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.

A moose hunter glasses for moose with his binoculars, with his rifle and tripod standing at the ready.
I face chest-high brush from my shooting position or between the moose and me more often than not. Using a tall tripod like the Really Right Stuff Ultralight TFC-33 raises my rifle above the brush and provides benchrest-quality stability.

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.

A hunter looks through his tripod-mounted rifle in the alpine.
The tripod provides outstanding support if a high-country shot allows me to shoot from a seated position. Here you can see how I am bracing my elbows on my knees, making for a very stable platform to take a longer shot.

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.

I’ve always glassed from tripods and carry one on every hunt. Shown: Really Right Stuff Ultralight TFC-33 with the Anvil-30 head.

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 with ease, I’ve fallen in love with the outstanding versatility and performance of this new system. 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 particular 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.

Watch my video where I walk through the strengths and weaknesses of the tripod versus the bipod.

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 and tense shooter.

A fantastic bull moose I took off my Really Right Stuff Ulatrlight TFC-33 tripod. This setup allowed me to contend with the tall brush at my shooting position and down where the moose was.

Because the stability offered by a tripod is so good, the tripod will allow me to select shooting locations that are better, 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.

I took this bull bison off my Really Right Stuff Ultralight TFC-33 tripod, fitted with the BH-40 tripod head.

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.

A tripod is indispensable for shooting in moose country. More often than not we are faced with tall brush, making a seated or prone shot impossible. Also, it’s rare to find a good branch for shooting, if trees are available at all.

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.

Both Denise and I carrying our rifles in the centre of our packs.

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.

My rifle and optics were protected when I lay my pack onto the ground.

Quickness of Access

Removing the rifle is quick and easy.

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.

This ram remained bedded for about an hour after we go into position.

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.

This grassy knoll provided the perfect location for me to remain out of sight of the spectacular Dall’s Sheep ram, giving me plenty of room to remain comfortable while maintaining my view of him.

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.

Dry firing is a perfect technique for calming the nerves, checking your body position, and loosening your trigger hand’s grip on the stock.

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.

KUIU Mountain Academy

I spoke at KUIU’s Mountain Academy last year, along with a few good friends of mine such as Alan Bolen, Randy Ulmer and Brendan Burns. KUIU has edited out my presentation in a few shorter videos. Check them out!

Part 1 of my presentation: Decide what you need to do.
Part 2 of my presentation: Commit to your decision.

The remainder of the presentation is coming soon.

ProTip: Early Morning Glassing

Often, when breaking camp in the morning, we tend to pack up and head out. We are tempted to move on without glassing the immediate area, as one gets the feeling there couldn’t possibly be something in the immediate vicinity where we have spent the last eight to 12 hours. This temptation can lead to a big mistake: We all know stories of people who’ve seen game as soon as they’ve gotten out of the tent, or even before leaving the tent. I’m going to tell you why glassing in the early morning is critical.

The Morning

Most game animals rise before dawn to move into feeding areas. They could walk over a ridge or into view, and they wouldn’t have been visible the previous night. They may also be unaware of your presence, and your evening activities will have had no effect on them. Thus it would help if you disregarded your intuition that they are “somewhere else.” and make a priority of looking around while you wait for your water to boil.

Morning light is fantastic for glassing, and it helps to cast shadows from feeding animals,  making them more visible. The glare of the mid-day sun will not yet be washing out the landscape. In the morning light, the animal’s colors will pop more readily. The golden hour at sunset is well-known as the best time to find your animals. The morning is equally as good.

On a recent sheep hunt, glassed from camp before leaving. We didn’t pick anything up initially. However, a few minutes after leaving, a ram came up out of his bed and over the ridge. Had we been in camp with our heads down, we would have missed him.

On the Move

Once leaving camp, don’t watch the ground as you move to your destination. Keep your binos at the ready and your head on a swivel, always looking around. As your movement through the terrain reveals new lines of sight, be looking all around. If you are moving camp, you may be losing view of slopes and valleys for hours or even days. Your knowledge of the landscape and your continued focus on looking in all directions will serve you well.

It’s a best-practice to go to be with a plan for the next day. If that plan sees you moving camp, or moving far from camp to glass, taking the time to do a quick check of the skylines and approaches to your tent site will open a bonus hunting opportunity sooner or later.

Optics I use:

ProTip: Glassing in Snowy Conditions

There are times you are going to experience a lot of snow on the ground. This can happen because you’ve signed up for a winter hunt: Kudos to you if you are out there when most people are hunkering down to watch Netflix. Other times, this can happen with a freak snow event or pure bad luck. When it happens, you have two options: Option 1 is to turn tail, go home, and complain to your buddies about how lousy it was out there. Option 2 is to get after it, and use smart glassing techniques to create an adventure. 

You know which option I prefer.

I enjoy hunting Dall’s Sheep as much as any species I pursue, and they are found high in the mountains of the Yukon. The Yukon is a place where snow can happen in any month of the year, so I’ve developed some techniques to make the most of my time out there. 

While these sheep are white, they carry a yellow tinge when you compare them to a pure white snowfield. Rather than looking for white sheep, I have my eye tuned to this yellow tinge. This small mindset change is much more effective than you might guess, and your eyes will see them pop a bit more this way.

Sheep tend to avoid the snow when they can, so looking for open faces of grass and even rock will be high-percentage locations to search first. As you travel the mountains, be aware if south-facing slopes are opening up. Check your maps and head for vantage points that will allow you to glass the faces showing snow melt. Sheep will prefer to bed and feed where they have ready access to snow-free ground.

You may not be fortunate to have snow-free areas. In this case, you will be forced to look for animals traversing snowfields and searching for tracks. While tracks are difficult to read from afar, you may be able to identify a direction of movement with your spotting scope. In this case, follow the tracks to their end, and there’s a chance you will find a sheep there. Even if you have snow-free areas, you should move on to the snowfields and look for tracks if you’ve come up empty in the open areas.

When the snow melts, you’re going to be tempted to avoid glassing in the snowy areas. All of us are inherently lazy, and glassing snow for sheep isn’t ideal. When the snow is only partially melted, and you have sporadic open areas, it’s even more difficult, as you need to look for yellow sheep on snow and look for white sheep on rock and grass. Your brain needs to switch between these two modes of searching. You need to stay disciplined and continue to glass the snowy parts of the mountain.

These tips will help you make the most of winter and fall hunting. It’s much better to return home with a great story of hardship and suffering, possibly with a trophy, than to return home with excuses.

Optics I use:

ProTip: Optics Selection for a Mountain Hunt

For many people, getting out on a single mountain hunt could be the highlight of the year. For others, getting the shot at a Dall’s Sheep or Mountain Goat could be the hunt of a lifetime. If you have any chance of chasing sheep, you won’t regret having the right gear—and experience using it—before you start hiking on the first day. 

If you’ve never hunted a northern mountain species, I am going to identify the most critical aspects of optics selection.

To understand how I choose my optics, you need to have a picture of my hunt style. Physical endurance is a crucial aspect of my hunting, and my life in general. I train 12-months per year and head into our mountain hunting season in the best shape I can. What this means is I’m not afraid of a bit of extra weight in pieces of kit that make me a more effective hunter. I don’t carry any excess weight in the “nice-to-have” category, such as camp pillows, chairs, Bluetooth speakers, or spare socks. My endurance allows me to cover a lot of ground, but stay in one place and glass hard when the situation calls for it (which is quite often). 

Yukon sheep mountains are not overly steep, so it’s possible to find a high vantage point and see a lot of country that is quite far away. These mountains and valleys require powerful optics to pick out the horns of a ram behind rocks, or a bedded moose in the thick timber.

Let’s get to it:

  • Binoculars. We have a few choices here: 8x, 10x, 12x, and even 15x. I’ve tried all of these, and the 10x are the hands-down winners for me. 10x is the maximum I feel comfortable and practical hand-holding with a pack on my back. When moving from one sit-down glassing location to another, the binos earn their keep by staying productive at all times. I can stop hiking, pull out the binos, and have a quick look at a suspicious object, or look over a slope. I don’t need to sit down or remove my pack to hold them steady. Because our mountains are not overly steep, I am not left looking at very close terrain. If that were the case, the 8x might be more appropriate. I am using the Vortex Optics Razor® UHD 10×42 bino. They provide incredible clarity and have the durability I require for hard mountain hunts.
  • Spotting scope. A category where guys will often go under-powered to save money and weight, cutting corners on your spotting scope is a big mistake. The spotting scope is what brings you to the next level when it comes to finding low-density game, and when you’re looking for a great animal instead of just a legal harvest. What you gain in a slightly lighter scope, perhaps with a smaller objective lens, you will lose by having to move one mountain range closer to judge the animal accurately. Judging sheep, goat, and even moose requires a detailed look at horn weight, length, and points, and is difficult at the best of times. Looking through an under-powered scope is a terrible feeling. I much prefer seeing an animal clearly from a distance and knowing it’s worth going after. My go-to spotting scope is the Razor® HD 27–60×85. I use the 85 mm objective for a clearer view and better light gathering capabilities. The angled scope is much more comfortable to use in our terrain than the straight scope, allowing for more comfortable and ergonomic glassing, as well as a lower tripod setup.
  • Riflescope. In the Yukon, we often have opportunities to shoot out past 700 yards. I prefer to get much closer, with 300–500 yards being an excellent range where the risks of being spotted or winded are vastly reduced, and where wind and Lady Luck are not huge factors. Thus, my choice is to run the Razor®  HD AMG™ 6-24×50 FFP, or something similar, like the Razor® HD 5-20×50. These scopes offer quick and reliable target acquisition, bomber build quality, and fantastic clarity and light transmission. The adjustable turrets take the guesswork out of dynamic-ranging situations. Running a lighter scope, such as a 3–10x, will leave you out to dry for those longer shots unless you’re a much better shot than me. If you do go with a more straightforward riflescope, ensure you have the reticle needed to shoot reliably at a variety of distances. Again, this is not a piece of gear where you should consider cutting corners.
  • Rangefinder. My rangefinder goes everywhere my rifle goes, which is everywhere I go. Judging distance is a skill that takes a lot of work. If you’re hunting new game, you will have difficulty ranging until you get a sense of their body size. From both practical and ethical standpoints, a rangefinder like the Razor® HD 4000 should be in your pack. Certainly, you need a rangefinder that can range way out past your shooting distance to accommodate challenging ranging conditions.

Every experienced mountain hunter knows that carrying the right optics is a key variable in hunting success. If you’re a new hunter, I hope this article has helped you avoid purchasing the wrong setup. If you’re an experienced hunter, these guidelines will help you dominate the mountains.