Ask The Instructor: Head Lifting

Question: I have a problem with lifting my head off the gun. In overcast conditions or shooting against a background with vegetation, the problem gets worse. I don’t lift it intentionally, but when I do, I shoot high. How can I stop myself from lifting my head?

There are three basic causes for a shooter lifting his or her head off the gun. The first, and least common cause, is anticipation of recoil. If your gun has a pitch problem (the angle of the butt pad in relationship to the rib), this can cause excessive muzzle jump, a bruised cheek and a tendency to lift the head in anticipation of the recoil. However, I don’t believe this is your challenge.

The most common reason for head-lifting is excessive drop-at-comb. The comb is the part of the stock that runs parallel to the rib and is in contact with the shooter’s cheek when executing a shot. Gunfitters measure drop-at-comb from an imaginary line that extends along the top of the shotgun’s rib to the back of the gun. How far the comb drops down from the rib line determines the vertical position of the shooter’s eye when the shooter is fully mounted to the gun. The proper drop-at-comb for an individual is determined by the shooter’s facial structure (the distance between the lower cheek ledge and the eye) as well as where the shooter positions the comb on the face when fully mounted. The shooter’s entire iris (the colored portion of the eye) should sit atop the rib so the shooter will see a bit of rib when looking over the barrel. If the comb is too low, you might not be able to see the target over the gun. In this case, the raising of your head might be a subconscious effort to maintain visual contact with the target. To fix this, have an adjustable comb installed on your shotgun and raise the comb to enable you to see “the snowman,” which is the mid-rib bead appearing immediately below the front bead when fully mounted.

The third possible explanation for head-lifting is the choice of lenses in your shooting glasses. I wouldn’t normally think of this except when the problem is worse in low-light conditions. Try changing to a lighter yellow lens when shooting in overcast conditions and to a purple lens when shooting against foliage.

If you raise your head off the gun involuntarily, it’s usually your subconscious telling you that you can’t see the target well.

Don Currie is NSCA’s Chief Instructor, an Orvis Wingshooting School instructor, and Master Class competitor. To get free shooting tips and videos, sign up for his monthly newsletter. You can also see more tips from Currie at

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