Finland has long been the source of some of the finest firearms in the world and adding to this distinction, from the home of manufacturers like Sako and Tikka, comes the ingenious 3HGR Light Harness.
This three-positional harness combines a traditional two-point sling with the ability to instantly convert it to a harness that can spread the weight of your rifle across both shoulders or alternatively secure it solidly to the back - leaving both hands free - in a lightweight and convenient array.
Sling design has changed little over the decades except for occasional variations offered by some manufacturers which are often inconvenient or awkward to use. The choice is usually restricted to two-point slings in either leather or webbing, with narrow or wide straps and varying degrees of shoulder padding.
One variation, which is useful in some niche situations, is the two-point quick-adjustable sling, but many people find the long loose end needed for swiftly varying the adjustment troublesome and distracting. The single-point sling is mainly useful for military application and usually of little interest to sporting shooters.
For specialised applications such as biathlon, an event in which skiers combine cross-country skiing and rifle shooting and which Nordic countries dominate in international competition, an elaborate harness is available which spreads the weight across both shoulders. It’s a good solution for carrying a heavy rifle long distances but is too bulky for hunting and doesn’t have the convertibility to a traditional sling. As for three-point slings, sometimes used by police forces, they’re an awkward spaghetti-like mess almost certain to become tangled.
While an essential rifle accessory - much consideration is given to choosing scopes and mounts - the sling is almost an afterthought and the choice during purchase is usually made on the limited choices available in a gunshop.
The 3HGR Light Harness followed the original 3HGR which was a bulkier, four-positional sling with the added option of being able to attach a secondary sling around a tree for support to steady the rifle. Although the company now makes other variants such as the 3HGR Driven Sling, popular with brown bear and moose hunters in Finland, it’s the 3HGR Light Harness that’s likely to appeal most to Australian hunters and shooters.
Inventor Lauri Kikkonen, who not surprisingly has a background in the Finnish military and border guards and takes justifiable pride in his products, described its development thus: “In 2011 the idea came to me of a sling that could be used as a harness and an improvised gun-rest. Originally I had no intention of marketing it, I just wanted a prototype for my own use. But the Finnish Invention Association kept pushing me and things got a bit out of hand. About a year later I realised I have a company to run and a need to develop slings.
“I had no experience in product development and started from scratch. Luckily I was able to work with talented professionals, one of whom had worked for Sako for a long time. I wanted a genuinely made-in-Finland product but sewing a normal shoulder padding on a sling would have been way too expensive.
“So one of the guys came up with the idea of making an injection mould which at first didn’t work at all. With minor modification and new material we finally had it working. All other parts are made with our own moulds and the webbing was developed for the Finnish Defence Forces, so it’s top quality.”
Given the Finnish climate and topography, the popularity of biathlon and having watched old newsreels of highly mobile, hugely outnumbered Finnish ski troops surrounding and destroying invading Russian units during the winter of 1939-40, there’s little doubt the genesis of the 3HGR is the cross-country ski rifle harness, albeit brilliantly modified to be light, quickly convertible and easy to use.
One of the first things you notice about the 3HGR, even when using it as a traditional two-point sling, is the rubber shoulder padding really sticks to your shoulder and doesn’t gradually slide off like most other sling-padding materials. This is not by chance and was the result of experimentation and perseverance by the manufacturer in finding the right rubber material.
Once the correct lengths are set for the primary and secondary sling straps, changing from a traditional sling to the harness takes seconds and is simple due to snap fasteners which quickly and smoothly lock into position. When reverting to the traditional two-point sling, the secondary strap snaps into place and ‘stores’ neatly over the top of the primary strap, causing no inconvenience or distraction.
While the process is so simple it can be difficult to conceptualise initially, even with photographs, and to illustrate it a short video is available on the importer’s website at berettaaustralia.com.au.
For long hunts or difficult terrain the second harness option is used, spreading the weight across both shoulders and leaving both hands free. This makes the burden of carrying a heavy rifle, especially across rough ground, infinitely easier and you can almost forget at times you’re carrying it. The third option involves channelling the secondary sling underarm, which really locks the rifle to your back and is ideal for climbing steep terrain or crawling during the final stages of a stalk.
The 3HGR Light Harness, complete with locking metal swivels, weighs just 192g - a mere 48g more than the sling it replaced on my favourite deer rifle, a Sako Finnlight in .270 Win. For the few extra grams you obtain infinitely more desirable and convenient features, coupled with excellent quality materials and workmanship.
The positioning of the fixed, black-rubber shoulder padding on the primary sling webbing is perfect and cushions the pressure point on the shoulder really well. The secondary-sling shoulder padding is by necessity narrower and shorter, but for some reason comes positioned high on the sling and close to the swivel. The result is that when the harness is deployed to spread the weight across both shoulders the secondary sling padding ends up behind the shoulder, where it’s of little use, rather than at the pressure point on the shoulder, something I’ve mentioned to the manufacturer.
Although the secondary sling shoulder padding is moveable, I found it difficult to slide down, as it needs to be about 10cms lower and meets an obstruction where two layers of webbing overlap. Consequently, care is needed not to force it lest the rubber keepers on the padding are ripped. However once positioned correctly, the same webbing thickness keeps it in place.
I’ve used the sling on three hunts and find the more I use it, the more I appreciate its functionality. To further ‘road test’ the durability and reliability of the plastic buckles and locking snaps, I shouldered the Sako one evening while moving around the house, climbing stairs, constantly changing the harness position, locking and unlocking the snaps of the secondary sling, all to the amusement of my wife! All worked well and without any glitches.
I’ve ordered another 3HGR Light Harness for my rifles and found the current retail prices on the internet to be between $100 and $129. Although this is well above the price of most slings, it’s a relatively small extra expense when compared to the cost of a rifle, scope and mounts.
The convenience, versatility and quality of the harness makes the cost well worth it, and as the founder of Gucci once said: “Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.” Amen to that.