A Special Treat

Things that are easy, convenient, and work well don’t come along very often.  Things that are worthwhile usually aren’t easy, you have to break your damn back to get anywhere in life, blah, blah, blah.  When I find something to the contrary, that is to say, efficiently effective, I’ll take it.  Yes, I found something good during all my crazy experimentation, group measuring and staticizing (made that word up).

I’ll have to refresh your memory, so let’s do some recapping.  In January I did a series of articles on the loop sling and how it works.  I followed that up by analyzing how well it works in comparison to no sling at all in a few positions.  Then I took a look at the hasty sling, even though I don’t like it, to give it a fair chance (and I’m still not a fan).  About the last thing I did was to put up an introductory article about the potential for the cross body carry (what folks tend to call ‘tactical’) sling to be used as a marksmanship aid.  I’ve had my analysis done since then, so the demo photos and shots of groups are old.  That’s where we’re picking things up.

Kneeling

I’ll give up the punchline first: the cross body sling and the kneeling position are like chocolate and peanut butter.  They go together like they were meant for each other.  Some other positions with the cross body sling stabilization were potentially useful in certain ways, others were okay, and several were just not good at all.

Why does the cross body sling stabilize so well in the kneeling position?  The broad answer is that it presents a happy confluence of factors.  I’ll show you how.

Remember that the conventional loop sling, which we’ll consider as our gold standard of sling support, works to take the place of all the muscles within its span.  Here are some photo reference reminders:

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Hopefully that conveyed the point that the taut span of webbing from the arm to the front of the hand, coupled with the structure of the bones and connective tissue of the hand, arm, and shoulder, allow for a much greater degree of relaxation in the position, especially when the support elbow can be rested on a stable surface.  It also allows for a freakishly consistent return to a finite natural point of aim because unlike a muscle, it’s a strap that ain’t goan stretch.

Let’s begin our examination of this cross body carry sling as used to support our position in kneeling.

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A few things come to mind.  I shaved the beard quite a while ago.  Pity.  If I ever buy beer again I’m probably going to get carded.  Next, when am I ever going to learn about that strong side foot making me shaky when it’s planted too near to the center of my gravity?  Also, I’ve lost about 20 lbs of fat since that picture was taken (I carried it pretty well, but I was riding at about 25%).  Don’t worry, I decided to keep the muscle and to keep getting stronger.

So from what you know about the loop sling, you should be able to tell that in the above photo the cross body sling, having been tightened to a snug setting, is supporting the rifle in an extremely similar manner.  The straight line of the sling from below the armpit to the support hand looks strikingly similar to that of the loop sling.  The primary difference is that the origin of the sling is on the butt swivel, and that the back has to support the sling tension, rather than just the support arm.

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The reason that this support works so well in kneeling is likely because of two things.  In kneeling, the back is nearly vertical.  This gives the sling something to hang on to.  Other positions tend to lean the torso forward, which causes the sling to ride up to the neck and lose the tension it needs.  The second factor is that the support elbow can be planted on the support side knee.  Like I said, a happy confluence of factors.

The feeling of the cross body carry support was very similar to the loop sling.  You may be able to see in the photo above that my support arm kept the sling from sliding up my back toward my neck.  That did contribute to some discomfort (achiness) in my shoulder area for a while after.  That’s not normal, but for shooting test targets and getting my photo taken by an eight-year-old, I spent some serious time in position.

The most pleasing part was the target.  I had comparisons to my performance with the loop sling and without a sling.  To ensure that I could record all my shots (i.e., not miss the target completely), I shot from 50 yards.  The pace was neither slow, nor rapid, but at my natural pace (which tends more toward the rapid, but I wasn’t in a hurry).  The black primary bull presents an 8 MOA (just a hair over 4″) target at 50 yards.

Kneeling, no sling:

Kneeling No Sling

Kneeling, loop sling:

Kneeling Loop Sling

Kneeling, cross body carry support:

Kneeling Tactical Sling

Interestingly, the loop sling group was narrow and tall, while the cross body supported group was short and wider.  Overall however, you can see that the cross body carry sling won this round.  I don’t think it’s a definitive indication that the cross body carry sling is more stable than the loop sling, but I will take it as an indication that performance between the two is sure darn close.

Given the relatively comparable precision of the loop sling and the cross body sling in the kneeling position, you have to consider the time necessary to utilize the support.  The loop sling can be fast, given a practical sling (or it can be unbearably slow, as is the case with the USGI web sling).  If you figure it takes about 3-4 seconds to go from port arms to a slung kneeling position with a Ching sling or RS-1, it’s not really an apples to apples comparison to go from carry mode in cross body to a stabilized kneeling position:

 

Incidentally, within the last week I finally got my RS-3, which is the sling in the video above, up for sale here.  I’ll say no more about it for now.  If you want to see why the written word is my preferred mode of communication, there’s a video at the link.

I found the cross body support useless in prone and in sitting.  There was a bit of support in squatting, but not so hot.  It does do something in standing and I’ll probably get to that sometime relatively soon.  It’s still nice to have a loop sling as a tool on the belt, and I think it’s definitely a necessity to have just in case, but for kneeling the cross body carry support is most definitely the way to go.

Timing

I wrote this in February or March, prior to going on break.  The really good parts I just added to it right now. 

This article will pertain to target shooting, where you have the luxury of making your shot on your time.

I’m getting to the point in my standing position where I’m almost happy with my level of precision.  Scary.  I’m sure the last MOA will be the toughest to shave off.

I think that if a relatively decent shooter were to look through my sight picture in the standing position and experience what my hold looks like, he would not believe that my average extreme spread for a 10 shot standing group is in the 5.5 to 7 minute range.  The limit of my hold is much larger than that.

The reason that I can group much better than my hold is that there is a moment where the hold steadies up, where all systems are go, and all that needs to be done is to press the trigger before the moment is gone.  After I spent a lot of time in the standing position, I realized that the skill of timing the shot release was allowing me to get easier results in other positions as well.  Any position that is not perfectly steady will show smaller groups if the shooter is able to time the release of the shot.

The ability to effectively time the shot depends on a few things.  The shooter must be able to control the trigger sufficiently well to allow for a very narrow window of time- probably a half second or less.  The shooter must be aware of his cycle of movement.  The shooter must have the patience and discipline to accept only the right moment and not one that is only ‘close’.  The sights resting briefly on the target is not the same thing as the sights crossing over it.  The shooter must also have a level of attention and readiness to fire that is always at the ready to recognize the right moment and seize it immediately.

Knowing Your Rhythm

The only way to get a feel for your personal cycle of movement is to do a lot of firing.  I do a lot of dry firing but in my case I needed live fire to really learn to take advantage of my cycle of movement.  I think for me it had to do with making live fire standing practice a routine thing so it didn’t feel so much like a test.  Dry fire probably set the skill, but it didn’t transfer directly to live fire without some work.

My own cycle of movement begins with a rather wide arc.  I usually take one breath after bringing the rifle up.  A second after I reach my natural respiratory pause, things usually begin to settle.  I don’t see figure eights, just sort of a happy meandering sort of movement.  If my position is properly balanced I will feel a sense of steady calmness about my position.  If my center of gravity is outside of my feet I will feel a sense of slight panic and urgency to quickly get the shot off.  If everything is as it should be I will only have a moment before things begin to break down.  For the most part I only get one optimum cycle each time I bring the rifle up, although sometimes I get two good shots before lowering it.

Knowing Your Hold

One of the things that has seemed to help my development in the standing position is using an appropriate sized target, or in my case an appropriate distance from my target.  Using a huge target is obviously a waste of time unless you just need an ego boost.  Using a target that is too small imparts a feeling of futility that results in reckless decision making when it comes to breaking a shot.  If there is already very little hope of hitting the target, the shooter is more likely to just to say, “Screw it,” and let a shot fly.

Using a target that is difficult, but potentially hittable 90% to 100% of time with a little luck or perseverance will allow for the shooter to relax and practice good decision making.  When I was working standing hard last December, I realized that my confidence was lacking at the 50 yard line with my 4” target.  It was on the day that I moved forward to 35 yards that my groups went from 10.590 MOA extreme spread to 6.775 MOA extreme spread.  Since then I haven’t gone back above 7.5 MOA in my ‘practical’ standing position, which is my normal one, and lately have been regularly between 5.5 and 6.5 MOA.

With that difficult to hit, but attainable target size, the shooter will be forced to pay attention to his movement cycle and make good decisions.  There are times when I’ll see what looks like the real window for firing, but I can tell if I’m really on top of things that it’s going to be too transitory to break a quality shot.  Great shots usually don’t come about when the muzzle is moving away from the target.  Only with experience will you know the difference.

Seize the Moment

You should have the feeling of a predator ready to pounce, but only when the time is right.  If you work enough on your hold, such as with holding exercises, you may become too accustomed to watching your sight without the intention to do anything about it when it is on target.  Sometimes the right time is only long enough to recognize it and fire and not one bit longer.  That’s not the time to be watching passively at your sight while your attention is on your balance or your breath.

When the sight is up, and you’re about the business of firing, your trigger finger should just be waiting for work like that homeless guy who uses newspaper to clean your windshield while you’re stopped at the intersection of Sunset and San Vincente.  You don’t really want him touching your car, but you have to admire his work ethic.  The sight resting on the target is like a Mercedes stuck at a fresh red light (it’s your cue that it’s GO TIME).  The trigger under your finger with the slack taken up is like the LA Times Opinion section in your hand, ready to wipe down that windshield, except unlike the LA Times hopefully it doesn’t completely suck.  Get after that windshield!  There might be a dollar in your immediate future, and a 40 of Mickey’s in your hand very soon!

That was so impressive I think I just have to leave it right there.  This isn’t the time for me to thank your for reading.  You should be thanking me now, shouldn’t you?

How to Define a Great Rifle Shooter?

First of all, yes I seem to be back writing.  It wasn’t a given.  I don’t know how much I’m going to do, how often, etc…  If it’s a win for both you and me then I will do it.  If one of us isn’t getting anything out of it, I probably won’t.  Since I don’t make money from the blog, it has to be worth my time in other ways.  Sometimes churning away at picky experiments is not worth it.  I’ll give out some updates on me later, and I do have unfinished (or simply undocumented) work from before I took my break, but first things first.

Part of a larger project I’m working on has me thinking about how to get close to one’s potential as a rifle shooter.  I suppose that has really been the point all along, but I don’t think we can have realistic hopes to reach a destination without defining where it is.  The last year has been a big leap for me as a shooter, and it has changed the way I look at the journey of the rifleman, both in front and behind me.

Looking behind me, it’s clear that I didn’t really know where I was going, and it was hard to recognize the path.  In hindsight I can see it more clearly, and recalling the route that I’ve taken shows that I probably spent as much time wandering off on side journeys instead of keeping to the most direct route to where I am now.  Some bushwhacking isn’t harmful, but maybe I could have saved some time and maybe more than just a little money if I’d been more efficient.  That’s the problem with being your own teacher.

Part of what is missing in the orienteering tools that the average do-it-yourself is a standard of excellence to act as a beacon to guide him along his path.  This started gnawing at me sometime last year.  Really, it’s been longer than that, and it was part of the reason I started this blog.

Other fields have standards.  Hobbies have standards.  Competitive bodies have standards.  So why do we lack them?

One could argue that we do have standards.  There are some, and there are even some good ones that address certain aspects of shooting.  I’m familiar with some professional standards, but the problem is that they tend to ensure that the candidate is practically guaranteed to prove his suitability for the position, rather than to actually test it.  What we lack is a comprehensive set of standards for excellence in the many facets of rifle shooting.

Part of the difficulty lies in the diverse applications of the rifle.  Excellence can really only be defined in terms of how effectively it accomplishes a given task.  No single standard can be reasonably expected to provide an adequate measure of every application.  So the logical first step is figuring out what types of skills we need to have yardsticks for.  Here are those that come to mind, just off the top of my head:

  • Close range, high speed.
  • Medium range, time sensitive, general marksmanship. I’ll arbitrarily define medium range as 100-500, though other variables could alter that.  This would be Appleseed’s realm of specialty, using non-scaled targets at full distance.
  • Medium range field shooting, e.g. the Cooper standards.
  • Surgical shooting- small targets in conditions and/or distances that don’t require complex accounting for trajectory or environmentals.
  • Precision shooting in the environment- up to long range, which I’ll arbitrarily define as 1000 yards, possibly extreme long range, >1000 yards.

I believe that any standards devised with the intention to measure the above, or any other modes of rifle shooting, should include the requisite rifle handling skills (loading, reloading, clearance) that would be reasonably expected in that venue.

Another thing to consider is the value of versatility.  Can a specialist really be considered a great rifle shooter?  In my mind, the answer is no.  Can someone who is only a generalist?  I don’t think so, but I’m interested in hearing what you have to say.

Normally, when I have written something and published it on the blog here, I have the entire series of articles ahead of it all done.  At least if not done, I know what I want to say, or what I want to look into.  This time that is not the case.  I’m open to feedback.  In fact, I probably can’t get through this without some feedback from shooters who have already attained some level of excellence in some of the niches of rifle shooting I outlined above.  Since this site is used as a free resource for a lot of budding riflemen and riflewomen, any help you provide could become very useful for others.

As always, thanks for reading.

 

Cross Body Carry Sling

aka ‘Tactical’

I don’t know quite what to call this mode of carry.  I most commonly see the word ‘tactical’ associated with it, but it’s an overused word that is often used in a way not in accordance with what the dictionary says it means.  I think that using descriptors that are actually descriptive is a better policy.  If anyone has a suggestion for a better standard descriptor for this type of carry please let me know.

The primary advantage cross body carry is that it’s extremely handy and secure.  You don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to see that, so I don’t feel that I need to address it.  What I am more interested in looking at is its use to stabilize the rifle.

It has become increasingly common to use the cross body style sling as a shooting aid.  People like my friend Russ Clagett, and Kyle Lamb (whom I do not know) have been using slings like the VTAC for not only carrying, but for stabilizing the rifle as well for years.  It’s an interesting concept that seems as though it may have some merit to it.

Weight Distribution:

One interesting aspect of the cross body carry sling when used as support that distinguishes it from other types of slings is that the sling is still essentially in carry mode during shooting.  Standard forms of the 2 point sling involve shoulder carry and removal of the rifle from that mode of carry to shoot.  Since cross body carry distributes the weight of the rifle on the shoulder and back, I wondered how much of the weight is distributed to these areas during shooting.

When the rifle is raised horizontally to fire at a target downrange, the weight distribution that the sling carries changes as compared to carry mode.  Raising the rifle changes the position of the rifle and sling, and will remove the weight of the rifle from the back and shoulders.  If the sling isn’t adjusted tighter as compared to carry mode the sling will not likely bear any of the weight of the rifle.

The type of cross body carry slings that are useful for stabilizing the rifle will have some type of quick adjuster that allows the user to rapidly tighten and loosen the sling.  The range of adjustment needs to be rather wide in order to utilize the sling for support.  The adjustment also needs to be reliable enough to hold when it needs to hold and to adjust when it needs to adjust (the other way around is bad).

I measured the weight of the forend of the rifle in shooting position by shouldering the rifle as normal, then removing my support hand from the forend and setting the forend on a kitchen scale.  I measured both with and without a taut sling in cross body carry mode.  The total weight of the X15 with sling, Atlas bipod, ACS-L stock, and SWFA SS 3-9×42 with a Nightforce Unimount is approximately 9.2 pounds.  With the rifle shouldered the forend weight was approximately within the range of 4.7 and 4.9 pounds.  With the cross body type sling cinched up the approximately forend weight was within the range of 3.9 and 4.0 pounds, or approximately 82% of the weight without the sling cinched.  It would seem as though the slight weight reduction would be of benefit in the standing position, where the arm and shoulder bear much of the rifle’s weight.

Tension:

In the loop and hasty sling variations tension is very important.  Tension is what allows the redistribution of the rifle’s weight to stronger or more stable areas of the body.  Tension also can have the effect of restricting the rifle’s potential movement to a smaller arc than it would be capable of if it were free of the tension.  This has potential implications for flexibility in aiming, target acquisition, and target tracking.

I believe that sling tension can be detrimental if applied inefficiently.  Modes of stabilization such as the so called “hasty hasty” sling simply induce isometric forces (muscle fighting muscle to maintain a fixed posture) into the position.  This makes the position feel strong simply because of the muscle recruitment, but the idea of shooting is to be as efficient as possible.  Doing the same with less is usually the ticket to better accuracy and precision in rifle shooting.

Variations:

The way that the cross body carry sling affects the position varies a lot between positions.  I’m going to break them down in the next few articles, starting with kneeling.  I’ll see you next time.  Same bat time.  Same bat channel.

Hasty Sling- How Does it Work, if at all?

The most common method of using a sling to steady the rifle is the loop sling.  Although it’s the most common and probably the best, it’s not the only game in town.  The next most common method is known as the hasty sling.

Description

The hasty sling uses the full length of the sling from swivel to swivel.  The arm is simply thrust through the support side, the hand wraps itself by taking an outboard turn, and the rifle is shouldered.  The sling should pass snugly across the chest, say midway between the collarbones and nipples.  There should be a feeling that the back of the support arm pushes downward into the sling creating tension, and that the weight of the ‘system’ rests on the support side pectoral.  The overall length adjustment of the sling needs to be set so the tension of the sling will support the rifle.

In the following photos I used a model of my RS-2 sling that I made specifically to illustrate different aspects of sling use.  The color of the loop portion (front of the sling) is foliage colored and the rear portion of the sling is tan.  I apologize for the quality of the photos.  My photographer for this session was 8 years old, so you can blame this guy:

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We took him back to double the distance on the same target as compared to last time, and I convinced him to try out the X-15.  He nailed a 6 oz. water bottle from kneeling on the first shot at about 20 yards.

 

Unlike the loop sling, which is pretty simple to look at and figure out, the hasty sling takes a bit of investigation to understand the function.  It seems clear that the sling across the chest is an important part of the equation, and that perhaps the weight of the rifle at the forend is somehow cantilevered to be supported by the chest, but it makes no sense that a piece of material under the rifle support its weight.

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I’m not shooting up, and the slope of the scenery is not actually uphill.  The camera is canted.

What seems to actually be the case is that the sling offers tension to the position front and rear, somewhat like the loop sling.  Unlike the loop sling, which offers very simple and direct support by taking the place of the support arm muscles, the hasty sling offers an indirect support.  It’s kind of ingenious, but the hasty simply offers a place to set the support hand arm, in lieu of setting the arm against the ribs or against the chest.

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The weight of the rifle goes straight down the forearm and into the small section of sling just behind the triceps.  All that is supported by the tension of the sling against the chest nearest the support side (in my case the left side).

 

The portion of the sling just forward of the chest supports the support arm.  The support forearm is vertical or nearly so, which means it really doesn’t have to work to bear any of the weight.  Likewise, the support hand really doesn’t have to do anything because of the straight line vertical forces pushing right down into the sling.  The weight goes into the support side of the chest.

Perceived Effectiveness 

I used the hasty sling extensively in standing from about 2009 to 2011 or so.  About the time I started the blog in the summer of 2011 and started testing methods against each other I noticed in dry fire that my arc of movement was slightly smaller with the sling overall with the sling, but that it was not controllable at all.  Without the sling the overall movement was larger, but much slower, and I could control it enough to pause it for a moment. It’s the difference of having a guaranteed 12 to 14 MOA arc with the sling versus learning to stall the movement for long enough to break a shot.  I’m currently shooting groups in the 5 to 7 MOA range without a sling, and I think I’ve still got some room to shrink.

I believe that the hasty sling is a lot like the dark side of the force.  If Luke were asking Yoda about the hasty sling it might go something like this:

Luke: Is the hasty sling more precise?

Yoda: No. No. No.  Quicker.  Easier.  More seductive.

For that reason I think that the hasty sling is attractive to new shooters because it offers a really quick shortcut to a decent level of mediocrity without having to really figure out what makes the standing position work, kind of like force choking people instead of waving the hand and saying, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”  In one set of groups a beginner can get from a group that essentially not measureable without the sling to a 12 to 16 MOA group with the sling, which is probably good enough to get a passable score in the standing position on the AQT.  The problem is that I don’t think it gets much better from there.  It’s kind of like if you’re on the California trail in the 1800’s and some guy named Hastings tells you about this really cool shortcut, and before you know it you’re stuck in the Sierra Nevadas in the worst winter on record EVER, and you’re eating human flesh to survive.  You finally look down at your name tag and it says “Donner”.  Crap.  Probably should have just stayed on the regular trail.

Measured Effectiveness

I tested the hasty sling twice with the X-15.  The first time I just did it without any practice.  After I spent some time figuring out how to explain it, I kind of liked the concept and decided to practice for a week in dry fire and then try it again.  I intended on also trying it with the FN, but the transition to that rifle was too abrupt and I wasn’t feeling it.  I decided not to waste my time or ammo on it that day.

Day 1:

Standing No Sling:

Dtanding

Standing Hasty Sling:

Hasty Sling Standing

Day 2:

Standing No Sling

Standing

Standing Hasty Sling

Standing Hasty Sling

On the second day I shot groups I felt like I started getting into a groove with the hasty sling.  It felt a lot like it used to, where I would take a breath, watch the sight rise, then exhale and watch the sight fall steadily back toward the target.  As it settled back in at the respiratory pause I pressed the trigger.  That happened after the first shots, which were those wild ones top and bottom.  Even then, the group is still worse than my group with no sling.

As with the loop sling, the hasty sling slows the shooter down by forcing a more finite natural point of aim, and of course the time it takes to loop up.  So the normal position is much quicker, easier, and more practical in addition to being, for me at least, much more precise.  If more precision is needed, the target standing position without the sling is typically about a full minute more precise for me than the practical position.

To sum up: The hasty sling.  Learn it.  Love it.  Leave it.

Or just skip it altogether.

Feel free to prove me wrong by emailing me photos of your own groups.  The control group and the experimental group should be shot on the same day, close to the same time, under the same conditions, with the same equipment (with the exception of the sling, of course).

Let’s Muddy the Waters, Shall We?

So far I’ve gone over how the loop sling works, and have tried my best to give y’all an idea of how well it assists with precision in a few positions.  The nice thing to me about the loop sling is that because of how simply it functions, it’s easy to get an idea of how it might be employed most advantageously.

The loop sling is not the only way that people attempt to use slings to aid their marksmanship.  The hasty sling is relatively popular to use in standing, and the ‘tactical’ sling is gaining popularity in all sorts of positions.  The mechanisms that these methods use to enhance hitting ability has been less clear to me, and the claimed benefits have, in some instances (not all), seemed to me to be dubious.  I think that some folks thing that if you just wrap sumpin’ round the arm a time ‘r two, it’s bound te dubble accercy ‘tleast.

First Things First

I haven’t quite finished up with the loop sling.  “Why is that,” you might ask, “and why re-introduce it here and now?”  Well speaking of dubious claims… the issue is that I don’t think the loop sling is of benefit in the standing position.  I don’t use it and I don’t recommend it.

The fact that slings aren’t allowed in several forms of competition in which the standing position is used would lead me on its face to believe that the sling should be beneficial.  If it’s cheating, after all, shouldn’t it be more effective?  That alone keeps me barely open to the possibility that to some people it may be helpful.

What I have noticed, however, and several times, mind you, is that people who shoot well in standing are generally current or former competitive shooters.  In non-competitive settings where the only rules are safety rules, these shooters still don’t use slings in standing.  Hmmm.  This is what I have heard from them several times when they are instructing people in the standing position: “You should use a sling in standing because it will help steady your hold.  I don’t use one, but that’s just a bad habit I have from competing because of the way the rules are set up.”  Really???

Breaking the Surface

I don’t want to make this article too long, but I don’t want to leave you completely hanging.  Since I’ve done a bunch of no sling versus loop sling comparisons let’s start there.  I can sum up my disdain of the loop sling in standing by saying that because the support elbow is not supported the shoulder must still support the rifle’s weight, and the benefit of the loop sling is largely negated.

The following groups were shot with my Noveske uppered Mega lowered AR that I’ve been using to experiment various things.  Since it’s still experimental, I call it the X-15.  It currently wears the SWFA SS 3-9×42 with the old school mildot reticle, my prototype RS-3 sling, and I’m using ball ammo equivalent for the following groups.

Standing without sling:

Dtanding

Standing with loop sling:

Loop Sling Standing

In case you were interested I also shot using the more target oriented position without the sling as well:

Target Standing

Using the sling places constraints on the form of the position.  Normally I have my elbow ‘out’ and my support hand well forward of the sling stud.  With a loop sling that really doesn’t work, so I had to approximate how I would have my arm in the prone position.  I also needed more stock in my shoulder pocket in order to handle the rearward tension, which placed the rifle lower.  Because the rifle was lower I needed to lower my head to it.

My arc of movement was large and uncontrollable.  The easiest way to convey what the position with the sling felt like was that it reminded me exactly what it felt like to shoot in standing when I was a brand new shooter.  I was contorted into an awkward, uncomfortable position with my neck craned and my head hanging down to find the sight.  Since I couldn’t control anything or keep the rifle on the target, I was pretty much just trying to jerk a shot as the sight swung by.  Horrible.

Also, the loop sling position lacked pretty much any of the attributes that make standing useful for what it is in the field.  It was slow.  My ability to see my surroundings was severely compromised.  It was unnatural.  It was inflexible.  If I really needed to make the position more stable and had more time, the “target standing” position without the sling will do a bit better as far as precision, and will allow me to maintain a comfortable, balanced position.  The only thing I can say in defense of using the loop sling in standing is that I’m not at all used to using it.  Maybe someone who is used to it could do much better.

Extreme Spread:

‘Target’ Standing: 5.459 MOA
‘Practical Standing: 6.768 MOA
Loop Sling Standing: 10.043 MOA

Mean Radius:

‘Target’ Standing: 1.922 MOA
‘Practical Standing: 2.103 MOA
Loop Sling Standing: 3.410 MOA

In the next installment we’ll introduce the loop sling’s stepbrother Hasty and later their high speed low drag cousin Tac.

Sling vs. No Sling, Part 3: Kneeling

When I did my position testing last fall, kneeling was a big failure because I had a clean miss of my full sized sheet of paper at 100 yards that invalidated my results on my slow fire group (but strangely, not on my time stress or exerted groups).  Because of that, and also because my kneeling group has a likely effective range of between 30 and 60 yards on my 4” target depending on the acceptable hit rate, I decided to place the target at 50 yards.  It was foggy that day, so 50 yards was about maximum anyway.

Because of the role that kneeling fulfills in the shooter’s toolbox, it probably makes more sense to train on it without the sling.  It’s a fast, relatively imprecise position.  Looping up in kneeling is much like using the standing position as a target shooting stance.  It’s a little bit like trying to use an ambulance as a racecar.  Therefore dressing kneeling up to be accurate through use of a sling seems counterproductive.  Unlike standing, however, the support elbow does have something to set on in the kneeling position, which allows kneeling to benefit fully from the loop sling.  With a sufficiently fast and easy to use sling, such as the Ching sling or my RifleCraft slings, the loop can be donned as the body drops into the position, so it really doesn’t take too much time unless you are really in a hurry.

I fired two groups on the same day with the same ammunition.  As before, I used my FN for this comparison, shooting out of a single lot of Black Hills loaded 155 grain Amax bullets with a muzzle velocity of approximately 2684 fps.  The rifle weighs in at 15.0 pounds unloaded and balances at the front of the magazine.

Without Sling:

Kneeling No Sling

With Sling:

Kneeling Loop Sling

The wide right shot on the group without the sling was the first shot from that position, and was more of a timing issue that I blame on being caused from transitioning from the Noveske to the FN.  I’ve been thinking a lot about timing the shot after my recent intensive standing work, and I want to write about that soon.  Regardless, the bad shot happened and I’m obligated to count it.

The extreme spread of the group without the sling was 178% as large as the group with the sling.  The extreme spread of the no sling group was 8.622 MOA and the group with the sling was 4.826 MOA.

The mean radius of the group without the sling was 123% as large as the sling group.  The mean radius of the no sling group was 2.174 MOA and the mean radius of the group with the sling was 1.766 MOA.

I did not evaluate the time it took to get these shots off, which probably is a meaningful thing to look at.  My guess is that the first shot with the sling is going to be comparatively slow due to the time to sling up and find that perfect natural point of aim.  Follow up shots with the sling are likely to be quicker, as the rifle is steadier.

So far I think I can say that there is compelling evidence to support the contention that the loop sling improves precision in positions other than standing.  I cannot give a number for how much improvement there is, because it seems to be heavily dependent on variables.  I my own work I saw anywhere from the non-sling group being 203% as large as the sling group to the opposite end of the spectrum of the non-sling group being 83% as large as the sling group.  Which variables?  Probably rifle weight, baseline precision of the rifle in question, the shooting position, and the skill of the shooter.

As always, I suggest that you check this out for yourself.

 

Sling vs. No Sling, Part 2: Sitting

You may recall from my last article that shooting prone without a rest or sling to aid me was extremely difficult for me.  My groups were much worse.  My experience in sitting was quite different than my experience in prone without the sling.  My sitting position tended to support itself much better, and was qualitatively much closer to my experience with the sling than the sling vs. no sling in prone.

My clothing was messing with both the sling and non-sling sitting positions.  In particular I was wearing very warm boots that I bought for when I need to be outside and not moving around much.  The thickness of the boots was unfamiliar, and the snow didn’t seem to offer as much of a solid pad for optimum lateral stability.

 

IMG_7661
My normal footwear is in the center, for scale.

IMG_7653

 

Shooting without the sling demanded more of me than shooting with the sling.  I had to time the release of the shot more carefully, and I had to be more aggressive on the trigger to make it happen at the right moment.  My recent work in the standing position was very helpful in this regard.

Results below:

With Sling:

1-4-15 Cross Ankle Sitting with Sling
I was pleasantly surprised to see six of the shots in such a nice, tight cluster.  Incidentally, this is a bit better than my group in the same position in October.

 

Without Sling:

Cross Ankle Sitting no sling 1-4-15 FN

 

The extreme spread of the non-sling group was 38% larger than the sling group.  The mean radius of the non-sling group was 67% larger than the sling group.  The disparity between the numbers is because most of the sling groups were grouped in a tight cluster right at the point of aim, and the extreme spread number only counts the worst two shots.

As with prone, shooting without the sling was more physically demanding.  That, coupled with a normal length shooting session in cold weather, had me a bit worn out by the end.  I experienced a strange phenomenon in which my trigger finger was getting passive.  The “auto fire” seemed to have shut down, and I would see a perfectly good sight picture come and go without the gun firing.  In fact, I actually felt my shoulder buck instead of the shot firing in one instance, near the end.  You can also see that one shot went pretty horribly askew.

The First Experiment:

In December, in the midst of all my standing work, I tried the sling/no sling experiment with my AR in cross ankle sitting.  I got different results!

With Sling:

Sitting with sling

Without Sling:

Sitting without sling

In this case, the extreme spread of my sling group was 20% larger than my non sling group.  The mean radius of the sling group was 14% larger than the non-sling group.  I was more than a little shocked by that result.

What it means to me is that there is probably a continuum of how much a sling will actually help that depends on a few things.  The weight of the rifle is probably pertinent. The Noveske is much lighter than the FN.

I believe that the intrinsic precision of the rifle matters, as the sling will not squeeze blood from a rock.  In other words, if the rifle’s absolute baseline group size is larger than the difference between the shooter’s absolute level of precision in the sling and non-sling group,random dispersion could cancel out any ability to clearly see the difference between the two.  It was that aspect of the groups that convinced me to use the FN, so I could see the results with more precision.

Related to the above, I also believe that the more skill the shooter has, the more he can make do with less.  After I had practiced standing for two months, getting into a steadier position and using the same skills of deliberately steadying the hold, timing the shot to coincide with an acceptable sight picture and applying a high degree of follow through made it possible for me to use skill to compensate to a degree for the lack of a sling, especially in a rifle that isn’t so precise as to let me see the exact differences.  I think that a few years ago my non-sling group likely would have been significantly worse under exactly the same conditions with the same equipment.

Of course there is more than one way to skin a cat, such as a sitting position that uses no sling and beats the above conventional seated position, sling or no sling.  I’ve also done this experiment in standing, and hopefully I’ll be able to get kneeling in as well before the month is over.

How Does the Shooting Sling Work? Part 1: Prone

As in, “How well does it work?”  Continuing with the theme from recent posts, this article will only address the loop sling.

I have been using shooting slings to steady my aim in various positions for several years now.  Since the first time I used it I have always been sure that using a sling steadies me except in the standing position.  Since I have been using a sling, I really haven’t shot much without something to steady me up, be it a sling or some kind of support.  Why not use it if it helps?

It’s been so long since I’ve shot groups without a sling that I really don’t know how much it helps.  Honestly, although I fully believe it helps to the point of surety, I could not prove that it does or give an idea of how much.  I like to know things like this, so I decided to check.

Keep in mind that when viewing the following groups that I don’t pretend to be a valid sample size that will be relevant to the general population of rifle shooters.  I’m just one guy who shoots, and these results really only pertain to me.  You’ll have to find out for yourself if they pertain to you.

So far I have shot comparison groups of ten shots each in prone, sitting (cross ankle), and standing with and without the loop sling.  I regularly shoot with a sling in sitting, sometimes in prone, and never in standing because I don’t think it helps.

The Prone Position:

I don’t know how long it had been since I tried shooting in prone without a sling.  I typically use a bipod or try to find some support.  I used my FN PBR-XP with a McMillan A5 stock and Bartlien barrel (.308 Winchester) for this comparison, shooting out of a single lot of Black Hills loaded 155 grain Amax bullets with a muzzle velocity of approximately 2684 fps.  It still is wearing the Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50.  The rifle weighs in at 15.0 pounds unloaded, although I suspect that it might me a tick heavier with cartridges in it.  It balances at the front of the magazine.  I also shot a bipod group for a reference.

Range conditions were:

IMG_7645

Bipod and rear bag:

Bipod Prone 1-4-15

10 Shots Bipod Prone

Sling only:

Prone With Sling

Sling Prone FN 1-4-15

No sling:

Prone- No Bipod, No Sling

Prone- No Sling 1-4-15 FN

The numbers turn out like this:

Prone results chart

In comparing the bipod group with the sling group, the sling group was obviously larger in both measures.  The sling groups extreme spread was 19% larger than the bipod group.  The mean radius of the sling group was approximately 29% larger than the bipod group.  To be honest, I was surprised that so many of the shots were hitting so close to the target center with the sling.  It wasn’t until shot 9 that the group really opened up, and until that point I was wondering if I really do shoot better with the sling than with the bipod, as has been the case of late more often than not with the X15.

Without the sling I was in for a surprise.  After shooting it I don’t feel as though I was prepared for the difficulty of the challenge.  The first thing I noticed was that my natural point of aim was way different without the sling.  My body angle tended to be much more straight back.  It was also physically demanding.

The extreme spread of the non-sling group was 204% as large as the sling group.  The mean radius of the non-sling group was 259% as large as the sling group.  This represents the best case scenario for the non-sling group, as I had some doubts as to which hole in the target belonged to which shot.  In this case I would have been better off using a single target and shooting it 10 times, versus what I did, which works better when several bullet holes are on top of each other.

I was out of breath by the end of five shots (I shot 5, got up, loaded a mag, rested, then shot the next 5).  The rifle was heavy and it shook a lot.  I think that a lighter rifle would be easier to shoot, and would probably not exhibit so much more dispersion in comparison to the sling group.  I had to be quite aggressive on the trigger in order to get my shots off near intended point of aim.  My elbow did not seem to belong directly under the rifle as it would with the sling.  Instead my elbows were ‘bipoded’ out under the weight of the rifle, and they became progressively more so as I continued shooting.  You can see from the target that there were some questions about which shot belonged to which target.  The composite above represents a best case scenario, for a conservative comparison with the sling group.

I was not prepared for the impact that the lack of the sling had on my bolt work.  It’s much harder to work the bolt with the relative lack of resistance.  The sling simply keeps the rifle locked in and resistant to movement.  Without the sling, sometimes the movement of pushing the bolt closed was enough to unsettle the position.  There were a few instances in which the rifle would slide forward as I was closing the bolt, which made it tougher to close.

Next up will be the sitting position.