Terrain Considerations, Hunting, and the Shooting Sling
I grew up hunting on the Palouse, a region of Washington state in the Pacific Northwest shaped by a history of ancient glacial floods, lava flows, and volcanic sediment layers. A little farther to the west lie dry, desert like plains. To the east lie the mountains and pine forests of Idaho. The Palouse is characterized by gentle, rolling hills of wheat fields for miles in every direction. These large open spaces serve as a perfect example of how your environment will shape the shooting positions rely on. Let's take a look at the area I do most of my practical shooting, and how that has influenced the shooting tools I rely on. Pictured below is the area where my hunting partner and I have had the most hunting success.
The composition of brush is mostly hawthorn with a few willows along the river and the space in between filled with poison hemlock, hounds tongue, and teasel, all invasive weeds doing very well in this area. This plant combination makes moving stealthily through the brush an impossibility. Dead poison hemlock stems crackle under every step no matter how slowly you put your foot down, or what part of your foot touches the ground first. Still hunting would be a fool's errand in this environment. The best approach to hunting here is a driven hunt, where one person bushwhacks along a deer trail taking extra care to be as noisy as possible.
The whitetail deer have a network of trails through the hawthorn trees. There are several paths they consistently take to move from the river bank up and over the top of the hill to the right of the picture below. These trails give an indication of which direction the deer will go when they break from cover. When hunting, we approach the trees in this photo and the first picture from the open pasture moving from left to right, with one person at the trails leading up and over the hill. The pusher then moves along the brush at the bottom of the hill, following the river. As the deer move from the brush they will usually take a second to look back and asses the noise coming behind them. If you're sitting in the right spot, the deer will be broadside for a moment and that is when your shot has presented itself. Now, I wrote earlier about how this was going to be about terrain considerations and have almost entirely focused on hunting. I like hunting. Please bear with me.
A bipod or shooting sticks could be used but the deer rarely stick around once they know people are in the area. This doe circled in red is heading for cover after spotting me roughly 600 yards away while I took the other photos for this post. Shooting sticks and bipods have their uses, but in this environment the time to deploy them just isn't there. When the time is there, limitations like uneven, rocky terrain or steep hillsides prevent their use. Cue the environment! The blend of pasture land, farmer's fields, trees, and property lines leaves an abundance of objects that lend themselves well to bracing a rifle.
Finding something to brace against like a fence post or tree branch will always be more stable than shooting with one of my shooting slings. Keeping this in mind while you shoot and move will allow you to identify a brace quickly and be ready for a shot. If your plan is to use an environmental brace while hunting, you can identify good shooting positions as you go and hope that you have one ready when your game has presented the shot. The downside is that unless you are within a few quick paces of a stable brace or are already set up against one, the added time can make a difference. The one or two seconds spent scrambling for a more stable shooting position may also mean the difference between a stationary target and one that is quickly moving on for better concealment. There also is no guarantee that you will have a clear shot once you get to your braced object and have found a stable position. I recall watching an episode of Steven Rinella's show, "MeatEater", and watching him move to a pine tree for a brace only to completely obscure his line of sight. I don't include this to point out a shortcoming, I think Rinella is one of the country's greatest hunters and an excellent shot, I could only hope to become the hunter he is. Nonetheless, it's a good example of how incorporating environmental factors can go either way, even for professionals. Identifying and utilizing environmental factors to stabilize for a shot is an excellent tool to be able to use, but it can be inconsistent. This is where having gear you can rely on to help you stabilize your shots comes into play.
The deer below was shot at 70 yards with a Traditions Frontier flintlock kit rifle while I braced against a metal T-post. The .50 caliber Lee Improved Minie Ball stopped just under the hide on the other side of the deer.
Including a shooting sling on your rifle gives you the flexibility of choosing which option you will rely upon based on the environmental circumstances of the situation. It gives you the choice to sit down and take the shot, or half tiptoe-half run like a wild man to a more stable brace and hope the deer either didn't notice, or is laughing at you too hard to run away. Incorporating my hand made RS-1 Reinforced Loop Sling, RS-2 Rifleman's Essential Sling, or (for tactical rifles) an RS-3 Cross Body Carry Sling into your hunting kit will add stable unsupported shooting positions to your arsenal of practical accuracy.
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