Shooting Sticks By: SLG

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Not the most common sight in American hunting fields, shooting sticks today come in a wide variety of configurations, weights, and costs. Over the years, many of my shots taken in the field have been from the prone. This is likely true because much of my hunting experience has been out west, pursuing Pronghorn, Mule Deer, Elk, and Whitetails. Spot and stalk hunting is my favorite way to hunt, and most of my animals were taken after a short or long crawl into position. My east coast and midwest hunting has mostly centered around Whitetail, with no shots taken from prone that I can remember. Most of those animals were taken stand hunting or still hunting, and prone was just not feasible.

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I learned a good rule of hunting early on that says, if you can get closer, get closer. If you can get steadier, get steadier. Col. Jeff Cooper wrote that, but I don’t know where he got it from. Because of it, I prefer to shoot from prone, as it is the steadiest. Because of that, most of my animals drop dead where they stand, or run a very short distance and drop. When shooting from prone on a hunt, I prefer to either loop up with my sling or rest my rifle on my ruck. I have used bipods, but generally consider them out of place on a big game hunt. If a shot can’t be taken from prone, then I prefer open leg sitting, kneeling, braced standing, and then offhand, in that order.

This pic is from a Coyote hunt but illustrates my preferred field-prone position.

Sitting is a very steady position, and I can be almost as accurate from it as prone – considering the target size I am shooting at on an animal. Kneeling is pretty unsteady, all things considered, and this is where shooting sticks can start to benefit the field shot. For kneeling, some very lightweight, very small sticks are available and are often worthwhile to pack along in the field. I like the Hammers brand and they make two and three stick versions that work well and weigh very little.

If you really need to shoot from standing, your best bet is to brace on the side of a tree or post. This is not always possible and some hunters like to carry full-size shooting sticks for those occasions. This seems to be the standard in Africa, where you have a friendly PH or gun bearer to carry these things for you. No doubt this is in large part a response to clients who simply can’t shoot. If you are hunting by yourself, or on any kind of backpack hunt, weight becomes a major factor, and standing sticks usually won’t make the cut.

I have carried a Really Right Stuff tripod (RRS) on a few hunts. It is the ultimate field shooting rest and as a sniper, it allows me to shoot between .5 and .75 moa from a standing position, uphill or down. For work it is ideal, for hunting, it is a bit heavy at over 5 pounds. I won’t go into detail on it today.

My oldest daughter used the RRS tripod on her first Elk hunt. Since I carried the rifle and RRS for her, weight was not a problem!

A lighter option is the more traditional 3 stick tripod, in this instance, a modern takedown version from African Sporting Creations. It is about 3.5 pounds and can sort of double as a walking stick as needed. The traditional tripod is not nearly as steady as the RRS, but it weighs less and costs around 20% as much as the RRS. A homemade version can be made for much less, but will usually lack the takedown feature so useful for the traveling hunter. With practice, it is usable on big game out to 300 yards or more. It is made out of either American or African wood and has very high-quality aluminum connectors to allow it to take down for travel or storage. Mine has some buffalo hide on the top of the sticks to cradle the rifle, though more exotic skins are also available. You can set it up to use while kneeling, but switching between standing and kneeling takes a minute or so. I suspect most people only use it for standing.

Since it is typically carried assembled, deploying it is quite speedy. Plant the front leg on the ground and pull the two rear legs back and out to form a tripod. If you need it to be higher or lower, just adjust a leg in or out as needed. Very simple and intuitive. Most people need some practice to shoot well off of it, but as with all this stuff, the better a shooter you are, the easier it is. Since the tripod is an inherently stable design that supports the rifle very well, the best stance for you to be in is with your feet parallel to the rear legs and spread wider than shoulder-width for lateral stability. This will provide the best position for shooting, as your rifle is only supported at one point on the forend. Your non-shooting hand can either grasp the forend of the gun ahead of the tripod cradle or grasp the cradle and forend together as seen in the photo below. Typically, you will want to grasp just the forend with heavier kicking guns, but some experimentation is called for.

Under recoil, cartridge dependent, your gun will come out of the cradle and will need to be reset if a second shot is required. Also, most people seem to use a tripod that is too tall for them. As a rule of thumb, you will want the cradle to be about sternum height, but again you will need to experiment for yourself. It is always easier to use a shorter tripod rather than a taller one. It should also be theoretically more stable that way.

Here is a friend shooting my R8 off of his African Creations sticks. Very high-quality wooden sticks.

The last one we will look at today is the 4 Stable Sticks (4SS) version. Unlike the other options listed above, this item was sent to me for testing by J.J. and Isabelle Perodeau, the U.S. importers for the French company that makes the sticks. Aside from importing the 4SS, Monsieur Perodeau is also one of the finest double rifle gunsmiths in the country, and for many years, he worked at Champlin Arms. As a double rifle nut, I am hoping to visit his shop one of these days.

The 4SS that I have are made from aluminum and a rubberized polymer, though they also have a carbon fiber version. The sticks themselves come disassembled and though it only takes a few minutes to assemble them, that is best done at home and not in the field. Once assembled, they can be used as an improvised walking stick, and as they weigh much less than the other options discussed above, they are very easy to carry along. The website lists them at 20 oz, but mine weighs 24 oz on my scale. Scales differ, but just be aware that if you are a gram weeny, these will likely weigh a little more than the specs.

They are very fast to deploy as there is a built-in stop that prevents the sticks from just flopping open and falling on the ground. However, it does take a little training to be able to optimize your position on them, as it is slightly harder to line them up on your target than the more traditional tripod. Nothing that can’t be figured out with some dry fire and live fire. Again, due to the design, they provide a lot of stability from side to side but are less stable from front to back, as the legs are only in contact with the ground in two places, to the left and right of the cradle.

Because of that design aspect, you will typically want a different stance than required by a tripod. In this case, you are better served by having one leg forward and one leg back, usually your non-shooting side forward. This will optimize your stability fore and aft, as the 4SS is already optimized left and right. When initially using the 4SS, they seem to be less stable than a 3 stick tripod. After just a bit of use, I think the 4SS is more stable. It seems less stable because there is more movement fore and aft, but once I got used to it, I was able to reliably make hits on smaller targets at further distances compared to the African sticks. At 100 yards, I can hold a 1.25 moa group.

The 4SS supports the front and rear of the rifle and gives excellent lateral stability as well.

The 4SS is also so much lighter to carry, that I think it could be worth bringing on a hunt, where the other options are really too heavy unless someone else is carrying them for you. That said, with the type of hunting I typically do, standing just isn’t really much of an issue. All of the standing shots I have taken in the field involved handguns at 35 yards and closer, no rest required. As mentioned in previous posts, my interest and training with these various standing options have more to do with preparing the family for Africa, where many of the shots are taken off sticks of some kind. Both the African Sporting Creations and the 4SS are light enough and take down small enough, to be easily transported in a rifle case. Many hunters rely on the sticks their PH provides, but I prefer to bring my own and either of these options would seem to fit the bill very nicely.

I’ll be doing quite a bit more shooting with the 4SS, as well as the traditional tripod, and will expand on them then. One thing I almost forgot to mention, is that a standing rest makes a great way to zero harder recoiling rifles, so if you dread bringing your bruiser to the bench, try one of these options and stand up. Your shoulder will thank you.