It was about a year-and-a-half ago at a dinner with Craig Boddington and two other friends that I first heard about Trader Keith products. Craig had apparently used them for years, evidenced by the videos on his website in which he discusses their utility.
But I was old-school and always thought of rifle slings and cartridge belt slides as being made from leather. Also, though they looked really cool, I thought so-called ‘culling belts’ were for actors in films, and real-life African professional hunters. Not that Trader Keith doesn’t have many fine leather products, but Craig and I were discussing his use of cotton-based products.
During the course of that dinner 1 1/2 years ago, Craig convinced me of the utility of Trader Keith’s products. I am a relative rank amateur when it comes to African hunting. Craig, to put it mildly, is not. So I listened, I watched his videos, and I recently contacted Bill Keith to see about getting some of his products before my November safari to Mozambique.
Bill suggested three products: their Trader Rifle Strap, Culling Belt and Cartridge Slide.
This piece of equipment was the main reason I checked out Trader Keith’s website in the first place. Let me explain.
I am getting to the point in my physical conditioning that I no longer have a lot of extra energy for fighting with packs, clothing, etc. when wrestling through brush, climbing up steep terrain, or crawling on hands and knees towards a game animal.
One of the things that always seems to take quite a bit of energy is having to constantly adjust my rifle sling that has slipped from the optimum position on my shoulder. That slippage can also affect how quiet I am when stalking.
The first feature of the Trader Keith strap pointed out by Craig is that they have two rows of silicone-impregnated into the cotton weave.
The result is that they don’t slip. I have now tried them with — both sweaty and dry — in both long-sleeve shirts and t-shirts. No slippage. I haven’t tried them on bare skin (dry or sweaty) because I sure as heck am not hunting in the Southern African summer sun with no shirt on.
These straps are secured to the rifle’s sling swivel with an English bridle hook.
I really like this design choice by Trader Keith. I have had a number of instances of my slings coming loose when my rawhide thongs have come untied.
The other feature that’s key for my hunting is that whatever sling/strap I use on my rifle needs to be easily folded or rolled up into a compact form when I need to remove it for crawling toward game animals. The Trader Keith straps, being made of cotton rather than heavier, stiffer leather, fold up small enough to easily fit into a pocket.
The final feature I need from these straps is durability. I realize that leather rifle slings can be very durable. I have some that are decades old and still work great. However, over the next year and a half, I will be spending 30+ days on several trips hunting in Mozambique. I will be there when it’s relatively dry, but I will also be there when it rains heavily.
Having a rifle strap designed for such conditions — particularly the wetter periods — will be key. The cotton rifle strap will dry quicker and retain its shape and flexibility better than my leather slings.
At $60, the Trader Keith Rifle Strap comes in way under the price of many leather slings (even some from Trader Keith). My expectation is that this strap will give much more than $60 in value on hunts not only in Mozambique, but elsewhere.
Culling Belt and Cartridge Slide
“Designed after the popular Zimbabwean culling belt and handmade of the finest cotton webbing to prevent the development of verdigris (sticky green stuff).” That’s Trader Keith’s description of the Culling Belt. That last part concerning the prevention of ‘verdigris’ also applies to the Cartridge Slide; both the belt and slide are made from the same cotton webbing.
The prevention of verdigris is actually very important in many of the contexts where this belt and slide will be used. Specifically, that buildup of verdigris (as shown here on two of my 7mm Remington Magnum cartridges that were kept in a leather slide) can, on double-rifle cartridges, break extractors when attempting to eject the fired brass.
Verdigris is very unlikely to cause any such problems with bolt action extractors. However, because it consists of copper acetate salt that is sometimes basic rather than neutral, it can be ‘corrosive’ to barrels rather than just an indication of brass ‘corrosion’.
Regardless, the cotton makeup of the Trader Keith belt and slide will make this a moot point by preventing it in the first place. (As an aside, verdigris can be easily removed from cartridges using plain old vinegar.)
The Culling Belt comes in sizes to fit waists of 28-49″. One belt accommodates 20, 375 H&H-sized cartridges. A second belt is designed for .400 to .500 NE cartridges.
The Cartridge Slide holds six cartridges and comes in three sizes: 375 H&H, .400 to .500 NE, and 505 Gibbs/500 Jeffery. The slide will fit most belts. I intend to use it as pictured – slipped onto the end of the Culling Belt.
However, if needed, the cartridge sleeves can be altered on the slide or belt to fit slightly larger cartridges than recommended. That just involves 1) wetting the slide or belt sleeve, 2) inserting the larger cartridges, and 3) removing the cartridges when the belt/slide is nearly dry.
As with the rifle straps, I’ll be using both the slide and belt for approximately 30 days of hunting in Mozambique. I know that the cotton will be more comfortable in the heat and dampness than a similar leather product. I also suspect that they will be less likely to be damaged by my sweat and the dirt that inevitably builds up due to pushing through brush and crawling my way towards game animals.
So, thanks Craig Boddington for pointing me in the right direction for these pieces of gear. They’ll likely be around and in use long after I’m gone.
Mike Arnold writes for a number of outlets; links to other articles can be found here.
All photos courtesy of Mike Arnold.