Athlon Optics Tripod

Not Just For Cameras

Offhand, three sticks up front and a tripod under the armpit is a lot to manage; but it’s an effective ploy.

We had climbed into gray soup, up, up, on a slope with no top. When the fog stalled ahead of us, we sat. There, the ghillie pulled out a telescope, extending tubes to duck-gun length. He steadied it on his walking stick at arm’s length, and squinted into the 25x glass. This is how he and his forebears had found untold numbers of Scottish stags. I marveled the stick kept the telescope quite still. But it did move — to his pulse, his labored breathing, even to the light breeze nudging the fog.

A ball head offers quick adjustment on multiple axes. A must for cameras, spotting scopes and rifles!

This Arca-Swiss plate is furnished with Athlon tripods, which also accept Arca plates specific to rifles.

The Athlon CF32 is a high-quality, 5.7-lb. tripod with smooth, handy controls, 55-lb. capacity.

Changes In Attitudes

For most of us, telescopes have given way to spotting scopes and tripods have replaced staffs and crossed sticks. Techniques for steadying rifles have taken pretty much the same path. Wood cuts show soldiers in armor supporting primitive arquebuses on single sticks. Then crossed sticks became popular, as on the buffalo hunts for U.S. markets in the 1870s and on African safaris for yet another century. But two sticks have been largely replaced by three for plains game hunts. The third leg resists back-and-forth movement as the second does side-to-side motion.

The problem with three sticks is, even when bound where they cross, they’re hard to control. They clack about in the bush and when you need them fast, one always pops free like a wild hair as you hurry them into place. Most recently, Africa’s PHs pack commercial tripods — they’re easier to manage even on slopes and won’t shift about under the rifle at the pivot point.

Most unsettling about a forward support, no matter how many legs it has or how stable it feels, is the inability to control rifle movement behind point of balance.

Carbon fiber has recently made possible very lightweight tripods sturdy enough to fully support rifles as well as heavy spotting scopes. A model just catching my eye is the CF32, one in a series from Athlon Optics. The “32” refers to its largest leg diameter in millimeters, as do the CF36 and CF40. The CF29 shares the 32’s top leg diameter and maximum/minimum height (65″ and 9″) and folded length (26″). But the CF32 is load-rated to 55 lbs., the CF29 to 33 lbs. At 5.7 lbs. carrying weight, the CF32 is just 3 oz. heavier.

These tripods have four-section, 10-layer, vibration-damping carbon-fiber legs. Large diameters give the legs great strength and rigidity. To blend with landscapes, they’re wrapped in tough camo cloth secured with Velcro. Conical, hard-polymer feet grip floors without marring them and bite into all but the hardest ground, while also finding little fissures in rock. Spiked feet are optional but, in my view, unnecessary.

I like the deeply grooved rubber sleeves used to tighten leg extensions. They’re big enough to grasp easily; they snug the extensions so they don’t slip. In my experience, such sleeves last longer than do lever locks and resist snagging in the brush. Tabs where the legs pivot can be flipped to drop this tripod low enough to catch a rolling cantaloupe.

Well-equipped on top, each of these CF-series tripods comes with a bowl mount and a ball head, easily interchanged. A ball head, moving in all axis, is equally helpful under a spotting scope or a rifle as under a camera. A beefy, knurled knob seizes and loosens the ball head while a bubble level and a fluid pan lock give you full control. The head is also Arca-compatible.

The “Arca” or Arca-Swiss Rail is quite new to the shooting industry, though photographers know it well. Developed in the 1990s by a German company, it’s a simple, if not cheap, arrangement — a grooved, dove-tail plate slides in a clamp securing it in place. The tripod had the mating base, whose sides gripped the plate’s grooves. Loosening the base clamp allows the plate to slide fore and aft while supported, further loosening disengaged clamp from plate. Easy peasy.
What’s in a name?

Romantic, and effective enough for spotting red stags in Scottish hills, glassing like this has its limits.

What’s In A Name?

“Arca-style” attachments, it seems, are like “assault-style” rifles — not the real thing. Arca-Swiss plates and clamps are carefully machined to standard dimensions but other brand-specific look-alikes aren’t. The plate supplied with Athlon’s CF tripods is Arca-Swiss so an Arca rail on the belly of a rifle will fit it.

Arca-supported on the ball head of a tripod like the CF32, a rifle can pivot smoothly to point in any direction. Unlike a separate tripod or a bipod under the rifle’s forend, it requires no support on the butt. And, after the ball head is snugged, the rifle can’t shift fore, aft or roll. Unless you fall against the tripod, the reticle won’t bob as your heart refuses to pause for the shot. Delightfully, the rifle behaves as if solidly bagged on a bench.

Recently, I fired a Gunwerks rifle on a sturdy tripod with an Arca-Swiss base. The rifle’s forend wore a full-length Arca-Swiss plate. After sliding the rifle to its balance point and snugging base to plate, an eerie calm descended. Despite a brisk Wyoming breeze, the rifle was stone-still.

Gingerly, like a teenager on a first date, I eased up for a touch. It didn’t move. I cuddled up. A slight twist of the knob and the rifle yielded to my every wish. Centering the crosswire, I could almost see the sweat bead on the target. It had no chance. Five shots and a tight group later, firing from the tripod still felt like cheating — and this with its legs extended to offhand height!

The market is awash with cheap alloy tripods that when collapsed, almost fit into a daypack but they won’t hold a spotting scope steady, let alone a rifle. Looking or aiming through a perfectly steady glass is also a blessing to your eyes, which tire quickly behind jittery images.

When you can’t lie prone, a sturdy tripod mated to your rifle helps you hit from high positions. CF tripods from Athlon Optics list from $600 to $875. The CF32 comes in a penny shy of $725. Street prices have considerably less bite. A tripod making you steady can be well worth the cost of a hunt hanging on one game sighting. Or one shot.

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