Sandbags and Lead Sleds: Best Ways to Stabilize Your Rifle

Lead sleds and sandbags. Which is best to stabilize your rifle? Is one or the other better under certain circumstances? Let’s have a look!

First, though, we have to look at how stable we need to make the rifle. I mean, isn’t stabilizing it with the sling sufficient? After all, if you’re a good marksman, you should be able to hold a rifle steady enough to do whatever it is you’re trying to do at the time, right?

One might think that, but sometimes, we need a little extra help. Maybe we’re sighting in a rifle scope, and we want to eliminate as much of the possibility of error as we can. Or perhaps we’re in the field, dealing with an awkward shooting position, and we’d like a little extra support. Then again, we could be on a tactical operation, setting up a shot that we simply cannot afford to miss.

We use bipods, lead sleds, sandbags, and other bags/rests as tools for stabilization.

Lead Sleds

A lead sled is a device that fully supports a rifle. It has a steel frame to support the rifle and provide solid, steady support and consistent accuracy for the rifle. Basically, it removes the human factor from accurately shooting the rifle. The lead weight is added to the sled to immobilize the rifle completely to prevent it from jumping around or affecting accuracy. The lead sled can be a good tool for zeroing in a new scope on the rifle. Again, because it removes any shooter error, if there are inconsistencies with the rifle or scope, the shooter doesn’t have to wonder if accuracy issues are related to user error.

A lead sled at the range.
A lead sled in use at the range. Useful for holding a rifle rock steady, they take the human equation out of shooting. They are, obviously, not very portable for field use. Photo courtesy of Battenfeld Technologies.

One concern, though, is that the lead sled might change how the rifle shoots. When the rifle is held by a person, the recoil pushes the rifle back into a soft holder (the shooter). The barrel and stock react a certain way by flexing. The key to accurate shooting is consistency, and holding the rifle the same way for every shot helps us achieve consistency.

With the lead sled, the rifle pushes back into the steel frame, which essentially prevents it from recoiling, which does not happen when a person holds the rifle. As such, the rifle’s harmonics could possibly be changed, causing the bullet impact to shift.

Training Aids

For new shooters who might flinch or be otherwise unsteady, the lead sled might be more useful—again, it removes the human equation when shooting and zeroing. Ultimately, though, a shooter needs to develop enough marksmanship to not need an aid like the lead sled.

It’s possible that the lead sled could help a new shooter grow accustomed to the sound of the rifle going off and experience the muzzle blast without the recoil. Possibly, it could aid in progressing as a more accomplished shooter, preventing bad habits at the start of their shooting journey.

Obviously, the lead sled is heavy, ungainly to transport, and weighs too much to be practically toted along in the field. It is strictly a shooting aid for the range to use on a bench. As such, its application is very limited. Additionally, the rifle can’t be swung around to accommodate a moving target, so the lead sled is further limited in that regard.

I don’t use lead sleds regularly. They’re not mobile and, for me, not very practical. I have enough skill to use a rest for my rifle and get excellent groups without having to second-guess whether the accuracy issues are me or the rifle.


Sandbags can be filled with numerous different media, such as sand (as the name implies), lead shot, or even lighter media, such as cat litter. I have a sandbag that’s filled with cat litter, which is a trick I learned during sniper school. The sandbag will still support the rifle, but it weighs much less than one filled with other media.

Lightweight sandbag supporting a rifle stock.
The author’s homemade sandbag, filled with cat litter, is very light in weight. When used in conjunction with a bipod, the sandbag elevates or depresses the rear of the rifle stock, allowing steadiness and a high degree of precision accuracy. Photo: Jim Davis.

Homemade Sandbags

I made the cat litter sandbag by pouring some cat litter into a plastic, sealable bag and then encasing it in another plastic, sealable bag (double-sealed, for good measure). Then, I sewed it into a piece of olive drab cloth to form the cover. I stored it in the pack that I used as a sniper, and it is still there, to this day, as a shooting aid when I need it.

The range where I shoot has some cloth bags that steel birdshot originally came in, and they are filled with sand. These bags are just about perfect for most uses we’d need them for at the shooting range. Normally, a few bags are placed at the front of the bench rest table, over which the forward portion of the stock is placed.

The rear of the stock is supported by the shooter’s hand or another sandbag that is placed underneath the stock. The advantage of the sandbag under the stock is that it can be squeezed to raise the stock of the rifle, which lowers the crosshairs on the target. Releasing the grip of the sandbag will allow the crosshairs to be raised on the target. In this manner, the crosshairs can be adjusted very minutely for a great deal of precision on target. It’s easy to achieve consistency, which equates to accuracy on target.

Other Combinations

In the field, we’d often utilize a bipod and sandbag combination when firing from the prone position. This creates a similar platform to the bench rest in that the bipod holds up the forward end of the rifle, and the sandbag can be placed underneath the buttstock. In this way, we can adjust the crosshairs onto the target while conserving as much energy as possible. As snipers, we’d often be in position for hours on end, so the ability to conserve energy for the long hall was paramount. Muscle fatigue would weaken our platform and cause shaking, which was a real issue.

Author with Savage MK II FV-SR and bipod.
In the field, a small sandbag placed underneath the rear of the stock helps when used with a bipod-supported rifle (in this case, a Savage MK II FV-SR). Photo: Jim Davis.

Sometimes, we’d set up a hide in a room or other part of a building. In such instances, we’d use whatever was at hand to stabilize the rifle. Sometimes, that included the bipod or a sandbag or two. The bottom line was to use whatever aids were available for stabilization.

Ruger American Predator rifle supported by a sandbag.
Here, a Ruger American Predator in 6.5 Creedmoor is steadied using a sandbag. Whenever using a solid object to stabilize the rifle, always try to ensure that the rifle stock does not have direct contact with a hard surface, as it can throw off the rifle’s zero. The scope is a Vortex Crossfire II. Photo: Jim Davis.

Things to Avoid

One thing to avoid, if at all possible, is resting the fore end of our rifle stock on another hard, solid object such as a window sill, rock, or tree branch. This is because when a round is fired, the hard object that’s in contact with our rifle stock can change the harmonics of the weapon and cause the bullet’s impact to shift. It’s better to put something soft in between the hard rest and rifle stock. A sandbag fills the bill nicely for the job, but if you don’t have one that’s handy, a folded-up coat or shirt can also serve the purpose.

Final Thoughts on Sandbags and Lead Sleds

It’s important for each shooter to choose the best method of stabilization for his or her needs and the situation. Given their weight and unwieldy nature, Lead Sleds are mainly a range proposition. We’re not going to be dragging one around in the field.

Heavier sandbags are mostly a range tool as well, given that they can be heavy to drag around in the field.

That leaves bipods and lighter-weight sandbags for use in field conditions. Stowing a lightweight sandbag or two in our backpack is not difficult. These days, various sandbags can be bought commercially, so shoppers can select whether they want heavy or lighter sandbags.

Experience will help to show which methods and tools work best for stabilizing your rifle. Other shooters can also be a wealth of information. Have fun in your search!

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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