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My first pull of a shotgun trigger was at a trap range with a gun that I had no business shooting. The 12-gauge Remington 870 was a perfectly fine shotgun, but I didn’t know anything about proper mount and technique at the time. With my heart pounding from the pressure of operating a shotgun in front of other people, my mind was preoccupied with remembering the sequence of loading the shell, sliding the pump-action, and disengaging the safety. I mimicked what everyone else was doing, loosely shouldered the gun, closed my eyes, and squeezed the trigger. Then I looked around for my assailant.
With 24 clays left to shoot in the round, I clenched my teeth and carried on with the assumption that this was all totally normal. By the time I reached the last position, tears were starting to leak out of my squinting eyes and I could feel the heat radiating off of my shoulder and bicep, having adjusted my mount a few times to take advantage of unbruised flesh.
“So, who wants to go shoot five-stand next?” my partner enthusiastically inquired.
I was incredulous that anyone would volunteer for more abuse after that round, so my first shooting experience ended there. It’s possible my hunting career could have ended there, too, had it not been for a little bit of research and a lot of willingness to get back in the saddle.
Fact is, most shotguns are not made to fit women. We are shaped differently than men, and we need our shotguns to reflect that. If you’re a female shooter, you may not know this, depending on your familiarity with shotguns. Here is what you need to know if you are a female shooter looking for the perfect shotgun fit.
What’s Unique About Shotgun Fit for Women?
The average off-the-shelf shotgun is designed for the “average” shooter: male, right-handed, 5-foot-10, 180 pounds. People come in all shapes and sizes, but gun manufacturers have settled on these dimensions as their best chance for making money with a production shotgun. If you fit this mold, it is great news. If not, then you have to adapt to the gun (which is hard), adapt a gun to fit you with aftermarket modifications performed by a gunsmith, or find a gun that was designed to be a closer match to your dimensions.
Women tend to have narrower frames, smaller hands, longer necks, and higher cheekbones than men. These differences become evident when you consider the key touch points where a shooter interacts with a gun: on their shoulder, with their hands, and against their cheekbone. This doesn’t account for the fact that the average woman is not 5-10, 180. Aside from just being too large overall, a production shotgun is likely to be incorrectly proportioned to the female body.
There’s also one often-overlooked factor that should not be ignored when it comes to selecting a shotgun: eye dominance. It’s more common for women to have cross-dominance; in other words, to be right-handed but left-eye-dominant. If this is the case, you’re better off learning to shoot left-handed to take advantage of your dominant eye, rather than fighting that cross-dominance as you try to get your gun to shoot where you are looking.
When Is Shotgun Fit Good Enough?
Ask any female bird hunter about their experience with shotguns and you’re likely to get a wide range of answers and advice. Some are strong proponents of shotguns specifically designed for women, some have found success with youth models, some advocate for getting stocks modified to fit, and some have learned to shoot off-the-shelf guns just fine. It turns out that female hunters are not a singular category that can be neatly grouped together.
Holly Heyser is the California Waterfowl Association’s communications director and a key leader in the organization’s hunter recruitment activities. In this role, she introduces a lot of women to their first shotgun. This first experience will be memorable, and it needs to be good enough to keep them coming back for more. At the same time, the barrier for entry shouldn’t be set so high that it becomes unattainable.
“You can always adapt a bit,” Heyser says. “All you really need is to get the eye positioned correctly above the barrel so that the pupil lines up with the front bead. That means the gun will shoot where you’re looking, which can make someone successful on the hunt.”
Heyser is often tasked with matching new hunters to loaner guns for their first hunt. To get the best possible fit for a day afield, Heyser places a mirror at the muzzle to check the shooter’s alignment with their eye. She advises that this same approach can be taken right to the gun shop when shopping for a new shotgun.
“Don’t be afraid to try on all the guns, just like shoes,” she says. “Handle them all and see what feels right to you. Take a handheld mirror and have someone safely hold it flush against the end of the barrel so that you can check your eye positioning as you mount the gun. Some guns will work for you and some won’t; your goal is to find the one that feels the best.”
Taking Female Shotgun Fit to the Next Level
A few gun manufacturers have taken note of the rising numbers of women involved in hunting and shooting sports and have developed shotguns specifically-designed for the size and shape of an average woman’s body.
Syren USA Pro-Staff member Courtney Bastian remembers what a difference it made for her to make the switch to a women’s shotgun.
“My confidence grew exponentially at the range and in the field while training my dogs. While I can’t say that I didn’t miss a bird this past season, my percentage definitely improved. But more importantly, I had my most enjoyable season to date.”
Among the various options for women’s shotguns, Syren is the only company to have a complete line of shotguns designed for women. These guns range in purpose from waterfowl to upland to shooting sports. What they have in common are specific design features that account for the geometric differences where a shotgun contacts the shooter’s body. These include a Monte Carlo comb to raise the contact point to meet a higher cheekbone, a smaller grip to better fit a smaller hand, and an adjusted cast and pitch to better fit a woman’s curves.
While no two women have the same size and shape, these female-specific features do improve the odds that the gun will fit you right off the shelf. If you need further refinement, a gunsmith can certainly make minor adjustments to perfect the fit, but it helps to start with something fairly close to your correct dimensions.
Take the Right Approach Before Buying a Shotgun
As with any major purchase, the key is for you to be realistic about your needs and intentions. We all want to have the best gear for all of our activities, but a little honest self-assessment can be helpful, too.
Are you just looking to give hunting a try to see if you enjoy it? Maybe hunting is a small part of a long list of hobbies and can’t take a disproportionate chunk of the budget. You certainly want the experience to be positive and not painful, but it’s unrealistic to spend thousands of dollars on a high-end shotgun that will only get used a few times a year.
If this describes you, then don’t get too caught up in the message that you must hunt with a certain gun. There are plenty of options that can work great and help you find success in the field. Shopping the used market can help you get a higher quality gun for a reasonable price—look at Beretta 300 series shotguns; they often fit female shooters “good enough” and are not expensive.
Many shotguns, particularly semi-automatics, come with shims so you can adjust the drop and cast of the stock to get the fit reasonably close. This is easy to do with a screwdriver and, best of all, it’s a free adjustment to make. Use that mirror trick to get your eye closely aligned with the top of your barrel.
If, on the other hand, you’re diving headfirst into hunting or shooting and the phrase “good enough” makes you cringe, then you’re a great candidate for a Syren or another shotgun specifically-designed for women—Franchi, Fausti, Beretta, Browning, and Fabarm all make good ones. They are harder to find on the used market since there are simply fewer of them out in the wild, so you will likely end up purchasing new one.
Myths About Shotguns for Women
There are a few female shotgun myths that need to be busted. These concepts often get thrown around as well-meaning advice, but they are not universal truths.
- Buy a 20-gauge: I love my 20-gauge shotgun, but you don’t have to shoot one just because you’re a woman. I use a 12 when I’m duck hunting and a 16 whenever I feel like hunting with that gun. Asses your needs before deciding on a what gauge to buy: What will you be hunting? How readily available do you want the ammo to be? What feels right when you shoot it?
- Just get a youth model: This can be bad advice without knowing more about the woman who is seeking a recommendation. A youth gun can be a great option for a smaller woman (think 5-foot-2 or shorter), but it’s not applicable for all women. Yes, the average woman is smaller than the average man, but that doesn’t automatically put her into the “youth” category.
- Lighter is better: It’s true that a lightweight gun is more enjoyable to carry on a 10-mile chukar hike, but that doesn’t mean it’s a better option for you to shoot. The force of a spent shotshell will generally cause a lighter gun to hit your shoulder harder. Too much recoil may cause you to flinch whenever you pull the trigger, rendering your shot inaccurate and ineffective. Also, heavier guns are easier to swing through the target. Assess your style of hunting, how much gun you’re willing to tote around between bird encounters, and give a few guns a try before committing to one just because it is advertised as lightweight.
Selecting a Shotgun
Once you’ve completed an honest self-assessment of your needs and you’ve let go of some of the myths that have been perpetuated about the best shotguns for women, you’re ready to get serious about selecting a shotgun.
It’s easy to say, “Go shoot a bunch of guns and pick what you like.” But you may not have a lot of friends who shoot or access to a lot of shotguns. Before you go buy a gun just because you read an article recommending it (yes, I’ve done it too), try one of these options to test drive a gun before committing.
Call your local gun club or shooting range to ask if they ever have demonstration days. Bonus points if they have demo days specifically intended for women. This will require you to put yourself out there and try something new while a small audience watches, but it will be worth it.
Contact the pro staff for a manufacturer that you are interested in trying out. They may have shooting instructors or connections with a local range where you can go try a gun. This may be a paid option especially if it involves any shooting instruction, but it’s a great way to learn some techniques while trying a gun that you’re interested in buying.
If you are involved in a hunting dog organization, don’t be afraid to ask other members what they shoot and if it might be possible to try their gun at a training day. Even though it’s a dog-centric club, most of the handlers are also hunters and love to talk about gear.
Read Next: Syren XLR5 Waterfowler Shotgun for Women
The Best Guns For Women
The following are some recommended guns that can work well for women, but again, please don’t take this advice blindly. This should provide a starting point for your research into what will work best for you depending on your size, shape, goals, and budget.
I know I said youth models don’t fit every woman, but the Affinity 3 Compact is designed to be a youth gun that can “grow with your kid,” which means it comes with a high degree of adjustability in the form of spacers and shims. It can be a great option to dial in the fit without breaking the bank. Franchi does offer the Affinity in a women’s model (the Catalyst), but in case you need more adjustability—or help finding something on the used market—the Compact can be a viable option, too. Check availability here.
This is not a women’s gun, nor is it a compact model (though the SX4 does come in a compact version). I hunt ducks with this gun’s predecessor, the SX3, and find it fits me reasonably well. The grip is smaller than other guns in this category, the gas-operated action reduces felt recoil, and it feels well-balanced in my hands. The SX4 also comes with a spacer installed so the length-of-pull can be reduced below the standard 14¼ inches if needed. Check availability here.
This is a high-quality gun that is designed for a woman who is ready to get serious about hunting or shooting sports. The 691 has all of the female-specific design elements described above and a price point to reflect your commitment to hunting or shooting. As with other guns, pay attention to whether you’re looking at a sporting (shooting sports) or a field (hunting) model, as you’ll see different weights and dimensions optimized for those different purposes. Check availability here.
This is the shotgun I use for hunting upland birds. The fit of the Tempio Field was perfect for me right out of the box. Syren offers a range of guns at various price points, though none of them would qualify as “budget guns.” If you’re ready to commit to a gun and are willing to pay for quality and fit, this could be a great option. They are beautiful guns backed by a generous warranty to give you a little piece of mind while toting it afield. Check availability here.
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