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Zen and the Art of Gun Fitting: A Chat with the Country Gentleman (Part III)
6-11-12 - John Morgan

In Part II of this series (You can read Part II here), Todd Nelson of the Country Gentleman Gunfitting Shop shared the story of how he and his family got started in the gun fitting business. We also discussed the importance of proper gun fit. In this installment, Todd and I will delve deeper into the gun fitting process. We'll dicuss the relationship between proper gun fit and good shooting form. And, we'll discuss why just about any shooter can benefit from a gun fitting session. In case you've missed the first two parts of this series, I caught up with Todd Nelson late one evening during the 2011 Grand American Trapshooting Championships, just as Todd and his son were settling in for a night's worth of stock work in their mobile workshop. Todd was generous enough to give me over an hour of his time for this interview.

Q. When I came to you to have my own gun fitted, you actually spent more time working on correcting my shooting form than you did on fitting the gun. So, which is more important, good fit or good form?

A. Todd's response was simple. "you can't have one without the other." He went on to explain that it is absolutely possible to have a gun fitted to sub-standard shooting form. In fact, that's what actually happens to most of us when we pick up a new trap gun. The gun almost never fits correctly straight out of the box. So, we learn to fit ourselves to the gun. So much so, that we'll develop poor form habits that begin to feel 'normal'. These poor habits may cause balance and vision issues. It's difficult to say which is more important, good fit or good form. But, when pressed, Todd says that good form is paramount and good fit is actually secondary. He explained that even the best custom made trap gun won't make you a better shooter until you learn to mount the gun correctly and consitently. But, once you have proper form, that same custom made trap gun can indeed make you a better shooter. Todd's says that it's his job to get each shooter into proper form to "...generate the best balance possible, the best vision possible, and to teach you how to reproduce it on your own" every time you shoot. Todd likes to use the word 'sustainablity'. He teaches shooters to put themselves in the their best shooting form possible. Then, he fits their gun to allow them to repeat their newly corrected shooting form in a sustainable manner. This allows the shooter "do it the right way" every time they shoulder the gun.

Q. A lot of the guys at our club are casual league shooters, who don't compete in ATA events. Is gun fit and form important for casual shooters too?

A. "Only if they want to hit targets!" Another simple answer. Todd reminds us that we all shoot for the same reason, because we enjoy shooting. If breaking more targets is the goal, then proper shooting form and good gun fit are important, no matter what level of competition we participate in. "Regardless of your individual goals, if your idividual goals are meat shoots, league nights, Annie Oakleys, or if you're out here chasing the gold on the tournament circuit, gun fit is important."

Q. What message would you send to the casual shooter to get them interested in seeking someone, like you, to discuss proper form and fit?

A. Todd says that a shooter can learn more in one day from a good coach and a good fitter, than he can figure out on his own in two years. Now, that may sound like a sales pitch, but I can tell you from personal experience that it's not just a line to drum up business. In one twenty minute fitting session, Todd corrected a least five of my bad habits and sent me out to shoot a 24x25 on my first practice round followed by my first fifty straight during my next competition round. For me, it was time very well spent.

Q. When a shooter comes to you for help, what is the most common problem that you see?

A. Todd's answer might surprise you. It certainly surprised me. I expected him to say that most of us are hunching our shoulders or tilting our heads. But, the number one problem that Todd sees is that most shooters are getting bad advice. We're all listening to the wrong people. There is no number one fit and form problem. The truth is that we all have different problems, because we're all shaped differently. If we all walked into a gun shop and we all picked up the same gun, we'd all have to do something physically different to make that gun feel comfortable. Now, back to the real problem, bad advice. At one time or another, every shooter hits a plateau. We shoot well for a while, then we stall. So, we ask the other shooters around us for advice. We go find a guy who's been at it a while and ask him to tell us what we're doing wrong. We all do it; it's only natural to seek help from someone whose shooting ability we respect. Todd calls these advisors "Front Porch Pros." He's quick to point out that nobody is going to purposely give you bad advise. But, when your car breaks down, you don't take it to a guy who drives a car, you take it a mechanic. The point is that the good shooters all around us only know what works for them. They're not coaches and they're not fitters. The best way to improve beyond your latest plateau is to go find a professional coach, a professional fitter, or both, and ask for help getting into proper shooting form and gun fit.

I invite you to come back soon for the forth and final installment of this series. Todd and I will discuss how often a shooter should be "refit". We'll discuss how gun fitting needs differ between adult shooters and youth shooters. And, Todd will pass along the best way to get in touch with him to setup your own fitting session. Until next time, shoot safe and break 'em all!

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