This week we are taking a look at bipods. Yes, those things that the media somehow thinks transforms a garden variety hunting rifle into a sniper rifle. They actually think this. Reader and TTAG poster ‘Manse Jolly’ asked this:
“Ok, I have a long range shooting question. Is an Atlas bipod really worth the cost or is a Harris just as good? Setting up a Tikka 6.5 Varmint HB.”
What I’m not going to do here is go for the throat and come out swinging at the Atlas product. That’s not fair and is a narrow comparison so I’m instead going to talk about what bipods are supposed to do and just what you’re getting for your money when you buy one.
My real and practical opinion is that there is pretty much only one way to look at this: Harris vs. Everyone. The Harris, in particular the S-BRM model (that’s the short one that is probably the most useful) is really the brand to beat because it’s so popular and is usually the one that people start with. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that most of the theory of bipod use is centered around the limits and strengths of the Harris.
New readers and even new shooters will be surprised to learn that even ten years ago there were probably only 1/100th the number of offerings available today to precision shooters. Bipods weren’t even featured on sniper rifles until fairly recently in our history.
The 1980’s saw what amounted to the first real widespread use in military and police circles, but even then there wasn’t an emphasis on them other than as an alternative to the common methods of the day, such as shooting from a pack.
Heavy guns and machine guns are typically what used bipods and they were often integrated into the gun. That had much more to do with controlling weight and recoil than providing stability for precision shooting.
The era that we live in right now is the largest commercial market for bipods. There are more models out now with more features than ever before. This has led, of course, to people like ‘Manse Jolly’ wondering just what they are getting for hundreds of dollars more in some instances.
Field stability was the original concern for the early commercial bipods, and there were very few that were designed just for competition. The bench rest shooters of the world had been using huge, wide-legged bipods that didn’t fold. These bipods would feature screw-adjustable feet to level a rifle on a bench, but these had very little suitability in the field, if any.
The crossover between field and competition line is what began to produce items like the Atlas. The Harris served in just about every police station, military branch, and on virtually all competition lines for decades, and it never really lost utility. The tilt models were of course the best, but some shooters began looking for a leg up (no pun intended) or added functions like pan and tilt to stabilize tricky shots not found in stationary bench shooting.
When I first shot an Atlas, I didn’t like it. It felt strange and I didn’t like that the legs were slower to deploy. I’ve probably fired a quarter million rounds off of Harris bipods and the Atlas just felt unnatural. I was used to how the Harris worked and shot and I knew ways to make it load consistently, although it was tricky in lots of field positions.
The swiveling, panning, and tilting features like those in the Atlas began to really take off as PRS sports grew and positions became more difficult. This of course led to more market options and bipods began to become more than just a pair of spring-loaded legs.
The next generation of bipods would begin to incorporate features demanded by these non-military precision shooters who are extremely picky about their gear. To say that there’s a market for $500 bipods is not to say that those $500 models are inherently better than a Harris for 99% of shooters, but the 1% who will pay for them can usually squeeze that extra bit of performance out of them.
I shoot with two brands for all my work guns and those are Harris and Magpul. I have access to and have shot with pretty much all the other versions out there, but I really don’t end up using a bipod as much as you would think, even in hunting and competition.
It is nice to have the support ready to go, but in the field I end up locating a spot that allows me to have a wide area to move in, so I usually end up using a sling or a pack. Bipods tend to get caught or snagged in brush, so they’re usually in my hunting pack in case if I have a long shot I can prepare for.
I use the Harris models for easy on/off on my hunting and on guns I shoot on barricades in matches. My Magpul is attached directly to one of my 6.5 CM rifles with MLOK, so it stays in place. I like it, but what I don’t like about it or the Atlas bipod is that they can be easily swiveled off center and the legs can’t be smacked back up into position on the fly because they aren’t spring-loaded.
The Magpul model is great for angular shooting or if you are using a heavy rifle that likes to be loaded into in stationary shooting.
I have to say that this really comes down to user bias and perceived end use. I use the Harris more because I am more of a field shooter and competitor and I just don’t need the extra weight or all the panning functions. Even when attached, I only use a bipod about 1/10th of the time in the field. Most of my shooting doesn’t involve me stuck facing one way, so I don’t like to be invested in the pan/tilt range of whatever bipod I’m using.
Only you can decide if something like an Atlas is worth it to you, but even more important than a bipod is a good bubble level. Being level is what a bipod really helps with when you have the option to find a place to level out. But often times you just don’t get that hunting or in matches.
It really doesn’t matter what bipod you have if you don’t know where your shot is going to be. Deer can disappear with just a four foot elevation difference in a field and any experienced hunter will tell you that game is rarely just hanging out in a flat enough area to go prone with a bipod as you would at a range.
My advise would be to start with a Harris…you really can’t go wrong. If you decide you’re not getting the flexibility you need in the situations in which you shoot, then look into adding something with more features. And keep in mind that there are a lot of good options out there these days in addition to Harris, Magpul, and Atlas.