Checking comb height: what you need to do to get a clear view along your gun
David Turner explains how the correct comb height and stock length combination on a gun can help the shooter achieve a higher standard
What is comb height?
The comb is the top portion of the stock, where the shooter rests his or her cheek while shooting. The height of this will determine the view the shooter gets along the top rib, and how high or low the eye-line is in relation to that of the top rib. The comb height is the measurement taken between this line of sight along the rib and the comb itself. This difference is referred to as ‘drop’. (Read how effective are comb raisers on a shotgun?)
Most Sporters have a comb that slopes down towards the butt; this results in a variation to the height of the eye-line and thus the view the shooter will get (or not) of the target, if the stock length is altered. We will therefore see comb height measurements expressed as ‘drop at comb’ and ‘drop at heel’, as they are not the same.
Monte Carlo stocks
Monte Carlo stocks have a raised level comb, which will not affect the line of sight in the same way as they maintain a parallel shape that won’t alter the view.
It therefore stands to reason that in the case of the Sporting stock, the farther back the shooter’s face is, the lower the eye-line will be. In other words, a different view.
However, in the case of a Monte Carlo stock, the eye-line will remain the same regardless of how far back the shooter’s face is. The view won’t change.
Stock length in relation to comb height
Stock length may also become a factor that will need to be addressed, especially if the stock is shortened or lengthened, as it will change the view.
Gun fitting at home
There are a couple of images that will help you to troubleshoot your own gun-fit at home. Using a mirror and a pound coin, balance the coin on the rib approximately 20cm from the breech and look at any target. Given that you can see the bead and the target over the coin, then your eye-line height is about right.
You can also mount your gun facing a mirror and see for yourself. The bead should be sitting just on the bottom of your pupil for most of us who shoot Sporting and game. For those who shoot trap disciplines, such as DTL and Ball Trap, a higher view can be an advantage as a clear view of the target is never lost.
In these images we can see a variation in the shooter’s view .
- In the left image we can just about see the bead, which will result in a tendency to shoot too low.
- In the middle image we are seeing too much rib, which will result in a tendency to shoot too high.
- The right-hand image is just about right, not too high and not too low. So we can conclude that in the left image the comb is too low, the middle image too high but the right hand image is just about right. This is an easy way for a shooter to make his or her assessment of comb height.
In the first instance, I would always advise shooters to seek the opinion and help of a gunsmith or an instructor. These people should be experienced at making stock alterations and can suggest ways to achieve improved comb height to suit you.
Comb height – some temporary solutions
There are a number of options for temporary adjustments, which can be a sensible way to start raising or increasing the comb height as degrees of adjustment can be made. Pictured left is an example.
These are temporary but can be a handy way to help you experience and assess the differences they will make. For example, a simple moulded raiser is available in a few thicknesses and won’t break the bank.
Seldom do we see stocks that need to be lowered, but in those cases the only solution is to have a gunsmith reduce the comb height by removing some timber.
For a more permanent fix the most sensible option is to have an adjustable comb fitted. One of these will give plenty of adjustment options and will enhance how saleable the gun is. But when you have got it at the right height it is best to throw the key away as one off day may cause you (incorrectly) to blame the comb.
You should also address cast, but more about that in a future article. Remember, get a good and clear view, as you can’t shoot what you can’t see.
Take stock of your comb
Q: I’ve been told my stock is too low in the comb. What can I do about it?
A: If your comb is too low when your cheek is down on the stock, your eye may be sitting too low in relation to the barrel. To get over this, you would be ‘floating’ your head off the stock to see the target. This will cause an inconsistency; a rubber pad is a cheap way to test if you shoot any better with the comb higher. Once you have found the right height you could get a stock made to those dimensions, have an adjustable comb fitted or have a wooden insert fitted in. Try to use the comb raisers that just sit on top of the stock, as the ones that wrap over the top will also alter the cast dimensions and also push your head away from the gun.