How to Use a Rifle Sling to Shoot Better

Josh Wayner for TTAG

I have spent more than half my life in the Civilian Marksmanship Program shooting sports. When I began my CMP career, I was told by a wise old man at my local club that the sling on a rifle is just as important as the rifle itself. As a young man I casually ignored that advice until I matured as a competitor and learned just how wrong I was.

In this article I will go over the ideology and theory of sling use and how you can use a sling to make yourself a better rifle shooter.

Active vs. Passive Sling Use

There are two primary schools of thought that encompass the world of rifle slings. The first is what I will call ‘passive’ use, where the sling is simply treated as a means to carry the rifle. Passive slings range from the embossed leather straps that your granddad had on his old deer rifle to the bungee-style tactical slings on many AR rifles today.

The passive sling is little more than a strap used for ease of transport. While some would argue that a bungee-style tactical is an ‘active’ sling, I disagree in that it offers no stability for the rifle and instead makes it faster to present while shooting.

For our purposes, an ‘active’ sling is a sling that interacts with the shooter and the rifle during the act of shooting in a way that offers support and/or stability. An active sling becomes part of the package and is a valuable piece of shooting equipment, not just an afterthought.

Examples of an active sling are the 1907 and Ching Sling, the latter made popular by Jeff Cooper on his scout rifle and named after his friend, Eric Ching.

The active sling can function as a carry strap and it does an admirable job in that role, but it’s best used when looking to stabilize a rifle in the field or the competition line. Not all active slings are created equally. There are things to look for as there are some slings that cosmetically resemble a true active sling, but lack the strength to be functional in that role. Cheap materials and poor attachment points will give away a fake.

In addition, make sure that your rifle has sling mounting hardware that’s able to withstand hard use. 1 ¼” steel swivels hard-mounted to the rifle are ideal. You will find that the screwed-in stud style sling mounts on many rifles aren’t sufficient to bear the loading pressure of an active sling. I have seen these studs rotate and strip out the stocks they are in when a sling is used.

Sling Material

There are several types of sling materials that you will want to take a serious look at when you want to improve your shooting. The first and foremost of these materials is leather. The slings featured in this article can be found at Brownell’s. They are both part of their Competitor Plus line and are available with numbers and without.

I often recommend the Competitor Plus line to my fellow CMP shooters as they are high quality and affordable. A reply I often receive after someone buys one of these slings is that they don’t look like mine. The numbered sling here has seen a great deal of use and has been well seasoned.

The Competitor Plus comes dry and stiff and will need breaking in. An un-broken-in sling will feel hard and slick like plastic, where a seasoned sling is moist and softer. You can clearly see the difference in color between the two in the photos here.

Brownell’s is a one-stop shop for your competition needs. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

Breaking in a leather sling takes time and patience. I like to do a multi-stage treatment over a couple of weeks of mink oil and heavy-duty leather protector. Saddle soap may also be used to speed this process.

After a fresh application of your chosen leather treatment, you will need to stretch it out by placing the sling under your foot and pulling hard on it for a couple of seconds on and off for a minute or two. This will help the leather last longer and prevent it from stretching out unevenly while in use.

A treated sling and a brand new one fresh from Brownell’s (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

Biothane is another material used in some Brownell’s slings. The Brownell’s Tactical Plus sling is made of this material, which is urethane-coated nylon. It’s weatherproof and doesn’t require breaking in like leather.

The major feature of this material is that it’s almost tacky, which allows it to cling to shooting coats and maintain shooting positions without fear of slippage. This is also somewhat of a downside to some people, as it’s slower and more difficult to adjust than a leather sling.

Some good leather treatment products (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

Nylon and cotton slings are probably the poorest options for hard use, and I know that from how many of them I’ve eventually torn. I have seen cotton and nylon slings rip on the line at the National Matches several times.

You will rarely see good shooters using the same cotton or nylon sling for more than a season as the risk of stretching and tearing is high by comparison to leather and Biothane. Nylon slings also tend to slip much easier than other materials and it frays easily when a minor bit of wear occurs.

A Competitor Plus sling as it is received (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

Why Use A Sling?

Using a sling is an art in comparison to using a bipod or a rest. Many shooters will eventually refuse the use of either once they become proficient with a sling and for good reason. The sling is attached to the rifle for most of its life and it’s one of those items that is always on hand.

For field use, a sling is substantially faster to deploy than other support gear and is just as stable when used properly. Many tactical junkies are addicted to their bipods and bean bags, but in the field these items have more limited use.

I fondly recall the first time I went out hunting with a ‘tactical’ rifle after having shot long-range matches for years. The problem was, the area I was hunting wasn’t mowed or maintained like a shooting range and I had no place to get prone or get my bag under the stock. I was stuck out there with a heavy gun and no good way to aim it steadily as I simply couldn’t see over the grass or find a fallen trunk to rest it on. I ended up missing my deer on what should have been an easy shot.

A sling in the field can be used from a sitting position in a similar way it’s used in prone and it is nearly as stable.

There is relatively little set-up, so it’s fast and always available. I used a leather 1907 sling on my .450 Bushmaster to shoot a deer last fall. I was in a low valley on the edge of a field and had my back to a tree. There was simply no place to go prone and the deer came in from an uphill angle, so it made tremendous sense to sling up and await their approach.

How to Use Your Sling

There are several methods you can use to improve you shooting using a sling. The two major methods are what we could call fast and slow. The fast way is to pre-set your sling to a given length while leaving it fully attached to the rifle. This is sometimes called a ‘hasty sling’ and it allows you to shoot from prone or sitting with great stability, but at the cost of some precision.

Many people will set this length and use it by putting the support arm through between the rifle and sling, then bring it back in and around the wrist, thus allowing it to be pulled into the shoulder tightly. This method is preferred by hunters and is the idea behind the Ching Sling, which is considered one of the best sling styles for use in the field.

A Hasty Sling remains attached to the rifle in at least two points and is simply looped around the arm (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

The slow method is complex and occasionally uncomfortable. Competition shooters will use this method to essentially make their body into a rock-solid rest for their rifle.

The method used by the author is a modification of the Marine Corps style and is great for taming the 1903 and M1 rifles. It must be noted that this style can be extremely uncomfortable and can induce severe pain and restrict blood flow to the support arm of done incorrectly.

A good prone position is never really comfortable and anyone who tells you otherwise is kidding you. To use this method, you must create a loop in the main body of the sling that self-tightens as you use it. This cuff is applied to the upper arm and is purposely made short so that the support hand is wedged in near the sling swivel and the stock is manually pushed into the shoulder.

The shooter will then snug in and load into the sling, which will tighten the rifle against the body. Because this is so tight, it creates stability and you are able to, when done correctly, shoot just about as well as off the bench.

Note that the sling is detached from the butt of the rifle and is cuffed around the lower arm. It would be much tighter than shown in the photo if a shooting coat were in use (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

The problem with these competition-style sling arrangements is that they’re slow to get into and you will want other gear to make it more comfortable, such as a shooting coat and a padded glove. The glove will prevent your hand from falling asleep when wedged between the sling and rifle. The shooting coat is often used by match shooter to reduce pulse and increase the rigidity of their torso during the standing portion of matches.

How Not To Use Your Sling

There are several times you will not want to use your sling. The first of these is from a standing position. Standing is best done with a sling attached, but contrary to popular belief, it won’t make you more steady. In fact, it will do just the opposite and makes it harder for you aim as there is no way to load into it to reduce movement.

If you plan to shoot from a standing position, the best thing you can do with your sling is to get it out of the way or tighten it against your rifle so that it doesn’t swing freely, which will induce sway and decrease your ability to aim precisely.

Using a sling to increase accuracy only works if you can load into the sling in a way that creates strength. You shouldn’t expect a sling that lacks permanent adjustment points to be either strong or consistent. The 1907 slings here have fixed locations for length adjustment, which means that they are like clicks on a scope.

You will find what works best for you and your rifle and you’ll want to keep it like that. I know that on my pictured 1903A3 rifle there is a specific hole number for prone and for sitting, both of which provide the tension the rifle shoots best with. I have settings listed for if I have my coat on or not as well.

Use What Suits You

Not everyone will understand or make use of a sling correctly. Some may even scoff at the notion that a sling is anything other than just a decoration or a means of carry. I would say that most shooters and hunters today lack the skill to use a sling correctly, and even fewer have the correct sling for their task. This should not be read as a deterrent to using one, but it should be considered a warning against using one incorrectly, as it is easy to mess everything up you have worked hard to establish.

If you’re a recreational carbine shooter or a cop, you will probably have your rifle on a passive sling that lets you walk around hands-free. Your goal is to comfortably carry and use your carbine while making it easy to draw a pistol or perform other tasks. You will rarely, if ever, use your sling for anything else.

If you’re a hunter, you may want to have an adjustable sling that can perform double-duty in carry and aiding your shot. As a hunter with a Ching Sling, you may be on a stalk or perhaps stumble on your quarry with limited time to make a good shot. You want something that is fast to get in and out.

As a competitor, you will want the utmost in precision and thus you will want a sling that allows you to wring it out. Permanent, solid adjustment is necessary at the expense of speed. Once you get into your sling, you will want to stay there until the match is over.

What Does Josh Recommend?

There is a reason I use the Brownell’s Competitor Plus and Tactical Plus slings. I often hear criticism for only reviewing high-end guns and recommending expensive gear, ammo, and scopes. In the most sorry, not sorry way of addressing this, I have developed an idea of what works for me and what doesn’t and I can’t recommend gear that doesn’t work or perform. If you want to buy cheaper, go ahead. In my experience, it will fail at the worst possible time.

I have somewhere around 3,000 rounds of .30-06 on the numbered Competitor Plus sling in this article and an additional 3,000 on the Biothane Tactical Plus sling under heavy tension and in hot, stressed conditions. I trust these slings to perform.

This ESEE RB3 has a leather sheath that benefits just the same from leather treating (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

If I had to recommend a sling to improve shooting, I would heartily recommend a Competitor Plus. This sling will serve most shooters and hunters provided they have swivels appropriate to the task.

For serious match work they are completely acceptable when properly broken in. The Tactical Plus is superior for advanced match shooters that compete in weather and conditions that demand resistance to swelling and moisture absorption. These slings are heavy and thick and are not ideal for the hunter.

comments

  1. avatar Sam I Am says:

    Well, well. Everything old is new again.

    Using a sling to stabilize a rifle shot is something learned before leaving middle school. Learned the technique when gaining the marksmanship merit badge(there were no “marks-Xship” merit badges). Never gave it much thought after that. It was standard for high school and college ROTC shooting programs. Thought everyone knew it, and used it. Until this morning.

    Glad to see that some still use the technique, though surprised that maybe some (many?) don’t. Don’t own a rifle, but postings like this are enjoyable to read.

    1. avatar Tom T says:

      In the late 90s I was assigned to SBU 22 and they actually discouraged it during training. The trend was moving to single point slings. But my highest scores were always from sitting cross legged with a standard strap around my support arm. Just like I was taught as a boy.

      1. avatar A Florida Man says:

        And I thought a sling was only good for pissing off the public during open carry marches.

        1. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “And I thought a sling was only good for pissing off the public during open carry marches.”

          Multi-function is good.

      2. avatar Sam I Am says:

        “The trend was moving to single point slings.”

        Single-points may be good in CQB, where getting the muzzle up is crucial. For sustained fire without any other support, the sling around the arm is likely to be more accurate over distance. Of course, not having any combat experience with AR pattern battle rifles, I may be projecting from a time long gone.

        1. avatar Knute(ken) says:

          I think everybody here knows how I feel about blanket statements that purport to cover all bases at once, but now I’ll make one.
          Whatever is “trending” amongst the sheeple are the stinkiest possible piles of horse dung. They’re “fads” for the “fans”, and I haven’t forgotten that “fan” is short for “fanatic”, a dangerously mentally ill person.
          And “fad”, although not certain, in general is thought to derive from; “stupid”, “trifle”, “nonsense”, or “crazy”. Well, that explains why sheeple love fads so much, and also why they’re stupid. 🙂
          https://www.etymonline.com/word/fad

        2. avatar Sam I Am says:

          Wow. That went way over my head, and smacked the wall behind me. Could you dumb-it down for me?

        3. avatar Knute(ken) says:

          Sorry Sam, but I won’t nibble at the bait. Nice try though. I see you’ve noticed I like to go into excruciating details that the trolls cannot fathom. 🙂

        4. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “Sorry Sam, but I won’t nibble at the bait. Nice try though. I see you’ve noticed I like to go into excruciating details that the trolls cannot fathom.”

          Not “bait”. I truly do not understand your paragraph.

          BTW, you are relatively inaccurate at identifying “trolls”. Maybe you are new around here.

        5. avatar Knute(ken) says:

          Oops.
          Correction: I see that I DID nibble, because I responded. Not going to let you set the hook, though… sorry. 🙂

        6. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “Correction: I see that I DID nibble, ”

          Do you designate anyone, any opinion, any comment that does not add to the echo chamber a “troll”?

        7. avatar Knute(ken) says:

          Did you catch my slight double entendre on the word “they’re” in the last sentence? I’m proud of that one, because almost nobody will ever see it. It’s an inside joke from me to me. And probably you. Did I mean for the pronoun to refer to the sheeple, or did I mean fads? Only my hairdresser knows for sure…
          🙂

        8. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “Did you catch my slight double entendre on the word “they’re” in the last sentence?”

          Thought it was a nicely turned use of the word. However….I still want to understand what you were trying to say.

        9. avatar Ken says:

          Are you the same Sam I Am that has known me for years?

        10. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “Are you the same Sam I Am that has known me for years?”

          Not sure. Perhaps under a different handle? Been here only since 2013.

        11. avatar Overworld says:

          Sam. Ignore the handle for now. Remember we used to respond to the kid of Crisco(almost)? I’ve been Knute, ken, kenneth, and now I’ll have to change again. For some reason I can no longer post under Knute. TTAG has disallowed it. I’ll try Overworld this time…

        12. avatar Sam I Am says:

          Oh Cisco. Oh Pancho.

          Got it. Yes, the same.

        13. avatar Knute(ken) says:

          So let’s try this. It also won’t post the word cisco, and the word kid. At least not when they’re together.

        14. avatar Sam I Am says:

          Pancho and Duncan Renaldo.
          (who was actually Hungarian)

        15. avatar Knute(ken) says:

          Yup, that was it. Looks like old Poncho and ______ has been declared persona non grata on TTAG. Can’t even mention him. Anyway we used to kinda needle him together????

        16. avatar Knute(ken) says:

          Yup, that’s the actor. I had no idea. Had to go look it up. I remember the show but I was just little. All I really remember was watching the same terrain go by over and over when they were riding.
          I remember TTAGs Duncan Renaldo well, though. He was almost as much fun to needle as Pg/vlad is.
          So I won’t have to change handle again. Others always started using whatever variation of “ken” I was using, and it got confusing. TTAG should join the rest of the web and not let more than one share the same handle. It causes too much confusion. But I’m glad to see that I can stay Knute, at least for now. I picked that variation thinking that few others would ever want the Norwegian version. It’s worked so far.

        17. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “Yup, that’s the actor. I had no idea. Had to go look it up. ”

          Cracked me up when Antonio Banderas starred as Zorro, and the movie was hailed as a great example of Hispanic romantic heroism.

          Banderas was/is Spanish
          The book was written by an Irishman
          Zorro, and all the other major characters were Spaniards, except Zeta-Jones who was/is Welsh.

          Of course, Bond, the quintessential English upper class spy was a Scott, and later Irish.

          Fantasy is fun and ironic.

    2. avatar Eric in Oregon says:

      “Well, well. Everything old is new again.”

      https://xkcd.com/1053/

      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        “https://xkcd.com/1053/”

        Great site. Thanx for providing the link.

  2. avatar pwrserge says:

    I have never seen sling support used outside of a KD range. There is a reason for that. They might be great for service rifle matches, but for practical shooting? I’ll take a good VFG or barricade stop over a sling every day of the week.

    1. avatar Knute(ken) says:

      I’ll always use a “hasty sling” in the field, offhand, any time one is available. One can do this even with just a carry strap, if it’s of the proper length.
      To use, just hang the rifle from the off shoulder, muzzle down. Twist the off hand around the strap clockwise (if right handed. Southpaws anticlockwise with the right hand instead), grasp the forend, and bring the rifle up to the shoulder. The strap will be wrapped around the off elbow and forearm, and can be tightened by raising the off elbow.
      This is much more stable than off hand shooting without a sling, and just as quick as not using a sling at all. Nowhere near as stable as a real prone sling, as in Mr. Wayner’s excellent piece, but very useful in the hunting field, because of how fast it is to get into.

  3. avatar daveinwyo says:

    I thought the sling w/many holes was called the Whealin sling. Probably got the spelling wrong.

    1. avatar Knute(ken) says:

      Yup. For Col Townsend Whelen, who was also responsible for the .35 Whelen wildcat cartridge by necking up the .30-06 case to take a .35 caliber bullet. That’s still one of the best cartridges for North American big game. It will kill anything on this continent.
      So will .375 H&H and bigger, but the Whelen fits in any standard length bolt action and has less recoil to boot. But one has to handload it, so it never achieved much popularity, due to the limited availability. A great cartridge though.

  4. avatar Ranger71 says:

    I have a nice military sling for my m1a that I don’t utilize often enough. I haven’t found a lot of good source material for the 1907 style slings as far as setup and use are concerned. So I’m still learning. I purchased an “ultimate sling”, at least that is what I think it is called, for my mini. Made in my home state of Michigan. Great sling for the money and more intuitive to use than the 1907.

  5. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    I use slings the “fast way” on my rifles. I am always pleasantly surprised how much they improve my stability. (My sights do not waver around as much as shooting without a sling.)

    I do not agree with the author’s comment that slings fail to improve stability/accuracy when standing. In my case I find that my stability/accuracy improves noticeably even when standing and shooting off-hand.

    Every time I reach my hunting location, I immediately check (and adjust if necessary) my sling length for “fast use” to improve my accuracy. It has not let me down yet. (I have venison in my freezer to prove the point.)

    Oh, and I don’t have fancy leather slings. My slings are all made of nylon near as I can tell — and do not seem to stretch. As I said, they seem to work. Perhaps they work well for me because I only shoot dozens of rounds versus thousands of rounds a year.

    1. avatar Coffee says:

      +1 on standing w sling:
      Hasty sling FTW. A good VFG will be about the same, but I can hasty sling tight for less sustained effort.
      Also, +1 to sitting w sling: made my first shots to 300yd easily repeated (with a stock SKS and wind)

      1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

        With a stock SKS — outstanding!

        (SKS rifles are not known for being tack-drivers.)

  6. avatar strych9 says:

    It’s odd to me how people forget this kind of thing and then have to relearn it, but then that seems to happen with everything in life. My dad taught me this as a kid and I’ve applied it with many a two point sling since.

    If you’ve properly set the sling for length this works with a VTAC sling just fine. It’s not quite as comfortable as a wider leather sling, but it works quite well in a pinch.

    I’ve never really “gotten” the idea of sticking widgets on a gun just because you can. If it adds weight then in my book it better have a benefit that offsets that weight. Most bipod/grip attachments, IMHO, don’t meet that standard and carrying shit around for no reason makes little sense to me.

    1. avatar Knute(ken) says:

      Me either. Take the vertical foregrip. It provides nothing for me, so with no benifit delivered to counteract its weight and cost, Why? IF I was to have to stand at port arms for hours, yeah, NOW I get the benefit.
      But I’m old enough to no longer take orders, so no benefit to me. It doesn’t make a rifle handle any better, shoot any better, load any better, nothing. So the mall ninjas that want “the look” can keep them. I’ll stick with the standard round halves, except for my old triangle handguard A1 with the “carrying handle”.

  7. avatar Appleseeder says:

    https://appleseedinfo.org/

    They’ll teach you all about it.

  8. avatar John doe says:

    You can’t talk about practical slings without mentioning Todd Dow’s excellent Riflecraft slings:
    https://www.rifle-craft.com

  9. avatar BobS says:

    I agree, a leather 1907 sling is a wonder to behold and a joy to use. And you only linked to the $50+ low-budget options – it’s easy to spend a couple hundred bucks on a deluxe example from a famous name leather demigod.

    But I think you too quickly dismiss a cheap 1¼” cotton (not nylon!) web GI sling. Its cam buckle gives infinite adjustments, not just holes every inch where a 1907’s brass frog feet hook. It can be used for transport, then serve as a hasty sling across the chest, behind the tricep, and across the back of the support hand. Unhook it from the buttstock swivel, pull a loop from the H buckle, and you’ve got a self-tightening loop sling. Best of all, for only $14 (tech-sights.com) I can carry several to provide as loaners to students who show up to an Appleseed shoot without a suitable sling of their own. (If their rifles lack attachment points we improvise with nylon zip ties.)

    Use of a sling is not permitted in NRA/CMP High Power standing offhand courses of fire, though it must remain attached to the rifle (either swinging in the breeze to maximize instability, or snugged up so it’s in the way of operating the controls). Outside that specific discipline’s rule constraints, a sling provides as effective support for standing as it does for kneeling, seated, or prone positions.

  10. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    I cannot emphasize enough the utility of a proper sling, and IMO, there is only one proper sling, the US invented it over 100 years ago.

    This is an article that’s been needing written for years here at TTAG. Well done.

  11. avatar Alan says:

    For prone position shooting, a properly utilized Model 1907 sling creates a position that is extremely stable, almost, according to some, as bench rest shooting.

  12. avatar daveinwyo says:

    Carried an M14 in basic. Not one DI knew how to use a sling.
    Neither did I, but I was only 18. And my old Savage .22lr didn’t have sling points.

  13. avatar Arron Greenfield says:

    Anyone else notice the rear sight in the photos?

    Anyone else have a problem taking this article seriously knowing the combination of the horribly short eye relief of the TA43 and the impossibility of using a flipup rear sight with it?

  14. avatar Ark says:

    *laughs in VCAS sling*

    Slings are a valuable shooting aid, but unhooking a leather sling to wrap around your bicep…the future is now, old man! We have quick adjust carbine slings that work as shooting aids and fast, versatile carrying systems in all positions. They work when it’s hot, or cold, or wet, or damp with jungle rot. Use a 1907 leather sling at Camp Perry if you want, but the real world has moved beyond.

  15. avatar Southern Cross says:

    1907 slings for me, but most shooting is range shooting. 2-point hasty for standing and kneeling. Single-point for sitting and prone.

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