortened about a half an inch to make the length of pull a bit more manageable for my shorter-than-average arms. #2 - I needed an adjustable buttplate to get my head into a more "eyes level" position. #3 - I needed an adjustable comb to get my right eye centered over the gun barrels. I have to admit, I was a little squeamish about hacking up the pristine stock on my trap gun. But, I bought this gun to shoot, not hang on a wall. So, I sent the Winchester home with Todd for a few "minor modifications".
While my gun was off learning how to fit my not-quite-so-average frame, I borrowed another unaltered Winchester 101 from a fellow club member. I assumed that shooting a borrowed gun for a few weeks would take a toll on my scores. So, I ignored my totals and I concentrated on the all the little details that Todd pointed out. To my surprise, my scores actually improved! With five minutes of instruction, Todd raised my singles average by four birds. I could hardly wait to see what I could do once I got my own gun back!
By the time the Grand American rolled around in August, over a month had gone by and, needless to say, I was excited about seeing my Winchester again. After giving me a quick tour of my guns newly adjustable stock, Todd gave me a complete fitting session. Actually, it was more of a "coaching" session than a "fitting" session. The fitting itself only took a few minutes. I have to say, when it comes to making a gun fit, Todd is an absolute pro. He made some initial "educated guess" adjustments to the comb and buttplate and watched as I mounted the gun a few times. He made one more small adjustment to the comb and that was it. Fitting over. But, our session was just getting started. Todd spent the rest of the session tweaking just about every part of my trap shooting style to match the newly fitted gun. We went over everything from pre-shot routine to post-shot follow through. We talked about gun mount, posture, head placement, eye-dominance, foot position, hold points, point of focus, and several other things I never would have thought to ask about. Todd even pointed out a potential problem with the position of my finger on the trigger. They say the devil is in the details and Todd is serious about getting the details right. At one point during our session, I remember him saying something like, "If you get all of the little things right, you can't hardly miss!"
When the session was over, Todd sent me out to shoot a practice round with an open invitation to come back if I thought the gun fit might need some tweaking or if things just didn't feel right. Now keep in mind that I hadn't shot my own gun in over a month. So I went out for that first practice round, and absolutely powdered 24 out of 25 birds. And, for the first time in a long time, I knew exactly why I missed the one that got away. In case your wondering, I raised my head on that lost bird. It turns out that Todd was absolutely right. If I did all of the little things correctly, I could hardly miss a target. To prove it, I shot my very first 50 straight the next morning on my way to a personal best singles score of 96. Two days later, I shot my second 50 straight on my way to improving that singles score to a 98. Not a bad couple of days, if I do say so myself.
After shooting that first 50 straight, I stopped back by The Country Gentleman to say thanks and gloat a little. While I was there, I asked Todd if he had time for a quick interview for our club's website. When we met for that "quick" interview a few evenings later, we ended up talking for over an hour about trap shooting, gun fitting, coaching young shooters, and the origins of the universe. OK, we didn't really tackle the origins of the universe, but we did cover a wide range of trap shooting topics. I invite you to stay tuned for Part II of this series, when Todd and I will discuss how he got his start in the gun fitting business and why getting your gun properly fitted is so important to trap shooting success. Until next time, shoot safe and break 'em all!