Slings to Carbon Fiber Bipods; The Evolution of Supported Rifle Marksmanship
Carbon Fiber Bipod Use and the Evolution of Supported Rifle Marksmanship
Modern rifle gear has evolved, but many shooters are still using marksmanship methods fit for 100-year-old gear.
Shooters who learned to shoot with grandpa’s rifle using dad’s marksmanship methods learned timeless rifle fundamentals such as trigger control and follow-through, but modern rifle design has evolved and rifle marksmanship methods must evolve with them.
“Offhand” shooting was the preferred marksmanship method when riflemen needed to fire from horseback in the 1800s.
Slings were the preferred method of support in the 1900s.
Today's rifle shooter needs to learn new methods to keep up with the proliferation of plastic stocks, carbon fiber accessories, and the invention of the Picatinny rail.
Modern cartridge rifle shooting started in the 1860s with the Henry Rifle and the ubiquitous Winchester Rifle that “won the west”.
These lever-action carbines transformed rifle marksmanship because they were reliable and fast repeating rifles.
The design of the Winchester Rifle in various model years 1866 through 1895 was perfect for horseback with features including a narrow design for a comfortable fit in saddle scabbards, open sites for tracking moving targets, and a downward lever for balanced reloading on horseback.
The downward lever and lack of stable firing positions made slings or bipods impractical and unwanted.
Instead of a bipod or sling, the Winchester rifle used a crescent-shaped butt to enhance stability for the shooter.
This design feature is subtle to the eye but important to the shooter.
The crescent-shaped butt maintains the rifle’s balance when pressed into the shooter’s shoulder, and allows for fast elevation changes, which is ideal for firing from elevated positions such as horseback.
Marksmanship methods of the time matched the rifleman’s gear.
Wide-open stances were important for fast target acquisition and tracking targets laterally.
Shooting positions favored rapid-fire over stability.
While Annie Oakley could throw a playing card in the air and “riddle it with bullets before it hit the ground” these marksmanship methods would become obsolete with the evolutionary design of heavier rifles in the 1900s.
Rifle marksmanship methods in the 1900s emphasized the two-point sling for support.
The British Lee-Enfield of 1895 and the American 1903 Springfield were the prolific service rifles of World War I and the interwar period.
These bolt action rifles replaced lever actions because bolt action rifles were considered more reliable and handled heavier loads for longer range shooting.
The lever-action rifles of the 1800s were mostly used for shots under 100 yards, maybe 200 yards at a stretch.
The 1903 Springfield is accurate up to 1,000 yards, but only with proper marksmanship methods and gear.
The rifle marksmanship methods of the 1900s that many of today’s shooters learned are based on the gear that fits the 1903 Springfield and its contemporaries.
Popular sporting rifles such as the Winchester Model 70 are based on a bolt action design similar to the service rifles of the time.
World War II brought semiautomatic actions with the M1-Garand and M1 Carbine, but marksmanship methods remained focused on using the sling for support.
Rifles from 1900 to the 1960s used wood stocks, which limited the ability to mount accessories.
Wood stocks do not maintain their strength well when drilled for accessory mounting.
Every rifle of the era was made with sling swivels, which show the importance of slings in marksmanship of the era.
Civilian marksmanship training in the 1900s was largely based on military training.
Military manuals, rifles, and ammunition were distributed through the Civilian Marksmanship Program (Formerly Director of Civilian Marksmanship) beginning in 1903.
The training manuals of the era give us insight into the importance of the sling. The U.S. Marine Corps Score Book: A Rifleman’s Instructor of 1912 teaches:
“The sling is used in all your firing. You cannot do good work without it, and you should never fire a shot without the assistance of the support of the sling.”
The two-point sling was the preferred marksmanship method for rifle marksmanship because it connects the shooter's arm and the rifle, forming a triangle with the rifle at the top of the triangle.
This creates a stable shooting platform using the shooters' skeletal support resting on flat, level ground.
This is how rifle marksmanship was taught on the range, but practical shooting in combat or while hunting often found the sling used only for carrying the rifle.
Practical shooting scenarios through a window or from cover often did not allow shooters to take the time to form a perfect “triangle” position with a sling.
The introduction of the M-16 in the 1960s brought more of the same shooting marksmanship methods and gear.
The early model M-16A1 used the same two-point sling swivels as the 1903 Springfield, and methods changed little with the introduction of the first service rifle with a plastic stock.
Revolution in Rifle Marksmanship
Two events prompted a revolution in rifle marksmanship methods in the 2000s. First was the invention of the PICATINNY RAIL in 1995.
The second was the expiration of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 2004.
The Picatinny Rail was an evolutionary upgrade over its precursor the Weaver rail, but the revolution was the ubiquitous adoption of the Picatinny Rail as the military standard.
The expiration of the Assault Weapons Ban allowed these rails to proliferate the civilian market.
The rail is important because it allows for mounting of accessories anywhere on the rifle.
These accessories include scopes, lasers, night vision, and the bipod.
The lightweight bipod revolutionizes rifle marksmanship because it makes the sling obsolete and necessitates a change to the shooter’s position by bringing the non-firing hand off of the rifle’s forestock and into a crossed-arm position under the rifle’s butt.
The application of carbon fiber technology to bipod design has allowed for strong, lightweight bipods like the Tier One FTR Carbon Bipod, with impeccable strength for its weight and an ultra-wide base for a shooting platform that is much more stable than a sling and the shooter’s elbow.
The Picatinny rail is important for bipod use on a rifle because it allows the shooter to adjust the position of the bipod for the shooter’s body.
Some bipods use an adapter to mount the bipod to a rifle’s forward sling swivel, but to be effective a bipod should be adjusted on the rail to fit the shooter’s body for comfort and stability.
This revolution in rifle gear occurred recently in the long history of the rifle, and shooters are just beginning to catch up.
Marksmanship methods based on the sling were taught for over 100 years and now must be un-learned.
Some of the best techniques for the use of a bipod may not have been written yet.
Competition and qualification rulebooks will need to catch up with the new gear.
Most rifle competitions prohibit the use of a bipod except as an adaptation for shooters with disabilities, but practical shooting disciplines have caught up.
3-Gun matches allow bipods in the Open and Outlaw Open Divisions. The F-Class long-range shooting discipline was born in the 1990s and allows bipods.
Shooters should expect competitive disciplines that allow bipods to proliferate over the coming decades as the rifle sling becomes a tool of the past like the lever action rifle.
Bipods are indispensable on modern combat weapons.
Bipods designed for combat like the Tier One Tactical Bipod are designed to flip out of the way when not needed, or quickly flip down to be used when cover and the shooter’s position allow.
As modern weapons become more loaded with optics and accessories, the bipod is also an important tool anytime the shooter wishes to set the rifle down in a safe and secure position; simply flip the bipod legs down and the rifle stands on its own.
Shooters in the 2020s are learning new marksmanship methods based on the bipod.
Shooters learn through practical application while game hunting, shooting in competition, or combat.
Shooting a rifle with a bipod is more comfortable than shooting with a sling, plain and simple.
The uncomfortable pinched-hand feeling of a properly tightened rifle sling has been replaced in practical shooting by a properly “loaded” bipod with just enough forward pressure from the shooter’s shoulder.
The pressure from “loading” the bipod creates a stable platform for shooting and recoil management.
Shooters MUST continue to put rounds down range using their bipods to experiment and learn how to fire a rifle with a bipod.
Hunters in the field should pay attention to finding supported firing positions such as stumps, platforms on tree stands, or ground that is comfortable and practical to shoot with a bipod.
The bipod allows for getting into an accurate firing position much faster than getting into position with a sling.
This utility necessitates slightly modified firing positions based on available cover and support.
The best marksmanship manuals on rifle shooting with a bipod have yet to be written, and top scores in matches and long-range shots will prove the best methods.
Will McElwaine is an NRA Certified Rifle Instructor and U.S. Marine Corps Veteran. He has earned the NRA Rifle Distinguished Expert Award as well as Marine Corps Rifle and Pistol Expert Awards. He writes informative articles about adventure tourism and firearms and he is still serving in the Marine Corps Reserve.
Wikimedia Open Source Photo Credits
Winchester Rifle https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Winchester_Model_1894.jpg