Shooting EquipmentTips and TricksVintage

Claybirder’s Survival Kit

If spent hull gets stuck in chamber, this hand extractor can be remedy. There is pry on one end to loosen a particulary tough jammed shell.

Ever meet a serious trap or skeet shooter who took his gun out of the factory box and shot it as it was – without altering or customizing anything? Not too many, I’ll warrant. As a race, we clay-busters have a passion for endlessly fiddling with our guns, constantly trying to improve them. We are trying to achieve improved performances by adjusting our guns to produce perfect scores. Long ago, I realized that, if I could get the one behind the gun properly adjusted, only then would I be on the road to those perfect scores. But it wasn’t until I began to follow my own advice that half-way decent scores resulted.

In Europe, where many guns are custom-fitted, initially there isn’t too much excuse for gun fiddling. The American shooter, relying mainly on mass-produced, standard-dimension guns, has far more legitimate reasons for doing so, because all shooters don’t conform to being about five-foot-ten and a slightly overweight forty-ish Mr. “Average Man” for whom most factory guns are designed! It is vital that a gun fit a shooter perfectly for potentially perfect results, but it also is important that the shooter believes his gun is right for him. Confidence in one’s equipment rates on par with confidence in one’s ability in the target-hitting game.

These items – some unlikely still can help do odd, but pleasant things to your trap and skeet scores!

Apart from the gun itself, tools for amateur gunsmithing and minor field repairs, cleaning equipment, clothing and accessories, all play a part in the development of the shooter. Over the last twenty years, I have collected a number of such items – some purchased, some modified and some created. I refer to them as my “survival kit”. Even though they may not all be of use to me, I often use them for other shooters who are still negotiating the tricky path to adjusting behind the gun!

Raising the comb (reducing the drop – making the stock “straighter”) is probably the most common of all adjustments. The easiest and most comfortable material to use is the plastic-backed, adhesive rubber tape. It is one-thirty-second-inch thick – an ideal thickness for increasing the height, layer by layer. Secure each layer firmly with strips of Scotch tape. Once the correct height has been reached, you may wish to finish it in a better looking material.

A leather comb can be used, its underside edges neatly chamfered to flow smoothly into the lines of the stock. If your face is getting kicked on recoil, either place a strip of foam rubber under the leather or, if you have a Monte Carlo comb, put a one-sixteenth-inch reverse slope on it. This will take the stock away from your face on recoil and only alters your sighting plane one-thirty-second of an inch.

Putting weights in the stock, ifthe gun swings improperly, can change the balance point, often for the better.

If your gun feels sluggish and won’t go where you want it to in time, odds are that it’s muzzle heavy. Remove the recoil pad and fill the recess with some light, bulky padding, like cotton or kleenex, that is easily removable for subsequent access to the stock-retaining screw. In the very end of the stock, insert old fishing weights or strips of bullet lead wire, weighing about an ounce each, until the gun balances on the joint pin and the overall weight feels evenly distributed between your hands. Make sure the weights are wedged firmly in place by proper packing and covering, so they don’t rattle around while you’re shooting. The result is that guns often feel a pound lighter, even though they weigh a few ounces more.

Lengthening or shortening stocks is another common adjustment. Temporary and experimental work can be done with a slip-on recoil pad. To increase its length, it can be packed with spacers until the desired length is reached. Frank Pachmayr’s 550 series recoil pad is the best I have found for trap shooting. It is the first one really contoured to the shape of the body where the gun goes in and, once in place, the sawteeth make any lateral or vertical slipping absolutely impossible. The 550 series includes a flat-ended model for the skeet shooter.

An adjustable recoil pad allows variance of drop by its up and down movements. In some types, between the hard rubber back and the metal plate, is a layer of sponge rubber: by tightening or loosening the screws at the toe and heel of the pad, the pitch also can be altered. One Italian-made pad can be angled sideways as well as up and down. This is particularly useful for women shooters, as it allows them to tuck the pad under their armpit and so avoid the discomfort of the toe digging into their breast – while the gun still remains upright and un-canted. Both these pads come with curved or flat ends. Frank Pachmayr will shortly be producing an American version of the Italian pad.

The standard factory gun usually has a trigger with a flat surface. In order to pull this with maximum ease, the finger would have to be at right-angles to it. As one must retain his hold on the grip, this is impossible and the finger pulls at an angle of approximately forty-five degrees. To make for a better, more comfortable and easier pull, a little work with a curved file will shape the trigger to the soft forty-five-degree angle of most custom-built guns. To make mine even more comfortable, I also relieved the guard a little.

If there is second-finger bruising, this rubber protector by Parker-Hale of England should solve the problem.

Some shooters suffer from second-finger bruising. This generally is caused by an incorrect distance from trigger to pistol grip, wrong angle of the pistol grip – or funny-shaped fingers! A rubber finger-protector can be used or it can be duplicated easily, if unobtainable, with a little tape and ingenuity. Some of the uninitiated don’t give a great deal of thought to cleanliness of shotguns. After all, it’s only a straight tube, and in this day of chrome-lining, there isn’t much that can happen, they feel. But it’s not quite that simple.

Corrosion can form in the chambers, especially from the sweating of some plastic hulls. Normal cleaning brushes aren’t big enough to clean the chambers. I use a phosphor-bronze brush that is a refugee from a 20mm cannon cleaning kit, plus a wire spiral meant as a 10-gauge cleaner for scrub- bing out the chambers. Some of the most useful cleaning aids for getting into corners of actions and internal mechanisms are old tooth brushes and typewriter-cleaning brushes. For those who don’t like to be conscious of the sight when actually firing, but shoot off the end of the barrels, some metal bluer will turn a brass sight to a dull, barrel-matching color. Black paint will defeat the purpose, as it would be shiny, and felt-tip pen black wears off quickly.

A steel rule – not cloth, it stretches – is useful for measuring the length of pull. A device for measuring the weight of the trigger pull covers an important factor often ignored by shooters. It can affect the amount of lead given a target, as the harder or heavier trigger generally will require a longer reaction time between brain message and actual pulling. To alter the shotgun trigger pull is a highly skilled job best left to professionals. I once ruined four sets of Browning sears and bents before I began to get the idea!

Thongs on the belt and out of way, allow carrying game without weight on shoulder as in a game vest. Red Cap Gun Toter allows the gun to be carried in a safe but ready position in field, without tiring one’s arm.

I carry an emergency repair kit for all of my guns when competing. With my Remington 1100, occasionally the extractor claw breaks. A punch, turned down to the right diameter and length, pushes out the two pins to drop out the trigger assembly. A small electrical screw driver, the point especially ground, serves to get behind the broken fragment, then holds the spring depressed, while a new claw is inserted.

In Europe, there is a specific type of costume for shooting, which was mod before the mods got into the act. There is no great point in discussing fashions here, but there are some definite advantages – as your scores will show – in wearing the right kind of clothes and accessories for the firing line. As an example, for those rainy days, why not fit a leather patch to your rainproof jacket. It will allow far better gun-mounting, which is the key to successful shooting.

I have found that the average leather shoulder patch is too thin and the rubber pad inserted behind it too flexible. They will tend to pinch together when the gun is placed in the shoulder and, if those folds of material include your skin, you’re going to have a nasty and painful pinched bruise – apart from the fact that your gun will not always be seated properly. By using two layers of top quality suede, at least one-sixteenth-inch thick – one outside and one sewn to it as a backing piece inside the jacket – I achieved adequate protection from recoil and a shoulder patch which always retained its flat surface, no matter how much it was used. The smaller and more numerous the diamonds sewn across the patch, the more rigid it becomes the large, the more flexible. Diamonds with sides about an inch long seem a good compromise.

Lengthening or shortening stock is a common adjustment. Slip-on recoil pad (right) can be used for experiemental work, packing it with spacers until correct length is determined. For a reduction in recoil, as well as aid to lengthen for shooter, recoil pads can be used.

It is important that there is no lateral or vertical movement of your shooting jacket or it will affect the correct placing of your gun. On the normal skeet vest, the weight of shells in the pocket will prevent the important right side of the vest from moving upwards. But what happens towards the end of a round, when the shells are almost used up? Earl Pellant, inventor of the Stok-lokater, gave me a couple of strips of leather and I adapted his idea by fastening the top with an elasticated strip to the bottom of the inside of the shoulder patch. The other end loops around the belt and so holds the patch in position at all times. The adjustment at the belt end is to allow for different thicknesses of belt. Another excellent alternative is to get one of Bill Pleassinger’s body-hugging International skeet vests and the problem of vest and patch movement ceases to exist.

If your shooting glasses bear uncomfortably on the bridge of your nose, you can fit Morris sponge-rubber nose pads or soft plastic pads by Danbert of Sierra Madre, California, which fit over the nose pieces and wear better than sponge rubber, as they are not affected by perspiration. A piece of chamois leather is invaluable for insuring maximum cleanliness of the glasses. So as not to lose your glasses, if there aren’t already a couple of slits in the back of the case, cut them so as to fit the case onto your belt. For speedy recognition, mark the color on the outside of the cases. It is important always to wear glasses, even if you do not need them optically. They guard against fatigue induced by excessive brightness, against blown back powder particles hitting you in the eye just as you are about to shoot and, if they are toughened lenses, against the remote possibility of a burst barrel.

If you rest your gun barrels on your foot between shots, this pad saves on shoes. Top is a piece of sponge rubber encased in leather. Sides are of elastic with thin leather bottom.

It is just as important always to wear adequate hearing protection, as being subjected to shotgun reports quite definitely causes hearing loss, which never can be recovered. The product I use is the Soundown custom-moulded hearing protector by French Laboratories of Sacramento. So as not to lose them in their small original containers, buy a plastic pill-container, drill or burn two holes in the lid, thread a piece of chain through, attach a clip and you can then keep the ear protectors on your belt.

I find it comfortable and practical to wear gloves summer and winter. In summer, they prevent the gun slipping in sweaty hands and protect the metal parts from the rusting effects of sweat. In winter, they keep the hands warm and allow some sensitivity for trigger-pulling. Trueshot gloves by Tarantella of Walsall, England, allow the trigger finger to be exposed. The winter model is silk-lined for greater warmth, the summer model ventilated.

A good gun deserves good protection. The best is a hard rectangular gun case, but I travel a lot and prefer the convenience of a strong leg-o-mutton case. I replaced the original thin strap, which soon cuts into your shoulders, with a thick, padded golf bag strap. I also replaced the usual sharp-edged handle with one contoured comfortably to fit the hand. Attached to the handle is a label with my name and address and my name also is imprinted on the case itself. To the full-length case, which I sometimes carry for local shoots, I added a pouch on the side to hold cleaning rods, cleaning material and some small tools. Also added is a soft shoulder pad fitted to the original thin strap.

There should be enough gun, accessory and clothing gadgetry here to keep the most ardent buff from concentrating on his shooting for weeks, but not enough to keep his wife complaining about the depletions to the household budget, for none of them are costly. Just helpful.


This article was written by Derek Partridge and originally published in Gun World, November 1970 issue. Republished with permission.