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How to Use a Rifle Sling Correctly for Big-Game Hunting

If my own experience is any indicator, rifle slings have saved the lives of more critters than PETA. Used incorrectly, a sling (or more properly, a carrying strap) can place your rifle out of reach for more than enough time for a deer to bolt and die of old age.

Sling misuse can have even more serious consequences. Many years ago, I was on the trail of a highly irritated lion in the Kalahari Desert of Botswana, .375 slung over my shoulder. Ian Manning, the professional hunter whose job it was to keep me from becoming lion poop, said, "David, do you really think the bloody lion is going to wait for you to unsling your bloody rifle before he bites you in your bloody a--e?" I had offered to fight Manning the day before when he said my rifle looked like it belonged to a French nobleman, but there was no doubt he was making sense about the sling.

KEEP IT IN YOUR POCKET There are a number of things you will discover if you hunt long enough. First, you'll learn that when things happen, they usually happen fast, and that the hunter who punches his tag is the hunter who is ready to shoot. If your rifle is slung over your shoulder—or worse, across your back—you are going to dance the Funky Chicken getting it into firing position, and this will alert whatever you are intending to shoot that it should leave. It will also give the critter the time to do so.

The only situations in which your rifle should be slung is when you have no intention of shooting anything, or when you have to use both hands for something. I have crawled up mountains on my hands and knees, clutching at roots and saplings with both hands, and there was no way I was going to hold my rifle, too. (Hint: If you're going to do this sort of stuff, sling your firearm across your back, not over your shoulder; the latter is not very secure.)

And do not sling your rifle as you're getting into a tree stand. You can fall and land on the gun, which neither of you will appreciate. There is only one way to get a firearm up into your tree stand: Check to see that it's unloaded, open the action, tie a cord around the sling, climb into the stand, and haul the rifle up after you.

THE UPSIDE-DOWN CARRY There is, however, a way to sling a rifle that allows you to bring it into action quickly and use the sling as a shooting support at the same time. In the past when I have recommended this technique, I set all the Safety Nazis who read the magazine in a frenzy. To them I say: One hand is always on the rifle and has it under constant control. It's not as though the gun is swinging freely, doing whatever it pleases. I learned how to do this in 1958 from a gun writer named Francis E. Sell, who had probably used it for 50 years at that point. I have been using it for 46 years. Sell did not shoot himself in all that time, and neither have I, so spare me.

It works like this: Assuming you have a smooth rifle sling and not one of the grabby kind that won't slip off your shoulder, and assuming you're right-handed, you sling the rifle over your left shoulder, muzzle down, trigger guard forward. Your left hand should be on the fore-end to control the gun.

When it comes time to shoot, you simply haul the rifle up and put the butt in your right shoulder. The sling remains looped around the upper part of your left arm as a brace. This can be done in one motion with a minimum of movement and is very fast. And as the signs correctly say, speed kills.

A SUPER STRAP

There is no shortage of good slings on the market, but the best one I've used is the A-1 Murray Quick-Set Rifle Sling ($50; 817-441-7480; www.murraycustomleather.com). Made from premium saddle leather, it comes with Uncle Mike's swivels installed, can't scratch your rifle, and will probably outlive you. If you get it wet, let it dry and rub in a couple of drops of vegetable cooking oil to keep it supple. —D.E.P.

THE UPSIDE-DOWN CARRY SMOOTH MOVE: A left-hand shooter would carry the rifle slung muzzle down (a) on his right shoulder. To shoot, the right hand lifts the fore-end (b) as the sling remains above the elbow. Bring the rifle to shoulder (c) so that the sling wraps tightly around the right bicep (d), creating a support. Right-handers would reverse sides.

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