By Michael Deming
A good rule of thumb when shooting is; the closer you can get to the ground, the more accurate your shots will be. If you already shoot a lot, you know what I mean. This article is written for those of you who are novice shooters and the folks who are just looking for a tidbit of info they just might not know.
Having your sticks readily available makes them much more likely to be used.
What I mean by getting closer to the ground, is the prone position. This means laying on your stomach with your knee nearest the rifle to be moved towards the buttstock, which gives your lungs room to expand and contract without affecting your crosshairs. Combine this position with a bipod or with your rifle resting on a pack and you have one of the most stable positions to shoot from. Military snipers use this position almost exclusively and I use it in every situation I possibly can. I even use it if the shot might be within a hundred yards. It gives me the very best chance of making a humane and accurate kill, which should be the goal of all hunters.
However, the problem with this position in most cases is the topography. With our target animals, they often don’t follow the script and come out in the valley below us where we have a perfect field of view and can make that prone position work. In many cases, you have grass or brush to deal with in your line of site. Downhill shots are another major problem for the prone position. Shooting sticks are the answer to giving you a mobile rest as they can be with you and ready at all times. However, they don’t do a person any good unless you practice with them and become proficient.
I hunted with a person last year who experienced this exact situation. They said that they were really good out to 400 yards. On the first day of the hunt, we had a tremendous bull screaming his head off at us. It was an extreme downhill shot and I provided my shooting sticks for him to make the shot. He couldn’t get comfortable and settled in, even though he had good equipment. The bull was at 375 yards, with the shot for 325 due to the angle. He commenced to unloading his rifle several times without even touching a hair on the bull. The bull was rut-crazed and barely moved during this ordeal, but lived through this unprepared ordeal. The hunter's lack of experience with shooting sticks cost him a great bull.
The only way to get used to shooting sticks is to get a set and start shooting with them at the range and in the field. Many states allow you to shoot jack rabbits year around and I find this is a great way to get practice at real game, instead of just shooting at a target. However, follow your states’ regulation. Regardless of the target you are shooting, you need to spend a lot of time with them. Learning how to quickly set them up on uneven terrain and get a stable platform will enhance your accuracy.
I won’t get into specifics of brands or models of shooting sticks and which ones work best - I’ll let you decide. I’ve used a set built by Crooked Horn for nearly twenty years, but they are no longer available. The Primos Steady Stix are almost identical. The Bog Pod standing sticks work when standing and fold down for seated shots, making them probably the most versatile. Regardless of the model you choose, get proficient with them.
Here are some tips to getting the very most out of your shooting sticks.
Putting your elbow into the soft portion of the leg helps to keep you steady when setting up for a shot.
First and foremost, figure out a place on your pack where you can easily access them. I built a holster for mine out of cardboard and camo tape which holds them on the bottom of my pack. I utilize the sleeping bag straps to secure my holster with the sticks facing the left. I can easily grab my sticks out of the holster and deploy them in seconds.
Close up of elbow in the soft tissue.
Once deployed, you have a very solid rest for the front of your rifle. However, there are several additional things you can do to provide more stability in your shots. Being a right handed shooter, I like to sit with my left shoulder pointed towards the target. I sit with my legs spread apart and put my right elbow into the soft tissue just below my knee. This provides me two very stable points of rest and I’m comfortable taking shots at extended ranges with this setup.
Using your pack to support the butt stock and the sticks to support the front is nearly as stable as the prone position.
However, if time is on my side, I will take it one step further. I like to remove my pack and put it between my legs. This allows the rear portion of the rifle to rest as well. This three point of contact system gives you the most stability possible with this setup. There is also a new set of shooting sticks on the market called the Double Crossed Shooting Sticks, by High and Heavy Outdoors, which has a built-in rear rifle support. They are easy to set up and will be tested more thoroughly throughout the year, but our initial experience is great.
Remember, standing or off-hand is the most unstable position and it is also the one I least recommend. However, there are times when it is the only shot you have. If you have standing shooting sticks, it’s going to improve your chances of success greatly. You owe it to the animals we love so much to make a humane shot.