By Ralph M. Lermayer
Simple crossed sticks like those from Stoney Point are perfect in open country.
Marksmanship is a developed skill. Some shooters are born with the gift, but few are natural Annie Oakleys. Learning to place a bullet with precision under hunting conditions takes practice. Experienced hunters instinctively seek a rest whenever possible, whether it’s a tree limb, a fence post or a mound of dirt, but a handy rest isn’t always available. Fortunately, there are aids that can be easily carried and can turn a mediocre shooter into a competent marksman when used properly.
Shooting sticks, single monopods, bipods or simple crossed sticks have been around since firearms were invented. Buffalo hunters routinely relied on them. In sparse, open country with no natural rests, these hunters regularly made long, spectacular shots. The value of a good rest is undisputed, yet many of today’s hunters don’t take advantage of them, considering them cumbersome, complicated or too much to carry. That’s not the case. Once you give one of these aids a try, it’s a safe bet you won’t ever go hunting without one.
Stock-mounted bipods like those available from Harris Engineering (270-334-3633) are exceptionally handy in open country. If most of your shooting is from a sitting or prone position and you have plenty of time to adjust, they work well. They are heavy, somewhat bulky on the rifle, and you can’t pivot quickly, but when set up, they can be as steady as a bench. Harris bipods come in several lengths telescoping from 6 to 27 inches, and retail for about $108.
A simple set of crossed sticks is probably the most useful of all portable shooting aids. For years, I used a homemade set made from a pair of 36-inch fiberglass driveway reflectors with the reflector removed ($1.49 at Wal-Mart). Drill through the rods about 5 inches down, insert a bolt with one washer between the rods, and bolt together. A little flat paint or camo tape finishes them off. They can be carried hands-free shoved in the belt, totally out of the way.
The Arm-A-Pod from Versa Rest quickly sets up for standing or sitting use. It is especially useful in the tall brush where sitting or kneeling is not an option.
For the shot, just drop to one knee, pull the rods, flip open and the rifle is solidly cradled in seconds. The legs sit squarely even on uneven ground. With these, I’ve taken deer, antelope, elk, caribou, truckloads of varmints and one charging buffalo at distances well beyond 200 yards. For most hunting, you’ll have plenty of time to set them up.
Several manufacturers offer ready-made shooting sticks. One, by Crooked Horn Outfitters (661-822-3635/www.crookedhorn.com) folds to a neat 12-inch cluster that tucks away in a belt pouch. Pull them out, give them a shake and an internal elastic cord locks them into a pair of solid 36-inch crossed sticks. The fold-up option is handier than fixed rods when getting in and out of the truck. They retail for $40.
Several varieties are available from Stoney Point (507-354-3360/www.stoneypoint.com), including folding sticks with internal elastic, or a solid tube series with telescoping legs. Lockable, telescoping legs can be an advantage in tall grass or brush where sitting or kneeling is not an option. I use the telescoping-leg varieties when sitting in a treestand. By putting the unopened leg on the platform, then extending to a comfortable shooting height, my rifle is up and ready with no strain for hours. That technique helped me take a wide 8-point whitetail at 186 yards across an Iowa bean field with a particularly accurate .45-caliber muzzleloader last year. Without the rest, I wouldn’t have attempted the shot. The newest Stoney Points allow for a third or even fourth leg to be attached. They can be useful for hunting dog towns where you have plenty of time to set up.
There is no handier item for a walkabout hunter than a single stout staff. In rough country, it’s like an extra pair of legs. When it’s time for the shot, sitting, standing or kneeling, simply slide your hand to the right height, cradle the rifle on the hand holding the rod, and shoot. Most simply whittle their own and fit a protective spike on the end to take the pounding. I use one that I found in a second-hand shop and is probably over 100 years old. The carving leaves no doubt as to its purpose. If making your own doesn’t appeal, Stoney Point offers a telescoping monopod with a rifle cradle on top. I can take a novice with that monopod, and in a few short minutes have him outshoot a seasoned veteran firing offhand without one.
One of the slickest rests I’ve seen has just been released by Lone Star Field Products (972-276-3110/www.lonestarfieldproducts.com). Arm-A-Rod is an extendable arm that attaches to your wrist with a leather sleeve. The arm extends and locks in place quickly and can be set on the ground or tucked in a leather belt loop. It’s a great aid in the tall grass where sitting isn’t an option and equally handy on the ground.
The key to using these is to always have them with you and practice getting them into service fast. Soon, you’ll be using them without even thinking about it. With a little practice, you’ll find you’re on target and confident in the shot faster than you would be without a shooting rest.
Reprinted from the October 2004 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine