Zen and the Art of Gun Fitting: A Chat with the Country Gentleman (Part IV)
In Part III of this series (You can read Part III here
), I discussed with Todd Nelson of the Country Gentleman Gunfitting Shop the relationship between good gun fit and proper shooting form. We also discussed why every shooter should consider the benefits of professional gun fitting. In part IV of the series, Todd and I will discuss how often a shooter should return for a fitting "tune-up". We'll also discuss the difference in the gun fitting needs between adult shooters and youth shooters. So sit back, grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy this last installment of my question and answer discussion with The Country Gentleman.
Q. We're proud to have an active youth trapshooting program at our club. We do our best to help our youth shooters, but we're not professionals. At what age should parents bring their kids in for a professional fitting?
A. Todd says that it's important for kids to be properly fitted as early as possible. He offered up a quick checklist for getting a new shooter started.
✓ Teach them gun safety.
First and foremost is gun safety. Once the shooter knows how to safely handle their trap gun, get them out on the trap range and show them the lay of the land. Introduce them to the trap house, the 16 yard firing line, and the five shooting positions. Then, set the trap to throw only straight-a-ways and let them get the hang of shooting targets. This exercise will help a new shooter gain confidence and enjoy some success right away. As soon as they get comfortable handling a gun and shooting at targets, before the end of their first season; that's the right time to get them in to a fitter/coach. Todd interjected a story to pass along a tip to all youth team coaches. A few years back, Todd did a fitting for a youth team in Alabama. One little guy (just 11 years old) spent the whole day in the Todd's shop watching him work on the team's guns. When the time came to test shoot his own gun, he repeatedly blew holes in the grass of Todd's back yard. As it turned out, his gun came from the factory with a crooked choke. With a fresh choke installed, this youngster started knocking the center out of the target. The moral of the story is that coaches should start each season with a patterning session to make sure that the shooters can hit what their aiming at. Getting kids involved in the pattering process will help them understand choke and point of impact. Now, the rest of the story... The young man from our story came back to see Todd every year (thanks to Mom and Dad) to be refitted. He's now 18 years old and Team USA National Champion. Todd's quick to point out that, while being properly fitted certainly helps, this young man put in countless hours at the range and honed his skills on countless clay targets. If a young shooter (and the shooter's parents) are willing to put in the practice time and stay on top of their form and fit, he or she can accomplish anything they set their mind to.
✓ Get them comfortable on the trap line.
✓ Set the trap to throw only straight-a-ways and show them that they can indeed hit targets.
✓ Get them to a gun fitter.
Q. Once you've done an initial fitting, how often should a shooter come back for a tune-up? Is there a rule of thumb and is it the same for kids as it is for adults?
A. "Any time they have trouble, hit a plateau, get lost, or have a growth spurt." And, it's the same for adults. Weight loss or weight gain can change your gun fit. Todd says that just 15-20 pounds is enough to make a difference. It's important for a kid to be 'refit' after each growth spurt. And, for us adults, it's important to get a tune-up if we experience any sort of appreciable weight change or physical injury.
Q. I know you spend a lot of time on the road. What's the best way for shooters to get ahold of you for a gun fitting.
A. The best way to contact Todd is to call him on his cell phone at (256)762-6559. Or, better yet, send him a text message on his phone so he can get back to you when he's not elbow deep in sawdust and gun oil.
Q. With your busy travel schedule and plenty of work to keep you busy when you're back at home, do you every get a chance to do any shooting yourself?
A. Todd says he hung up his 'competition gloves' a few years back. He keeps busy with work and raising four sons. He does shoot some informal trap, skeet, and sporting clays; but nothing too competitive.
Q. Is there anything else that you'd like to pass along to our readers?
A. Todd says that he's working on something special for all of the volunteer coaches out there who are looking to learn how to teach young shooters. Todd will be offering a classroom seminar for coaches (no more than 20 coaches at a time) to cover eye-dominance diagnostics, shotgun patterning, and gun fit diagnostics. I had the privilege of attending the first of these seminars this spring, organized by a St. Louis area trap club. Todd doesn't really follow a script. Instead, he prefers to start with a brief list of topics that he wants to cover, then let the questions of the class lead the agenda. He's willing to spend as much time as necessary to answer questions and explain ideas. As you would expect, Todd gives the class a mountain of great information to help you become a better coach. What came as a surprise to me is that learning how to coach has actually made me a better shooter. I'm much quicker to notice my own mistakes and to know when I need to get help from a professional coach, like Todd. I can tell you first-hand that this is a golden opportunity to learn from a guy with years of coaching and fitting experience. If you can get a group of coaches together, Todd will come to your location to teach a seminar.
I'd like to thank Todd Nelson for allowing me to write this article and for taking time out of his busy schedule to chat and to show me around his mobile workshop. If you haven't met Todd, I highly recommend that you track him down at a shooting event for a gun fit analysis. If you and your gun need work, Todd's your man. Even if you don't need any fitting work done to your gun, Todd's wealth of coaching experience and attention to shooting form detail just might help make you a better shooter. Don't forget to take your shooting vest and glasses along. You'd be surprised how much of a difference these little details can make in your gun mount and eye position. Thanks for following along on my adventure through the gun fitting process and through the mind of a top-notch gun fitter. Until next time, shoot safe and break 'em all!