Really Good Shooting Sticks.
The Long Search For Perfection.
For the past twenty five years the vast majority of my shots, at game, have been fired using shooting sticks as a rest. For the last twenty of those years I have spent a lot of time standing behind clients, shooting over shooting sticks. They play a big part in my job and my sport, shooting sticks.
Shooting from the standing position is more difficult than kneeling, sitting or prone but your chances of actually getting a shot at game, in our area, is a lot better if you can shoot standing up. Going prone, you often see only a scope full of grass. Sitting with a bi-pod is a good compromise but, again, you are likely to end up with some obstruction between you and your quarry. Also, for older and less agile hunters, going from walking to sitting or lying is an effort. Often a noisy effort, requiring a lot of movement. A perfect way to make that trophy kudu aware of your presence. Then there are all manner of sharp rocks, thorns and small things that bite down there on the ground. Enter the much loved and deeply despised shooting stick.
My first shooting sticks were two lengths of bamboo held together with a piece of inner tube. They were a hell of a lot better than shooting offhand but still hard to master. During the past twenty five years, I tried several different commercial versions and assembled, built and contrived a lot of my own design. Now, after a quarter of a century, and thanks to the generosity of an American ex law enforcement officer, hunter and all round gentleman named Larry Richards, I believe that my search for the perfect shooting sticks are over.
The Viper Flex consist out of five legs made from aluminium and carbon fiber segments. Each leg is adjustable for height. Two legs form an inverted V (when open) for the front support. Two legs form an inverted V (when open) for the rear support. The fifth leg is attached to the front set with a swiveling joint. The front rest is wide enough to allow the rifle’s fore end to move from side to side, making it effortless to track a moving animal. The Viper Flex can be used as a tripod (with the font and rear support folded together), in this position only the fore end is rested on the sticks. This allow for quick setup for shorter ranges and works well for moving targets.
The pictures explain this much better than I do. A picture is after all worth a 1000 words.
So What Makes a Shooting Stick Good?
Shooting sticks need to be steady. They will never be as steady as a bench but they should allow you to place shots with confidence.
Secondly, they need to be portable, comfortable to carry and light enough so that you don’t develop a desire to shove them down an aardvark hole after the first hour of hunting.
Thirdly, they must be easy and quick to deploy. By one person. On his own. Apart from guiding, all of my hunting is done by myself, on my own. Out hunting one rarely have the time to read a manual and do major assembly work between the moment you spot your quarry and the moment it departs.
Fourthly, they must be quiet. Sounding like a mobile glockenspiel is an excellent way of ensuring that you arrive back at camp empty handed.
A fact overlooked by many shooting stick designers is that shooting sticks should allow you to track a moving animal with minimal noise and disturbance to the immediate area, allowing you to shoot the moment that animal stops. They should allow you to actually take shots at moving game animals. You don’t shoot at moving game? That is good, under normal circumstances. But say you wound an animal and it heads for the hills. It is not going to stop and present a stationary target just because you would like it to.
Lastly, shooting sticks should be able to stand on their own, without human support. While I reload from the shoulder, with my rifle’s fore end on the sticks, most hunters do not. They pick up their rifle from the sticks. If your shooting sticks do not have at least three contact points with the earth, it is going down as soon as that rifle is picked up. If the animal needs a second shot, this leads to utter chaos. It normally ends with the guide/Ph scrambling around on the ground trying to retrieve and set up the sticks. What the guide should be doing at this moment is watching the animal that was shot, not imitating a rooting warthog.
So How Good Is The Viper Flex Shooting Sticks?
In one word. Very.
The Viper Flex Journey fulfills all of the above requirements. It is steady. This afternoon I hauled my Howa 6.5 Creedmoor off to the range and fired two shots at 200m and three at 300m. The two shots at 200 hit 8cm (±3″)apart.
The three at 300 m, fired in a breeze gusting from right to left, measured 12cm (±5″) . Good enough for hunting out to that range.
Weighing 1.2kg (±2.6 pounds) and fitting comfortably into the hand, it is a pleasure to carry. The sticks are quiet, both while carrying and while setting up. The only noise is from the wind whistling in the adjustment holes in the legs. Guess what, the Viper Flex come with covers for those holes. Fit them and you won’t sound like the Pied Piper when the breeze picks up.
The Viper Flex Journey is easy to employ. When hunting, I carry them in my right hand with my rifle slung over my left shoulder. When getting into a shooting position, I set the sticks up as a simple tripod. This is very quick and in this position the sticks can be used for close range shooting and for moving targets. If the game animal is further away, flip open the rear support and you have a really steady field rest.
And yes, they do stand up by themselves, no more warthog imitations! As you can put a rifle on the Viper Flex in the shooting position, without it falling over, a guide can line up the rifle on an animal that the client struggles to see. It can be difficult to explain under which green tree, next to which red rock the kudu is standing. Especially when there are a lot of green trees and red rocks. Then, the hunter can move in behind the rifle (with the guide holding onto the sticks) and find the animal in the scope. How cool is that?
I have been using the Viper Flex since June 2018. Guiding hunters virtually every day until the end of August. After that, I started using them when hunting to feed our tigers, two to four days a week for almost five months. Do the math, they are already very experienced shooting sticks! I have shot wounded animals, running over the sticks using it as a tripod. I have shot blesbuck out to almost 400 meters over it. I think I have found the holy grail of shooting sticks.