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HUNTING HOLSTER.

Byline: Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

Hunters seldom have occasion to do handstands or cartwheels with a rifle slung over their shoulder.

But the mere fact that such acrobatic maneuvers can be made while armed says wonders about the Gunslinger Corral Compact Rifle/Shotgun Holster produced by a Springfield company.

Used in conjunction with a sling, the wallet-sized rifle holster is designed to provide safe, stable, hands-free transport of a rifle or shotgun.

And you need not be a gymnast to appreciate being free to run, jump, climb and use both hands to drag a deer or push aside thick underbrush - all without fear that your weapon will slip off your shoulder.

"It's quite simply the best method to carry a rifle," said Mark Miller, a former real estate salesman who dropped that career when he got the opportunity to purchase the holster's patent rights from a longtime friend, Rick Barron of Portland.

Miller said he sees the rifle holster as "the most significant addition to the shooting industry since the laser sight."

To manufacture and market the device, Miller formed Gunslinger Corral, the Springfield-based company that now sells the rifle/shotgun holster in 14 countries around the world.

Miller said Barron got his inspiration for the holster while serving as an Air Force military policeman.

Constantly lugging around an M-16 rifle whose weight bit into his shoulder, Barron lamented to himself that "there's got to be a better way - this sucks."

His solution was simple - a belt-mounted hook on which the bottom of the rifle stock's "pistol grip" rests.

That support hook transfers most of the weapon's weight from the shoulders to the hips, just as the hip belt does on a good pack frame.

A quick-release safety strap snaps to the face of the hook, preventing the gun stock from wriggling loose, while still providing fast access to the gun.

With a little practice, a hunter can have his rifle or shotgun unslung and ready to fire "quicker than you can ask how long it takes," Miller said.

"For example, when an old blacktail jumped up 10 yards out in front of me, I had my weapon out and was on my shooting lane by the pinnacle of its second bounce," Miller said. "That's fast enough."

If you want to see for yourself how stable the weapon is when carried and how fast it can be unholstered, log on to gunslingercorral.com and click on the demonstration videos showing Bill Tower of Walterville turning cartwheels or jumping on a trampoline.

Seeing it is one thing, but most hunters don't fully appreciate the rifle/shotgun holster until they try it themselves.

Martin said he was openly skeptical when Barron first told him about his invention over the telephone.

"I laughed and said, `Rick, you've got to be crazy. I don't have a problem holding my gun.' Like every shooter, I was taught that the weight of the rifle is something that you have to deal with."

The fact that the holster lightens the hunter's load is nice, Miller said, but its primary advantage is that it frees his hands and eyes.

"What the holster really provides the hunter is focus," Miller said. "You wouldn't believe how much of your focus is on your gun rather than on what you're doing. ... With this you always know exactly where your barrel is without looking at it."

And that barrel can be in any one of several different positions, depending on the user's preference.

The holster - which folds around the hunter's belt and is held in place with Velcro - can easily be moved from the back to the side, to the front for different "styles" of carry. As long as tension is applied to the sling, the gunstock will remain clipped in the holster's support hook.

The compact holster requires a pistol grip or "some sort of nubbin" for the hook to fit around. For that reason, the holster does not work with lever-action rifles. The hook itself is made of 14 gauge mild steel covered with a plastic nylon material.

"The hook is fully adjustable," Miller said. "It's factory set to get a perfect fit on a Remington 700, but you can open it, close it or throw a twist in it to get a custom fit on your stock."

The compact holster, which comes in various colors and is priced at $29.99, will fit on any standard belt up to 2 inches in width. Gunslinger Corral also sells (for $9.99) its own one-hand quick-release nylon belt that is easily adjustable and a universal backpack attachment ($4.99).

All Gunslinger Corral products are manufactured in Portland.

Miller said he's sold about 50,000 units since 1999, the vast majority of them at sportsmen's shows, and through Gunslinger Corral's 800 number or Internet site.

The compact rifle holster has received favorable reviews from numerous hunting and gun magazines. Gary Lewis, a Bend free-lance writer whose hunting columns regularly appear in The Register-Guard, said after trying out the device that he intended to use it during elk and deer seasons.

"Carrying a heavy rifle on a sling can put strain on your back, and it can be frustrating when the rifle slips off your shoulder many times during a hunt," Lewis wrote. "I carried the rifle around in the rifle holster for a couple of hours and hardly noticed I had it on."

But, in spite of being well-received by those who try it, the rifle/shotgun holster has yet to catch fire at the retail level.

Miller, a self-described "high school dropout" who later attended Lane Community College, blames "my own poor business sense."

"It's been a battle to simplify the presentation" so that retailers and their customers can easily understand what the holster is, and what it can do for them, he said.

At first, Gunslinger Corral marketed all three of its products - holster, belt and backpack attachment - as a system. All three items were jammed together in a small rectangular box. Miller tried advertising on the Outdoor Channel, but "I made a mistake by not pitching the price." The ads also referred viewers to retailers, many of whom did not have the rifle holsters in stock or know where to get them.

"My lack of business marketing experience slowed me down," Miller said, "but the cool thing is, when people see this in action, there's no alternative."

A Portland company recently helped Miller come up with new display packaging that includes a cardboard gunstock to demonstrate how holster and gun fit together. The belt and backpack attachment are now each sold in separate packages.

Miller is working now to get the repackaged product in major stores, and hopes to have them widely available in 2006. For now they may be ordered through his Web site or by phone at (888) 900-8678.

CAPTION(S):

Bill Tower of Walterville demonstrates it's possible to do a cartwheel with a rifle slung over the shoulder with the Gunslinger Corral Compact Rifle/Shotgun Holster. Wayne Eastburn / The Register-Guard Mark Miller's holster allows him to carry a second rifle and a pack on his back, in addition to a weapon in hand. The hook is set to fit a Remington 700 but can be adjusted.
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Title Annotation:Recreation; Oregon-made product provides safe, hands-free method of carrying a rifle
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 6, 2005
Words:1210
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