One thing that is often overlooked when introducing a new shooter to long-guns is the rifle or shotgun’s length of pull. The length of pull or LOP is the distance from the middle of the trigger to the end of the gun’s buttstock. It is one of the most important aspects of a gun’s dimensions and determines whether the gun will fit you. Meaning how comfortable the gun feels to you and how accurate you can shoot it. With the correct length of pull, you will have quick sight acquisition, better control, better accuracy, and feel more comfortable. Most rifles and shotguns are designed for the average adult male, but many of us, especially women, are not built like your average adult male. Therefore, you will find that many long guns will not feel comfortable when you go to take your first shot. You know you have found the right length of pull for you that when you go to shoulder the gun; your sight picture is right on target, your finger can easily reach the trigger, and you don’t have to strain your neck too far to rest on the gun’s cheek piece.
Every time you shoulder the gun properly, the barrel should be naturally pointing exactly where your dominant eye is targeting.
It is not a simple task getting your exact length of pull correct. There are many determining factors. For example, your overall size, how long or short your neck is, how puffy your cheeks are, the long gun’s drop at comb and heel, to even what you plan to wear when you shoot. The drop at heel is the length between the line of sight and the end of the buttstock. The drop at comb is the measurement between the line of sight and the comb of the stock. The comb is the top part of the gun’s stock where you rest your cheek.
Your correct length of pull actually has nothing to do with how long your arms are. There is an old wives’ tale saying the measurement between your thumb and elbow equals your correct length of pull. However, this is incorrect. The only way for a proper fit of your length of pull is by visiting a gun fitter. A gun fitter is different from a gunsmith. The gun fitter has a special type of long gun with a special adjustable stock called a fit gun. This service can be costly, time-consuming and difficult to find. High-end shotgunners are more likely to use this service than the average shooter. Because the vast majority of us are NOT high-end shotgunners and simply just looking for a gun we love to shoot, I will help you find your right length of pull.
When trying a rifle or shotgun you are considering purchasing, shoulder the gun exactly as you would if you were to shoot it. Have someone else measure the distance between your nose and thumb. There should be a one to one and half inch gap or about two finger widths of space between your nose and thumb. If there is more space than that, the length of pull is too long. If there is less space, the length of pull is too short.
If the length of pull on a long-gun is too short for you, your thumb may obstruct your line of sight. Further, if it is a scoped gun and the LOP is too short, you run the risk of the scope hitting you in the forehead. You might experience more felt recoil if the LOP is too short. If the length of pull is too long, the buttstock can get caught up in your clothing and can affect the speed of your shots. A too short or too long LOP will make the gun uncomfortable to shoot and most likely make you an inaccurate shooter.
The majority of guns come from the factory with a length of pull that is too short. This is okay, because it is easier and more affordable to make the LOP longer than it is to make the gun’s length of pull shorter. You can extend your long guns LOP with stock spacers and recoil or butt pads. To make a too long LOP shorter, you will more than likely have to take your gun to the gunsmith to cut down the stock.
Plenty of guns come with an adjustable length of pull. The Mossberg 100ATR bolt-action rifle and Mossberg’s 500 Super Bantam shotgun include an adjustable length of pull system. Remington’s 11-87 and 870 Youth shotguns have an adjustable length of pull. In addition, Weatherby’s Vanguard Youth bolt-action rifles have an adjustable length of pull. Further, guns like the AR-15 with collapsible stocks have an adjustable length of pull. Aftermarket accessories, such as stock spacers and Remington’s adjustable length of pull system for shotguns will also help adjust an ill-fitting factory gun. Magpul’s PRS stock with adjustable length of pull also has an adjustable cheek piece. Pachmayr’s slip-on recoil pads are an excellent way to extend your length of pull when you are wearing a thinner shirt.
Many of us end up adapting to the gun’s length of pull. Others prefer an “incorrect” length of pull. It comes down to you. Are your shots accurate? Are you comfortable? Do you enjoy shooting the gun? If your answer is yes, then shoot on! If your answer is no, try adjusting your gun’s length of pull and see if that helps.