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:

IMG_7671
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.

IMG_7708
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.

IMG_7714
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.

How Does Sling Design Affect Ease of Use?

A ton.

The last article provided my opinion, borne out by testing in the field, that any loop sling will produce results downrange similar to that of any other loop sling in terms of precision.  I have to leave out dedicated competition gear from the discussion because I have no opinion to offer there.  So what, then, is the difference between one sling and the next?

There are a few attributes in slings that define what a sling is best for.  The attributes I can think of at the moment are reliability, durability, loop stability, comfort, adjustability, and rapidity (ease) of looping up.  Some of these tend to be directly related, such as reliability and durability.  Others are generally inversely related, such as reliability versus ease of adjustment, illustrating that every design is a tradeoff intended to fulfill a specific goal of the designer.  Other attributes are unrelated, such as reliability and ease of looping up.

I tend to think of reliability in terms of design and durability in terms of materials.  Durability simply means resistance to rot, wear and breaking.  Slings that come to mind with durability issues are the leather 1907 and the cotton USGI web sling.  Leather and cotton are both subject to break down and rot much more readily than nylon or biothane.  I have had no personal problems with either sling in this respect, so taking care of the sling may delay such wear to a great degree.  Leather is very hard to cut, but it does have a propensity to stretch, which brings us to reliability.

For people who depend on their guns, reliability is usually at the top of the list of demands.  In a sling, reliability means that the sling will not fail to fulfill its role as long as it is not broken.  In carry mode if the sling fails, the rifle falls, possibly subjecting it to damage (or at least some doubt as to its zero).  In shooting mode, if the sling fails, the loop fails to take the place of the arm muscles in supporting the rifle and the benefits to precision are lost.  The only slings that have ever failed for me personally in either function have ironically been military slings.  The leather 1907 sling’s adjustment holes tend to elongate, which allows the ‘frog’ hooks to slip out rather easily.  The hook can slip out when the sling is not under tension, which makes for a surprise when tension is applied.  Competition shooters either buy new slings or sew the holes to re-tighten them.  On the USGI web sling, the adjuster that makes the sling so easy to adjust on the fly can come open if it’s worn or not closed tightly enough, which will give a similar unpleasant surprise.  Both have happened to me under normal, casual conditions.  The loop can be under significant tension during shooting, and many of us have heavy and expensive guns, so reliability is very important.

Loop stability is an interesting subject.  Fundamentally, loop stability is dependent on two things: the proper fit of the rifle to the shooter and sound technique.  There is a sweet spot for the placement of the front swivel.  If the stud is placed too closely to the shooter, his support arm will be choked up uncomfortably and the point of his elbow will be placed on the ground in the prone position.  If the forward stud is mounted too far forward, it will allow the support hand to be placed so that the upper part of the support arm flattens out.  This gives the sling loop less of an angle to grab onto the arm, which can make it susceptible to slippage.  Likewise, if the shooter places the loop too low on the support arm it will not have the full triceps to ‘grab’ and will be more likely to slip.

With a properly set up rifle, any quality sling will remain stable in its spot high on the support arm.  With a less optimal setup, some slings will slip more than others.  Constrictor slings tend to slip much less than static loops, the USGI web sling being top in this regard.  Static loops vary widely based on the webbing thickness, how slick the webbing is, and what type, if any, mechanisms are available to close the loop over the support arm (a disadvantage of the Ching sling).  Thinner webbing may bite more, but thicker webbing will spread out whatever friction the material has to offer, so it’s a balance based on the materials.  The degree of slipperiness of the material really depends on who makes it.  Leather can be really slick or it can grab well.  Cotton usually grabs well.  Nylon is typically slick, my RifleCraft slings are exceptions to this.  The nylon in my slings is more coarsely woven and tends to grab like cotton.

Comfort is not a difficult thing to get from a sling, but the designer has to have thought it through just a bit.  The key to a comfortable sling is keeping hardware away from contact with the shooter.  This is what was so disappointing to me about the TAB gear sling.  They put the loop adjustment right where the support hand is wrapped.  The support hand takes a good deal of the recoil force, which causes some pain.  When the shooter starts associating pain with the gun firing, bad things happen to his precision.  The mark of good gear is that it functions unremarkably without drawing the shooter’s attention.

Adjustability is tricky.  It’s hard to find a free lunch here.  I mentioned above that ease of adjustment is generally inversely related to reliability.  Of loop slings, the easiest loop to adjust is the USGI web sling due to its cam lock buckle.  This, along with its cheap price, makes this sling a nice choice for new shooters who are just learning to use a sling, and have low demands for rapidity of looping up or reliability.  The adjustment on the USGI web sling is infinite within its length, which means that if the shooter feels the need to have specific settings for different positions, they will need to be marked (not a big deal).  The 1907 is nearly as easy to adjust, but the adjustments are limited by holes every inch or so (not a big deal).  On both of these slings, as mentioned above, the adjustments compromise their reliability, the USGI adjuster being prone to spontaneous opening and the 1907 adjustment holes stretching and becoming unsecure.

I have come to favor slings with limited ease of adjustment (“set it and forget it”) simply because they make the sling simpler to use and more reliable.  I think the ability to reset the loop length for different positions is vastly overrated.

Rapidity of looping up is a large part of what makes a sling practical for field usage.  If someone thinks that the USGI web sling is viable as a loop sling in the field, they haven’t properly thought it through.  The rear of the sling needs to be removed from the stock.  The loop needs to be pulled from a metal slide, the sling turned, the arm shoved through, the loop pulled taut, yada, yada, yada.  With a lot of practice 20 seconds is probably attainable.  That’s just way too slow in the speed of real life.  Ironically, the 1907, which is the predecessor to the USGI web, can be gotten looped up in about 7 or 8 seconds if the configuration is modified a bit.  If you think about a deer standing still with a nice broadside presentation, 7 or 8 seconds will seem like an eternity.  Both the Ching sling and the RifleCraft RS-1 can be gotten looped up in about 3 or 4 seconds, which in the same situation doesn’t seem quite so egregious a length of time.  The RS-2 is just a second or two behind.

I consider any sling that needs to be reconfigured to go from carry mode to shooting mode and vice versa a deal breaker.  It’s completely unnecessary and impractical.  Any sling that has a propensity toward failure in design or materials is, likewise, off my list for consideration.  That should explain why I made my own sling.

So while there is little to distinguish the many loop slings in what they put on the target, there is quite a difference when it comes to the practicality of using the slings in the field.  While the USGI web sling is better than many for learning, the ease of adjustment becomes a disadvantage due to decreased reliability, and it simply takes too long to loop up with to be considered remotely practical.

How Does Sling Design Affect Precision On Target?

To those of us who are outside the competitive arena and using gear appropriate for the field?

Probably not at all.

There is a plethora of shooting slings on the market.  I often read about such and such being superior to other such and such sling when it comes to grouping downrange.  Precision is one area where sling design really doesn’t matter much for those of us who practice for use in the field and aren’t competing with specialized gear.  This assumes, of course, that the sling is a quality piece and set up correctly.

There are several varieties of loop slings that all function structurally in essentially the same manner.  I pointed out in my previous article that the loop sling is simply a taut connection that runs between the support arm just below the shoulder to the rifle just in front of the support hand.  This connection takes the place of the muscles within the span of the sling and allows them to relax.  Relaxation is much more better than tension if you want your bullet holes to be more closer together on the target.

The cotton or nylon USGI shooting slings, as well as the Tactical Intervention Slip Cuff are loop slings that constrict around the arm like a slipknot.  I call this variety of loop “constrictor style”.  This type of sling will constrict more tightly as it is pulled with greater force.

The other type of loop sling is simply a loop adjusted to a fixed length.  Instead of a slipknot, picture a simple closed loop that runs from the front sling swivel to the support arm.  Examples of this type include the 1907 sling, the Ching sling, the Tactical Intervention Quick Cuff, the TAB gear standard sling, and my RifleCraft slings.  I call this style of slings “static loop”.

The type of loop, constrictor or static, is irrelevant in determining whether the sling functions as a loop sling and puts the results downrange.  Sling design makes a difference in the technique of looping up and feel, but really only as a matter of preference, ease, and practicality of use.  That is to say that the process of setting the sling up to use may be vastly different between slings, but the final effect once in position is very similar.

Any of the following slings will positively affect precision similarly:


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USGI web sling, with constrictor style loop.  Great for target shooting at the range, when speed to loop up is unnecessary.

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1907 sling, modified configuration, static loop.  

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Tactical Intervention Slip Cuff constrictor loop.

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TAB sling on rabbit skins (my wife tanned them).  You have to admit that I have gotten better at taking pictures since I took this one in 2011.  The static loop is just right of the large side-release buckle.

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Ching sling with vast, static loop for rapid looping up.  

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RifleCraft RS-1 with large reinforced static loop for rapid looping up.

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RifleCraft RS-2 Sling with simple, large, static loop.  My favorite all around sling.

I have shot with each of the above slings extensively, except for the Tactical Intervention, which I only used for about a month (it was borrowed).  I can tell you that they are all capable of steadying the shooter, each about the same as the next so long as the sling will stay put on the shooter’s arm.  There is no voodoo about any of them that will cause it to magically do something more that what it’s physically capable of doing (no, not even the ones that are ‘tactical’).

Likewise, whether or not a keeper is used to close the loop tightly over the arm (which is not possible with a Ching sling) is not a critical consideration in understanding how the sling functions.  Another way of putting it is that the size of the loop is not a factor in its fundamental function.  The wide open loop of the Ching does the same thing as the comparatively difficult to produce and extremely tight loop of the USGI web sling.  Sometimes a keeper is a necessary aid for a sling to work properly by staying put on the shooter’s arm, but that it platform and shooter dependent.

As an illustration of the above two paragraphs, a common misconception is that the Ching sling functions as a hybrid of a loop sling and a hasty sling.  It absolutely does not.  The Ching sling, as defined by function, is a loop sling, with all the attendant benefits of a full loop sling, and will produce downrange results similar to any other loop sling.  The technique of looping up in a Ching sling, or a RifleCraft RS1 sling for that matter, looks and feels similar to the technique of using a hasty sling (although actually faster and more simple).  This causes some to mistakenly conclude that the function is somehow less than that of other loop slings that requires a more difficult and elaborate technique to get into.

Don’t make the mistake of confusing effective results with difficulty of use.  A difficult and more elaborate ritual won’t necessarily make for more powerful magic.  The 20 seconds that it takes to convert the USGI web sling to a loop and to get the loop on does not make it more precise than a Ching or RS-1 that can do the same thing in 3 or 4 seconds.  Easy can be just as effective (or more) as difficult.

Without understanding what the sling does and doesn’t do, a shooter can’t use it to its fullest utility.  Misunderstanding the function of the sling can also give a shooter a belief in benefits that the sling cannot convey.  I hope after reading you have a fuller understanding of the sling and its function.

How Does The Shooting Sling Actually Work?

I’ve written a lot in the past about rifle slings and how to use them to steady a shooting position.  I’ve touched on why to use them and why not to use them if a supported position is available.  I’ve gone into considerable depth on how to use them.  One thing I haven’t really written about is why the shooting sling works.

I like to watch how people use their slings.  I frequently see people do things that are ineffective, or less effective than they could be.  My response to this has always been to beat the drum of better technique, but I think there is a more fundamental way to approach the problem.

Part of understanding how to use a tool is to comprehend how it functions.  It took a long time for me to even consider this with reference to the rifle sling.  I first thought of the sling as something to buy, as in which one do I want based on who uses it, how it looks, what it’s made out of, price, etc.  Then I thought of the sling as a process.  It’s a rather complicated thing for a new shooter, so I spent a long time processing how to use it, improving my technique, re-evaluating different types of slings based on what I’d learned in the process of becoming a skilled shooter and then an instructor.  When I felt my knowledge in sling shooting had matured, I designed my own sling, and I thought and worked a lot on how to make it better over time.

To really understand how to employ the sling and what it can and can’t do for you, the primary lesson to learn is visible in its structure and function.  Let’s take a look at the sling in use to better understand what exactly it is and what it does.

 

Structure:

 

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RifleCraft RS-2 sling, demo model.  I made it special with a foliage loop portion and coyote tan rear portion so it would be easier to point out exactly what I’m getting at.  This photo, and those that follow, depict the totality of the line of force of the loop sling.  From the forend, and wrapping the arm.  That’s it.

First of all, we need a precise definition of what it is we’re looking at.  I’m not an engineer, so I apologize it you are because I made up my own terminology and definitions.  A loop sling is simply a direct, closed, and isolated connection between the arm and the forend of the rifle.  Direct means that it goes straight in one line from the arm to the forend.  Wrapping the support hand in the sling won’t compromise this attribute, as the hand effectively becomes part of the front connection.  Closed means that the length of the connection is fixed and not subject to change without a deliberate user input.  Isolated means that there are no other related connections that impart forces in any other direction.  Although a connection to a different section of the sling that makes it usable as a carry strap can be, and usually is present at the rear of the loop, it should be slack when the loop is used.  Put another way, the loop is a simple, single line of tension from the arm just below the armpit and the rifle in front of the support hand.

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Function:

The function of the loop is directly related to its structure.  What can a line of tension do?  Perhaps this is best revealed by examining what holds a rifle up in absence of the loop sling.  The greatest degree of oversimplification I can make is to say “bones and muscles” hold the rifle up.  Bones are structurally rigid and can’t be removed from the equation unless there is something to set the rifle on or suspend it from.  Obviously the loop sling is not capable of replacing the structure that bones provide.

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It should be apparent at this point that the tension of the sling takes the place of the muscles between the origin and insertion of the loop.  When optimally configured with the support hand wrapped in the sling and front swivel used as a hand stop (as pictured), those muscles include the biceps and all the muscles that control the wrist, hands, and fingers.  Muscles, being subject to fatigue and errors of control and coordination, are major contributors to a shooter’s arc of movement.  Eliminating their necessity and use whenever possible is the mark of a skilled and efficient rifle shooter.

 

Limitations of the Sling:

Recognizing what the loop sling does not do is just as important as knowing what it does.  The simple loop sling has very little ability in assisting, supplementing, or replacing any muscle outside the length of its span.  The little ability is does have in this regard is due to the tension that is imparted toward the interface of the rifle butt in the shoulder.  This is why Jeff Cooper was correct in his adamancy that the benefits of the loop sling could only be fully realized with the support elbow planted, whether that be on the ground, a solid object, the knee, or somewhere else.  If the support elbow is not planted, many muscles are brought into play in order to keep the elbow raised and the posture of the body in the shooting position.  This does not negate the effects of the sling within the length of its span, but it does minimize the significance of those effects to a large degree.

Also, some of the potential benefits of the sling, particularly those involving the muscles governing the hand, are dependent on the use of a handstop when shooting with a loop sling.  Without some kind of handstop the support hand will need to grip the forend.  The location of the support hand will also be subject to potentially (very likely) greater variability.  Consistency is important, so the lack of handstop and the resulting variation in location, coupled with the need for muscular input will likely compromise precision.  Target shooters use purpose built handstops.  The rest of us use our front sling swivels, so the location of the front swivel is another important component of rifle fit

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In the next installment I will examine the influence of individual sling designs on how the sling functions as a marksmanship aid to enhance precision.