Shooting with support greatly enhances accuracy and increases shooter confidence.
I don’t know about you but my range of confidence with an offhand shot at a stationary fallow doe is about 60 m. I can do better than that but maybe not 100 per cent of the time so at greater distances I am looking for a rest.
The target area for a heart-lung shot on a fallow doe is about as large as two overlapped hands. And in my view, we owe the animal an accurate shot.
In the field it is sometimes possible to find or make a support with a backpack, log or tree branch but in open country all too often I find myself a long way from a suitable support.
Sitting down and using my knees to support my arms provides a stable sight picture for shots out to 100 m but much beyond that I am not so sure. The solution, of course, is not to shoot but this can be frustrating.
Like many things I took a while to get there but when started to carry shooting sticks I found they greatly extended my ethical range, confidence and success.
I started with a Bog-Pod tripod and for a few years used it seated on the ground. It took a little time to set up but greatly increased my confidence. However, sitting on the ground for long periods waiting for a deer is hard on the back and the bum so I added a small, three-legged, folding stool. This increased weight in the backpack but it greatly improved my comfort. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that the three points of contact with the ground on the stool increased my stability and allowed me to brace the tripod with my left knee.
The literature told me that a tripod used in a standing position should have two legs to the front and one to the rear. For me this did not work so well seated so I use one leg forward and one on the other side of my stool.
I set up to suit the approach I expect the deer to take and practise the shot (without the trigger) multiple times before the deer show up. I then rest the rifle on my knees or place it on the ground on my backpack until first visual contact is made. If the deer approaches from another direction, I can quickly reposition the tripod without too much movement.
For the shot I grip the yoke of the tripod and the fore-end of the rifle and pull them both back firmly into my shoulder. Gripping the fore-end and yoke at the same time is a bit of handful but can be mastered with a little practice.
Close examination of around 20-odd deer shot off my Bog Pod suggests that I have a tendency to place projectiles a little higher than I would off the bench. This leads me to aim a little lower than a central shoulder aiming point when I remember to do so. This may just be me but it is worth checking for any shift in point of impact from zeroing on the bench.
The tripod and a seat, used together, also have the advantage of increasing the height of the muzzle above the ground, which is an important safety feature if you are waiting with a dog.
The tripod and the seated position give me confidence to take shots out to 150 m in good conditions. If the deer is further away, I wait. If they are coming my way I wait until they get inside 100.
For a few seasons I carried the tripod in my hand when stalking (the rifle was on my back). The idea was that I could drop to a seated position and deploy the tripod. This took a bit of time but it worked well.
I think there is generally an advantage in taking your time with the shot anyway. I know that it gives me a chance to get my heart rate under control and to assess the backdrop and immediate surrounds of the animal. The downside was that I find that it is difficult to manage the handheld tripod and use both hands on the binoculars while standing. I have to lean the tripod against my leg while I glass and it usually falls down.
One thing to watch with the Bog-Pod, and perhaps other tripods, is that the yoke and upper leg joints can loosen up with use. The result is too much play and potentially a high shot. It is a good idea to check the fasteners from time to time and snug them up if necessary.
We all like new toys so my next acquisition was some quad sticks (Viper-flex Journey). These are popular in the United Kingdom for woodland stalking.
Quad sticks are a bit of a misnomer. While there are four legs there are only two contact points with the ground. They consist of four legs joined fore and aft with hinges in the middle. The fore and aft joints are padded yokes to support the fore-end and the butt of the rifle and the hinges contact the ground. Laid on the ground and open, the quad sticks form a diamond shape.
Mine are light and easy to carry. They have carbon fibre centre sections that are warm to hold in very cold weather. The four legs clip together for carrying and have a trigger for quick deployment with one hand.
I found that they provide excellent stability when folded for resting the binoculars on for long range scanning.
They can be deployed quickly as two sticks for a short-range shot. For maximum stability, however, they should be fully opened with the rifle fore end rested on the front yoke and the rear rifle sling anchor stud behind the rear yoke. The left (human) foot should be next to the contact point with the ground, the left stick braced against the upper torso, and the sticks and rifle pulled back into the shoulder.
Positioned this way they provide a stable rest for shots out to about 150 m. The movement comes in the form of the rifle rocking back and forward slightly with breathing. Compared to the tripod there is one less contact point with the ground.
I have recently purchased the so called fifth leg, which provides a big jump in stability. The fifth leg extends out front and gives the set up three points of contact.
Some practice has, however, revealed a few quirks. For me at least some care is required not to extend the legs too far apart. This makes it harder to get a firm grip on the ground. Uphill shots are easier to position for than downhill ones. I have also found that the fifth leg needs to be a rung or two longer that the other legs to keep the front yoke closer to vertical.
Finally, the rear yoke needs to be quite low on the shoulder to allow it to sit behind the sling attachment on the rifle. If not, it is hard to get the line of sight right. All this fiddling translates into a complicated set up but once everything is right the stability is great.
The legs on mine are adjustable for seated shots but the legs are still too wide to provide a good grip on hard or uneven ground. To cope with these limitations, I take both sticks with me if I plan to sit near a game trail for a long period. That way I have the walk in covered and the best possible rest when I am seated. Sure, there is extra weigh to carry but that is what a good backpack is for.
Gracie the labrador can’t work out what I am doing. There are no deer down there.
When all is said and done, however, field rests have their limitations. The main one is that the right (trigger) arm/elbow is without support. If you can find a position where the elbow can be supported, you are approaching the stability of a bench rest.
Some may say that carrying sticks and a seat detracts from the experience of taking a walk with the rifle. This may be true, but it is better than the disappointment of the walk home reflecting on the missed shot.
Contributed by Robert Butterworth.