Ask Phil: Are Vent Ribs Worthless on Hunting Guns?

O.k. This has gotten to the point of taking sides here. I have gotten everyone to agree with whatever you say, so pressure is on you. For hunting, I say vent ribs are pointless extra weight. I feel I shoot my 1100s better with plain barrels. Better balance and pick up and see target better too. Others say if vent ribbed barrels aren’t much better than plain barrels, shotgun makers wouldn't go through the trouble and expense of putting them on every gun, including economy guns. Manufacturers today are always looking to cut corners so if it isn't necessary for good shooting guns, shotguns such as the Remington Express would have plain plain barrels. I think high-end makers should consider ventless barrels as an option for their field guns. I’m tired of being called crazy … unless I am crazy.

Thank you,
The dewman

You’re a little agitated, maybe, but not crazy. And, you have a valid point. Back in the day you could buy ribless-barreled pumps and semiautos, and even some O/Us came without ribs – the Marlin 90 and the Beretta Silver Snipe are two I can think of off the top of my head. Now, it’s impossible to find a plain barreled shotgun.

Vent ribs do add weight. In fact, I once had the rib taken off an 870 barrel in an effort to improve handling. It reduced the barrel weight by four ounces, which is a noticeable difference and can make a muzzle-heavy gun much livelier. A lot of pumps and semiautos can benefit from a little less weight up front. So, you’re right about that. Those of you who doubt Dewman on that point, pick up an old plain barrel Model 12, 870, 1100 or Auto 5 and you’ll see what he’s talking about. They make great upland guns.

It’s also true that the correct sight picture with a plain barrel often requires you to see the whole bird over the barrel rather than blocking it out, so you do get a better view of the target.

Now for the other side:
First, it's an unfortunate truth that most people shoot shotguns as if they were rifles, and those shooters like to be able to sight down a rib. They would hit more birds if they didn't aim, but that's how they shoot and they want a ventilated rib and one or even two beads to use as sights.

However, even those of us who don’t aim down the barrel keep track of it in our peripheral vision, and we prefer to see the narrow profile of a rib in our secondary vision in place of the wider barrel. And, for shooters who do see the rib somewhat, different rib profiles can raise and lower a gun’s point of impact.

Also, not all of a gun’s forward weight is in the rib. Better guns often have more thinly struck barrels than do less expensive guns, which results in a livelier feel without sacrificing the rib. And, some guns –the Benelli UltraLight comes to mind -- have light-weight carbon fiber ribs so there are other ways to make a gun lively besides cutting off the rib.