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 an all-weather Turner 1907 sling.
It worked well, but I never really understood it until years later. The turner 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.
Used correctly, the shooting sling is somewhat uncomfortable.
However, that’s a necessary tradeoff since the tighter you get the lockup, the better your precision becomes. To a point at least, which I’ll get to.
As an example of its benefits, I’m usually a 2-3 MOA shooter from the sitting while using a sling and 5-6 MOA without it.
So what is a Shooting Sling?
Shooting slings, as opposed to tactical slings, primarily deliver more stability. In contrast, the tactical sling is primarily a method of supporting the rifle for carriage.
The foundation of all rifle positions is adopting good bone-on-bone contact and relaxing the muscles. Ideally, there’s no muscle involved in supporting the weapon whatsoever.
Without a sling, however, there is always a weak link with the supporting arm.
Here’s an example: rest your supporting elbow on a flat surface like your knee or a table. Bend your elbow up as if you were supporting a rifle.
Or, hey, just go ahead and grab a rifle to practice this.
The supporting hand, elbow, and shoulder form the points of a triangle.
The 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 your hand falls.
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. The amount of sling between the elbow and the rifle is about the same for kneeling, squatting, and sitting.
Prone usually requires more slack since your body is no longer upright and your support arm is further away.
Making that length adjustment on classic shooting slings like my Turner AWS or a classic USGI model is slow. Modern slings, like my Short Action Precision model, use an additional adjustment mechanism for making tension adjustments very fast and intuitive.
Tips for Using The Sling
When it comes to using the sling itself, here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.
#1: Don’t cinch it too tightly
I know I said that the tighter you make the sling, the more stable it is. I used to make my sling tight enough that my fingers would tingle after a few magazines.
However, a member of the Air Force shooting team set me straight one day. There is definitely a point of diminishing returns. A very tightly cinched induces pulse jump in the sights.
Pulse jump means that you can watch your sights ever so slightly bump up in down in time with your heart rate. It gets particularly bad with magnified optics.
If you go to an Appleseed event that caters to newer shooters, they will tell you to make the sling as tight as possible. In fact, that’s how I got into the habit of making my fingers numb. I later realized they were talking more to the new shooters who didn’t have much tension at all. They thought it was uncomfortable.
Once you get used to a shooting sling, make it as tight as practical without inducing pulse jump. If you truly need a very high level of tension, then wear more layers or a purpose-built shooting jacket to minimize the vibration transfer from your heartbeat.
#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 Positional 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.
Another option, which is slightly more budget-friendly than the SAP model is from Armageddon Gear. It features the same quick adjustability for tension without having to get out of the sling and includes a heavy-duty bungee at the rear end.
In either case, these modern slings are far faster and more versatile than the classic 1907 or USGI designs.
#3: Learn a new rifle carry style
Most people think of slings as the modern tactical variety. These are long so that they can loop all the way around your back. Manufacturers use a pull tab in the middle to adjust overall length. This reduces slack and helps keep the rifle close to the body when needed.
These styles are convenient for very quick shooting because the rifle usually stays in the “low ready” position. The trouble is that this configuration doesn’t solve the open triangle problem.
You can absolutely improvise a bit by increasing the tension, especially if the sling has bungee material, but it’s not quite as effective as a real shooting sling.
With shooting slings, the traditional method of carrying 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
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 quick-adjust mechanisms 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 doesn’t stay put on my bicep
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.