By Dave Henderson
Most slings like the ones shown here distribute the weight of a rifle and are efficient carrying aids. However, not all slings are practical for steading a rifle while aiming.
Everything is competition when it comes to teen-aged boys.
My buddy Larry could always outrun me, but I had a stronger throwing arm and was a better hitter.
He was really quick and could jump like a deer, but I was stronger.
Larry was also on the school rifle team and had a fancy German .22, but I was a pretty fair hand with my $5 single-shot .22 Long Rifle, too. I was determined to bag more squirrels than him when he came to hunt the woods behind my house.
His rifle wore a strange stock and a target peep sight. Although it was really cool, it didn’t intimidate me, nor did Larry’s experience as a marksman in three-position smallbore competition. My little Marlin shot a little to the left at 25 yards, but I’d been compensating for it long enough that I was supremely confident with that rifle in the squirrel woods.
As we slipped quietly through the hardwoods, searching the canopy overhead, we kept stealing looks at each other. We were desperate to find out how each other was shooting, and, of course, the score.
I quickly became discouraged. Every time Larry crawled into the rifle’s sling and leaned against a tree trunk, or dropped to a kneeling position, or shot offhand, he was popping head shots on bushytails at 50 yards.
Yeah, I was intimidated. Wrestling with the wobbling sights while compensating for windage made shooting accurately a chore at half that distance. It had always been that way, and I’d accepted it as inevitable. But Larry’s success suddenly exposed that weak point.
Accuracy is built on a solid foundation; something that steadies the barrel and sights.
That’s the basis of the classic shooting positions - prone, sitting and kneeling - and the classic “stacking of bones” when shooting offhand.
There are ways to enhance your steadiness from all of those positions - shooting off a soft backpack, bipods, shooting sticks, or even a gloved hand resting on tree branch or gripping a tree trunk. But you don’t always have those options. That’s when knowing how to use a sling comes in handy.
Years after my lesson in humility with Larry, a Marine Corps range master taught me the intricacies of using an adjustable sling. I used a Turner Saddlery adjustable leather sling to hone my skills in NRA Service Rifle competition for years thereafter. Today, if I’m hunting with a rifle - and sometimes even with a shotgun and slugs - I use some manner of shooting sling to steady my hand and increase my chances.
Rifle slings have been a part of hunting for centuries, probably starting with the ropes and leather straps that served as carrying aids on muzzleloaders. It wasn’t until World War I that specially designed military slings came along to improve the accuracy of bolt-action rifles. Competitive shooters adapted and refined the military sling over the years.
These days, I install slings on virtually every gun I use. There’s a buckskin loop on my sidehammer muzzleloader; nylon slings on my waterfowl and turkey shotguns; an over-the-shoulder stretchable loop affixed to the butt of my T/C Contender pistol; and slings with adjustable loops on my slug guns. I even have a sling on my bow when I’m hunting off horses or ATVs.
All are useful, but for different reasons. The buckskin and nylon slings on the muzzleloader and shotguns are just carrying straps that free my hands and allow the shoulders to bear the gun’s weight when I’m walking. Ditto the bow sling.
The loop of a deliberate sling goes around the tricep of the forward shooting arm. The sling is drawn tight against the gun’s front swivel.
But the stretchable loop on the pistol is adjusted to come taut when my arms are fully extended. This steadies the gun when I’m aiming. The rifle and slug gun slings can be adjusted to steady my hold whether it’s from an offhand, kneeling, sitting or prone position.
The deliberate sling is the most effective bracing loop, but hunters often regard it as awkward and slow to set up. Also, it isn’t as comfortable as an over-the-shoulder carrying strap.
The hasty sling is a technique rather than an item. It’s a way of steadying the rifle when you’re shooting offhand. A right-handed shooter pokes his left arm between the strap and the rifle, then wraps the left wrist once around the strap’s front end. This puts tension on the rifle, deadening movement. I’ve found it even more effective in kneeling, sitting and prone positions where the arms are better supported. But because your arm has no support in the offhand position, it does little to prevent the sights from weaving.
The hasty sling is what I used most in hurry-up situations. I adjust the sling’s length to what I normally use for the sitting position, then readjust it before shooting from other positions by moving the sling higher or lower on my tricep.
A hasty sling, according to U.S. Army research, can improve steadiness by 30 to 40 percent, which is far better than nothing, particularly when you’re in a hurry. But it puts tension on both the front and rear studs, pulling the barrel in one direction and the stock toe (where the other end of the strap is attached to the gun) in the opposite direction, with a slight cant.
The deliberate sling requires an adjustable shooting strap or loop that can be detached from the rear stud. Military versions used by marksmen feature claws and rows of adjustment holes. Form a loop at the rear of the strap large enough to slide your forward arm into, just above the bicep. Then slide the keeper or buckle until it’s snug around your arm.
The ultimate deliberate sling is a sophisticated version known as a shooting cuff. It’s a strap-on cuff fitted to the bicep with an adjustable strap that hooks to the front swivel stud.
You’ll have to experiment with length, but once it’s right, the sling draws the front stud straight back instead of torquing the gun like the hasty sling. There’s no pressure on the buttstock since the rear swivel has been disconnected. Army statistics show that a deliberate sling can improve steadiness by more than 60 percent.
With any sling, bracing too hard will pull the barrel off zero. Army research shows that a slinged M16 can easily be torqued sufficiently to move the point of impact 4 inches at 100 yards.
The cobra-style slings that are prevalent in the hunting woods today are carrying straps and little else. A 1- to 1 1/4-inch-wide nylon or leather sling is more effective in a hasty-sling scenario The nylon slings seem to be easier to adjust, but nothing grips your jacket sleeve like the rough side of leather.
Slings come in a wide variety of styles and materials. Padded slings are generally for carrying a firearm with comfort. Adjustable slings are not as comfortable, but can be used for hasty slings to steady the gun. Adjustable leather slings double as shooting aids and can be used as hasty or deliberate slings.
Turner Saddlery of Alabama is generally considered the Cadillac of the leather military or marksmanship slings. Others include A.E. Nelson Leather Co. of Oregon, or other brands available through Brownells, Midway USA, Dillon Precision and Sinclair International.
Be advised that some of the more sophisticated slings, particularly leather ones, are 1 1/4 inches wide and thus require an extra-wide sling swivel to accommodate them.
Reprinted from the November 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine