September 23, 2010
The classic style is firing off sticks, but you need to be ready for more than that.
African shooting sticks are most often used in the standing position, but with the legs spread wide you can also sit or kneel behind them.
It's easy to get in a rut in your field shooting. I grew up as a western big game hunter, so my primary comfort level lies in finding a something solid--preferably a rock or a log, but if necessary even a little bump in the ground--setting my pack on it and using that for a rest. It doesn't much matter whether I have to go prone, sit, kneel, or even stand behind the rifle.
This is my preference, but it's an extremely bad idea to get too tied to any given shooting position because nothing works all the time. The more ways you know how to get steady--fast--the more opportunities you will be able to capitalize on.
In Africa, tall grass and short bush often makes it impossible to get low, and most trees have too many nasty thorns to be useful. So over there three-legged shooting sticks are extremely common. It's a good idea to get a set and learn how to use them before you go on safari, and you may find that they are useful in lots of places besides Africa. But you don't want to get tied to shooting sticks, either.
A recent safari in Cameroon was a prime example. I used professional hunter Guav Johnson's Long Grass standing sticks to take a West African savanna buffalo, a western kob and a big warthog, but the primary object of the safari was Lord Derby's giant eland--one of Africa's great prizes.
We tracked one all day and finally got within view, and we butt-scooted to a stout tree that I hoped to use for a rest, but from that angle the animal's entire shoulder was covered by a tree. The distance was still something well over 200 yards, so some kind of rest was almost essential.
Guav slowly set up the sticks wide and low, allowing me to ease the Ruger Model 77 in .375 Ruger over the sticks in a sitting position. Incredibly, the bull was still there, broadside. I held just over the midpoint of the shoulder and squeezed the trigger as carefully as I could.
I heard the bullet smack, but all else was lost in recoil. When I came back down, the herd of eland he was with was in motion throughout the grove, but I had no idea where the bull had gone. We found him down and dead just 75 yards away from where he'd been standing when I'd fired.
At the tail end of the safari we had the luxury of just looking around for really exceptional animals. One blistering afternoon we saw an exceptional reedbuck slip off into the brush. We grabbed rifles and followed, catching only glimpses as the animal made his way along for several hundred yards, never stopping quite long enough for a really good look, let alone a shot.
Eventually we got our chance after crossing a little watercourse, the reedbuck suddenly appearing in the open about 60 yards away, facing us. We crouched down, but he had us flat-footed. Not wanting to chance spooking the animal by setting up the sticks, I rolled slowly to the right and lay prone. The small chest area was clear, so I took the shot and we had a lovely reedbuck.
The harnessed bushbuck is the westernmost race of this widespread antelope--small, bright orange with a network or "harness" of white stripes and spots and among my favorite antelope--so as the hunt wound down we spent quite a lot of time looking for a good one.
A couple of monsters gave us the slip without offering a shot, and on the next-to-last morning we made a long walk through some marvelous riverine habitat, seeing only females.
We were almost back to the road in hot midday when our lead tracker froze. We were in open terminalia forest, not classic bushbuck habitat at all, but this apparently didn't matter to one ancient ram. He was feeding and hadn't seen us for some reason. His horns were worn at the tips but heavy, so I didn't hesitate. As I moved to clear our hunting party, I wrapped into a hasty sling. The ram ran 40 yards and piled up.
Shooting in Africa is rarely at great distance, but there's usually brush to contend with and, almost always, a time limit to getting the shot off. There are lots of ways to use sticks, just as there are lots of ways to use a solid rest. But sometimes the good old-fashioned NRA-sanctioned shooting positions, modified to taste, are the best options going. The point is, be flexible in the field and creative in your practice, and you'll be ready for whatever shot comes along--wherever you are