To the uninitiated marksman, the sling may be the most underrated accuracy aid in rifle competition—or even in hunting, for that matter. In the many rifle competition disciplines unsupported offhand may be the only shooting position (as in NRA Cowboy Lever Action Silhouette), or it may be part of the course of fire (NRA Smallbore). To say we “lost the match in the offhand” in high power is so true that it is cliché because, when shooting in the prone and sitting/kneeling positions, the sling can help put more shots into the black scoring rings.
What's different in Vintage Military Rifle (VMR) competition is you must adapt to the sometimes odd slings and sling mounting found on many foreign rifles. Or, you may substitute slings and modify mounting on your “As-issued” rifle.
Nine o’clock slings
It may seem intuitive that, “Duh, a sling hangs under the rifle,” but that isn’t true for all military rifles. A hundred years ago when bolt handles were straight, artillerymen and cavalrymen tended to carry rifles on their backs. Soldiers needed both hands for other primary tasks. Rifles sometimes had the sling mounted to their left side, rather than underneath. That arrangement makes sense for those combat roles—but is less than ideal when we hammer these swords into plowshares for target shooting.
When “slinging in” properly, that left-mounted front sling swivel causes the rifle to cant to the left. This is not conducive to accurate shooting, partly because it requires tensing hand and thumb muscles that can make for less than rock-steady sighting. Moving the front sling swivel below the rifle permits a steadier straight downward pull of the rifle against the arm bones, as well as ambidextrous slinging.
Illustrating the importance of the sling to competition shooting, the CMP's VMR rules allow modifying those rifles with side-mounted slings to position them underneath the stock. To wit: 4.1.6 As-Issued Foreign Military Rifle Rifles issued with side mounted front sling swivels may be retrofitted with sling swivels of military type (not quick detachable) that are positioned in the 6 o’clock location, relative to its original sling swivel location (may not be moved forward or rearward from that point). If the issued swivel was narrower than 1 1/4" the retrofit swivel may be 1 1/4".
Veteran rifles that benefit from this rule include the Swiss K-31 and several versions of the 98k Mauser, among others. Such sling swivel modifications are left to the individual competitor—the rule quoted above is in its entirety and seems deliberately phrased to permit a wide range of possibilities.
American, replica, original
The CMP recognizes that original issue slings for many foreign military rifles are impossible to find or are prohibitively expensive collector items. Therefore, rules allow the use of either an original or replica U.S. M1907 leather or U.S. M1 web sling on foreign rifles. Both of these are, not coincidentally, 1 ¼” wide and are commonly available for under $25. Be aware that CMP doesn’t specifically permit replicas of original foreign slings, so another competitor could challenge your use of one. If you think they should be permitted, send the suggestion to [email protected].
Hasty vs. loopy
If you find it necessary to sacrifice as-issued originality for expediency, be consoled in the knowledge that the two U.S. slings have an accuracy advantage over most foreign slings. Among the latter, slings tend to be no more than carrying straps; using them for support in the prone and sitting/kneeling positions is done the same way as in hunting and, sometimes, combat—the “hasty sling” method. With this method you pass your elbow between the sling and stock to wrap the sling around the upper arm and wrist.
The U.S. M1907 and M1 web slings, however, offer a much steadier method of disconnecting the lower end of the sling from the buttstock and looping it around the upper arm/bicep (admittedly too slow for 99.99 percent of combat but great for target shooting), the method used by NRA High Power rifle competitive shooters.
Frankly, most rifles at matches wear the U.S. slings. One exception is the Mosin-Nagant rifle, which has an unusual arrangement that precludes the need for sling swivels at all: short leather “dog collar” straps attached to the sling ends pass through slots pierced laterally through the rifle buttstock and forearm. To use the U.S. slings, you must leave the “dog collars” in place. I have seen one M91 version of the M-N with homemade metal sling swivels passing through the slots for attachment of a sling. While technically not legal by the rulebook, perhaps the CMP rules committee will be addressing this M-N sling peculiarity in the future.
There are a few other oddballs. Some rifles sport two sets of swivels, one pair on the left side and a second underneath the stock in the standard fashion—no modification needed. The “standard” German K98 lacks a rear swivel, the sling instead passing through a hole in the buttstock and back again to attach to itself. The Swiss K-31 sling has a spring steel clip that attaches to a post on the left side of the buttstock. Though relieved so that the post is below flush with the wood, the clip itself may recoil into the shooter’s cheek, chin or throat when using the hasty sling method. Both of these rifles benefit from the U.S. slings and allow employing the preferable target sling loop support method.
Rules prohibit using a sling for support when shooting offhand, but it can remain attached to the rifle or be removed completely. The M1 web sling is faster to remove than the M1907 sling. Many shooters feel the latter provides better support.
We’ve got several solutions to adapt to find the “proper” sling. Even if winning isn’t your goal, shooting a few more 10’s and X’s always adds to the satisfaction of competing with vintage military rifles.
All photos by Art Merrill.