The Magic of Cast-off by Bill Hanus
The concept of a butt stock with cast-off (for right-handed shooters) and cast-on (for left-handed shooters) is a European import. The subject gets little exposure or discussion from American shotgun manufacturers or those who write about hunting.
Indeed, the early part of the 20th century was the "Golden Age" of shotgun development in America. Nearly all of the great names in American shotgunning offered their version of the unique phenomenon of the "repeater" shotgun. American ingenuity had evolved a whole new shooting system for reaping the wildlife riches of our croplands, weed patches, forests and waterways. The repeating shotgun -- often chambered to hold five, six or seven shells in 12, 16 and 20 gauge -- was aimed at filling the bottomless game bag. There probably wasn’t a cast-off butt stock in a carload. Probably every one of those thousands of guns was cast-neutral -- so if you missed a bird, what the heck, jack in another shell and let fly at it again... and again... and again. Why not? Ducks, pigeons, doves and pheasants all offer wide-open windows of opportunity. With lots of time to tilt one’s head to a 25 or 30 degree angle to cheek the stock, locate the sight plane and line it up with the target. To aim just like a rifle.
As Don Zutz observes in Shotgunning Trends in Transition: "If one carefully breaks down the self-taught style of most American bird hunters, including that of many today, he will note that it is a slow, jerky, two-part move with 1) the gun first being brought solidly to the shoulder and the head wiggled into place before 2) the swing is started after the flying mark."
When the "slow, jerky, two-part move" is made on targets offering small windows of opportunity (grouse, woodcock, piney woods quail and sporting clays for example), the target is gone. Worse, many right-handed shooters with dominant right eyes will shoot a cast-neutral, straight-stocked gun high and to the left. That’s because when the head is tilted to find the plane of sight, the cheek pushes the stock to the right and down. Movement away from the target is increased by chubby-cheeked shooters and thick-combed shotguns. Consistently missing birds that flush to the right confirms this difficulty. Left-handed shooters tend to push the butt of the stock in the opposite direction, so they miss birds flushing to the left.
A small amount of cast-off or "advantage right" at the butt usually solves the high and to the left problem right-handed shooters experience. Cast-on or "advantage left" does the same for left-handed shooters. The most important practical benefit of cast-off for a right-handed shooter with a dominant right eye (and for a left-handed shooter with a dominant left eye) is that it allows him to keep his focus on the target without having to look at his gun.
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Focus, Focus, Focus
Focusing on the target is the basis of all intuitive shooting techniques -- the kind of shooting most hunters have to practice to become successful. They keep both eyes on the target, bring the gun up and touch off the shot. Nobody ever remembers taking the safety off, or what the front sight looks like. The brain and the body already know what to do without being told. Cast just makes it easier by eliminating the head fake -- the "slow, jerky, two-part move" associated with cast neutral guns.
Focus on the target, not the tool. Football receivers focus on the football, not their hands. In baseball, batters focus on the ball, not the bat. In his shooting instruction column "Lesson #3: Focus on the Target" in the June 2001 issue of The Clay Pigeon, John Woolley says "To consistently hit the target, you must focus on it entirely... you should feel where the gun is, not actually see where it is when you pull the trigger."
So much for theory. In practice, bird hunters who have the cast advantage say:
"With the first nine shots from my gun, I had hit nine birds. I do miss with this gun, but I have to work at it. I don’t remember having missed a bird off point so far this year. You can believe me when I say I’ve NEVER shot this well in my life."
"The first time I shot sporting clays with my 28 gauge, I beat my 12 gauge Remington 1187 score by one bird."
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"I used to be just another bum shot out in the field wasting shells at such a rate that I got thank you cards from Winchester and Remington at the end of each season. I also got cards from the Pennsylvania Game Commission thanking me for giving other hunters a chance to get their limits. That’s all changed since I got that "un-holy" shotgun. I almost never miss a shot anymore. Two trips to Vermont for grouse and woodcock with my Sons have branded me as a game hog. The game warden up there isn’t sure if this lucky streak is even legal. My buddies won’t hunt with me. My dog has suffered several bouts of exhaustion from hunting and retrieving so much that my vet bill looks more like a new car payment.
Cast-on or cast-off really isn’t magic, I suppose, but I haven’t got the heart to tell these guys. They probably wouldn’t believe me if I did.
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