How To Set Up Your Tripod for Shooting

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Since I first tried it, shooting off a tripod has become my favourite method for shooting. It didn’t take me long to realise that the stability of a rifle on a tripod is simply incredible. While it does allow a shooter to shoot accurately at greater distances, as a hunter, I see the primary benefit as being how I can shoot more ethically and effectively at conventional distances.

It did take me a few hunts and some training at Gunwerk’s Long Range University to learn how best to use the tripod to its full capacity.

What I focus on in this video are two simple things: setting up the tripod with two legs rearward and one leg forward and using an inverted grip with my non-shooting hand to stabilise the tripod.

The reason I prefer shooting with the two-legged-back configuration is quite simple. When shooting, the rifle and tripod experience recoil rearward. If I have one leg to the rear, the tripod could come to rest with my rifle pointed in a new direction. If the front legs come off the ground, the rifle could twist before coming back to the ground. With two legs to the back, the rifle will rock evenly backward and rest in the same position as before the shot. A light-recoil rifle system will make this point less important, while a heavily recoiling rifle will benefit most.

The second component is what to do with your stabilizing hand. If you shoot right-handed, this is your left hand. I prefer to cross it under the rifle and hold the right tripod leg with an inverted grip. I keep my arm straight and apply some pressure to offer additional stabilization to the system.

This approach will work with prone, seated, kneeling or standing shooting positions. Let me know in the comments how this works for you!

Download my tripod guide to learn about all the pieces in my system.

How I Mount My Binoculars on a Tripod

I’m a late-comer to mounting my binoculars on a tripod, and it didn’t take long to convince me that it’s a great way to glass. It wasn’t until I took the time to try this technique that I understood the hype. The stability of the binos is massively enhanced when they are on a tripod, and my ability to see the details on a mountainside is much, much higher than using them handheld. Mounting the binoculars on the tripod is as simple as grabbing a small adapter and clipping it to the binos.

I’ve been using Really Right Stuff’s Cinch-LR Binocular Mount. It’s a small and light unit that clips around one of the binocular’s barrels. It has an integrated dovetail to clip into any ARCA Swiss tripod head. It’s that easy. The Cinch is low-profile, and I don’t have to worry about removing it from my binos to stow them back in my binocular harness. There’s not too much more to say about this. If you’ve thought, as I have, that putting my elbows on my knees while glassing was enough to make my binoculars stable for glassing, you’re wrong (as I was). Check out the Cinch-LR, which is available in nylon or aluminum. These will change the way you use your optics and will make you a better hunter.

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Field Tip: Seated Tripod Shooting with a Strap

By now, you know I’m a huge fan of tripod shooting. What if you wanted to make your shots even more stable? This is where the Gunwerks Custom Tripod Sling Kit comes into play. Tripods make us more stable and accurate shooters by anchoring the rifle to the ground and reducing our reliance on muscles to hold the rifle steady. The tripod sling kit in this video is a simple tool that enhances this connection to the ground: Attach the sling to the rifle (while it’s mounted on the tripod) and then to your belt with a carabiner. Taking your position behind the rifle, you pull on the strap with your hips, further anchoring the tripod and rifle to the earth. Voila, even MORE stability for your seated, kneeling or standing shooting.

This is a low-cost method that doesn’t take a lot of skill to pull off. You won’t find a steadier set-up.

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Slope Angle on OnX Maps

Most hunters take advantage of the incredible mapping capabilities of a smartphone while hunting. I’m sure most of you use your phone to mark camp, review satellite imagery, and plan your stalks.

One fantastic feature of OnX Maps that I used extensively on a recent goat hunt is the Slope Angle layer. While you can tell the slope of a hill by how close together the contours on a topographical map are, the Slope Angle layer is far superior. Hit Hunt Map Layers > Land & Access > Slope Angle. There you go, you’ve got slope angles visualized on your screen, from green to blue, showing you how steep the country is.

Why would you want this? There are a few primary reasons why knowing the slope will improve your chances of success:

  1. Route finding: Sitting at the bottom of a slope, looking up at goats, makes it challenging to know what the best route is. I used the slope angle layer to identify where we could get up. Purple areas were pushing it and are actually climbing rather than hiking. Red was good, but not ideal. We faced a cliff about 300 m wide on our way off the mountain. In the centre, we identified a narrow chute that was less steep via the app (it was not visible from above). We threaded the needle and saved ourselves a lot of hiking around the cliff.
  2. Safety: There’s nothing worse than working hard to get somewhere, only to find an impassable slope in front of you. If you’re anything like me, you can be tempted to push through difficulties when a wiser soul would turn back. If you can foresee the possibility of getting cliffed out and avoid heading into the trap, you can remove the temptation of pushing beyond the limits of your team.
  3. Energy management: If you’re fortunate enough to have a very heavy pack, steep uphills will burn a lot of mental and physical energy. I like to assess the slope and decide if a shortcut up a steep slope is worth cutting the distance. Often, a longer route can save energy and time.
  4. Animal behaviour: If the game you are chasing tends to be in certain terrain types, the slope angle map will allow you to locate plateaus or steep areas that are not cliffs quickly. For example, goats are comfortable on steep slopes but will only be found on cliffs when a predator or hunter pushes them.

The next time you head into the hills, try out this layer, and I am sure you will find yourself planning your travel and stalks with it.

Field Tip: Rifle Field Care

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.

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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.

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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.

Are you ready for this shot?

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.

Bipod

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.

Tripod

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.

I never shoot off my pack, but this setup is similar.

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.

Not ideal!

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.

Take-Aways

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.

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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

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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

Ballistics

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.

Shooting Positions

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?

Your Gear

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.

Step 3: Prepare your shooting rest. In sheep country, as in the images above, a prone shot will likely be the best option.
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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.

  1. Remove any ammunition from the rifle and ensure it is safe.
  2. 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.
  3. Prepare your shooting rest. I love shooting from a tripod in just about every situation. Thus, I will prepare my tripod for the shot.
  4. Take your shooting position. I prefer to have my legs in line with the rifle when prone. I lay down behind the gun.
  5. 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.
  6. Cycle the bolt.
  7. 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.
  8. Put your finger on the trigger. Your trigger control is now the essential part of the shot.
  9. Trigger squeeze. A smooth, steady, straight-back squeeze is mandatory. Pulling the rifle to one side or another will cause a poor shot.
  10. 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.

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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.