I’ve been shooting rifles in competition for more than half my life. I’ve got a more than a handful of CMP medals and tens of thousands of rounds down range in both matches and practice. Last year I placed 7th overall in the National Vintage Rifle Match at Camp Perry and earned the highest score with both the 6.5x55mm cartridge and the Swedish Mauser rifle.
Before you get excited and think that I’m bragging, understand that this article is about how I discovered that I still didn’t have a number of skills I needed and had to humbly learn some basics after fifteen years of competitive shooting in order to better myself.
I’ve written extensively on my own limitations, including a short article series on my inability to comfortably carry a pistol due to chronic back injuries which ran here at TTAG about two years ago. I’ve also written on my passion for conservation and the inherent value of animal and human life, which is all too often disregarded by unethical writers. This article is no different. I found, despite my success as a competition rifle shooter, that I’ve been doing it wrong for many, many years.
I shot my best score at Camp Perry last year using what was basically a secondhand Swedish sling fitted with some American hardware to make it easier to take on and off the gun. The sling was thin and stretched easily. I used a modified setup that put the sling high on the bicep and it was of a noose style.
The harder you loaded into the rifle, the tighter it got. This was, at least in my mind, great for getting steady. In reality, what it did was cut off my circulation and cause me severe pain. My wife often chastised me for ignoring my own wellbeing when I would come home with broken blood vessels and nerve pain in the fingers of my left hand. I was dead-set on getting those scores, and I would be damned if I would let something as trivial as my own circulation get in the way.
This year was different for me. Between writing for five publishers, operating my own small farm, raising chickens and ducks, and repairing a house, my scores began to suffer. I found that I wasn’t up to the fatigue and pain of getting into my old sling the way I used to be. In my general ignorance, I kept at it, along with my dad, who never seemed to like the way we used our slings.
All that changed when I stepped back and decided to consider that there might be a better way. It occurred to me that I never learned true sling skills and that maybe it was time.
I began to look into other sling options and again realized now little I knew of that world. I had an old 1907-pattern sling that was pretty shabby in my gear box and decided to give it a try. I quickly realized that I knew nothing about it and decided to seek some professional help.
After a call to Brownells, I had in my hands several items that will be the focus of this article, those being two slings, a leather one and a BioThane model, and a small book about slings by Glen Zediker, aptly called Service Rifle Slings.
I cleared my mind of any assumptions I had about using rifle slings for competition and read the book. Since this article is sort of a combination of concept, product, and book reviews, I’ll start with the book.
This is a slim book and is written very candidly. Glen Zediker is a well-spoken man and, unlike me, is concise in his delivery. The book could be described as both a manual and a reference, as it has everything in it you need to know about using service rifle slings and not much else. There is hardly a book that is better on this topic and it does a great job or relaying the big ideas and fine points.
I won’t go into a complete review of the book because it’s short and full of useful knowledge I didn’t come up with myself and I’d risk spoiling it for the author and you. It’s only $13.99 at Brownells and is well worth skipping a couple of morning lattes to own.
Service Rifle Slings is loaded with techniques for sling attachment, assembly, and methods of use. It also details what types of slings are out there and how they’re best used.
The sling that I was most interested in was the classic 1907 pattern and this book is a must-have resource for anyone that wants to properly use it. In addition to plenty of well written, informative content, the book is loaded with helpful pictures that illustrate exactly how to set yourself up correctly.
Some interesting points that it covers include sling materials and their properties. I got two very similar 1907-pattern slings from Brownells, but they are worlds apart. The first is the more classic leather sling, the Competitor Plus. It arrives bone dry and without any sort of protective finish. I opted for common mink oil due to the fact that it does a good job of waterproofing and offers a nice color. This sling has the convenience of being numbered along the length of its longer strap, which helps when remembering your tension setting moving from gun to gun.
The BioThane sling, the Tactical Plus, is made for Brownells by Turner Saddlery. While researching products for this article I had the pleasure of spending a good amount of time on the phone with Richard Turner, the maker of these fine slings, and I can say that I’m very impressed with his product.
The sling is made of a unique material that’s essentially a polymerized strapping and it pretty much never stretches, wears, or hardens with use. It’s very floppy from the moment you open the package and it feels like a sling that is already broken in.
Compared side-by-side, the BioThane sling is very difficult to manipulate. It wants to stick to itself and as a result it’s very stable in use.
The keepers on the sling don’t move at all when in place and there is no hint of slippage. The leather sling has a bit more give to it and is very soft now after having been used for a few weeks. It’s the more comfortable of the two to work with and offers fast adjustments, but is more prone to slippage on the arm.
Being leather, it has a bit of give to it that can be felt when using it right after the BioThane version. I suggest that the reader or competitor own one of each because there are substantial differences in these materials. I have since spoken to many good shooters that have strong opinions about each material. I find that I prefer the Turner BioThane sling over the leather, but I’m still messing around with both.
After I finished my reading, I learned that I had a drastically wrong idea of what a sling is and how it comes into play in competition shooting. My old version had been working against me by cutting off circulation and creating fatigue in my arm. When I got set up with the new slings, I noticed a world of difference.
Although it wasn’t as tight as I was used to, the Brownells slings were substantially more comfortable. I was able to stay in position for extended periods of time without my left hand falling asleep or my arms beginning to shake in the offhand portion of my matches.
I managed to shoot a score at my local range’s weekly match that was equivalent to a 291/300 at Nationals using the BioThane sling and my 1903A3 rifle. The techniques in this book and the Brownells products worked in tandem to deliver performance I never knew I could get. Seriously, buy this book. It’s well worth it and I guarantee you’ll learn something, no matter how bull-headed you are.
It was a rough journey learning to use a new shooting style. I admit that my own stubbornness is what kept me using sub-par equipment, as I was convinced that I was doing well enough to get by. We often lie to ourselves when we want to believe something. I am a good shot, but only because I was willing to endure discomfort to score. Now, thanks to Service Rifle Slings and the two wonderful slings from Brownells, I’m able to be my best without pain or guesswork.
If you’re a competition shooter of any skill level, give these products a good look, especially the book. I heartily recommend it and learned a great deal about something I thought I had already figured out.