Welcome To The Golden Age Of Shotguns For Women
By Deborah K. McKown, Shotgun Life
The new Syren USA line of ladies shotguns and accessories underscores an encouraging trend of premium shotguns designed for the shape of a woman’s body.
Syren USA rounds out a growing class of exceptional ladies sporting and upland shotguns crafted by Perazzi, Browning, Blaser, Ithaca and Fausti. By shunning pink stocks in favor of Turkish walnut, these manufacturers tacitly assimilate women into the general shotgunning community, especially when it comes to recreational outings.
Here at Shotgun Life 31% of our readers are female. In fact, we are the only magazine, print or digital, that has featured a dedicated section to women in the shotgun sports since our launch in 2009. It discusses issues such as fit, recoil and shotgun selections. With Elizabeth Lanier, Holly Heyser, Ann Kercheville and myself, Shotgun Life has more female columnists than any other wing and clays publication.
That’s because Shotgun Life has realized from the get-go that female shotgunners want firearms, instructions and apparel to match our distinct requirements and feminine perspectives. Now that manufacturers are supporting our participation with ladies sporting and field models, we are witnessing the dawn of a golden age for women in the shotgun sports.
Mother and daughter, Paulena and Joanne Prager, are among the growing number of women embracing the shotgun sports.
Women represent a fast-growing revenue source for our industry. While we don’t have a specific breakdown for shotguns, from 2001 to 2011 the number of women participating in shooting sports and hunting grew 52% and 42% respectively, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. A 2012 survey showed 73% of gun dealers said the number of female customers increased in 2011.
The number of women who are wing and clays shooting has been building gradually over recent years, especially as a recreational indulgence. Women have been competing for years in clays tournaments, but the notion that we can spend a few hours at our local clays course with friends and family is gaining momentum.
If there is any single metric to measuring our progress it’s through the rising number of shotguns tailored to women.
Historically, shotgun manufacturers have dabbled in ladies’ models only to withdraw them from the market following disappointing sales. That vacuum had been filled by youth models, smaller, sub-gauge shotguns and stock hack jobs to make shotguns fit us while often compromising other attributes in the bargain.
As we have covered in our “Women and Shotguns” section, the sporting and hunting shotguns displayed at your dealers are engineered to fit the average right-handed man who stands 5-foot-9, weighs 165 pounds, has a 33-inch arm length and wears a size 40 regular. Bottom line: the guns are too big for most women. An ill-fitting shotgun can result in a painful recoil thrust to your shoulder and cheek bone, likely culminating in bruising and a lifelong dread of the sport.
When your significant other hands you his 12 gauge and says “try this, honey” he probably doesn’t realize the potential dire consequences of ignoring fit fundamentals.
A shotgun meets your body at five points: recoil pad against the shoulder, cheek against the stock, trigger hand on the grip, trigger finger on the trigger blade and left hand (for righties) on the forend. If all of these points are in proper alignment, the gun should feel comfortable, be easy to swing and allow your eye to form an unobstructed view down the rib.
Therefore, five important shotgun stock dimensions need to be evaluated.
Cast (angle of the stock relative to the axis of the barrel). Cast can also be addressed with an adjustable comb which is a cut-out in the stock that lets you set the cast and height. As an aside, make sure your bra strap doesn’t rest under the recoil pad since that could cause bruising.
Pitch (angle formed by the butt of the stock in relation to the barrels). Women should have a positive pitch on their shotgun stock. For men, the typical pitch angles the recoil pad down into their arm pit area. For women, it should be the opposite given the shape of their body around the breasts — bearing in mind the incredible number of bra-size variations. The pitch should reflect the contour of the point where the recoil pad fits into “the pocket” between shoulder and chest. A simple wedge shaped insert between the recoil pad and the stock butt can inexpensively provide the correct pitch.
Length of pull (length of the stock as measured from the middle of the trigger finger to the butt of the shotgun). Length of pull (LOP) is often the quickest fix to fitting a women’s shotgun. It simply involves cutting the stock from the back to make sure your trigger finger is well-positioned. In some cases, shortening the stock may be sufficient. However, do not take for granted that length is the only dimension that needs attention. Also, pay attention to the balance of your shotgun after the stock is cut. You could find yourself with a barrel-heavy shotgun that is difficult to swing. If so, consider adding weight into the stock to achieve perfect balance around the hinge pin. For example, you may be able to insert an after-market recoil reducer that adds necessary ballast while using either mercury or springs to absorb recoil.
Drop at the comb (distance of the angle formed between the barrel rib and the comb and heel of the stock). Because women generally have longer necks than men, they should look for a shotgun with a Monte Carlo stock, which is easy distinguished by a bump-up that raises the comb. Some Monte Carlo stocks also feature an adjustable comb — a cut out section that can be altered horizontally and laterally.
Drop at heel (the distance from the plane of the rib to the stock’s heel). Long-necked shooters such as women would need additional drop at heel. However, other aspects need to be considered such as slope of the shoulders and forward-leaning gun mount which would contribute to less drop at heel.
Reach should also be considered. That’s the distance required from the grip to the trigger blade. Relatedly, make sure the grip radius fits your hand when shopping for a shotgun.
In addition to fit, shotgun balance is equally important. If a shotgun is barrel-heavy, the muscles in your left arm (for righties), shoulder, elbow and wrist can bear the strain — making the shotgun feel heavier than its stated weight. That means an improperly balanced 7-pound shotgun could feel 7½ or 8 pounds after several rounds. The ideal balance point puts the center of gravity around the receiver, between your hands. A well-balanced shotgun is often the benefit of purchasing from premium manufacturers, and a reason to consider going upmarket, finances permitting.
Using these criteria, we’ve identified wing and clays shotguns specifically crafted to give comfort and performance for women. Ultimately, though, if you really want the perfect shotgun get a custom-fitted stock. In the meantime, these shotguns do a commendable job for female wing and clays enthusiasts.
Blaser F3 Ladies Gun
Blaser teamed with Speedbump Stockworks for an F3 with adjustable recoil-absorber pad that’s billed as the F3 Ladies Gun. The basic Blaser F3 is a German gem with mechanical triggers, low-profile receiver and weight-balancing system.
The Blaser F3 Ladies Gun.
Blaser’s F3 Supersport stock on the ladies model features a Monte Carlo stock ideal for women’s longer necks. The 4-way adjustable comb provides incremental tweaks for height and cast. These stocks have palm swells which add circumference — possibly making the pistol grip too wide for women. Blaser’s excellent, adjustable trigger can potentially mitigate trigger-finger reach and grip distortions.
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With the ladies model, Blaser turned over the stock to San Antonio, Texas neighbor Speedbump Stockworks. The recoil pad has “shock absorbers” to mitigate discomfort. The length of pull is adjustable from 13½ inches to 14⅝ inches, supplemented by a trigger blade that can be moved fore and aft. The Speedbump add-on alters for cast and pitch, although the stock butt has been shaved for positive pitch prior to installation. Cast is also accommodated with lateral adjustment of the comb. Blaser shortened the stock ¾ inch for the Speedbump system, eliminating the internal weight balancing system. However, the Speedbump modification weighs nearly the same for virtually identical feel.
At 8¼ pounds, the F3 is a tad heavy for some women, although nicely balanced.
The F3 12-gauge receiver can house additional Blaser 20-guage, 28-gauge and .410 barrels, making it extremely versatile (all barrels weigh 3½ pounds). Expect to pay $7,995 for this ladies’ clays crusher.
Browning Golden Clays Ladies Sporting
The semi-auto is listed as a “Historic Product” on the Browning web site — meaning it’s available in limited distribution as a non-catalogued item. Browning reserves this designation for revivals, upgraded wood and/or limited-edition engravings. Browning’s Golden Clays Sporting was originally introduced in the mid-1990s and remained in production for approximately 15 years. We believe the Golden Clays Ladies Sporting semi-automatic arrived in 1999.
The special-order, gas-powered Golden Clays Ladies Sporting has an aluminum alloy receiver adorned with gold enhancements of roses with a pheasant transitioning into a clay target on the right side and roses with a quail transitioning into a clay target on the left side. Browning says the shotgun’s “Active Valve” operating system reliably cycles a wide range of loads — of particular importance if you want low-recoil shells that sometimes don’t have enough oomph to cycle the second shot.
Browning’s Golden Clays Ladies Sporting semi-auto.
The 28-inch barrel is ported for reduced muzzle jump. The satin walnut stock can be adjusted in ¼-inch increments with a shim kit for a maximum ⅛-inch up or down.
In terms of dimensions, it weighs 7 pounds/12 ounces, the LOP is 13½ inches, drop at comb is 1¼ inches and drop at heel is 1½ inches. Browning doesn’t mention the critical measurements for pitch and cast. There are plenty of after-market shims and recoil pads that a competent gunsmith can install to fine tune the fit. The 13½ inch LOP provides some leeway to realize a comfortable solution through thicker recoil pads, shims or clothing.
The Browning Golden Clays Ladies Sporting costs $1,903 for the polished silver receiver with engravings (item #011245428) or the plain blued receiver $1,184 (item #011104404). By the way, we’ve seen these shotguns on the Internet, many new in the box, for as low as $750.
Fausti DEA SL Lady Edition
The three Fausti sisters opted for a traditional side by side as a woman’s shotgun bearing their name. The configuration imparts a classical tradition and aesthetic that’s hard to replicate with the over/unders in the women’s shotgun niche.
Fausti’s low-volume model is available in 12, 16, 20 and 28 gauge, plus .410, on scaled frames. Proportional frames on subgauges should achieve balance ideals versus the cut-stock brute fix.
The boxlock has polished sideplates adorned with small roses and a filigree woman’s head on the top thumb lever. Barrel lengths are 26 and 28 inches, and can be specified with fixed or screw-in chokes. A single, non-selective trigger is standard.
A woman’s head adorns the top lever of the Fausti DEA SL Lady edition side by side.
The Prince of Wales grip favors a slim circumference. Grade 3A Turkish walnut is oil finished. Field guns typically command shorter stocks than sporting models to oblige the bulkier apparel of fall and winter hunting. With a LOP of 13.1 inches the Fausti DEA SL Lady Edition fits most women wearing upland tweeds. At 6 pounds, the shotgun is easy to carry across fields in pursuit of quarry. The suggested price of the Fausti DEA SL Lady Edition is $6,390.
Ithaca Model 37 With Ladies Stock
Women who love pump guns rejoice.
Ithaca’s Model 37 Featherlight with Ladies Stock features a unique drop of comb, drop of heel, cast pitch, and toe out. Since this stock is designed for women shooters, the ergonomics make it comfortable for women. It’s in 20 gauge only with 26-inch, 28-inch or 30-inch barrels.
The Ithaca Model 37 Featherlight with Ladies Stock.
The Ladies Stock project began in December 2008 from a simple conversation with a firearm instructor who was disappointed that no manufacture offered an off the shelf firearm that would fit the average woman. Ithaca took this as a challenge and set out to build it with the input from many people both in and outside of our industry. The following specifications for the stock are the results: drop-at-comb 1½ inches, drop at heel 2¼ inches, cast ⅛ inch, toe out 3/16 inch, LOP 14¼ inches with a Pachmayr 752 Decelerator Recoil Pad. Ithaca will offer a custom LOP and pad at additional cost. The shotgun weighs 6.8 pounds.
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Like other Ithaca Model 37s, the ladies version has a 5-shot capacity (4+1), gold trigger, 3 Briley chokes and matte blue receiver with game-scene engraving. Ithaca has upgraded the wood to fancy black walnut. The Ithaca’s Model 37 Featherlight with Ladies Stock is custom ordered. Price is approximately $1,000. We’ve shot several Ithaca Model 37s and they are an absolute hoot.
Perazzi Ladies Sporter
Shotgun Life has provided in-depth coverage of the Perazzi Ladies Sporter in our story titled “Perazzi’s New Ladies Sporter Gets a Hearty Thumbs Up From the GRITS.” To recap, Perazzi’s Al Kondak collaborated with Lars Jacobs of Covey & Nye to formulate the stock dimensions for women wing and clays devotees.
The Perazzi Ladies Sporter.
The Perazzi Ladies Sporter is built around the supremely balanced 20-gauge MX20. As covered in the story, the 7¼- pound Perazzi Ladies Sporter is configured with a higher Monte Carlo comb to eliminate cheekbone recoil. The Turkish walnut stock has a 14¼-inch LOP, or approximately one-half inch shorter than a standard MX20. The comb is 1-7/16 inches parallel. The stock cast-off (away from face) is 3/16 inch while the toe cast is 3/8 inch. The butt of the stock is pitched +7degress, providing a slight contour to accommodate the shape of a woman’s breast. Mr. Jacob’s choice of a recoil pad is 0.87 inch thick. It has a flat face with rounded edges and is made of particularly soft rubber for better recoil absorption. A relaxed pistol grip with reduced wrist circumference fits the smaller hands of women, along with the slender forend.
Starting at $11,200, Perazzi’s Ladies Sporter is standard with 30-inch barrels although 26 to 34 inches are options. The MX20 frame accepts Perazzi’s 28-gauge and .410 barrels. The Ladies Sporter can be ordered in 12 gauge as well. A left-handed version can be purchased. The lovely nickel receiver can be replaced with standard blued. You can specify any grade of engraving. An adjustable comb will cost $357.
Caesar Guerini formed a joint venture with Italian parent FABARM to form Syren USA —a new division and brand dedicated to manufacturing and selling women’s shotguns and apparel stateside. Six guns comprise the Syren arsenal: 5 over/unders and 1 semi-auto. Syren’s sporting and field shotguns are derived from existing Caesar Guerini and FABARM inventory.
The brand name is drawn from the Greek’s mythological Sirens — ravishing women who lured boats to rocky shores by calling mariners with their seductive voices and music.
Syren’s Tempio Field model.
Syren shotguns are distinguished by women-specific dimensions and lasered receiver engravings that carry a vivid rose theme, supplemented by a diminutive rose bouquet on the comb drop.
The Syren shotguns are sourced from three Guerini and FABARM lines: Guerini’s Tempio, FABARM’s ELOS and the XLR5 Sporting also from FABARM.
The Syren Tempio line shares mechanicals with the namesake Guerini over/under, including Sporting and sprightly Light designations. Syren’s Tempio ships in 12, 20 and 28 gauges. The Syren Tempio Sporting, which starts at $4,295, is complemented by two field models — the Syren Tempio and Syren Tempio Light at $3,950.
The table compares the Syren Tempio and the Caesar Guerini Tempio — illustrating the fundamental differences in dimensions reflected across the entire Syren, Caesar Guerini and FABARM shotguns.
Depending on gauge and barrel length, the Syren Tempio Sporting weighs between 7 pounds/4 ounces and 7 pounds/13 ounces. It has a pistol grip.
The Syren Tempio field gun (including the Light) has a semi-pistol grip. Available in 20, 28 and .410, weight varies from 6 pounds/9 ounces to 5 pounds/5 ounces depending on gauge and barrel length. It begins at $3,950. Combos of 20, 28 and .410 barrels on the 20-gauge receiver start at $6,150 and top at $8,180.
Syren’s gas-powered, semi-auto XLR5 Sporting is mechanically identical to the FABARM with the exception of wood dimensions (includes adjustable comb on Monte Carlo stock). Sold exclusively as a 12 gauge with 28, 30 or 32-inch barrels, prices run from $1,950 to $2,095. Syren USA says it weighs 7 pounds/9 ounces. The unplugged shell capacity is 4+1.
The basis for the Syren ELOS Venti is FABARM’s ELOS — a round-actioned uplander with semi-pistol grip. The Syren ELOS ships as 20 and 28 gauge, carrying 28-inch barrels. Single-barrel examples cost $3,950. Like the Syren Tempio, the Syren ELOS is packaged in multi-barrel editions costing $5,675 to $7,575. Stated weight is 6 pounds/10 ounces.
Shotgun Life Publisher Irwin Greenstein has handled a 12-gauge Syren Tempio and was surprised at its muzzle-bias. Generally, Caesar Guerinis tend to be well-balanced. It was only when he saw that the LOP on the Syren version was 1-inch shorter than the Caesar Guerini Tempio he realized the repercussions. It’s nearly impossible to retain the original balance of a shotgun by abbreviating the stock. For some ladies, the forward bias may be a non-issue given Syren’s additional enhancements toward comfort.
As you can see from the chart below, the variation on women’s bra sizes presents one of the strongest arguments yet for a bespoke stock.
Now bear in mind, the formula becomes more complex when you calculate the length of arms and neck, hand size and women’s predisposition to visual cross-dominance or central vision (this means that women’s dominant eye is often at odds with their dominant hand — making it more challenging to establish the line of the target, forward allowance and point of impact).
When selecting a woman’s shotgun, the choice boils down to off-the-shelf adjustability, a composite of average dimensions or a custom fit. The Blaser F3 Ladies Gun provides a universe of incremental adjustments. Since Perazzi specializes in bespoke shotguns, the Perazzi Ladies Sporter can easily be ordered with a custom-fit stock. Likewise, Fausti’s DEA SL Ladies Edition is available with a stock carved to your specific measurements.
You can also visit a stock fitter and purchase a shotgun with a stock shaped to your body. For example, Cole Gunsmithing in Naples, Florida will sell you a Beretta 687 Cole Special over/under with a bespoke Grade III Turkish walnut stock for around $6,000, including the fitting.
Assume Control of the Purchase
As a closing thought, there’s an inherent risk in receiving an off-the-shelf shotgun for women…and it gets back to men. Believe it or not, although the shotguns are designed for women, they are marketed to men. The underlying assumption is that your significant other will see the gun ad in his magazine and assume you want it. But that subversive, king-of-the-castle marketing gets us back to the original problem of “Here honey, try this.”
The spectrum of measurements for women goes beyond the basic T-shirt sizes for guys. A women-specific shotgun is measured for the “average woman.” What exactly does that mean to you? Look around at your women friends. Which of them has an average body?
So your husband or boyfriend surprises you with a new shotgun for women and the recoil still punches you in the face. Suddenly, a new shotgun with a box of shells through it is now a used shotgun — meaning a significant loss of value and a tremendous reluctance to sell it for another shotgun that actually fits.
Ladies, take control of the purchase. Tell your man that you don’t want to be surprised with a rose-festooned shotgun, despite his best intentions. If you’re considering a volume-produced shotgun for women, try it first before writing the check. Your local dealer doesn’t have a demo women’s shotgun to shoot? Spend your money elsewhere.
Ultimately, a shotgun doesn’t have to fit you perfectly. It should be comfortable, painless and safe. Now you go girl!