I can't remember where I read it. It was months ago, and I don't recall if it was in one of the sporting-clays-oriented magazines or a general shooting publication. Perhaps it was on one of the Websites that are ostensibly dedicated to helping people improve their game. I also can't recall whether it was simply a brief comment about something previously written or part of a complete article. What I do remember, though, is that I recognized the name of the guy who wrote it as someone who should have known better.
Basically, what he said was that a proper gunfit is a waste of time and money for the vast majority of sporting clays shooters. His rationale was that most shooters, essentially, are not dedicated to improving, that they are too imperfect and inconsistent mechanically, and that they would be better off spending money on lessons rather than a fitting. According to him, all they really need is to find a factory gun with measurements that come reasonably close, because they wouldn't know or appreciate the difference between such a gun and one that fits exactly anyway. I remember thinking the guy was nuts or had an ulterior motive, because I clearly recalled how much a proper fit had added to my shooting way back when. There are several methods that fitters use to come up with proper measurements, and I'm not going to pretend to be expert enough to declare one better than another. Some guys use try-guns to great effect. Others, like Englishman Barry Anscombe-who fit my old Browning 325 Plus using nothing more than a ruler, his hands and his eyes as I shot a variety of targets-make it seem almost like black magic. And then there are those, like my friend Mike Sherman of PMS Firearms, in Salisbury, North Carolina, who employ the point-of-impact method, which, to quote Sherman, "includes fitting and instruction to mold you and the gun into one functional unit." A brief side note here: Recently, gunfitting has become a fertile ground for some less-than-scrupulous people. Therefore, be wary of anyone whose entire process consists of looking at you while you mount the gun and swing it a couple of times on imaginary targets and then declares that you need this, that and the other thing done to the stock. By the time you cut through the smokescreen of the sales pitch and realize that a chop saw and disk sander aren't the preferred tools of stockfitting, it's too late. And it hurts even more when you're handed a job that a beaver would reject after you've already forked over a pile of hard-earned cash. Back to the point-of-impact method, let me take you on an abbreviated trip through the process so you can see how it's more than just a cut-and-dried procedure. According to Sherman, "Fitting is 80 percent mental and only 20 percent physical," so it makes sense that the first step of the initial three-hour (give or take) session takes place in a classroom-type setting. The purpose is to get the client to comprehend the principal elements of shotgun dynamics and to delve into how a person's physical, mental and visual makeup enable him to break a target with this somewhat-clumsy foreign object held to his shoulder. Sherman begins by explaining how the subconscious and conscious work together to allow a shooter to focus on a target with the conscious mind and then turn over the real work to the subconscious. To illustrate how it all happens, he incorporates several mental games and exercises that show how focus, the conscious and the subconscious all perform in concert. Next comes the beginning of the "tangible" part of the process. Sherman first explains how the feet and body and the actual technique of bringing the gun to the face and shoulder all work together. Then the explanation is turned into practice as he works with the client on a good fundamental gun mount. Stance is frequently an issue at this point, and Sherman tends to preach one that is more open than newer shooters ever consider. The "rifleman's stance," adopted by so many rifle shooters because of the way they were taught to shoot with a .22, simply isn't workable, because it severely restricts movement. For experienced shooters, stance usually isn't an issue, because they've either been coached or have learned the hard way that a restricted stance is counterproductive. With them, Sherman's main areas of attention are getting the gun butt solidly into the shoulder pocket (which also helps prevent damage to the joint) and having the body provide maximum movement throughout the target's range. Next comes the initial physical part of the gunfit, and it begins with a trip to the patterning board. Sherman, as you would expect from someone who's been involved in the process for more than a decade and a half, abides by the universal "16-yard" maxim when using the patterning board. He first has the client "rifle" several shots at the dot in the center of the board to confirm that the gun itself is shooting to point of aim. (You'd be surprised how many don't.) This also helps to loosen up the client. The next step is to shoot a series of shots beginning from the low-gun position. How many are necessary depends on how relaxed the client is and how "natural" he is in approaching the task. Trying to be too precise, which is obvious to trained eyes, defeats the purpose. The next step is to move from the patterning board to targets. Sherman keeps it simple, using straight outgoing and incoming targets, because the object is not to see if the client can hit the targets but rather how he hits them and how the gun acts in response to his body. Sherman is looking at three critical components during this step. First, he is watching the comfort of the shooter. Is the stock slapping the shooter's cheekbone or only partially going into the shoulder pocket? Second, is the shooter's dominant eye centered over the gun's rib and, in turn, is it centered over the core of the pattern? And third, is the gun perpendicular to the plane of the target and not being canted? A canted gun, though useful on a handful of target presentations by those at the upper end of the skill spectrum, is not a benefit to the average shooter, because it does not portray an accurate line. By this time, three hours or more have passed and the client heads back to the motel, done for the day, while Sherman works on the gun's stock dimensions. The next morning they meet again, this time with the newly fitted gun. Sherman reviews the gun-mounting process to get the client comfortable with the changes, then it's back to the patterning board and targets to confirm the fit. If adjustments need to be made at this point, they are minor. When Sherman is satisfied that the gun's point of impact is dead on the target line, it's back to the classroom, where he gives the client homework. This consists of a short series of exercises designed to improve overall shooting technique and increase the ability to focus. It's not coaching, and Sherman makes a point of clearly stating he's not a shooting instructor. Rather it's part of the process of increasing the client's understanding of the physical, mental and visual interrelationships in shooting dynamics. Sherman compares it to building a house. "I set up the transit and run the strings to make sure it's square, and I dig and pour the footers," he said. "Then I give the client the concrete blocks and the mortar and, most importantly, the information on how to build a solid foundation. Without a solid foundation, you can't build a house that's square-or build a good shooting program. On the other hand, with a solid, square foundation, when something goes wrong or gets out of kilter, you can always go back to that foundation to put things back in order." The point-of-impact fitting method is geared toward the beginning to intermediate shooter, and it works as well for game shooters as it does for sporting clays shooters. Sherman adjusts some of the process, however, like adding a touch of unpredictability to the shooting part of the program for game shooters, to simulate how things actually happen in the field. The entire fitting process takes about five hours over the course of two days. The cost is $300 for the session plus the normal fees for whatever alterations must be done to the gun's stock. Obviously, bending a stock for cast-off or -on is going to cost more than adjusting the pitch. Generally speaking, though, the stockwork is a bargain. And the final product is absolutely first rate. I always have been an uncompromising advocate of the value of a proper gunfit, even if you only shoot recreationally. And I've written more than a few times that it's essential for every shooter to develop a solid foundation of fundamentals if he is going to improve and progress. Mike Sherman and the point-of-impact method do the same thing in a more hands-on and immediate way. When you're done, you'll have a solid understanding of why a gun shoots where it does. But more important, you'll have a gun that shoots where you look. And that, my friend, is the most critical factor in shooting well. Author's Note: For more information about point-of-impact gunfitting, contact Mike Sherman, PMS Firearms, 704-637-1477; www.pmsfirearms.com.
- By: Barry G. Davis