By Sam Fadala, GUNS Magazine
Jack O’Connor continues to wear the mantle of gun writer extraordinaire. He wrote the ideal hunting rifle would weigh no more than the timekeeper on his wrist when carried, turning into 10-pound stability when time to shoot. A most desirable circumstance, but certainly mythical. In reality, we’re stuck packin’ a hefty long gun.
Lightweights have come along, thankfully not looking like they were made in a Japanese toy factory. My handsome Kimber 84L .30-06 bantamweight shoots stingy groups (I once got a 5-shot 0.5-inch group at 100 yards with Barnes Barnburner 175-grain bullets — with verifiable witnesses). It’s light by comparison to other big-game rifles, but I still have to carry it. This chip from the campfire log touches on a few ways to tote Old Betsy for a variety of purposes such as stalking the outback for big game, patrolling the small game niche or just roaming around.
There are over 100 different types of slings and carry straps available today from simple “do it yourself” to esoteric. Anyone can build a carry strap with leather (it’s very simple actually), while Browning’s Latigo actually earned a patent! The Latigo goes full-tight to fit-anybody-adjustment with only a few minor hand maneuvers. BLACKHAWK! alone has over 20 choices, and the same thing applies for Butler Creek, Sarco, Allen, UAG, NcStar, Vero Vellini and Buffalo Arms. The list goes on and on. A book could be penned on different types and uses, but here is the short course.
Noted gun writer Wayne Van Zwoll demonstrates the sling’s use in the field.
A true sling, like this one, forms a loop around the shooter’s off-arm. It’s great for target shooting.
The true sling is army-like, adjustable with a take-apart function to form a loop around the shooter’s off-arm. It’s great for target shooting. More than required for simple carry, but of course hunting-field employable. I have a military-type sling on a pre-64 Model 70 Winchester and it’s been part of my rifle from the get-go.
There’s concern about a sling under tension changing the rifle’s point of impact. For target shooting, I agree, especially if the sling alters fore-end pressure substantially. For hunting, I wouldn’t worry about it.
Two military-type slings of note are the US Military M1907 2-piece (leather) and the US GI Web sling (cotton type). The Whelen Sling modifies the military with reduction to one frog (claw) rather than two, plus a single long strap. The Colonel’s sling is more at home in the hunting arena than the military version.
Using a sling while shooting off-hand helps stabilize the rifle. Putting together a smooth trigger press and a marvelous sight picture will deliver results.
Recently, due to an attack of .22 Hornet fever, I bought four rifles — the Lyman Ideal, Savage Model 25, CZ Model 527 Deluxe LUX and CZ Model 527 FS, (Full-Stock). Each rifle merited a carry strap. The LUX received a “sling” by Uncle Mike’s — it’s really a carry strap. It was brown. I wanted black. So I dyed it.
I built simple straps for the FS and Savage. The Lyman was left hand-carry due to its historical Sharps heritage. At 1-inch wide, these straps fit the hooks on one of my pack frames, as well fanny packs and daypacks I employ. They also work well enough for general rifle carry, although there are more comfortable types for over-the-shoulder packing — especially with heavier rifles.
Pack Frame It
Both sides of my main pack frame bear hooks: They’re simple pieces of bent aluminum. The hooks are bolted to the mainframe strut with nuts and lock washers. A hook on either side of the frame is for carrying a second rifle into a backpack camp — or for helping a partner by tote their rifle. I also use both hooks when packing a particularly efficient 12-gauge black-powder shotgun for small game and mountain birds on one side (for camp meat), and big game rifle on the other.
Daypack/Fanny Pack Carry It
The secret to packing a rifle with a sling or strap resting on the shoulder straps of daypacks or fanny packs is a common rubber eraser, the large kind sold with office supplies. One eraser on each side attaches where strap rests on the shoulder. Use clamps to secure the rubber erasers as the adhesive dries (I use JB Weld). No more frustration with the rifle sliding-off when these retainers are in place.
Note the rifle rests securely and comfortably on the shoulder, and is pointed in a safe direction.
My friend Bob Meyer hand-carries his favorite Ruger Model 1 .30-06 all day. He grasps it by his left hand at balance point and ventures through the Wyoming landscape for deer, elk and antelope. I hand-carry the aforementioned Lyman Ideal .22 Hornet and my custom .54-caliber roundball long rifle. Straps and slings just don’t fit — meaning they’re cosmetically incorrect — on these rifles.
But my Markesbery .54-caliber modern muzzleloader is equipped with a carry strap. Even my .22-rimfire small game rifles go with “slings,” as does a certain meat-making 12-gauge short-barreled shotgun noted earlier.
African “Carry It”
Named for lack of a better term, Africa is the only place I have personally seen rifles carried this way, although the Aussies are known to pack by the barrel as well. One reason for this no-strap no-sling grab-it-by-the barrel is the fact the PH normally has a client close on his heels. Gripping the barrel muzzle forward keeps the business end of the rifle entirely away from the person following. It’s also a lot more comfortable than the military carry, detailed next.
The on-the-shoulder military rifle carry is excellent — as long as you’re in a parade or on a drill field. Otherwise, it’s a tough way to tote a rifle in the hunting field. The cliché, “to each his own” comes to bear, however. For those who like to go to army parades in the big-game arena, I wish you well.
With muzzle down, this rifle can be brought into battery by simply rotating it in your hand.
Sling/Strap Muzzle-Down Carry
From time to time, due to terrain — usually a whitetail thicket — I’ll pack a rifle strap over my shoulder, with muzzle pointing down to terra firma. The rifle can be brought into battery by rotating in your hand. The strap or sling immediately becomes a hasty sling, since it has remained on the shoulder as the rifle is swung into play.
Some hate it. Some love it. Some say it’s absolutely useless for steadying a rifle. I neither hate nor love it, but I disagree entirely with anyone who believes the hasty sling has no value. It’s not the same as the full military sling with a loop snugly on the arm. But it’s better than no support at all. And it comes into play instantly from the most basic rifle carry — sling or strap over the shoulder.
Next page – more ways to carry so keep going
This is sling or strap looped over the head, rifle fully supported on the back. I use this method of rifle carry for stalking, especially antelope, where a belly-crawl is necessary to keep below the brush line. It’s also handy when defying gravity with boot toes clinging to a narrow ledge on a steep bluff.
Full Front Carry
I observed this method of carry in Finland where a Russian helper on a shooting range carried his rifle strap-behind, rifle fully in front. I tried it, and of course it works, but for me rifle-in-front is rather clumsy.
Not using a sling or strap, this grab-it-by-the-barrel approach is very common in Africa, and often used by Professional Hunters.
Tactical Carry It
Because the tactical-style rifle differs from other rifles used in hunting and sport shooting, a specialized sling is ideal. Luckily, there are many available: There’s the 3-point, such as the Universal Military SWAT Tactical Army Sling, 2-point, such as the CoiTAC TM Tactical 2 Point (which is part bungee), and 1-point, such as the MetalTack (also bungee). The Military SWAT is sling-like, but most of these “slings” are carry straps.
There is a heightened interest in military rifles today for at least two good reasons: history and value. Shooting a World War I or II rifle is akin to taking a 19th century muzzleloader into the field. You’re learning about the past.
Savings-wise, I picked up a Russian Mosin-Nagant in almost-new shape for $99 with accouterments, including a bayonet. Ammo is not expensive and the rifle is fun to shoot. I also have a Mauser 98 from Mitchell’s Mausers, purchased for about $300 with accouterments — it’s fun to shoot and I handload 8mm Mauser ammo for it.
For those who wish to add an authentic (either original or copy) sling to a military rifle there are many options from Sarco, Inc., including those for the Chilean Mauser, AK-47, Egyptian Rashid, BAR and Russian SMG, along with many others, such as the Verguiero 1904 Portuguese style, Spanish Mauser Model 1893, Tokarev, Mosin 91.
The Butler Creek Gel Sling boasts “Air Coil Technology.” The beauty of this carry strap is the individual cell pattern coupled with Braille-like bumps giving the sling a no-slip grip when the rifle is shouldered.
Padded or Not?
The latest padded slings are excellent and should be considered for all but the pack frame, where a narrow strap is desired to fit into the hooks. There are two examples of superior padded carrying straps for heavier rifles: the Vero Vellini (Italian in name, but made in Germany) and Butler Creek’s Gel Sling.
The Vellini Air Cushion comes in many designs. The one I have is 2-inch wide on the shoulder with stacked layers of neoprene. It gives during hiking, but it does not bounce. The Butler Creek Gel Sling boasts “Air Coil Technology.” The beauty of this carry strap is the individual cell pattern coupled with Braille-like bumps for non-slippage. This sling resides on my custom McGowen (Kalispell) .240 Gibbs with Swarovski 2-12X scope — a man-sized rifle for long-range antelope and deer.
Using one eraser on each side of a daypack (where the strap would rest on the shoulder) is the secret to packing a rifle with a sling or strap. Say goodbye to the frustration of the rifle sliding-off when these retainers are in place.
Many military rifle slings had keepers, a perfect example being the one for the Mauser K98 available today for only 5 bucks online. The simple leather loop keeper slides up to the fore-end part of the sling. I add a little wrinkle by punching a hole just behind the keeper with a small piece of lacing though the hole, leaving the keeper up front where it belongs.
This is the way to go with all rifles having the integral eye. A narrow carry strap for a pack frame, fanny pack, or very light rifle is detached and replaced with a wide carry strap for over-the-shoulder packing.
My hunting style has always been pursuit; although I have also come to appreciate the ground blind, tree stand, windmill perch or simple wait-it-out-on-the-trail watch. Pursuit means still-hunting, which is not staying still, but rather moving in a “still” manner through the niche in a purposeful pattern. And today we have the slings and straps to do just that better than ever.