How Does the Shooting Sling Work? Part 1: Prone

As in, “How well does it work?”

I have been using shooting slings to steady my aim in various positions for several years now.  Since the first time I used it I have always been sure that using a sling steadies me.  Since I have been using a sling, I really haven’t shot much without something to steady me up, be it a sling or some kind of support.  Why not use it if it helps?

It’s been so long since I’ve shot groups without a sling that I really don’t know how much it helps.  Honestly, although I fully believe it helps to the point of surety, I could not prove that it does or give an idea of how much.  I approached this topic with some trepidation.  I sell slings.  What if I do a set of comparisons and there’s no difference?  That could be bad for business.  Oh well.  I’m more interested in finding out what works and how effectively.  If I couldn’t sell slings anymore it would take me a day or so to get over it.

Keep in mind that when viewing the following groups that I don’t pretend to be a valid sample size that will be relevant to the general population of rifle shooters.  I’m just one guy who shoots, and these results really only pertain to me.  You’ll have to find out for yourself if they pertain to you.

So far I have shot comparison groups of ten shots each in prone, sitting (cross ankle), and standing with and without the loop sling.  I regularly shoot with a sling in sitting, sometimes in prone, and never in standing because I don’t think it helps.

The Prone Position:

I don’t know how long it had been since I tried shooting in prone without a sling.  I typically use a bipod or try to find some support.  I used my FN PBR-XP with a McMillan A5 stock and Bartlien barrel (.308 Winchester) for this comparison, shooting out of a single lot of Black Hills loaded 155 grain Amax bullets with a muzzle velocity of approximately 2684 fps.  It still is wearing the Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50.  The rifle weighs in at 15.0 pounds unloaded, although I suspect that it might me a tick heavier with cartridges in it.  It balances at the front of the magazine.  I also shot a bipod group for a reference.

Range conditions were:


Bipod and rear bag:

Bipod Prone 1-4-15

10 Shots Bipod Prone

Sling only:

Prone With Sling

Sling Prone FN 1-4-15

No sling:

Prone- No Bipod, No Sling

Prone- No Sling 1-4-15 FN

The numbers turn out like this:

Prone results chart

In comparing the bipod group with the sling group, the sling group was obviously larger in both measures.  The sling groups extreme spread was 19% larger than the bipod group.  The mean radius of the sling group was approximately 29% larger than the bipod group.  To be honest, I was surprised that so many of the shots were hitting so close to the target center.  It wasn’t until shot 9 that the group really opened up, and until that point I was wondering if I really do shoot better with the sling than with the bipod, as has been the case of late more often than not with the X15.

Without the sling I was in for a surprise.  After shooting it I don’t feel as though I was prepared for the difficulty of the challenge.  The first thing I noticed was that my natural point of aim was way different without the sling.  I tended to be much more straight back.  It was also physically demanding.

The extreme spread of the non-sling group was 204% as large as the sling group.  The mean radius of the non-sling group was 259% as large as the sling group.  This represents the best case scenario for the non-sling group, as I had some doubts as to which hole in the target belonged to which shot.  In this case I would have been better off using a single target and shooting it 10 times, versus what I did, which works better when several bullet holes are on top of each other.

I was out of breath by the end of five shots (I shot 5, got up, loaded a mag, rested, then shot the next 5).  The rifle was heavy and it shook a lot.  I think that a lighter rifle would be easier to shoot, and would probably not exhibit so much more dispersion in comparison to the sling group.  I had to be quite aggressive on the trigger in order to get my shots off near intended point of aim.  My elbow did not seem to belong directly under the rifle as it would with the sling.  Instead my elbows were ‘bipoded’ out, and they became progressively more so as I continued shooting under the weight of the rifle.  You can see from the target that there were some questions about which shot belonged to which target.  The composite above represents a best case scenario, for a conservative comparison with the sling group.

I was not prepared for the impact that the lack of the sling had on my bolt work.  It’s much harder to work the bolt with the relative lack of resistance.  The sling simply keeps the rifle locked in and resistant to movement.  Without the sling, sometimes the movement of pushing the bolt closed was enough to unsettle the position.  There were a few instances in which the rifle would slide forward as I was closing the bolt, which made it tougher to close.

Next up will be the sitting position.

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