Field Expedient Shooting Techniques…No Bipod, No Problem
By Ian Kenney
There is a plethora of shooting aids available to the rifle shooter in order to help steady the rifle and place a well-aimed shot on target. These products range from commercially available bipods and shooting sticks to tripods specifically designed to support a rifle. In this article I’ll show you some of those commercial options as well as a few field expedient methods of obtaining a stable shooting position.
A sand sock, or rear bag, is a common accessory to many shooters that can serve a variety of purposes limited only by the imagination. Commercial rear bags can be purchased from manufacturers like Redman Tactical, TAB Gear, and Badger Ordnance, to name just a few, all of which perform superbly. However, a useable “old school” sand sock can be made from a wool sock and some type of fill, such as sand, crushed walnut media, or poly fill beads. I’ve found that when making a sand sock it’s best to make it a little larger than softball-sized when compressed, since this seems to work best in a variety of situations. The sand sock not only serves to support the rear of the rifle but it can also support the front as well when shooting off of a barricade, window sill, or other hard surface that you want to keep the forend from resting against. A sand sock/rear bag is one piece of equipment that nearly every shooter can’t afford not to have.
In the absence of a rear bag to stabilize the stock, the shooter can use the butt hook of the rifle, if it has one, or grasp the sling and sling swivel as shown to help pull the stock into the should and stabilize the rear of the rifle. Wearing a glove will also help increase the effectiveness of this technique since it will add a buffer between the hand and the rifle.
Using a pack or butt pack is a technique common to many hunters and soldiers as an effective means of supporting the rifle in the even there is no other means of support available. This technique works well since the pack can conform to the stock and effectively support it to place an accurate shot on target and manage the recoil forces. If the pack is tall enough and has sufficient support along the back, it can also be used to make shots from the sitting position as well. When using a pack or butt pack, make sure that only the forend is resting on the pack and that no part of the barrel is touching.
Tripods are another effective and versatile means of supporting the rifle, and there are a number of excellent commercial options available. For field use the tripod is hard to beat because it can free up the support hand so that it can steady the rear of the rifle and hold it in the pocket of the shoulder. The tripod can also be utilized for prone, sitting, kneeling, or even standing positions depending on the length of the sticks. The same is also true with some commercially available tripods that allow the legs to fold flat against the ground.
This is an example of a Bogen tripod set up for use as a rifle rest using a Bogen ball and socket grip with a homemade shooting cradle. The shooting cradle pictured was made from 3.5” PVC pipe, closed cell foam from a sleeping mat, epoxy, and camo tape.
Tripod and shooting cradle combinations are also available from commercial sources such as Precision Rifle Solutions, Stoney Point, and Alamo Four Star.
However, just in case those nice commercial options aren’t available, it pays to know how to make a good tripod to use a shooting support. When making the tripod, you’ll need three relatively straight pieces of wood about 1” in diameter and about 3’ or so of cord to tie them together. I’ve found that sticks about 3’-4’ in length work pretty well for the sitting and kneeling positions. Tie a clove hitch around one of the sticks and then place the other sticks beside it, tying them off with a clove hitch as well. Lift the pieces up, forming the tripod shape, and wrap them together, ensuring that there is enough slack so that the legs will fold together.
The tripod doesn’t have to be made exclusively out of wood, just about any material can be use really, such as spare tent poles or PVC pipe. The only real requirement when making a tripod is that the material being used is of sufficient length and strong enough to support the rifle during firing.
Shooting sticks are another effective and easy way to provide a stable shooting platform in field conditions. In fact, shooting sticks are a common accessory for many varmint and long range hunters, with a variety of products available on the commercial market. One of my favorites is a set of shooting sticks from Stoney Point that can adjust for everything from sitting to standing height and fold up into a nice, compact unit.
As good as the commercial units are though, sometimes it just works out that you have to quickly make a set because your favorite sticks broke or got lost. Making a set of shooting sticks is pretty simple, not unlike making a shooting tripod, just there’s one less stick. Follow the same guidelines when making a set of shooting sticks as you would when making a tripod. The only downside to shooting sticks is that they are not as stable as the tripod when used alone but if you lean against something that will improve the overall stability.
If time and the situation allow try to integrate the use of a shooting sling with the shooting sticks or tripod in order to create a more stable position. Combining use of the two will help make things more stable than if either technique was used by itself. I've found that using a sling with either the tripod or shooting sticks produces about the same amount of stability and accuracy, although I prefer to use shooting sticks with this method. What seems to work the best for me is to start out by going through the steps of slinging up although I stop short of running my support hand back through the sling. I set up the shooting sticks and place the forend in the "V" so that I can get into a good position, which also tightens the sling around my arm. To get the most stability out of the situation I also drop the left bipod leg and grasp it with my support hand, giving it a little squeeze while I lean in.
In The Sitting
In The Kneeling
There are times when a target presents itself so fast that you don’t have time to get out the shooting sticks or have the ability to take a knee. You have to use what’s around you for support, whether it be a tree, doorway, post, etc. When using a vertical support such as a tree or doorway, place your support hand on the object and lock the arm straight out while leaning forward, keeping the right leg straight. Create a “V” with the support hand and extend the thumb outward, placing the forearm of the stock on the thumb for support. That works well on doorways and other flat objects, on trees and other round objects this can be difficult so use the thumb to grasp the forearm of the stock and bring it into the support hand.
Another method that has been effective for me in the past when shooting in the standing position is shown below. I use the same forward leaning stance as the above method, however I place the forearm of the stock over my support arm instead of using the “V” created by my support hand. This method is fast and with some practice accurate shots can be made from considerable distances.
This method is more unconventional than the above methods but it is something for the old toolbox of knowledge should all else fail and it’s implementation is limited only by the imagination.
For example by using a length of 550 cord tied between two trees, it could create a sling to help support the forend of the rifle. If that isn’t an option, a length of it could be thrown over a low hanging branch and tied off at the appropriate height with the stock placed in the loop to help support it. This method is far from ideal, or the most stable, but it would be decidedly better than a standing off hand shot.
Whenever you have to shoot from a hard surface like a wall or rock outcropping, it is advisable to place a sand sock or other soft object underneath the forend to cushion the stock from the hard surface. This isn’t so the stock’s finish will be protected from harm but to mitigate the effects of recoil and increase the chance for an accurate follow up shot. Without some kind of cushioning under the forend, the rifle can recoil in an unexpected manner, which would cause the shooter to lose a good sight picture of the target. A rear bag, scrim net, or even the support hand can be used to cushion the forend from a hard surface. In the picture below, the rear bag is placed between the rifle and the window to cushion the rifle and create a steadier position.
There is also a commercial option available from S.O. Tech called that Sniper Skid Plate that is specifically designed to pad the forend of the rifle from a hard surface.
The methods described above should not be thought of as the only means of obtaining a stable firing position when in less than perfect conditions. However, they should be used as a foundation in which to explore and expand upon them to better fit the situations you may find yourself in. I recommend you practice some of these methods from time to time so that if the situation calls for it, you’ll be able to place an accurate shot on target.