The sun was directly overhead, and you could feel the weight of it on your shoulders. As if Namibia wasn't dry enough in the midst of one the worst droughts in recorded history, the day’s heat compounded the issue. We had stalked the hartebeest herd to the edge of the bush, crouched over and using the sparse vegetation as a screen, until it ran out.
I was waiting patiently for our next move, and watching a lone cloud release the few drops of rain it possessed, when Maré van der Merwe said to me in that hurried, purposeful whisper that professional hunters (PH) use: “The bull has come clear, he’s 295 yards, take him.” Three football fields is not an impossible shot, nor is it a chip shot, but I had a good rifle, and Maré carried a good set of shooting sticks.
Getting a steady rest in the hunting fields can be an issue, and getting steady is paramount to making the shot. Shooting offhand is a talent for sure, and one that requires constant practice, but shooting offhand is the least stable position I can think of. The 180-grain Federal Trophy Bonded Tip bullet from my .300 Holland & Holland Magnum connected on that hartebeest bull, but were it not for that set of shooting sticks, I’d have never attempted that shot.
At the distances we usually shoot here in the Northeast, I didn’t see many deer hunters using a rest, other than leaning up against a tree or leaning on the railing of a homemade treestand. A handful of guys who were serious about woodchucks would use a sandbag or some other sort of improvised rest for improved accuracy, but that was about as far as things went. Things have certainly changed, and that has resulted in a complete line of products.
My first safari to South Africa in 2004 was my first extended experience with the traditional three-legged shooting sticks; they were made of bamboo, held together with a length of rubber inner tube, and it took me a bit to get used to them. Once I did, I felt a bit naked without them, even here in the States. Of course, hunting in the wide-open Orange Free State of South Africa is much more akin to the spot-and-stalk hunting of the American West than the sit-and-shoot style used in the Northeast, but I also prefer to still hunt as much as possible. My own personal style of still hunting incorporates the use of natural rests—a tree, a limb, a log, a rock, etc.—but I’ve also started carrying some sort of rest with me.
The bipod, either attached to the rifle or carried as a separate unit, is a common and effective means of steadying the rifle. There are many types, of varying lengths and constructed of different materials, and they can all be used in differing manners, including shooting from the prone position or sitting position—depending on the length of the legs—or the bipod can be used against a tree or limb. A bipod is light and it is useful; it can be attached to a rifle without destroying the balance, if the weight is minimal.
For hunting, I like the Spartan Javelin Pro Hunt Bipod; it’s constructed of lightweight carbon fiber and 7075 hard anodized aluminum and is carried off the gun. The Pro Hunt attaches quickly and easily via a simple yet strong magnetic attachment, with can either be epoxy mounted into your stock, or attached in place of the forward sling swivel stud (the unit allows for the attachment of a sling). The typical bipod—with spring-loaded, adjustable legs, like the common Harris model—are a bit more affordable, but are a bit heavier and tend to take more time to attach and remove.
There a number of different shooting sticks on the market, from monopods to two-legged sticks to the three-legged, African-style sticks. Many are quickly adjusted, and can be used from a sitting position or a standing position. I like the Primos Trigger Sticks family of rests, as they are offered in all of the above configurations, they use a simple spring-loaded trigger to adjust the height and offer a ton of versatility. The unit has a threaded stud in their Quick Detach yoke, making it easy to switch between the shooting rest and quickly adapting it for use with a spotting scope, binocular or camera.
I’ve seen them double as a walking stick, and I've also seen them turn a near-impossible shot into a freezer full of venison. I like to take them along for coyote hunting when sitting on the edge of long, open fields, and I’m seeing them more and more on many Western hunts for mule deer, pronghorn antelope and elk. There are many brands available, like the Bog Great Divide Tripod—which offers a lot of versatility—or their DeathGrip tripod, which is wonderfully steady, if heavier, for longer shots. Should you want to experience the traditional African-style shooting sticks, either as your primary system or in preparation for a safari, African Sporting Creations offers their Super Compact Shooting Sticks. Their rugged construction allows for steady shooting, and each leg is comprised of three screw-together sections, so the height can be customized. They come in a travel bag, and can be broken down to be put in your rifle case. They can even be personalized with your name, if you so choose.
While the traditional set of shooting sticks offers a resting point for the forend of the gun, while the shooter supports the remainder of the weight, there are models which support the rifle or shotgun both fore and aft. These types of rests are considerably heavier and more cumbersome than the simpler bipods and tripods, but for a youngster who may have trouble steadying the rifle for the shot it may make all the difference, and carrying one to the stand or blind may be worth the effort.
“I don’t need that nonsense.” I’ve heard that phrase far too often. Well, I suppose you don’t need a riflescope or premium ammunition either, but both make a humane kill much easier, and I feel a solid rest is another important piece of the equation for making the shot. Whether trying to hold your turkey shotgun steady for those interminable moments as the tom warily closes the distance into shooting range, or for trying to overcome the excitement of having the bull elk of your dreams in the crosshairs, a rest of some sort makes all kinds of sense. Find the system that works for you and you’ll fast become a better shot.