There are some shooters that see a bipod and think, “Bipod? I don’ need no steenking bipod!” There are other shooters that in the absence of a bipod think, “No bipod? How do I shoot the thing?” Let’s move beyond both biases and examine the use of the bipod objectively.
The bipod is not something that should be relied on as a crutch. It’s important to be able to utilize normal, traditional marksmanship skills in case the bipod breaks or there’s no opportunity to use it (think snapshot or really tall grass). We should be able to move on and function well even if the rifle we happen to pick up has no bipod.
On the other hand, the bipod is a useful tool for getting steady to take a shot that matters. With the Remington 700 I sometimes shoot, I can get 0.4″ groups at a 100 yards with the bipod, while my unsupported prone with the same rifle is just over a minute, maybe 1.2″ at 100 yards. If you were being held at gunpoint, with your captor preparing to fire, and there was a friendly going to take him out, would you prefer that your helper have a bipod and be 2 or 3 times as precise, or are bipods still for sissies? If you said that bipods are still for sissies, I’m afraid that you’re too divorced from reality to survive past this afternoon.
I hear people complain that using a bipod means you can’t get your NPA, because the damn thing bounces all over the place upon firing. If that’s happening to you, you’re doing it wrong. How would you like to do better than call your shot? How about seeing your shot impact? For that to happen you need to start doing it right. Let’s make that happen.
In every other position I’ve shown you, the body is offset from the angle of the barrel. This is because your support hand has to reach the forend to support the rifle in all of those positions. In bipod prone, you don’t need the support hand on the forend at all. That frees up a lot of room for you to position the body in a way to best absorb the recoil, which in this case is in a straight line. This is crucial point #1 for using a bipod in the prone position: “POSITION THE BODY STRAIGHT BACK FROM THE RIFLE.” This has an effect on a lot of other factors in your position. We’ll get to that later.
There’s another crucial element in getting the bipod prone position right. Even if you’re straight back, the bipod may still bounce. To fully eliminate that bounce, there’s a second step that needs to be taken: “LOAD THE BIPOD.” What does this mean? It means that you’re going to put a bit of forward pressure onto the bipod. Don’t go crazy and press so hard that it breaks. Try it this way: get into position (straight back, of course), then lift your upper body just a bit while keeping the butt in contact with your shoulder. Now relax back down. You should feel your bipod flex forward slightly as you do this. Now when your rifle recoils, it will just give you a little push before your weight puts it right back where it started. Don’t overdo it; we’re looking for essentially “dead” weight to push the rifle back, not muscles (think “consistency”). Because you’re straight back, there’s no muzzle rise.
What if it still bounces? Did you forget to check your NPA? I have a confession to make. I have a hard time getting the rifle not to bounce, but here’s something I’ve found that sometimes works. I know from a lot of position work that if the sights end up somewhere other than the target right after the rifle is fired, that new spot is usually at my NPA. It works exactly the same way with the bipod. The key to learning this is not to really care where the aiming point is, provided that it’s safe of course.
Here’s a fictional story with an analogy that may help: One day as I was relaxing, sipping mojitos, smoking a nice Dominican, and reading Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, Mrs. Rifleslinger was outside painting the house. She told me that before she climbs the ladder to paint the high spots, she gives the ladder a jolt to test it and see where it settles. She said that the spot where it settles is its steady spot, and it’s probably OK to climb it. This is just like NPA with the bipod (or without, for that matter). The spot where it “settles” after firing a shot is usually your NPA. This is assuming that the recoil didn’t totally disturb your position. (5/3/12 note: with a bit more experience and knowledge under my belt, I think this theory is completely wrong and backwards. The recoil will expliot the weakness in the position and make it weaker- as I described in the following paragraph. I like the story so l left it in –RS).
The above method for locating your NPA doesn’t always work. Consider that the interface between the stock and your body to be a joint between two parts. The rifle pushes on the joint when it fires. If the joint is straight, the force from the recoil will not cause it to bend. If it is bent, even just ever so slightly bent, the bend will increase in the direction that it’s already bent. That means if the rifle bounces toward your support side, you were already bent that way to begin with. You might need to go the other way until you get the feeling that your angled the other way. In the picture above I sure felt straight back, but I wasn’t. That could be the source of my inconsistency.
Being straight back affects some other things about your position. If you get straight back and put the rifle butt in the same place you put it for sling supported positions, you’re going to find that your head is in an extremely uncomfortable position. You’re going to have to bring the rifle butt closer to the center of your chest, which you may find poses a problem. Your collarbone is right there. What I found that works well is to put the heel of the stock (that’s the top) just below the collarbone, at the top of the pectoralis major. It’ll hurt after a long day at the range, but generally it’s not too bad.
Another difference between positions that utilize the bipod and those which don’t is what we do with the support hand. In traditional positions, your support hand needs to be on the forend to support the weight of the rifle. Since the bipod completely supports the front end of the rifle, putting the support hand up there isn’t going to do a thing for you, so DON’T PUT IT THERE. A more useful place for it to go is under the stock just forward of the toe of the stock (the toe is the bottom of the butt- strange definition huh?).
There are a number of ways to can employ your support hand to provide a more stable platform for the rear of the stock. Probably the most stable is a rear bag. This is a small fabric sac filled with sand, rice, beans, or poly beads. Poly beads seem to be the best in different weather conditions.
There are a few different sizes and shapes of rear bags, but the most prevalent seem to be cylindrical and rectangular. Here’s a good comparison of some rear bags. You could also make your own with an old BDU and something to fill it with.
Homemade rear bags. The strap on the rectangular one is to put the hand through, and either can be used to run the rear of the sling through to leave it while you carry the rifle.
The bag is placed under the stock and can be manipulated to get your elevation just right. POA too low, just give the bag a squeeze.
Besides a bag, you could grab your sling where it attaches at the stock. If you have a TAB Gear sling the rear portion is triple thick- thick enough to support the weight of the rifle and allow you to better control the elevation without a rear bag.
No sling? Just use your fist.
Get straight back from the rifle. Steady the rear of the rifle with your support hand. Load the bipod. Breathe and relax. Fire a shot. Did the scope reticle or sights move off of your original aiming point? If not, you’re good. If yes, fire another shot from where the sights landed after the shot. You’ll probably actually see the impact and end up right back on the same spot. Do a lot more firing from this position and form a kinesthetic memory (aka muscle memory) so next time you can reproduce it more quickly . This is what I’m going to do before continuing the article. For me, it will be a few weeks. For you, I’ll speed it up and post my cumulative prone results tomorrow.
Finally I need to say that I learned what I know about bipod shooting from the Sniper’s Hide Forum. It’s run by an instructor from a school in Texas called Rifles Only, and they seem to be on the cutting edge on precision rifle technique. I would like to go there, but it’s out of my price range. They also offer online training, which seems worth it, but is still out of my meager price range. A word of caution, the forum is full of good info, but they don’t appreciate it when people go there and ask questions that could easily be answered by using their search engine, or questions like “What’s the best sniper rifle to use from a mile on a zombie through a loophole when civilization breaks down” (these are generally known as “stupid questions”. Apparently they do exist.). My advice would be to inform yourself first by reading the entire forum. It will take a few days, but you’ll learn a lot. Then fill out your profile. They like that. Good luck.