I’m not sure who first coined the phrase, but whoever it was suggested that we think of a sling as a holster for a long gun, and I’ve always rather liked that analogy. Some slings also help the shooter be more accurate by providing support in shooting positions. By and large, however, the main use of the sling is to carry a long arm while keeping one or both hands free for other purposes.
There are a number of types of slings and ways to attach them to a rifle or shotgun. The most common is a simple carry strap that attaches at the butt of the weapon and near the tip of the forend. To use it, we simply hang the rifle over our shoulder with the muzzle up or down. Muzzle up with the rifle over the dominant shoulder is called American carry, while muzzle down over the support shoulder is called African carry. Both styles have their proponents, and both have their uses. Knowing how to use the long arm from both positions is a good idea, if for no other reason than varying the shoulder that the rifle is carried on lessens fatigue. One generally should keep a hand on a slung weapon to keep it stable, but when you need to, you should be able to use both for brief tasks.
Moving a step up, we get to the loop sling, which has a loop through which we thrust the support arm. Once we have it adjusted properly, it can greatly enhance our steadiness by locking the rifle to our body. I only recently figured out how to use the U.S. GI web slings that have a clip on one end as a support sling. The loop sling can be used just as you would use a simple carry strap with the advantages of support when you need it. The only disadvantages are some extra cost, the learning curve, and the time it takes to get into them.
Some variants of the loop sling are the Ching and Rhodesian slings, and I’ve written about the ones made by Andy Langlois. The huge advantage of these slings is the speed at which they can be deployed into the support position while providing almost as much steadiness as a regular loop sling. Again, they can be used to carry the long arm just as you would with a carry strap.
In recent years, however, we’ve seen the arrival of new slings– the so-called tactical one point, two point, and three point slings. The one point sling is a simple loop that attaches to the mid-point of the weapon. You can slip it over their head to carry the rifle much as one would carry a camera or binoculars on a neck strap or put the support arm through as well to take some of the weight off the neck. Many people like this sling as it makes it very easy to shoulder the weapon to the right or left shoulder for shooting around obstacles. When carrying the weapon, it dangles with the muzzle down, which is why some hate it as the muzzle is often aimed at the shooter’s feet. You also have to take care should you wish to kneel or crouch to keep the muzzle from digging into the dirt. While seeing the advantages of being able to get your rifle to either shoulder easily, I am one of those bothered by muzzling my feet.
I’m going to skip to the three point sling next. These have a long strap that runs between the forend and the butt of the rifle. One end of the sling itself is fastened to the butt, while the forward end has some latitude to slide up and down the strap on the side of the rifle. Some really like this style sling, but I quickly rejected it as I am left-handed. The strap that runs along the side of the rifle interferes with the ejection port and other controls when set up for a lefty. There is generally a means to adjust the slings’ length on the fly so you can keep the weapon close or give it slack to allow you to shoulder the arm. To use it, you put it over your head and slip your support arm through so the weapon rides across the front of your body at something like a 45-degree angle with the muzzle pointing down to the support side. You can just let go of it if you need both hands for some other task, though it is best to always keep a hand on it for purposes of control. To use the rifle, set the length properly, lift the rifle to your shoulder, and fire. To switch shoulders, you have to pull the slider to lengthen the sling, then weave your support hand out of the sling and swap sides. It is more trouble than the single point to switch shoulders, but with practice it can still be done quickly.
The two point sling is my favorite variant of the tactical sling. It looks much like a carry strap but is longer so you can carry the rifle diagonally across your body as you would with the three point sling. It also has a quick adjust feature to lengthen or shorten it by pulling on a tab, straps, or loop. While a normal carry strap or loop sling is attached to the bottom of the weapon, a two point should be attached to the side or top so that it doesn’t flip over and present your rifle upside down. You should be able to adjust it so you can also use it as you would a carry strap for American or African carry. This is the style sling I have chosen for my needs, feeling that the only down side is that it doesn’t provide a loop that can be used to enhance steadiness.
While both three point and two point slings largely avoid the issue of pointing the rifle at your feet, you have to remember it is still pointing somewhere, and if you are around others it is possibly pointing at THEIR feet. In the last class I took, I noticed a lot of subtle dancing as people maneuvered to avoid this issue. It would have been amusing, except for the photos I’ve seen of shot feet.
One other point on the need to adjust the length of these slings is that you may or may not have armor. Armor makes you bigger, so the sling has to get longer to compensate.
You have options about where to attach the ends of the two point sling. I generally put them near the tip of the forend and at the butt, but you can move both ends closer to the middle of the rifle. The midpoint attachment offers some advantages; if one needs to swap shoulders, you can probably do it without having to pull the support arm out of the sling, as seen in this video. You have to have the midpoint sockets, alas, to make this work, which I don’t on most of my weapons.
I tried very hard to avoid tactical slings as I regarded them as a bit of an affectation, and I just kept using carry straps on my AR for many years. After a class, though, I realized I was handicapping myself. It was simply faster and easier to deploy a rifle using a tactical sling than a strap from African or American carry. I am sure there are those who can do it better than I can, but the class opened my eyes to what would work best for me. The other issue is transitioning to a handgun in case of a malfunction or running dry. With a tactical sling, you can just drop the dead carbine and go to the pistol. With a strap, you have to re-sling the rifle to your shoulder, which is definitely slower and clumsier. True, you could just drop the carbine, but that feels a lot like throwing away a gun to me.
When I asked instructor Bill Jeans, whose video I reviewed and who has sadly retired, what sling he recommended, he immediately pointed me to the $45 Blue Force Gear Vickers Combat Applications Sling. I got one and liked it so much that I bought more.
The sling, designed by Army special ops veteran Larry Vickers, is made of two lengths of 1.25-inch wide Cordura webbing with five pieces of hardware. You also need to have some way to attach it to your rifle, which will probably be sling swivels, though there are other options, like snaps and hooks. While many weapons have integral loops for attaching a sling, I strongly suggest that you use a method that allows you to easily detach it. This makes maintenance and storage easier as well as enables you to get out of it quickly in the event you get hung up on something. Friends have related stories of military personnel losing their lives when they got tangled up trying to get out of crashed aircraft. I really like push-button, quick detachable (QD) swivels and use them everywhere I can, but I’ll mention an enhanced version for emergencies later.
You have a choice of metal or Acetal hardware with the Vickers sling. I chose the more economical Acetal, which is a high strength thermoplastic, though I note that the loop that holds the two sections of the sling together appears to be steel, since it attracts a magnet. In theory, I would prefer metal, but the $20 cost savings and the fact that I know Acetal to be incredibly strong won me over.
The webbing can be ordered in multicam, coyote brown, black, wolf, foliage green, OD, kryptek highlander, kryptek typhoon, and orange. Wolf is a grey color, as one might guess. I have them in multicam, coyote, and foliage green, but I rather wish they were all in OD, since that color works quite well in my environment. I wound up with the hodgepodge by getting what was available at the moment or taking advantage of sales.
Something I really like about the webbing they use is that it has little or no sheen. I have purchased slings from other companies that were shiny and reflective. Shiny is bad if you want to remain unobserved. I spent a fair amount of time and energy spraying them with paint to make them dull. (Yes, you can paint webbing.) The Blue Forces slings aren’t slippery, either, so your rifle won’t slide off the shoulder as badly as some slings I’ve used.
The slider that adjusts the length of the sling has a web tab about 3.25 inches long and is made of a contrasting color of cordura, which makes it easy for the user to visually find the slider. It operates smoothly and easily yet somehow always holds its adjustment.
All three of the slings I purchased show excellent workmanship, and the materials are very high quality.
One thing you find when you use this sort of sling on an AR is that it works better if you attach it to the side of the weapon rather than the bottom. On an AR, assuming you have the usual military style front sight, my favorite method for the front end is the $38.95 GG&G Sling Thing that bolts into the open triangle in the front sight base. It has a socket for a push button QD swivel, which can be attached to either side, keeping lefties and righties happy. One very cool feature is that the swivel rotation is limited, which means you can’t twist the sling up into a tangled mess. The Sling Thing was another tip from Bill Jeans.
Another method to attach the sling is to use a Blue Force Gear Universal Wire Loop (UWL). There are several variants, but the one I like best is the $19 Molded UWL. This has a loop to which one can attach a sling as well as a socket for a push button QD sling swivel. The idea is that the stainless steel wire that forms the loop is threaded through the front sight base and then the loop is pushed through and the sling attached. The wire is coated with nylon to protect the finish on your weapon. It will work with any weapon, not just an AR, and I found it great for attaching a sling to the Century Arms AK I recently reviewed. The nice thing is that I can push it between the barrel and gas tube and get it to the right side of the AK so that the sling works properly for poor lefties like me.
I should point out that the Molded UWL is made of nylon with a metal insert for the QD swivel. It seems incredibly tough to me, but if you want metal, the Universal Wire Loop w/ Push Button Socket is available for $35.
Should you want to use it on something that requires a longer wire loop, they also have the plain old $26.00 Universal Wire Loop https://www.blueforcegear.com/universal-wire-loop-uwl-3-25.html without the QD socket with a three inch longer loop. I really like the idea of the QD socket, though, so I would stick with one of those unless I really needed the extra length.
Attaching the sling to the butt of an AR carbine is pretty easy as most have collapsible stocks and these invariably have slots for slings. I’m not crazy about using those slots, however, as I like to be able to completely remove the sling at times. Again, GG&G to the rescue with their $36.95 rear Sling Thing . Many aftermarket stocks, like the B5 SOPMOD I like, also feature built-in sockets for pushbutton QD swivels, which is a good feature in my view. The B5 also limits swivel rotation so klutzes like me don’t tangle up the sling.
If you have an AR with a non-collapsible buttstock, Blue Force Gear offers $14 adapters for them. I haven’t tried them on other weapons, but they would probably work if the stock dimensions are similar and there is a sling loop in the right spot to hold the adapter in place.
For an emergency when you need to get out of your sling, Blue Force Gear sells the $30 Rapid Emergency Detachment Swivel (RED Swivel) https://www.blueforcegear.com/rapid-emergency-detachment-swivel-red-swivel.html. The RED Swivel is a QD swivel with a different means of detaching it from the mount. Instead of pushing in a small button that might be hard to find in a bad moment, there is a knob on a short piece of wire that you pull. If you have to get out of your sling, grab it and yank. Because the knob is round, it isn’t likely to catch on things and dump your rifle when you were planning on keeping it. Since it sticks out a bit and is larger than the push button, it is much easier to find by feel; you just slide your hand down the sling toward the muzzle and there it is.
I’ve talked about the difference between one point and two point slings. What if you want both? Blue Force Gear sells a way to get that. It’s the $14.75 to $22.00 Burnsed Socket. Again, you get a choice between nylon or metal with metal costing more. This small gadget threads onto your two point sling and allows you to remove the front of your sling from the forend of your rifle and attach it to the sling near the rear swivel, which needs to be attached to the mid-point of the weapon. This gives you a sling that can be a one point or two point one, depending on circumstances. I personally prefer the two point sling, but if I were in a circumstance where I thought I would need to frequently operate the rifle from my support shoulder, this is an attractive option to have available.
If you need a way to attach a sling to the midpoint of your weapon, wander around the GG&G site. They offer a number of solutions to that problem, some requiring no gunsmithing, just the knowledge of how to get the stock off.
Many of us have rifles and shotguns stored in racks or safes, and their slings frequently get tangled up with stuff as we try to extract a weapon. The Blue Force $6 Sling Sleeve https://www.blueforcegear.com/sling-sleeve.html is an effort to get that situation under control. The idea is to slip the elastic sleeve onto a sling and then loop the sling up and stuff it in the sleeve. This shortens the sling so there is less dangling webbing to get caught on things. To free the sling, give it a tug; voila, you are in business. There are other, more economical ways to do this; rubber bands and bungee cords come to mind, but this works well and looks better than the other options.
The best deal from Blue Force Gear is probably the Vickers 221 Sling. You get the sling, a Burnsed Socket, a RED Swivel, and a regular QD swivel all for $80. If you bought all of that separately, you would pay over $100. Knowing what I know now, I’m really sorry I didn’t do it this way when I bought my slings.
The one bit of gear from Blue Force that doesn’t work well for me is the $49 Ten-Speed Triple M4 Mag Pouch. Please note that I said “doesn’t work well for me”. It is actually a pretty amazing magazine pouch in that it essentially isn’t there. It attaches to a carrier or belt via the ubiquitous MOLLE/PALS straps and is composed of a tough elastic material. As the name implies, it holds three AR magazines, each in its own pocket and requires no flaps or other retention devices to securely hold the magazines. It weighs almost nothing, and when the magazines are withdrawn, it might as well not be there since it collapses on itself. It comes in multicam, black, coyote, OD, and wolf.
My difficulty with it is twofold. Since the magazines are in separate pockets, it takes up some width on a belt or carrier. The way I have my gear setup, there isn’t room for it. What’s probably more important for me is how hard it is to stuff magazines in it. The pouches offer tremendous security for your magazines, but that makes it hard to get them in. Ribbed polymer magazines are tougher than GI metal ones. My problems may not be deal breakers for your use, so they are worth a look if you want a minimalist approach to carrying magazines. They are extremely well made and should survive hard use without problems.
I make no promises, but every time I’ve ordered something from Blue Force Gear there has been a small but nice bonus gift in the package. One year, a December order came with a tactical Christmas stocking. That is now my son’s favorite place to get gifts.
– SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor, Scot Frank Eire