Again, these are just a few of the many options for increasing stability. I doubt that anyone has enough range time to become familiar with a whole bunch of them, and all require practice. This is a twofold deal. It isn’t entirely a matter of how steady you are. You need to get steady enough to make the shot, sure, but it’s also a matter of how quickly you can set up. For most shots on game, the clock is ticking away. Guides and professional hunters often complain about the shooting ability of their hunters and, indeed, most have witnessed some really awful marksmanship by the likes of you and me. However, an equally common complaint is hunters being too slow to get the shot off.
Practice is the key. The first time I ever heard about “African shooting sticks”—or saw any—was “range day” on my first safari. If there was any mention of shooting sticks in the dozens of books I read, it went right over my head. I have no idea when shooting sticks came into common use in Africa, but there wasn’t nearly as much information back then as there is today, and our own Safari Club International was fledgling. Anyway, that’s my excuse—but you can’t claim it. I have yet to meet an African PH who didn’t use shooting sticks and most have expectations that their hunters will have some familiarity with their use.
I’ve been beating the shooting sticks drum for decades. Amazingly, I still run into folks in hunting camps who have never used them. They get the hang of it…but it takes some effort…and usually costs some misses. A friend, Ron Silverman, hunts with us at my Kansas farm. Headed to Africa, during deer season he asked me if there was one thing he could do to prepare for his first safari. That’s easy: “Get a set of sticks and practice using them both accurately and quickly.”
I guess he listened. In the spring he sent me an amazing group shot off sticks with his .308 at 300 yards, five shots in four inches and one flyer a bit out. I’ll be honest, standing off sticks, I couldn’t shoot such a group at 300 yards. Nor do we need to. Donna is actually steadier off sticks than I am, but most of us can quickly achieve competence and confidence out to at least 150 yards. With more practice, most of us can extend that range envelope and, if you practice enhancements, you can open it quite a bit farther.
The more practice, the better. You can easily make your own sticks. Or, you can get a store-bought set, or you can branch out and try one of the newer systems. I prefer legs that can be shortened for sitting or kneeling and, over time, the more ways you have to get steady, the better. Find a system that works for you and put it in your gun case and take it with you.
Two final words about practice. First, the biggest problem with sticks is caused by uneven ground, a loose surface, even slick grass, that causes one of the legs to kick loose. I’m sorry, but this is gonna happen (and always at the worst moment). You need to learn how to quickly readjust your sticks, both for height and stability. This takes time, perhaps even more time and experience than simply learning how to get steady.
Finally, while practice is key, it isn’t necessary to bruise your shoulder or burn out your barrel learning how to shoot from sticks in all manner of positions. On the range, you can practice effectively with a .22, reducing recoil, noise and cost. In your back yard, you can do the same with a pellet gun. And in your garage, basement, or living room (perhaps with shades drawn), you can practice stickology dry-firing with an empty rifle. Spend a lot of time on sticks and you’ll be ready for “range day” in Africa (or anywhere else).–Craig Boddington