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Take a Rest

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Shooting accurately under field conditions can be a challenge. It is fairly easy to cleanly "kill" a paper target on the shooting range because you are relaxed, have a stable shooting bench and the targets wait, obligingly and motionless to be perforated.

Although it is generally agreed that hunters should use some kind of support for the rifle when they shoot, many do not give this issue much thought – until they actually need a rest. Nature provides anthills, branches and big rocks, etc but these are often not in the right place or too high, low or just too awkward to use, when you need them. One of the biggest problems with natural rests is that many hunters are not accustomed to using them and are therefore so uncomfortable when doing so, that they take too long to settle in and get a shot off.

To get familiar with and use natural rests with confidence you have to use them during practice sessions. Unfortunately shooting ranges do not have conveniently placed natural rests as shooting aids but where there is a will, there is a way. Most of us have shrubs and trees in our gardens and these can be used during dry-firing sessions. Just make sure you are out of the public eye when practising in your back yard.

When hunting in dense African bushveld or even in the more open savannahs, the hunter is more often than not obliged to take shots from the standing position because long grass and other vegetation make it impossible to use the more stable sitting position. For that reason, home- or factory-made bi- or tripod "shooting sticks" are very handy. The most versatile, lightweight rests are factory-made aluminium ones with adjustable legs which make them suitable for standing kneeling and sitting shots. Stoney Point’s tripod and the BOG-PODS from BOGgear have three-section telescoping legs that rank among the best available today. Unfortunately these tripods are quite expensive.

Some people prefer to use bipods from the standing position but a tripod is more stable and can stand on its own. I have seen many types of homemade shooting sticks fashioned from wooden dowels, bamboo, broom sticks and aluminium tubing. Any material that is strong and stable enough will do and if you have to carry the sticks yourself weight is an important consideration. I always hunt on my own and therefore have to carry whatever I use in the veld myself. Broom sticks are too heavy so DIY people should use bamboo, wooden dowels or aluminium tubing. Such homemade shooting sticks normally are not adjustable for length and it is important to use material that provides enough stability when using the sticks from the sitting position. The legs are normally bound together by inner tubing or joined by bolts and nuts and the rifle is then rested in the web or wedge that is created where the legs are joined. Factory-made shooting sticks have purpose-made, user-friendly wedges (see picture). However, when the hunter is sitting, he uses only one of the legs and uses his hand to support the rifle. If the leg is too thin it will be wobbly (not sturdy enough) and accurate shooting off it will be difficult.

Many overseas hunters who come to Africa have never used a tri- or bipod from the standing position and a good number of them find it very challenging. However, once you have mastered the shooting sticks you will realise that it is in many ways better than most natural rests. In the African bushveld I’d say about 75% or even more shots are taken from the standing position (more shots can actually be taken from the sitting position but that requires more movement and adjusting the shooting sticks). Practise with those long shooting sticks until you are familiar with them. Hunting in Africa does not always require bull’s-eye accuracy at long ranges - getting into position fast and shooting quickly is more often than not far more important that hitting a small target. In the African bush a 150 yard shot is regarded as a long-range shot. If you can place your shots inside a six inch circle at that distance form a standing position off a rest you will be OK.

In more open country shooting distances are often longer, especially if you go after plains game such as springbuck or blesbuck or mountain dwellers such as the elusive vaal rhebok. For longer shots one would preferably use the sitting or even the prone position. A Harris or similar bipod that attaches to the fore-end of the rifle is a good option. The biggest problem with such a bipod is that it makes the rifle bulky and adds weight. For those who ambush game and stay stationary for long periods a heavy, bulky rifle is not a problem, but walk-and-stalk hunters find such rifles awkward and a schlep to carry. Attaching a bipod can also make your rifle shoot to a different point of impact (usually lower). I have found that the shorter, lightweight bipods meant for prone shooting (the ones that adjust from say six to 13") normally do not have an influence on the point of impact. The longer, heavier ones (adjustable from about 13 to 27") which are used when shooting from the sitting position often cause rifles to shoot lower when they are attached because they add weight to the fore-end. Always sight your rifle in with the bipod attached.

For shooting from the sitting position I carry Stoneypoint’s Safari Stix, a very lightweight, collapsible bipod. When folded up it rides comfortably in its pouch on my belt. Whenever I hunt in terrain that allows the use of the prone position I carry a second short bipod that rides in the same pouch. The legs of this bipod are 36cm (just over 14") in length and I have bolted them together about four inches from the top. A spacer between the legs where they hinge allowed me to pad the V-rest. When using this bipod the non-shooting arm provides a third leg and the elbow acts as the third anchor point. I added a retaining string to this short bipod to prevent the legs from opening wider than my preferred position. That also negates the necessity of holding onto the bipod where it hinges with the non-shooting hand to control the leg positions.

When I hunt in terrain where standing and sitting shots are the norm, I carry long sticks and my collapsible bipod on my belt. In open country where sitting and/or prone shots are the norm, I carry the lightweight sitting and prone bipods in my belt pouch. With these combinations I have the right shooting sticks for any situation at hand.

I often shoot from the sitting position over sticks because it provides a stable platform. Used correctly it elevates the shooter above fairly tall grass. I always sit flat on my bum and face away from the target at an angle of between 30 to 45 degrees. At times I draw both my knees up and either keep my feet flat on the ground or dig my heels in while resting my elbows on my knees with the non-shooting hand holding the bipod. My favourite position, however, is to draw up only my right knee and, with my foot flat on the ground, rest the elbow of my right arm (my shooting hand) on it while my left leg is held flat on the ground. I can sit very long in that position without getting tired and putting tension on my leg muscles. When your muscles get tense you start to shake. To get into a comfortable sitting position quickly, settle down and shoot is not so easy – you need to be fairly flexible and you must know in an instant what position you are going to use. That only comes with regular practice.

I have, for some reason never felt comfortable and very stable when using the kneeling position (with or without shooting sticks) and never attempt it. Find out what position your body is comfortable with and then practice regularly.

I have basically given up using my rifle sling for steady aiming because it really only works well when you shoot from the prone position and only when it has been modified to resemble a target or deliberate sling. A target sling has a single loop that fits around the upper left arm. With the sling correctly adjusted for length and in place around the upper arm, grab the fore-end and move the hand forwards or back to remove any slack. Increasing the angle between the biceps and the forearm - pushing the forearm away from the body – allows the shooter to put the right amount of tension on the sling. The leverage afforded by your arm will brace the rifle in place.

Proper target slings are of course useless for carrying because they only attach to the rifle at one point. There are, however, carry slings on the market with integral, fully adjustable loops.

Koos Barnard is an ex-professional hunter and a full time gun writer, having published hundreds of articles. He was born in Namibia and has been a keen hunter since his youth.

With the loop correctly adjusted for length you simply slip your arm through it in the same way as you would a target sling. Instead of buying one I made my own from leather and it works just fine. Of the thousands of animals I had shot, I can probably count the times when I had used a sling on one hand.

Take a rest whenever you can but remember; if you really want to get the most from a shooting rest, practice by using different kinds of rests from a variety of shooting positions.

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