Sunday, 2 March 2014

Fat Woman and the fitting problem

Fat Woman owns a shotgun. Actually, Fat Woman owns three shotguns, a 12G Browning 425, a Baikal side by side and a 20G Beretta for Thin Husband. Thin Husband doesn't yet have a shotgun licence and likes to remind Fat Woman that if she divorces him she might have her guns confiscated. Fat Woman tolerates this kind of talk because she cannot imagine wanting to divorce a man who not only supports her shooting but doesn't sulk for days when she shoots better than him. It is also true.

Fat Woman's first and primary shotgun is the Browning 425. Fat Woman fell in love with Personal Trainer's DT10 but that was probably because it was stock heavy and was easy for her to shoot with. That gun was coming out of Personal Trainer's cold dead hands, so Fat Woman spent a while going into gun shops and picking up guns. Fat Woman didn't like the Silver Pigeon because of how the forestock felt in her hand but was encouraged to try the Browning 525. Fat Woman ended up with a second hand 425 because it was slightly nicer to hold than the 525s she tried and also was a grade V that was cheaper than the second hand grade 1 525s.

Fat Woman shot with her gun for a month and then went to get it fitted. Fat Woman knew that she might change things as a beginner, but she reasoned that her arms weren't going to get any longer. The CPSA shooting instructor and the CPSA shooting coach that were in charge of Fat Woman's initial shooting experiences recommended a local gun smith and oversaw the fitting process. Fat Woman was measured and the gun was taken away. When the gun was returned to Fat Woman it had a suitably short (13") stock and a Kickeze recoil pad on the end. Fat Woman liked her Kickeze recoil pad very much, although not as much as the Isis recoil pads she has since tried. Fat Woman shot well with her new gun, put in a 39 at her first registered shoot and went about her business. Fat Woman still remembers how proud she was to take her own gun to the Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club at A1 Shooting Ground, and how shocked she was when this made her part of the "experienced" group. That was when Fat Woman won her first rosette and made her bestest shooting chums.

The following month Fat Woman broke all ties with the CPSA instructor and coach because the coach had a massive strop that Thin Husband wasn't learning to shoot immediately and said also kinds of disgusting things to Thin Husband about not bothering to try again. Thanks to the community at www.shootclay.co.uk Thin Husband was reassured that the issue was with the coach not him and was very kindly offered a free lesson by the gentleman who became known to Fat Woman as Shooting Coach. Shooting Coach had Thin Husband hitting two thirds of the clays within an hour. This blog post is not about Thin Husband's shooting, but Fat Woman can report that after a few more lessons Thin Husband knows he can shoot and Shooting Coach will forever have Fat Woman's gratitude for being amazing at instilling confidence in nervous people. The CPSA were utterly useless in providing any help at all in dealing with this situation, and would not give Fat Woman any details of any formal complaints process, so if you are looking for a CPSA coach through their directory and want to check in as to which person it was, ask Fat Woman through Twitter (@fat_woman).

Fat Woman didn't need a coach for the next few months as she had her Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club membership. At every Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club event Fat Woman got to shoot with a coach and as there were lots of events over the Spring at lots of different grounds Fat Woman got experience working with lots of different coaches. Fat Woman discovered that not only did she like shooting she also liked the little bits of ribbon and cardboard that she got for winning. Fat Woman started working harder at shooting when she realised that she was outclassed in the cake competitions.

By the end of May Fat Woman was feeling the need for some more focussed help, and as she was going to be driving Thin Husband to his shooting lesson she booked herself in with Shooting Coach. Happy months passed where Fat Woman would turn up and say to Shooting Coach "I need a remedial lesson on teals/rising going away birds/crossers/quartering crossers/quartering crossers again/still more quartering crossers" and they would spend the next hour on that subject. Fat Woman felt she was getting the hang of the stick that goes bang, even if she still doesn't shoot teals on the way up like she should. Fat Woman couldn't get the hang of going gun down like some of her friends did, but wasn't too worried about this as shooting gun up for English sporting clays is fine and she was hitting things. Once Fat Woman got her shooting glasses sorted there was no stopping her.

In September Fat Woman was recruited for inter-county shooting. Fat Woman is a woman and a CPSA member and can stand unaided and thus qualified for a smart shooting vest with the name of her county team. Fat Woman was needed as a warm body in case of someone else not turning up, but didn't mind that because of the aforementioned shooting vest. Fat Woman agreed to do this, but then realised the magnitude of what she had agreed to and begged Shooting Coach to teach her skeet. Shooting Coach was very tolerant of Fat Woman going into meltdown at the thought of humiliation on an inter-counties stage and spent a lesson helping Fat Woman to shoot skeet. Fat Woman is not accustomed to being scared of something - mostly because she doesn't usually bite off more than she can chew -  and badly needed both the lesson and the patience from Shooting Coach. Also the extra patience. After nursing Fat Woman through the early stages of learning skeet all Shooting Coach needed was a break from Fat Woman.

Fat Woman was put in touch with a woman whom she refers to as Skeet Coach, although Skeet Coach also excels at lots of trap disciplines. Skeet Coach taught Fat Woman to shoot skeet according to geometric principles. On the first lesson Skeet Coach spotted that Fat Woman had never mastered mounting her gun and got Fat Woman to change her hand position on the forestock. Fat Woman was amazed at the difference it made. Skeet Coach said what Fat Woman had been doing wasn't wrong per se, but she herself had had the same issue so she recognised it. All was going well until Fat Woman brought the wrong gun with her, a 20G to a ground that only sold 12G cartridges. Skeet Coach kindly let Fat Woman use her Browning B25.

Fat Woman shot like an angel that day.

Fat Woman shot so well with that B25 that watching skeet shooters were complimenting Skeet Coach on how well Fat Woman was doing and saying she was one to watch. Fat Woman can still remember how utterly amazing it felt to have everything working the way it should do. Of course, it all went to pot at the next lesson.

Skeet Coach is an analytical person. When Fat Woman's went from wunderkind to witless in the space of a week Skeet Coach wanted to know exactly why. Skeet Coach compared the two guns, which both being Brownings were superficially similar, same length of barrels, same stock length, very similar grip, similar trigger position and so on. Then Skeet Coach looked at the thing that differentiated the fit, and threw a fit. The stock of Fat Woman's gun had been undercut so badly that it was impossible for Fat Woman to mount to gun into her shoulder. Fat Woman had had no idea that this was a problem; she assumed it had been done because she had large breasts, and no one had ever said differently. Skeet Coach wanted to know who had done this heinous thing to a poor defenceless gun, and when Fat Woman told her, Skeet Coach had a few choice words to say about how that gunsmith was known for undercutting women's stocks and shouldn't be allowed near a gun. Skeet Coach used words like "sexist" and "old fashioned" and was crosser than when Fat Woman didn't switch her feet between shooting H4 and L4.

When Fat Woman had further problems during a registered skeet doubles competition due to her gun stock now being too short for her because of weight loss, Skeet Coach declared that something had to be done and introduced Fat Woman to a trusted gunsmith who was kind enough to put a temporary fix on Fat Woman's gun in the form of a big light wedge of wood. Fat Woman went off and shot the skeet competition and was very glad she had done all the panicking and practising because although she wasn't last, or even second or third or fourth last, it was a damn close thing. So close that it took Fat Woman two weeks to actually check her scores. The ladies team came second, so Fat Woman got a badge anyway but Fat Woman knows that she isn't very good at skeet really.

Fat Woman went off and shot her gun with its temporary fix and was feeling reasonably happy with it. Then Fat Woman started losing weight again and the gun started feeling wrong. The first time her gun slapped her in the face Fat Woman felt like her own dog had bitten her and couldn't understand what had changed. At her last social shoot Fat Woman felt like she was fighting the gun the whole way around the course. Fat Woman clung to what Shooting Coach always said ("It's not the gun, it's you") and arranged to do some back-to-basics practice on crossers with a friend. At the shooting ground Fat Woman ran into the gentleman from the shop who had suggested the Browning 525 to her as a suitable gun and enquired if they sold lead tape; she was unhappy with how front heavy her gun was. The salesman whisked Fat Woman inside and filled her stock full of lead shot. Fat Woman was happy about this because not only was the balance much better (a) it was a temporary measure and (b) it wasn't going to rattle because it was absolutely full of lead. Salesman got Fat Woman to mount the gun and that was when the problem started.

Since Fat Woman's got her shooting glasses her gun mount has always been based around her sight picture. Fat Woman has two beads on her barrel so closes one eye and rifles up the gun. Then she opens her eyes and stops looking at the gun, trusting that the gun will be pointing where she is looking. This means Fat Woman is bending herself around the gun, and sometimes twisting the gun as well to make the beads line up. Salesman declared that Fat Woman was shooting a left handed gun. Fat Woman was massively taken aback on the grounds that no one had mentioned that before. Salesman proved it to Fat Woman, by getting her to mount the gun properly into her shoulder instead of next to her neck where she usually does, when it looked to Fat Woman the barrels were pointing off to the left, and then with a plumb line. Fat Woman was pretty sure it wasn't a left handed gun when she bought it, because surely someone would have said something? but Salesman said it happens sometimes with central heating.

Salesman then wanted Fat Woman to give her gun to his gunsmith, but something about the conversation and the lack of measurements made Fat Woman uncomfortable. Fat Woman texted Shooting Coach to ask if she should give her gun to that gunsmith and Shooting Coach replied back instantly saying that he wouldn't trust the guy with his second best broom. This was particularly nice of Shooting Coach who was in the middle of a big international competition. Fat Woman made excuses about needing her gun to shoot right then, and took the cowardly way out and simply didn't go back that day. Shooting Coach said by text that he couldn't do anything without seeing the gun but that it was odd that it suddenly needed changing. Fat Woman felt that she had not been moaning enough to Shooting Coach if that's what he thought.

By the time Fat Woman had been out for an hour of serious practice her frustration was reaching nuclear levels. Fat Woman felt utterly trapped in a loop, where the gun didn't fit her so she wasn't holding it properly, but then she was holding it properly she couldn't get the right sight picture because the gun didn't fit her. Fat Woman knows from the principles of evolution that the egg must have come before the chicken, but she definitely couldn't work out which issue about her gun needed addressing first.

Fat Woman felt that she was on the verge of not loving her gun any more. This made Fat Woman very sad as she had thought she would be with Gravy (Browning) until she made A class i.e. forever.

It was left to Skeet Coach to provide Fat Woman with some perspective.
"Cast is left handed? So what? you were shooting fine with it before."
"Of course it doesn't fit you if you've lost that amount of weight off your face. "
"You're a beginner, of course your first gun is going to need altering as you learn more."
"You've probably developed horrible habits that need sorting out before we worry about the gun."
"What does the balance matter? "
"Yes, the stock is too short, you knew that back in October. It's probably even worse now if you've lost more weight."
"Every time you change the gun needs changing. "
"Don't ask advice from gun shop salespeople."

Skeet Coach didn't actually use the phrase "don't be stupid!" but Fat Woman could feel it floating around in the ether. Regardless, Fat Woman felt reassured that Skeet Coach and Shooting Coach said much the same thing.

Fat Woman met up with Skeet Coach at a new shooting ground to shoot some trap. Skeet Coach knows everybody and asked the ground owner to have a look at Fat Woman's gun fit. The ground owner said that Fat Woman needed lots of cast to the right in order to make the gun fit. Fat Woman felt like puzzle pieces were dropping into place. Ten minutes later Fat Woman was introduced to a gunsmith who came with recommendations from friends with very expensive guns. Gunsmith came up with a marvellous solution for Fat Woman's gun; he had a back plate that you could angle to suit. In just five minutes Fat Woman was mounting the gun and Gunsmith was altering it to fit. It took Fat Woman a while to twig but finally she worked out that Gunsmith wanted her to mount the gun as it should be mounted so he could adjust the gun to the mount, rather than Fat Woman adjusting herself to the gun. Skeet Coach stood over Fat Woman and corrected her every time she made yet another beginner mistake such as not moving her head forward enough or tilting her head. Eventually Fat Woman had a proper sight picture. Then Gunsmith took Fat Woman outside to shoot some teals. Fat Woman shot six teals perfectly in the middle and felt like she wanted to go and shoot another hundred birds. Finally after more than a year of ownership Fat Woman had a gun that fitted! Fat Woman could mount her gun into the shoulder where it should be, and didn't have to balance it further in.

Fat Woman was massively grateful to Gunsmith who didn't even charge her because he was so disgusted at what had been done by the first gunsmith. Fat Woman was especially sorry that she forgot to mention her stock was full of loose lead shot before Gunsmith took the back pad off. Fat Woman was also grateful to Skeet Coach who spent  so much time working with Fat Woman on the issue. Fat Woman really feels like she has broken out of the vicious cycle.

Of course nothing in life is perfect. The left hand cast of the wood has not changed, only the angle of the back plate so Fat Woman's stock is now pressed so firmly into her face she worries for the safety of her teeth. Fat Woman's gun is now heavier than a DT11 as it has a stock full of lead, so it's a good thing Fat Woman can lift heavy things. And to be utterly honest the whole contraption looks a mess. However, Fat Woman is going to have to live with a messy gun until she settles at a maintenance weight. Fat Woman doesn't care so long as she has a gun that works for her. Fat Woman likes shooting but it's not so much of a priority for her that she would give up increasing her fitness for it.

Fat Woman isn't sure how much of the initial stock butchering was prejudice about women and how much was prejudice about fat women, but she is very, very, very glad to have got to the bottom of all the issues that have been bothering her for a year. Now Fat Woman should be able to get a consistent gun mount, and that means perhaps eventually she might be able to shoot clays gun down. And as Skeet Coach said, once you know what a correctly fitted gun should feel like you'll know the minute it goes wrong as well.

Fat Woman can't wait to go and shoot again.

Fat Woman would like to offer the following guidance on gun fitting for women:

  • Do not cut the toe off a stock just because women have breasts. If you take a really good luck at actual natural breasts (as opposed to the silicone ones you see in porn movies and the airbrushed ones in porn magazines) they don't usually really start until after the place where a gun should sit. Look at the person to whom you're actually fitting the gun. Do what's right for them and their actual body, not some prejudice you have in your head. Oh, and look with your eyes, not your hands.
  • If you're mounting a gun so someone can see if it fits you, prioritise mounting it into your shoulder. Fat Woman has had loads of people fail to notice that her gun wasn't in the right place. Then work out what you can see. 
  • Know what sight picture you're aiming for before you get your gun fitted. Fat Woman found these double images pictures very helpful in knowing what her options are.
  • Find someone to help you with fit who will make sure you have a proper gun hold AND have the right eye position in relation to the gun. Fat Woman needed two people at once for this. 
  • Don't think that because someone has a coaching qualification from a recognised shooting body it means that they know what they are doing. It means they paid a lot of money and passed a course.

1 comment:


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