In this post, I’d like to highlight some cool new products I saw from Really Right Stuff (RRS) at SHOT Show 2018. First, I’m not a RRS fan-boy. I’ve been using a Gitzo GT1542 Mountaineer Tripod with a RRS BH-55 tripod heads for the past year or two, but I don’t own an RRS tripod. But after seeing the new products they just introduced … I’m probably about to own a few things they offer.
Some of these products may seem like minor improvements, and I’m sure lots of guys walked past the booth and didn’t get as excited as me … but as I thought through the flexibility they’d provide or how they’d help me in the field … they didn’t seem like small things to me. Honestly, there are two of these products that I’ve attempted to fabricate myself (with little success), so when I saw them as commercial products, I got pretty excited.
Tripods have become increasingly popular in precision rifle competitions, and they’ve come a long way in the past few years. We started with photography tripods and homemade rests. Today, we have rifle-specific mounts and tripods that are extremely solid, lightweight, and provide a ton of stability. RRS is leading the industry for shooting tripods. RRS products are expensive, but most shooters are convinced they’re the gold standard.
But rifle tripods are popular for more than just rifle matches. My 8-year-old daughter went hunting with me for the first time this year, and with my tripod/rifle setup she was able to shoot 2 coyotes, 2 feral hogs, and a mature whitetail buck that grossed over 140 B&C (low-fence, fair-chase)! All of those were clean one-shot kills, because even an 8-year-old girl can get steady on a good tripod setup! So if you’re a hunter, you might also should tune in on this post.
Intro to the RRS Dovetail
For guys who may be new to this, I’ll give a quick intro to the connection these tripods use, because that is a big part of why they’ve become so popular. RRS has been offering dovetail quick-release systems for a long time. This type of connection was introduced by a company named Arca-Swiss in the 90’s, and is commonly used in high-end photography. It seems like this kind of connection gets referred to by a lot of different names: Arca-Swiss Mount, Arca Rail, or 1.5” Dovetail … but I’m just going to call it the RRS dovetail for simplicity. It is based on a plate that is 1.5” wide with a 45° dovetail cut into two sides of it (the length of the plate can vary). When RRS expanded their business a couple of years ago by adding a shooting sports division, they just brought that same clamp style over with them that they’d be using for their photography products.
This dovetail-style clamp has a lot of advantages. First, the 1.5” wide footprint provides a wider base for increased side-to-side stability. Also, the lock-up on this system is much tighter by design than other systems. I used the popular Manfrotto RC2 Quick-Release System for years, and the RRS dovetail has much less play in it. The connection is even stronger if you use a connector with a lever to close the clamp, like what RRS does. I’ve fired a 338 Lapua Mag from a tripod attached with the RRS Dovetail clamp, and it doesn’t slip a bit under recoil … but is still very quick to attach/detach from the tripod.
That’s why this style of mount has become the gold standard in the shooting world over the past couple years. But there is a problem with this kind of mount. If you want to attach a rifle to a tripod with one of these heads on it, you have to figure out how to mount one of these 1.5” dovetail plates to it. RRS offers options for a variety of rifle chassis, and this year at SHOT I saw several new products that allows you to do the same thing to stocks. Here are just a couple of examples, including one I saw in the Manner Stock’s booth with an “Universal Arca Rail” made by Area 419, and the other was new product from Seekins Precision:
The MPA Competition Chassis has this dovetail cut integrated into the full length of the forend, so it can attach directly to an RRS dovetail clamp without the need of additional parts. Because it is cut directly into the aluminum of the chassis, means it is a rock-solid lock-up and you don’t have to worry about screws holding a plate possibly coming loose. The less connections and interfaces, the better. I also noticed at SHOT Show that the new XLR Envy Chassis has a RRS dovetail inlet for mounting directly to a tripod. This seems like the way all chassis manufacturers should be headed. Here is a great photo, courtesy of Jonathan Ocab (who has a great rifle blog), that shows the integrated dovetail rail on the MPA chassis. Honestly, that full-length integrated rail seems completely ideal to me, which is why I run the MPA chassis on my match rifles.
That brings us all up-to-date … so let’s talk about new products:
Clamp To RRS Dovetail & Picatinny!!!
RRS just released a new clamp design that not only allows you to attach to a 1.5” dovetail plate … but it also will clamp onto any picatinny rail! This might seem like a small thing, but it provides much more flexibility. You no longer are required to have one of their gun-specific adapters to attach to a tripod.
This new clamp design also features a different lever. Up to this point, RRS clamps had a wrap-around lever design. This lever was easy to use, but it could sometimes get in the way. For example, the balance point of most precision rifles is just in front of the magwell, so that’s where you’d want to clamp them into the tripod. That wrap-around handle would sometimes hit the magwell, and keep you from closing the clamp … so you’d have to slide the clamp away from the magwell slightly and then close. Even if it clears the magwell, it can be harder to reach the wrap-around lever when you want to open it back up. It’s not a huge inconvenience, but when you’re on the clock … it can be a pain.
This new, flip lever is compact and more like other quick-detach levers in the firearms world (like those from LaRue or American Defense). The more compact design is less likely to interfere with equipment, and is more at home when using it on accessories like a bipod.
Speaking of bipods, another thing about this new clamp that I’m excited about is RSS will soon be offering small picatinny rails that can be mounted directly to the bottom of any of their clamps. At the Heat Stroke match in Oklahoma last year, I was in a squad with Jon Pynch, a two-year top 10 finisher in the PRS. Jon was running an MPA Competition Chassis with a full-length RRS dovetail, even before that was a standard option from MPA. He had also taken a generic RRS clamp, and custom-made a picatinny rail that he attached to it. Then he attached his bipod to that picatinny rail. Jon let me snap a few pictures of his setup during the match:
I actually think Jon’s setup is ideal. RRS does offer parts that allow you to attach a Harris or Atlas bipod, which allow you to skip the picatinny rail all-together. Why have a picatinny rail when you can go straight to the RRS dovetail? Well, there is a good reason.
- Why have a dovetail clamp on a bipod? The dovetail mount allows you to clamp the bipod down anywhere on the rail, so it can be way out on the forend for the best stability when prone, or right next to the magwell if you’re on a barricade. Often times if you are shooting off something small like the top of 55 gallon barrel, you obviously can’t lay out prone on it. But if your bipod is close to the magwell you are still able to get a solid rest with a bipod for front support and a rear bag under the grip. Being able to quickly change the location of the bipod on the forend can really help you adapt to get stable positions on barricades.
- Why still have a picatinny mount on a bipod? See the bipod spigot coming out of the front of Jon’s forend on the MPA chassis? That is a picatinny rail that allows you to attach a bipod a little closer to the bore. That keeps the overall height down, and also makes it so that when the bipod is folded you have a slimmer overall profile for the rifle (i.e. the bipod legs are closer to the barrel, and don’t hang down so far). That can be an advantage in some niche circumstances. But also, I was thinking you could take the bipod off the clamp, and then use the picatinny rail to attach other accessories to the rifle … like a small bag. I thought a small, lightweight bag that was easy to attach/remove and slide up or down the forend might be helpful on rooftop stages or other barricades. It wouldn’t have to strap to the rifle, where it might slide around or get in the way. It could attach to the picatinny rail with a QD attachment, and then you could use the clamp to move it to any position on the forend. It seemed like a pretty good idea, although I’ve yet to spend time fabricating a bag to mount to a picatinny rail.
If you have a dovetail clamp with a picatinny rail on it, it seems like you have a very adaptable and extensible solution. There are a lot of possibilities. But I could never find a rail that was made to align with the screw holes on the RRS clamp. So like Jon, I custom-made my own … and it took longer than I anticipated. But now RRS is going to offer that simple little picatinny rail, which is ready to be mounted onto any of their clamps. It’s a small thing, but it now allows you to have an out-of-the-box solution that provides a lot of flexibility.
I’m told they’re still a couple of weeks out from offering the picatinny rail that can be attached to any of their clamps, but here is a link to the new SC-LR clamp:
New Anvil-30 Ballhead and Tripod
Recently, the most popular RRS tripod for shooting was the TVC-33 Tripod with a TA-3 Leveling Base. This legs on this tripod have a bigger diameter than traditional photography tripods, which give it better stability for heavy rifles. The apex of the tripod doesn’t come to a point with a head like most tripods, but instead is wider and can be used with a leveling base and clamp as shown in the photo below. This kind of leveling base keeps the center of gravity lower and provides a slightly wider stance, but only allows +/- 15° of angle adjustment.
At SHOT Show, RRS released their new Anvil-30 Ballhead, which was purpose-built for shooting from the ground up. Here are a few photos of this new setup, courtesy of Jonathan Ocab of ocabj.net, who also had a write-up on this from SHOT Show 2018:
The design tries to combine the best features from both leveling bases and ballheads while minimizing the limitations of each system. Compared to the leveling base and clamp head this design allows a huge range of motion, as you can see in the photo.
Compared to the RRS BH-55 Ballhead, the Anvil-30 is a much simpler design, because they removed the extra knobs and adjustment settings that aren’t used often in the firearms world. It also has a lower profile and center of gravity.
The levers on the ballhead are also very easy to operate, even under stress. They’ve taken the sharp edges off the lever, and made it a little more compact. The clamp potion of the ballhead is similar to the SC-LR clamp I already covered. It has the same lever style, and can also attach to a 1.5” dovetail or picatinny rail.
This new ballhead and tripod is a very lightweight solution, which should be very appealing to long-range hunters. It shaves at least a ½ pound off the lightest configuration of the TVC-33. Another benefit is that their TV-33 tripod was very bulky, because of the wider apex, which had a 15.75” circumference. This new ballhead is 10.5” at the widest point, so it folds down into a more compact package.
And how strong is it? The tripod had a custom rifle attached to it that likely weighed around 18 pounds, and then one of the sales reps grabbed hold of it and swung back and forth with his feet off the ground … in addition to the weight of the rifle! They told me the TFCT-34 tripod was rated for 50 pounds, but the rep said he weighed a little more than that and smiled. All of their load ratings are done in a worse-case scenario with the tripod legs sprawled out as far as they’ll go, which is almost parallel to the ground. I’d bet this tripod could easily support a 150 pound rifle, which means it will be rock-solid with a 20 pound rifle in just about any position imaginable.
View Product Page for:
- Anvil-30 Ballhead $350
- TFCT-24L Tripod with Anvil-30 Ballhead $1320 (weighs 4 lbs 7 oz, 69″ max height, rated to 40 lbs)
- TFCT-34 Tripod with Anvil-30 Ballhead $1360 (weighs 4 lbs 11 oz, 60″ max height, rated to 50 lbs)
… I ordered the TFCT-24L Tripod with Anvil-30 Ballhead. I paid full-retail ($1320), and ordered it straight off their website 5 minutes before I published this. 😉 The entire setup for the tripod and ballhead weighs just under 4.5 pounds, it is very compact, and is rock-solid even with the heaviest precision rifles. Can’t wait to practice with this new tripod!
New Mountable Bag
RRS also showed off a new bag that can attach directly to any RRS dovetail. The only bag they plan to offer for now is the DRC Fortune Cookie from Wiebad, which is a similar concept to the Game Changer bag that is so popular in precision rifle matches. The reason these bags are so popular is because they can easily be wrapped around a barricade, pipe, log, tank trap, rooftop, etc. and essentially turn an uneven surface into a decent shooting platform. This bag from RRS also has a dovetail/picatinny clamp built-in on top of it.
Some bags, like the Game Changer, have straps that allow you to attach them to a rifle. This is convenient on stages where you have to move with the rifle or change positions. This seems like a great idea, except the bag still tends to roll to one side or the other. If you have to move to multiple positions, it seems like by the end of the stage the bag is always twisted to one side or the other … which isn’t fun to manage while you’re on the clock.
With either setup, the idea is to have your hands free, and reduce the number of things you have to think about or mess with while you’re on the clock. This dovetail clamp bag seems pretty ideal. Compared to strapping on a bag, the clamp approach will always keep the bag where it is supposed to be (i.e. it won’t twist out from under the rifle), and with the flip of a lever you can remove the bag in under 2 seconds with just one hand. That could be an advantage if you’re shooting from multiple barricades. You can also easily slide it up and down the forend if you are using an MPA chassis or have a stock with a full-length arca rail. … and you don’t have straps touching your barrel, so you know it won’t change your point of impact.
The mount on the bag can be rotated so that the horseshoe of the bag is either parallel or perpendicular to the barrel. That helps you adapt the bag to the direction of the barricade.
It seems like a pretty slick setup. The only downside I can think of is now you have a big metal clamp covering up one part of the bag. So if you wanted to use the bag without attaching it to the dovetail mount for some reason that might get in the way. But then again, it seems like if it was in the way … you could just connect it to the rifle, and then you’d have a more solid rest. Honestly, it seems like a pretty nice improvement to a popular shooting bag.
RRS is still working with Wiebad to get these produced, and they haven’t released the pricing or the product on their website yet … but I’d expect it to be up soon.