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Sierra Bullets
Rifle Magazine
February - March 2002
Volume 37, Number 1
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 215
On the cover...
Cover photos include the Smith & Wesson Models 625 Mountain Gun and 27. Below (left to right) sixguns include the Ruger Vaquero, New Model Blackhawk and Colt Single Action Army. Colt pistol photo by Dave Scovill.
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Milt Sparks’s 200AW Field Holster

As with many commentaries about holsters, this one begins with a handgun. I had decided I really needed a single-action .45 Colt revolver capable of handling 300-grain bullets at velocities of 1,200 fps. Pretty straightforward, actually. The list of alternatives was fairly short, as well. I did hem and haw a bit, disliking this or that about most models I considered. Finally, though, I found a Ruger Bisley Vaquero with a reasonably attractive color casehardened receiver. In truth, the Ruger frame is more than strong enough; the “color” is purely aesthetic but frequently leaves something to be desired. Anyway, the “color” was acceptable, the 5 1/2-inch barrel would allow the requisite velocities, and the Bisley grip was perfect, at least to me, for handling the recoil. Finally, the gun could be worn without discomfort for long periods of time whether riding, sitting or walking.

After bringing the Ruger Bisley Vaquero home and familiarizing myself with it, I began the process of determining just what modifications would be necessary. There were several; in fact, they sort of got out of hand but that’s another story. During this period, I ran into a friend who makes very nice period holsters - post-Civil War period, for the most part. As we discussed my latest acquisition, he got right to the point: “How are you packing it?” I told him I was still looking, and I was. While I’m impressed with my friend’s work, most period pieces either lack the protection or security I was looking for or seem to demand a separate belt that would add unnecessary weight. The holster I wanted would get its greatest use during the hunting season, or woods walking during any season, and would be expected to offer protection, security and access in equal measures.

I dug out those holster catalogs on hand, as well as the holsters on hand, and ordered a few more catalogs. A shoulder holster I had made years ago for a Super Blackhawk would suffice for that mode of carry. A special strong side hip holster was what I needed and none of those on hand seemed exactly right.

One of my favorite holsters for the Colt Government Model is a Milt Sparks model I used in my early forays into IPSC competition. It offers high levels of security and access and was “state-of-the-art” way back then. So when the latest Milt Sparks catalog arrived it received a close scrutiny. Eliminating those models designed for discreet carry got me to pages 22 and 23. Two holsters, obviously designed with large frame revolvers in mind, seemed very close to what I was looking for. Both were quite similar, having deep pouches that covered the trigger guard and cylinder and both having Sparks’s famous adjustable tension welt security devise. One, however, had a hammer shroud for additional protection afield. The model number is 200AW.

As interesting as the holster, so too, was its lineage. The design began, apparently, back in the 1960s when Sparks was a backcountry pilot, and holster making was a sideline. Although the sequence is a bit unclear, the famous FBI agent Frank Sloan developed the adjustable tension welt concept and allowed Sparks to incorporate it into the Sparks line. The redoubt-able Elmer Keith was also a Milt Sparks acquaintance, and it was Keith who recommended the hammer shroud for additional protection. Sparks - Sloan - Keith, that ought to get your attention; it certainly got mine.

The more I looked at the picture of the holster in the catalog, the more interested I became. First, the holster was made of leather - a requirement, as far as I was concerned. It was to be worn on the pants belt, and it held the gun against the body. While there was sufficient leather to cover the trigger guard and cylinder plus that needed for the hammer shroud, there wasn’t an ounce extra. In short, my protection requirements would be covered admirably. Though protecting only the hammer on my fixed-sight Bisley, the shroud would also protect the rear sight on an adjustable sighted gun, a feature not to be overlooked. The only type of protection not afforded the Ruger by the 200AW would be against the weather. However, the leather, plus holding the gun against the body would allow any garment protecting the body to protect the handgun as well.

Back in those early IPSC days, the “holster retention” policy was often tested by having the shooter turn somersaults while wearing the gun holstered. If the gun fell out, you didn’t shoot! That Sparks holster for my Government Model never failed me. While I seldom do somersaults these days, I’m confident the same adjustable welt in the 200AW will hold the Bisley Vaquero no matter what I do. The system itself is very simple. The welt in a holster is that thickness in the back that helps determine gun fit. The rest of the holster is sewed to it. At its upper end, the welt is usually the thickness of the trigger guard. Either the guard fits down in the pouch next to the welt or rests on top of it. In the Sloan system, the top part of the welt is not sewn to the rest of the holster. The gun is pushed into the holster and the top or adjustable portion of the welt is pushed against the front of the frame and secured by a screw that will stay put but is easily adjusted.

Access is also simplicity itself. There are no straps or loops or tags to undo or get in the way. Just grab and pull.

The 200AW is available in tan, black or cordovan, but I called the factory and asked for dark brown and got it. Options include lined or unlined, plain, basket stamped or decorative stitching. Standard is a muzzle-to-the-rear, or FBI, cant although other choices are available. The holster can be made for most revolvers, but a call first will be time well spent.

I decided the 200AW really was what I was looking for so I called the factory to discuss the particulars. Once everything was understood, I completed the order form, included my check and sat back to wait. Six weeks, I think it was, but well worth it. Workmanship, fit, even the color, were perfect. My Bisley Vaquero had a home.

Sparks, Sloan and Keith are all gone now, but the company Milt Sparks founded is still turning out Sparks-quality products. Owned by Tony Kanaley, Sparks’s former partner, Tony and three others turn out an impressive line of holsters. One of the unique things about the company is that each product is completed start-to-finish by a single craftsman. On the back of my 200AW, along with the company stamp, “VAQ” and the belt size is “JW” in a circle. It stands for Jim Wall. I’ve never met Mr. Wall, but if your next Milt Sparks holster is so stamped, you won’t be disappointed either.

For more information contact Milt Sparks Holsters, Inc., 605 East 44th, Ste. 2, Boise ID 83714. - R.H. VanDenburg, Jr.

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