How to Use a Rifle Sling for Accuracy and Comfort

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Carry Your Rifle at the Ready

One-handed rifle sling carry provides great control and excellent safety.
This method of carrying a rifle with a sling doesn't even require a free shoulder, and provides the very best one-handed rifle control. Photo © Russ Chastain

This article was originally created to supplement another one called Using a Rifle Sling. That one has no pictures, but it contains some information not included here, so be sure to check it out.

My father taught me a great way to carry a rifle in the woods. Oddly, it doesn't seem to be very common, and really should be taught and utilized much more than it is. It's very simple - and very effective.

All you do is place your off-side arm (the left arm for right-handed shooters) through the sling, and allow the sling to draw tight against the back side of your upper arm. Some adjustment of the sling length will be necessary to get it just right, and you may need to adjust that length depending on the clothes you're wearing. In the end, your forearm (the one growing off you, not the one on your rifle) should be roughly at right angles to the gun.

On the photo, my hand is open to show that the tension between sling, arm, and gun is what keeps the gun in place. Grasping the gun certainly helps with control and should usually be done, but it's not necessary at all times.

The rifle in the photo above is not light (it weighs nine pounds without any ammo), but I can still carry and control it this way with just one arm. I can even shoulder the rifle without using my strong hand, which illustrates just how much control this method provides. With a short, light gun such as the Ruger 44 carbine on which I cut my deer-hunting teeth, control is nothing short of exquisite and ease of carrying is greatly improved over conventional sling use.

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One-Handed Shouldering of the Rifle

One-handed rifle sling carry allows you to shoulder the gun with just one hand.
One handed non-shoulder rifle carry using a sling allows great control - here, I've quickly and smoothly shouldered the gun without even using my other hand. Photo © Russ Chastain

When you begin with the rifle held as described and shown on the previous page, you can control your gun so well that you don't even need to use your strong hand to shoulder the rifle.

Remember my mentioning that you don't always need to grasp the rifle with the left hand? For this, you really should. Wrap those rows of bones (fingers, that is) around your popper and simply swing it into place with the butt against your opposite shoulder. As you can see in the photo, the gun is properly shouldered and well under control - but my left hand is in the same place it was in the previous photo, and I haven't even touched it with my right hand.

Experiment with this, and I think you'll like it, especially if your rifle is short and relatively light - although it works to some extent with every gun I've tried this way... even long, heavy magnum models.

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Keep Your Rifle on the Correct Side of Your Shoulder

Carry your rifle in front of your shoulder, not behind it.
Don't carry your rifle behind you. Keep it up front, where it can be kept safely under your control - and be very easy to access when you need it. Photo © Russ Chastain

When you're shooting a rifle, the gun ought to be in front of your shoulder, right? So why carry your rifle with the sling in front and the rifle in back? That makes no sense; any hunter should be ready to quickly bring his or her rifle to bear on whatever target may present itself. Whether it's a trophy buck or a charging bear, I want my gun to live between me and it, so I almost always tote my gun up front.

Slip your sling over your weak arm (left for most shooters) and over your shoulder, keeping the sling behind your shoulder and the gun up front. If your sling is anywhere close to the proper length and your rifle is of conventional styling (i.e. not a bullpup or other radical departure from tradition), this will allow your weak hand to comfortably rest in the pistol-grip area of the stock.

Simply grasping the wrist of the stock with your left hand with finger and thumb will provide you with good control of the gun. So, there ya go. Your gun is up front and under control, and can easily and almost effortlessly be kept from accidentally slipping off your shoulder by grasping lightly with your off-side hand.

How easy is it to shoulder the gun from this position? See the next couple pages to find out.

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Shouldering the Rifle from a Front Carry Position

It's easy to shoulder your rifle when you carry it up front instead of behind you.
Shouldering the rifle from the front carry position is easy, and practice makes it smooth and very fast. Photo © Russ Chastain
Okay, so you've taken heed of my sage advice and started toting your gun up front on your off side. What's the best and most efficient way to shoulder the rifle? Well, like the rest of my sling practice, it's simple and easy.

This is where practice can be very helpful. What I usually do is hand off the wrist of the stock from my left hand to my right hand. The left hand is already on that part of the gun, so I just move it slightly across my body towards the right. Then I grasp the pistol grip area (same part as the wrist) with my right hand. While moving my right hand upwards and to the right to shoulder the gun, I move my left hand onto the gun's forearm.

During all of this, I keep the sling behind my left arm. This is important for a number of reasons: it eliminates excess arm movement that would be necessary to free the sling, it keeps the sling from flopping around and thus attracting unwanted attention from game or getting snagged on brush, and (most importantly) it provides me with better control and the ability to shoot more accurately.

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Sling Tension Can Help Your Aim

Shoulder the rifle from a front carry position and the sling's tension will help improve accuracy.
Once the rifle is shouldered from the front carry position, the sling is nicely positioned behind the upper arm to provide sling tension to help improve accuracy. Photo © Russ Chastain

When I'm done shouldering my rifle from a front-carry position, the smooth and minimal movement leaves it in the position shown in the accompanying photo. The sling has only moved a few inches, from behind my shoulder to behind my upper arm. My left hand has only moved forward on the gun's stock about twelve inches. My right hand is in the correct position to take a shot if need be.

But besides having the gun where it needs to be, the most important thing to observe in this photo is the sling and the tension it's under. That tension helps greatly in steadying your aim - try it and see.

The only common problem that this kind of tension may cause would be the flexing of the gun stock to alter (or create) pressure between stock and barrel. Some stocks, especially light synthetic stocks, are quite flexible. The sideways pressure exerted on the sling may bend the forearm over and put pressure against the side of the barrel. This may or may not cause your rifle to shoot erratically, which makes my next point very important.

In addition to observing basic gun safety rules and practicing these carrying and shouldering techniques with your unloaded rifle at home, you should also shoot it at a range using sling tension. This will help you get used to firing your rifle in this way and help you get your sling adjusted just right, and it will also indicate any accuracy problems like those discussed in the previous paragraph.

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A Fistful of Sling

Create your own sling tension when the sling isn't behind your off-side arm.
If you can't get the sling behind your off-side arm, just grab hold of the sling and pull the rifle rearward into your opposite shoulder to provide sling tension and improve accuracy. Photo © Russ Chastain
Sometimes you need to shoot, you need to shoot now, and you need to make minimal movement while preparing to shoot. Maybe your sling isn't around your off-side arm and conditions aren't conducive to getting it there. Often times in the hunting woods, there's no handy place to rest your rifle, and opportunities in the woods are often fleeting.

When that happens, do yourself a favor and instead of grabbing your rifle's stock with your off hand, glom onto a gob of sling right quick and haul back towards your body. Pull the gun into your shoulder with your weak arm. Rest the forearm atop your sling-filled fist, and take aim. That's just what I'm doing in the photo above.

Give these things a try. You may be surprised at how much better-prepared you can be when walking through the woods, how much more quickly you can get your gun into action, and how much more accurate your non-rested shots can become with just a little practice. My father's advice has surely served me well for thirty seasons of deer hunting, and I expect it to keep doing so for a long time to come.

Happy hunting,

- Russ Chastain