The importance of rifle fit

James Sutcliffe

James Sutcliffe

James Sutcliffe is BASC’s deer officer. He has over 10 years’ experience of recreational and professional deer stalking and gamekeeping. He has spent time guiding in New Zealand and managing wild boar and red stags in Germany. James is a keen rifle and shotgun shooter who enjoys working his Labradors throughout the game shooting season.

As we all know, getting a gun that fits properly will help your shooting in leaps and bounds. However, when it comes to rifles we often neglect this important aspect which can lead to some bad habits creeping in that will affect your accuracy. Whether it be deer stalking or target shooting, rifle fit is important! 

Cheek welds

Firstly, one of the most important factors is your cheek weld. This is a fancy way of saying that your head should be in proper contact with the stock when firing, while maintaining the proper picture through your sights.

I struggle with this aspect more than any other as I am cursed (or blessed) with a long neck and high cheekbones. This often means that when my head is comfortably on the stock, I’m looking far too low and often at the back of the scope mounts. There are many ways to resolve this issue:

  1. Choose your stock design carefully

    Many of the American stock designs (the likes of Remington, Winchester, Savage, Kimber etc.) feature very straight and low combs. If you need a higher comb look at other designs with either Monte Carlo stock shapes or shaped cheek pieces.

  2. Go adjustable

    I’m a huge fan of adjustable combs on rifles and many manufacturers now offer them on their guns. They can be retrofitted to many rifles and will allow very precise head positioning.

  3. Go low

    Fitting your scope in lower mounts/rings can also help to get it where you need it, just bear in mind your objective lens size will only let you go so low.

  4. Do it yourself

    You can buy a variety of comb raisers and stock pouches that will raise your comb height. Often, they are a bit ‘tactical’ looking for me, but are no doubt fit for purpose. Personally, I use pipe lagging foam and duct tape to get my head to the right height. It certainly isn’t the prettiest, but it works and it’s cheap.

Shape and design

The overall shape and design of the stock can vary hugely from rifle to rifle, and it’s always worth thinking about your needs before you buy. For instance, I know a chap that bought a very heavy ‘varmint’ style rifle. This had a very wide and flat forend, a steep and chunky pistol grip and weighed about 10lb before you added the scope, moderator and ammunition.

He then proceeded to take this rifle stalking for muntjac and soon found that it was not the best of choices. On the flipside, you don’t see many target shooters using standard stalking rifles for their sport.

Weight and balance

Not particularly an issue of rifle fit but still worth mentioning is the weight and balance. Big heavy rifles tend to give steadier shots from stable positions but aren’t the nicest to carry around. The opposite can be said of lightweight rifles. Most, if not all of us, will end up fitting a moderator to our rifles and this will change the balance. Often, it’s barely noticeable, but sometimes it can make a big difference.

I once had a long-barrelled and lightweight rifle and opted to fit a steel moderator to it. It was the ‘muzzle can’ design, not an over-barrel option, and not only did it ruin the balance and feel of the rifle, it made it far too long when carrying, and when shooting from a bipod the extra weight to the muzzle coupled with a forend that wasn’t the most rigid meant that the barrel would touch the forend and open up my groupings massively.

Length of pull

The length of pull of the rifle is also worth bearing in mind, as a stock that’s too short will result in some uncomfortable shooting, and one that’s too long can make it hard to reach the trigger. You want your hand to be comfy and the pad of your trigger finger just after the last joint to be on the trigger blade.

Most rifles have a standard length that will suit most people but be aware that adding/changing recoil pads may tip the length of pull into the ‘too long’ category – as can heavier clothes in winter.

Scope positioning

The positioning of the scope is a hugely key factor in rifle shooting. You want to fit the scope to where it works with your natural/comfortable head position, not manipulate your head and neck to look for a clear picture. Once in place you are looking for a completely clear image through the scope. No black areas around the edges of the picture and, once focussed, a clear image and crosshair. Keep a close eye on your eye relief (the space between the scope lens and your eye) with larger rifle calibres.

Many of us will have experienced “scope kiss” where the scope hits your eyebrow on recoil and it’s not pleasant. I have heard one story of an American chap using a .375 Holland and Holland to hunt moose. He had ignored the advice of his gunsmith and guide and had the scope almost touching his eyebrow. Upon firing, the scope hit his eye, fractured his skull and after surgery he lost the eye. An extreme example, but it reinforces the message!

Get the right fit

If all the above boxes are ticked, you should have a rifle that fits suitably and feels comfortable to hold. A good way to test this is to set up the rifle as if you were taking a prone shot, (either from bags or a bipod). Obviously, make sure that its unloaded and pointed in a safe direction with the bolt removed.

Close your eyes and mount the rifle to your shoulder so that you are comfortable with how everything feels. Open your eyes, you should hopefully be looking down the scope with a clear picture and your finger placed correctly on the trigger. Granted, it will take a fair bit of tweaking to achieve this, but hopefully your shooting will improve once you do.