The right shooting sticks will give you a solid rest in the right shooting position if you pick the right tool. Choose between prone, sitting or kneeling, and standing positions matched to the game and terrain you’re hunting. The best shooting sticks will be the most versatile and give you a solid rest in each or every shooting position and in all terrain. It’s a matter of planning while considering the tradeoffs with each rest and making the best personal choice whether hunting with rifle, shotgun, crossbow or pistol. As always these same three rules always apply when choosing a rest and making that one first accurate shot.
Rule number one
The closer to the ground the more stability with all shooting sticks. Always shoot from the steadiest position from which you can see the target.
Rule number two
The more legs your rest has the more solid your shooting stance.
Rule number three
Always create triangles with your body stance.
Every shooting position from prone to standing should be practiced until it’s second nature. I really like this practice outline from NRAfamily.org because it’s simple, direct and sequential:
“1. Study the position, 2. Practice the position without the rifle, 3. Practice with the rifle, 4. Align the position with the target, 5. Dry-fire the rifle at the target, 6. Shoot groups at the target with live fire, 7. Adjust sight to center shot group on target, and 8. Continue to shoot groups from the position.”
That’s the way to get serious and become a marksman in every situation. Notice the NRA specifically mentions adjust your sights for each position and that may seem curious because we may think our point of impact won’t change with shooting position. The truth is it can slightly and make a difference at long range. We need to know how our rifle performs on different rests or shooting positions and make allowances with our point of aim.
The prone position is as steady as the benchrest shooting position when setup right. Shooting sticks be they tripod, bipod or monopod are more stable and adjustable than backpacks. I don’t know how many times I’ve struggled improvising getting a solid rest with the right elevation and line of sight using my backpack only to have my rifle ‘settle’ lower. NRAfamily.org Saturday May 4, 2019 gives this great description of the prone shooting position:
“The straight-leg prone position is called this because the shooter’s legs are straight and flat behind them on the ground. One of the strengths of the straight-leg position is that it is quick to assume: You just lay down on your stomach with your legs straight. This position is great for the shooter that is slim but if you’re a little wide around the middle, the cocked-leg position may be better for you. In this case, the reason the cocked leg is the preferred position is that it takes the pressure off of your stomach and chest, making it easier to breathe, which in turn reduces your pulse rate. You simply bend the right leg, which rolls you slightly onto the left side of your chest, taking the pressure off of your stomach.”
Obviously this cocked leg description is for a right hand shooter, simply switch legs if you’re left handed. Try both straight and cocked leg and use the most comfortable. Your elbows should be solidly on the ground and your forestock support hand pulled back well under the rifle behind the shooting sticks. Most marksman like to remove their support hand from the forestock and naturally tuck their off hand up against the elbow of their trigger hand for more comfort and security. The shooting sticks are providing optimum stability and both elbows are on the ground triangulated.
Prone works well on level and slightly sloping ground. When facing downslope you’ll find the cocked leg is much better because you have to elevate your head and rife some if your target is level with you or slightly above. An upslope facing lie works with either leg position because your head isn’t elevated much with respect to your body and your neck isn’t tense. This is especially comfortable at the crest of a ridge shooting level. Military snipers try to have their body at a slight upslope for this reason.
The prone position is most stable since you’re using your elbows and shooting sticks as locked triangles and your lower body is anchored to the ground. Tripods, bipods or monopods that quickly adjust elevation and left to right line of sight to keep you in your natural point of aim are a bonus for hunters. It saves setup and reaction time, especially if the target changes position even a little. My personal preference is a bipod, but even a monopod works well because we’re anchored to the ground and triangulated.
Jeff Cooper, in “The Art of the Rifle” stated that the seated position is the most useful for hunters. It’s fast to set up, stable, supports uphill, level or downhill targets easily and you can hold it comfortably for a long time. There are three variations, open leg, crossed ankle or crossed leg. Open leg works best for shooting level or significantly uphill. Crossed ankle supports level shooting best, and crossed leg is great for downhill shots. Practice them all until they’re second nature.
The basic open leg position has your butt on the ground facing the target at about a 10 to 30 degree angle with knees bent at least shoulder width apart and feet extended. Place both elbows inside your knees with your non firing hand on the shooting sticks or the rifle’s forestock. You want maximum bone support and stability. For uphill targets pull your knees in closer to your chest to elevate the rifle and always keep your elbows resting just inside your knees. It really helps to use adjustable shooting sticks that adjust fast and support a wide range of fire.
The crossed ankle position again has your butt on the ground facing 10 to 30 degrees to the target. Bend your firing leg at the knee about 90 degrees laid flat on the ground. Cross your non-firing ankle over the firing ankle about 90 degrees and raise it by bending at the knee. Support your non firing elbow on the outside of that raised leg thigh above the knee. Grip either the rifle or the shooting sticks with your non-firing support hand, your choice, and always keep your elbow locked to your thigh. The firing elbow rests solidly on your non-shooting thigh. It’s very stable and comfortable.
The crossed leg position simply means sitting ‘indian style’ at 10 to 30 degrees to the target. Lean forward and place your elbows on your respective thighs just behind the knees. Your non shooting hand should be gripping the forestock behind the shooting sticks. This position allows you to shoot downhill comfortably. Some hunters find this position causes some pulse jump because the body is more constricted. Try not pulling your elbows so tight to your chest and raise your butt a little using the terrain or sit on your jacket. It is the best sitting position for downhill shots and works well on an actual downsloping ridge.
The kneeling position is more stable than standing and it’s really fast to drop to one knee if terrain and line of sight allows. Your firing knee is on the ground with the non-firing leg bent 90 degrees at the knee. Rest your non-firing support elbow on that raised knee but not bone on bone. That means don’t rest your elbow directly on your knee but rather ahead or behind the knee using the fleshy part of your thigh or forearm for support. Your non-firing support hand grips the forestock behind the shooting sticks. Another variation is to actually place your shooting leg on the ground and pull that ankle under your butt and sit on it. You can’t hold that position for a long time but many hunters find it more stable.
The standing shot is the least stable but it is also the fastest and sometimes the only choice because of terrain and vegetation. Shooting sticks really give you a huge advantage over the offhand alternative.The best shooting sticks for standing shots adjust quickly to keep you in your natural point of aim and in control. That’s more critical in this position than any other because your stability is less to begin with. There are some techniques to help.
Assume an aggressive stance. Place your feet shoulder width or more apart firmly planted about 45 degrees to the target with knees slightly bent. Your body is now more trangulated and stable similar to some combat pistol stances. Grip the shooting sticks with your support hand and create some tension back against your shooting shoulder with that support hand. Rests with good friction against the rifle’s forestock work best. You can also flex the shooting sticks slightly by having the legs rest on the ground a little forward of the support yoke. This combination of tension and triangulation make a bipod or monopod feel and behave more like a tripod for more stability.
Experiment and practice with every shooting position and choose the best shooting sticks for your hunt. Try some unconventional shooting positions and learn to anticipate and react in different situations. Have the confidence to get off a fast accurate shot anywhere or anytime.