Basic But Important Shotgun Tips: Mastering Comb, Cast, And Length Of Pull

John Vehr, Timney Triggers, busting a pheasant in South Dakota

Article and photos by Larry Case

Dave Miller, shooting pro from CZ-USA, shooting clays
Chris Ellis, Ellis Communications, hunting with Remington and Timney Triggers, South Dakota Pheasant hunt

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” Winston Churchill

I relate many of the aspects of our life here on this earth to hunting, shooting and the like. I don’t think I am alone in the concept of this; if I am not hunting or shooting, I am probably thinking about it.

So in pondering about the world of shotguns the other day, I came up with this. It has always seemed to me that shotgunners, more than any other type of shooter, take the lead in wanting to improve their shooting. I have actually been wrong about things a few times, and I may be wrong about this, but take a look at the gargantuan amount of material, books and videos that are out there on making you a better shotgun shooter.

It just appears to me that rifle shooters do not have the “fire in the belly” that scattergun people do to improve. Could it be that it is just more difficult to shoot a shotgun well? Boy howdy, Richard Mann (a rifle marksman) will love that! Now before everybody goes crazy on me here, let me say this, I like rifles too! I own several; pistols and revolvers as well. I am just submitting to you that more practice and skill is involved in shooting a shotgun well than in shooting a rifle. Oh well, that will give everybody something to talk about at the barber shop and the gun range.

You should know by now that your humble shotgun scribe is trying hard to bring you what you want in the world of shotgun illumination. I have a theory that most of you out there, and I readily include myself in this category, just want some simple tips on how to improve our shooting for the time that we do have to hunt (given, that this time is never enough).
Some of us are going to shoot clays occasionally, and we know that it is good practice, but how can we make our clay shooting relate to bird hunting scenarios? I really think that is what a lot of our scattergunners out there want, “help me improve so I can do better in the field.”

Here comes Dave Miller, shotgun pro at CZ-USA, to the rescue. Dave has been involved in several videos that emphasize this point. I will give you the boiled-down version of Dave’s tips on this, then you can watch the videos for yourself.

Get your body in position for the shot. This may be the essence of what Dave is teaching here. If we have had any instruction at all on the trap, skeet, or sporting clays course, we know that you need to be aligned properly, have your body pointed in the correct position to make any particular shot. Same goes in the bird field, you hear this from bird hunters all the time, bet you have said it yourself: “I can’t believe that bird came out when I was all twisted up trying to cross that ditch!”

Take the time to get set up for the shot. OK, stay with me here, you are in the above situation with crossing the ditch, in a “twisted-up” position. What Dave is telling us is take the time to get properly set up for the shot. The important thing to remember here is that we do have the time to get set for the shot. I really had to preach this to myself many years ago, (and still do).


Here is the deal, and I want you to give this some thought. Think about how fast the bird is actually flying. I’m not talking about how fast he LOOKS  like he is flying. Hey, I grew up trying to hit a ruffed grouse; first they would scare you to death coming up, and then all you would see is a brown blur that you could never catch up with.

shotgun6-SOUTH DAKOTA PHEASEANT, REMINGTON 1100Thing was, I THOUGHT  I could never catch up with it. The bird guys tell us that a ruffed grouse can reach 50 miles per hour in flight; a ring-necked pheasant almost that fast. I am always a little fuzzy on some the wildlife facts that you read. How did they measure that? But OK, let’s say that is right, 45 to 50 mph for either bird. How fast is the shot traveling from your average shot shell? We are told everything between maybe 1,145 to 1,400 feet per second, which gives us between 780 to 900 miles per hour. No matter how fast that rooster looks like he is going, boys and girls, he ain’t going that fast!

Back to what Dave Miller is trying to teach us, he is saying that you have plenty of time to set up for the shot; take that step to the right or left so that you may align yourself for the shot.

shotgun1Practice all this with the shot gun that you are going to hunt with and wear your hunting attire. It should go without saying, but I am, that you are going to practice with the gun that you will be hunting with. Don’t take your sporting clays gun with 30-inch barrels and an extra 4 pounds to the range, and then when opening day comes around, pull out that snappy little 20 gauge that feels like you are carrying a BB gun. Also, try wearing your hunting coat or vest when you do this, you want everything to “feel” the same when the time comes to play for keeps.

Speaking of feeling, let’s talk about this. It is very important when you mount the shotgun that it “feels” right. What we are talking about here is gun fit. Volumes upon volumes have been written about this by wiser men than me, but I would say this: The basic factors of gun fit are length of pull (distance from the rear of the stock to the trigger). OK, I said that about end of the stock to the trigger, but what is really important is the distance between the knuckle of the thumb and the nose when the shooter has the gun mounted. Did you get that?

Mount the shotgun as you normally would and notice how far the knuckle on your thumb is from the end of your nose. It should be about two finger widths in distance. If it is more than that, the stock is too long; if it less, the stock is too short.

Next is drop at comb, which is the part of the stock that your cheek comes into contact with when you mount the gun. If you cannot look directly down the rib when you mount the gun, lining up the beads if you have two, the drop at comb is incorrect. If there is a problem, the comb is usually too high and you are looking over the top of the front bead.

shotgun3Lastly is cast, which has always been, to some, one of the shrouded mysteries of the shotgun world. Cast is, in effect, the “bend” in a shotgun stock to make it fit the shooter better. Right-handed shooters need a cast “off” basically to bend around the right cheek so the gun will fit them better. Left-handed shooters require a cast “on;” the gun bends the opposite way. Almost all standard-production shotguns have no cast; the stock is straight.

The way to find out about all of this and to correct any problems with the gun is to go a qualified gun fitter and get checked out with the gun that you are going to hunt with. If there are problems with the fit of the gun, only go to a qualified gunsmith! Spend some time with him, and if possible, it is best if he speaks with whoever did the gun fitting. When you start talking about cutting down the length of a stock, you can get into big trouble fast. Don’t be going to your buddy’s brother-in-law who always wanted to be a gunsmith and has two chisels and a hack saw.

Alright, all I was trying to do here was to get you a little help so that you can bring home a few more birds this year. Maybe your dog won’t look at you so funny or even growl at you if don’t miss as much this year. You’ve got to go out and practice folks! Is that so bad? Get out there and burn some powder! That is what this is all about, right? Just like fishing, any day spent shooting beats the heck out working.

Editor’s note: Dave Miller’s Videos may be seen at or on YouTube. The author is a lifelong shotgunner. When he misses, he usually admits it, and when he hits it, he tries not to brag.