Accurate shooting is best achieved from the most stable position – and that means going prone with a bipod. This maximises the shooter’s contact with the ground and offers three solid points of support for the rifle: the bipod itself, the shooter’s shoulder and their supporting hand.
But while bipods are perfect for many hunting scenarios, such as shooting over closely-cropped ground that’s either flat or gently sloping away from you, there are many situations where the terrain and flora work against you. If there’s no natural means of support to hand, such as a suitable tree, wall or gate, it may be tempting to take an unsupported shot by sitting, kneeling or standing. But there is a better way – shooting sticks.
Strong and stable
A good set of shooting sticks should be easy to carry, quick to deploy and stable. While they are more versatile than a bipod, they are an extra expense and, more importantly, are an extra item of kit to take into the field. In an effort to keep things as light, cheap and simple as possible, some shooters like to use a monopod – a single stick. This works best when the foot of the stick is planted so it’s angled away from the shooter, effectively making a tripod in conjunction with his legs. But while monopods are better than nothing, they don’t offer as much stability as you might want, leading some people to consider twin sticks. These now give the shooter a total of four points of contact with the ground: the rifle is still only supported by the sticks at the forend, but the whole platform is less prone to wobble.
An even more stable system than twin sticks is the tripod, specifically the Primos Trigger Stick. The twin-stick configuration still relies on the shooter to steady the sticks and therefore steady the forend, while a tripod copes with both weight and balance at the same time. The legs on this particular set of sticks must be opened to the desired angle – typically wider for sitting or kneeling shots – after which height can be controlled by depressing the trigger set into the grip, releasing the legs and letting them automatically level themselves to the terrain.
As with a monopod, the sticks are most stable when the leading leg is angled away from the shooter. While the sticks still provide only one point of direct contact with the rifle, this system provides five points of contact with the ground.
Quad sticks are also available, offering two points of contact with the gun; and Primos has another ingenious tripod stick called the Pole Cat, which also offers two points of rifle contact. But these sticks, while offering superb stability, take far longer to set up. They are designed for static hunting and ambushing rather than stalking, so the tripod Trigger Stick is the best all-rounder for the roving airgun hunter.
Sticks in practice
Many shooters will spend a huge amount of time and effort, and pellets too, in setting up a rifle/scope/ammo combo that will deliver consistent, tiny groups – and that’s a good thing. Having a properly zeroed rifle that the shooter knows he’s capable of achieving good results with is a huge boost to confidence – and that in turn will help boost accuracy in the field. But how many people, even if they have sticks, regularly practise with them? Practice sessions don’t need to be too long, because the levels of concentration required are mentally draining, and they don’t necessarily even need to involve actual shooting.
If you have a PCP, practise with your sticks by dry-firing. If you’re shooting a springer, you won’t be able to dry-fire without the risk of damaging your rifle’s internals, but you can still squeeze the trigger to simulate taking a shot. With your scope set to a sensible magnification for hunting, 6x for example, keep your eye on the practice target and take your simulated shot. See whether the crosshairs jump around your point of aim when you squeeze the trigger. Don’t forget to use exactly the same shooting techniques with sticks that you would when taking any other type of shot. That means controlling your breathing during the firing cycle and making sure you follow through after squeezing off that shot. The next step, if you have a multi-shot PCP, is to practise reloading swiftly, smoothly and efficiently for a follow-up shot. You may need to build up a new level of muscle memory when using sticks.
When you are live-firing, try shooting at your set zero distance and look to see whether or not the point of impact has changed. If it has, you’ll need to adjust accordingly. Use your sticks over different distances and see if you are still killzone-accurate at these ranges. Your rifle may be perfectly capable of hitting a killzone at 40 yards, for example, but can you? If not, the solution here is to either keep practising until you can, or reduce your maximum hunting range when using sticks to distances where you know you can get a clean kill.
Collapsible sticks like the ones used here are not just useful for standing shots: depending on the terrain, they are great for kneeling and sitting shots too. In fact, while most people default to taking standing shots if they have a set of sticks in their hands, the objective is always to build yourself the most stable shooting platform, terrain allowing. That means shooting off a bipod, then using sticks sitting down, using sticks kneeling and only then using the sticks for standing shots when all other positions are unavailable. During a practice session in my garden, I managed to hit a pigeon’s head-sized spinner only 45 times out of 50 at 30 yards standing, but made it 50 out of 50 from the sitting position. Both the sitting and kneeling positions can be made far more comfortable with the addition of a bean bag, but that’s something extra to take into the field and can lead to task overload.
While shooting sticks are an invaluable aid to the hunter, they can offer a new dimension to the target shooter as well. While you won’t be able to use them for many of the formal airgun target sports, some clubs do run competitions involving sticks, or you could devise a new club comp involving sticks yourself. Finally, there’s the plinking range. Even if you never intend to shoot live quarry, shooting sticks are a fun way to expand your shooting repertoire and can also breathe new life into knockdowns and spinners that you’ve shot so many thousands of times before.