When my Grandpa put my first rifle in my hands when I was 13, he said, "It'll hit where you aim if you hold it steady." Boy, was he right. About the holding steady part, I mean. I quickly learned to use anything available to help steady my shots in the field: fence posts, tree trunks, my daypack on top of a handy rock or log. Problem was, of course, that appropriate fence posts, trees or logs weren't always where I needed them. So over the years since, I've always been on the alert for anything that I might take with me or attach to my hunting guns that could help.
I've tried all kinds of carry-along shooting sticks, monopods and bipods, both the lightweight fold-up kind and heavier-duty telescoping styles. They helped, but still didn't make me as steady as I wanted to be. Monopods wobbled no matter how hard I bore down, and with bipods I still swayed forward and back, particularly when standing. For a time I took to using fold-down, medium-length extendible-leg bipods attached to the forends of my rifles. They worked pretty well when used from a sitting position, but a sitting position isn't always possible, and in a lot of situations they'd get in the way.
The breakthrough actually came on a trip to Africa about seven years ago, where I noticed that nearly all the professional hunters carried homemade tripods constructed of three six-foot lengths of bamboo, tied together about four or five inches from their ends with a leather strap. At first I wasn't impressed. They looked pretty flimsy and springy. But when faced with a 300-yard shot at a Kudu across a flat hardpan, my PH literally forced his sticks on me. It was a revelation -- the closest thing to a field-benchrest I'd ever found. I made the shot. Standing.
I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. As we all should remember from high-school geometry class, a tripod is the most stable of all structures, capable of a solid, self-standing footing on any surface at any angle. As soon as I got home, I went looking for a ready-made tripod and discovered that Stoney Point (www.stoneypoint.com) had just introduced a "ConvertaPod Tripod" line in three different lengths, created by attaching a third leg to its well-known series of telescoping aluminum-leg Polecat Bipods. I bought one of the mid-length Explorer models, which extends from 25 inches to 62 inches and weighs only 29 ounces. Its ability for intermediate adjustment to any length within that range allows it to be quickly deployed from sitting position to standing position, and at full-length extension it makes a great walking stick as well. I've carried it with me on every hunt trip I've been on since. Literally. Every hunt.
Since that time, tripods have become increasingly popular as more and more hunters have discovered their benefits, with a growing range of models and styles available from a variety of manufacturers. Generally speaking, I like telescoping-leg tripod designs instead of folding-leg designs. Folding legs need to be deployed either at full collapse, or full extension, without intermediate positions. Telescoping legs can be positioned at any height in their range.
Tripod stability is amazing. One of the first trips where I carried my Stoney Point was a handgun whitetail hunt in the Milk River valley of northern Montana. Large numbers of does would come out to feed in the large alfalfa fields in the river bottoms, and one afternoon I practiced with my new tool taking sight-pictures on the grazing deer at various distances with a scoped T/C Encore from the grass along the field margin. Even at 400 yards (far beyond what I'd shoot with a pistol, of course) the tripod allowed me to keep the crosshairs steady within the kill zone.
I've since learned some useful tripod techniques, as well. When shooting on level ground, particularly if standing, I position the third leg to the rear, and pull it back into me with my support hand, adding my body weight to the stability of the system. If presented with a downhill or uphill shot, I'll generally throw the third leg forward and push into the tripod, gaining the same effect.
I even use it in treestands. We all know that the safety railings on most ladder or hanging stands (if they have railings at all) are seldom positioned at the right height to be used as a convenient rest for all terrain contours. With the tripod legs closed together, it can be used as a monopod and leaned against the inside of the railing for stability, adjusted for the most appropriate height for the particular field of fire. A quick shift of the lean angle will raise or lower the height of the support if needed, and its lateral position can be shifted to the direction of a deer's approach as quickly and quietly as you can shift your gun.
You will also learn from experience the best way to carry a tripod (or bipod or monopod), either collapsed or extended, depending on the terrain, vegetation and circumstances of a particular hunt, and you will find yourself learning to automatically pause and adjust as you move from one type of cover to another. Often, when walking, I'll fully extend the third leg to use as a walking stick, keeping the other two short. Then I can quickly collapse the one leg if a sitting shot presents itself, and only have to extend two instead of all three if a standing shot is needed.
Probably the most important thing to realize about using shooting sticks of any kind -- tripods, bipods or monopods -- is that the farther away the target, the more you need to be shooting from support. And, the farther away the target, the more likely it is you'll be dealing with an undisturbed quarry and have the time to deploy that support. So use sticks, whatever type suits you. Practice shooting off sticks, and carry them in the field -- always. Grandpa was right.