There was some discussion at Perry this year on slings and it was put to me to put down my ideas on slings, material, types and maintenance.
Lets start with leather. There are several types of leather that are suitable for sling use. Latigo both red and black work well. They are water repellant, and very pliable. Break in is almost immediately, and they look good for longer periods of time. They have a down side in that being softer they tend to stretch a little faster. There is an Indian tan latigo that is very pretty. However it is Alum tanned, a process that leaves a chemical in the leather that can cause corrosion. Some care must be used not to let this leather incased with the gun for long periods of time. I used it for slings for a while and found this problem, I do not make slings with Indian tan any longer. Bridle leather, or English bridle is good sling leather. It does not have any treatment to the interior of the leather, only to the top and bottom. so if you do not take care of Bridle, it will crack. With a good grade leather treatment Bridle leathers will give excellent service. More on leather care later. Natural, or Oak Tan leather is probably still the standard by which all sling leather is judged. A good grade Oak Tanned leather slings with proper care will most likely outlast any other leather, given the same amount of use.
Letís mull over the sling itself. Some feel that the sling should be completely stretched. No spring, give, or life if you will. To this end they will go to extraordinary measures. To achieve this, some hang weights to the sling, and let it stretch. My feelings on this are, it would work well only if you did it before the final sling strap was cut. Some soak their slings and stretch them. Some use lots of oil. Some of the old timers have told me they used to soak their slings in the used motor oil. It was cheap. Dirty too I bet. Since the more it stretches the narrower the sling becomes. If it was hung and stretched before it was cut, your keepers would at least stay tight. I donít believe that many sling makers would spend the time. I think that all that is achieved with this method is to reduce the working life of your sling. It will stretch. It might as well do it while you shoot. If you find itís getting loose tighten up a notch. At least you have the benefit of a sling with life in it, until it is worn out.
I get asked many times about sling length. Mil. Spec. is for the short strap to be 24Ē, and the long strap to be 48Ē. This is the 1907 sling spec. Well a good many of us canít get by with a 48Ē long strap on a Garand or an M1A. So here comes AR15ís with the swivels 2Ē farther apart, and guys wonder why they canít make their sling work. Needing a little more leather is the norm anymore. I make them out to 60Ē. Most do not need this much sling. Iíd say a good average is 54Ē There is no rule or formula that I have found to body, to gun, to sling length. Short guys need long ones sometimes, and I know tall guys that shoot real tight. Find what works for you.
Any good piece of leather will eventually need care. Latigo need the least at first, because they already have oils and wax pressured in them in manufacture. Bridle leathers need the most; also because of the way they are made. I do not recommend the use of Neets Foot oil or any silicon-based preservative on slings. Both of these products, while excellent on other leather products, help make your slings keep stretching. Go with a product that preserves and protects against moisture without breaking down the fibers of your leather. Lanolin products and good saddle care products are best. If anyone is interested I handle a very good sling care product that is brought in from England.
While I originally got it for English Bridle leather, but it is the best Iíve found for good leather gear. Not as a waterproofing, but for general leather care. In general slings take a lot of abuse. As shooters we probably give our leather the least care of any of our gear. This being the one piece that actually attaches us to the gun, it may not be the thing to neglect.
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