Sight Picture

Dear Technoid,

I have a Beretta 682 Gold with the adjustable comb. I would like to know what my sight picture should be when I am shooting skeet. I went to a reputable gunsmith who adjusted the comb fairly low such that I see very little rib. The gun does not have a middle bead so I cannot stack the beads in a figure 8 as many of the books and training videos (Todd Bender, Gabby Hulgan) indicate. A shooting instructor that I recently had lessons with had me raise the comb. When I fired at a patterning board recently (12ga, full choke, 40 yards) the point of impact would indicate that I am shooting a little high (maybe 60/40) with the comb in the raised position, not the lower position that the gunsmith fitted me with. I have read and reread every source I have access to on sight picture and moved my comb up and down. When I shoot I have the sensation that I frequently miss over the target. My son watches me carefully and indicates that I am not lifting my head. When a middle bead is placed is it always placed in the middle of the barrel (mine is a 28 inch) and is it always the same height?

I have been shooting skeet with this gun since May at the rate of about 500-600 targets a week. My son who shoots his own 682 can pick up my gun and usually run the box or at least shoot a 23-24. A friend who is an excellent shot but hasn’t shot skeet in a while tried the gun this weekend for a few targets and shot pretty well with it. I just feel like I am not shooting as consistently as I should be by now.

Would appreciate hearing your take on all of this.



Amarillo, TX

Dear Douglas,

A sight picture is a matter of personal preference as much as it is a matter of mechanical reality.

First of all, you have to decide what type of pattern height you want. Do you like to hold on the bird or just below it? Since you are shooting skeet, you aren’t faced with rising birds (trap) or falling birds (sporting) and that makes it much simpler. If you feel you are occasionally over the bird, then a 50/50 pattern might be better than a 60/40.

Secondly, you have to know where your gun shoots. By that I mean when you sight right flat down the rib, neither above nor below the rib, where does the gun impact? Guns with stepped ribs (raised at rear, low at front) are designed to shoot slightly high when you look flat down the rib. Not all do though. Guns with flat ribs are designed to shoot 50/50 with a flat rib sight picture. Not all do.

Now, lets say that you want a 50/50 impact height and that you find that your gun shoots dead on flat (50/50) when you are looking flat down the rib. This means that your sight picture HAS to be flat down the rib to get the point of impact you want. No other way. You don’t pick the sight picture you want first. You have to use whatever sight picture gives you the impact elevation you require. Can’t put the cart before the horse.

Personally, I feel very uncomfortable looking right flat down the rib. If I am flat on the rib, the slightest extra cheek pressure drops my eye below the rib and I go “blind”. That’s why I avoid step rib guns for anything except ATA-style trap. I prefer a gun that will give me the impact height I want while I am able to see a bit of rib. Naturally, you don’t look at the rib while you shoot, but you are definitely aware of it in your peripheral vision. Since you shoot a mounted gun game putting a premium on consistency, you may also check rib and bead alignment when you first mount the gun.

While I normally don’t pay any attention to a middle bead and find them to be mostly lint catchers, if you are in the habit of checking rib alignment when you first premount your gun, a middle bead can be an aid in visual feedback. Some people are just as comfortable noting how much rib they see as opposed to a particular front/center bead alignment. It’s up to you.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Lets say that you are used to a certain rib picture. You would like to see a little rib or a squashed figure 8 when you set up. BUT your gun shoots 50/50 when you sight flat down the rib and you want a 50/50 impact. When your sight picture is a figure 8, your gun shoots 60/40 and you don’t want that. How do you get the rib picture you want and yet get the impact you want? You 1) sell the gun and try another with a different type of rib, or 2) alter the rib on the gun you do have. Those are your choices. I don’t know of any others. To lower your point of impact, while maintaining that figure 8 sight picture, you must raise the FRONT of the rib while leaving the rear as it is. This can be done with an aftermarket rib. Some trap guns come with adjustable ribs for just this purpose.

Note that none of this adjustment is done by moving the stock. Moving the stock up or down will certainly alter point of impact, but it will also alter rib picture. You want to alter point of impact while maintaining a certain rib picture. That means rib alteration, not stock alteration.

You can test rib alteration by simply using a larger or smaller front bead. A larger front bead will effectively visually raise the front of your rib and make your gun shoot lower. Smaller (or none) is opposite. This obviously isn’t the same as changing the rib, but it might fool the eye enough to give you a feel for the adjustment. I’ve also seen people use balsa wood strips on ribs. They Magic Marker them black and just tape them on. It’s good enough for an experiment though not for anything permanent.

And now for the real world: I think that sight picture is a bit more important to a trap shooter than it is to a skeet shooter. Trap is a vertical game. Skeet, particularly shootoff doubles where the game is really played these days, is mostly a horizontal game. Also, trap shooters usually use two different guns for three quite different games, so doing what ever is necessary to get a similar sight picture, while dealing with different points of impact, is at a premium. Many skeet shooters use only one gun and the game is always the same. If they do use a second gun, it will be an auto 12. For a skeet shooter it might be a little easier to get used to a certain sight picture that your gun demands, rather than modifying your gun for a certain sight picture that you demand. Obviously, if the differences in what you want and what you have are extreme, then you have to do something. But usually for skeet, you have some flexibility. At lot of it is just what you get used to.

The guys who really get into trouble on sight picture are the people who use many different guns on many different games. I do gun tests and every month I get a new shotgun sent to me. They are all different with different points of impact and different sight pictures. You learn to adapt. Of course, that also explains why gun reviewers are such lousy shots.

Bottom line: Try to ignore your sight picture for the moment. Set your stock for a height that will allow proper consistent cheek pressure and the kinds of target hits you are looking for. Once you have obtained this, then check the resultant sight picture. Can you live with it? If “yes”, you are done. If “no”, get a different gun. There it is in a cruel world.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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