How to Use a Rifle Sling (and Why You Should)

To Sling or Not to Sling: That is the Question

How to use a rifle sling. 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 shoulder, and provides the very best one-handed rifle control. Photo © Russ Chastain

When it comes to long guns, they all have one thing in common: they're awkward. Sure, some are handier than others, but all are rather long and can be aggravating. They can be a pain to handle, carry, and steady up for a shot in the woods. Many hunters combat this by using a sling. Not every hunter knows how to use a rifle sling - but they should.

I'm a dedicated sling-user myself. Slings make it much easier to carry a rifle or shotgun in the field, and can be invaluable for accurate rifle shooting in a pinch when you don't have a rest.

But slings do have some pitfalls as well.

Take it Off!

Slings can get in the way, like anything that hangs from a gun. I often remove my sling when I'm sitting in the woods hunting, whether I'm in a stand or on the ground, so it won't get caught on something or dangle as I move, which can throw off my aim or catch the eye of game. Quick-detachable sling swivels are great for this.

Keep it Simple

I have used all kinds of slings over the years, and usually I prefer to keep it simple. I have spent a lot of time in the woods toting bolt-action rifles with simple black nylon strap slings. This has worked very well for me.

I own a couple of Super Slings by The Outdoor Connection, Inc.. Adjustment is quick and easy, and the sling is well-made and well-designed. I purchased a padded one some years ago, but as my tastes have evolved I mostly prefer unpadded slings. I got an unpadded Super Sling with the purchase of a used rifle some years ago, and it has become my favorite rifle sling.

As you can tell, my favorite slings are basic and unpadded.

Tote Your Rifle at the Ready

Years ago, Dad taught me an interesting way to use a sling to carry a rifle, which I've done many times. Simply slip your off-side (left for right-handed shooters) elbow through the sling, with your upper arm (maybe midway between elbow and shoulder, but tending towards the elbow) against the inside of the sling.

You should have a little more sling between your arm and the butt of the gun than between your arm and the front sling swivel.

Place the open palm of the off hand on the bottom of the forearm of the stock near the trigger guard, and grasp the stock with that hand. Shift your arm until you have tension between your arm, the sling, and the rifle. Your forearm should be at right angles to the gun. With your arm wedged into the sling that way, you can tote a light rifle easily with one arm and bring it to your shoulder without even having to touch it with your shooting hand until the gun is in place.

I have put together some photos showing how this is done... check it out: How to Use a Rifle Sling

Mislocated Shoulder...

I often see hunters with guns slung over their shoulders, their rifles behind them. I do this sometimes myself, but not often, because I want my rifle up front where I can get to it quickly and easily, and better control it. Slip the sling onto your off-side shoulder, but keep the rifle in front of you. You can place your left hand on the inside of the stock's pistol-grip area, and the gun is ready when you need it, well under your control.

I'm right-handed, and I usually like to carry my rifle this way on my left shoulder.

That way I can grab the pistol grip with my right hand while I'm slipping it off my shoulder, and have the rifle shouldered quickly when the need arises. My left arm is already through the sling, too, in case I decide to use the sling to steady up.

Other Options

I don't always carry that way; sometimes the gun is not the most important thing I'm handling - though of course it's always important to keep it under control. When I need to carry my rifle without using my hands, I use a nifty item called the Gunslinger Corral Compact Rifle Holster. This allows me to have the rifle slung out of the way but well under control, and keeps it from slipping off my shoulder or getting away from me. It also supports most of the rifle's weight, saving my shoulder from fatigue.

Slings Can Help Your Shooting

A sling can be used to aid accuracy, too.

Wedging the off-side arm into the sling as discussed above is a good way to steady your aim in the absence of a rest. I have also made accurate shots in the field by simply grabbing a fistful of sling in my left hand and pulling the rifle straight back against my right shoulder, resting the forearm on my sling-filled left fist. Try it, and you may be surprised at how a little sling tension can make a big difference in steadying your aim.

Be sure to practice shooting with a sling if you plan to do so in the field. Not only will this help you get the sling adjusted just right and get you used to using it, but it will also demonstrate whether the tension of a sling will affect your rifle's accuracy.

Sometimes, pulling on the sling will flex a rifle's stock enough to change the pressure of the stock against the barrel, or create pressure on a floated barrel, thus affecting accuracy and/or point of impact. It's always a good idea to work out all the bugs before hunting season rolls around - because fast, accurate shooting without a rest is often invaluable in the hunting woods.

A Sling's Not Just for Hanging Around

So next time you think about grabbing your rifle or shotgun to go hunting, think about adding a sling if you haven't already. If you already have one, you may find that with a little practice, you can get a lot more use out of it than you thought you would. Practicing with it before hunting season can be a lot of fun, to boot.

- Russ Chastain