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The Pack

Accurate Hunter

By Craig Boddington, B&C Professional Member
We knew Brittany’s Rocky Mountain goat was just over this little rise, so I crawled up with my pack, got it in position, and got out of the way so she could slide her rifle into place. If you’re not alone, a buddy system often helps a lot.​​​​​​​
Excerpt from Winter 2017 issue of Fair Chase

The larger your repertoire of how to get steady—fast—the more consistently successful your field shooting will be. That said, it is almost inevitable that, over time, you will develop a default setting, a position or setup that is your preferred option when possible…and thus unconsciously sought no matter how many other options might be available. For some it may be shooting over a bipod; for others it may be shooting sticks.

This is perfectly fine so long as you aren’t so wedded to one setup that you dither in confusion when you can’t make it work. There is no single shooting position or shooting aid that is ideal for all situations, so it’s important to practice a wide range of options, and keep your mind open as shooting opportunities develop. Field shooting is not necessarily a game of utmost precision. The vital zone must be hit, but it’s a pretty large “X-Ring.” Getting a bullet into it is always a matter of achieving adequate steadiness, but time and distance are major factors. You always want to get as steady as you can, but generally speaking, the shorter the distance the less stability is required—and the less time you usually have to get into position before the opportunity is lost. As we’ve discussed, there are fast-breaking close-range situations where the only chance for a shot is to stand and shoot unsupported. You hope that doesn’t happen, but it’s wise to practice a whole lot just in case! However, given enough time and a clear path to the target, my default setting is to rest over a pack.

For field shooting, there are no limits to the possibilities; you just have to be creative—and practice this stuff on your range.

In part this is because I almost always carry some kind of a pack. Not everybody does, but as an occupational hazard I always carry two cameras and often a telephoto lens. Add a water bottle, raingear or an extra layer, and perhaps a spotting scope and tripod, a pack is almost mandatory. As we’ve seen, solid objects like rocks and logs make excellent field rests, but they’re even better when you throw a nicely padded pack on top!

Height required to achieve a clear path to the target often dictates the position. If prone is possible I’ll usually crawl into position, rifle in one hand, dragging the pack with the other. At some point I’ll have to put the rifle down, push the pack forward, and then I can settle in and slide the rifle over the pack. Obviously if the pack is used atop a boulder or some other solid object, then you may wind up sitting, kneeling, or even standing into the rest.

A daypack is usually limited to either the prone position or as padding atop a solid object; usually it just isn’t tall enough or firm enough for a sitting or kneeling rest. For sure I don’t advocate carrying a bigger pack than you need, but a full-size pack with internal or external frame is often tall enough and firm enough to set upright and use for a sitting or kneeling rest. The shot I finally got on my Montana bighorn wasn’t very far, but I was awfully nervous (imagine that!). I had a packframe, so I upended it and used it for a sitting rest. That wasn’t the first or last time a packframe has come in handy, but I remember it because it was such an important shot!

 The procedure can vary quite a bit if you’re hunting with a buddy or a guide—especially if you’re creeping and crawling to get into position, handling both pack and rifle can be difficult, but a hunting partner can help. When daughter Brittany shot her Rocky Mountain goat we went up the last little incline together, me with pack and she with rifle. I slid the pack into position and slithered to the side. She put the rifle in place and crawled in behind it, and as soon as her billy turned broadside, that was that.

If you aren’t alone, multiple packs offer even more options. If you have two or three, you can sometimes stack up a pretty fair equivalent of a benchrest! This is good to keep in mind, because sometimes height is a critical problem. Back in the 90s in southeast Alaska we’d been trying to close on a black bear for hours. When we finally got a chance, we were caught on an open grassy slope and the bear was on the next ridge, not too far, but far enough that stability was essential. There were three of us, and since it was a backpack hunt we had three big packs with frames. It took all three to get the rifle barrel clear of the grass!

Since resting over a pack is my favorite field position I usually think of using the pack as a primary rest. There are, however, other clever options. With almost any shooting position it helps a great deal if you can stabilize the shooting elbow. If available, a second pack can be used for this. However, when sitting or kneeling behind a short tripod or tall bipod, one of the real keys for added steadiness is to anchor the shooting elbow. An upraised knee—the “reverse kneeling” position we talked about in an earlier column—is one answer, but an upraised pack can be just the right height. If you can firmly ground the elbow of your shooting hand a whole lot of wobble disappears from almost any position!

For field shooting, there are no limits to the possibilities; you just have to be creative—and practice this stuff on your range. At the SAAM (Sportsman’s All-Terrain, All-Weather Marksmanship) shooting school two wrinkles I’d never seen before is to sit on a pack to adjust the height, surprisingly comfortable in both sitting and kneeling; and, in sitting, to place a pack on your lap to anchor the shooting-side elbow.

Almost universal when shooting over a pack (or any solid rest) is what to do with the supporting hand. If the fore end is firmly rested, then you don’t really need it to hold the rifle (I’ll come back to that initial “if”). I usually default to proper benchrest position, curling the supporting hand under the buttstock and using it to snug the butt into the shoulder and make slight height adjustments if necessary.

Just be absolutely certain your fore end is firmly rested before you turn loose of it! A few seasons back, near Roseburg, Oregon, I had a great Columbia blacktail standing at about 275 yards. I crawled in behind a big oak, took off my pack, and shifted right. There was some underbrush, so I had to plump up the pack to get the rifle high enough. So far so good, everything perfect. As usual, I curled my right (supporting) hand under the butt, got good and steady, and squeezed the trigger. As the trigger broke, the rifle literally fell off the pack. I couldn’t call the bullet back, and I missed that buck by a matter of several feet. So my systems aren’t always perfect, and it’s best to learn what works for you!

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