Shotgun Ribs: Why They Matter

Vent vs. solid ribs, and how to use them to improve your shooting

If all of our focus is supposed to be on the target, why does the style of rib on our shotgun, or even whether the gun has a rib or not, matter at all? It matters because the gun is always there in your peripheral vision, and a rib is part of the “sight picture,” whether you believe you look at it or not. That line to the target helps you keep the bird-barrel relationship straight. Add to that the fact that many self-taught shooters aim their shotguns by squinting down the rib, and it’s no surprise that almost all modern shotguns have ribs.

Vent ribs are almost universal these days, and they are supposed to help dissipate heat and dampen mirage. In reality, a solid rib makes more sense for most field shooting, where we rarely shoot enough to heat our barrels. Solid ribs are hollow, if made right, and they don’t weigh more than a vent rib. Some old Superposeds had solid ribs. The only ones I can think of off the top of my head these days on production guns come on some Caesar Guerini guns. They look good and have the advantage of being, well, solid, so they don’t snag grass and seeds and things. They’re easier to keep clean, too, because you no longer have to scrub the underside of the rib and the posts with an old toothbrush.

It is a both a strength and a curse of mine that I can shoot about any gun equally well or badly, so I have no strong opinions on rib width, rib height, or rib design in general. I have ribs of all widths save for the double-wide Browning Broadway, and I couldn’t pick a favorite. I do like target guns stocked so I can see a bit of rib, allowing me to “float” targets, while most of my field guns give me a fairly flat view, so I am hardly aware of the rib at all.

The higher the rib, the straighter your stock can be, allowing heads-up shooting and theoretically putting the gun lower on your shoulder so you can better absorb recoil. And, if you have a stock that’s too straight for you, you can find various aftermarket rib makers who can work with you to add height to a rib, or even add an angled extension to raise or lower point of impact.

If you dent a vent rib, as we all do from time to time, resist the temptation to stick a big flat screwdriver underneath and pry it up. Invest in a rib straightener. Brownells sells one that clamps on the rib. You tighten a screw on the top and draws the rib back into line. It costs $50, which is a small price to pay to become the one among your friends who owns the rib straightener they all need to borrow. Or rent, for that matter.