June 02, 2023
Shooting tripods are everywhere. What began as a niche corner of the shooting world quickly became popular. This was helped by the rise of practical precision shooting competitions like PRS and NRL. Not that many people shoot competitions, but a lot of shooters pay attention to how well top competitors perform. For top shooters, a quality tripod is a must.
When there is demand, the market responds. Smaller companies, often crossing over from the photography market, were the first to engineer top-notch solutions. Examples are Really Right Stuff, Field Optics Research, and several others. Major optics companies have also been expanding their tripod portfolios to include more robust models that work as both a shooting support and observation optic support. Vortex and Athlon are good examples.
While there are still tripods that rely on a threaded stud for attachment, the majority rely on a quick-detach (QD) adaptor plate that is permanently attached to the rifle or optic. Historically, tripod companies had their own QD plate designs, but there has been some convergence there around the ARCA-Swiss pattern, and that is what the majority of shooting tripods use. From a stability standpoint, there are advantages to ARCA. With long adapter rails, it is easy to get the rifle (or a heavy optic) perfectly balanced. Also, most clamps have a significant amount of adjustability, resulting in a secure lockup.
Some of the more stable bipods have also been adapted to clamp to the ARCA rail, and many competition rifles have a built-in ARCA dovetail along the bottom of the handguard. Skilled shooters are achieving super accuracy this way.
So why switch to a different mounting pattern for hunting? There are two reasons: speed and weight. Outside of hunting, I am sticking with heavy-duty tripods (Field Optics Research PRO32, Athlon Midas CF40, and others). These tripods are of the same core design: high-quality bowl-top tripod with a leveling base or a large and extremely robust ball head. They are all in the 6- to 10-pound range.
Last year’s elk hunt is when I started rethinking shooting and optics support in the field. While a bowl top tripod is sturdy, since it does not have a center column, all height adjustment is done with the legs. That turned out to be laborious when glassing from an awkward perch on the side of the mountain. So, I switched to glassing with a lighter-duty tripod with a center column. Then, I was carrying two tripods.
The next time we went out, I left the large one in the ATV. When we spotted elk, I grabbed my rifle and lightweight tripod and got within 300 yards. None of the makeshift field supports provided the right shooting angle, so I grabbed the lightweight tripod. The ARCA clamp did not go wide enough to grab the adapter plate on my rifle. I had never shot off of that tripod before, so it was bad news at the worst possible moment. I spent some time putzing around and adjusting the clamp. Thankfully, the elk were in no rush, and I ended up hiking out with elk meat that day.
When I got home, I went through all my ARCA clamps and plates and realized there are dimensional variances, and not all clamps work with all plates without some adjustment. Some cannot be adjusted that far at all. Under normal circumstances, that’s not an issue, but when out in the field, that’s the last thing to be messing with.
During SHOT Show 2022, I made it a point to see if there was a better alternative. I wanted a tripod that was light enough, sturdy enough, and does not depend on manufacturing tolerances of a myriad of adapter plates. Don’t get me wrong, with better preparation and by selecting dimensionally uniform adapter plates, it is not hard to get an ARCA solution to work, but I wanted to see if anyone solved the problem differently. Besides, while ARCA plates fit naturally on precision rifles, they look a little out of place on narrower hunting stocks. That’s how I stumbled onto Spartan Precision Equipment.
Spartan has a different approach to interfacing with the gun or optic. Rather than using clamps, the tripod or bipod (they make both) has an 11mm stud with an integrated rare earth magnet. They also make adapters to fit a variety of stocks.
The stem from the bipod or tripod fits into the stock adapter with the magnet. To separate the bipod from the stock, you have to overcome the initial resistance of the magnet, after which they come apart easily. There are no clamps to tighten, loosen, or readjust. The bipod has an indexing pin, which prevents it from panning. If inserted in the opposite configuration, there is about 60 degrees of panning range available.
The bipod comes with what they call the Classic Rifle Adapter, which replaces the sling swivel on traditional stocks. Spartan provides six different screws to make sure you can easily install the adapter. There are also KeyMod, M-LOK, Picatinny, gunsmithing, and optics adapters available.
The Gunsmith Adapter is essentially a metal cup that can be embedded into the stock. I am not known for pretty handiwork, but I needed something for my precision muzzleloader. Armed with a drill, copious amount of J-B Weld, limited patience, and an extensive vocabulary of words not fit for print, I ended up with a functional setup that did not require removal of the sling stud that juts out at an odd angle on the TC Encore forearm. With this configuration, the bipod is carried separately. Despite having extendable legs and both pan and cant capability, it only weighs 8 ounces.
I was impressed with Spartan’s tripods at SHOT Show, but the specific model I was interested in was going through a redesign when I needed it. Thankfully, Spartan does not try to lock you into using their tripod if you already have something you are happy with. They sell both tripod heads and ARCA-to-magnetic stud adapters. I bought one of each, which was sufficient for my experiments.
The Davros (there is also the higher-end Davros Pro) head made a nice match to the lightweight Vortex Ridgeview tripod I have, replacing the ARCA head it came with. It offers unlimited panning capability and about 25 degrees of cant in either direction. The part that was surprising was how stable it is, especially when extended just high enough for sitting or kneeling, which is what I am primarily after for field use.
It is not a replacement for a proper heavy-duty precision tripod or F-Class bipod, but for hunting, my self-imposed limit in good environmental conditions is about 500 yards. With a lightweight tripod, Davros head, and lightweight hunting rifle, I feel comfortable at that distance. The tripod is right around 3 pounds in this configuration.
The tripod in question does have a center column and, for shooting, it must be mostly retracted. You can adjust it a little bit, but once it goes up too high, the whole thing gets a little shaky. However, I would still rather have that adjustment available in the field because it is quick, quiet, and usable at shorter distances.
That said, the center column is useful while glassing. Making small adjustments with the center column is valuable when you are set up in complicated terrain. There are two optic adapters: light-duty and heavy-duty. Light duty is just a metal cup that can attach to anything that accepts a ¼-20 stud. The heavy-duty adapter has a tensioning clamp in case the optic is unbalanced. I have used them with binoculars and spotters respectively with good stability. The heavy-duty adapter also comes with a carbon-fiber rod to help make small angular adjustments without touching the optic.
Interestingly, Spartan’s M-LOK and KeyMod adapters make for a reasonable hand stop. It works well with unorthodox guns like the .300 Blackout Honey Badger. Because of how the light and laser are set up on the short handguard, Spartan’s magnetic connection is the best option I have seen yet for stretching the Honey Badger’s legs a bit.
All in all, Spartan Precision Equipment offers a coherent weapon and optic support system. While it might not be for NRL competition, it is a lightweight and capable solution for the mountains. I plan to spend more time with it during the next couple of hunts, but so far, I am happy with the results. This kit is less than half the weight of what I was hoofing uphill last year.