Best foot forward

Will O’Meara shares his words of wisdom on some of the most divisive kit in a shooter’s arsenal: the bipod

For some, the bipod is regarded as absolutely essential equipment; for others it is considered a waste of space. It fascinates me as to why opinion is so polarised on this little piece of kit, and in this article I would like to explore the pros and cons of the bipod, and illustrate some scenarios and techniques that I have found useful for its effective employment.

The bipod has been attached to the pointy end of the rifle for centuries, mostly it seems for military applications where heavy rifles need that forend support in order to be effective.

I am often surprised when a visiting hunter arrives for a Sika mountain hunt with no bipod on their rifle; over the years I have often questioned them as to why. I have heard a volume of answers, some of them founded on experience, some of them on ‘feelings’. We all have preferences when it comes to equipment, and these can be based on aesthetics, perceptions or performance. An example of this is a high-grade timber stocked stutzen rifle; to some it might represent the ultimate rifle, to others it may seem grossly impractical.

The shooter who favours such a rifle may be biased toward aesthetics, the shooter who prefers synthetic may be biased towards performance. The same logic (or lack thereof) is sometimes applied to the bipod. Hunters have told me they don’t like how the rifle handles with the extra weight of the bipod on the end of the stock. I think this reasoning makes sense if you shoot driven game, but I just don’t see the logic in what we would consider normal rifle work in the UK or Ireland. Another mitigating factor to the ‘handling’ concern is that modern bipods are available, weighing as little as 80 grams (3oz).

Another reasoned logic that I hear is “I will just use my pack”. I can see the advantages of using your pack as a front rest – it can be used in the lying or sitting/ kneeling position and can often provide a good rest – but it will never be as steady or repeatable as a bipod. I quite regularly use my pack as a rest, but I use it on the rear to complement my bipod for sitting or kneeing shots. I have found this to be very effective.

The rear rest is a great asset when it comes to stability and repeatability

I have seen bipods used incorrectly on many occasions. The problems start at setting up the firing position; the hunter deploys the bipod and there is the noise of the spring loaded legs that alerts the deer to your presence. This is usually followed by white rumps disappearing into the distance. With practice, spring-loaded legs can be deployed silently, or you can get a bipod that doesn’t use a spring-loaded design. When it comes to shooting there is a common error of shooting high off the bipod. This can be due to a number of factors, but I believe incorrect loading of the bipod and no rear support are two of the main reasons.

A shift in zero can also be experienced due to flexible fore-end. This may occur where the rifle is bench zeroed off bags, and then subsequently shot off bipods on the hunt. To avoid such zeroing variances, I favour a stiff fore-end that has minimum flex and never touches the barrel. In the past I have had to go to great lengths to stiffen factory fore-ends with copious amounts of ardalite. In my current setup I use the carbon fibre PSE Composites Stock that is super rigid. This is due to an engineered carbon structure in the stock.

Another aspect of shooting from a bipod is the ‘follow through’, or as I like to describe it, ‘observation of strike’. I absolutely insist on my rifles being capable of observing strike in order to allow me to correctly assess the animal’s reaction to the shot. I hunt a lot on my own, and cannot rely on the assistance of others for such things as observing the animal’s reaction to the shot, marking where the animal drops or giving me follow-up shot corrections if required. I believe it is not uncommon for people to lose sight picture on recoil, especially at closer ranges.

In recent testing I found that the Harris- style bipod was performing well at the range at further distances, but with closer targets it became obvious just how much the rifle was jumping off target on recoil. This made observation of strike impossible at 100 yards. The switch was made from the Harris-style bipod to a carbon fibre bipod, and the results were astounding. Not only could strike be observed at closer ranges, but the felt recoil of the rifle had also changed – it now seemed smoother.

The bipod is a versatile tool that can be adapted to each situation

Such testing as this is very difficult to quantify in a scientific manner, but is really obvious in a practical scenario. I don’t know why the difference is so great, but I have a couple of theories as to why it might be. Firstly, I think the mounting point of the bipod is important; I have managed to mount my bipod as close to the stock as possible – it’s actually within the stock – by using the Spartan precision gunsmith adaptor that is embedded into the fore- end. This lowers the centre of gravity and assists in preventing the rifle from torqueing or twisting on recoil, as the rifle has less leverage over the bipod cant.

Secondly, I believe that the carbon has some recoil absorption properties that don’t exist with alloy. This may (all best-guess stuff here) allow the recoil forces to flex the carbon and dissipate, while in the alloy leg it seems to be transmitted downwards and almost springs the bipod leg off the ground – this is even more noticeable on a hard surface like concrete or stone.

Thirdly, I find that the alloy-style bipod has a vibration to it that doesn’t exist in the carbon. This may also be due to the manner in which the spring-loaded fold-up legs behave under recoil. The final point of difference worth noting is that there is a slight amount of front-to-rear ‘give’ or flex in the Spartan style that really works well under recoil.

Speaking of front-to-rear movement brings us nicely to the topic of ‘loading’ the bipod. Loading the bipod might be best explained as the amount of forward pressure the shooter applies to the rifle. This forward pressure is ‘stopped’ by the bipod, which takes the ‘load’. The load can be increased by digging the legs of the bipod into the ground, or by more forward force from the shooter.

Each rifle will behave differently, and have an optimum amount of ‘loading’ that translates to best accuracy. A good starting point here is to lie behind the rifle, bipod set up. Completely relax your shoulders and place the butt of the rifle in the pocket of your shoulder, avoiding contact with the collarbone. Set it up initially so that your relaxed shoulder pocket is a couple of millimetres away from the butt. Next, inch forward until the butt comes in contact with the pocket of the shoulder, and ensure you are relaxed. Just allow your body to naturally lean forward (relaxing should do this) and feel the load that the bipod is taking up. You can inch forward using your toes to fine-tune the exerted pressure. Play around with different ‘loadings’ until you find the sweet spot.

Modern bipods offer the benefits of technical materials and innovative designs that can improve felt recoil behaviour

Repeatability is key here, so ensure that you have a set-up sequence that gets you to your optimal bipod loading pressure. I find that hunting scenarios can change your bipod loading, like shooting downhill. In a downhill scenario you are likely to put more loading on the bipod because of your body position. Personally I use a very light or slight loading of the bipod. I find this to be very repeatable, and my rifle behaves well under recoil like this. In the downhill scenario I consciously back off the rifle to ensure I don’t overload the bipod. In my case an overloaded bipod will cause a shot to strike higher than expected.

It’s not unusual for a bipod to cause a shot to strike higher than off bags, and there may be a few reasons for this. Number one for me is to always use a rear rest under the butt of the rifle. The ‘sand-sock’ – or rear bag – is a common solution on the range, but personally I always use what I will have when out hunting. Usually I use my bum-bag, but I have also used my binos, a pair of gloves or just my left hand in a fist.

The left hand always plays a role no matter the rest – I will pinch the butt with my thumb and forefinger. I have seen lots of shooters miss high off the bipod, and I think that a common reason may be that there is no rear rest used. I also practice without a rear rest and place my left hand on my chest/shoulder and cup the butt of the rifle. This method is particularly useful for sitting and kneeling shots off longer bipods or where the front of the rifle is on a raised rest, such as a bank or large rock. In such firing positions I will also look to add support with any aide I can find. Examples of this have been my pack standing up, bumbag on my knee, a trekking pole, quadsticks, and even a tree on a couple of occasions!

For such setups, I will try to use the bank or rock itself to best effect. This can mean positioning yourself as close to the rock as possible and getting both front and rear of the rifle, plus your elbows on a firm rest. Use of other stabilisers should also include the sling of the rifle and alternate body positions, the key here being practice. If you practice these skills and positions then it will translate to success on your hunt; don’t leave it to chance.

With the increasing popularity of quadsticks and tripods, some will say that the bipod is redundant. I have used them all, and in my opinion each has its place. I will always look to use the bipod first, as it is the most stable platform, allowing for the greatest margin of error. That margin can be created by me, environmental factors or the animal, but regardless of the potential cause, I will always look for the most stable position, and I cannot overstate how important rear support is in all positions from prone to standing.

So in summary, we can see that the modern offering of the bipod can be light, stable and accurate. The lightweight feature means there is no excuse not to bring it. If you practice with your kit and know the optimum bipod load for your rifle then it will be accurate and repeatable. With the right setup you should be able to achieve the same point of impact off of a pack, bipod or quadsticks. It is important that you try them all and know how your rig (and you) performs in each setup.

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