So, if anyone has been following this blog at all, you'll see that some of my pals have delved into shooting from tripods. It's a piece of kit that I hadn't fully embraced until recently, and something I haven't even considered until the last two trips out to Squamish with my pals. On one trip, the rain was coming down hard enough to cause some discomfort when shooting prone, and the last time we went out, well, the ground was covered in about a foot of snow.
My buddies Jay and Colin had been shooting from their tripod set ups the last few range trips and have sworn by it. I think it all started when we went out shooting with a couple of law enforcement buddies who shoot for a living, and they brought out some pretty cool tripod set ups for their spotting scopes. Well, Jay started doing a little research and found that people not only use tripods for spotting scopes, but shooting as well.
Anyway, Jay went out a few days later and started scouring Craigslist for deals on used tripods and bought three or four Manfrotto 190s with ball heads that week, lol! Colin nicked a pretty nice tripod from his dad, a carbon fiber Benro tripod, and then he discovered his dad's carbon fiber RRS tripod (retails for $1,500 USD or something like that). His dad used these things for bird watching and photography, but Colin decided it would be better used for shooting so he nicked them both. I was still on the fence about it, and besides that, I also didn't have any money to spend on shooting gear, lol!
Next person in our group to get the tripod fever was our pal Alex. He, like me, swore by shooting from prone, and like me, was soaked like a wet rat from that one time in Squamish when the rain was coming in sideways. During our last trip out in the snow, he tried out shooting from Jay's and Colin's tripod set up and decided it was cheating. He discovered that he was able to produce some pretty decent groups with little to no effort, and it made shooting a bit too easy, lol!
So, Alex remembered that sometime last year, he bought his wife a state of the art tripod for photography and wondered if it would work for shooting. It turns out that he bought his wife a Manfrotto MT055CXPRO carbon fibre with a (I think) 498RC2 Manfrotto Ball head. I know, what the hell does all that mean? Well, from what little I learned from the endless research I did on camera tripods, the go to Manfrotto tripods are the 190s, and the 055 series are bigger and beefier, with a higher load capacity (19.8lbs/9kg). Add carbon fiber to the trim level and reduce weight while adding strength (as well as cost). The 498RC2 ball head should be rated for 17.64lbs/8kg load capacity.
They brought them over to my place once and I threw on one of my heavier rifles and it had no trouble balancing it and holding it in place at various elevation settings and cants. I had had visions of me being the only one wet and miserable laying prone on my shooting mat the next time we went out, while everyone else was still warm and dry. I was sold and started to shop around.
I scoured Craigslist for a deal, but as luck would have it, when I wanted one, none were to be found for the price I was hoping. Jay found his Manfrotto 190PROs for about $150 including a ball head, but I had no such luck. Most Manfrotto 190PROs ran about $200 with no ball head, or they were very old models with the wingnut/twist fasten leg adjustments.
I was about to give up when I ran across a brand new Benro C-258M8 carbon fiber tripod and it was a fairly decent price. It was made in China, versus the Italian Manfrottos, but it had decent reviews, and when I saw it, it appeared pretty beefy and figured I couldn't go wrong with the price. The legs extended and locked in place with a twist lock system which I didn't like at first, but quickly got used to. The legs extended to three different angles, locked positively and gives the user the confidence that it was built for abuse.
I borrowed Jay's 808RC4 three way pan/tilt head just to see and on top of that, I threw my 29.5lb (13.4kg) PGW onto the set up and it balanced perfectly, and it wasn't even locked down or sitting in any sort of saddle. The Benro is rated for 26.5lbs/12kg and the 808RC4 is good for 17.6lbs/8kg, but it seemed fine, even though the 50 was heavier than the suggested load capacity. Besides, it would be unlikely that I would shoot my 50 off the tripod anyway.
I also did a bit of research on various mounts, including pic-rail QD systems, but I'd already overspent my Christmas shopping budget by metric ton of fucks so I had to go with something that could be used universally for any rifle I had. I could always change it out for something fancier later on if I miraculously found some money my wife didn't know about. Nordic Marksman had a Boxing Day sale with free shipping, so I grabbed the last two Pig Saddles, the economy version of their Hog Saddles. The difference? The Hog is made of billet aluminum, the Pig is made from stamped steel. I'm sure there are other differences, but at half the price of a Hog, I figured it was worth a gamble to try out. Besides, there's Shadow Tech's lifetime warranty so I wasn't really concerned.
Some specs from the manufacturer:
Weight: 1 pound
Steel construction- to facilitate years of dependability
Superior corrosion resistance
Heavy duty polymer torque knob
UV resistant pads- specifically engineered to absorb rifle recoil and reduce muzzle jump
Steel 1/4-20 mounting threads and 3/8-16 back up threads
One handed operation
Manufactured in the USA
The saddle is lined with some sort of high density rubber that seems pretty robust. I tried it on half a dozen different rifles, varying from traditional stocks to chassis systems and with that CNC'd tension nob, I was able to lock down everything I tried.
The machining on this product is top notch, excellent fit and finish, no burrs or machine marks. The OD finish seems pretty tough as well, but I expect to beat this thing up, not baby it.
The saddle comes with two mounting options for camera tripods, 1/4-20 or 3/8-16 threads.
As you can see from the photos, I couldn't stay away from Craigslist and in short order, I ended up with a second tripod. I also have two Pig Saddles in these photos, but one of them is spoken for, and the second tripod will probably be reserved for actual spotting scope/photography duty.
So, I found a gently used Manfrotto MT190XPRO4 aluminum tripod which came with the MHXPRO-3W 3 way pan/tilt head (basically a newer version of the one I borrowed from Jay. The Manfrotto tripod, though made of aluminum, was noticeably heavier than the carbon fiber Benro. It also has a slightly less load capacity than the Benro, but it should be fine for just about any of my rifles except for my 50. It should even be fine for my .338 which weighs about 8.7kg, though that rifle does slightly exceed the recommended load capacity of 7kg.
I knew I'd have to give back Jay's 808RC4 eventually, so I ended up ordering a Manfrottto MHXPRO-BHQ2 ball head off Flea-bay. It was on sale and I couldn't resist so when it comes in, it will end up on the Benro. I'll try out the Benro because the Benro has a higher load capacity at 26.5lbs/12kg, and the new ball head has a 22lbs/10kg max load capacity.
Some factory specs laid out for easier comparison:
MT190XPRO4 Aluminum Tripod
Max Height: 63”/160cm
Min Height: 3.2”/8.1cm
Folded Length: 19.2”/48.8cm
Load Capacity: 15.4lbs/7kg
MHXPRO-3W 3-way Pan/Tilt Head
Load Capacity: 17.6lbs/8kg
C-258M8 Carbon Fiber
Max Height: 61”/155cm
Min Height: 13”/32.5cm
Folder Length: 20.7”/52.5cm
Load Capacity: 26.5lbs/12kg
MHXPRO-BHQ2 XPRO Ball Head
Load Capacity: 22lbs/10kg
Hopefully, I'll be able to find some time and try out my new shooting platforms, but from previous reports from my buddies, I probably won't be disappointed.
One thing I forgot to mention was the various types of heads used for shooting purposes. I currently have the three-way pan/tilt style heads, which are typically more robust and have higher load capacities than ball heads (though not always).
Manfrotto MHXPRO-3W 3-Way pan/tilt:
They tend to be stronger, and are great for precision work, but on-the-fly adjustments require two separate adjustments, and may require you to take your hand off fire-control (if that's important for your style of shooting).
Ball heads like these seem to be more popular, though older models may not have as much load capacity, I found that some of the newer models hold just as much weight as the pan/tilt models. The benefit here is that it only requires one hand to adjust for cant and elevation.
Manfrotto MHXPRO-BHQ2 XPRO Ball Head:
The third style of head, and probably the most popular among a lot of shooters seems to be the pistol grip style. These models probably hold the least amount of weight according to factory recommendations, but they still seem the most popular (probably because most rifles don't weigh more than max recommended load capacity). The joystick/grip configuration makes for very quick adjustments.
Manfrotto 327RC2 Joystick Head: