Most hunters don’t realize there’s a difference between a rifle strap and a rifle sling. A rifle strap helps to carry a rifle on your shoulder; a rifle sling helps to stabilize your shooting position. Though there are exceptions, straps and slings are mutually exclusive. A good carry strap cannot be employed as an effective shooting sling, and a good shooting sling usually sucks for carrying a rifle. Almost every rifle needs a carry strap, and most hunters could benefit from a shooting sling.
A quality strap allows you to comfortably carry a rifle on either shoulder for long periods of time. Hunting that way, however, is not a good idea. On one fall day when I was about 15, I was walking an old logging road. I’d just passed another hunter and didn’t expect to see anything. Guess what? A very nice buck jumped onto the road in front of me and watched me struggle to get my rifle into action. He bounded over the hill just as I was shouldering my .270.
A carry strap is very useful when walking to or from your stand outside of legal shooting hours. It’s also a must if you’re carrying gear like climbing sticks in your hands. And don’t even think about trying to drag a deer without a rifle strap. A good carry strap will be wide at the point where it goes over your shoulder, and the best ones have a bit of padding and a rough surface to keep them from sliding. If you cannot walk without holding on to your rifle strap, you’ve got the wrong strap.
Shooting slings are different. They have a loop that can be adjusted, enabling you to slip your support arm through it as you acquire a field-shooting position. When you’re looped up correctly, a true shooting sling is very tight. This stabilizes the rifle. For a support-arm shooting sling to really enhance stability, you need support for your shooting elbow, such as your knee. (Some hunters like to wrap their carry strap around their support arm. In reality this only serves to keep the sling from swaying around under the rifle, which isn’t a bad thing but doesn’t add stability.)
Some shooting slings allow you to tightly loop the end of the sling that’s attached to the butt of the rifle around the elbow of your shooting arm. This is the only method I’ve found that provides any real stability without additional bracing or support. It also works great in the reverse-kneeling position, or when you’re resting the rifle’s fore-end on shooting sticks or a log.
Do you need a shooting sling? If you hunt from a treestand with a safety bar that provides a rest, or from a shoot-house, probably not. However, if you hunt on your feet and suspect you’ll have to shoot from a field position, a shooting sling is a good idea. The conundrum is those who hunt on their feet are the ones who really need a good carry strap; it’s hard to carry a rifle in your hands all day long.
Carry and Shoot
The best carry straps I’ve found are made by Vero Vellini. Their neoprene makes carrying a rifle on your shoulder comfortable, but because it has some stretch, these are no good as shooting slings.
One of the best shooting slings I’ve used is the Rhodesian sling from Andy’s Leather. With it you can snug into a very tight and stable shooting position. On the other hand, you have to hold on to it at all times if you use it as a carry strap.
An alternative is the sling I developed with Galco Gunleather. The RifleMann Sling keeps the rifle on your shoulder, and you can use it to sling up with either the support or shooting arm.