Shooters are inundated with gear selections. Some gear is extremely innovative and solves problems while others are solutions looking for a problem. One of the hardest things is for a new shooter to understand what is need to have versus nice to have, what is essential and what is for show. Here I would like to cover one of my favorite shooting tools: The tripod.
Most people look at a tripod and see something to put their camera, binoculars, or spotting scope on and for the longest time that was the majority of people did. When it came to shooting many people where using sticks, but as shooters extended their distances they found that they needed more stability.
A good shooting tripod enables a shooter to build a stable shooting position no matter where they are. If you have a tripod you have a shooting position, you are no longer forced to find a clearing for a prone position or limited to positions pre-determined by objects in the field.
I was first introduced to shooting off a tripod when I went through the Basic Scout Sniper Course at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina in 2010. A tripod was an essential tool for stalking because a shot could rarely be taken in the prone while stalking in the woods of North Carolina.
At the time no one was making tripods specifically for shooting off of and poor lance corporals were using what they could find and afford. Most tripods were flimsy and were not rated to handle the weight of a rifle much less its recoil.
The best we had at the time were Manfrotto tripods that we modified, however made of aluminum they were not the lightest object to haul around and they were still designed for cameras and not rifles.
Fast forward to present day and we have many tripods that are designed for long range hunting and precision shooting sports.
Most tripod manufacturers have at least one tripod that is designed for shooting, while others have tripods that may not be specifically marketed for shooting but are robust enough to handle the job. With all these options to wade through I will give you a few principles that I use when selecting a tripod as well as a few suggestions.
With the proper mount to hold the rifle, the tripod should be able to hold the rifle up completely unassisted when the tripod is fully extended. This will be the weakest position for a tripod. You also want to have minimal flex when loading into the tripod. When shooting off a tripod from the standing position, the tripod is at its weakest and you are putting most of your weight into the tripod in order to manage recoil and reduce vertical muzzle movement. The stiffer the tripod legs the more stability you will have.
The tripod should accommodate your height or at least the highest you plan on shooting. Some people would never dream of taking a standing shot off a tripod or in a desert environment, never come across an obstacle that needs more than a kneeling position to clear. The legs should articulate in a way that allows for a wider base when shooting from kneeling and sitting positions. Most shooting tripods have 3-4 leg positions. Of note, there are many models of shooting tripods that have no neck adjustment. While this lowers center of gravity and is inherently more stable it is not conducive to making rapid vertical adjustments that one might need to make out in the field.
When deciding on a tripod, the weight should be taken into consideration. This is typically a balance between stability and mobility. In most cases a heavier tripod will inherently have more stability than a lighter tripod while the lighter tripod will typically be easier to pack due to both size and weight. If the end purpose of the tripod is for competition or varmint hunting where the tripod will not be carried long distance, it would be beneficial to have a heavier tripod, but if the end purpose to use as shooting support for a pack in/pack out hunt, then it benefits the shooter to have a tripod that is light but maintains acceptable stability under the expected shooting conditions.
Another aspect of mobility that needs to be considered is how compact the tripod is. It could be light weight but not collapse to size that is easy to pack. Typically, the tripods that have adjustable necks will be more compact. That being said, always look at the last leg segment of a carbon fiber tripod, if it is less than ¾” then consider another tripod or realize that you may have excessive flex when shooting from positions that require the use of the last leg segment.
Lastly, we need to look at the ruggedness of a tripod and ensure that it will stand up to the rigors of what we require. A tripod that gets used once a year need not be as rugged as a tripod that gets used weekly or monthly in competition. Of course we also do not want our tripod to fail while we are backpacking in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, while the above traits can be determined by looking at a tripod and its specifications, the durability of a tripod comes from the experience of others.
Below I have a few suggestions then it comes to tripods and how well they stand up to use and abuse.
PIG0311-G Tripod: This tripod is a proprietary tripod made by SLIK for Shadow Tech who is the inventor of the Hog Saddle. The PIG0311-G has a shortened neck, optional spiked feet and comes painted OD Green. It is an aluminum bodied tripod and is what I use to train students on. It has stood up to some definite abuse and is also easy to work on if something does break. It has positive cam locking levers, 3 leg positions, and at $138 it is a great starter tripod.
PIGlite-CF4 Tripod: This is the CF version of the PIG0311-G and is a phenomenal hunting tripod. It comes with optional spiked feet, short neck, and is a compact, lightweight package. Fully collapsed it measures 19.5” and weighs only 3.6 pounds. It also has positive cam locking levers and with the right rifle/tripod connections provides increased stability over other shooting sticks that are typically brought out in the field.
No Name Tripod: This tripod is a tank and is the product of Two Vets Sporting Goods. It is a lightweight carbon fiber that offers the stability of a tripod twice its weight. The tripod comes with option spiked feet and utilizes twist locks. The tripod does not have a neck but rather utilizes a bowl which makes it a little large when fully collapsed. Typically this tripod was designed with the competitive shooter in mind but could be used for other types of hunting where space is not an issue.
There are a plethora of other tripods out there that will fit the need of the shooter. The ones above are tripods that I have personally tested and can speak to. This is not to say that other tripods cannot fit the needs of the shooter, however when selecting a tripod, make sure the tripod accomplishes what you need in the areas of Stability, Adjustability, Mobility, and Durability.
Rauch Precision LLC