If there is one bit of kit which seems to present more problems than any other, and certainly the one about which I get the most questions, it is that of shooting jackets. Other things seems to be much more of a science: rifles are pretty well understood*; spotting scopes themselves are fairly easy, and positioning a mere matter of trial and error; mats ditto; hats a personal preference but still fairly hard to get wrong; gloves ditto. By way of contrast, nothing but nothing seems to be so perversely difficult to get right as obtaining and maintaining a properly-fitting jacket. Unfortunately, this is one area where I definitely do not have all of the answers.
My personal bugbear in this regard is that I appear simply to require that I get a new custom-fitted jacket made every two to three years, or at the very least have my existing jacket retailored. This is expensive and a logistical pain in the arse. I have mentioned problems I have had with jackets in other posts but that was really the result of a one-off change in my body shape; what I'm really referring to in this post is what I shall term jacket fatigue.
Understanding that you need a new jacket or that your existing jacket needs a spruce up is only the start! Tales abound of recut jackets fitting even worse, and the sheer worry of sending off your order to Switzerland or Finland with the best part of 500 quid spent only to get something entirely unusable back drives many to despair. Believe it; it happens.
Why, Dear God, why is it so hard?
Shooting jackets must fit well across the shoulders and the backs of the arms to allow proper position and relaxation of the supporting arm as well as consistent positioning of the sling. Tension in this arm, or a sling which gradually slides down, pulling the jacket with it, is not a recipe for top notch accuracy. Even if you are able to maintain a good hold and release for individual shots, the shifting position will also shift your natural point of aim, which is very likely also to shift your point of impact.
|Shot with a jacket which allowed the sling to slip. Each individual shot is good, with low trace and release numbers but the overall group is shoddy because of inconsistent NPA.|
Firstly, jackets wear and stretch over time: Even the best materials are slowly distorted by the forces imposed on them during shooting. Secondly, our bodies also change in shape over time**. I have both lost and subsequently redistributed weight, but others will gain it or will change shape in other ways because of exercise, injury, illness or the aging process.
Possibly more than this, at least in fullbore where serious coaching may be a rare commodity, shooters don't always know as much as they might about how it is that jackets actually fit and commit a variety of misdeeds. I've certainly been guilty of this in the past and one of the only upsides to having to go get refitted every so often is that I learn more each time. Chief among these crimes is the idea that the jacket should fit as tightly as possible, most particularly in the padded shoulder, whose straps are cinched to twanging point. While this is an occasionally-useful hack to make an oversize jacket work, it is not really a sustainable solution and can result in further stretching and distortion.
|Note the straps in the right shoulder have taken up the slack, but aren't so tight as to completely distort the fit of the jacket.|
While I'm hesitant to give hard recommendations on this issue because I seem to have so many issues with it personally and I'm not going to recommend a particular brand or style of jacket because all of them can be made to work if they fit appropriately, a few of the lessons I have learned are:
When buying a new jacket...
1. Take the time to get jacket fitting right - Jackets are very expensive and even more so when they don't work because of time taken to get them sorted, wasted training hours etc...
2. Don't necessarily expect it to fit perfectly first time - I have been fairly lucky in this regard so far**, as only 1 of the jackets I ever had just outright didn't fit. It was still an expensive experiment and wasted a year of my time before I got it sorted. Friends, particularly females, have sometimes had serious issues in getting jackets fitted correctly. This seems to be more of an issue in ladies with an impressive decolletage.
3. Think about a local supplier who can make alterations - When #2 is an issue, you're going to need to get it recut. If at all possible, find someone local to fit it to you who can make minor tweaks to the fit as this will save a long lead time if your jacket is made abroad. I recognise that this may not always be possible.
4. Consider whether your existing jacket just needs a refit - Sometimes there's nothing really wrong with the old jacket that some new pads and a bit of a recut won't sort out. Many shooters out there run with the same jacket for many, many years before needing a new one. (Just not me, apparently.)
5. Do not get rid of your old jacket - A well-known shooter and former world champion of my personal acquaintance got a new jacket (supposedly an upgrade) and proceeded to have a miserable season; however because he still had his old jacket available, he was able to swap back and saw his scores climb back up to what they had been previously.
6. Buy your jacket at the end of the season so you have the winter to get used to it and have time to sort out any logistical cockups. Ordering a new jacket to arrive the week before the Nationals is not a risk-free exercise.
7. Jacket fit is driven by bodyweight and body shape. Most of you will change in your body weight but relatively little in shape once you're in your twenties; however be aware that major changes in lifestyle can effectively change your bodyshape semi-permanently***.
8. The jacket doesn't need to be as tight as you can possibly fit into; it should be snug but allow you to breathe. The fit across the shoulders is more important.
9. Do NOT have the straps in the right shoulder as tight as they will go because this will tend to loosen the jacket in the opposite shoulder.
10. If you find your SCATT tracelengths increasing, or if you find you have to adjust your position during a shoot with your groups enlarging as a result then your jacket may be coming out of fit.
In summary, buying a jacket can be expensive, difficult and time-consuming. My suggestions above do not in any way guarantee success because jacket fit is an art not a science; however I'm hoping that they may reduce the frustration a little.
* Although I admit that stock fit can sometimes present a few issues.
** Hold this thought, I'm in the process of having a new Kurt Thune Prone 600 jacket made at the moment. Review to follow.
*** Try going from no significant exercise in over a decade to running 60+ miles per week. That ought to do it.