Every hunter should understand and prioritize taking care of their rifle and optics in the field. When the time comes to take a shot, knowing that the rifle has been cared for through adverse conditions will bring you peace of mind and lead to better shooting. I protect my optics and action with a specialized scope cover. Covering the muzzle with electrical tape before and after shooting is also a best practice. Watch this video to see my system. I’d love to hear if you have any tips or tricks, so leave a comment on YouTube with your feedback.
Use of Rests in the Field for Shooting (bipod/pack/tree/tripod)
Field shooting while hunting poses numerous challenges to new and experienced hunters alike. The biggest challenge will be the hunter themselves: “buck fever,” stress, nerves, pressure, whatever you want to call it. Seeing the animal of a lifetime within shooting range raises the adrenaline, unlike anything else. Taking the shot you’ve trained for with an elevated heart rate and everything that comes with stress is a topic for another day. Today’s topic is about getting a good rest and ensuring your rifle is steady before you take the shot.
“If you can get closer, get closer. If you can get steadier, get steadier.”Jeff Cooper, The Art of the Rifle
Mountain hunts offer all kinds of difficulties: elevation to climb, inclement weather, remoteness and a lack of cover (there are lots more). This last item can also be an advantage to the rifle shooter. Mountain environments are often relatively clear of high vegetation to block your line of sight. Position yourself on a spine or ridge overlooking your quarry, and you may have a clear trajectory for your bullet. More often than not, the ground feature where you’re laying will be far enough that an off-hand shot is impossible. The answer: get low and get steady.
Mountain shooters need to be prepared to take long shots. Shooting out past 300 yards will introduce much complexity into your ballistics and require all your skill. Now, what if this shot comes on day 10 of your once-in-a-lifetime sheep hunt? You’ll wish you had a better rest. What if this shot comes on day 3 of your only hunt of the year? You’ll wish you had a better rest.
The goal is to keep your rifle still while shooting. Your bench rest or a sandbag is a superb option at the range. These allow you to test your ballistics as far as your optics are capable and reduce the shooter’s error.
On the mountain, things are a bit different. The ground may be sloping. You are likely hugging the ground to remain hidden. Winds can be swirling, and your heart will be pumping. So how do you stay steady on your mountain hunt? I’m going to go over the different kinds of rest.
The bipod is a convenient method to steady your rifle. Most bipods have independently adjustable legs and possibly even additional adjustment capacity to ensure your rifle is horizontally level. Canting the rifle to one side will result in a missed show. I often hunt with my bipod on the rifle at all times, requiring just a few flicks of the wrist to open the bipod and have a good rest. Bipods allow the shooter to raise and lower the muzzle quickly, which can also introduce instability. The use of a rear bag will provide additional steadiness to the muzzle. You can use a rolled-up jacket or another article of clothing under the butt of the rifle to act as the rear bag.
Bipods offer the disadvantage of requiring the hunter to lie prone on the ground. While lying prone does provide the most stability, it also requires a clear line of sight from the ground. When grass or other low vegetation blocks the line of sight, you may need another method to stabilize your shot.
According to the Precision Rifle Blog, “92% of the top shooters said they owned a tripod they use with their rifle.” Hunters and match shooters have similar, though different, needs. The tripod’s size and weight are less important to a match shooter but critical for hunters, especially on backpack hunts. However, if 92% of the best shooters agree on something, it’s worth consideration.
Tripods are a serious upgrade from bipods in two main ways: maximum height and stability. Tripods can be easily adjusted to various heights, even as tall as required for a standing shot. The bipod will win for a shooting position very close to the ground, though most tripods can accommodate this in a pinch.
For seated, kneeling or standing shooting, the tripod will give you a steadier rest resulting in more accurate shots.
Downsides of Tripods and How to Manage These Costs
- Additional cost: If you already use a tripod for glassing, it would be ideal for the same unit to be functional as your shooting rest. Also, some pieces of gear are worth a proper investment. The tripod is one of them.
- Challenges at shallow height: You may not have the room to spread the tripod legs out as far as needed to get your rifle close to the ground. Often there are workarounds to the requirement of being at ground level. With a bipod, the best position may be very close to the ground and not from behind vegetation or a terrain feature. With the tripod, you have the flexibility and stability to move backwards for a more extended shot or behind a bush or boulder.
- Time Requirements: Setting up a tripod takes time and energy, and you may be doing this when you have little of either. The flip side is that you’ll gamble with inadequate rest, like your buddy’s shoulder, a tree or your pack. Do you want to take the time to do things correctly or not? Your choice.
Shooting off Your Pack
We all carry packs, so a pack is an obvious option as a rest. Unfortunately, backpacks offer limited support to the rifle, leaving the shooter to control the muzzle’s direction. Further, you are limited with a very low shooting position or contorting your body to shoot from the pack you are propping up with your knee. Should your quarry move out of your shooting lane, you must pick up your pack and move it to a new shooting location, taking precious seconds. This time requirement is similar to what you will encounter with a tripod but without the tripod’s superb stability. Conclusion: your backpack can act as an impromptu shooting rest, but it’s not the best choice.
Shooting off a Tree
Many of us hunt in wooded areas. Tree trunks and branches can act as your shooting rest. I have used this in a pinch, but clearly, you’re leaving a lot to chance if you depend on a tree in the right location for your shot.
Bonus: Fill the Space
At Gunwerk’s Long Range University, I learned about “filling the space.” When you consider all the space between your limbs, your trunk and the rifle as you prepare to take your shot, you will see the places where your body and rifle can move. Closing this space with a different body position, a jacket, or other items can make your shot more stable.
In a seated position, you have lots of room under your arms. Can you stuff something in there to tighten things up?
A bag under the butt of the rifle or between the butt and your body can also make a difference in a prone position.
As Jeff Cooper said in The Art of the Rifle, “If you can get closer, get closer. If you can get steadier, get steadier.” The tools and techniques I describe above will help you make the best shot possible when it matters most.
Field Tip: Optics for Two Hunters
When selecting what optics to bring into the field, the first thing to know is that a spotting scope is always required. Spotting scopes provide the ability to properly evaluate an animal’s calibre and help you decide whether getting closer is necessary. You will also spot bedded or well-hidden game much easier with a spotting scope than with binoculars.
I’ve seen people take two spotting scopes. In most cases, I would recommend against this approach. A mountain hunt with two hunters will not benefit much from having two spotting scopes, and the additional weight and bulk will be more of a hindrance than a help. When I am hunting with someone else, we spend most of our time on binoculars. If something is of particular interest, whoever needs the spotting scope will grab it to take a closer look.
My favoured setup for Yukon mountain hunting is to have each hunter with a pair of 10×42 binoculars. I use Vortex Optics’ Razor UHD binoculars with outstanding optical clarity and brightness. I spend a lot of time with these binoculars and can cover a lot of country with them, whether seated or standing. When two hunters use binoculars like these, they can cover much ground to a reasonable distance.
Ultimately, it’s not rocket science to decide what optics to bring. Minimizing weight while maintaining your capacity to hunt effectively would be best. Bringing a single spotting scope/tripod setup and two pairs of binoculars is the sweet spot for spotting power and weight for a pair of hunters.
Field Tip: Absolute Confidence
As mountain hunters, we go to great expense and effort to access remote areas. Some of us pay an outfitter to take us in pursuit of game that would be otherwise unattainable. As passionate hunters, we wait months, years or even decades for a single opportunity at a Dall’s Sheep, Yukon-Alaska Moose or something more exotic, like a Himalayan Ibex. My experience has taught me that absolute confidence in my rifle system is a must-have.
system | ˈsɪstɪm | noun
a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network; a complex whole.
a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized scheme or method.
I see the rifle system as having three main components:
- The rifle
- The rangefinder
- The rifle scope
What does the term “absolute confidence” mean? When it comes to hunting mountain game, I am referring to the knowledge and the feeling that I know how to operate my three components correctly and that I have confidence that they will work the way I intend. For the rifle, it means that I am intimately familiar with my body position, how I operate the trigger and action and knowing that the gun is running smoothly. It means that I know the ballistics of my chosen cartridge in all conditions. I tape my ballistics to my rifle stock and always use the same ammunition.
For the rangefinder, it means I know that the ballistic information I have entered into it is correct (should my rangefinder support this), that the battery is fresh (I often carry a spare battery), and that I am running it in the horizontal compensation mode.
I must also know how to operate my rifle scope properly. A good start is to keep the scope zoomed out at the beginning of each hunt. This is always a good idea in bear country (allowing quick target acquisition in a hurry). I must be intimately familiar with elevation and windage adjustment turrets and how to quickly and correctly make adjustments.
Now, confidence in each system component is a starting point. Still, I must also be comfortable and confident in using these components as a system, as per the second part of the definition shown above. It is an organized scheme or method. Do I have methods for prone, seated and standing shooting? Can I shoot at high and low angles effectively? Can I take my shooting position, range the animal and adjust my scope quickly and properly? The answer to all of these questions must be a resounding yes. While respecting our quarry and shooting ethically is a must for every hunter, whether hunting whitetail or grouse or a 70″ bull moose, absolute confidence in the shot is paramount when a hunter has waited years for a single shot on a book ram.
How to Achieve Absolute Confidence
Acquiring accurate ballistic information for your rifle and cartridge is a baseline to achieving confidence. You may receive this information from your rifle manufacturer as I did with my Gunwerks ClymR rifles. You may need to head to the shooting range with a chronograph and a notebook, taking careful measurements of what your shots do at the ranges you are comfortable shooting. At a minimum, you are looking at your box of bullets, recording what little information is there, and verifying it against your own field testing.
Practice your shooting in a variety of realistic positions. It’s not often we find a bench rest and chair in the field, so practicing in that position is a good start, but it should only be the start of our training. The prone position will be your bread and butter if you are primarily a sheep hunter. Spend 80% of your time working on that. If possible, practice higher and lower-angle shots. Use your tripod, but also use a pack as a rest.
You will likely face a standing shot if you are a moose hunter: Spend 80% of your time working on these.
A seated or kneeling shot can come in handy on any hunt. When was the last time you took seated shots at a 300-yard target?
You must be an expert in each part of the rifle system. You must know what each dial, button, lever, switch or other control of your equipment does and how to use it. Your rangefinder battery must have an adequate charger, your bolt must move smoothly, and your rifle scope lenses should be clean. In summary, both you and your gear must be squared away.
Maximize Your Chances of Success
I’ve been on enough mountain hunts to know the feeling of having confidence and not having it. I can assure you, whenever I am out in the hills, and I wonder whether that scope is on, whether I am sure about my ballistics, the excitement and enjoyment of the hunt decreases. I hunt better and enjoy hunting more when I am confident in my gear and rifle system. My heart rate is lower when I know the bullet will go where I want it to. Thus, my success is higher when I have confidence in myself and my gear.
Before you head out again, ask yourself if you have absolute confidence in your system. If not, where do your doubts lie? Address those, and you will be a better, more confidence and more successful hunter.
Field Tip: Dry Firing
I find an opportunity on almost every hunt to practice dry firing. If you don’t know what dry firing is, it’s simply firing the weapon without any ammunition in the chamber. Always ensure that the weapon is not loaded and that your magazine is empty. Dry firing is very common among pistol shooters working on training their technique. For all shooters, the practice has the benefit of being very cheap (free), can be done almost anywhere, and helps the shooter hone their technique. In this post, however, I will focus on dry firing in the field.
There is often the opportunity on a hunt when the animals have bedded, the weather makes glassing impractical, or there is nothing else to do. I will often take a few minutes to run through a dry firing practice in these situations.
For me, this practice involves setting my rifle up on my tripod, establishing a comfortable and effective body position, and running through my checklist of physical and mental actions I take before shooting.
Dry firing is the practice of simulating the discharge of a firearm without any live ammunition.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dry_fire
While I may have recently been at the range, going through this practice in the field sharpens my reflexes and increases the chances that I will do everything correctly when the time to shoot comes. You may choose to do this when you have downtime during a hunt, taking a realistic shooting position for the game animal you are hunting and the terrain you find yourself in.
The steps for this practice are simple. I like to be mentally focused on the task when performing this training. While hunting provides lots of opportunities for fun, I want to reinforce good mental skills related to focus, single-tasking and calm.
- Remove any ammunition from the rifle and ensure it is safe.
- Find a piece of ground similar to what you expect to shoot from. On a sheep hunt, I expect to be prone. A standing, seated, or kneeling shot is more likely on a moose hunt. Ensure you are not pointing the rifle in a dangerous direction.
- Prepare your shooting rest. I love shooting from a tripod in just about every situation. Thus, I will prepare my tripod for the shot.
- Take your shooting position. I prefer to have my legs in line with the rifle when prone. I lay down behind the gun.
- Complete your shooting position. Fill negative space, if you can, to increase your stability. You will see in the video below how I use my scope cover as a rear bag to provide support to my right arm.
- Cycle the bolt.
- Finalize your position and eye relief behind the scope. Touch your cheek to the comb in the same way you have done it at the range.
- Put your finger on the trigger. Your trigger control is now the essential part of the shot.
- Trigger squeeze. A smooth, steady, straight-back squeeze is mandatory. Pulling the rifle to one side or another will cause a poor shot.
- Cycle the bolt. Take a few more shots.
You may have other items in your shooting regimen I have missed here. Whatever your routine is, follow it. This is not the time to innovate! Your goal is to dust off your shooting process so that it is accessible to your mind and body when the moment of truth comes. This simple exercise takes only a few moments and will improve your confidence and, ultimately, your success.
Field Tip: Tripod Shooting for Yukon-Alaska Moose
I’ve been hunting moose for more years than I can remember, but it’s only recently that I’ve started to use a tripod for shooting. How well does the tripod lend itself to hunting moose in the Yukon? Can a moose hunter use a tripod to improve hunting success in terrain with high brush and other obstacles?
Off-hand shooting ability is admirable, and we should all aspire to be confident shooters in many shooting positions. Whether prone, seated, kneeling or on the tripod, we should be able to adapt to the situation presented to us when it’s time to take a shot on a trophy animal. However, certainly, an off-hand shot will seldom be the best possible shot. That’s where the tripod comes into play.
I’ve been using the Really Right Stuff Ultralight TFC-33 tripod with the BH-40 ball head for my moose and bison hunting. The strength and stability of this tripod are superb, as is its light weight and quick deployment.
I hunt moose during and after the rut and face high brush as a serious obstacle. Prone and seated shots are rarely possible, and if they are possible, they are likely very long shots. A tripod will be the best approach in these cases, and I will have plenty of time to set up and choose my shooting position. Even in tight timber, the tripod provides outstanding support, which I can move as I move through the bush.
I’ve previously broken branches to use a tree branch as a rest, but this creates a lot of noise and requires luck to find a suitable tree and branch. Additionally, relying on a tree for rest means you are pinning your success on whether Mother Nature has put a tree in a convenient place. That doesn’t make any sense to me! If there happens to be a good tree, but the wind is blowing, your shooting rest will be moving as well.
Getting the rifle above terrain and vegetation obstructions is critical, as is stability. If you’ve never hunted moose with a tripod while hunting moose, please do give it a try.
Tripod, or Bipod, or Both?
Should I leave my bipod behind if I have a great tripod? That’s a new question for me, as I’ve only been shooting from a tripod for a few short years. I’ve always carried the bipod with me. I’ve loved shooting sheep, and other mountain species off the bipod as stability is so important when taking anything longer than a short shot. For the weight, a bipod is a no-brainer when contrasted with shooting off a pack or some other improvised rest.
The tripod changes the equation. I definitely need a tripod for my spotting scope and, sometimes, binoculars. Now that I have a rifle and tripod system that allows me to shoot easily, I’ve fallen in love with this new system’s outstanding versatility and performance. So where does this leave the bipod?
The main challenge with the tripod is that it requires a bit more time to setup up. You’ll need to fasten the rifle to the tripod and set the leg lengths to match the context. This takes a few seconds; there’s no denying that. However, you can mitigate the negative impact of this by getting your rifle and tripod set up before you expose yourself to the animal’s line of sight. Further, in the vast majority of situations, I absolutely have time. Yukon game animals are often bedded when I come across them or are feeding, and thus it’s not a matter of split seconds in most cases.
An additional benefit of this slight delay is that it allows me to be more calculating and patient, making the most of the shot opportunity. A calm, deliberate shooter will be more successful than a rushed, tense shooter.
Because the stability offered by a tripod is so good, the tripod will allow me to select better shooting locations, whether behind better cover or that provide a superior field of view. If the superior cover is 50 or 100 yards further from my target than where I would choose to use a bipod, I will still have a better shot.
If you’ve always used a bipod, check out the tripods from Really Right Stuff, and I promise you that you’ll be glad you did.
Tripods for Shooting
I’ve been hunting for a long time, but it’s only been in the past couple of years that I started looking to my tripod as a shooting platform. Tripods are standard equipment for military, law enforcement and precision shooters, and hunters don’t appreciate how much steadier a shot from a tripod can be. If you’ve never shot from your tripod, watch my video to learn more.
On a recent bison hunt, I had only a few seconds to prepare for my shot. I was able to quickly lock my rifle onto the tripod and take a steady shot. Had I not had the tripod, I would have been left with an offhand shot, which is not something I want to do, if I can at all avoid it. I credit the tripod for helping us take this fantastic bull bison in a difficult situation.
Until now, I’ve looked to tree branches to provide support for shooting, but since I carry a tripod on every hunt already, for my spotting scope and binoculars, I can now shoot from the tripod, allowing this single piece of gear to work double- or triple-duty. Even on a machine-supported hunt, reducing how many pieces of gear I have to bring and worry about is of paramount importance.
In this video, you will see my Really Right Stuff Ultralight TFC-33 tripod, with the Anvil BH-40 head. This is the perfect set-up for moose and bison hunting, and since it’s very light for the features it has, it can work really well for mountain hunting species like Dall’s Sheep and Mountain Goats.
How I Carry my Rifle
I want to talk about how I carry my rifle on a mountain hunt. My technique is likely slightly different from what I see most hunters doing. Keep in mind that I am speaking specifically about mountain hunting, which involves days and days of hiking and only a few moments, if we are fortunate, of handling the rifle.
Every hunter is looking to carry the rifle to address three considerations, and it’s going to be a matter of personal preference and the terrain and type of hunting in question that will determine the best method. The three considerations are:
- Weight and balance of the loaded pack
- Protection of the rifle and optics from dropping, scratching and compression
- Quickness of access
I describe my approach for the mountain situation below.
Weight and balance of the loaded pack
For me, the best position for my weapon is directly in the centre of my pack because it’s generally speaking the heaviest piece of equipment that I would have. I don’t want to be out of balance at any time when I’m rock hopping when I’m just hiking through the mountains; I want to be as stable and have my weight distribution as solid as I possibly can.
If you choose to put your rifle on one side or another, balance the weight with a spotting scope, water or tripod.
Some people find that the rifle disrupts their front-to-back balance. I don’t, but this is something to consider. If you have your pack loaded with heavier items closer to your spine, you can minimize the backwards pull of the gun.
Protection of the Rifle and Optics
Taking off your heavy pack, often upwards of 80 lbs, introduces the risk of scratching or seriously damaging whatever you have on the exterior of the pack. No matter where your rifle is, you will face the risk of damage. With the rifle in the centre, I don’t have to worry about which side of the pack hits the rocks because I know my rifle is on neither side.
Quickness of Access
In the mountain hunting environment, access speed is a very low priority. Some hunters have commented that the threat of a bear encounter necessitates easy access to the rifle. I have been fortunate to have avoided such encounters, so it’s not something I worry about very often. I’m unwilling to carry a gun in my hands or on a traditional rifle sling for such a low-odds risk. I would much prefer to have a bear spray at hand that move my rifle from its place on the rear of my pack.
I’d invite you to consider these factors the next time you head into the field. Having spent hundreds of days mountain hunting, I’ve been very pleased with this approach, and I think you might be as well.
My Three-Step Process for Successful Execution on a Mountain Stalk
I follow a simple, three-step process to help myself stay calm and execute on fundamental aspects of a successful mountain hunting stalk. By mountain hunting, I’m referring to the pursuit of sheep, goats, Mountain Caribou and often bears. These principles apply to all kinds of spot and stalk hunting where the game is stationary and not constantly on the move. Still, they are more critical in the mountain environment with the species I mentioned above. By repeating this process every time, I maximize my chance of having Lady Luck on my side.
My first step is to find a shooting position on the hill that maximizes my chances of keeping eyes on my target if it moves or if my first shot doesn’t anchor it. More often than not, stalks occur when mountain game are bedded and resting during the middle of the day. I will likely have an extended period between getting into a shooting position and having a shooting opportunity. I also want to select a shooting position to move from while remaining unseen. This concealment could be finding a bush, a change in the terrain, rocks or an exposed position with a backdrop that means I will not skyline myself. Suppose the game remains bedded for hours, and I command an unobstructed view above the animal. In that case, I may wish to have a position where I can sit up and move away from my rifle.
The distance I will set up will depend on numerous factors, including:
- my capability as a shooter with the rifle and optics I have
- the wind and weather conditions at the time
- the type of game (the size of the vitals)
- the kind of shooting platform available to me (prone, tripod, tree branch, off-hand?).
My second step is to build the shooting platform. When possible, I will use a tripod. Tripods provide the stability we all know from the best shooting rest at the range in a package I don’t mind carrying up the mountain. Tripods also allow me to be more flexible in my shooting position selection. Due to the added stability of the tripod, it’s no big deal to pull back 100 yards to have better cover and coverage.
I will do my best to get prone, whether I have a tripod, a bipod, or an improvised rest. Laying my entire body on the ground gives me the best steadiness and control possible.
Once I have established where my rifle will lie, whatever rest I am using, I ensure that my body is sustainably behind my Gunwerks ClymR. From the prone position, that means to have my body lying parallel to the gun. My body is comfortable yet strong and stable for a seated or standing position.
The third step is to dry fire. With the crosshairs trained on the animal (don’t forget to range!), I practice my trigger squeeze, working through my breathing routine and settling my heart rate. I’ll do this for a few minutes while the sheep or goat is bedded. After a week of misery in the mountains, finally pulling the rife out and training my reticle on a good ram will get my heart beating. We all know the feeling! This dry firing is the perfect therapy to give me the confidence and calm I need to make the shot that counts. Exercise caution to ensure you don’t load the rifle and make an unplanned and unsafe shot throughout this process.
This process is something you can integrate with your own. I think, by slowing yourself down and not selecting the first shooting location you see, you will set yourself up for success on your next mountain hunt.