By: Tracy Jones Mull
Female shooters have historically been at a disadvantage when it comes to shotgun fitment, and until recently, stock makers have not deliberately addressed a woman’s needs.
Of course, a stock can be shortened, the process of which, though inexpensive, requires finding a gunsmith who can do it right, and in the end, such an adjustment only helps with length of pull and correcting for shorter arms. The woman can more easily fire the gun, but not necessarily improve much on hitting the target.
A custom stock will take care of the issues faced by a woman shooting a shotgun designed for a man, but this option again requires finding someone who can make the stock, a long wait, and lots of money. The sky’s the limit when it comes to price, but you shouldn’t expect to pay less than a thousand dollars for a high-quality custom stock.
Affordable Ladies’ Stock for Remington 870, 1100, and 1187
The good news is that in recent years, there has been a deliberate and long overdue effort to tailor firearms specifically to the needs of women.
The Heads Up Shooting System, designed by shooting instructor and coach Earl McLean, attempts to address the specific requirements of female shooters with an affordable replacement stock for the otherwise excellent and ubiquitous Remington 870, 1100, and 1187 shotgun models in the full-size frames. McLean says a version for the smaller-framed 20 gauge is in the works.
For the stock alone, prices range from $149.00 for a satin finish and $175.00 for a gloss finish. With the optional forend for the 870, the prices are $244.50 and $274.00, respectively.
My husband and I installed the Heads Up stock on a 12 gauge 870 and tested it against my own shortened 20 gauge Wingmaster for a few rounds of skeet and trap.
Out of the Box
The understated, satin finish Express model stock we tested arrived with the replacement butt stock and Limbsaver butt pad, optional forend, forend removal tool, and instructions. Mr. McLean also thoughtfully included a list of recommended light recoiling target ammunition for the lady shooter.
I learned from this experience the Wingmaster and the Express versions of the 870 actually have different length stock through bolts. If switching from a Wingmaster to an Express or vice versa, the corresponding through bolt needs to accompany the replacement stock. McLean graciously sent us the appropriate bolt for the Express stock, and after that point we encountered no obstacles switching the parts.
Make sure you order the correct version for your gun, as the through bolts are not interchangeable.
First Impressions: Pretty and Practical
Unlike most female-oriented shooting accessories, there is not a square inch of pink or purple on the entire Heads Up product. The stock is not entirely without ornament, though, as it incorporates an attractive fleur-de-lis checkering pattern, reminiscent of that found on 1960s and 70s-era Remington guns, as well as on their 200th anniversary models and American Classic models.
The satin finish is not only understated and attractive, but also feels much better in the hand than the thick glossy factory finish.
The Heads Up stock is laser checkered, which at this price point seems really impossible to beat. It provides an effective gripping surface with more even diamond points, closely resembling a high quality, traditional hand checkered surface, though it is not as sharp as true cut checkering.
The attractive stock of our test model.
One disappointment we encountered with this set is that is the color of the forend did not match the rear stock. The forend had a decidedly red color to it, while the rear was a more neutral, lighter, natural looking wood color. Both were attractive and had much more interesting grain than any field grade Remington I’ve seen, but manufacturing limitations mean the stock and forend must be made from separate pieces of wood. Heads Up does try to match them as well as possible, but be aware they may not be an exact match in color.
Heightened Cheek Piece
The main change from the original 870 stock is that the Heads Up stock increases the height of the cheek piece relative to the butt pad by incorporating a raised comb, otherwise known as a Monte Carlo.
This raised cheek piece runs parallel to the action and barrel and resembles Remington’s trap style stock. This relieves the majority of shock to the face, which is especially important with newer shooters who may develop a habit of flinching or pulling their heads away from the stock at the last moment. This design enables one to make a solid and repeatable cheek weld, which is crucial to making consistent hits, especially on longer range targets.
As the Heads Up name implies, the majority of shooters adapt to ill-fitting factory stocks by pulling their heads down excessively. As can be seen in the accompanying photos, I tend to awkwardly raise my shoulder. Either way, an annoying and unhelpful level of contortion is required to achieve a normal sight picture. This makes it hard to shoulder the gun the same way time after time. With the Heads Up System, I had a more consistent, upright shooting position, which is essential for shotgun accuracy.
Shorter Trigger, Angled Butt Pad
Another important advantage of the Heads Up design is that the distance from the grip to the trigger, along with the overall length of the stock, has been shortened to accommodate smaller hands and shorter arms.
Furthermore, the bottom of the butt pad, or toe, is angled to the right (for a right-handed shooter) relative to the top of the butt pad, or heel. The butt more closely aligns with the angle of the intersection between the deltoid and pectoral muscles when the firearm is mounted in a standing position, which is especially advantageous for a woman with a pronounced chest.
This photograph helps to portray the level of toe out on the Heads Up stock (left). While 3/8” may not sound like much, the difference is readily apparent both visually and functionally while in use.
One minor surprise was that the Heads Up forend was 0.6 oz lighter than our test model’s original, “corn cob” style forend, given that the new forend is almost 2” longer and lacks the cutout on the inside of the older version.
Overall, the Heads Up stock is 0.9 oz heavier than the original stock, but the center of gravity is shifted rearward, which tends to make a livelier gun out of a somewhat cumbersome 12 gauge. Granted, it’s not much, but it’s a shift. And as any fan of fine British doubles will tell you, this is a game of ounces. The weight difference is another reason to consider purchasing the forend, even if you already own the longer forend.
The Heads Up forend on the bottom is significantly longer than some factory stocks, but is the same length as newer forends.
A Win at the Range
My husband performed better at skeet scores with the Heads Up fitted 870 than he did with the 20 gauge, shortened Wingmaster we used as a comparison gun. He also noted the Heads Up System noticeably attenuated felt recoil, even to the degree that the 12 gauge gun seemed to have less recoil than the 20 gauge.
I actually abandoned my own 20 gauge after a few shots because it felt so hard to use compared with the Heads Up gun, and went on to score at least as well as I ever have, despite the miserable conditions which made it difficult to be patient and may have negatively affected my concentration.
Next up was trap, and this is where the Heads Up System really proved itself. I had never tried trap before.
Target after target exploded until fatigue got the better of me, hitting four out of five at the first four stations. (Never mind about the last one.) This score doubtless would have been better if I had paused between shots, as I would have had I been shooting with competitors rather than alone. I could tell that the gun wasn’t moving the way that I wanted it to for the last several shots, and that didn’t have anything to do with the stock design.
What’s more, after shooting 50 rounds of 12 gauge ammunition, I never once thought about recoil, even in a light cotton shirt. That’s more than I can say for my old 20 gauge. The extremely soft Limbsaver pad was a great aid in this regard, as was the angle of the butt pad.
One thing I would note, however, is that the excellent Limbsaver pad is very sticky and would be a significant disadvantage for upland hunting or sporting clays, where a fast mount is required, as it tends to hang up on clothing. For skeet or trap, where mounting characteristics don’t matter, I can’t imagine anything better. My only wish is that the system could make use of a quick-change butt pad, similar to Benelli’s snap-on butt pads.
The Heads Up Shooting System is in all ways definitely a woman’s stock. This product radically transforms the fit and handling characteristics of the 870.
In fact, the only real problem I have now is deciding whether I should trade my 20 gauge in on a 12 gauge, or wait and buy the 20 gauge stock when it comes out.
Tracy Jones Mull is a writer living in Pennsylvania.