If you’re new to shooting, you probably haven’t been exposed to a proper shooting sling. Most of the slings on the market today are either tactical style, with quick adjustment for length, or just used as a carry strap. That’s a shame, though.
When I bought my first rifle, a Springfield M1A, the internet told me that I needed a proper sling to shoot it with. So I went out, did my homework, and ended up with a Turner 1907 made from biothane. It worked well, but I never really understood it until years later. It got me through the early part of my marksmanship blogging years, and a few classes focused on traditional positions, but I’ve moved on to newer and more intuitive designs.
Using a shooting sling is somewhat uncomfortable, but the tighter you get the lockup the better your precision will become (to a point). I am usually a 2-3 MOA shooter from the sitting while using a sling, and 5-6 MOA without it.
Using the Sling
Shooting slings, as opposed to tactical slings, give more stability. The foundation of all rifle positions is to adopt good bone-on-bone contact and relax. Ideally, there is no muscle involved in supporting the weapon. Without a sling, there is always a weak link with the supporting arm.
With the support elbow rested on a stable surface such as the ground or knee, you form a shooting triangle. The supporting hand, elbow, and shoulder form the points. Trouble is that this triangle only has two sides. If you relax the bicep holding the two sides of the triangle, gravity will do its thing and the hand will fall.
A shooting sling closes the open triangle by connecting the front of the rifle to the top of the arm. This way, muscle is not required to support the rifle. You relax into the position and the rifle stays in position.
The amount of length needed for the shooting loop is different for each shooting position. Generally, you can use the same shooting length setting for kneeling, sitting, and squatting. Prone will probably need more slack, since your body is no longer upright and your support arm is further away.
Tips for Using The Sling
#1: Don’t cinch it too tightly
Be cautious about going *too tight* with a sling unless you are wearing heavy layers. A very tightly cinched sling will induce pulse jump in the sights.
I used to make my sling tight enough that my fingers would tingle after a few magazines. I thought that it was the best way to create a stable position. That was even the advice given by the instructor when I attended an Appleseed event. But, I later figured out that they were talking more to the new shooters who didn’t have much tension at all. The new shooters thought it was uncomfortable, so they were very loose.
I kept doing it this way until one day at my local military range. I was between positions and taking a break when someone came by to chat. Surprised to see someone out practicing traditional rifle positions at all, much less with a sling, they wanted to see what I was up to. Then they noticed how tightly I had it set up, and offered some advice: loosen the sling a bit. As the conversation kept going, I learned that this shooter was training for the Olympics, and was an active member on a military service rifle team.
So I loosened my sling a bit. Not a lot. Just enough to reduce seeing my pulse.
#2: Look into modern slings
There is something classic about the classic 1907 and USGI web sling styles, but they are definitely old school.
These days, when I use a shooting sling, I spend most of my time with a Short Action Precision model. It is purpose-built for Precision Rifle Series (PRS) matches. They are quick to adjust from position to position, which is a huge convenience. The sling also immediately releases from the arm if you need to get out of position quickly. Overall, I’ve found them extremely stable, and really enjoy using them.
While I spend the most time with the Short Action Precision, all the modern slings do effectively the same thing. This video is a great demonstration by Jacob Bynum of Rifles Only with a modern shooting sling produced by his company. As of this writing, it looks like Rifles Only now sells the Short Action Precision model instead.
#3: You can still be quick to aim
Most people think of slings as the modern carbine variety. These are long, looping around the shooter’s back. They adjust for length by using a pull tab. This reduces slack and helps keep the rifle close to the body when needed. This is convenient for very quick shooting because the rifle is held in the “low ready” position. The trouble is that this configuration doesn’t solve the open triangle problem.
For shooting slings, the traditional method of carry is over one shoulder with either the rifle on the shooting side shoulder with the muzzle pointing up (American style), or on the support side shoulder with the muzzle pointing down (Rhodesian, or African, style). There is a third one taught at Gunsite called European carry, but I don’t see any benefit of it over the other two. Ruger and Gunite put together a short video explaining each of these carry methods.
#4: Use a modern sling as an improvised shooting sling
Use can still use modern tactical slings to stabilize your shooting. There are two methods to doing this. The first is by cinching down the length adjustment and otherwise using correct shooting form. You will help stabilize the rifle due to the tension applied by the sling. It is not quite as good as a true shooting sling, but it will work well enough for most people when speed is of the essence. This really only works well if you have a sling attachment point at the forward end of the handguard, where a traditional sling might be attached. If you mount it close to the receiver, you might have trouble creating the right amount of tension. For this reason, most of my carbines have two QD sling points: one near the receiver and one near the end of the handguard. I like to have options.
Some modern tactical slings with the quick adjusting loops can make a makeshift shooting loop. For instance my FTW sling creates a sizable loop when the adjustment carriage is moved forward. I can take advantage of this loop and put my arm through it in a pinch. It does not cinch down and hold position like a traditional shooting sling would, but it works well enough for a shot or two.
Not all slings do this, though. You will have to experiment with sling positioning and tension.
Slings are an important part of good marksmanship, but one that is often ignored. Most of the training I see people doing revolves around very close range and very fast engagements. The practical marksman should be thinking a bit further out than that, and should use all tools available.
Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He’s former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He’s a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.