In the picture of my rifle above, there is a green strip of fabric attached to it. That’s a rifle sling. A sling may serve at least two purposes I can think of: 1.) To carry the rifle with, 2.) To use as a shooting aid. This article will focus on the use of the shooting sling to aid in accurate shooting.
The shooting sling is attached to the support arm and keeps a firm connection between the forend sling swivel and the arm above the bicep. It helps support the weight of the rifle in a manner such that your body can relax into a steadier position. There are two primary ways to use the shooting sling: 1.) Loop sling, 2.) Hasty sling. I will focus on the loop sling.
There are a few types of slings that double as carry straps and loop slings. The oldest I’m aware of is the 1907 sling. Turner Saddlery is probably the most well known maker of the 1907, but Les Tam appears to make them at a very high standard of quality as well. The advantage of the 1907 sling is that it is very comfortable, and its stability is good. It’s also easy and repeatable to adjust for length. The disadvantage is that the leather is not the most impervious material, and it is somewhat slow to reconfigure the sling from a carry strap to a shooting sling and vice versa. 6/14/12 note: If properly configured the 1907 sling can be quite quick to transition from carry to shooting sling. Please see my article on the 1907 sling in three parts (especially part 3). –RS
Another variety of sling is the USGI web sling. Of these, there are two primary types: 1.) Cotton, 2.) Nylon. The cotton is easier to work with, in my opinion, because it’s not as slick and has less propensity to stretch. The nylon will not rot when exposed to moisture as will the cotton. The advantages of the web sling are that it’s probably the easiest to adjust for length, is simple to use, and it generally works well once in position. The disadvantages are that the adjustment is infinite rather than clearly set like the 1907’s. If you want to have repeatable settings, you need to mark the sling somehow. The hardware is metal. Therefore it can rust, can be noisy (especially if the quick release clip is used), and will be more prone to scratch your rifle or stock. The web sling is also less comfortable due to both the materials, 1.25″ webbing, and the design. The loop constricts like a slip knot, which can cause you to lose circulation faster than with other slings.
There are several companies making very high quality nylon slings with their own unique designs and features. These slings seem to be made of similar materials, namely 1.5″ nylon and plastic hardware. Some offer metal hardware as an option. I believe the first was the Tactical Intervention. I haven’t used them, but they appear to be worth checking out.
The TAB Gear sling is similar to the Tactical Intervention, but the design appears to be a little more straightforward. It’s much more comfortable than as USGI web sling. It’s almost, but not quite as comfortable as a 1907. It’s way faster to loop up with for a couple of reasons: 1.) You don’t need to disconnect the rear swivel from the rifle, 2.) All that is needed to loop up is to turn the sling a half turn, put your arm in, and close the plastic slider to your arm. The disadvantage is that it’s not made to be easily adjustable on the fly. That’s because it’s not a competition type of sling. You set it and forget it. It’s a compromise, but not a bad one. I can still benefit from this sling in prone, sitting, kneeling, squatting, etc… It feels a little loose in sitting, but it works. The other thing about the TAB is that, for my purposes, I think it has too many buckles. There are three sections of the sling, with a buckle in between each section. Luckily they offer the sling without buckles. This is what I would like to have on #1.
The Mountain Shooter sling is the latest I have seen on the market. It appears to be simple and easy to use. It appears to have the least amount of hardware of all the slings mentioned, which I like. I’d like to try one.
I’ll discuss using a USGI sling first, since that’s what’s on my rifle. The free length of the sling can easily be adjusted for your mode of carry by adjusting the slider.
To use as a shooting sling, disconnect the sling from the rear stud. The sling was designed to use a steel quick release clip for use with stocks with the swivels permanently mounted to the stock, as in the Garand and M14. For stocks with other mounting attachments, simply disassemble the sling and put your attachment of choice. I use a Blackhawk quick release swivel, because it was cheap, made in the U.S. of A, and seems to be of higher quality than the Chinese Uncle Mike’s.
Now that your sling is free, find the loop by pulling from the CENTER (not the end) of the rear buckle.
Free up enough of the sling to form a loop big enough to fit your support arm bicep in (I had to get a custom made extra long sling to have enough material for that).
Wait, I didn’t tell you to put your arm in yet! You have to give the sling a half twist (as in 180°). Which direction? Righty tighty, lefty loosey. That means if you shoot right handed, half twist clockwise as viewed from the top. Reverse that for lefties.
Slow down! I didn’t tell you to put your support arm on the forend, did I? First you have to bring the support hand around the outside of the sling. When you do put your hand on the forend, it should be trapped between the sling and the stock. I usually put my support hand just behind the swivel. If you did everything right the sling should wrap nicely around your hand. If it’s twisted over your hand, you’re doing it wrong.
7/18/13 note: I think the loop my be a tad low on my arm in all the following pictures. I’ve lived and learned a little since then. The sling should be completely above the bicep/tricep, on the border of armpit country (but don’t cross over the neutral zone, lest your sling be stinky).
Now that you’re looped up, let’s try this baby out. Use a position in which the support arm has something under it to hold its weight (basically anything but offhand or standing). When you’re in position, the sling should be taut enough that you have to push the butt forward to get it to go in your shoulder (quit that, I meant the rifle butt- I’m really sorry if this joke is getting old, but I have the maturity level of a 12 year old). You should also be able to let go with both hands without the rifle leaving position. If you break your stock or lose your arm due to lack of circulation, it is probably too tight, but a highpower shooter may disagree. They keep them tight- maybe a good reason to try it like that. You may also get a cool nickname like “Lefty” after the arm is gone.
I also made a demo video for those of you who are unable to learn from printed words or photographs (probably went to public school like me) :
I went super slow in the video. It took me 34 seconds to loop up like that. It takes about half that for me at a brisk pace with the the length pre-adjusted. If it needs adjusted, add about 5-10 seconds, depending on how far out of adjustment it is. I know you could get it faster if you practiced. I haven’t worked on it for speed recently.
As you try different positions, you’ll notice that the sling needs to be adjusted for length/tightness. If you use it enough with a given rifle, you’ll probably just know where it needs to be. That’s how I was with my trusty 10/22 (I could certainly trust it to malfunction periodically) after an Appleseed. #1 has about a 14.5″ length of pull (to be changed in the upcoming months), so it’s very different.
I’m not going to cover the 1907 sling, unless someone request specifically that I do. I configure mine different than the standard way. I use the method described in Jim Owens’ book, Leather Sling and Shooting Positions. I tried the normal way, and I tried it his way. I thought his way worked a little better. I recommend that you buy his book to learn more about the 1907 sling.
Gratuitous painted battle rifle with 1907 sling. It’s a pity I have to cover my face; the irons really bring out my angry eyes.
To loop up with a TAB sling, locate the loop, which is near the forend. Give it the half twist, shove in your arm, pull down the plastic slider, take a position (make sure the hand is trapped under the sling), and commence firing if appropriate.
Using a sling is a good way to learn the concept of natural point of aim. The sling allows you to relax completely because it supports the weight of the rifle. Because you’re completely relaxed, the rifle will always return to the same point of aim after every shot. It just goes where the structure of the position leads it to go. Once you stop “muscling” the rifle you will get very consistent results. If the rifle is not pointed in the exact direction you want it to, just move your entire position. The sling is a tool that can improve your precision by probably 50%. I think that the better you get at shooting, the less difference it makes.
I shot these on the same day, one right after the other. It was before I figured out not to have my foot directly under me in kneeling. The sling helped quite a bit:
Even taking into consideration how much a boost in accuracy the sling affords, its debatable how useful the sling actually is in the field. I’ve already touched on the fleeting nature of real world rifle targets. There’s also the random and unpredictable nature of the times when the targets may be firing at you. I’m not sure if you’re going to want to stop and sling up. Maybe if you were expecting a contact you could sling up in preparation. This is what Cooper recommended in Art of the Rifle. He indicated that he had used the loop sling many times on hunts.
For me, the jury is still out on whether the sling is a good field shooting aid. I do consider it a tool that every rifleman should have on the belt. I would appreciate any thoughts you may have on the matter.
5/22/12 Note: I have since converted to a Ching Sling and believe that this design handily removes any question of the sling being fast enough for field use. See same article for my ratings of the various slings I have tried –RS
2/2/13 Note: I wanted something that would be as fast a the Ching Sling, but would not require the 3rd stud. I designed my own sling, which is a new and fairly unique design. More details can be found on it here.