Gear Review: Long range Western hunting essentials

I’m wholeheartedly committed to buying a good product once in a lifetime rather than buying a dozen mediocre cheaper ones.  Besides, if I’m going on a guided hunt or if I’m traveling across the country, that’s not the time to cheap out.  While these are neither the most expensive nor the least, they are made to last and they excel in the field.

Bulls Bag X7 Rest

Bulls Bag X7 Rest

Bulls Bag X7 Rest is more than a sandbag. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)

The X7, naturally, is a 7-in-1 shooting system.  I can take pictures of the configurations all day, but you’d be better served by checking out the website.  While we spent most of our time using it as a whole unit, the X7 can be broken down into its components.  When shooting off the truck out west (yes, legally), the “vise” section was nice either over a window or on the hood of the vehicle.

The vise does as it sounds, clamping the forearm while still allowing the gun against your shoulder for ultimate control.  While I did not compute the actual reduction in recoil, after a day of shooting with the Bulls Bag, the shoulder is happy.  Part of that is due to the ingenious design, and the other part due to sheer weight. While the bag weighs 32 lbs with kitty litter—and can be made heavier with sand—it’s not something you carry miles afield.  However, the shoulder strap makes it easy to tote to your bench, and the weight lends it the stability you expect from a sandbag style rest.

Calling this a “sandbag rest” would be a great injustice.  While it cannot replace a gun vise for cleaning and working on guns, this is now my first choice for range time.  The lifetime guarantee on wear and tear is a plus, as is the heavy duty construction of 900 D with 2mil PVC coating for moisture resistance. (Keep watching for a more detailed review of the Bulls Bag X7 Rest.)  The system retails for $169-285 depending on options.

Blackhawk! Pro Shooters Mat

Blackhawk! Pro Shooters Mat

Blackhawk! Pro Shooters Mat. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)

The Blackhawk! Pro Shooter’s Mat is the best of any shooting pads I’ve ever tried.  Sure it’s a heck of a lot pricier than, say, a foam Kmart yoga mat, but this is a well-made, purpose built shooting mat.

I’ve learned how aggressive those western picker bushes and thorns can be, but they have nothing on the material of the mat.   Blackhawk built this from 1000D nylon and .375” closed cell foam.  The padding is thick enough to take away the feeling that you’re lying prone on hard ground.  In fact, it’s very comfortable.

The front portion of the mat has Blackhawk’s HawkTex nonslip material.  Even without elbow pads, my elbows never got a hint of soreness from shooting, and I was well locked into the mat. The wraparound webbing handles are great, as is the padded shoulder strap.  It’s even compatible with a hydration pack.  We had the mat on grass, thorny brush, sand, gravel, damp dirt, and all it needed was a quick dust off and ready to roll up and go again. The mat itself measures 28”Wx83”L and retails $164.99, though it can be had for less online.

Blackhawk! Sportster Bipods and Blackhawk! Elbow Pads

Blackhawk! Elbow Pads

Blackhawk! Elbow Pads

We especially enjoyed using Blackhawk’s Sportster Pivot (tilt/cant) and Sportster Traversetrack (horizontal tracking) bipods in conjunction with prone shooting on the mat.  Both bipods are height adjustable and attach quickly to sling swivel mounts.  They both held up great to long days of firing from both prone and the bench, and neither will break the bank.  Online prices put the Pivot under $40 and the Traversetrack at $50.

For those times you’re not prone on a nice shooting mat, Blackhawk makes the best shooting-specific elbow pads that I’ve tried.  They’re padded in the right places, breathable and comfortable neoprene, and backed with nonskid for grip on the bench.  At under $15 retail, they’re a simple fix to what can easily ruin a trip, which you know if you’ve ever shot from a rough wooden bench until your elbows are raw.

Blackhawk! Sportster Bipods

Blackhawk! Sportster Bipods. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)

Caldwell DeadShot FieldPod

Caldwell DeadShot FieldPod

Caldwell DeadShot FieldPod. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)

The DeadShot FieldPod is about as close you can come to bench rest accuracy in the field. We acquired the FieldPod primarily for going walkabout on predator hunts, but also found it ideal in ground blinds.

At five pounds, it’s lightweight enough to carry anywhere, but lightweight things are affected by wind.  On the whole, it requires no practice to use, is more stable than shooting sticks, and can be used from multiple positions.  Our test model adjusted from 20”-42”, which worked for sitting on the ground, kneeling and chair sitting.  It handles guns or crossbows equally well.

There are multiple adjustment points allowing it to fit just about any circumstance.  It’s not a rock-solid device and there can be some flex under heavy pressure, but with normal use, I can see this product holding up well.  If I were making the purchase again, I’d spend the $200 on the new and improved Magnum version, which is heavier, sturdier, extends to 60” for standing shots, and the legs can be spread wide for prone shooting.

The standard DeadShot FieldPod is priced around $100 online.

Otis Elite Cleaning System

Otis Elite Cleaning System

Otis Elite Cleaning System. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)

The Otis Elite is the cat’s meow as far as complete, mobile cleaning systems go.  In a black nylon 15”x9”4.5” case just over 3 pounds, it’s small enough to pack along in your range bag and holds everything you could possibly need for cleaning and light maintenance in the field.

The gear maintains rifles and pistols .17-.50 caliber, shotguns .410 to 10-gauge, and all in-line muzzleloaders.  There’s a full line of bronze bore and chamber brushes, six Memory-Flex cleaning rods, tubes of Otis O85, an optics cleaning kit, and dozens of other handy gadgets.  We picked up a few caliber-specific Otis Ripcords as well, and they tuck nicely into the kit for super-fast bore cleaning.

The kit is priced around $100-120 online.  Not that you’ll ever need it, but the system includes Otis’ lifetime warranty and the folks at the company are a class act.  This kit was perfect for traveling out west and doing quick bore cleans during marathon shooting sessions, as well as full cleanings at night in the hotel room.  That said, I find myself using it as much at my home gun bench as I do in the field. It’s just a great do-all kit.

Standing on GripPod

Standing on GripPod.

Grip Pod

Chances are you’re not yet familiar with the name Grip Pod.  That’s about to change.  GripPod Systems International is a small company, fully dedicated to complete perfection of a specific line of products.  A vertical grip that deploys into a bipod at the push of a button? We had the pleasure of testing one on our Rock River AR during a high-volume varmint hunt.

The GripPod is actually an automatic bipod system specifically for picatinny rail mounting. It looks like a standard forward vertical grip, but at the push of a


GripPod. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)

button, two sturdy bipod legs eject with force in a split second.  The GripPod has been battle tested, and is currently being used by the US Military, FBI, DEA, SWAT, and the list goes on.

The reason is this thing is built like a tank.  Heck, there’s video of a man standing on top of it with no flex, and many torture tests online.  The GripPod is built of advanced hardened polymer with steel legs.  At 6 ounces, it’s light and feels like a natural part of the gun. It measures 5.75” closed and 8.2” deployed.  It worked equally well on the bench as it did prone, and with the legs retracted, is a nice carry grip.

There are several models, but ours had the quick attach/detach feature.  Depending on the model, prices online run from $100-165. This has quickly become one of my favorite AR accessories.

Hornady Ammo and Reloading Components

Hornady ammo and reloading components

Hornady ammo and reloading components. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)

Gearing up for a 10-day western varmint/predator/antelope hunt, I knew I had substantial reloading ahead of me.  Even supplemented with factory ammo, I wanted to find one manufacturer who could fill all my needs.  After some research, Hornady was the hands-down choice.

I needed bullets, brass and loaded ammo for high volume dogging, mid-range ‘yotes, and long-range antelope.  Hornady was the only one to offer what we needed in .204, with factory Superformance in both -32 and -40 grain.  For the .25-06, we used brass and SST bullets, which performed exceptionally.  We used a split of factory .223 Custom and reloaded a combination of Match and Ballistic Tip Bullets in 50 and 55 grain. They have everything from presses to trimmers, and Hornady also teamed with Hodgdon to offer Superformance rifle powder.

One of the nicest things about Hornady is they’re an American company.  Their customer service is excellent, whether for reloading questions or online shopping, yet they are big enough to keep more products on the shelves than many others in the reloading industry these days.  Hornady red is fast becoming the color for reloading rooms.

CTK Precision P3 Gun Rest and Vise

CTK Precision P3 gun rest and vise.

CTK Precision P3 gun rest and vise. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)

A solid rest is a must-have for serious shooters, especially at distance.  Shooting p-dogs, we used a combination of plain sandbags, bipods, the Bulls Bag, and one of the most underrated, the CTK Precision P3 Ultimate Gun Rest.

The P3 is made in the USA of sturdy steel, coated inside and out and all padding is solvent-resistant.  It works equally well for both rifles and handguns, with multiple adjustments for height, length, and angles. The three feet are all adjustable for leveling.  It weighs 7.75 pounds empty, and can be filled with say, lead shot, if you don’t ever want it to move.

If you want the complete system, as we did, add the Gun Vise attachment and buy the brass catcher.  The Vise attachment does just what it says, and turns the rest into a gun vise, handy both in the field and on the workbench.  I use the P3 most for sighting in, scope mounting, and long-range bench work.  I’m a fan of the underdogs, and CTK Precision is a smaller-sized American company that makes a few products and makes them exceptionally well.  You just won’t find a better made rest/vise combination and it’s readily available online for $125-150. 

Quality Optics

Vortex rifle scope

Vortex rifle scope. (Photo: Kristin Alberts)

I’ll keep this brief, because the point is simple. If you’re hunting long range, there are two certain truths: 1) Quality optics are a must.  2) Optics is not the place to cheap out.  That said, there are two companies building optics I trust on my hunts– Vortex Optics and Bushnell.

I couldn’t be higher on Vortex’s Viper line of riflescopes and spotting scopes, and Bushnell’s Fusion range-finding binoculars saved the day more than once.  Stay tuned to for all the details on my newest love affair with Vortex, a superb WI based company quickly distancing themselves from the competition in quality, price, warranty and reliability.


With a little research into the latest and greatest gear, a good hunt can become an unforgettable one.  While it doesn’t have to be the most expensive to be the best, don’t let sub-par gear get in the way of a once-in-a-lifetime hunt.  You can buy the gear, but you can’t buy the memories.  So make every shot count, and make your next trip the best one yet.

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