Sunday, October 22, 2017


 In days of old when men were bold and rifles were made of wood and steel...

Once upon a time, the late, great Colonel Jeff Cooper offered two simple but brilliant maxims for the hunter to follow to make a successful shot. “If you can get closer, get closer. If you can get steadier, get steadier.”
          The first rule explains itself. As to getting steadier, there are a variety of methods.
          A rest of any kind qualifies; a rock, a tree, a pack, etc. In fact, I noticed that many of the famous old school gun writers, at one time or another, wrote that they would gladly trade an extra fifty yards in range for a solid rest. For me, an improvised rest most often comes in the form of my day pack. Opening day of antelope season, I used a rock outcropping and my stocking cap.
          The only caveat here is that the rest must be soft, or have something soft inserted between it and the rifle. When shooting with the rifle resting on a hard surface, barrel harmonics cause the weapon to jump and shoot high. I thought this was common knowledge until an acquaintance at work who was an experienced shooter was complaining that he just couldn’t figure out how he had missed an easy shot on an elk the previous weekend. Turns out he was resting his rifle directly on a rock.  
          Bipods are certainly steadier, of course, but while I consider them essential on a squad automatic weapon or a light machine gun, I personally have just never had much use for them on a hunting rifle. The little wife and I have both tried them and neither one of us liked them. In part this is because even while antelope hunting out in the wide open prairies, intervening terrain and vegetation nearly always prevent a prone shot. And a folded bipod adds weight and decreases the balance of the rifle. Plus, I’ve run into people who have become so dependent on their bipods that they can no longer even take a shot without them. Remember, it’s a shooting aid not a shooting crutch.
          Years ago I did get my wife a set of shooting sticks. They work well for her, giving her both additional steadiness and confidence. Some years ago she filled her bighorn ewe tag at a range of 265 yards from the sticks, and probably couldn’t have made the shot without them. Although she learned the use of the shooting sling doing small-bore rifle competition as a youth, she is a bit short of arm and torso so that it is more difficult for her than for me.
          As for myself, I long ago “rediscovered” and fell in love with the shooting sling. In the age of the 1903 Springfield and P-17 Enfield, the marvelous M1 Garand, and the M14, sling shooting was still common knowledge since everyone who’d served in the military learned how to do so. Then came the M-16. Don’t even get me started down that rabbit trail. Suffice to say that not even the M16A2, whose “heavy barrel” configuration includes only the four inches aft the muzzle, cannot be fired with a tight sling without pulling shots low.
          It’s really a pity that the art of sling shooting has been lost to so many and, in fact, many modern sling systems can’t even be used as a shooting aid. They are nothing more, to be precise, than carrying straps. But every rifle should have a sling. I forget who originally made the point, but the saying goes that a rifle without a sling is like a pistol without a holster.
          So, just how effective is the sling in shooting from field positions? Don’t take my word for it. Let’s see what the experts have had to say on the matter.
Jeff Cooper, ever precise in his definitions, believed that proper use of the sling, “…increases ‘hitability’—the probability of a first-shot hit, under stress, from an elbow-supported position—by about 30%”. Timothy Mullin, a former infantry officer and author of Testing the War Weapons, likened it to, “an 8-ounce bench rest.” In his book The Ultimate Sniper, Major John Plaster estimated that shooting slings can increase steadiness anywhere from 40 to 60 percent. Long-time big-game hunter, guide and outdoor author Duncan Gilchrist said in Successful Big Game Hunting, “If you learn to shoot in this manner, you will be amazed at the accuracy you achieve.” Finally, shooting legend Jack O’Connor stated, “A good gunsling, properly adjusted, is one of the great inventions of the human race, along with fire and the wheel.”

As long as the supporting elbow is supported, the shooting sling binds the rifle to the shooter so that it is supported entirely by bone and leather rather than relying on muscle…the weakest link in the human body’s shooting platform…to hold it steady.
          It’s very solid in the prone position, but as noted earlier not even when antelope hunting do I get many chances to shoot from the prone position. Twice, including just recently, however, I’ve taken antelope prone with the sling. The first time was with my uber-accurate FAL (yes, I know, generally an oxymoron) Queenie on a buck at 309 meters, since the BDC on the Hensoldt scope it wears is graduated in that Communist system. Opening day this year I filled my doe tag at 308 yards with my sporterized ‘98 Mauser in .30/06. Grass and weeds a foot to eighteen inches high kept me from having a clear shot, but there was no other cover to use. I looped up the sling tightly around my support arm and low crawled forward through the grass until I had a clear line of sight. The prone position was rock solid, so I put the crosshairs just a cunt hair high and held off an estimated nine inches for a 10-15 mph full deflection crosswind, and drilled the goat right through the back edge of the shoulder blade.
          The kneeling position isn’t nearly as solid as the sitting position because it still leaves you with one elbow unsupported, but it is still hugely preferable to the standing off-hand position. Over the years, I’ve taught myself to instinctively drop into the prone position when I sight game. If I need to take the shot right there and then, I’m much more stable than I would be standing. If time allows, I will continue down into the sitting position…”If you can get steadier, get steadier.” Teddy Roosevelt, who fully realized he wasn’t the world’s greatest marksman, was a firm believer in automatically taking a knee when he kicked up game.
          The sitting position is really my bread and butter when it comes to taking the hunting shot. Jack O’Connor called it the hunter’s bread and butter and noted that he had taken the vast majority of his game shots from that firing position, and Jeff Cooper offered similar observations. Just guessing, but looking back I would estimate I’ve taken close to two-thirds of my hunting shots from that position and have benefited greatly by doing so.
          In the old days, I used to use the wide, open-legged stance on flat ground, leaning well forward in the sitting position in order to get the back of the arm on the front of the leg, which is much steadier than elbow-to-knee contact. Nowadays, I find I’m not quite so limber as I once was and my belly tends to get in the way too much for that to be do-able, so I have to settle for the cross-legged “Indian-style” sitting position on the flats.
          I made what was probably my longest hunting shot at an approximate (paced) 400+ yards from the sitting position with a tight sling on an M1A Scout/Squad rifle with a scout scope. Looking through the scope, I could simply tell that I was rock solid, and the crosshairs did not wander beyond the vitals. With the thick crosshairs of the old-style Leupold 2.5x Scout scope I held so I could see good daylight between the top of the speed goat’s back and the bottom of the crosshairs and squeezed one off. The antelope dropped in its tracks.
          When shooting off-hand, which one should seldom do in the hunting field out here in the big wide open, the so-called hasty sling is more or less just to keep it from swaying back and forth tugging at the bottom of the rifle. Without any support for the elbow of your support arm, a sling doesn’t really add anything to this position.
I haven’t taken many standing shots with a rifle simply because of the nature of the terrain out here in Big Sky country. In hunting eastern forests or thick brush, one often simply has no choice but to shoot off-hand, usually at moving targets kicked up at short ranges.
I would fully concur with Jeff Cooper’s theory that when hunting dangerous game in thick cover one ought to remove the sling altogether from the rifle via quick disconnect swivels to keep it from hanging up on anything at a crucial moment.
And I will certainly grant that while the traditional leather two-hole USGI sling Model 1917 is very stable it’s definitely not the fastest thing to get secure around your arm if time is a factor. Even a well-practiced individual may require five seconds to properly “loop up.” Sitting in position waiting for game, I often go ahead and loop up ahead of time so I will be ready, but this is not always an option either.
Much faster alternatives do exist, my favorite being the Ching sling, named after its developer, Eric S. H. Ching, a Cooper Gunsite student who really did build a better mousetrap. The Ching sling requires three rather than just two mounting points, i.e. sling swivel studs, forward, amidships, and aft. The front loop is the shooting sling, and it only takes a moment to stick your arm through and cinch it up tight. 

The Better Mousetrap: a Ching Sling from Andy's Leather.

  I’ve tried a few different brands, but in the end I wound up back where I started with the Ching slings made my Andrew Langlois of North Carolina. They’re simply the best ones I’ve ever used and I can highly recommend them. I especially like the option of the broader 1-1/4-inch wide straps for heavier rifles.
The Ching sling might not always stay tightly in place around your upper arm as well as the USGI sling when you’re shooting long strings of slow-fire from the same position at a paper target. In the hunting field, however, it’s really only that first shot that really matters, and it serves extremely well in that capacity.
There’s an old saying when you hear someone else shoot during hunting season. “One shot, meat. Two shots, maybe. Three or more shots, nothing.”
 Rather than reading or hearing about it, the very best way to learn to use the good old shooting sling is to invest a weekend at an RWVA Appleseed Shoot. You’ll not only learn the lost art of sling shooting but a plethora of basic rifle marksmanship skills and some American heritage that will serve you well the remainder of your shooting days.