by Scott Haugen
I’d already filled my Montana whitetail tag, so followed along as another hunter in camp tried to do the same. We were hunting in sagebrush country that bordered brushy creek bottoms. At first glance, the terrain seemed flat, but once you set foot on it you realized the brush was tall and the ground broken.
Before leaving camp, I noticed the only shooting aid the hunter had was a short bipod mounted to the front of his rifle. When I offered my taller tripod setup, he shrugged, “Between the bipod and my pack I should be good.” I carried a set of Bog-Pod shooting sticks along, just in case.
It was the man’s first deer hunt out West and I knew he might find himself in a situation where taller sticks might come in handy. Where he was used to hunting, the bipod may have worked fine. Had he been hunting somewhere else out West, the bipod may have worked well, too, but there were few places where it would benefit him on this hunt.
Sure enough, the first big buck we came upon, the hunter popped out his bipod and assumed a prone position. The sage stuck a foot above his barrel and he couldn’t even see the edge of the creek bottom where the buck was standing, below. Frantically he propped up his pack, but still it wasn’t high enough.
I slithered up next to him and erected the tripod to take a rest on. He shoved them aside, stood up and fired off-hand. At 180 yards, he hit the buck, smack at the base of the tail. The next three shots all missed. The follow-up wasn’t pretty, but eventually he got the buck. He didn’t think twice about not using the tripod despite the fact he hit three feet to the left of the deer’s lungs on the first shot, and who knows where on the other attempts.
I see this scenario played out all too often, with hunters thinking they can shoot off-hand, or that short bipods will suffice when hunting in rugged terrain out West. During my years of chasing deer throughout many western states, I’ve come to be a firm believer in a steady set of shooting sticks.
From a simple physics point of view, the more anchor points you have while shooting, the more stable your rifle will be; thus, the more accurate your shot. That’s why I choose a tripod versus a monopod or bipod.
When I made the transition from recreational hunting to hunting for a living, I learned how valuable missing an animal could be. Oftentimes, with some of the high-end animals we’re after, a single shot could be valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars. With this high of stakes I can’t afford to miss and that’s why I started relying on tripods.
Growing up I never used shooting sticks, but once I hunted Africa for the first time I learned the importance of a tripod. The first one I used was made of sticks lashed together with a strip of leather. It worked incredibly well and resulted in quick, clean, kills with no misses.
Over the past 17 years, I’ve experimented a lot with shooting sticks, and prefer tripods that are heavy enough so as not to buckle under pressure. In the rugged country where whitetails roam throughout the West, shots come at severe angles. In the case of shooting at steep, downhill angles, often much of your upper body weight is displaced onto the sticks. For that reason I prefer sticks that are sturdy enough to support this weight. Such tripods also serve well as walking sticks.
A few years ago, I discovered Bog-Pod shooting sticks and have stuck with them ever since. Their Red-Legged-Devil tripod has allowed me to connect on hundreds of big game animals around the world, and has made my job much easier.
The key to using a tripod is getting familiar with it prior to the hunt. As is the case with all gear, the hunt is not the place to figure out how your tripod works. Prior to the hunt, spend time practicing off your sticks. Put yourself in various positions and anticipate what shot angles and situations might be encountered when hunting whitetails out West. You’ll find the scenarios are much different than hunting these deer elsewhere in the country, and that’s due to the wide-range of habitat and varied topography they occupy throughout their western range.
Practice adjusting the legs so it’s second nature when it comes time for the shot. As you familiarize yourself with the tripod you’ll discover it’s easy to think ahead and get them set up well before it’s time to assume shooting position.
Usually, I keep my tripod fully or somewhat extended, using it as a walking stick with all three legs tucked together. Carried this way, not only does it make walking easier, it’s also simple and quick to lower, versus starting with them short and having to fully extend each leg to achieve a standing shot position.
Once I spot a deer and begin to make a move, I’ll anticipate where the shot will likely come from. When I know where the shot will come from, a quick survey of the terrain tells me how high the sticks will need to be.
Ideally, I prefer taking a knee when resting on a tripod as it offers even further support over standing upright. When doing so, if you’re a right-handed shooter, rest your right elbow on your right knee. If left-handed, rest your left elbow on your left knee. This is opposite of how most hunters naturally settle into a set of shooting sticks, but believe me, it works. It feels awkward at first, but with practice you’ll be amazed at how much steadier it makes your body and the gun.
Another practice tip is to set up the tripod on steep hillsides, shooting uphill, downhill, across canyons and along hillsides. You’ll discover that in doing this one or two of the legs needs to be shorter or longer than the others. Practice this until you’re comfortable and confident that you can get setup quickly and efficiently come crunch time. Eventually, adjusting the sticks will become second nature.
In many situations you’ll actually be able to assume a sitting position for the shot, which is the steadiest of all off a tripod. This will get you a bit higher than shooting off a gun-mounted bipod. It’s surprisingly effective when shooting downhill and across canyons, too. My favorite sitting position shot comes by crossing both legs and stabilizing both elbows on both knees. It’s also good if you can prop both knees up, digging both feet into the ground and stabilizing both elbows on both knees.
Features I like about the Red-Legged-Devil are that it’s very sturdy and stable. It extends up to 68” high allowing for standing position shots and easily retracts and spreads out to just 22” off the ground, allowing for easy kneeling or sitting position shots.
During the course of the season I’m in many deer camps throughout the West. One thing that stands out is the number of hunters who don’t rely on a tripod. I’m also surprised by the number of deer that are missed by hunters, the results of which usually come down to not being steady during the shot.
Remember, not always will there be a tree or rock to lean on, and rarely will you be able to assume a prone position or rely on a mini-bipod. During the off-season, do some research on shooting sticks to see what fits your shooting style best. Invest in a tripod and practice to the point that using them becomes a natural extension of your body. What you’ll come away with are fewer misses, cleaner kills and a boosted level of confidence in your shooting ability.