Choosing the correct tripod for precision rifle shooting can elevate your shooting experience.
Let’s face it, shooting sticks have had their time. Much respect to what that piece of equipment has done for hunters and shooters alike, but there are now better options for a stable shooting platform. Lightweight and strong tripods have now taken over. It is important to note though that many of the features on our tripods that we have now actually came from the photography world such as the ball head or ARCA accessory rail, so when searching for tripods to purchase camera tripods will often come up first.
Tripods are a must have when it comes to shooting precision rifle. Not only does the tripod allow for a stable platform to glass off of, meaning use your binoculars or spotting scopes to spot environmentals, impacts or misses, but also allows for a strong platform to shoot off of as well. Tripods have come a long way within our shooting industry. They are getting stronger, lighter, and have the ability to accept many accessories. It is a truly versatile piece of equipment that is a must have for any type of precision rifle discipline.
In this article we will go over different types of tripods, their accessories, and what you may want when it comes to the specific use of your tripod.
The Material & Strength
The goal with many tripods is to make them strong and durable, while still being able to throw them onto your pack and height without a large amount of weight. To do that, many tripods are now being made with carbon fiber legs and 6061-T6 aluminum locking pieces which are both lightweight materials that are very strong. Many of these tripods fall under 10 lbs, some even as low as 3 lbs.
While a 3 lb tripod is nice, the next thing that you will want to look at are it’s maximum weight limits. A 3lb tripod may not be a viable option for its max weight limit is 20-30 lbs and you are trying to shoot a 23 lb gun on top of it. Weight that the tripod cannot withstand will only cause possible bending or collapsing on the legs which can then lead to a dangerous situation. If you are just trying to throw some binoculars on it though, a lighter tripod may do the trick. The max load will often be found in the specifications of the tripod on their website.
During many field matches like Competition Dynamics matches shooters will need to hike long distances with all of their gear, including tripods. Light and strong is the name of the game in the tripod world. Shooters will also use one tripod for both glassing and shooting off of during these type of matches.
Pro Tip: If a tripod is very light and all of the way extended the wind may start pushing it over. Ensure that there is a hook designed into the tripod that a heavy shooting bag or other weight down item can be used to weigh down the tripod to ensure that it doesn’t fall over or shake.
Adjustability within Leg Sections
Leg sections on a tripod have two main adjustments that you will want to pay attention to. First, adjustment of the angle of the legs. Tripods are a very versatile piece of equipment that allows for standing positioning, kneeling, sitting, even allowing for a prone shooting position. These positions are only able to be used though if the legs have the ability to pivot out or in. This will be listed on the tripods website as something along the line of angle leg pivot locks or angle stop positions. There will then be a number listed as how many angles the legs will lock in. It is important to pay attention to how many lock positions there are, how they actually unlock and lock, and how strong the design is of the locking mechanism to ensure that they stay locked where you want it.
Leg sections are the next very important part of tripods that will want to be paid attention to. Tripods can have anywhere from two leg sections to four. This means that when extending the legs by turning the twist locks (the things that tighten down each section of leg) there will be four different sections that need to be loosened and tightened. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your use. For instance, the higher number of legs sections means that the tripod can get either very tall or very low to the ground. It allows for more adjustability. However, it also allows for a longer amount of time to extend those legs as you will now need to loosen and tighten more sections of legs. On the flip side, a two leg section tripod may not allow for being closer to the ground than say a four leg section, but it is a lot quicker to deploy and adjust for height. If you are shooting on the clock and know that you probably won’t always need to go to the sitting position, a two leg section tripod may do the trick. If you are hunting and want as much adjustability as you can, a 3-4 leg section tripod may be best.
The most important thing though when it comes to leg sections and the tripod that you so choose is to ensure that the twist locks of the legs work..and work well. There is nothing worse than extending the legs of your tripod, tightening down the twist locks, throwing your gun or binoculars onto the top of the tripod, and having the legs collapse back into the tripod due to the twist locks not staying locked. Look up feedback on the tripod that you intend to purchase on how strong and durable those twist locks and extension of the legs are.
The Center Column
The legs sections are not the only thing that gives the tripod height. There is also something called the Center Column that is an important piece of a tripod but does have some quirks that you should pay attention to before purchasing.
In the center of the tripod there is a column that will connect to the head of your tripod. The head being the thing that holds your binos or gun and will pan side to side. This column will also be different lengths, have different sections, be removable, and have a hook for hanging items off of it. There are two very large things to pay attention to in accordance to the center column and what you want your tripod to do.
- If you are going to be shooting low to the ground you will want to find a tripod that has a center column that is removable or this will severely slow you down when moving to the ground or even inhibit it.
- The higher that the column goes, the less sturdy it is. Also the skinnier that the column is, the less sturdy it is. You don’t want to be shooting off of a middle column that is extended up because it simply is not strong enough. You will also notice the shakiness of the column if it is extended very high or is a skinnier column. Shakiness in your binoculars or spotting scope will inhibit seeing impacts or misses.
- Columns with hooks on the bottom of them are great because it allows you to weigh down the tripod with a shooting bag or other counter weight. Many will also attach a small piece of tape or flag to show the direction of wind.
The Tripod Head
Lastly and maybe the most important feature of a tripod, the head. Many beginners to tripods don’t understand that entire tripod builds can actually be mixed or matched. Some will purchase a tripod and then purchase a separate ball head that screws into their existing tripod. The entire tripod and head of it does not need to be purchased together and sometimes isn’t even an option.
The head of the tripod will control how the item mounted onto the tripod moves both in panning, the angles of movement, and the tension of the movement. The two largest heads on the market are various types of ball heads and panning heads.
Ball heads have a lot more adjustment both in where it can pan and the tension of it. There will usually be about three different knobs or a couple of knobs and a locking lever. If shooting off of the tripod you will want to ensure that the ball is larger, has a higher load capacity, and will stay locked from movement. If glassing off of the tripod you will want to ensure that the tension can be adjusted to allow for small movement as your glassing but still enough tension that the ball won’t move so much that your binoculars fall down. Many ball heads also have a level on the actual head which can be very handy when on uneven ground. The tripod can be mounted unevenly however the ballhead can be adjusted so that it is still level with your gun
A panning head will have less adjustment but will be easier to pan due to usually just having one screw knob. Many times these will be used for glassing only. When mounting a gun on these types of heads the gun will often get in the way of the lever for adjusting the head making it a not very efficient set up.
As always, look into the specifications of the website of your intended tripod to see minimum and maximum tilt angles and the load rating of the ball head as different sized heads will have different ratings.
Mounting to the Tripod Head
When purchasing a ball head or tripod w/ ballhead the accessory used to mount a spotting scope or binoculars will often not be included in the purchase due to there being so many different options of attachment methods. Nor will an adapter that can clamp onto your firearm be included. There are many different options however ARCA is the most popular at this time. To find the right ARCA adapter ensure that the screw pitch of your ball head is the same as the adapter that screws onto it. Now that you have an adapter, you will want to find the actual accessory that clamps into the tripod adapter. For example, binoculars will often need a binocular stud, that stud then clamps into a binocular ARCA adapter, which then clamps into the tripod ARCA adapter. For firearms, an ARCA rail or small ARCA accessory rail can clamp into that adapter on the ball head.
It seems confusing, trust me we know. However the more that you shoot, look around at other shooters gear, and research these parts and pieces of equipment, the more you’ll start understanding these fine details. Don’t let it overwhelm you, enjoy the process of finding what works for your intended precision rifle discipline and activity.