A flood of shooting bags have enter the market over the past 5 years. Honestly, this could be one of the fastest changing aspects in the sport of precision rifles. We’ve clearly departed from sand-filled tube socks! These are no longer just squeeze bags under the butt of the rifle, they’re now helping shooters build more stable shooting positions. It’s clear how dramatically they’ve impacted the sport when you watch several guys struggle on a stage, only to see the last shooter clean it and make it look EASY, all because they’ve mastered the art of using bags.
I recently surveyed the top 100 shooters in the Precision Rifle Series (PRS), and this post reviews the shooting bags those élite shooters were using in 2015. The PRS tracks how top competitors place in major rifle matches across the country. These are the major leagues of sniper-style competitions, with targets typically from 300 to 1200 yards. These world-class shooters represent the best of the best in terms of long-range shooting in field conditions. For more info on the Precision Rifle Series and who these guys are, or to view what other gear they’re running scroll to the bottom of this article.
The Evolving Art of Shooting Bags
First, you should understand virtually all of these guys carry multiple shooting bags. There is no hard and fast rule on what size and style of bags the top shooters are using. The use of bags is a rapidly evolving art, so it changes every year. It wasn’t that long ago when everyone was just using an old sock filled with sand! In fact, very few of the top bags even existed 5 years ago, and new designs are coming out constantly as shooters dream up new ways to use them.
In general, it’s common to see competitors carry 2-3 different size bags. That may seem excessive, but having the right bag can make the difference between a rock-solid position where you clean a stage … or one where you’re wobbly/uncomfortable and miss a few targets. Each person may carry a different mix of sizes, but the more versatile the bag the better. Here are a few sizes and types of bags that are common in these types of competitions:
- Small/medium handheld squeeze bag that is ideal to use under the butt of the rifle when shooting prone. You squeeze the bag or release your grip to make minor vertical adjustments to your point of aim. This bag may be attached to the sling or a flush cup on the butt of the rifle to keep it handy.
- Medium barricade bag that can be attached to the rifle and used as a rest on top of barricades (sometimes attached with a strap around the scope or bipod, or attached with Velcro under the forend)
- Large/XL pillow-type bag to help build a stable shooting position by filling large voids and increasing points of contact. Some feature elastic bands which allow the shooter to wear them for quick hands-free use.
The bags above just represent a few options. You’ll see a full array of sizes and uses at a match, with new bags coming out every month. But hopefully this helps you see the wide range of ways guys are employing bags out in the field.
Many guys also stack/combine bags in creative ways to build a shooting position, or even mix in their backpack as an XXL bag. I’ve watched a few of these top shooters make a tough stage look surprisingly simple. They’re masters at building stable shooting positions, and much of that comes down to the effective use of shooting bags.
Most Popular Shooting Bags
I asked the top 100 shooters “What brand is your favorite shooting bag?” The results are shown below. The different colors on the chart indicate where the shooters finished. A black bar represents shooters who finished in the top 10, the dark blue is shooters who finished 11-20, and so on. Darker colors represent shooters that finished closer to the top, where lighter colors are farther from the top … but all of them finished in the top 100, so they’re all outstanding shooters.
Wiebad shooting bags were on top again this year, with almost half of the shooters claiming them as their favorite shooting bag! Wiebad is a pioneer and innovator in this space, offering a range of bags to choose from. They’ve also worked closely with top competitors to make bags designed to their specs. Robert Badgett at Wiebad said these are their bestselling bags:
I asked Robert if they were working on any new shooting bags, and he mentioned a couple of things. First, they’re working on new modular versions of their popular Tac Pad and Pump Pillow. This design allows the shooter to adjust the inner fill based on shooting positions and/or personal preference of tightness of the bag. Second, they’re developing a waterproof version of the Tac Pad and Pump Pillow that will also allow you to stuff it with clothes or other items you’d like to keep dry as a fill replacement.
TAB Gear was the next most popular brand of shooting bag. This year TAB Gear took over production of the Str8 Laced Bag. Thank you, TAB Gear! That Str8 Laced bag is a great design, but before they were impossible to find in stock. TAB Gear has fixed that problem, and they’re now in stock all over. 10 shooters said their favorite bag was a TAB Gear bag, and 9 said it was the Str8 Laced Bag. When I saw they were now both under the TAB Gear brand, I decided to combine the results on the chart. Honestly, I’ve personally purchased most of the bags in this post, and the Str8 Laced Bag is definitely my favorite rear bag.
Short Action Precision had the next most popular line of shooting bags. They make the SAP Run n’ Gun bag, which I’ve seen many shooters running this year. It is 7” x 4.5” x 3” and weighs just 6.5 ounces! It can be used as a rear bag or strapped on as a barricade bag. One side has a non-slip surface, and it also features a flush cup attachment. I bought the Run n’ Gun bag earlier this year … and it’s one I rarely leave at home. It’s a very versatile bag with just the right features. Well done on this one, SAP!
Rifles Only’s FTW bag was also popular among this group of shooters.
The Sage Flats Rear Bag was another popular shooting bag, with a few shooters claiming it as their favorite.
3 Gun Gear is the maker of the Tactical Shmooshie bag. Yes, that’s the real name of it. It’s a large pillow-type bag that is helpful for positional shooting.
Red Tac Gear was listed as another favorite. They offer the classic cylindrical squeeze bags.
ESC Dynamic Gear is a new brand that just popped up on the radar, and while they weren’t represented in huge numbers … one of the top 5 shooters was using them. I went and checked them out and they’re offering some pretty cool bags. They actually have 3 sizes, which perfectly align with the 3 examples I gave at the start of this article: The Leech Rear bag, Bentham Barricade bag, and Large Shooting bag.
Finally, one shooter claimed the Shoot Zero Money Bags as their favorite. I saw these at a match earlier this year, and they seemed like great designs. They have 2 popular: Missionary (8”x6”x4”), and Big Bag (12”x10”x8”).
Other “What The Pros Use” Articles
This post was one of a series of posts that look at the equipment the top PRS shooters use. Check out these other posts:
- Calibers & Cartridges
- Scopes & Reticles
- Rifle Actions
- Rifle Chassis & Stocks
- Rifle Suppressors & Muzzle Brakes
- Shooting Bags
- Bullets, Brass, Primers & Powders
- Special Bonus Post!
Meet The Pros
You know NASCAR? Yes, I’m talking about the racing-cars-in-a-circle NASCAR. Before NASCAR, there were just a bunch of unaffiliated, regional car races. NASCAR brought structure by unifying those races, and created the idea of a season … and an overall champion. NASCAR identified the top races across the country (that were similar in nature), then combined results and ranked competitors. The Precision Rifle Series (PRS) is like NASCAR, but for rifle matches.
The PRS is a championship style point series race based on the best precision rifle matches nationwide. PRS matches are recognized as the major league of sniper-style rifle matches. These matches aren’t shot from a bench or even on a square range. They feature practical, real-world field conditions, and even some improvised barricades and obstacles to increase the difficulty from hard to you-have-to-be-kidding-me. You won’t be able to take all shots from a prone position, and time stressors keep you from getting to comfortable. Typical target ranges are from 300 to 1200 yards, but each PRS match has a unique personality with creative stages that challenge different aspects of precision shooting. You might start off the day with a single cold bore shot on a small target at 400 yards, then at the next stage make a 1400 yard shot through 3 distinct winds across a canyon, then try to hit a golf ball on a string at 164 yards with no backstop to help you spot misses (can’t make that up), then see how many times you can ring a small 6” target at 1000 yards in 30 seconds, next shoot off a roof top at 10”, 8”, and 6” targets at 600 yards, followed by a speed drill on 1” targets at 200 yards and repeated at 7 yards … plus 10 other stages, and then come back tomorrow and do some more! Many stages involve some type of gaming strategy, and physical fitness can also come into play. For a shooter to place well in multiple matches, they must be an extremely well-rounded shooter who is capable of getting rounds on target in virtually any circumstance.
There are about 15 national-level PRS matches each year. At the end of the year the match scores are evaluated and the top ranked shooters are invited to compete head-to-head in the PRS Championship Match. We surveyed the shooters who qualified for the championship, asking all kinds of questions about the equipment they ran that season. This is a great set of data, because 100 shooters is a significant sample size, and this particular group are experts among experts. It includes guys like George Gardner (President/Senior Rifle Builder of GA Precision), Wade Stuteville of Stuteville Precision, Jim See of Center Shot Rifles, Matt Parry of Parry Custom Gun, Aaron Roberts of Roberts Precision Rifles, shooters from the US Army Marksmanship Unit, and many other world-class shooters.
Think of the best shooter you know … it’s actually very unlikely that person is good enough to break into the top 100. I know I’m not! I competed against a few of these guys for the first time earlier this year, and I was humbled. It’s incredible what these guys can do with a rifle. For example, the match in Oklahoma I was in had a station that required you to engage 4 steel targets scattered at random distances from 300 to 800 yards, and you only had 15 seconds! I think I hit 2, and rushed my 3rd shot. I didn’t even get the 4th shot off! But, one of these guys cleaned that stage with 4 seconds to spare! Yep, he got 4 rounds on target at distance in 11 seconds. That’s the caliber of shooter we’re talking about. It’s very different from benchrest or F-class competitions, but make no mistake … these guys are serious marksmen.