The Rifle Sling…It’s More Than a Carrying Strap

 

By Ian Kenney

 

When it comes to shooting accessories, probably the most unappreciated and misused item is the rifle sling.  For many shooters a rifle sling is simply a carrying strap that keeps their hands free while moving from place to place and don’t full understand what a good sling can really do for them.  Granted there are slings on the market designed simply for rifle carry, however there are also slings that can aid the shooter in maintaining a good level accuracy when shooting from alternate or improvised shooting positions.  In this article I’m going to show you some of these slings and how to use them for more than just a carrying strap.

 

When it comes to rifle slings that can be used as shooting aids, the granddaddy of them all is the leather M1907 sling, the design of which is still in use today by many long range and competition shooters.  Although the design of the sling is old, versions of the sling have been updated with more modern materials to make it impervious to adverse weather, unlike the leather versions.  Companies like Tactical Intervention Specialties and TAB Gear also make nylon slings that can be effectively used as shooting aids, and although they are not necessarily the only ones, they make some of the best.  For this article I’ll be demonstrating how to use the sling with a Tactical Intervention Slip Cuff and a homemade sling as I go through the set up of the sling and some different shooting positions.

 

The Sling at a Glance

 

Whether it’s an M1907-type sling, a TIS Slip Cuff, or a TAB Gear sling, they all pretty much have the same basic layout and use the same general mechanical principle to create a stable shooting position.

 

 

Slings...jpg

 

 

 

Shooting slings generally have at least two sections, a short end and a long end.  The short end attaches to the forearm of the rifle and contains the sling loop, which is what the arm passes through to provide support.  The long end of the sling attaches to the rear of the stock and is used to control the length of the sling when used as a carrying strap.  There are some slings that use a different layout than the M1907 and the Slip Cuff slings, however they still use the same general principle as the other slings.  Personally I prefer a nylon sling to an M1907-type, because it is simple, lightweight, and less vulnerable to the elements.

 

Rifle slings are attached to the rifle using sling swivels, which come in a few varieties, but the most common are standard and push button types.  Standard sling swivels attach to a stud that is screwed into the bottom of the forearm and butt of the stock.  Push button sling swivels attach to the stock via a “cup” that is embedded into the stock so that the top is flush with the stock; this is why they are also called flush cup sling swivels. Personally I prefer push button sling swivels since the stock can have up to six or more attachment points for the sling and it easier to remove and/or reposition the sling for shooting, carrying, or storage.

 

 

Sling Swivels.jpg

 

 

                           

Setting Up and Adjustment of the Sling:

 

I use the following method when setting up a new sling for use as a shooting aid.

 

Attach the sling to bottom sling swivels and get into a comfortable seated position with your legs crossed.  This position works well for me when setting up a sling because the tension on the sling while in the seated position also works fairly well for other sling supported positions.

 

Once in the seated position, place the butt of the rifle on your hip with the ejection port roughly facing forward.  Grasp the short end of the sling and turn a quarter turn away from you and pass your support arm through the loop and place it high on your bicep. 

 

Sling Setup 1.jpg 

  

Tighten the loop around your arm but leave enough room to get at least a finger through so your circulation isn’t cut off.   

 Sling Setup 2.jpg

  

Place your support hand on the forearm of the stock with the sling running smoothly across the back of the hand and across your wrist.

 

  

Sling Setup 3.jpg

Grasp the stock and get into a seated position.  If the sling is too tight you will not be able to get the stock into the pocket of your shoulder without great discomfort.  Too loose and you’ll be able to feel that there’s hardly any tension on the sling.

 

Sling Setup 4.jpg

  

Now adjust the short end of the sling to increase or decrease the tension of the loop to the point that the sling stays in the pocket of the shoulder even if the firing hand is not on the rifle.  The tension should be make it somewhat uncomfortable when in position but not overly painful or unbearable.

 

Now that the short end is set up for shooting, tighten or loosen the long end of the sling for comfortable carry across the back or over the shoulder.

 

Sling Supported Shooting Positions:

 

Prone Position:

 

This position will work in terrain that has little underbrush or other obstructions that limit good visibility of the target.  The prone position is the most stable position since it provides the most bone support for the shooter to achieve a stable shooting position, it should be used whenever possible. 

 

I’ve found that if the sling is set up for use primarily in the sitting and kneeling positions, the body will angle off to the side slightly to achieve a comfortable firing position.  Optimally, the body should be directly behind rifle to better absorb the recoil of the rifle.  If you think that most of your shots will be from the prone sling supported position, set the sling up accordingly.

 

Prone Sling.jpg

Prone Position

 

Sitting Position:

 

This position is the second most stable sling supported position and works well in terrain where underbrush or other obstacles don’t allow the use of the prone position.  There are a few ways to execute the sitting position depending on the nature of the terrain though.

 

The first variation is the crossed ankles position.  This position provides a good amount of support for a stable firing position and works in terrain that is mostly flat but has obstacles such as tall grass or bushes.  It is important, when using this variation of the sitting position, to get the left elbow forward of the knee in order to provide the most stability, otherwise the elbow just rolls around the knee.  The right elbow can be placed on the inside of the right knee.  Changes in elevation of the rifle can be made by pulling the left hand backwards or forwards along the forend or by opening and closing the hand to make small corrections.

  Sitting Sling 1.jpg

  Crossed Ankles Position

 

  

The next variation of the sitting position is the crossed legs position.  Everything is essentially the same as the crossed ankles position, except the legs are drawn in.  This position works well in the same kinds of terrain as the crossed ankles position, however I’ve found the crossed ankles position to provide more stability.

  Sitting Sling 2.jpg

 Crossed Legs Position

 

The last variation of the sitting position is the open legs position.  To get into this position, bend the knees 90° and place the feet roughly shoulder width apart, placing the elbows inside and just forward of the knees.  Now relax the muscles and let the legs spread slightly to take up the weight of the rifle.  This position has worked well for me when having to shoot uphill since I get the rifle to elevate higher than the other sitting positions.

  Sitting Sling 3.jpg

 Open Legs Position

 

 Kneeling:

 

The kneeling position is good in terrain where vegetation or other obstacles can present a problem for shooting in the seated or prone position.  It is generally considered to offer less stability than the other two, but it can provide decent accuracy with practice.  When getting into the kneeling position, place the right knee on the ground and keep the left leg as perpendicular to the ground as possible.  Ensure that left elbow is placed forward of the left knee to obtain the most amount of stability.  The shooter then shifts their weight back onto the heel of the right foot while relaxing the body at the same time.

  Kneeling Sling.jpg

 

It’s important to remember to get as much bone support as the situation, or terrain, will allow when using a sling to achieve the best possible accuracy.  What this means is to have as much of your body touching the ground, or another surface, with your muscles fully relaxed to prevent fatigue.  It also helps to lean against a tree, rock, vehicle, or other object to gain additional support, especially when using the sitting and kneeling positions.  Not only do you have to have good bone support and keep the muscles relaxed but also it is important to touch the shot off during the natural respiratory pause, when the body is the most relaxed and steady.  Some people have used the technique of taking in a breath and then only letting half of it out, however this method is only effective for a few seconds before the body begins to shake.  Others have also held their breath and clenched their diaphragm in hopes of obtaining a steadier shot, however this too only lasts a couple of seconds before the body begins to shake.  This is why it is important to follow the fundamentals and an easy way to do this is by using the acronym “BRASS”. 

 

Breathe: Inhale and exhale to the natural respiratory pause, while checking for a consistent cheek weld with the stock and proper eye relief from the scope.

 

 

 Breathing Cycle.jpg

 Relax: During the natural respiratory pause, relax as many muscles as possible while still maintaining control of the rifle and shooting position.

 

Aim: Align the crosshairs with the target while checking the natural point of aim and sight picture.  Make any minor adjustments to be made but avoid “muscling” the rifle into position. If you are relaxed and you find that you aren’t lined up right with the target, break your position and readjust.

 

Squeeze: Apply rearward pressure to the trigger until the shot breaks and follow through with the shot maintaining your cheek weld and trigger contact.

 

In the End

 

Those are pretty much the basics of shooting with a rifle sling and the techniques above can be applied to most shooting slings, not just one brand.  These techniques are also equally effective with semi-auto rifles as they are with bolt-action rifles.  Whichever brand of sling you choose to use practice as often as possible to become proficient at using the rifle sling and in turn increasing your skill set.

 

Below are some excellent sources for shooting slings:

 

Turner Slings

Turnerslings.com

 

TAB Gear

Riflesonly.com

 

Tactical Intervention Specialists

Tacticalintervention.com