Chris Baker at Lucky Gunner has impressed me before, and here, he offers as good a review–of the things that really matter–as I could ask, on a rifle that interests me seriously–the Henry Big Boy X Model, offered in .357, .44, and .45 Colt.
He covers–quite well–the practicalities of administrative handling, sight selection, lever loop size, similarity to other actions such as the Marlin and Rossi rifles, functional accuracy and individual quirks…but he really drew fanboi-moi in with that Langlois Rhodesian sling (which he never actually demonstrates, but then the review isn’t about that, either), and had me positively pumping my fist talking about the stock being too long, at over 14 inches. He even said he’d prefer 12.5 inches, which is short enough to put him past the shorter side of industry-normal and into sacred-cow-slaughterhouse territory. Hallelujah and right on, brother! Even big guys like me can shoot short stocks with no problem, and this is the kind of rifle that can serve as the house gun for the whole family.
Yeah, I want one. Actually, two: I want the .357 for the house, and the .45 Colt for me. They’re not precisely cheap, and even customized they’ll never replace Kerflättenboömer, but for their purpose they seem to represent wonderful value.
As an overview of the “why leverguns” question–a very worthwhile question–he…just really does a fine job with it, and I thought it deserved a bookmark. I’ll not be surprised if I find myself motivated to link to others in this series.
For me, a carbine-length revolver-cartridge levergun is right up there at the head of my list of “next rifle” options. I keep going back and forth over caliber choice (seeing great value in each of .45 Colt, .44 Mag, and .38/.357, for different reasons), but I’m pretty solid on the platform specs, which are actually pretty similar to a number of the pieces you can see in this clip.
It seems almost weird to me, that I never even thought to look, in all these years. Once I ran across Elden Carl’s website, though–pretty much by accident–I kinda had to read it all at once.
What a treasure trove. There’s not a huge amount there, but what is there is just gold.
“There are things I’ve seen Elden do with a pistol that I won’t tell you about because I would sound like a pulp fiction magazine writer.”
You can learn, among these articles, why you will run across his name spelled both “Elden” and “Eldon”–there is a reason; an extended theory of the origins of Dirty Harry; a fabulous story about the next-level cool of Thell Reed…and others.
I was happy to find there things I never knew, like the story of the three-inch, five-shot, one hundred yard group, fired in competition (to beat Jack Weaver) with full-house .44 Magnum (holy cow!); and also deeper dives on things I knew partially. I also found that for me, Elden’s perspective further humanizes Jeff Cooper, who is so often seen antiseptically apart from his contemporaries due mostly to the lasting force of his literary personality, by putting him in the proper multiple contexts of organizer, analyst, scientist, and competitor.
These guys must have been something else to watch, especially going head-to-head with each other at those Leatherslaps. The written word isn’t going to be the same thing, of course, but I’m happy to have the resource.
I am very happy to report, after my recent introduction to the Andy Langlois shooting sling design he calls the Rhodesian, that oh yeah, it does indeed seem to fulfill the promise of being a conventionally-mounted, two-point, speed sling that provides solid lockup, while still allowing conventional carry of the rifle.
I’ve had enough reps now, with the sling installed on Kerflättenboömer, that I can sense my status actively changing from Willing To Be Convinced, into True Believer. It’s solid, it’s fast, it’s reliable, and it’s adjustable. Oh, and did I mention that it’s available from The Wilderness, in bomber 1.25″ nylon, for thirty bucks?
This is really quite a big deal.
The modern speed sling
For those who may not know, a shooting sling–not just a carry strap but a true shooting sling–is a startlingly effective aid in helping you to hold steady for precision shots. We’ve had the old-fashioned military loop sling around for years (many people still have one, on an old rifle–the one with funny brass buckles that hook into pairs of strap holes–but have no idea how to use it), and it’s got wonderful lockup, but it isn’t fast.
Jeff Cooper promoted the first true speed sling, naming it “CW” after Carlos Widmann who first showed it to him in Guatemala. Later, it was Eric Ching who first solved the problem of providing the speed and lockup of the CW sling, along with the ability to go effortlessly between shooting mode and carry strap mode. (With the CW sling, you had to move the two sling swivels among the three studs to switch between shooting mode and carry mode. It worked, but was inconvenient.) And so for some years now, the gold standard in speed slings has been the Ching Sling; it was the design that wound up on the production Steyr Scout rifle:
Personally, I love watching the look on someone’s face when they first “get”–when they actually grok–what the Ching Sling can do for their shooting. (When the revelation happened to me, I immediately started finding ways to fit one to all my rifles, and over a generation later now (sheesh!), I remain totally satisfied with the choice.)
So…to have something that really does accomplish the same one-third improvement in the ability to hit at a distance (yes, one third–try it and see!), with the same speed (as fast as you can get into a field position, even squat), and mounted on two conventional sling studs…
Well, maybe now you can understand a bit better why I’m so jazzed about this. 🙂
The Rhodesian deserves its place
Since “nineteen-ought-thirty-four” I have been shooting rifles for fun and profit, but not until nineteen-eighty-four did I get the word about sling systems.
I had to chuckle a bit, reading that article again when I found it for linking here; the Langlois Rhodesian design has been around for a number of years already, even if I’m just noticing it now.
Well, now I’ve noticed, and will be happy to spread the word. I’m not going to give up my own Ching Slings just yet, but I do think we have to add Andy Langlois to the pantheon of important designers, because the Rhodesian is the real deal.
With this design, reliable entry into the sling’s loop is achieved by using two buckles set about 6″-8″ apart, with doubled strap material between them; this stiffened section reliably makes entry into the loop fast and dependable. It works, even when starting with the rifle slung over the shoulder, which naturally collapses the entry loop for carry mode. (Like the Ching Sling, you do need to re-open the loop when the rifle comes off the shoulder, but both Ching and Rhodesian designs make that operation quick and natural.)
Given the low cost, the conventional mounting, and its obvious performance, I have to say this is a big winner for riflemen everywhere. For me, the Rhodesian is the perfect answer to what sling to use for the TalonP hunting carbine, and I think I may start installing it by default on new rifles–especially ones for which the Ching Sling’s middle stud is actually problematic (e.g., pump shotguns). It will be lovely to have an extra copy, too, for use with borrowed rifles, or to loan out to people who don’t yet know how useful a shooting sling really is.
Evolution of the revolution
This whole experience is a good reminder that even revolutionary things can, and should, continue to evolve.
With the Modern Technique of the pistol, for example, which was the very definition of revolutionary when it appeared, it is important to remember both that 1) it didn’t just spring forth in its final form, but quickly evolved (from open competition) into its constituent components, each of which was then revolutionary in its own right; and also that 2) it has since continued its evolution, just on a much smaller scale.
And so if you go today to a “gun school” which started with the Modern Technique’s attitude (e.g., Thunder Ranch, Front Sight, or even Gunsite itself), you will find that their now-decades-long experiences, with tens of thousands of students, have caused numerous refinements in things like pistol presentation, reload and malfunction clearance practice, and shooting stance–largely in parallel with each other, and usually unequivocally for the better. (Many detractors–and even adherents, sadly–get almost comically obsessed over the dogma of details, and fail to see that it is the attitude and principles which define the Modern Technique.)
This is all by design. Cooper’s whole idea was to bring pistolcraft into the realm of structured science, and that of course implies regular evolution, and even remaining scientifically skeptical of the core principles. (The fact that the core principles of the Modern Technique are still as solid as they are, today, says much about how effective the original testing and analysis really was, in the first place.)
And so it is, of course, with riflecraft as well, including the use of the shooting sling, and by extension the speed sling. What Widmann and others described to Cooper as an “old British two-point system”, got brought into new attention and study; then it was truly revolutionized by Eric Ching for practical use…and now we seem to have a very important refinement and alternative option, in the form of Andy Langlois’ Rhodesian design.
Somehow, it’s gratifying to see the evolution continue. 🙂
Very well then, there’s a new speed sling in town and I’m happy to see it!
My lovely wife Cathy is not herself a “gunnie”, but she has always fully supported my nerdery, and recently, when I’d finished up the text of the initial page-set here, she graciously volunteered to do a photo shoot for some initial images to get out there in support of all my verbal vomitus.
She’s a much better photographer than I am, and she’s quick to understand how to capture what I’m looking for, even if she doesn’t understand the technique herself. Which leaves me to focus on the technical bits, to the benefit of the result!
Anyway, additionally to the photos appearing variously around the site, I thought I’d put a gallery here as well, to showcase her work.
As I mention over on the About page: thanks, Cathy.
Some interesting stuff in here, for sure. Gun Jesus reviews a book I was not aware of before, The Scout Rifle Study by Richard Allen Mann.
Once again, I am struck by Ian’s general good faith in reporting about the Scout concept, and will happily bookmark here. The biggest critique I would make in the main is that some of the arguments he makes against the utility of the forward glass seem at least as arbitrary as some of the extended “for” arguments he is criticizing. In terms of presentational style, those seem a bit contrived, and maybe he felt he was supposed to come up with downsides.
Personally, I’m a believer in the forward glass; not so much on a “thus spake the guru” basis as on having tested it for myself and seen the results, much like with the Ching Sling. For me at least, it is definitely the fastest sighting arrangement I have yet tried on a rifle, and yet I can hit with it out to the limits of my own working range. I’ve gone to the trouble of testing increased magnification and field of view (on a very nice, if heavy, Leapers glass), and frankly, for a sighting system I do not find those features worth the tripling of weight and increased bulk over the Leupold M8. The light-gathering idea is a real thing, to be sure, but again, this is a sighting system, not an observation glass, and in some years of practice, I have not found the M8 to be a limitation in this regard.
Now…all that said, as much of a scout fanboy as I am–and no doubt I am–I’m nonetheless totally on board with the idea of further, and continuously, refining the scout concept, according to the original principles. After all, I went to the trouble of building a scout on the Ruger No. 1 falling block action. This is hardly what Jeff Cooper would have considered to be a canonical scout rifle, and yet it hits on most of the original principles, and to this day I do not think you’d find a handier mountain hunting rifle anywhere.
At any rate, it looks like I’ll have to get a copy of this book at some point, and take a peek at it. I’m always up for considering new ideas in scout-land; provided they measure up to the idea, I think we can look past trifling details. Yeah, the Steyr doesn’t quite make weight. Nor, for that matter, does it implement inertial ejection and fixed-claw extraction per the Conference recommendations, either. But it absolutely nails the ideas, and that, at least for me, is what I’m concerned with.
After chatting on the phone with the owner at The Wilderness for a bit recently, I realized that I had forgot about their licensed nylon adaptation of leathersmith Andy Langlois’ “Rhodesian” sling design. I’d first seen it some time ago…and never really paid much attention, because it seemed to make the same claim, of being a functional equivalent to the Ching Sling but using traditional 2-point sling studs, that Galco’s Safari Ching Sling had previously made.
I became pretty leery of that claim, after I got myself a Safari Ching Sling to try out. Galco makes quality stuff (all of my Ching Slings are Galco), but no, as a design, the Safari is not a functional equivalent for the original. Sure, it does provide good lockup on two sling studs, no question there, and it’s beautifully made…but it is absolutely not capable of the dependably lightning-quick entry that the Ching Sling makes possible. (In practice, finding that slot in the Safari is a sometimes thing, rather than an all the times thing, and once you’ve demonstrated, to yourself, what the original design can do, your standard of comparison becomes…high. “Almost” just doesn’t cut it, even if “almost” is “arguably better than any other two-point option available”.)
But in conversation, Ralph struck me as pretty genuinely knowledgeable, and as I expressed my admiration for their licensed nylon original-design Ching Sling, he asked if I’d considered the Langlois Rhodesian design. I confessed I hadn’t, and told my story, and he suggested it might be worth checking out.
Something told me I should do that, and when I came back later to put in my order, I got a copy of the Rhodesian.
The Rhodesian design uses a completely different mechanism than either the original Ching Sling, or the Safari Ching Sling, to hold the entry loop open. The Safari is essentially a really wide main strap, slit down the middle, and with an adjustable cuff spanning the slit, acting as the stop for the tricep; you have to split this slit with your hand in order to gain entry to the loop. The original Ching Sling uses a third sling swivel stud just forward of the magazine well on a bolt rifle; the entry loop is thus always open right up at the rifle, between those two studs, and so that is where you thrust your hand into the loop. The Rhodesian’s loop is connected to the forward stud, and it is held open by the two “triglide” buckles, hanging at the bottom of the loop spaced about 6″ apart; this means that the target for thrusting your hand is more at the bottom of the loop, rather than at the top of it.
Interesting. I hadn’t really noticed that feature before.
Today was the happy day of actually fitting it to a rifle and doing some initial indoor (dry) testing. The rifle selected was the one I call Kerflättenboömer, the glorious 1895G Marlin .45/70 dolled up by Gunsmoke Guns in Denver.
The Marlin has worn a Ching Sling for a long time now, and I know what I can do with that setup. The middle stud had to be located, on the fore-end, in a place which works, but if I’m picking nits is not 100% ideal. The lockup is outstanding and the speed is as fast as it takes me to drop into squat, but I have been wondering if an effective two-point mount might make it a little easier to run the lever while locked up.
That would totally be worth it.
Tonight I got it installed, with an initial adjustment for prone. My intention is to run it for a bit and see if any fine adjustments need to be made, across prone, sitting, and squat positions. Will have to see how that goes.
Initial impressions in the living room?
I’ve actually got real hopes for this design. Entering the loop, even right off the shoulder slung in African (muzzle-down) style, seems both fast and reliable. The loop-entry design seems to work quite well. Prone is rock-solid. And access to the lever stroke does seem to be cleaner.
I’ll live with it like this for a while, and see how it does. But like I started, here: I’m excited about this. An effective equivalent for the Ching Sling, in a two point system, for $30 in heavy-duty, 1.25″ nylon? (The Wilderness’ nylon gear is no-joke, serious stuff.) That’s potentially shout-from-the-rooftops stuff there.
You can bet I’ll report back as evidence rolls in.
Grr. I have thus far found some things to like about Rob Pincus, especially his general educational style, and I find myself wanting to find more to like. Today, purely by accident, I happened across this link to a Personal Defense Network video which is titled “Scout Rifle as a Self or Home Defense Weapon”.
Well, wouldn’t that be cool. Let’s watch! And there he is, displaying what is clearly a custom rifle on what looks like a Rem 700 action, complete with Ching Sling, intermediate eye relief glass, reserve irons, and even a butt cuff. And he launches into an explanation of the Scout concept in his own presentation style, even leading with Jeff Cooper’s name as the principal force behind the concept. Cool!
The geek in me – sure, call me a Scout fanboy if you will – cringes a little at a few of the details, but they’re mostly minor. He stumbles through the utility of a fixed magazine within a concept that values compactness over capacity, he holds the rifle like a carbine, he only runs the bolt from the shoulder when intending multiple shots, and he never even mentions the ability to reach way out there. Okay, so he’s primarily a “defense” guy, and tends to stick to his primary audience. I understand that grousing on things like that would be more fanboy than fundamental.
But I must conclude that he has absolutely no idea what the point of the Ching Sling is.
At about 3:40 on the timeline he starts the demo of the sling, taking pains to point out the “extra connection”, and then…he simply ignores it entirely, using exactly the textbook “hasty sling” technique that the Ching Sling was conceived to improve upon.
Jeff Cooper often wrote about how surprising it was to him, to discover how few people actually understood the shooting sling at all any more. A true shooting sling, to him, was more important than a glass optic on a rifle, because “the glass only helps my seeing, but the sling helps my holding”. I can remember first reading that as a young man, and going to the trouble to test myself with what he said–and yes, it is true. I can hold fully a third better when locked up with a sling, than from the same position without one.
The shooting sling works because it steadies the “gun mount” that is comprised of the ground, your body, the sling, and the rifle. Anatomically, the most effective way to do this is to take responsibility off of muscles, and give it over to bones. A “hasty sling”, in which the arm is simply snaked around the rifle’s carry strap, provides a small amount of tightening, but it is absolutely not the same thing as having your skeleton locked so tightly to your rifle that you can relax all muscles without your sights moving.
And only certain positions work with slings. (Offhand is not one of them.) In order to get a solid lockup, both elbows must be supported–remember, bone, not muscle. Prone is obvious, and sitting; the one that is not obvious but is surprisingly effective is the squat. (Kneeling doesn’t get full value out of the sling because the strong-side elbow is still flying around in the air under muscle power alone.) The thinking here is that if you really need the precision of a sling, then you have time to get into a steadier position; if your need for speed is truly such that you don’t have time to loop up, you probably shouldn’t be bothering with a sling at all.
Which brings us back to the Ching Sling. It is the pinnacle of design for a shooting sling that can also be fast. (Hell, the old-fashioned military loop sling provides excellent lockup, if you take the time to get into it.) The key to effective lockup is that you must have the sling pulling exclusively forward on the support arm, as high up on the tricep as you can get it. Then, with the support arm elbow both under the rifle and resting on the ground (prone) or knee (sitting, squat), and the strong-side elbow resting either on the ground (prone) or knee (sitting, squat), with a properly adjusted sling and a good position, you really can achieve a lockup that will allow you to relax the muscles in both arms without moving the sights.
There are still people around who understand the military loop sling and the lockup it provides. It’s no joke, right? But it’s not fast, even with competition cuffs, and an ideal sling would be both convenient as a carry strap, and fast as a shooting sling. IIRC it was in the 1980s that Cooper first happened upon the idea of a “speed sling” from his friend Carlos Widmann in Guatemala. (Here’s an American Rifleman reprint of his essay on that discovery.) Its only drawback was that it was clumsy to move back and forth between shooting mode and carry strap mode: for a shooting sling that could lock up essentially as fast as you could acquire a position, it was a shame to have to pick between modes.
That is what Eric Ching solved with his invention of the sliding-strap Ching Sling. You have the lightning-quick, solid lockup of the two-forward-stud Widmann system, and the carryability of a main strap spanning the two conventional studs. Its performance really is rather remarkable, and Cooper was rather forceful in specifying it as part of the Scout concept. A Scout is a rifle which can be used either across the room or hundreds of yards away, and way out there, any of us can benefit from a little help holding steady; the Ching Sling makes it possible to get a loop-sling quality lockup while you are getting into position.
So it’s a bit perturbing to see someone as trusted as Rob Pincus discussing the three-point sling on a scout rifle, with apparent reverence…and demonstrating instead a two-point conventional hasty technique. In a position that doesn’t really benefit from a sling in the first place.
He’s right that the Scout concept never caught on in the mainstream. Thing is, I suspect that at least some of the reason why that is the case, is that so few people seem to understand the concepts. “It’s too short; it won’t work at range” say the riflemen. “It’s not semiautomatic,” say the tactards. “Scope’s not powerful enough.” “Looks funny.” “Won’t shoot as far as my specialized sniper rifle.” “Won’t shoot as fast as my specialized tacti-carbine.” And, “What’s that short strap thingy for?”
We know what it’s for. Cooper wrote about it many times. It’s all right there in The Art of the Rifle. It’s no secret. And yet it’s no wonder that it hasn’t caught on, if this is the way it’s presented.