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| category: Guns and equipment

Shotgun stock - wood, plastic, drop, length of pull

A stock is one of the most important parts of a shotgun. To be specific, a stock is responsible for a shotgun fitting, and a suitable stock can significantly affect shooting performance. For example, an excessively long stock reduces the speed of shooting because it challenges efficient recoil controlling. On the contrary, too short stock complicates aiming because it positions a Rear Sight (or Vent Rib) very close to your eyes. Of course, your performance with a shotgun depends not only on the length of stock but on a type of stock, material it is been made of, type of butt, drop at heel, cheek rest, and this is a non-exhaustive list. Today I am going to explain the most significant stock's issues which every shooter has to keep in mind.

Materials: Wood or Synthetic

At the time when firearms were invented wood was the one and only choice for stocks' manufacturing. Even though we have other options today, wood is considered to be one of the stylish ones. This material has all qualities to make good stocks. It is firm enough, relatively light and resistant to hard usage. Additionally, wood is a well-treated material that allows fabricating various in shapes and designs stocks. For the most part, wood stocks are popular at break-action hunting and clay target shooting shotguns. Sports wooden stocks usually have an adjustable length and cheek rest. Wood stocks look like old good classic things and some of them, personally to me, are work of art.

Despite all the advantages of wood, the peak of its popularity is in the past. Nowadays synthetic is the most common material for shotgun's stocks. I believe that with the passage of time wood might be entirely substituted with a mass of various plastic choices. Tremendous advancements in the polymer industry are the main reasons for this trend. When you put your hands on a stock made by Hogue, Magpul, FAB Defence or Blackhawk you'd appreciate a soft touch and its sure grip every time you grab a gun. Additionally, modern plastic is durable, water-resistant and fault-tolerant. All these characteristics make synthetic widely spreading material and growing in popularity on a daily basis.

MAGPUL Mossberg - Link Amazon

Hogue Remington 870 - Link Amazon

Hogue Winchester 1300 - Link Amazon

It is not enough to consider the pros and cons only when you make a choice between functional synthetic and old good walnut. Most importantly, it is seeking an understanding of questions: "what for do you need a shotgun? Is it just a tool for you or something more?"

From my standpoint, the most important shotgun's task is shooting efficiently and accurately. However, for many tradition-oriented shooters, a shotgun is more than a mere device. It is something that brings them remarkable warm of emotions that synthetics might never be able to replicate. For this reason, I suggest to make your own choice between wood and plastic or have some of both.

Traditional Stock or Pistol Grip

For over ten years of shotgun shooting, I am still a big fan of traditional stocks. What is more, a majority of sports shooters and hunters prefer traditional stocks because it maintains a natural way of holding a shotgun and provides proper control of a gun. A traditional stock is exceptionally handy in terms of aiming and keeping the line on sight. It can give you a feeling that a shotgun has become a part of your body and your gun has become ultra-stable and high-accurate. Besides that, a reliable holding of a gun reduces the time for managing recoil and, as a result, increase your shooting speed.

Another big advantage of a traditional stock is a practical opportunity to manipulate easily with a shotgun just by a dominant hand. As a direct result of that you can quickly manipulate with another hand on a "battlefield"; e.g. loading a shotgun, opening doors, using a flashlight, removing barriers. Long story short, you can do everything you need effortlessly in any circumstances of gun usage.

After all that being said about traditional stocks, it is hard to believe that there are good reasons left to buy a pistol grip. Nevertheless, there are a few. The first benefit of a pistol grip is an ability to adjust a length of shotgun pull quickly. This option gives you an opportunity to use your gun with different outfits, such as body armors and special pieces of equipment. Another advantage of a pistol grip is its compactness during transportation. I am pretty sure that it would be hard to achieve the same rate of portability with traditional shotgun stock.

Another benefit of a pistol grip is the similarity in usage between a shotgun pistol grip and a rifle pistol grip. For instance, if an experienced user of a rifle AR-15, AK System wants to begin practice with a shotgun, a pistol grip might make him/her feel more confident than a traditional stock. Additionally, all rifle's experience of caring, manipulating, aiming, holding of a shotgun would be carried over to shotgun practice.

As can be seen, a pistol grip is an optimal choice for all kinds of tactical shooters (military, police, special force, etc) due to its length-adjusting feature and compactness. Moreover, all those shooters can carry over their rifle's practice experience to a shotgun shooting routine. On the contrary, a traditional stock is the best choice for all hunters and sports shooters.

Length of pull

Length of pull (LOP) is a distance from the end of a shotgun's buttstock to the middle of the trigger. It would not be an exaggeration to say that LOP is an essential component of gun tuning. LOP is responsible for comfortable holding a shotgun in firing position and correct pulling of a trigger. These two components are crucial for accurate dynamic shooting. Therefore I recommend to take time and find out how to determine individual LOP?

Let's review my favorite ways to determine LOP.

Forearm Method

You have to place a buttstock on the elbow and hold a shotgun's grip by hand. Then put an index finger on a trigger guard. If you can't easily reach a trigger with a distal (first) phalange, it means that LOP is too long for you. If your finger covers a trigger by intermediate (second) phalange, it indicates that LOP is too short for you. Whereas with a right LOP the first phalange of your index finger is comfortably positioned on a trigger.

Adjusting Method or Way Of Trial And Error

The method mentioned above helps you to determine your LOP roughly. At the same time, you should go deeper for the perfect shotgun's fitting. It makes sense of trying different methods to find out a personal LOP. I recommend the following set of actions. First, determine your LOP using method #1. Second, make your stock shorter by half an inch (1 cm) and test it at a shooting range for a couple of times. Third, make your stock shorter by another half an inch and give it a try again. Lastly, restore your original LOP and test it on a shooting range one more time. In the end, you would be able to compare the experiences you had on three different occasions and decide which LOP works the best for you. If it is needed, you can continue experimenting with the length of stock as long as you want until you are sure about your choice.

This approach helps you to identify an individual LOP and get valuable experience about shotgun's adjustments. Be sure to take time and digest on your experiences. Adjusting Method doesn't like a rush. Give at least two training for each of the new LOP's. Keep in mind that your body and your mind need time to adapt to a new LOP. In other words, give some time for your brain to reflect on a new LOP.

Now let's consider how exactly you can adjust a shotgun stock.

If you have an adjustable pistol grip, you can change LOP quickly and easily without any of irreversible modifications. Just chose an optimal position of a buttstock and practice with this LOP several times. After that, make LOP shorter, or longer, if you feel like that, and test it again. Do this routine until you realize you have found the right individual LOP.

Next, you can use Recoil Pads and Stock Spacers with different thickness. Almost all shotguns have an interchangeable recoil pad, some of them, for example, Beretta 1301 Comp, has Stock Spacers. This approach gives you a perfect opportunity to experiment with LOP adjustments without making a significant alteration.

If all LOP's adjusting options were tried out but you are not satisfied with a result, you can use the last option of cutting off a piece of a buttstock. Prior to making any alterations make sure you can install back a recoil pad after cutting the buttstock. If you have doubts about it, it's better to get a consultation with a gunsmith. Some buttstocks have a tricky assembly and require an experienced hand touch e.g. Benelli M2.


Last but not least thing during the customization process of shotgun stock is adjustments of Drop and Cast.

Drop of Stock

A drop is a position of stock that is related to a sight line. It is possible to measure a drop at three points, such as Drop at Heel, Drop at Comb and Drop at Cheek Rest. For starters, Drop affects your ability to shot quickly and accurately after a shotgun was thrown up. If the drop was positioned properly, you don't have to search for a sight line and adjust your head position again. With the right level of drop, you can see your Iron Sights or Vent Rib immediately after buttstock touched your shoulder and your cheek leaned against cheek rest. At the right position your shooting speed would continue improving.

There is one of the ways to fit a drop. Take a shotgun, close your eyes and threw up the shotgun, place stock comfortably, lean check on a comb of the stock. When you feel that a gun fits well, open your eyes and focus on the sight line. If you see a sight line without a significant adjustment, the Drop is fitting good. If your eye is lower than the sight line and you need to tilt up your head for aiming, the Drop should be brought up. Lastly, when you want to lean closer to stock after you open an eye, the Drop should be taken down. I recommend using a special kit to adjust a Drop or asking for gunsmith's help.

A cast is a deviation of stock from an imaginary center line. Cast-Off means that stock is shifted from the center line to the right, Cast-On means that it is shifted to the left. A stock is straight when there is no cast on a shotgun. Right-handed shooters usually use Cast-Off stock, leftie-shooters prefer Cast-On ones.

In my opinion, new gunners should start with a straight stock (no cast) and try to change a cast if any issues appear with a straight one. I have used a straight stock for all my shooting career, and I haven't experienced a reason to break it yet. Moreover, I believe that using a straight stock gives to shooter advantages, such as to practice shooting with both hands without adjusting a shotgun, to adapt easily to a different length of pull, and, finally, to borrow a shotgun from a friend or grab a brand new gun from a box and start practicing right away. At the same time, some shooting activities (e.g. clay target shooting) require various options of fine-tuning.

The right stock is the first thing to look for in every type of shotgun. If your gun fits you well you will buy time and accuracy. If you are of two minds of what to start the customization with, I would recommend considering shotgun stock first. I am convinced that achieving a good stock fitting is half of the winning battle in a gun tuning process. For this reason, Stock is scored 5 stars in all types of shotgun activities, such as Sports, Hunting and Tactical.


Pavlo Portianko - competitive shooter and gun expert.