If you want to score some serious brownie points next Valentine’s Day, give your beloved a copy of FM 23-5, also known as the Basic Field Manual for the U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30, M1. This gem, put out by the War Department in 1940, details how to care for and use the immortal M1 Garand, but it also includes a wealth of information on marksmanship and shooting drills.
One of the illustrations shows proper way to shoot from the seated position with a shooting sling, which is a skill all but lost among most hunters.
Although taking seated shots—for all practical purposes—is irrelevant for today’s soldiers, it is the best all-around field position for a hunter to master because it is quick to get into, helps your muzzle clear vegetation and other obstacles, and with a couple of modifications is accurate at very long ranges. Without a doubt, I’ve killed more game from that one position than any other, and I have learned to adapt it to a variety of terrain and circumstances.
The classic position—with the shooter’s legs pointed at a 45-degree angle to the target, back straight, and elbows braced on the inside of the legs just forward of the kneecaps—is the starting point for shooting off your butt. By either digging your heels into the ground or placing your feet flat, this position is excellent for making shots on level ground or downhill from high ground.
The most useful enhancement to shooting while seated is to incorporate shooting sticks to support the front of the rifle. The first big mule deer buck I ever shot—a wide-racked toad with lots of junk sprouting off his main beams and an extra pair of crabbed forks off his fronts—I took at 425 yards with a .300 WSM using this technique. I was on a ridge located about halfway up a mountain, and the deer was below me, heading for water. Once I had the legs of the sticks spread to the right width for the shot, I could alter my body posture—by either sitting up straighter or slouching a bit—to get my crosshairs dead on. Using sticks also lets you take your nontrigger hand, plant it against your chest, and rest the rifle’s butt pad in the web of your thumb and fingers to move it up and down to dial in your elevation.
Of course, if using two legs to support the front of your rifle is good, then it stands to reason that three is even better. I like getting extra utility from the gear I’m packing on my back, so the tripod for my spotter often serves double duty as a shooting rest. I use a Hog Saddle, which attaches to my tripod and has padded jaws that clamp around the stock, to create an extra-stable rest. It takes a bit more time to get the shooting position set up with a tripod, but with practice it can be done quickly.
The drawback is that you’re adding weight to your kit, but the benefits are numerous. Because the Hog Saddle can be raised and lowered easily and can tilt the rifle up and down, it is useful for awkward shooting positions, particularly high-angle shots.
I used the Hog Saddle this last fall to make a very steep uphill shot on an ibex in Spain. The ram was 200 yards above me at about a 30-degree angle. To allow the butt of the rifle to get low enough for that shot, I crossed my legs and slouched down while bracing my elbows on the inside of my thighs. It was comfortable enough that I was able to wait out the ram for over an hour until he finally stood up from his bed.
Shooters who aren’t very flexible can find maintaining a seated position, particularly with crossed legs, about as fun as being waterboarded. If you aren’t as bendy as a yogi, try using a long belt or a piece of nylon webbing and cinching it around your back and legs. This takes a lot of stress off your back and joints and adds stability to the position.
Another trick for adding even more stability when you’re shooting from the sitting position is to add a rear rest. And you’re often carrying the most handy one on your back. Place your backpack between your legs and set your nontrigger hand on top of the pack. Cradle the butt of the stock with that hand. Flex the hand or squeeze the pack with your arm to control the elevation of your crosshairs. Practice this at home and at the range, and you’ll be able to extend your effective range from the sitting position by more than 100 yards.