Benchrest Groups from the Field
September 23, 2010
Here's how to position yourself for success on those tricky long shots.
Recently, technology has solved quite of few of yesteryear's shooting bugaboos. Perhaps the most notable new tool is the laser rangefinder. And where once upon a time an accurate rifle was to be cherished and nurtured like an old bottle of Scotch, today's hunter can burn up barrels until the cows come home because there is no shortage of accurate aftermarket barrels.
There is, however, a shortage of rifle shooters who can shoot well using field positions. Go to any range today and count the number of shooters practicing from any position other than the bench. The truth is, once our shooting pacifier--called a benchrest--is taken away, most of us struggle to shoot good groups in the field.
Jack O'Connor once wrote that a good rifleman should be able to shoot two-m.o.a. groups in the field from a prone position. What if I told you that you could, with an accurate rifle, shoot one-m.o.a. groups from a field position that did not require you to shoot prone but sitting?
Long-range shooting presents a number of problems, even assuming that the rifle in your hands has the prerequisite accuracy. Holding the rifle steady is one. Many shooters assume that prone, while not as steady as a benchrest, is the best tonic for a long-range shot. The ultra-long-range crowd almost mandates the prone position. However, prone has one huge problem: You can rarely use it when huning. How many times have you spotted an animal at long range and had an opportunity to shoot from the prone position?
My longest shot opportunities have come while hunting antelope, caribou and sheep. In no case did I shoot from a prone position. In fact, I can recall shooting only three animals from a prone position, which remains for me the least-used shooting position while hunting. But before I describe my secret weapon, let's explore the basis for it: the sitting position with a shooting sling.
Sitting is by far the most practical field position because it almost always gets you above vegetation in relatively open country while remaining stable.
The classic sitting position incorporates a shooting sling. Most hunters think they have a sling, but unless that sling has a loop with which to tighten on your left arm (assuming you are right-handed), you have only a carrying strap.
A proper shooting sling has two pieces, each of which forms a loop. The shooter inserts his left arm through the top loop and then tightens the loop by sliding two keepers until they are snug against the arm. The left hand then cradles the fore-end, tight against the fore-end sling swivel stud.
A properly adjusted sling will require the shooter to push the butt forward with his right hand to get it into the right shoulder pocket.
Recently I shot a Canada moose at 125 yards using a shooting sling and the sitting position. My guide suggested that I use the frame of his backpack as a rest; I declined as I had already tightened the loop around my left arm and assumed a dead steady sitting position. The moose was facing head on as I broke the trigger with the crosshairs resting under its chin.
After years of practice, I can keep my shots below one m.o.a. using the tight sling sitting position--except when the wind blows much over 5 mph.
However, wonderful as the qualities of the sitting position are, there is an even better position--bipod sitting with a tight sling. This position will allow a decent shooter to shoot groups in the field that measure less than one m.oa. with a capable rifle.
To use this position, you will need a sitting-model bipod with sling stud, such as those offered by Harris Engineering, a shooting sling (see sidebar), and an accurate rifle with standard sling swivel studs and detachable swivels.
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The first step in assuming this position is to affix the bipod to the rifle's front swivel stud. Once you have the bipod on, attach the sling (it helps to use a sling that you have already adjusted for the sitting position) so that the longer loop is toward the front by inserting the swivel through the stud on the bipod. Attach the rear swivel to the rear swivel stud.
Next, extend the legs of the bipod so that they are a comfortable height when you assume a sitting position. When hunting, I almost never carry my rifle with the bipod attached; instead, I carry it in my daypack and attach it after seeing game. Any game spotted beyond 300 yards will normally not be aware of you, and anything at shorter ranges can be dispatched using the normal sitting position with sling.
When I attach the bipod, I do so with the legs facing toward the buttstock because I find it is easier to extend the legs when crouched behind a rock, bush, etc.
After extending the legs, put your left arm (assuming you are right-handed) through the sling loop and tighten the keeper against your left bicep with your right hand.
Assuming the game is at the 12 o'clock position, place your left leg at two o'clock, your right leg at three o'clock and place the butt stock on your right knee. With your left arm, reach under your left leg and grab the sling where it attaches to the buttstock. Using your right hand, grasp the pistol grip as you normally would. Finally, relax your left leg; you are now in one of the steadiest field positions possible.
You will find that the rifle's recoil pad does not contact your shoulder pocket but instead rests on your bicep. For varmint calibers and other mild-recoiling cartridges, this is fine. It is normally not a problem with deer class cartridges such as the .30-06, .308 or 7mm Remington Magnum, although it can be a problem if the rifle is very light.
It will definitely be a problem if you're shooting .300 or .338 magnums or above as scope cuts to the forehead are in your future. There are two solutions. Installing a muzzle brake will reduce the recoil to an extent that scope cuts will not be an issue. I prefer Vias muzzle brakes because they reduce recoil significantly without appreciably increasing muzzle blast or noise. Alternatively, you can raise the bipod legs until the buttstock reaches your shoulder.
If you have a large spare tire around your middle, you may find it difficult to get into the bipod sitting position I'm describing. But most shooters will find that it is not only easy to get into but fast as well. With practice, it takes 10 to 15 seconds to assume the bipod sitting position with sling--not much longer than if you tried shooting sitti
ng with a bipod sans sling.
You will find, however, that the rifle is dead steady--so much so that you will find it a useful substitute for a benchrest when checking your zero. And, in fact, I always zero from this position.
You will also find that it takes a veritable hurricane to move the crosshairs. Of course, it is up to you to calculate the proper wind drift, but you will not have to worry about being buffeted by strong winds.
Using the bipod sitting position with a shooting sling I have fired four-shot groups at 700 yards that measure less than three inches, and I've put eight shots into less than four inches at that distance. With an accurate rifle, I can always keep my shots within one mo.a.
Of course, this shooting position doesn't lend itself to every hunting situation. It wouldn't be applicable to, say, hunting whitetails in heavy forest, but it can come in handy in many situations.
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I have shot two caribou at ranges of 375 yards using the bipod/sling sitting position, and it's a natural for pronghorn hunting. Since I devised this position, I've gone 100 percent on pronghorn by using it.
Mountain game is often taken at longer than normal ranges (although it is often taken at very close range as well). I have never shot a sheep while using the bipod sitting position, but I did shoot a tahr at 265 yards with it.
While that range is not particularly long, the wind was blowing with gusto: I measured it using my anemometer (wind speed gauge) at 20 mph, gusting to 30. In such a wind, it is simply impossible to hold dead steady using a shooting sling alone.
I had originally set up to shoot this animal using a standard sitting position but found it difficult to hold steady. Since the animals were undisturbed, feeding on a hillside across a ravine, I had time to reach for the bipod inside my pack.
I attached the bipod, held for the wind and sent the tahr rolling deep into the brush-choked ravine below us. The next day I dropped a nice chamois at a range of 200 yards, also using the bipod sitting position.
If you are looking for the steadiest field position possible, try the bipod sitting position with a sling. You will find it is unmatched for long-range precision.