My first shotgun experience was not a pleasant one. My dad attempted to make his Remington 870 12-gauge slightly more “girl-friendly” by adding a recoil pad to soften the shoulder blow.
All it managed to do was to lengthen the gun and throw the balance of the gun too far forward for my short, small-framed body to properly support.
I spent years thinking I was an awful shooter with that gun, only to have my wingshooting magically improve once I had the right gun in my hands.
Factory shotguns are designed for the average male. If you haven’t been paying attention, women are pretty different from men.
The differences stretch beyond our wider hips and detailed grooming habits. Women are also built-in ways that can make it hard for us to handle firearms designed for male proportions.
Because we are shaped differently than men, to be successful shotgunners, we need our scatterguns to reflect those differences.
You’ve come to the right place, whether you’re a seasoned shooter or a complete rookie shooter with two X chromosomes.
From female-specific models to modifying men’s scatterguns, we will cover several tactics to help you find a shotgun that fits your feminine needs.
But if you want to skip right to our recommendations…
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To appeal to more shooters, manufacturers tailor their factory guns to fit the average shooter, who happens to be a right-handed, 5’10” dude who weighs about 200 pounds.
If you’re a female and this describes you, you’re in luck. You can buy a shotgun right off the showroom floor, and you’ll probably be good to go. Go ahead and enjoy a brewski in celebration.
However, most women have smaller frames, shorter arms, lighter bodies, smaller hands, longer necks, and higher cheekbones than guys. Sorry ladies, it’s biology.
There’s nothing wrong with these feminine qualities, but they can make finding a suitable shotgun a real struggle.
These dimensions affect every spot a shotgunner interacts with their firearm – shoulder, hands, fingers, and cheek.
The average female shooter is 6 inches shorter, 40 pounds lighter, and has a shorter length of pull than the average dude.
Add all that together, and the chances of a woman finding a production gun that properly fits her are probably statistically worse than her odds of winning the PowerBall.
Length of pull (or LOP) is the distance from the middle of the trigger to the end of the buttstock.
The standard length of pull on a factory shotgun is typically more than 14 inches. Women, especially those with shorter arms, often feel more comfortable shooting a gun with a shorter length of pull.
Thirteen to 13.5 inches seems to be the sweet spot for most women.
Having a shotgun with the proper LOP can almost magically improve your shooting. It helps with fast target acquisition and provides better control.
When you raise the gun to your cheek, the barrel will more naturally point toward your target. It will also feel more comfortable, which is incredibly important for shooting success and enjoyment.
A quick way to check a gun’s LOP fit is to hold the grip while bending your arm 90 degrees at the elbow.
If the butt touches the bottom of your bicep, the LOP should be pretty close. On the other hand, if it doesn’t reach your bicep, it’s likely too short. And if it’s too long…well, it should be obvious.
You can easily lengthen the stock with a slip-on recoil pad.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
When you hear shotgunners referring to pitch, they aren’t talking about baseball.
In the shotgun world, “pitch” is the angle of the butt in relation to the barrel. That angle influences how the stock fits into the shoulder pocket.
Too much upward pitch can cause the gun to whack you in the face when you shoot, no matter how great your cheek weld or how tight your hold.
With too much downward pitch, the gun will slip off your cheek when you shoot, making follow-up shots a nightmare.
You can manage a quick pitch fix by inserting a few quarters behind the butt pad to act as spacers. Put two to three at the top to correct an upward pitch. Insert a few coins at the bottom to level out a downward pitch.
Once you find a comfortable angle, a gunsmith can customize the stock for a more permanent fit.
It’s tempting to opt for a lightweight shotgun. Hauling a heavy scattergun across acres of field and farmland in search of upland game birds can leave you with an aching back.
However, a lighter firearm will be more punishing on your shoulder.
Heavy guns absorb recoil better than light guns. It’s just plain physics. Hefty felt recoil can trigger a flinch response when you’re shooting, which can have catastrophic effects on accuracy, so a heavier shotgun will probably help you shoot more accurately.
And although it may seem counterintuitive, a weightier weapon is also easier to swing through the target.
What I’m saying is don’t think you need a lightweight shotgun just because you weigh less than a buck fifty. Even if you’re a lightweight like me, you’ll probably be more successful with a shotgun that has a little heft to it.
While a lot of shotgunners emphasize the shoulder mount, the cheek weld is just as important for consistent shooting.
When the cheek is pressed tightly along the top of the stock, your head should be level, and your dominant eye aligned perfectly with your brass bead.
With a good cheek weld and a properly fitted shotgun, you should be able to mount, point, and shoot successfully without ever taking your eyes off the target.
Solid cheek placement will also prevent nasty recoil-related face injuries.
When there is space between the cheek and the comb, shooting 00 buckshot can feel like getting punched in the face.
Would you rather have Amanda Nunes place her fist against your face and punch you from there, or have her initiate the punch from even a few inches away?
Shotgun recoil and a good cheek weld work basically the same way. A solid cheek weld will help temper some of the recoil, which ultimately results in better control and faster, more accurate follow-up shots.
God gave us ladies longer necks and higher cheekbones than our male shooting buddies, which increases the distance from the shoulder pocket to our cheek. As a result, we often struggle to keep a solid cheek weld while firmly seating the butt of our shotgun in the shoulder pocket.
If you have to tilt your head forward or to the side or feel like you need to lean back to keep a cheek weld and a solid shoulder mount, a higher comb could be the answer.
Not everyone wants to run out and modify their stock, and that’s probably a good idea.
A slip-on comb-raising kit will let you experiment with different comb heights until you find the right fit. These kits include several foam inserts you can add or remove without permanently altering your shotgun.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
It’s no secret that 12-gauge is the accepted gold standard for shotguns. However, in most shooting circles, men make up the majority, and we all know men have this weird thing about size.
While you certainly get more “oomph” and a few more pellets per shotshell with a 12-gauge, you must consider other factors when deciding what type of shotgun you want to shoot. Bigger isn’t always better.
The typical 20-gauge will have milder recoil, which can make a world of difference for some shooters, usually in the realm of confidence.
However, a 12-gauge is more effective on game. If you can shoot a 12-gauge (or you’re willing to put in the effort to develop proficiency), then you should go for it.
Perfecting Your Gun Mount
Shooters often attempt to fix training problems with equipment solutions, and that just doesn’t work. Magic solutions don’t exist in shooting.
While you can improve your success with quality gear, that gear will only take you so far. Gear is never a substitute for solid shooting fundamentals, no matter how much cash you throw at the problem.
Before you tinker too much with stock dimensions, it’s important to practice until you can shoulder your shotgun consistently.
Consistency is king when it comes to shooting success. If you aren’t bringing the shotgun to the same point on your face every single time you mount your scattergun, your shots will be all over the place.
Make sure you mount your gun to your face and not your face to the gun. Keep your head up and your eyes on your target. Then bring the shotgun up to your face, letting the comb sit snugly under your cheekbone.
If your gun fits properly, this should have you peering straight down the barrel to the bead.
This should also position the butt right in the shoulder pocket. Once in position, you can either bump your shoulder forward or pull the butt deeper into the pocket.
There’s some natural cushioning there that will help absorb recoil — which is a godsend if you’re shooting 00 buckshot.
If you happen to be left-eye dominant but are trying to shoot right-handed, it can cause some frustrating consistency issues.
Here is a quick, simple test to help you determine eye dominance:
If you are cross dominant (meaning your dominant eye and dominant hand are on opposite sides of your body), you can try shooting with your non-dominant hand. It can take some getting used to, but it isn’t impossible and will ultimately lead to more consistent shooting.
The other option is to shoot with your dominant hand but cover or close your dominant eye when you shoot.
This forces your brain to rely on your non-dominant eye, which will be better positioned for accuracy.
Like most things in the shooting world, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Just because you know a girl who swears by her 870 Wingmaster doesn’t guarantee the gun will work for you. However, you should totally ask her if you can shoot hers to see if it will.
Guns are like shoes. The best way to see if they fit is to try them on. If possible, test drive a few different scatterguns to see what feels most natural in your hands.
Shooting a bunch of guns, while definitely fun, isn’t a practical option for most of us. If you don’t have female shooting friends that will let you try out their shotguns, here are a few options that might get you closer to the right fit.
While there aren’t many women-specific shotguns out there, plenty of manufacturers have models designed for younger shooters.
Although the average woman is smaller than the average man, she is probably taller and stronger than the average 12-year-old. That means a youth model will work well for some women but not for every woman.
Personally, I use a Mossberg 500 Youth Super Bantam for wingshooting.
It features a 13-inch LOP which matches me perfectly at 5’4” and 125 lbs (after a big meal). Plus, it is well-balanced, shoulders well, and doesn’t batter my shoulder after a full day of shooting.
Though it’s designed for younger shooters, if you are a shorter, small-framed adult female, it may be a good option for you as well.
Although there aren’t a ton of lady-specific shotguns on the market, there are a few.
Syren is arguably the leading designer of women’s shotguns, and the company is dedicated to “breaking down the traditional barriers to participation in shooting, hunting, and the great outdoors.”
These guys and gals know what women shooters need. In fact, they only make firearms for females. Syren has a line-up of models for competition shooting and hunting.
The Beretta Vittoria is another shotgun engineered specifically for feminine shooters.
Based on Beretta’s iconic over/under 690 platform, the Vittoria version was tweaked by Beretta’s champion women pro staffers to better fit the female form.
There are plenty of female shooters who somehow make a standard factory shotgun work for them.
My go-to turkey gun is an off-the-shelf Remington 870 Express 12-gauge, and I’ve punched plenty of tags with it.
A few gender-neutral factory guns that work well for female shooters include:
Highly adjustable models, like the Mossberg 500 Flex, feature interchangeable stock components that can be configured in a variety of combinations to help you get that Goldilocks “just right” fit and feel.
Then there are options like the Winchester SX4 that are slimmer, well-balanced, and built to reduce recoil. The SX4 also comes with a spacer to adjust the LOP below the factory-standard 14.5 inches.
The best way to get the perfect fit is to invest in a bespoke shotgun.
A professional gun fitter can analyze your measurements and then take those back to the shop and use them to create a made-to-order, one-of-a-kind shotgun designed for your specific body, needs, and preferences.
Although this is the best way to get a shotgun that fits you perfectly, it is incredibly pricey. The cheapest versions cost several thousand dollars.
They can set you back by six figures on the expensive end of the spectrum.
Shooting well is a heckuva lot easier when you have a weapon that fits your body.
As more women get involved in the shooting sports, manufacturers will have to bow to the pressure and offer us more models to meet our specific needs.
Until then, the options on this list should help you get close enough to experience some success.
Ladies, be sure to share your shotgun success stories (and horror stories) in the comments below. Think of PPT as a therapist, only cheaper and much less qualified. If you’re looking for a handgun to go with your shotgun, check out our list of the 15 Best Handguns for Women.