How plastic shims can fine-tune your gun—and make you a better shot
The 98 cents’ worth of plastic shims that came with your new $1,800 semiauto might be the most important part of the whole shotgun. Stock shims let you fine-tune cast and drop to get a perfect fit—and make your new gun almost a part of you. This is a big deal. Before shims, altering a wood stock involved a gunsmith and real money, and changing the dimensions on synthetic stocks was pretty much impossible.
Now, many shotguns come with shims, including such affordable standards as the SuperNova pump and the Mossberg 930. No longer is the off-the-rack shotgun a one-size-fits-all proposition. That little bag of plastic shims can make you a much better shot, if you know how to use what’s inside.
The first thing to do with your shim kit is…nothing. Put it someplace where you will not lose it, and start with an honest appraisal of your gun mount. If you practice it on a regular basis and are already dialed in, you can skip this step. Otherwise—and here I am talking to the vast majority of you—listen up.
Your head is the rear sight of the shotgun, but think of it as a scope for a moment: There’s no point in sighting in a gun if the mounts and rings are loose and the scope wiggles. Likewise, if your head doesn’t meet the stock consistently, your point of impact will wander and gun fit becomes a moving target. You need to crank down the screws. With a real scope, you use a Torx wrench. With a shotgun, you practice your gun mount until the “sight” (your head) comes to the same place on the stock every time.
I’ve written ad nauseam about how to mount a shotgun correctly, but it really matters, so let’s review: Practice at home by first checking and then double-checking that your gun is unloaded. Pick a spot on an opposite wall, fix your eyes on it, and bring the gun up so that the muzzle points to the spot without your looking at the bead. Do this by pushing the muzzle toward the target while raising the stock smoothly to your face first, not your shoulder. Don’t crush your head into the stock, because you won’t do that in the field. If you practice this drill with a Mini Maglite AA in the muzzle, the beam will tell you if the gun is pointing where it’s supposed to. You can also check your work in a mirror. When you mount the gun on your reflection, you should see your eye centered over the rib. Do that for 10 to 15 minutes a night for a couple of weeks.
Once you are mounting your gun consistently, take it to the range and shoot “groups” with a tight choke while standing 16 yards from the target. Use paper, a steel pattern plate (no steel ammo with steel plates, though) if you have access to one, or a hanging bedsheet with a mark painted on it. Mount the gun, neither rushing nor aiming, and shoot at the mark. Don’t correct if you’re off target. You’re trying to shoot a good group, not hit the bull’s-eye.
If you hit the same place every time, you’re ready to consider shims. (If you don’t, keep on practicing your gun mount.) Look at the center of your group. If it’s on or less than 2 inches off the mark, you’re probably good (depending on where you want your point of aim to be; see below). Otherwise, for every 2 inches off, you need a 1⁄8-inch adjustment to the stock in the appropriate direction.
The shims go where the buttstock meets the receiver, so you’ll need a Phillips screwdriver to remove the pad, and a long flat-head screwdriver or extended socket wrench to take off the stock. (Some kits also include a plate that goes over the stock bolt after you put the stock back on.)
If you want the gun to shoot higher, use a shim that gives you less drop; in the case of Italian shims, it’s a lower number of millimeters. With U.S. shims, it’s usually something like +1/8. (Check the manual.) To lower your point of impact, which is the most common adjustment, use one with a greater number of millimeters or –1/8. Move the pattern right with cast off, left with cast on. Italian shims are marked D for destra (“right” for cast off) and S for sinistra (“left” for cast on, or “evil,” which is completely unfair to us left-handers). Repeat the pattern process and change out shims as necessary until you’re satisfied. When that’s done, I like to go to station 7 on the skeet field and shoot low-house outgoers with a low-gun start to be sure the gun hits where I’m looking.
Where you set your point of impact is up to you. Most hunters and many sporting-clays shooters prefer a gun that centers the pattern on the point of aim, giving a 50/50 pattern that prints half above and half below the aiming mark, and a sight picture that’s flat along the rib. Some upland hunters and target shooters prefer to “float” the bird over the barrel, and therefore like a gun that shoots a little high—about 55/45—and lets them see a little bit of rib. Trapshooters like guns that shoot 60/40 or even higher. However you prefer to shim your stock, you’ll have made it a perfect fit for you, and that’s time and 98 cents very well spent.
GEAR TIP: Beware the Floating Gun Case
Floating gun cases have become standard equipment among waterfowlers and many other hunters. They’re convenient and offer peace of mind should the boat swamp. But they have one huge drawback: They don’t breathe. If you put a damp waterfowl gun in a floating case after your hunt, it might be orange with rust by the time you get home a couple of hours later. It has happened to me. Take the time to wipe your gun down with an oiled cloth before you put it back in the case. By the way, the best method for drying the inside of a floating case is to stick it on a boot dryer.
Written by Phil Bourjaily for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ve always been a fan of YETI products and the first thing you see when this pack arrives is its durability. This pack has been floating around the back of a small Cessna, bottom of a boat, back of a pick-up and quite honestly dragged through the dessert more than once. When all was said and done the “Stand-up Construction” still stood up.
In part because of the shell which includes a water-repellant coating, a PU-backed 1000D nylon face, and 210D ripstop backer. Which means its rugged and will stand up to some of the harshest critics when it comes to durability.
The second standing point for this pack is its functionality. We like simple and the multi-use functionality easily allowed us to go from board room to back woods without skipping a beat. Fly Fishing gear, sunglasses, and even a shelter for your laptop if for some reason work comes calling during the pursuit.
Our one gripe was size, at times it did seem overkill for the short-trip but the side handle is key when needing to carry it more like a brief case or duffle than a pack.
With it all said and done this pack withstood the test of time and its two main features speak loudly, durable and functional. What more could you want in a pack.
How to catch more walleyes, bass, pike, and muskies on spinner rigs and bucktails
Why do blades adorn so many different lures designed to catch so many different types of fish? Three reasons: flash, vibration, and sound. It doesn’t matter if it’s the tiny teardrop of a walleye spinner or the massive bangle on a muskie bucktail, blades of all shapes and sizes send thumping underwater signals that make big fish hit. All kinds of big fish. Spinnerbaits win bucketmouth tournaments and pull monster pike from northern bays. Bucktails catch more muskies than every other lure combined. Spinner rigs are the classic choice for trophy walleyes, and blade baits dupe the biggest smallies.
While blades work year-round, their ability to draw reaction strikes in the spring is unmatched. With northern lakes just past ice-out and southern ones yet to warm, lethargic fish can be incredibly difficult to catch. They need something to wake them up, get their attention—even piss them off a little. And nothing agitates big spring fish more than a vibrating, flashing, annoying piece of spinning metal. With so many ways to run so many different bladed lures, we asked four of the country’s top trophy-fish hunters to reveal their No. 1 spring blade tactic. Here are their secrets.
Northern Pike: Roll the Cabbage
The Expert: Steve Scepaniak, pike and muskie guide Home Base: Lake Mille Lacs, Wahkon, Minn. Contact:Predator Guide Service
Go-To Lure: Ruff Tackle Rad Dog Spinnerbait
Lake Mille Lacs is renowned for its toothy predators, and while longtime area guide Steve Scepaniak focuses mainly on the lake’s muskies in summer and fall, he turns his full attention to huge pike early in the season. “There’s no better time to score a giant than in the spring,” he says.
And there’s no better lure to catch them with than a big spinnerbait. “Of the 700 or 800 pike over 40 inches I’ve had in my boat, I’d say three-quarters of them have come on spinnerbaits.” For every one of those spring spinnerbait fish, the lure was allowed to sink in the water column for a few seconds before the retrieve. “This is the most important detail for catching pike now,” Scepaniak says. Other times of year, a fish may come up to grab a lure, but not in the spring. “Getting it down to them is the key.”
By now, pike are done spawning, but they haven’t left the shallows. “In April and May, large post-spawn females will hang in back bays before moving out as the water warms,” says Scepaniak, who starts targeting these fish when water temps are in the low 60s. “The first thing you have to do is find the cabbage,” he stresses. Keep your boat around 12 feet deep, and look for the vegetation in 4 to 6 feet of water. Almost any cabbage bed will hold at least some pike in the spring, for a couple of reasons. “First, the structure of cabbage provides optimal ambush sites for pike,” he explains. “Second, the broad leaves of cabbage produce lots of oxygen, which attracts zooplankton and phytoplankton, which attract baitfish, which then attract northerns.” Scepaniak works large spinnerbaits low and slow in the water column to ply the deeper cabbage leaves. “Run it just fast enough so that the blades are barely spinning—no faster,” he says. The lure only needs to give off a little vibration. “The pike will home in on that, and eat.”
Pro Tip: Switch Blades
Scepaniak uses a number of commercially made spinnerbaits at this time of year, but every one of them, including his favorite Rad Dog, gets one mandatory alteration. “I switch out every blade on every spinnerbait to a No. 8 Colorado,” he says. “The immense vibration of that big round blade is essential to catching big pike.” Most pike and muskie spinnerbaits have a small split ring where the blade is attached, making it easy to change them out. “All it takes is some spare No. 8 Colorados and some split-ring pliers to get more vibration—and catch more fish.”
Muskies: Burn a Buck
The Expert: Mike Hulbert, muskie guide Home Base: Lake St. Clair, Roseville, Mich. Contact:Mike Hulbert
Go-To Lure: Joe Bucher 700 Series Bucktail
Running bucktails for muskies often involves huge, double No. 10 Colorado blades. But not at this time of year, says Mike “MJ” Hulbert, who’s known for boating trophy muskies. “In spring, I throw small, weighted bucktails at stupid warp speed to get reaction strikes from fish that aren’t yet fired up,” he says.
Regardless of where you are, muskies will spawn in the weeks after ice-out in back bays and shallow flats—and that’s where they’ll stay for a while, recuperating in a lethargic post-spawn phase. “I try to pick them off before they head back out to open water,” Hulbert says. “I focus on rocks, riprap, and newly emergent green weeds in 3 to 6 feet of water.” Weather can be a huge factor too. “I’ll start targeting these fish when the water creeps into the 60s, but I also pay particular attention to warming trends, when the water may spike a few degrees,” he says. Southwest winds and rising humidity usually mean better action too.
No matter what the conditions, the real key lies in getting these torpid, zoned-out, post-spawn giants to wake up and react. That’s where burning small bucktails comes in—but there’s a trick. In order to achieve warp speeds while still keeping these relatively light baits under the surface, Hulbert puts some weight on. “No factory bucktail is heavy enough for this application,” he says. “If you’re a tinkerer, you can cut the shaft of the bucktail, slip on a 3⁄4-ounce egg sinker, and retwist.” If not, just attach a 3⁄4-ounce bell-shaped bass-casting sinker with a small split ring, placing it near the skirt where it won’t impede the blade action or hookup ratio.
As a side benefit, that extra weight greatly improves casting distance. Covering a ton of water is key to this tactic, so making bomb casts is a must. Or as Hulbert puts it: “The one who casts the farthest is the one who gets bit.”
Walleyes: Spin the Spawn
The Expert: Ross Robertson, walleye guide Home Base: Lake Erie, Toledo, Ohio Contact:Big Water Fishing
Go-To Lure: Silver Streak Crawler Harness
Lake Erie is synonymous with donkey walleyes, and no one is better at catching them than guide Ross Robertson. “In April and May, I’m buying nightcrawlers and fishing spinner rigs,” he says. “Crankbaits can smoke fish under certain conditions, but trolling a spinner rig gives me the versatility to catch fish all day during various stages of the spawn.” The spinner’s blades get a walleye’s attention, but even if that fish is finicky, the scent of live bait combined with a slow presentation often seals the deal. “The crawler is the closer,” says Robertson.
On big lakes, he targets walleyes that spawn near the main reefs. On smaller lakes and rivers, he keys on tributaries and smaller reef structures. In both areas, fish will trade to and from the spawning ground, and Robertson nabs them on the move. “I focus on the first transition to deeper water,” he says. “In this zone, fish can be anywhere from 12 to 40 feet deep, so it’s important to use your electronics to pinpoint fish.”
Walleyes are slow-moving now and often glued to the mud. “Spinner rigs can be trolled on or just off the bottom to reach them,” Robertson says. “The key is to make very subtle changes in boat speed to vary the depth and get your rig where the fish are.” Speeding up or slowing down even 0.1 mph can have a huge impact. “As a rule, 1 mph is a good place to hover,” he says. Then just add or subtract. But not too much: “At any speed lower than 0.7 mph, the blades stop spinning; faster than 1.4 mph, and the rig lifts too high off the bottom.” The trick is to find the sweet spot. You’ll know when you get it right, Robertson says, because you’ll start slamming walleyes.
Pro Tip: D.I.Y. Spinner Rig
For over-the-counter spinner rigs, Robertson likes the Silver Streak Crawler Harness, but for optimum success, he suggests that you take the time to make your own. “I start out with 20-pound Sunline fluorocarbon because it’s durable and stiff, which means fewer tangles, and because it runs better at slower speeds.” The most important element of the rig is a super-sharp hook, he says. “I go with a No. 2 Gamakatsu octopus for the front hook and a No. 8 round-bend Gamakatsu treble hook as the trailer.” For the hardware components, Robertson prefers Dutch Fork quick-change clevises and No. 5 Spro power swivels. “Finally, I get plenty of No. 5 and No. 6 Colorado blades and No. 8 Indiana blades in a large variety of colors and finishes so I’ve got plenty of options with my finished rigs.”
Bass: Be a Blade Runner
The Expert: Dave Lefebre, BASS Elite pro Home Base: Lake Erie, Erie, Pa. Contact:Dave Lefebre
Go-To Lure: Steel Shad Blade Bait
It’s not every day a BASS Elite angler shares his secrets, but longtime pro and Pennsylvania native Dave Lefebre told us that he’s been using blade baits in the early season on the sly for years—and that he’s zeroed in on a spring pattern that slams trophy bass during their spawning transition. Throughout most of the country, both largemouth and smallmouth bass are in some phase of the spawn in April and May, but their exact location and activity level varies. “You can’t pick a more complicated two months to fish,” says Lefebre. You need a versatile lure to score. “My go-to now is a Steel Shad blade bait in any natural baitfish color.”
When targeting smallmouths, he looks for steep breaks adjacent to spawning flats. “Any irregular features such as small points or humps will sweeten the spot.” Early in the spring, he pinpoints fish on these deeper structures with his graph, and then vertically jigs the bait right under the boat. As the spawn progresses, he moves up onto the spawning flats and makes long casts with the same bait to cover lots of water quickly. “I use a fast, straight-line retrieve to pull reaction strikes.”
For largemouths, Lefebre focuses on structure in 2 to 5 feet of water. “Old dead grass from the year before or new emergent grass will attract spawning fish,” he says. He starts with the deepest grass first, focusing on any irregularities. As the water warms, he again moves up and dissects the flats, looking for holes, sand, and grassbeds. His approach here is similar to that of working a bass jig. “I pitch the blade out to the target, let it fall to the bottom, snap it up a few times, and repeat,” he says. If the bait catches grass, give it a sharp pop to clear the hooks and continue your retrieve.
Bass are not actively feeding at this time of year, so the key is to goad them into striking. “Blades are the best reaction baits on the planet,” Lefebre says. Their ability to sink fast, produce high flash and vibration, and closely imitate a minnow are a proven combination for inactive fish. “You can fish a blade anytime of year, but it’s my deadliest bait in the spring.”
Pro Tip: Add and Subtract
Lefebre makes his blade baits even more effective on spring bass by making a pair of tweaks. First, he likes to introduce a little extra flash. “Models like the Steel Shad are available in a ton of different colors, but adding a bit of reflective tape is quick and easy—and it can make a huge difference,” he says. His second tweak is to remove the front hook. “This is the one that snags most frequently. For covering a lot of water around docks, logs, and vegetation, having only a back hook makes life easier, and it doesn’t seem to affect my hookup ratio.”
Written by Mark Modoski for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
The outdoor industry and the backcountry bowhunting worlds have been commingling of late, driving innovation. Here’s a look at some products shaking up both categories—tested.
SITKA APEX PANT AND APEX HOODY
This kit was designed for mid-season elk hunting where temperatures spike from the low 30s on the predawn approach, to the 60s on the hike out in late afternoon. You might think that they’re not much different than your everyday hiking kit, but you’d be wrong. Backcountry hunters need rugged but light apparel that moves with them without making noise or stinking like so many synthetic fabrics do. Here, a polyester face backed by a grid of lightweight fleece is treated with Polygiene—an antimicrobial that eliminates odor. The Apex Pant is the least restrictive pair of hiking pants of any kind that I own. And the breathability is also unmatched. I wore them with a baselayer on colder days and as is on warmer afternoon hunts. Over 14 miles a day and many thousands of vertical feet, they let me move through the subalpine (which is also the name of the camo pattern shown here) more freely. The merino and nylon Apex Hoody features a built-in neck tube-like swath of material that you can pull over your head for better concealment and a touch more warmth. I wish my winter midweight hoodies had that feature. Pant: $209; Hoody: $220 —M.P.
FIRST LITE SEAK STORMTIGHT RAIN JACKET AND PANT
The company was founded by some former outdoor industry folks from Smith Sport Optics. Their first products in hunting were merino wool knicker-length baselayer bottoms that any skier would dig. Now, First Lite has expanded its line to include the type of 3.5-layer waterproof breathable rain (and snow) wear we’d never head into the mountains without after Labor Day. Fully featured with cinchable hoods, cuffs, and waterproof zippers, the Seak kit is rugged enough for moving through the snags of standing dead lodgepole forests. Pit zips let you ventilate on the climbs. So how does it differ from top-of-the-line waterproof breathable layering we’d wear backcountry skiing or backpacking? First Lite knows camo: their Cipher pattern is designed for western big game and is shown here. The sleeves, too, are cut in such a way as to not interfere with bow strings. Built-in stretch allows for a full draw. Jacket: $350; Pant: $335 —M.P.
MYSTERY RANCH SAWTOOTH 45 PACK
I’ve tested backpacks on and off for much of the past 20 years, and I can honestly say that the Sawtooth 45 is the best carrying pack of any size that I’ve ever owned, and that includes many lighter weight ski packs. The no-bullshit fit system—you adjust the yoke to your shoulders and back in seconds—delivers a custom fit that makes any heat-moldable or more complicated takes on customization irrelevant. In 10 days of backcountry hiking carrying about 30 pounds of gear, I all but stopped thinking about the pack after the first hour in the woods. That’s great, but Mystery Ranch—which was founded by outdoor industry legend Dana Gleason and is based in Bozeman—offers similar packs in its backpacking line. The truly remarkable feature of the Sawtooth is what the company calls its Guide Light MT Frame. Unclip the pack from the frame and you can haul quarters or just slip the pack farther back to haul game bags. Variations of that design are now available in Mystery Ranch’s other lines. The upside should be obvious: Think about slipping your sleeping bag and bivvy into the space between the frame and the pack. It obviates the need for a 65 liter pack. $450 —M.P.
FIRST LITE X NEMO COLLECTION: STALKER 0 SLEEPING BAG
Those of us who prefer to err on the side of camping with a warmer bag often find ourselves overheated on warmer nights. Enter the Stalker: This zero-rated, 800-fill down bag has zippered gills running vertically above your chest. Rather than unzipping the bag in the traditional manner and being hot on one side and cold on the other, you open and close the gills to regulate heat. The drawstring hood, with its additional down baffle around the neck, and the added waterproof synthetic insulation in the footbox, were great on cold nights. Side sleepers will love the way the bag stretches at the knees. $520 —D.C.
FIRST LITE X NEMO COLLECTION: NEMO RECURVE 2P TENT
Several years ago NEMO Equipment founder Cam Brensinger started hunting with his dad, which led to trading gear and ideas with the hunting apparel maker First Lite. A co-lab grew out of this friendship and the Field Collection was born. On my recent mule deer hunt, I set up a spike camp on a point to glass and pattern the animals as they transitioned from grazing to bedding locations. The Recurve weighs less than two pounds and pitches via a two pole system that forms a “T” where one pole runs along the tent ceiling, and the other drops down into a hole in the tent’s floor. You can access the canopy from both vestibuled sides. Carbon fiber struts in the tent shift to upright when guyed out, creating vertical walls where your head and feet end up when sleeping. No more sloping tent wall in your face as you lie down. $460 —D.C.
The Claim: Sage’s small-water rod delivers small flies in tight spots with short casting distances.
Field Test: Not only is my spot on the Pecos—and most of the rivers I fish—a longish approach, but it’s also small, but full of wild Brown and Cutthroat trout. So I’ve dropped my long, heavy 5-weight rod in favor of light and short.
Verdict: At 7’ 6”, the Dart is a full two feet shorter than my other rod, and it comes in 0 to 4 weight models. I chose a 3 weight, and its fast action was perfect for dropping tight loops into tight spots. And when a fish strikes a tiny caddis dryfly a few feet away, it’s game on. $700
COSTA MAG BAY
The Claim: These polarized sunglasses that remove refracted light glare off the water’s surface are essential for sight fishing.
Field Test: Small, freestone rivers and streams mean spot fishing for spooky trout, and for me matters get complicated because I wear a prescription. SportRx.com—a San Diego-based group of opticians that work with sunglass makers like Costa, fit my prescription into these performance frames.
Verdict: Not only did I see fish in the water with the Trivex lenses, but the lenses were progressive—that’s basically no-line bifocals to you hawk eyes—meaning I can look down into the lower part of the lens and tie on a tiny Mayfly, a total day changer. Prices vary depending on your RX.
SIMMS G4 PRO SHIFT FISHING BACKPACK
The Claim: With the pack on, you can unclip the lower “fanny pack” compartment and spin it 180-degrees around your waist while the shoulder straps and pack stay on your back.
Field Test: My local stretch on the Pecos River in New Mexico requires a bit of a scramble to get to the goods. I thought this pack would help.
Verdict: The Shift allowed me to carry everything I needed without having to change into my waders at the put in. With its two separate compartments, the reel, flies, tip-it, float sat in the lower waist pack while the rest of the gear rode up top. In my case, I removed the upper half of the pack, and fished with the essentials in the lower pack until I got to a hot spot. $350
GRAYL ULTRALIGHT PURIFIER
The Claim: The cartridge on the Grayl removes viruses, bacteria, and protozoa, while also filtering out silt, heavy metals, and microplastics.
Field Test: When I’m on the water, I don’t carry water, but the deer and elk upstream of me don’t care. The Grayl works like one of those coffee plunger pots, pull it apart, fill the lower half with water, then plunge.
Verdict: I never want to get Giardia again! $60
KAMMOK MANTIS ALL-IN-ONE HAMMOCK TENT
The Claim: Finding a patch of ground devoid of rocks, roots, and windfall branches to set up a tent can be vexing, so why bother?
Field Test: I never find that one rock—until I’m settling into sleep. This year I lofted it, hammocking to avoid tortured terra.
Verdict: All I needed was to find two live trees between 12 and 18 feet apart, and I hung the webbing straps and attached the carabiners integrated into the hammock. I was swinging in less than five minutes. The bug net can be removed, and a rain fly guyed out hovers over the hammock. An optional Pongo Pad inflatable mattress helps keep the base flat to avoid the banana effect on your back. And all at under three pounds. $229
The Claim: A great solution for “dogs must be on leash” campgrounds, this hitching rope ties to two trees above the ground, and you simply attach your dog’s leash to the thread-locking carabiner for 20 to 30 feet of tangle-free rover roaming.
Field Test: My German Short Haired Pointer, Daisy, will never sit still. Who better to test it?
Verdict: Tangle-free Daisy. One end has webbing with loops to adjust to various tree or post diameters, the rope is reflective, and the stuff sack is attached to the rope for no more “where is that little sack?” moments when packing up. $60