I know some time has passed since the last installment of the Evolution of Tripod Shooting series of articles. There’s a reason. I wanted to get some time in with the new Really Right Stuff tripod setup. I wanted to try it both with a traditional saddle mount and a direct mount attachment. Then the plan at the end of the last article was to test them and compare results. That’s what this article is going to be about. A look back at the two methods and how they’ve worked out.
Saddle Mount Tripod Shooting
This is a popular option and is probably the most common for historical reasons. Saddle mounts were the first method of using a tripod to facilitate rifle shooting from odd positions. If you’re expecting me to knock the saddle mounts I will have to disappoint you. They remain a very effective way to easily interface a rifle with a tripod. The saddles, like the HOG Saddle, also have a less proprietary nature. Meaning it’s easier to buy a saddle and make it work with whatever tripod you have at the house. They’re quick to employ, provide adequate stability, and good recoil mitigation.
So why use anything else? Is there a downside? Well, the saddle is a slave to the tripod. What I mean is that an excellent saddle will still suck if it’s on a lousy tripod. So the quality of the tripod it’s paired up with definitely matters. I also find, I’m sorry to say, that a direct mount is more stable. There is noticeably less wobble using a direct mount over a saddle mount. However, this is where a tradeoff begins to take shape. While a saddle mount may lack some of the stability of a direct mount design, it excels with recoil mitigation. When you fire the rifle, you’ll get less bounce with a saddle as the pads help absorb and mitigate some of the recoil forces.
Direct Mount Tripod Shooting
As I mentioned above, the direct mount is my current preference. I’m willing to trade some recoil mitigation for the stability enhancement I receive. A plate bolted to the rifle and attached by some QD method to a tripod head is pretty hard to beat. You’ll definitely experience more movement under recoil. However, I believe that should really serve as a reminder to us all. The fundamentals matter. You still have to apply them and give them the same consideration you would shooting from any other position. If your follow through is poor you’re likely to see the tripod hop around using a direct mount.
The upside to the direct mount is that it’s quite possibly the best way to take a positional shot I’ve found so far. I’ve spent a lot of time this year practicing positional shots. They’re more and more common in competition. What I’ve found is that by direct mounting a rifle to my tripod it feels like cheating. It’s so stable I typically don’t even practice a tripod shot with a bag. It’s really pretty amazing. However, the direct mount has another limitation. You typically need a chassis style stock to use one. If you run a traditional stock it’s going to require some involved modifications in order to mount a plate. That’s another area a saddle shines.
I believe after starting with a saddle mount and graduating to a direct mount I’ve learned a lot about both systems. I believe it’s best to own and have experience with both. Here’s a few reasons why I take that stance. For starters let’s look at competitions. If I want to have a tripod shooting stage at a match and I want the playing field level I’ll provide the tripod. I can’t very well expect direct mounts to work for everybody, but a saddle will. So you’re likely to continue to see saddle mounts appear in competitive events. You need to know how to use it and build the best position possible for those stages.
Another reason saddles are important is because chances are every rifle you have won’t work with a direct mount setup. The saddle mounts are more versatile in this regard. However, if it’s a stage requiring a tripod and everybody is using their own, the dynamic shifts a bit. Now it becomes advantageous to have the most stable reticle possible. Whatever advantage you have here could really make a difference in your score depending on target size and distance. It’s a single example of where spending some cash may actually give you a bit of an edge.
Both saddle mounts and direct mounts are useful. They are like other accessories in the precision shooting sports because they all have their place. It’s up to the shooter to master the skillsets needed for both methods. Then you need to evaluate whatever shooting scenario you find yourself within. Pack your gear accordingly. Practice using both methods if you have them available. Especially if you are into competitive shooting. You’re likely to see the saddle appear on different stages at a match. This is a lot like holding and dialing for wind. Given the chance I’ll hold my wind correction. If it’s a gusty day and you’re holding 3 MILs of wind it may make more sense to dial.
Accordingly, you need to know how to use both systems. Given the time and opportunity I’ll use my own tripod and a direct mount for my rifle. That’s about as stable as I can get without being on the ground. If that’s not an option then I damn well better know how to use a saddle. Otherwise I’ve just cheated myself by assuming I’ll always get to pick what gear I use on a given shooting scenario. I’d intended to get an actual accuracy test done and show the results in this week’s article but I couldn’t squeeze it in. Look for a direct comparison with photo results of direct mount vs. saddle mount in Part 5. Then we’ll start getting into tips and tricks! If you have comments, questions, or article suggestions…drop em’ below!