Zen and the Art of Gun Fitting: A Chat with the Country Gentleman (Part II)
4-6-12 - John Morgan
In the Part I of this series (You can read Part I here
), I told the story of my own personal gun fitting experience with Todd Nelson of the Country Gentleman Gunfitting Shop. In this second part, Todd and I will discuss how he got his start in the gun fitting business and why the gun fitting process is so important. I caught up with Todd at about 9:00 at night, just after the end of the day's competition during 2011 Grand American Trapshooting Championships. He and his son were just settling in for an evening of shop work. During a big event, like the Grand, Todd does fitting sessions all day and spends most of the night doing stock work for the next day's sessions. This year, he brought one of his sons along to help with the work load. Todd set his son up with a few tasks to get the evening started. Then, we stepped outside the shop for our Question & Answer chat.
Q. Todd, how did you get your start in the gun fitting business.
A. Todd says that he got started purely by accident. Todd's Father took him along for the ride to the 1980 Alabama state trap shoot. On a lark, Todd's father asked him if he wanted to shoot in a sub-junior event. Up to then, Todd had only shot a single practice round of trap; virtually no trap shooting experience at all. His father sent him out to the firing line with a hot-off-the-press ATA membership and a borrowed Remington 1100. Being a first time trapshooter, Todd had no way of knowing how he was doing. He was just out there having a good time. When the clay dust had cleared, Todd had won the very first trap event he ever entered! Winning the Alabama state championship in the sub-junior class earned Todd an invitation to compete in the Champion of Champions event at that year's Grand American, in Vandalia, OH. During that first visit to the Grand American, Todd and his father met a stock craftsman, named J.P. Griggs, from Bountiful, UT. Todd's father and Mr. Griggs hit it off immediately and became fast friends. The next year, Todd earned his way back to the Grand American. When he and his father stopped in to visit Mr. Griggs, they found their friend in serious need of help. Todd says, "... this guy was busier than a one-armed paper hanger." It seems that Mr. Griggs' shop assistant had called in sick and left Mr. Griggs with more stock work than he could handle on his own. So, Todd's father volunteered to help Mr. Griggs install recoil pads and reducers. Meanwhile, Todd sold accessories outside the shop to passers-by. Helping Mr. Griggs out at the Grand American became a yearly ritual for Todd and his father. After a while, the Nelsons put their own mobile stock shop on the road as part of Griggs' company. A few years later, when Mr. Griggs retired from the stock business, Todd and his father struck out on their own and shifted the focus of the shop toward gun fitting and developing their own line of gun fitting products. The rest, as they say, is history.
Q. How are you different than other gun fitters? What makes The Country Gentleman, "The Country Gentleman?"
A. Todd explains that The Country Gentleman Gun Fitting Shop is the only shop that specializes exclusively in gun fitting. Most craftsmen who do stock work are gunsmiths, who happen to also work on stocks. There are also many excellent craftsmen, who specialize in building stocks from scratch. These are generally "stockmakers", not "stock fitters". Most stockmakers create custom stocks to fit the shooting form that the shooter is already accustomed to. The Country Gentleman's approach is different. As Todd explains it, he concentrates on teaching shooters correct shooting form and gun mount, then fits the gun to the corrected shooting form. Todd is also proud to point out that they are the only gun fitting shop in the country that has two mobile workshops covering thirty states.
Q. Why is it that gun fit is so important that shooters, like me, come to gun fitters, like you, for help?
A. Simply put, proper gun fit "...regulates the form that you are able to use, seeing and moving on the target." Todd says that there are four major components to good shooting; balance, vision, gun mount, and gun fit. Correct balance points allow you to make a good initial move toward the target. To make a good move on the bird, you first have to see the bird well. To see the bird as well as possible, you need to keep your head up and your eyes level. Having a correct and consistent gun mount allows you to repeat your best move on the target every time. And finally, having a gun that is properly fitted to your corrected form helps to make the other three components consistently achievable. An off-the-shelf gun is built to fit the "average" shooter. Now, who wants to be an "average" shooter? That's right, nobody. The goal is to leave those "average" shooters in your dust! Shooters come in all shapes and sizes. Having a gun properly fitted to your shape and size allows you to get your balance points right, get your head in the correct position to see the target, and consistently execute a good gun mount every time.
Q. So, what makes your approach different than other gun fitters?
A. Todd says that changing a shooters form is always a gamble. What if you change the shooters form and it doesn't help them break more birds? To help shooters correct their gun form, you have to have right set of tools. You have to have good people skills. You have to have the heart and patience of a school teacher. You have to have the verbal skills to explain what needs to be corrected. And, you have to have the confidence to know that what you're doing will help the shooter. Most gun fitters aren't ready to take that gamble. It's much easier to fit a gun to the stance and form that a shooter is already accustomed to. This approach will certainly help the shooter to hit more birds, but it may not take them as far as they want to go. Todd doesn't comprise. He works with a shooter to get them into the best shooting form possible before he calls a fitting session complete. And then, he works with the shooter again and again to refine the shooting form to help the shooter continue to improve.
I invite you to come back soon for Part III of this series. Todd and I will discuss the relationship between good gun fit and good shooting form. We'll touch on some of the gunfitting problems that Todd sees most often. And, we'll answer the question, "Why do I need gunfitting, anyway?". So, stay tuned for more great gunfitting advise from The Country Gentleman. Until next time, shoot safe and break 'em all!