Ask Dr. Shotgun
Who is “Dr. Shotgun”™ you ask? Simply said, he is the answer to everything you ever wanted to know about shotguns, gunfitting and wingshooting... but have not known who to ask! “Dr. Shotgun”™ is here to help and serve. “Dr. Shotgun”™ has over 35 years of experience in the world of fine shotguns and he realized quite awhile back that many of the questions he’s fielded by his clients are repeated over and over and over again. Therefore, he will selectively answer your questions on the FIELDSPORT web site in a public forum. “Dr. Shotgun”™ has decided to help more than one dedicated Wingshooter at a time by publicly posting the answers to both commonly asked and difficult questions alike. If the good Dr. is stumped, he will dig deep into his group of Wingshooting friends and cronies to research and arrive at the correct answer for all.
So, fire away... e-mail “Dr. Shotgun”™ your questions and he will do his best to answer them, for the benefit of all.
Best Wishes & Good Shooting, “Dr. Shotgun”™
I'm left eye dominant and shoot right handed. I've never been comfortable shooting with an obscuration dot on my left shooting lens and have tried to compensate by grooving my mount and a shooting process with varying degrees of success. What do you typically recommend for shooters with this problem? - Tim L. Londonderry, NH
Considerate of your problem situation with desiring to shoot your shotgun well - and exactly where you are looking - while being a true right-handed shooter with a dominant left eye, trust me, you are not alone. Over the past forty years of coaching wingshooters, I have lost count of how many shooters need to deal with exactly the same situation… which is a major problem. If the problem is not identified or corrected, the shooter shoots appreciably left of every target in flight. For example, if the distance between your pupils is at least two inches or more, that gap could equate to shooting @ 3 or more feet left at 32 yards. That’s obviously a sufficient reason to miss a lot of game birds and targets in flight. So, what are some solutions to rectify your problem? Some of my answers are rather straight forward, others will take some significant time to implement.
First, let me address the simplest way to correct the cross-dominancy problem.
# 1: You can squint or close your left eye when attempting the shot. This option may work for you but my cautionary note is that when you squint or close the opposing eye, the temptation is to “aim” your shotgun. The term aim is based on looking at the bead or rib of the gun while executing the shot. Simply put, when and if you try to aim a shotgun, the tendency is to slow or stop the swing of the barrel in relationship to the bird or target in flight. If you try to implement one of these solutions, it would be advantageous to remove the bead of your shotgun and shoot a well fitted gun that has a stock dimension high enough for you, so your right eye can clearly focus on the target. The eye alignment I am describing looks like a “rising sun” on top of the rib when viewed from the muzzle end by your qualified gun fitter.
# 2: You noted that you are not comfortable wearing the small circle of translucent tape entitled either a Magic Dot or Magic Eye. A number of my bird hunting clients have stated the same concern. The translucent tape definitely creates a well-intended “blind spot” that interferes with view of the opposing problem eye. Safety and all-around awareness of one’s surroundings is crucial when walking through the fields and woods bird hunting, so your concern is valid. Clay target shooters on the other hand are in a much more controlled shooting environment, so the use of the Magic Dot is more conducive to the situation these shotgun shooters are experiencing. All is not lost. Two other new products have recently been introduced to the market that may be more beneficial and also help fix your problem. Both these translucent products are also meant to affix to the opposing (left) lens of your shooting glasses. These products are entitled, Shotspot and OFFEYE. The Shotspot is a virtually clear 16mm round piece of tape that has a checkerboard pattern of lines infused by computer that foil the eye. The naked eye can barely see the invisible lines; however, the pattern basically allows you to see through the tape, but, most importantly, not focus through the opposing eye. The bird hunters who I have applied the Shotspot for report back that they really liked the enhanced vision they experienced through the tape and found it very beneficial to their days afield. The OFFEYE product made by Birchwood Casey are optical filters that are a much larger set of adhesives, backed tape about the size of a normal lens. They are made with a more obvious black checker board pattern infused of various strengths. I have just started testing and trying this product with my clients, so I can’t give my final pro or con opinion at this time…but OFFEYE is definitely another option to consider.
# 3: Consider shooting a side by side shotgun. With side by side barrels you can position your leading hand and thumb so it deliberately obscures or blocks the vision of your strong left eye. Instead of holding the barrels with your thumb alongside the left barrels as normal, move your hand around the barrels so the meaty thumb pad is high and creates an obvious “blind spot”. It is easiest to move your leading hand around the barrels with a side by side shotgun when fitted with a splinter forearm. A barrel hand guard may also help you deliberately position your left hand high along the barrels. This positioning of the leading hand may be even easier with smaller gauge game guns like 20 & 28 bores. Ages ago, I saw a SxS barrel hand guard product in an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog - that had a 2” in diameter round disk fitted to it from the side. The disk was affixed at a 90-degree angle to the barrels and also blocked the vision of the left eye…I surmise. I have never seen one in person, but it may be worth a search for one.
# 4: Another way to shoot right handed with a dominant left eye is to shoot a shotgun with a well fitted, cross over stock. A shotgun that is fitted with a cross over stock resembles a radical hockey stock. The stock mounts from the right shoulder while the barrels align under the left eye. Fitting an individual for a cross over stock is very difficult. I have fitted two clients for cross over stocks. The dimensions are very difficult to achieve because of the multiple stock dimensions and variables that need to be dealt with. Expect to spend a half a day or more with your gun fitter if you are going to be fitted for a cross over stock. Making a cross over stock is quite costly and also a job for a very experienced stock maker.
# 5: One of the most difficult, yet tangible fix is to learn to shoot “left handed”. In my forty years of coaching, I have known only three shooters who have made the actual transition from shooting right handed to left handed. This solution is not easy to achieve. It will take your body & mind thousands of quality shots to make the “muscle memory” transition. You will also need a well fitted shotgun made for you as a left-hander, plus a good coach to help you through the transition. Your muscle memory can change, but it will take a lot of diligent practice to cross the long bridge from shooting right handed to left handed.
Well there you have it. These are a number of tangible, correctional efforts that you can consider and try in order to correct your problem of “cross eye dominancy”. I look forward to hearing from you and learning which option you find works the best for you.
I'm consistently shooting high. What are my options at resolving the problem as we go into hunting season? I have a feeling that adjusting the drop at the face of the stock or getting an adjustable comb may mean the gun is tied up until after the birds are long gone for the year. I can't afford to have my gun in for the adjustment for too long because the grouse season is not too far off now. Could a magic dot or a bit of moleskin on the stock simply solve the problem for the hunting season, or do I need to get refitted and get the gun adjusted properly - as soon as possible?
Dear “Over The Top”,
Shooting over the top or consistently high can either be a good thing or a bad thing. For most bird hunting type shots, a gun that shoots a couple inches high can be a true benefit and an advantage. The higher point of impact helps to build in natural lead for a rising bird (or target). Most game birds are rising if they have flushed from cover and are still accelerating by rapidly beating their respective wings. More often than not, sporting clays competitors today experience a different problem. Many targets today are presented to be shot at well past their apex and are dropping when shot. Therefore, a relatively flat shooting sporting clays gun will benefit the competitor who sees a lot of flat trajectory or dropping target presentations.
Unfortunately, none of the “gun fit” options you listed are going to help you one bit. An adjustable comb can really only help if you need to raise the point of impact or add and subtract some cast off/on at face. The reason you see a lot of adjustable combs on “trap” guns is because trap competitors benefit by shooting a high impacting gun. Single trap targets are typically shot under power and rising, thus the lead for elevation is built in with a trap gun that shoot 70%, 80% or even 90% high. Moleskin, in effect, accomplishes the same benefits to stock fit as does adding an adjustable comb.
If you’re lucky and your stock is presently too short for you (at length of pull) a simple change you could make to lower your point of impact is to add a recoil pad to lengthen the stock. Your face will therefore contact farther back and lower on the comb, thus lowering your eye alignment and respective point of impact.
Ultimately, the easiest and best way to lower your point of impact, is to have a proper gunfitting conducted for you, thereby determining your ideal stock dimensions. Then you can have your gun “bent” to your ideal drop at face and cast off/on at face and the l.o.p. altered as necessary. When stocks need to be bent by the hot oil method, the amount of time it takes a stock-bender to work his craft is typically two or three weeks. The biggest issue with any custom gunsmithing vs. turn around time normally relates to the time of year the work is submitted. It may take the stock bender only two or three days to complete the respective work on your gun, however if you send in your gun in early September and the gunsmith has 15 stock bends already booked ahead of your job, you see the reason for the delay. However, if you ask for the work to be conducted in the slower work months like JAN, FEB, or March the work may only take one week or so to complete. If all else fails, many gunsmiths offer a “rush order” fee. For an additional charge, the gunsmith is offering to burn the midnight oil and complete your stock bend as quickly as possible, without compromising his already booked clients. Simply put, don’t wait until bird season is only a few weeks away to deliver your gun to the stock bender, expecting to have the gun completed by opening day.
I hope my answer helps you decide what to do with your “shooting over the top” problem.
Good Luck & Good Shooting, Dr. Shotgun
I want to get my twelve-year old son started off on the right foot in shotgunning.
I don't believe in starting anyone at any age with a .410-bore or 28-gauge gun as I think these are tools for experts (if anyone), not beginners. My choice is the 20-gauge loaded with 7/8 ounces of shot at around 1200 feet per second--enough to hit targets and birds hard, but without too much recoil and muzzle blast (might be a good prescription for all of us).
I'm a traditionalist, so pumps and auto-loaders are out of the question, but should I start him with a side-by-side or over/under? I have a sense that if he learns to shoot with a double-triggered side-by-side he can add or switch to an over/under later with relative ease, but it might not be as easy for him to shoot two triggers and side-by-side barrels later if he starts with an over/under.
What are your thoughts on the right way to get him started?
Dear Mr. Phillips,
Thankfully, your question is one I receive frequently these days. First, thank you for taking a concerned view of how to properly start a youngster shotgun shooting. My number one words of advice revolve around the concern that your son is strong enough to properly lift (mount) the shotgun of choice to his face and shoulder. Secondly, gun fit becomes a major issue. Since 12-year olds are still growing, you could expect your son to need a higher comb than normally found on stocks made for adult shooters. A high number of youngsters that I have worked with need a Monte Carlo type stock to get the comb height they need, combined with a low enough drop at heel to get the entire sole of the butt stock comfortably seated in the shoulder pocket. Thirdly, check his eye dominancy. A lot of youngsters still have not established a true, dominant eye until they have gone totally through puberty. I would recommend he shoots from the side (shoulder) that he is the most coordinated. You will need to put a dime sized piece of scotch tape one his shooting glasses, blocking the view of the dominant eye (when the gun mount is completed) if he starts out shooting from the opposite shoulder, ie; left eye dominant yet very right hand dominant.
Your thoughts on a traditionalist view of gun selection is admirable. If you can make the gun fit, a nice 20 bore SxS with open chokes and double triggers is a great start. However, I would first check to see if his fingers are long enough or hand size large enough so he can comfortably reach the front trigger before starting him out on double triggers. If not, one simple option is to have him shoot the back trigger until he grows into the double trigger arrangement. Recoil wise, another good option is to purchase the Fiocchi 20 gauge 3/4 oz (1075 fps) trainer loads for use by your son. They are very soft shooting target loads.
As I'm sure you're aware, get a good pair of shooting & safety glasses for your son and always make sure he is wearing proper hearing protection. Keep the shooting sessions fun and relatively short, 1 hour or less. The target presentations should vary, encouraging gun movement and swinging. Higher, quartering incomers are great target presentations that instill gun movement, a lead picture and are becoming "easier" to hit the closer they become to the shooter. A perfect target to move, mount and shoot.
I've covered some of my basic concerns regarding teaching youngsters to shoot. If you would like more clarification on any of my highlighted points, please don't hesitate to call me. I would be happy to answer your questions in more detail.
Good Luck & Good Shooting, Dr. Shotgun