Richard Saunders gives it some stick as he tests four tripod shooting rests
They’ve been around as long as hand-held cannons, gunpowder and muskets. And just like other innovations from the powder-burning world, like scopes, bolt-actions and magazines, shooting sticks are a vital piece of the modern hunter’s kit. Airguns are heavier than many centrefire and rimfire rifles, and shots have to be placed with precision on very small targets to achieve humane kills, so it’s easy to see why shooting sticks have become so popular.
Gone are the days of a forked twig cut from a bush. Today’s shooting rests are made from high-grade materials and are packed full of features. And the variations are seemingly endless with monopod, bipod and tripod options, as well as four-legged variants and sticks that support both the butt and the forend of a rifle.
While each style has its merits for different situations, most airgun hunters I know opt for the extra stability of tripods – and for the last several years, the Primos Trigger Stick has been the daddy. No doubt about it, this fantastic piece of kit – of which the Gen 3 model has just been launched – has set the standard for others to follow.
I have to admit to being a big fan of the Primos Trigger Stick and have been using one for several years. Yet there are plenty of alternatives out there, some of them costing less than half the price. But how do they compare?
With a self-imposed budget of up to £150, we’re going to take a look at the premium end of what you can buy, in the shape of the Vanguard Pro T68 and Ultrec Quick Change Tripod. At the other end of the fiscal scale, we’ll also put the HSF Tripod Shooting Stick Black, supplied by The Sportsman Gun Centre, through its paces. And priced somewhere in the middle, we’ll also try out an innovative take on the traditional tripod, in the shape of the Vanguard Veo AM-234TU. So let’s get started and see how this quartet performs…
1. HSF Tripod Shooting Stick
The HSF Tripod Shooting Stick Black is the cheapest product here by some considerable margin, but don’t let that put you off: despite the budget price tag, this stick does a more-than-adequate job in the field.
The legs on the HSF Tripod use a friction system to lock into place. Twist the legs anti-clockwise to loosen them and clockwise to lock them. A red ‘stop’ message warns you not to go any further.
It is time-consuming to have to lengthen each leg in this way, especially if you need to extend them twice for the additional height. This is a stick you’d want to set up once a session and not have to adjust them too often.
At its full height of 1.79 metres, the highest on test, the HSF Tripod provides an excellent platform for shooting pigeons and corvids in high trees. At just about a kilo, it is also easy to carry; there is a band for tying the legs together when on the move, but no carry strap.
The extent to which the legs splay is determined by a round plastic collar just underneath the V-shaped gun rest. The legs slot into holes and are held very steady, albeit in one position only. Fully extended, the HSF Tripod has a footprint of 1.38 metres. With the legs fully retracted, that drops to 61cm.
There are three feet options. A set of push-on rubber caps is ideal for concrete or gravel. Pull them off and metal stubs are revealed for grass. Finally, a set of round plastic mud feet can be screwed into place.
The gun rest is made from rubberised plastic, providing a stable platform thanks to the addition of fine ridges. It also revolves around 360 degrees.
The field test for the HSF Tripod was a night-time ratting trip. I had to sit in a squelchy farmyard, which wasn’t a problem thanks to the mud feet. The HSF Tripod gave me an extremely stable platform to enjoy a productive night’s sport.
“At less than a quarter of the price of the other products on test, the appeal of the HSF Tripod Shooting Stick is hard to resist, although longevity is an unanswered question.”
2. Ultrec Quick Change Tripod
Ultrec’s Quick Change Tripod is the only one of the four products on test here to use carbon-fibre for the legs. It weighs 810 grams, slightly less than the longer HSF and Vanguard Pro T68 tripods.
At full stretch, the tripod is fine for sitting shots. You can eke out more height by reducing the footprint from its 1.22-metre maximum, but they will not go high enough for standing shots – you’d have to choose another model from the Ultrec range. At their lowest, just 43cm high, you could just about use the Ultrec for prone shots. Certainly they would be useful in situations such as long grass if your forend-mounted bipod is too low.
The leg catches, the tension for which can be adjusted via a screw and a supplied Allen key, are sturdy, as is everything else on the Ultrec. It’s clearly built to last. At only 53cm long, it is the shortest set on test. There is a Velcro fastener to keep the legs together, and foam grips on the tops of the legs makes for easy carrying. If that doesn’t appeal, you can opt to carry the tripod in its nylon bag.
The feet have rubber caps; there are no options for grass or mud, although they worked just as well in the field as they did around the farm. At the other end is a solid metal yoke into which the legs are fixed. The screws can be adjusted for tension using a second Allen key.
On top of that is the gun rest, which swivels through 360 degrees and is made from plastic covered in firm rubber and has a series of grooves to provide extra grip. The Ultrec’s party piece is that pushing a metal rod in the yoke releases the rest, allowing you to swap between a V and U shape – both are supplied.
Again, rats were the focus of the field test. The Ultrec Quick Change Tripod provided a very stable platform, and from a sitting position I was able to make fine adjustments easily.
“The Ultrec Quick Change Tripod justifies its place at the upper end of our budget with its bullet-proof construction, quality materials and neat design touches.”
3. Vanguard Pro T68
The Pro T68 is the first of two products here from China-based Vanguard, and is the most expensive in the quartet – though not without good reason, as it is packed with features and design touches.
The aluminium structure has a non-reflective black finish that won’t give you away when the sun is out. The Pro T68 measures 78cm when closed and although there is no carry strap, foam grips on each of the three legs make it easy and comfortable to walk around with, especially as it only weighs just over a kilo.
The legs extend twice, and each stage can be locked with sturdy flip-up catches. Extended once, the Pro T68 measures 1.33 metres. Extending the legs a second time gets you to 1.91m. The extent to which the three legs splay out is determined by the yoke assembly, which has two settings. In one the Pro T68 will give you a truly lofty shooting height of 1.65m, which can be increased still further by closing the three legs. The second setting splays the legs further to enable a comfortable sitting position, going as low as 46cm. The yoke also rotates through 360 degrees so you can adjust your position as shots present themselves.
Vanguard’s attention to detail is commendable. The feet, for example, are rubber balls that prevent the sticks from slipping if used on concrete or some other unforgiving surface. However, as they are mounted on threads, the balls can be raised to reveal spikes for better purchase on mud or grass.
At the other end, the gun rest has a rubber grip. The angle of the V-rest can be adjusted right down to horizontal at the touch of a button to accommodate any shape of rifle stock. A U-shaped pod for shotguns is also provided.
One of my permissions provides an opportunity to shoot high-roosting crows. The T68’s height enabled me to take several corvids from the tops of trees.
“The Vanguard Pro T68 is solidly made, well-designed and packed full of subtle features that come to the fore when out in the field. The extra height is great when targeting roosting birds.”
4. Vanguard VEO AM-234TU
This stick from Vanguard is something of an anomaly. It has three feet, but it isn’t a tripod – and yet, it’s not quite a monopod either. It’s an attempt to garner the best of both worlds. And, to be fair, it succeeds.
At just 57cm folded up, the Veo is easy to carry thanks to a rubber grip, a wrist strap and the fact that it weighs less than a kilo. A carabiner lets you clip the stick to your belt or backpack.
With a black aluminium leg that extends three times and locks in place with flip-up catches, the Veo stretches to 1.64 metres. The three feet deploy easily and click sturdily into place, although you might get your hands muddy when you retract them. Lacking the flexibility that independently adjustable legs gives a traditional tripod, the Veo needs to planted on flat ground.
The gun rest is a tough, rubberised U-shape; thanks to a series of fins, it provides a secure hold through its 360-
degree rotation. A ball joint above the three feet enables the Veo to tilt to give you more aiming options. By turning a wheel you can determine the extent to which the Veo will lean, and it can be locked right down to keep everything rock-steady.
The Veo is a hybrid design. It is undoubtedly more stable than a monopod, but not as stable as a traditional tripod. That said, I liked the attention to detail and build quality.
For its field test, I took the Veo on a squirrel-hunting trip in one of my wooded permissions. Thanks to the jungle-like undergrowth, my hide gets smaller every time I use it, to the point that deploying my usual Primos Trigger Stick creates a lot of noise and disturbance.
With the Veo’s tiny footprint, I had plenty of room inside the hide, and once I had set the height to where I knew from experience most shots would come, the tilt feature became a real bonus.
“What it lacks in stability compared with a conventional tripod, the Veo AM-234TU makes up for by being more compact and easier to use in confined spaces.”
Vanguard’s Pro T68 edges out the competition
All four of the products on test here share the same fundamental feature in that you have to extend the legs one at a time and in stages. In that respect they’re all at a disadvantage compared with the Primos Trigger Stick, which is simply quicker and easier to adjust in the field.
That said, there are plenty of shooting situations in which you know where your shots are going to present themselves, allowing you to set your sticks and make any final adjustments simply by altering your stance.
When it comes to something as relatively basic as shooting sticks, the subtle things make all the difference. All four products have useful design features – such as the feet on the HSF and the adjustable gun rest on the Vanguard Pro T68, for example.
But durability, lightness and stability are what matter most. Look for build quality, especially when it comes to catches on extending legs, as they will have to cope with the weight of a gun and possibly night vision equipment; the last thing you want is for the sticks to slip just as you take a shot.
“There’s little to choose between two of the tested products – the Vanguard Pro T68 and the Ultrec Tripod. Both will last you a long time and won’t let you down in the field. Ultimately, though, the Vanguard just gets the nod thanks to fantastic build quality and a few more design features.”