With rare exception, women are smaller boned. We have figures. Our cheek bones are higher. Our necks are proportionately longer. The length of our arms corresponds to our heights which are generally shorter. We’re not as strong nor do we have the muscle mass in our shoulders. We bruise more easily. The recoil of a rifle affects us more than men. With these differences in mind, the rifle must fit the lady.
Rifles were not naturally designed to fit a woman’s body. They were often too heavy, too long or too bulky. In history, women only used them when necessary such as the killing of game or self-preservation. In those instances, the women disregarded pain and discomfort in the use of the rifle as they had no choice. Even as women entered military service or law enforcement, the woman’s rifle had not even been a consideration. Women learned and used rifles designed for men. When rifles are purchased by or for women today, little thought is given to her comfort. What is looked at is the appearance, the caliber, and perhaps the accessories. Holding, carrying and using the rifle for game or sport is not a consideration at this point. It only becomes one when she’s sitting long hours in a blind, in a tree stand or in a prone position.
Times have changed. The firearms industry eventually realized they’d overlooked a large segment of the population. Women carrying rifles in the military and their increasing number as hunters made the firearms industry look at smaller versions of their product. The introduction of the “Youth Model” brought women and youngsters into the fold. You get more women involved in the rifle culture by providing something that fits them. She must enjoy it in many shooting positions. Just like pistols, if she’s not happy with the firearm she will not participate. Your invitations to hunt, “plink” or to shoot competitively will fall on deaf ears. Ladies now demand something men have always enjoyed, comfort.
Because of the differences between men and women, we need to seriously examine the rifle stock, which is the backbone of the rifle itself. The stock holds the barrel and the action components. Without the proper fit of the stock to the person, you sacrifice comfort, control and accuracy. This is where a “stock fitter” becomes an important part of the equation. Not a gunsmith, the “stock fitter” measures your length of pull and determines the height of the comb and the right angle of the stock to the barrel. This makes a difference in a comfortable placement of the butt stock in the shoulder pocket, your finger on the trigger, and the strain on your neck as you rest your cheek on the comb. The cheek position on the comb should naturally align your eyes with the sights.
If you choose not to hire a “stock fitter,” there are other ways to determine your fit. The length of pull or LOP is the distance from the middle of the trigger to the end of the rifle’s butt stock. Standard LOP is 13 1/2 inches. A stock can be as short as 11 inches and as long as 15 inches. With the correct length of pull, you will have quick sight acquisition, better control, better accuracy and feel more comfortable. The barrel should naturally point toward your target.
Comb Height and Stock Angle to the barrel, if properly designed for a woman, will ensure that the rifle is sitting well on her shoulder in the fleshy pocket of muscle which will absorb the recoil of the rifle with the least amount of bruising. The “drop at comb” is the measurement between the line of sight and the comb of the stock. The “drop at heel” is the length between the line of sight and the end of the butt stock. Placing your cheek on the side of the comb (also called the cheek piece), if you see too much rib on the barrel, the stock is too high. If you don’t see any rib on the barrel the stock is too low.
Some rifle manufacturers recommend purchasing a rifle with a short length of pull. The reasoning is that it is easier and more affordable to make the LOP longer than shorter. This can be accomplished with stock spacers and recoil or butt pads. If you purchase a rifle with a long LOP you’ll end up visiting the gun smith to have the stock cut down to a comfortable position. Plenty of rifles now come with adjustable length of pull systems.
The rifle industry has come a long way from the basic wooden stocks of the past to the ergonomic synthetic stocks of today, and adjustable triggers. Two youth rifles with these new choices can be found on this website. The Remington 700 Special Purpose Youth 7mm-08 Remington, and the Remington 700 Special Purpose Youth 243 Winchester. The overall length is 39 5/8 inches, length of pull is 12 3/8 inches, the drop of the comb is 1 1/8 inches, the drop of the heel is 1 3/8 inches and the average weight is 7 pounds.
The Ruger American Legend Rifle is a youth rifle which has “two interchangeable compact length of pull stock modules that provide comb height options for scope or iron sight use.” Models are chambered in .22 Magnum and .17 HMR.
Other rifles for women and youth include the Mossberg 100ATR bolt-action rifle, the Weatherby’s Vanguard Youth bolt-action rifle and any AR-15 with collapsible stocks. These have adjustable length of pull and some have adjustable cheek pieces. The Weatherby Camilla for women in 243 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmore, 7mm and 308 Winchester has received great reviews from women.
When I instruct women in Basic Rifle, they learn the fundamentals of shooting on three youth rifles in .22 caliber. Using a semi-automatic, a lever-action and a bolt-action, they fire from four positions to simulate a hunting or competition environment. They’re then introduced to three center fire full-size rifles, same action types in .223, .44 magnum and .308 with the firing from those same four positions. The firing of the rimfire and centerfire rifles are done with iron sights, peep sights and scopes. The women agree that the youth models are easier to handle and shoot in any position. Of the three center fire rifles, the most comfortable rifle was the .223 AR15 with its adjustable stock. It was easier to maneuver in and out of positions, lighter to carry, and quicker on sight acquisition. The scope was of course their favorite sight, but that’s for another article.
We live in an “adjustable world.” As such, we no longer must settle for less. The Perfect Lady’s Rifle must be of a caliber she wants for her type of competitive shooting, “plinking” or hunting. It must have a comfortable weight, a length of pull which enables her to have quick sight acquisition, a comb height and stock angle for better control, and better accuracy. With the proper sight, she becomes a rifle enthusiast. For some women, the rifle’s appearance plays a part in it, but for the truly serious rifle enthusiast, comfort and results “trump” appearance.
The Perfect Lady’s Rifle will put meat in the freezer, trophies on the mantle and a smile on the face.