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.

4 thoughts on “How Does Sling Design Affect Ease of Use?

  1. I’m new to rifle shooting and really appreciate the blog. The latest post are particularly interesting to me as I have never really understood how to incorporate the sling for stability. I was wondering what your thoughts were on sling designs like the viking tactical, with a quick adjust but no loop for you to lock up on the upper arm. I have this type of sling on my rifle and it’s not intuitive to me on how to use it for stability. It works great for carrying the rifle though.

  2. I really like this latest series.

    I tried the “set and forget” method for a while, but ran into a problem. It was probably more technique than anything, but I found that if I don’t use a constricting sling, it tends to slide down my arm after repeated shots. But, as you say, that matters more for repeated shots (such as in competition). I can see the value of a sling that I can quickly jam my arm through and tighten up for one shot. I think I just need to practice more for doing it repeatedly.

    • EDM, there are ways to deal with those sorts of issues. Spend enough time with different slings and pretty soon you’ll learn it all.

      The trick with the non-constricting types like the Ching or RS is to keep pressure forward on the rifle, keeping the back of the loop tight against the back of your arm. And then when you forget and the sling slides down a bit, you use your trigger hand to make a quick tug upward on the strap to reset it where it needs to be, and continue shooting.

      With the set-and-forget types you can fine-tune the loop tension between different positions by moving the loop higher (more tense) or lower (more loose) on your upper arm. A little goes a long way. The more time you spend working with them the more all this will become second nature.

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