Issue 35 Rifle Ready: Tripod Buyer’s Guide Candice Horner 0 COMMENT Shooters needed tripods before tripods for rifles existed. We had to wait for the industry to catch up by manufacturing tripods for rifle shooting. Snipers and hunters have been shooting off of tripods or sticks of some sort for longer than anyone can confirm. But each group has vastly different requirements for the use of tripods. Snipers often don’t have the best gear available, relying instead on creative problem-solving. Since fighting has moved to a more urban arena, prone shooting is rarely possible. Snipers have used everything from makeshift shooting sticks to sturdier tripods. Modifying photography tripods to accommodate rifles was the norm, but the problem with using a photography tripod is that they aren’t meant for rifles. Misusing photography tripods leads to broken parts. The tiny clamp whose job was to hold the mounting plate attached to the rifle onto the tripod frequently broke. And, to top it off, photography tripods weren’t rigid enough to hold the weight of a large rifle. Although readily available, standard photography tripods were simply the wrong tools for the job. Tripods intended for rifle use were first brought to consumers via hunting. Shooting sticks can be made from nearly any type of stick. They can use one, two, or three legs for support. Having more legs to support the rifle’s weight decreases the amount of wobble or movement you see when aiming in on your target. The less weight you’re trying to muscle into place, the more stable your shooting position, thus increasing your chance of success. Shooters with heavier rifles or who need to be able to shoot further distances require strong tripods that can hold a position for long periods of time and can quickly pan or tilt when needed for a moving target. When weight matters, for example trekking up a mountain stalking an elk, a lightweight tripod is more ideal. Each tripod design has its own advantages and disadvantages, but there’s surely one that fits the job you need. When deciding to buy a new tripod, the main question to ask is how you’ll use it. If you want to be able to shoot a deer within a couple hundred yards, a lightweight hunting tripod is the way to go. If you want to take precision shots out to a thousand yards, you’re going to pay a pretty penny for the tripod that’ll take care of you. Back in Issue 31, we covered “Problem Solving Shooting Positions.” Many of the key topics in the article apply to the use of tripods. You can catch that full article on RECOILweb. For this buyer’s guide, we started by reviewing tripods commonly used by hunters, snipers, and competitive shooters, but quickly realized that so few are actually tailor-made for rifles. Instead of highlighting old adaptations, workarounds, and companies that don’t like guns, we’re featuring tripods that have been specifically designed, tested, and marketed for rifle shooting. REALLY RIGHT STUFF SOAR TVC-33 LEGS MSRP: $975 Min/Max Height: 4.1/58.6 inches Packable Length: 25.6 inches Weight: 4.3 pounds Material: Carbon fiber MSRP: $975 Min/Max Height: 4.1/58.6 inches Packable Length: 25.6 inches Weight: 4.3 pounds ACCESSORIES Ballhead BH-55 MSRP: $489 Weight: 1.96 pounds Chassis Specific Mounting Plates MSRP: $80 Weight: 2.79 ounces Vyce Mount MSRP: $295 – $344 Weight: 17 ounces AS CONFIGURED Max Load: 50 pounds (ballhead), 50 pounds (tripod) MSRP: $1,544 to $1,808 Weight:7.3 pounds URL: soar.reallyrightstuff.com NOTES Really Right Stuff (RRS) has been manufacturing photography equipment for the past 26 years. It’s no surprise the RRS name is synonymous with quality. RRS systems are interchangeable and customizable to the user’s needs. In 2015 RRS decided to branch out into making gear that was specifically designed for long-range shooting by launching the Sport Optics & Rifle (SOAR) division. Often companies rebrand products without clearly disclosing to consumers who manufactures their offerings. RRS SOAR is completely transparent; all the information can be found on the RRS website. Michael Haenel, RRS SOAR Division Specialist and former sniper school instructor, explained, “Throughout my military career I was taught to use my imagination and find gear helpful to our missions, whether sniper of reconnaissance oriented. Many of us repurposed crappy camera tripods to steady alternate firing positions. The key problem came whenever we had to shoot at distance. Every step, bump, and vibration threw you off target. When I heard of RRS, I pitched the idea that military and competitive long-range shooters need products as lightweight and rigid as what they were already manufacturing. With the help of some close industry friends and competitive shooters, we made a case for the firearms-oriented products. Really Right Stuff dove into the market headfirst, without hiding our new endeavor from our current customers.” RRS SOAR offers a variety of tripods and heads from its photo line that have been extensively tested for use with firearms. Several firearm-exclusive products are found in the SOAR lineup, like chassis-specific mounting plates and universal mounts. All of the mounts use a patented lever-release clamp. Even if a non-RRS mounting plate is out-of-spec, the RRS clamp will self-adjust with tension and usually still hold the mounting plate. For the past few months, we’ve had our hands on the RRS SOAR TVC-33 with the BH-55 LR SOAR Series Ballhead. We shot large bolt guns and smaller AR platform rifles out to 1,200 yards using the RRS SOAR tripod setup. Shooting off of a RRS tripod is just as stable as shooting prone. At first glance, the carbon-fiber legs are eye-catching and elegant. They are the most noticeable feature of the system. At the bottom of each leg are rubber ball feet, which are removable and can be replaced with rock or spike feet, sold separately. We didn’t get a chance to shoot in conditions to warrant switching out the feet. Each leg section can be quickly and individually extended with a quarter turn of the rubber twist grip extension lock. The first, and smallest, joint is 1.133 inches tall and has 17 threads. The larger joint on the next extension is 1.282 inches tall with 19 threads. Each leg extension can be completely removed, but with all those threads it would have to be intentional. Topping each leg is a patented SureGrip Apex Lock System, allowing each tripod leg to be independently moved between three positions. The lock can be either pulled from the front or pushed open from behind. Once the locking mechanism is open, it easily springs into its position with minimal pressure. The apex of the tripod accommodates several types of RRS SOAR ballheads and leveling bases. Its offset leg joints are obvious when you’re looking down at the apex, with the ballhead removed. RRS says offset leg joints are a patented feature that allows for more support at each leg angle stop. Easily visible on the apex is a bulls-eye level. Panning and tilting are effortless with the ballhead, and we didn’t run out of realistic vertical or horizontal ranges of motion. Shots can be taken from the tripod in countless positions and at varying heights. There are three adjustment knobs on the ballhead. The largest knob is the most convenient, as it controls the tension of the main ball joint. Completely tightening the large knob locks the rifle into the desired position, while base panning and ball joint resistance are controlled by the other two knobs. Once you have the tripod configured to your preference, the largest knob is the go-to for most target engagements. A hook underneath the ballhead, in the center of the apex, accommodates a bag or anything you want to hang, providing additional weight and stability. We didn’t use the hook because we were able to push into the tripod when needed to visualize impacts. Of the variations we tested, the setup with the BH-55 was our favorite because positional options seemed endless. While RRS offers leveling bases, those bases don’t provide as many degrees of motion compared to a full-size ballhead. Every ballhead and leveling base has an additional bulls-eye level so you can level your weapon even when the tripod is extended askew and uneven. With a load capacity of 50 pounds, you’d be hard pressed to max out the weight limit of the ballhead. CRUX ORDNANCE PMG, LIGHTWEIGHT Legs MSRP: $795 Min/Max Height: 4/58 inches Packable Length: 26 inches Weight: 6 pounds Material: Carbon fiber ACCESSORIES Adjustable Rifle Support/Rest PMG-006 MSRP: $545 Weight: 2.4 pounds Clamp Mount PMG-004 MSRP: $295 Scope Mount PMG-005 MSRP: $139 AS CONFIGURED Max Load: 35 pounds MSRP: $1,799 Weight: 9 pounds URL: cruxord.myshopify.com NOTES Over the past year, Crux Ordnance (CruxOrd) has entered the scene with its line of tripods and accessories. At first glance, the tripods look similar to RRS, but there are several differences. CruxOrd calls its tripod series the Pro Military Gear (PMG) Tripod System. After a quick Google search, we learned that PMG stands for Pro Media Gear. Pro Media Gear manufactures high-end photography equipment. No need to reinvent the wheel; CruxOrd repurposes and reconfigures a proven product for use with rifles. The CruxOrd tripod system looks futuristic. The gimbal on top of the tripod seems confusing, over-engineered, and out of place at first, but each piece has a purpose. This setup has been used to provide overwatch and kept guns on standby at major sporting events. Intended to be a complete one-man setup, this system keeps the rifle and either a spotting scope or rangefinder at the ready. In addition to mounting the rifle, a spotting scope or laser rangefinder can be attached and zeroed with the gun. A shooter can spot their target with the scope, and then immediately drop down to the rifle and have the same field of view. So long as tension is set correctly, the rifle, spotting scope, and any other attachment can be moved in any angle or direction and will remain in place when you let go. We tested this tripod setup with multiple rifles and consistently made hits out to 800 yards. We could have easily shot further if the range environment had allowed for it. The CruxOrd did not disappoint. Due to multiple knobs for adjusting panning and tilting of the rifle, there was a bit of a learning curve. Cutting weight without sacrificing strength, carbon fiber is used for the leg extensions. Each leg features a removable rubber foot. Stowed away in each foot is a spike that can be quickly flipped around and used in sketchy terrain. Each leg operates and extends independently, locking with a slight twist of the aluminum lock. The joint of both the small and larger legs is 1.103 inches tall with seven threads each. Moving up the legs, there are adjustable locking positions with three angle options. Once you choose your desired angle, just push the lock back into place. A ¼-20 threaded adapter port to mount additional accessories is located between each leg, on the apex. One comes with a bull’s-eye level attached. Seated in the tripod apex is a half ballhead base. Tension of the half ballhead can be adjusted with the attached knob underneath. Mounting to the half ballhead by means of a 3/8-16 standard mounting thread is the gimbal contraption, known as the Tripod Mounted Adjustable Rifle Support/Rest. Each movement of the gimbal is smooth and has the ability to lock in whatever angle your heart desires. Attaching to the vertical rail of the gimbal is a horizontal rail that provides multi-position mounting options for a spotting scope or laser rangefinder. The tripod system features a universal clamp that fits even the largest rifles. Especially noteworthy is that there are two tension adjustments on the saddle, ensuring that rifles with an extreme taper on the stock are held securely. On the bottom of the clamp is a removable Picatinny rail, allowing rifles with Picatinny on the bottom to mount directly to the CruxOrd Adjustable Rifle Support/Rest. If you don’t need the large Adjustable Rifle Support/Rest, remove the Picatinny from the universal clamp, and the clamp can be directly mounted to the half bowl base. While the CruxOrd tripod system has an answer to most shooting problems, in full configuration it’s a cumbersome setup. The limited range of the half bowl base with the universal clamp didn’t provide enough range of motion when shooting from high angles. In order to overcome awkward angles without using the full system, the legs had to be adjusted instead, which takes extra time. In November 2017, Pro Media Gear released a small ballhead with a load capacity of 20 pounds that allows for panning and 90-degree tilting in any direction. We wouldn’t be surprised if this new, more compact ballhead made its way over to the CruxOrd webstore as an option for competitive shooters. PRIMOS HUNTING TRIGGER STICKS GEN2 SERIES Legs MSRP: $196 Min/Max Height: 24/62 inches Packable Length: 24 inches Max load: 2.4 pounds Material: 7075 aluminum AS CONFIGURED MSRP: $196 Weight: 3 pounds URL: www.primos.com NOTES It’s for good reason shooting sticks have been used for so long — they’re like a sore dick, hard to beat. Shooting sticks are known for being lightweight, purposefully straightforward, and user-friendly. We’ve been using the Jim Shockey Tall Tripod Gen2 Trigger Stick by Primos Hunting for the past couple years. Having the chance to use the monopod and tripod versions, the tripod Trigger Stick is one of our favorite pieces of gear. The Trigger Stick moniker comes from the mechanism that extends the legs with a pull of the trigger. To operate the sticks, all you have to do is hold the Trigger Stick out in front of you at about the height you want your rifle and squeeze the trigger. As legs extend, you can spread them for a wider base, creating more stability. The Trigger Stick deploys faster, quieter, and easier than other mechanical rifle rests we’ve tested — making adjustments is just as quick, too. Pulling the trigger while gently pushing down on the rest will lower the overall height of the rifle support. As with any well-designed trigger, there’s a locking lever that’s akin to a rifle safety, preventing accidental height adjustments. A strap on one of the legs gives the option to use the Trigger Stick as a tripod, bipod, or monopod. You can also keep the legs bound together and extended for use as a walking support. Made of 7075 aluminum, the telescoping legs are durable and light. A 360-degree rotating yoke provides a no-fuss rifle rest, requiring no additional mounts. Removing the yoke reveals a 3/8-16 standard mounting thread, which can turn the Trigger Stick into a rest for glassing. Getting into lower positions, like kneeling or sitting, is as simple as either collapsing the legs or angling them out further. Being lower to the ground provides more stability and decreases the amount of wobble, thus increasing your chance of making a good shot. On the other hand, while using the Trigger Stick fully extended in a standing position, we found it to be less stable, with roughly five MOA worth of wobble. With an accurate rifle and some practice time behind the gun, getting a deer out to 400 yards is very possible. Back in September, Primos Hunting released the Gen3 Trigger Stick. Interchanging between rifle and spotting scope is easier thanks to a quick-detach yoke. Updated legs feature leg locks to prevent them from sliding open from downward pressure. Lastly, the Gen3 grip is designed for a more ergonomic fit. We’ll likely update to the Gen3, but only because we like new and shiny. The Trigger Stick is a perfect companion for long stalks through the woods, gives enough support to get the job done, and won’t break the bank. SPARTAN PRECISION EQUIPMENT SENTINEL TRIPOD Legs MSRP: $695 Min/Max Height: 25/30 inches Packable Length: 26 inches Weight: 1.72 pounds Material: Carbon fiber ACCESSORIES Universal Rifle Adapter MSRP: $45 Weight: 0.74 ounces Chassis-Specific Mounting Plates MSRP: $80 Weight: 2.79 ounces Picatinny Adapter MSRP: $60 Gunsmith Adapter MSRP: $30 to $35 Quickshot Adapters MSRP: $40 Heavy Optic Adapters MSRP: $90 AS CONFIGURED Max Load: 40 pounds of downward pressure on each leg MSRP: $740 Weight: 1.8 pounds URL: javelinbipod.com NOTES Spartan Precision Equipment seems to have thought of everything when it comes to its tripod system. The Sentinel Tripod system has features we didn’t even know we wanted. We were able to get our hands on the system before it was released to the public. Usually pretty savvy around firearms and gear, we were dumbfounded with all the options from Sentinel. This type of confusion doesn’t happen often, so it was exciting that this product worked so well. The most standout feature is how the rifle attaches to the tripod. In a feat of quasi-magic, the Sentinel Tripod uses rare earth N52 magnets. Neodymium magnets have about 10 times more adhesive force than standard ferrite magnets we use to hang pictures on the fridge. The small N52-grade neodymium magnets within the rifle mount and tripod head hold strongly enough to keep your rifle from falling off the tripod. Depending on your rifle configuration, Spartan provides multiple mounting options, all with an N52 magnet being installed on the rifle. Modifying a rifle with the universal rifle adapter was as simple as unscrewing the sling swivel and screwing in the Spartan adapter. But there are adapter options for every rifle configuration. Encased in the tripod head is an interchangeable ballhead. Friction of the ballhead’s movement is adjusted at the ring of the tripod head in a righty-tighty, lefty-loosey manner. Versatility makes the Sentinel tripod really interesting. Each leg completely detaches from the head unit and can be used as walking sticks or in a bipod or monopod application. Hidden under each rubber foot is an easily accessible tungsten carbide tip for better gripping power when needed. Snowshoes or baskets can be installed to the feet if you encounter soft ground. Twisting the carbon-fiber legs unlocks them for individual extension. Since the Sentinel is lightweight, it isn’t as sturdy as a heavier tripod. Spartan offers a hook that attaches to the base of the tripod head, between the legs. Hanging a bag or anything heavy to that hook substantially helps with the rigidity of the tripod. You can reportedly even hang a small deer from the tripod hook for field dressing. With so many options to use the tripod for a rifle and optics, we’re looking forward to the next iterations of the Sentinel Tripod. Once you understand all of the features of the Sentinel tripod, it’s ingenious, a lot of fun to use, and sure as hell beats shooting a hunting rifle without support.