By Phil Bourjaily

Years ago a gun maker took a sporting clays over/under, painted it teal blue, shortened the stock, and called it a women's gun. A friend of mine bought one, but she might have been the only person who did. Fortunately, the firearms industry is starting to take the needs of female shooters seriously. There are now off-the-rack shotguns available for women, as well as guns that are easier to adapt to shooters of any size. That's a welcome change at a time when more and more women are taking up hunting and shooting.

Here are a few things that female duck hunters should look for in a shotgun.

Weight and Barrel Length. Well-meaning men often steer women toward a compact, lightweight 20-gauge as a gun that's "easier to handle." Those are often youth guns with 21-inch barrels and short stocks. And although they may suit some petite women, such firearms often kick sharply and are very difficult for adults to shoot well.

Most women would be better off with a full-sized gun. The stock may need some adjusting, but heavier, longer-barreled guns are generally easier to shoot. As a high school trap coach, I am here to tell you that with a little practice, even small girls can shoot long target guns weighing almost nine pounds. A waterfowl gun needn't be that heavy; you can find plenty of choices in the 7- to 7 1/2-pound range with 26- or 28-inch barrels, which are long enough to help smooth your swing.

Gauge. While the 20-gauge has its merits, the 12 is more effective on ducks and geese. A 12-gauge gas-operated autoloader with a good recoil pad will help keep recoil at tolerable levels. In fact, that same 12-gauge gas gun will be softer shooting than most 20s on the practice range, too.

Gun Fit. Women are built differently from men from head to toe. My friends at Irish Setter boots tell me that there are some 30 measurable differences between a man's foot and a woman's. And the differences don't end with feet. This means that a gun designed for the average man may not fit many women.

The good news is that a number of guns are now available with stocks designed to fit the "average woman" just as most gunstocks fit the "average man." These new stocks feature shorter lengths of pull, pistol grips curved for smaller hands, and the toe of the stock turned out to better fit a woman's shoulder pocket. Any stock can also be modified by a professional gunsmith to better fit an individual shooter. For example, some women find that changing the pitch and adding an adjustable buttplate like the Jones pad allows for a more comfortable stock fit. There's no need to suffer the pain or awkward shooting caused by a stock with the wrong dimensions.

Gun Choices. Caesar Guerini's Syren brand offered the first production guns stocked for women, and that lineup includes an excellent gas autoloader in a camouflage pattern. This year Franchi debuted its Affinity Catalyst roster, which features 12-gauge over/unders and inertia-operated autoloaders with women's stocks. Fausti, CZ-USA, Rizzini, and Blaser also have women's stocks on field and sporting guns. It's an overdue trend that will continue.

In addition, several manufacturers offer scaled-down 12s such as Benelli's M2 Compact and Browning's Micro Midas series. The Beretta A300 and the new A350 both have removable spacers to permit the stocks to be shortened, and like the Benellis, they also come with shims that enable you to change the stock dimensions.

Recoil-Reducing Ammo In full recognition that there are women out there who shoot 3 1/2-inch shells without a complaint, let me say this about ammunition for any new shooter: the best recoil reducer is a lighter, slower shotshell. When the birds are in range, 1 1/8 ounces of shot traveling at 1,400 fps or so will kill any duck or goose that flies. At the range, try 1-ounce loads at 1,180 fps. They can be harder to find than heavier, faster shells, but they are much more comfortable to shoot.