Supported Positions Vs. Unsupported Positions with Sling

I recently spent a great deal of time and study on ten different shooting positions.  I tested five supported positions and five unsupported positions.  For all of the unsupported positions except for standing I used a rifle sling as an aid for additional stability.  I noticed some general differences between the supported positions and the unsupported positions that were significant to me.  This has nothing to do with which is better or worse, but trying to get an indication of the capabilities and limitations.

Locked in vs Free

A common trait of any unsupported position that utilizes a sling for support is that it really locks the shooter into the shooting position.  Aside from stability, which directly affects precision, the “locked in” aspect is a primary attribute that separates the sling as a stability aid from actual support under the rifle.  There are advantages and disadvantages to being “locked in” that I think indicate suitability for certain applications versus others.

Freedom to Move

Using support under the rifle, be it artificial support or improvised from terrain or fixed manmade objects, typically does not involve fixing or binding the rifle or the shooter to anything.  It’s simply a matter of attaining stability of the shooter and rifle with reference to the support.  This is a simple and convenient process.

Using a sling, by its very nature, ties the rifle to the support arm of the shooter.  In the shooting position this means that the firing hand is responsible for manipulating anything, such as working the bolt/charging handle/op rod, loading or reloading, clearing malfunctions, adjusting the scope, etc.  Outside the shooting position either hand is available, but only one at a time until the sling is removed from the arm.

The process of slinging up to shoot and unslinging to move requires at least some time, if only a second or two, and will subject the shooter to divided attention during that time.  A mitigating factor to this is that the sling can often be looped up concurrently with taking the shooting position.  One could argue that the shooter could stay “looped in” for the duration of the shooting action, but the ability to use the support arm for anything other than shooting will be compromised to some degree during that time.

Weapons Manipulation and General Use of Hands

The evolution of the manual of arms for rifles in recent years has been tied to semi-auto rifles, most notably the AR15.  As shooters have worked to reduce unnecessary movements and time from their gun handing, it has become somewhat of a doctrine to keep the “master grip” (strong hand) on the pistol grip of the rifle.  The support hand works the charging handle and inserts magazines, and with a standard bolt release it operates that as well.

Shooting a rifle such as an AR while looped into a shooting sling completely alters the means of gun handling operations.  All necessary weapons manipulations must be done with the firing hand.  Completely altering the manual of arms to an alternate and less efficient set of techniques is, let’s say, a bit of a pain.

How finite is NPA?

I learned the concept of natural point of aim in the context of sling shooting.  It really makes it easy because when you loop up with a taut loop sling, the natural point of aim exists in one finite point if you can allow the rifle to stay there without muscling it or upsetting it during trigger manipulation.  With the sling, if you’re ‘on’ your NPA you’re golden.  You can close your eyes and shoot a really nice group if you do everything correctly.  If you’re not on your natural point of aim, you’re screwed and your group is going to reflect it.

I was a little puzzled when I first started shooting from supported positions, because I couldn’t find my natural point of aim in the same way.  On a bipod, relaxing doesn’t show you anything about where the position ‘wants’ to point the rifle.  If the rifle is set up in a fundamentally stable way the position behind it is basically recoil control.  The specific point for NPA just doesn’t seem to be as finite with a support as with a sling, which makes the index quite a bit more forgiving and flexible.  You basically get in a sound position and shoot.

Speed of Getting Into Position and On Target

When using a sling for support the sequence for getting into position and firing a shot goes something like this: locate target, sling up and get into position (concurrently if possible through use of a Ching or RifleCraft sling [unusual plug]), acquire sight picture, verify NPA, readjust if necessary, fire.

Using support might go like this: locate target, deploy bipod and get into position, acquire sight picture, fire.  The verification of natural point of aim and readjusting can be skipped.  If a pack, shooting sticks, tripod, or some other manmade object is used the process will be more complex than if a pre-existing terrain feature is used.

The big difference between the two is that with a supported position, if there is a sight picture you like just press the trigger.  With a sling you need to really do the verification to make sure you’re not muscling the rifle.

Follow up shots- speed (on a fixed target) vs flexibility

I’m still somewhat of a bolt work aficionado.  How could I not be, having written the definitive 6 part treatise on the subject?  Seriously though, a lot of the time I’ve spent working the bolt action rifles has been while I was looped up.  Having that tight, locked in position is very conducive to a very fast follow up shot… at exactly the same point of aim.

*Slight meandering*  I like to take tests on the internet.  One of the tests that I took a long time ago was called an “unintelligence test” that was meant to measure street smarts.  One of the questions was something like this: “Four crows sit on a fence.  You shoot at one, hitting it.  How many are left?”  Of course the correct answer is zero, because the ones that are still alive aren’t going to wait around to get shot.  Crows are smart.

The thing that we do as rifle shooters, which is to aim at a single target and shoot it a number of times, is even worse than assuming that three crows will be left after we shoot one.  It’s akin to assuming the same crow we just hit will still be there to shoot again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  See how that is getting ridiculous?  And again.  And again.  That’s seven rounds downrange.  Look at that.  It’s sub minute, except for those two fliers.  But I called those.  Damn.  Sub minute.  This gun is sub MOA all day long.

In the field it stands to reason that if a follow up shot is needed, it is very possible that the target will not be in the same location.  I’m not sure which type of position lends itself better to readjusting to compensate for a moving target.  I was tempted off the bat to say positions with support, and I still think (with a fair degree of certainty) that is the case.  There are, however, dynamic methods of adjusting natural point of aim with a loop sling.  This will need to be tested exhaustively with lots of math, spreadsheets, and hand drawn charts.  I wonder just who is up for such a rigorous experiment?

The Elephant In The Room

Supported positions are more precise.  Period.

It’s nice being able to back things up with numbers.  I tested one supported sitting position and two unsupported using a shooting sling.  Open leg sitting was 51% as precise as supported sitting.  Cross ankle sitting was 50% as precise.  Unsupported kneeling was 43% as precise as supported reverse kneeling.  Unsupported standing was 40% as precise as my worst supported standing, and only 13% as precise as my best supported standing position!!!

Me and Slings

The apparent irony here is that I’m a guy that designs and makes my own rifle slings that are specifically thought out to be easy to use as support.  I don’t think it’s really that ironic that I’m arguing for the use of support rather than a sling as the first line shooting aid.  The fact is that a shooter has to be adaptable to different terrain, and that the terrain will dictate the position.  At times the terrain may not offer shooting support.

As civilians in a free country who like to shoot rifles for various reasons, we are generally slaves to our targets and terrain in any type of field setting.  We cannot exercise the same type over control of live targets in the field that we maintain over our targets on the range.  As much as I would like to say, “Use support under all circumstances,” none of us can predict the future or the actions of our targets.

The bottom line is that a shooter needs to keep reasonable tools in the toolbelt, and to use the best one for the job.  I don’t believe that includes carrying five different sizes of rear bags at all times.  If support is available it’s absolutely stupid to go to the sling first.  If there is no support, get closer and use what you have, hopefully a sling.

 

22 thoughts on “Supported Positions Vs. Unsupported Positions with Sling

  1. Do you sight your rifle in with a sling? I find that sling tension lowers my point of impact by 2 moa on average with my current rifle. For this reason I sight in prone over a pack while using my sling. Because of this I like to use the sling for any shots of >/= to 100 yards, supported or not. Perhaps I need to rethink this. While the support does add stability I still get the drawbacks of the sling. However, I would need to compensate when using the sling in the absence of support on a longer shot.

    • I sight my rifle using a rest or bipod, depending on what I have handy for that rifle.

      I used to see more deviation in point of impact between positions than I do now. I’ve gotten to be a bit more careful in eye position behind the scope, and probably with the fundamentals as well.

      My rifles’ barrels are free floated, so I don’t have to worry about tension on the barrel.

      • My barrel is free-floated as well, but sling tension still lowers my point of impact. It did on my last rifle as well, but to a lesser extent. This rifle is lighter, however. Sling tension does not seem to make a significant difference when I shoot my 22lr. The difference I see between positions are not significant when hunting at typical ranges.

        • After a lot of practice in sling supported positions, dry fire, live fire, position work without fire, etc… and really getting to know what follow through really is all about, I wonder if the offset you’re seeing is the sling pulling your shots towards your natural point of aim when the shot breaks and you relax.

          I started running my slings a little tighter than I used to. I think it has helped me to find my NPA quicker and more surely. If I don’t overstretch my position a bit first (rifle moving left of my support elbow), my rifle wants to track left as it sits there.

          Also, I think that although parallax error is more of a catch all excuse for crappy shooting than an actual problem for most shooters in the bigger picture, something to make sure you’re getting right is centering your eye to the ocular lens. Slinging up for me compromises my eye relief, so although I can’t get an edge to edge sight picture, I make sure that the shade is even around the image.

          • Yes, maybe I need to work more on NPA and follow through. I might see less of difference then.

            I have played with my (ching) sling tension a good bit, and I like where it is. It fits my typical hunting clothes. I have started wearing a PAST pad in warmer weather, and just leave the sling where it is.

            My current scope is pretty easy to get behind from all positions including prone. Prone used to be difficult, especially with a sling. At the ranges I shoot with my degree of magnification I doubt that parallax is a significant issue. Too bad it is a little cold to work on now in Northern MN. I will use the 22 on the indoor range for now.

            Thanks for the advice. Practical rifle shooting can be a humbling experience.

  2. “This will need to be tested exhaustively with lots of math, spreadsheets, and hand drawn charts. I wonder just who is up for such a rigorous experiment?”

    Um, I think I have an idea who.

    “The fact is that a shooter has to be adaptable to different terrain, and that the terrain will dictate the position. At times the terrain may not offer shooting support.”

    I think this is the crux of the matter. In field craft, what you know about positional shooting needs to be adapted to actual field conditions, and topography along with the target’s location will dictate how you will have to adapt. As in so many “problems” in shooting you usually have very little time to come up with a solution which may be an amalgamation of various circumstances, concerns, and technique. I’m always looking for additional support in the field. If there isn’t anything useable, I’m seeking the best, most steady, position that the terrain will allow. What that turns out to be may not be picture perfect.

  3. I think that position and sling tension affect point of impact, especially in a lighter rifle. How you choose to sight in the rifle is compromise based upon how you think you are most likely to use it when it counts. A combination of support with the pack and sling seems to work well for me, but the point made about follow-up shots on a game animal which is not likely to be in the same position is a good one. Perhaps I should sight in without the sling and compensate when I use one since there is usually some type of improvised support available?

    • I would say have the appropriate tools in the box just in case and be aware of how each one affects the final product.

    • Compensation can be forgotten in the excitement of the moment.
      I zero from loop-sling sitting. If I use a rest I still use the sling, so as to avoid any differences in impact (my hunting rifles are free-floated anyway). A quick standing snap shot without sling will be so close as to render moot any differences that might exist.

      For a target that requires rifle movement, I just cheat and push it over with my hands. If my position is stable, the movement required will probably be small, and not create much other instability.

      • Just to clarify, are you muscling it over to move the rifle? I’m guessing that as long as you can properly follow through with the movement, and the movement is minor, it works out for you?

        • Yes. I had explained it a bit better in an earlier post here but your spam filter must have eaten it (or maybe it was your dog).
          Back before I really understood, or even knew about NPA, I did what everyone else does – I held hard, and learned to hit pretty well that way. Now, if I’m working against the clock, and my NPA isn’t perfect (but it’s very close), and I don’t have time to adjust in the Appleseed way, I just cheat and push the rifle on target with my hands and do a command break. If my position is sound and stable, and my NPA is close, the movement is small, easily made, only held for a couple of seconds, and doesn’t induce any other instability. The only deer I ever shot was walking across my front at 50 yards and a 90 degree angle to my barrel. I had to track with him from open-leg sitting for a couple of seconds to get the hit.

          I didn’t write anything about this in my book since I wanted readers to work very hard on doing things the “right” way first, before they started experimenting outside of those boundaries. I believe you need a sound base of correct technique from which to operate first, even though my experience was to find a good way to do it “wrong”, then learn the right way, then blend the best of both worlds when it offers advantage.

      • That is helpful. The simpler the better. The only time I have taken a follow up shot on a big game animal(birds are different story) in the last 3 years I started open leg sitting. I’m not sure if I was slung up or not. I think I was slung as I was waiting for it to come in. It was a close shot, very close. I can’t remember the details of my position for the follow up. It was probably sitting as well, since it occurred so quickly. I will probably continue to sight in the same way as it seems to cover the possibilities the best.

    • Actually, when I started the blog and came up with my pen name, the idea of making slings was not yet in my mind. It was just a lame twist on the standard ‘gunslinger’ type thing. It was about a year later that I came up with a sling design, and thought it was good enough to sell.

      Also, when I first wrote the article, I did mean to infer that sling supported positions were inferior. I still have some semblance of irrational rebellion against what I experienced in my time with the Appleseed Project, so that led me to want to refute their bias toward the sling. After some thought, and examining it without looking for a winner, I edited it with the intent simply to examine the differences, advantages, and disadvantages. I think that by trying to pick a winner, and to look for the answer it weakens the rifleman’s ability to make a sound decision based on the facts and circumstances of any given situation.

      I do stand by the notion that if support is available it should be favored over no support if feasible. It’s just not always available or feasible. The ability to use a sling is a tool to have in the box, regardless of one’s bias.

      I still have what I think is a well founded belief that my slings are the best in their niche and will continue to make them. Having said that, I suck as a salesman and at this point in my life I have shed pretty much any tendency toward hyperbole (also known as ‘marketing’). To the contrary, I tend to understate my own strengths and victories, and by extension tend to underplay the strengths and virtues of my products. I make a point of not pushing myself of my stuff on folks. I think that the fact that I started out to write an article that would attempt to persuade people to use their slings as a shooting aid less often should back me up on that.

      I suppose the short answer to your question would be ‘no’. I hope the long answer provided more clarity.

      • No, I think your post was plenty clear the first time. I just thought RifleSupporter had some comic value as a goofy suggestion. I’ll stick to my day job…

        Your response was interesting, though. The post’s “elephant” section ellicited the opposite irrational rebellion in me. I think shooting slings are neat, and that irrational part of me didn’t like to consider the extent to which there are situations where they should play second fiddle. But yet again, your fair and honest analysis is useful and I appreciate it.

        I’d also like to agree with you that your slings are the best in class. Or I guess I should say they appear to be on e-paper. I look forward to getting one for my next project. I feel like my shooting/retention sling concept is holding up well as I use it on my AR, but I think I’d prefer one of yours on a bolt gun.

          • SSHHHH! Ooops, well as long as the secret’s out, I want one of these to have little hearts on it, and the other to have little unicorns and rainbows. Along with the Winnie-the-Pooh on my other sling, now they will all match all my underwear!

  4. RS: Excellent post. I am of the opinion that a rifle shooter needs to know how to do everything well, and that high skill in unsupported positions is worth learning, plus it carries over to (and improves) supported positions in subtle ways. Too many people rely solely on support because they just don’t know how to do unsupported well. Learn it all and put it in the blender, you’ll have a workable solution when you need something fast.
    Oh, and for moving targets/fast aimpoint shift in sling-support – I cheat. I just push the rifle over with my hands. Not a big deal for a small amount of movement when your position is solid. Never mentioned that in my book, I wanted readers to really learn the classic way first. But I got to a pretty decent skill level before I really understood NPA, so I sometimes blend the two – when I’m off just a couple of minutes in my NPA, and seconds count, I push the rifle over and shoot (gasp – heresy!). From a solid position with a tight loop it’s very controllable.

    Steve: Free-float your rifle barrel/fore-end. That should solve your sling use impact change issues. Works for me, I use your same logic – long shots will probably involve the sling, so I zero from sling sitting. If I use a rest it will be with the sling loop as well. You will probably not want to have to hold off when using the sling – in the field with a big buck in your scope, and five or six seconds to make the shot, you might easily forget.

  5. RS, in answer to your question about moving the rifle with muscle, yes. I had explained it a bit better in an earlier post here but your spam filter must have eaten it (or maybe it was your dog).

    Back before I really understood, or even knew about NPA, I did what everyone else does – I held hard, and learned to hit pretty well that way. Now, if I’m working against the clock, and my NPA isn’t perfect (but it’s very close), and I don’t have time to adjust in the Appleseed way, I just cheat and push the rifle on target with my hands and do a command break. If my position is sound and stable, and my NPA is close, the movement is small, easily made, only held for a couple of seconds, and doesn’t induce any other instability. The only deer I ever shot was walking across my front at 50 yards and a 90 degree angle to my barrel. I had to track with him from open-leg sitting for a couple of seconds to get the hit.

    I didn’t write anything about this in my book since I wanted readers to work very hard on doing things the “right” way first, before they started experimenting outside of those boundaries. I believe you need a sound base of correct technique from which to operate first, even though my experience was to find a good way to do it “wrong”, then learn the right way, then blend the best of both worlds when it offers advantage.

  6. I’m also doing a lot of positional shooting lately and started learning how to use slings. (.22lr only for now, since its cheap and I think the longer lock time and lack of recoil and muzzle signature helps with identifying shooter /technique errors)
    Funny thing is, when practicing prone shooting slung up (biceps cuff) I’m experiencing a lot of deviation from 6 to 9 o’clock, just as you sir said somewhere earlier in the commets.
    I’ve got targets with 3 holes dead center within sub moa, but 2 additional touching holes about a mil too low, I’ve got targets with similar bullseyes but a few shots off to the left about a mil, and then there are targets where the shot pattern describe a courve around the center, about a mil distance, from 9 to 6 o’clock. Seems like NPA issues but I really find the positions precision potential spectacular, and i also find it spectaculat to which extend of consistency errors (in shooting technique) can be made…

    All the best

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