Dear Bruce:

Although you have expressed your dislike in regard to step ribs in no uncertain terms, I am interested in your response to a specific question on this topic, as follows: Many of us are head lifters and probably fare better with an erect (head up) shooting style. In addition, in sporting, unlike other clay games, we shoot many dropping targets which increase the likelihood of head lifting.

Does a step rib, together with a higher straight comb, to some extent mitigate the head lifting problem?

Once again, thanks for your insights.


Dear Jim,

I don’t see how a step rib is going to help a head-lifter. If the rib is set up so that it comes into proper alignment when the head is lifted, then it won’t be in proper alignment when the head is placed firmly against the stock the way it ought to be. Head lifting is a curse we all face, but a high head isn’t the problem. Shooting with a high head is fine just as long as it is done consistently. The problem is that the head is sometimes tight against the stock and other times lifted slightly. It’s the change in head position that causes the grief.

Yes, I do think that the high percentage of sporting clays droppers increase the tendency to head lift, but I think that the cure is better technique, not a mechanical fix.

People with short necks tend to shoot with a heads up attitude. People with long necks tend to crawl their stocks. Heads up is the best for eye placement as the shooter is looking out of the center of his eye and has the best vision. Head down and forward (crawled) is best for reliable stock contact and puts the body in the best position to absorb recoil and pivot for big angles. The downside is that head down causes the shooter to look slightly through the top of his eyes and thus not have absolutely the best possible vision.

There are all sorts of monster elevated trap ribs that enable people to hold their heads up and yet still get the stock on their shoulder. I’ve seen them used in trap and once even at skeet, but never at sporting. The theory is that the high rib/high comb enables a shooter to keep his head up and still bridge the distance from eye to shoulder. Some ATA-style trap shooters like the high rib because they can see the bird come up under the barrel better. It’s also a narrower “pointing” rib, so it’s more precise at long yardage.

One of the problems with a step rib is the semantics. It’s always best to define terms before discussing things. My definitions may not be yours, and I have no argument with that. It’s just that it’s important to both know what we are talking about when we use a term. I’ve always defined a “step rib” as one that is raised at the rear and slopes down to touch the muzzle. The rib is not parallel to the bore. The purpose is to give a built in vertical lead when the shooter sights flat down the rib, or to build in a great deal of vertical lead when the shooter sees a bit of rib.

I don’t like this type of rib because I prefer to set my guns up so that I look flat down the rib when I cheek “to the bone”. My actual shooting cheek pressure is somewhat less. I find that a flat rib gun with somewhat of a figure 8 bead picture works best for me. That way, when I get a dropper, I can cheek in tighter. I may get down parallel to the rib, but I will never “lose” the rib. With a step rib, my standard shooting picture is right flat down the rib, so any slight extra pressure causes me to lose the rib and basically go blind on the bird.

To me, a “raised rib” is one that is higher off the barrel than usual, but remains parallel to the bore. To me there is a difference between a raised rib and a stepped rib. A raised rib, accompanied by a higher stock, is often preferred by a head’s up shooter or someone with a short neck.

One thing to consider when curing head-lifting, if your stock is too low, when you cheek in a little harder for an awkward bird, your eye may go below the rib. When this happens, the instinct is to raise the head. Thus too low a stock can cause head lifting. A lot of other things can cause head lifting too, including a bad lunch.

You say that droppers make you lift your head. True enough, but I train my students to tuck in a little tighter on droppers to avoid just that. After a while, cheeking nice and hard on the low ones becomes second nature. Actually, you should cheek pretty firmly ALL the time. For me, the hard part is cheeking firmly and not riding the bird. You can train yourself out of that too, but that one has taken me a bit longer.

Bottom line: I don’t like ribs that are high in the rear and low in front for sporting. If that’s what you mean by “stepped” rib, then I don’t recommend it. If you are simply referring to a raised parallel rib accompanied by a higher stock, then that might work if you are a head up shooter. Personally, if your stock is high enough to begin with, banishing head lifting is just a matter of practicing good cheek contact.

And that’s all the ribbing you’ll get on that subject.

Best regards,

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

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1 Response to Ribs

  1. jim rennie says:

    A raised rib that is high in the back and low in the front is very common on guns these days. Put the barrel in a vise, sight along the rib to a target spot 20 yards away, now, without moving the vise or gun barrel, look through the centre of the barrel toward your target spot. The barrel will be pointed to a place higher than the line of sight along the rib. This little experiment quickly explains what words cannot. Give me a flat rib any day…..jim rennie.


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