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.

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.

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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.