I never go on a serious hike without trekking poles. With them, my arms can help propel me forward and upward, and brake on descents, rather than my legs bearing all of the load. Also, poles give me extra stability on rocky, rooty, sandy, muddy, icy, and snowy ground.
Needless to say, my backpack hunt gear list for big game in Colorado includes a pair: they are immensely useful when hiking through dense timber, over high passes, and up, down, and across steep slopes — especially while off-trail and/or while carrying a pack loaded with meat.
Shooting sticks are of similar importance on a hunt — technically, not essential, but hugely beneficial. In the field, it may be difficult to improvise a stable shooting position if there are no natural features nearby (e.g. trees, boulders) and if the most stable shooting positions (e.g. prone, sitting with pack assist) are infeasible. With the enhanced stability from shooting sticks, I can at least double my effective range when shooting offhand, to 200-250 yards from 100-125. YMMV.
My gear list does not include shooting sticks, however. My three simple explanations are the additional weight, bulk, and cost. For example, the full-length Cabelas Shooting Bipod weighs 18 oz and costs $40; a higher quality model, the BOGgear BOG-POD Shooting Bipod, weighs 23 oz and costs $85. When collapsed fully, these bipods measure over 30 inches in length, which means they’d stick about 10 inches above my Kifaru Bikini Platform Frame and Highcamp Bag, snagging on every low-hanging branch and blowdown.
The primary reason I don’t carry shooting sticks, however, is because with a few simple parts I can make a shooting bipod using my trekking poles. Here are the details:
For straight-up backpacking trips, I recommend the REI Carbon Power Lock Poles, though heavier and more abusive users should consider the burlier Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Poles. But with a maximum height of just 140 cm, these models will only work as full-length shooting bipods for shorter hunters. I’m 6 feet tall and must awkwardly squat in order to hold level my rifle when shooting offhand.
For poles with longer maximum lengths — around 155 cm, or 61 inches — look in the backcountry snow sports department. At my local shop, Neptune Mountaineering, I bought the Komperdell Backcountry Trail Ski Poles, but I was really looking for the Black Diamond Expedition 2 Ski Poles instead, the extended grip on which is a nice feature in uneven terrain.
Commercial shooting sticks feature a universal shooting rest (USR) for a rifle; on higher-end models, it may swivel. To make a rest with my trekking poles, I cross them and wrap the intersection with a 15-inch Voile Ski Strap. Secure it tightly — any “give” at this intersection will compromise the bipod’s stability.
The bipod will have good purchase on soft ground, especially when the pole tips are new. But for additional stability, install between the poles a support strap so that downward pressure on the bipod does not cause a leg to kick out. I used two lengths of small-diameter accessory cord (9 inches and 18 inches) and tied a small overhand loop in each end. I girth-hitched a cord to each pole and secured them in place using electrical tape. On one pole, only the overhand loop shows; on the other pole, the cord extends about 9 inches from the pole to the end of the loop.
There are several advantages in configuring trekking poles to be used as a shooting bipod, versus buying dedicated shooting sticks. Notably, I saved weight and money, and the system is more compact.
But there are drawbacks, too. The setup takes longer, though I’m not sure this matters — if I wanted to take a split-second shot, dedicated shooting sticks probably won’t be of much help either. The bigger disadvantage is that my system is not as optimized. Specifically, the mini carabiner and Velcro strap are difficult to operate with gloved hands; the Voile strap must be facing the right way or it can’t be secured (like a pants belt); and my rifle stock does not sit as cleanly in the V-shaped shooting rest as it would in a U-shaped one.