Benefits of shooting sticks w/ Mark Ripley

Mark Ripley explores the benefits of shooting sticks and proves his point with an impressive foxing haul using the new five-legged Viperflex

“With a new set of sticks to test it would have been rude not to take them out on an immediate foxing foray”

It is near impossible to pick a preference when it comes to shooting sticks and tripods. It’s not just a case of one being better than the other – each have their pros and cons.

There is a vast array of various shooting aids available to assist in an accurate shot from a basic bipod to state of the art carbon fibre tripod system.

To shoot accurately stability is key but there can also be a trade off when it comes to being able to quickly take a shot when an opportunity arises.

A bipod is, without doubt, a worthwhile addition to a rifle as it adds very little weight or bulk and is there when you need it. They can also be fairly cheap to buy although it pays to use a decent quality one such as a Harris or, better still, an Atlas bipod.

A bipod is ideal for a long range shot where you are able to lie prone and can be quickly deployed. When used with a rear back this makes for one of the most, if not the most, stable shooting position. The closer you are to the ground and the more points of contact with the ground you can have, the more stable you will be.

The downside with shooting from a bipod is that often you can spot quarry when you’re standing only to lose sight of it as soon as you lay down – especially in long grass or crops where bipods instantly become useless.

Benefits of shooting sticks: You can do it…

For shooters with deep pockets and short arms, you can make a set of shooting sticks with nothing more than a couple of sturdy garden canes with a bolt through the top to form a cross. In fairness, I have myself made these and it does indeed offer a more stable alternative to shooting from hand.

For a very reasonable £20 investment you can buy four canes (the metal canes covered with a green plastic coating from most garden centres or DIY outlets), and a few nuts and bolts, to quickly and easily make a set of quad sticks which improves the stability yet further.

Four legs good, two legs not so bad either

If you’re going to buy a set of shooting sticks there are plenty of options (and I’ve used quite a few of them) but by far the best of these is without doubt the Viperflex sticks. Their initial model has undergone a few little tweaks along the way to the current ‘journey’ model with the fifth leg – but I’ll come back to this in a bit!

The other option which is becoming increasingly popular is the tripod. With the use of carbon fibre material these have become quite lightweight and make for a very versatile shooting accessory although not as light as a set of shooting sticks.

A tripod such as the popular Rekon tripod from Scott Country is also a great option and one that I have found very useful, quick to adjust and adaptable to any situation.

A great advantage with a tripod is not only does it hold you rifle hands free in a ready position but it also allows you to pan 360 degrees to track a target. Also by slackening the ball joint you can quickly move the rifle in all directions then again lock it quickly into position.

This makes for a great option to quickly acquire a target and, with the clamp under the central balance point of the rifle, makes a sturdy shooting rest –although you do still get a little movement on the rear of the rifle. With correct technique and a little practice this can be reduced to a minimum.

Benefits of shooting sticks: Strike like a Viper

Back to the Viperflex. I recently received a set of these to test and – although I’ve had a similar set of sticks to these in the past and have used the Viperflex before – I was still very impressed with the quality and stability of these when they arrived.

I’m very comfortable using quad sticks, although I did spend a little time getting used to deploying the fifth leg. This type of shooting rest is actually pretty versatile as you can use it as a single stick, bipod, tripod, quad stick or five-legged option.

The Viper-Flex is designed to be easy to use

The fully deployed set up does take a bit of practice to quickly deploy and get on target, but once on target it makes for an amazingly steady set up.

Most shooting sticks lack any lateral movement of the rifle once set in the sticks but the Viperflex utilises a wide front beam to allow you to slide the forend left or right a little without having to adjust the leg position. For further adjustment you must either step the legs round or raise the rifle and sticks together and re-set them.

The sticks also incorporate a handle on the side of the beam which, when compressed, keep the sticks apart to allow for easier movement. The legs can also be clipped together for easy noise-free carry yet quickly unclipped when needed as well as being fully adjustable for height. So with a new set of sticks to test it would have been rude not to take them out on an immediate foxing foray…

Benefits of shooting sticks: Sticks and stones

With a nice clear evening on the cards, I met up with Gary and together we headed up onto the hills to one of the sheep farms we look after.

Gary stayed around the farmyard, sat on a stack of bales to see what wandered through, while I walked down into the valley to see what I could find.

I soon spotted a fox up on the bank around 50 yards from me and down wind. I had to walk up a slight bank to a fence to get a clear shot – this also meant setting up a set of sticks would be difficult so I simply opened them out in half and lent them into the fence and shot the fox. Normally I would have lent on the top of the fence post but even in their simplest form the sticks made for a steadier rest.

Soon after I caught sight of a second fox travelling along the opposite bank down the valley and I watched as it walked towards the bales where Gary must clearly have been squeaking it in.

I watched as the fox was suddenly illuminated brightly through my scope as Gary flicked on his IR and I was expecting to hear the crack of his .243 at any moment – but instead the fox headed away down the bank towards me. I found out later that Gary was unable to take the shot as there were sheep behind the fox from his angle.

As it happened the fox was working around a bit of cover on the bank which would obscure a shot from Gary so I gave it a little squeak.

All four legs – rock solid rifle!

It instantly responded and came trotting down to the bottom of the valley; once it came clear of the trees I was able to line the sticks on it and drop it at 120 yards with the .223.

With a little fox traffic moving around the valley I decided to stay put for a bit, and see if anything else came through. After about an hour I spotted a third fox further down the valley.

I walked down the hill until I was about 160 yards away. I felt confident of a shot, but with no cover between us and under full moon light, I didn’t want to move any closer and risk spooking the target.

The fox was busy hunting around in the grass for worms so I had plenty of time to set the sticks for a shot. With the rifle cradled steady I lined up rock steady on its chest and squeezed the trigger. With a solid thump the fox folded up and slumped on the spot.

With Gary having to work the next day he turned in early, but I carried on to another farm after a fox that had been hanging around a pheasant pen for the past few days. I set up below the wood which holds the pheasant pen and put out the fox pro caller to see what I could draw in.

After half an hour, with nothing coming in, I decided to call it a night and started to head back to towards the truck. As I reached the bank at the end of the wood I spotted a fox coming towards me down the slope.

This fox was only about 100 yards away and was clearly aware there was something stood in front of it but was unsure what I was. Unwisely this one decided to sit and watch me – and this proved to be its downfall.

Overall the Viperflex sticks proved to be very stable and ideal for foxing and stalking. Whether you just want to use a tripod or a set of shooting sticks there’s no doubt that these offer the very best that a set of quad sticks have to offer and to my mind the additional fifth leg attachment is definitely a great advantage over other models.

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