Russell Mark Q&A – 2012

Article 10 – 2012

Question: Is there a correct position to place the butt of the shotgun on your shoulder? I have asked many people and have had a variety of answers. I often feel as though my gun placement is far too low on my shoulder, but it feels fine. I am concerned it causes me to see the target poorly. What is considered normal?

Rhys Hughes, Geelong VIC

Answer: If you were asking what is considered as fundamentally correct I would suggest that the top of your shotguns recoil pad should be aligned with the top of your shoulder thus ensuring that all of the pads 140mm is in contact with some part of your shoulder. If you have someone check this for you and part of the recoil pad is above the shoulder line or alternatively if a portion of your guns butt is below your shoulder socket and exposed under your arm pit then I would suggest that your gun mount is not fundamentally correct.

As always there are always many exceptions to the rule. One of the greatest Olympic Trap shooters I have competed against was an Italian called Marco Venturini. He mounted the shotgun virtually on his right breast with no part of recoil pad touching his shoulder. It made for a very unusual looking technique where it always made me think he had eyes in the top of his head because he was hunched so far forward over the top of the stock. Alternatively I have seen quite a few champions shooting with 40mm or more of the pad appearing way above the top of their shoulder. These competitors would be far better suited for a “Monte Carlo” stock, but that’s another topic altogether.

Trap shooters have no excuse however to adopt a technique which is basically incorrect. They have the chance to pre mount the shotgun before calling for the target. Even though you can become a champion with a poor technique, I often wonder how many more titles these competitors would have won if they had a simpler style.

When I coach someone, no matter what discipline of shotgun shooting, I always try this simple drill. I get the shooter to dry mount an unloaded shotgun and swing the gun to a typical position where most of their targets will be shot. I then get the shooter to stay rock solid in this position and carefully reach under them and slowly pull the shotgun away from their shoulder and face, but be very conscious to make them stay in exactly the same position as they were when they were about to shoot the target. Once you have taken control of their gun ask them can they look through their eyes and see objects around them clearly. If they can’t then there is a good chance they have mounted the gun incorrectly either by placing the stock too low on their shoulder therefore causing them to look out of the top of their eyes or, as is a very common fault with beginners, they drop their head sideways on their stock thus causing their eyes not to be parallel to the horizon. If you were going to watch somebody shoot you would stand there with your head dipped down or tilted on an angle. If your not prepared to watch targets like this as a spectator why would you want to shoot targets in this fashion as a competitor?

Gun mounting is very much related to correctly setting your head on the stock. If your head is on the stock correctly then your eyes will be in their best possible position to work for you properly. Generally you are trying to adopt a technique that enables you to look through the middle of your eyes with both eyes parallel. In essence everything relates back to target acquisition. It is the same whether you are trying to shoot a duck or clay target. If you cant see it you cant shoot it!

Article 9 – 2012

Question:For some strange reason I cannot seem to mount my shotgun with my head straight down the centre of the barrel. It sort of looks like I am looking down the left hand side of the gun all the time. It is a Miroku Model 10 sporting shotgun. I only use it to shoot ducks or quail, but I can’t seem to hit anything. Do I need the stock bent to the right? Nobody seems to have any decent advice.

Michael Cartwright, Horsham VIC

Answer: Michael without seeing you mount the gun and shoot at a target it is hard to give a definitive judgment, but I would be willing to bet that you are a right handed shooter who has a left dominant eye. This is a topic I have covered before, but it is worth talking about again as it is the single biggest hurdle to climb over for any newcomer to the sport of shooting.

What you are describing is a typical example of someone who feels comfortable mounting the shotgun on his or her right shoulder, but once it is mounted you want your left eye to be the eye that does the sighting with the gun. Your typical shotgun stock is not built in such a way to allow this to happen.

Don’t stress, you are not alone. Whilst around ten percent of the population is genuinely left-handed just under twenty nine percent of all people have the same problem as you. It is often referred to as cross eye dominance. That is being right handed with a left dominant eye. I say problem because in shooting a shotgun it can be.

If you are like myself and cannot do anything at all left handed so mounting the gun on the other side of your body is not an option then you will be forced to shoot from your right shoulder and either close your left eye or wear some shooting glasses with a patch over the left lenses thus forcing your right eye to take control.

This does not mean you cannot shoot straight it just causes you to loose a great deal of your peripheral vision which can help you initially acquire the target and help to judge distance. In sports like cricket, baseball and golf this cross-eye dominance is considered an advantage, but I would certainly say it isn’t in target sports like shooting, archery or even darts. Never the less I have seen many champion clay target shooters shoot with one eye closed or covered and have seen some fantastic field shooters shoot a technique where they see the target with two eyes and as they are mounting the shotgun from the hip to the shoulder they close one eye to sight the target and pull the trigger.

Before you do anything take this simple test. Take your right index finger and point it at an object on the horizon several kilometres away. Close your left eye. If your index finger is not still pointing at the object on the horizon then there is a big chance you are left eye dominant. Left-handers to the same, but with your left index finger. If the object on the horizon moves no matter what finger you point with or what eye you close then my advice would be for you to take up swimming.

Article 8 – 2012

Question:I was intrigued with some of the shotgun stocks being used at the Olympic Games in London. There was one particular stock that looked like a skeleton. It had virtually no wood. Can you tell me anything about it and what the advantages are?

Peter Kennedy. Sunshine Coast QLD

Answer:The stock you are probably referring to is a German Stock called the “ergosign”. It is becoming increasingly popular amongst many of the world’s elite competitors. It is relatively easy to adjust and weighs about the same as a normal conventional walnut stock. It can be adjusted in terms of the height of the comb, length of pull, cast, pitch and even weight.

Rifle shooters have had similar stocks on their competition firearms for many years so I guess it was only a matter of time before shotgun shooters adopted something similar. There are advantages of this system for not only elite marksmen, but also beginners. It arguably takes tens of thousands of round before a shotgun stock can be perfectly custom fitted for an individual. Once it is perfectly adjusted we then make the assumption the user will not change his technique and then more importantly his or her physical body shape won’t change shape. Experience tells me that neither of these assumptions is correct.

The fact that the stock is adjustable is a great attribute if our body changes or we are changing techniques. It is a terrible attribute if you have a tendency to look for a “quick fix” or a “magic” solution. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen shooters adjusting their stocks by half millimetres which in real terms wont physically alter anything. Mentally of course may make huge differences. The “Ergo” stock is so adjustable in so many different ways it can either “make” or break you, but as far as adjustable stock systems are concerned it is in my opinion one of the better ones on the market. They are not cheap. The last I heard they are worth around three thousand dollars.



Question:Why is there such a huge difference in the price of shotshells on the market at the moment? I am seeing target shotshells anywhere from $65 to $110 per 250.

Doug Chalmers, Wodonga VIC

Answer:Doug the answer is largely in the components that the shot shells are made from. Top quality ammunition generally has the best grade of gun powder and of course the best quality shot pellets. Premium shot is perfectly round and the lead has an additive called antimony in it. Most shot that is considered perfect for trap shooting has about five to six percent antimony in its composition and of course is perfectly round for uniform pattern dispersion and long distances.

Perfect shot and premium grade shot shells are not essential for all clay target events. If I was shooting clays over a hand thrower in my back paddock I would be looking for the cheapest grade of ammunition I could get my hands on provided it didn’t boot my shoulder too much. Field shooters generally don’t need the same quality as competition clay target shooters, but some people think that the more expensive the ammo is then the better their chance is to shoot a perfect score or hit a duck at fifty metres. All that sounds good in theory, but as I say time and time again, there is no substitute for accuracy!

Article 7 – 2012

Question:I was intrigued with some of the shotgun stocks being used at the Olympic Games in London. There was one particular stock that looked like a skeleton. It had virtually no wood. Can you tell me anything about it and what the advantages are?

Peter Kennedy. Sunshine Coast QLD

Answer:The stock you are probably referring to is a German Stock called the “ergosign”. It is becoming increasingly popular amongst many of the world’s elite competitors. It is relatively easy to adjust and weighs about the same as a normal conventional walnut stock. It can be adjusted in terms of the height of the comb, length of pull, cast, pitch and even weight.

Rifle shooters have had similar stocks on their competition firearms for many years so I guess it was only a matter of time before shotgun shooters adopted something similar. There are obvious advantages of this system for not only elite marksmen, but also beginners. It arguably takes tens of thousands of round before a shotgun stock can be perfectly custom fitted for an individual. Once it is perfectly adjusted we then make the assumption the user will not change his technique and then more importantly his or her physical body shape wont change shape. Experience tells me that neither of these assumptions is correct.

The fact that the stock is adjustable is a great attribute if our body changes or we are changing techniques. It is a terrible addition if you have a tendency to look for a “quick fix” or a “magic” solution. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen shooters adjusting their stocks by half millimetres which in real terms wont physically alter anything. Mentally it of course may make huge differences. The “Ergo” stock is so adjustable in so many different ways it can either “make” or break you, but as far as adjustables stock systems are concerned it is in my opinion one of the better ones on the market. They are not cheap. Last I heard they are worth around three thousand dollars.

Article 4 – 2012

Question:I have never had a shotgun fitted to me, but I recently went to a field shoot and shot very badly. Everyone told me that my “length of pull” was too long and I should get my stock cut to a normal length of 360mm. Can you explain what this term means and what length I should get it cut to?

Alan Foster, Lismore NSW

Answer:“Length of Pull” (LOP) is the term used to determine the length of your shotgun stock. There are three main measurements used, the most common is the distance from the middle of your trigger to the middle of the butt (back) of your stock. Virtually measured horizontally parallel to the barrels. It should be noted different manufacturers have triggers fitted in different parts of the mechanism and these days many models have adjustable triggers. Altering the trigger position will alter the stock measurements, but wont actually change the stock fit. It will only alter the grip and trigger finger position. Other LOP measurements are to the very top of the pad (heel) and then to the bottom of the stock (toe). The top and bottom measurements are critical when determining the correct “pitch” of the shotgun. The pitch is the angle the pad needs to sit correctly on your shoulder, but this is another topic altogether. A typical length of pull measurement to the middle of the stock butt on many factory produced shotguns is around 375 mm.

LOP is probably the most crucial element of correct stock fitting whether the shotgun is used in the field or for competition. Arguably the height of the comb, angle of cast and pitch are second, third and fourth in importance. It is purely a personal measurement and can only be determined by the feel of the gun once the shotgun is mounted on the shoulder. It is largely determined by a shooters physical build, arm length and of course technique. There is certainly not a perfect length for everyone. From my experience I would always advise that a stock should feel slightly too short rather than too long. It is far easier to keep your head aligned down the centre of the barrel on a short stock as opposed to a long one particularly on a hard angled target that requires a lot of gun movement. A short stock is also easier to control after the recoil of the first shot takes effect. Unfortunately long stocks often feel great when the gun is “dry mounted” in a gun shop or in your garage, but these are much harder to control on the range or in a duck swamp when often the stock is made to feel artificially longer aided by layers of thick warm clothes.

It is for these reasons your hunting buddies may be giving you the right advice. Unfortunately without seeing you mount the gun I cannot advise the right length. It is an “old wives tale” to place the stock on your arm and bend your elbow at ninety degrees to see where your finger reaches the trigger for the correct LOP. Also it is a fallacy to suggest that your nose should be approximately 25 mm behind your thumb when the gun is mounted. Both these techniques are an rough guide only. The correct way is by experimenting with different lengths and going to the range and shooting the gun until you get a length that you feel you can comfortably and consistently mount the gun and stay controlled on the stock time and time again after both shots are fired.

I remember a few years ago a young shooter came to me for some gun fitting advice with this same problem. We adjusted his gun and shortened his stock 10 mm so it measured 370mm. He proceeded to shoot the next fifty targets perfectly. A week later he called me up saying he had felt a gun that was 375mm in length and it felt great so he wanted to change his to that measurement despite how well he was now shooting. I asked him to bring it over to my home so he could show me. I got him to measure the stock while I was watching and then I asked him to come back in a couple of hours after I fitted a slightly longer recoil pad. While he was gone it took me less than thirty seconds to simply move his adjustable trigger forward 5mm so now the LOP was 375mm. I never touched the stock or pad. When he came back I got him to measure it again. It was 375mm on the dot. He then mounted the gun and proceeded to tell me how much better it felt. He then went on to win the next event he competed in. Of course I then told him I had not changed his actual stock length at all and I showed him what I had done. The moral of the story is there is no correct stock length. The length that feels the best and produces the highest results is correct.

Article 3 – 2012

Question:I am in the market for a shotgun to shoot clay targets with. I have an SKB field gun with a 28 inch (70cm) barrel, which was handed down to me from my grandfather. I want to keep this gun, but have been told it’s not ideal for clays because of its barrel length. What is the ideal length barrel in your opinion for clay target shooting?

John Hamilton Jnr Southport QLD

Answer:Barrel length for clay target shooting John is varied dependent on the type of event, body size, shape and an individual’s technique. What is perfect for one event may not be ideal for somebody else. I will give you an idea of what currently are the most popular barrel lengths for each of the clay target disciplines.

Sporting Clays: Traditionally this event was contested with 28 inch (I will talk in inches here as barrel lengths are still most commonly referred to around the world in this unit of measurement) barrels. Today 30 inch barrels are very common with an increasing trend to 32 inch barrels amongst many of the world best performers.

Trap (DTL): In Australia 30 inch barrels still are the barrel of choice, but 32 inch barrels are making great inroads in recent years since the angles and distance of targets have been reduced. In the United States where their version of DTL has even easier targets then the 32 inch barrel is considered normal with 34 inch and even 36 inch barrels being used.

Trap (Olympic / Double): 30 inch barrels have, and probably always will, be the barrels of choice. This is probably the reason why Australian shooters originally adopted 30 inch barrels for DTL shooting as most guns in the early years of trap shooting that were imported into Australia were from Europe. These were originally designed for the faster Olympic version of trap shooting. These guns were easily back then for DTL shooting in Australia which at one stage had angles of up to 45 degrees as opposed to todays 22.5 degrees and a further distance of 55 metres as compared to todays maximum of 46 metres.

Skeet (American): Many of the original skeet guns used here in Australia had barrels of 26 inches in length. 28 inches were then adopted, but there has been a trend to longer barrels with some 30 inch and now even 32 inches. For many beginners a 32 inch barrel skeet gun off stations two and six can be quite a hard length to master because of the fast swing that is required.

Skeet (International): Like Olympic Trap there has been little change from the traditional length, which for Olympic Skeet was 28 inches. Some have experimented with both longer and shorter barrels, but 28 inch is still the most popular length.

These are the most common barrel lengths for each event. As an all round length for a multiple discipline shotgun that has an adjustable stock and adjustable chokes then go with the 30 inch barrel as it is well suited for most events. If you could manage to get a set of 30 inch barrels with a barrel weight of around the 1.5kg plus or minus .05kg you will have a very versatile shotgun.

By far the biggest change we are seeing around the world is not a question of barrel length, but the height of the rib on top of the barrel. A basic flat rib barrel is fast becoming less than normal on many manufacturers shotguns in all disciplines. Some now do not even offer the flat rib as an option, which upsets the traditionalists in the sport, as the higher rib is distasteful in its appearance to many purists. I would argue time and time again to go with what ever set up hits you the most targets because as far as I am aware they don’t hand out medals based on how pretty your firearms look.

I am sure your SKB field gun is perfect for what it is designed for, but as you have been advised it is not ideal for all forms of clay target shooting. There are so many options available today so don’t be afraid to experiment outside the square, but remember that no shotgun or barrel length will be perfect for all events.

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