Most of us remember our first rifle. Like many women I know, most were probably gifted an old faithful style of rifle from a family member or close friend, like I was. The excitement was exhilarating — you finally had your first rifle to go out to the range, practice and potentially pursue wild game with the guys.
My first rifle was a hand-me-down BSA (Birmingham Small Arms Company) in a 270 Win., mounted with Weaver rings and a World Class Plus Tasco 3-9Xx44, which came with character. The old wood stock was far too long for me, even though I am somewhat tall with long arms. It just did not fit right, so my father had to modify it. He used his trusty yellow paint marker to outline where the stock needed to be shortened to, cut it with a band saw and attached a Limbsaver to the butt of the stock for recoil absorption. I was so proud and still cherish this rifle, even with the remanence of yellow paint still on it. It fit me fine, but it didn’t really fit me properly because I just didn’t know any better. I desired better accuracy, less anticipation of recoil and more enjoyment in target shooting so that I could be a lot more confident in the field.
People tend to overlook the fit of a rifle in general. I see it all the time in our store, Westside Stores, and on social media, “Which gun should I purchase? Which is better?” It really comes down to shouldering it. Does it feel comfortable? What is your price range? What are you wanting out of the rifle? Bench shooting? Are you going to hunt with it? What species of game are you wanting to hunt? What finish would you like? What style of rifle do you like? Today, there are so many possibilities and price points for rifles available out there. So, what is the right fit to consider and why?
The goal here is that a rifle should fit the intended shooter comfortably, every time, in any given shooting position, to deliver the greatest level of downrange accuracy so that proper marksmanship will lead to a well-placed shot.
For people who are built with a smaller stature, the length of pull is a great starting point. This is measured from the butt of the stock to the trigger shoe. The length of pull directly affects how the shooter shoulders a rifle and the ability to manipulate the bolt. Ideally, you want the butt of the stock to fit the pocket of your shoulder. If you find your arms too far forward, your head potentially may not align with the scope properly. This rifle would be considered too long for you. If it is too short, your head will be much too close to the scope and could result in scope bite. Ouch!
Check to see if your trigger finger hand fits comfortably. This is done by making sure there is not a lot of hand stretch from the trigger to where your hands wrap around and grasp the stock on the grip. You want to be able to squeeze the trigger and not just pull it. Potentially, if there is too much stretch from the hand to the trigger, the rifle could have more recoil, leading to pulled shots and less accuracy.
Check your face positioning or cheek weld on the comb of the stock when shouldering the rifle. Does your cheek align on the stock properly to look down the barrel? Are you having to lift your head? If you are having to lift your head, you may require a different stock or an aftermarket cheek piece like Limbsaver to rest your cheek on so that you are more aligned and consistent when coming into your rifle. Some of the stocks now have a check piece that moves up and down, like some of the Browning X-Bolts. Another style of stock that is growing in popularity with women is the Monte Carlo, with a built-in cheek comb that’s great for our higher cheek bones. Weatherby Camillia in a Vanguard or Mark V are a prime example of a rifle that has been designed by women, for women to shoot.
I strongly encourage you to go into your local firearms dealer to shoulder various rifle models, either in short or long actions of your choice. It is useful to consider some recommendations from your friends; however, take the time to work through the rifle rack. Find the one rifle that fits you like the perfect shoe. That rifle fit will reward you with range accuracy, which will translate to field confidence with practice.