ON HOLSTER SELECTION
of the most critical, yet usually overlooked, categories within
the subject of combat handgunning is holster selection. These days,
the shooting magazines are literally crammed with advertising for
the widest spectrum of holster designs in history, all of which,
quite naturally, espouse the idea that their particular rig is the
although variety favors the buyer because it give him a better field
of choice, there is a down side, too. The myriad of holster styles
currently available often confuses even the experienced combat shooter,
much less the novice, thus increasing the potential for poor choices
to be made.
poor choices can be dangerous if placed in the wrong environment,
can't they? You bet they can. In fact, they can be more than just
dangerous -- they can be fatal. So, for this reason, serious consideration
of the issue becomes mandatory for anyone who intends to carry a
handgun for self-defense, regardless of whether he is a police officer
purpose of the holster is multi-fold. First, it is a carrying apparatus
for the weapon itself. As such, it must keep the gun in a fixed
location all the time. Otherwise, it becomes excessively difficult
to quickly acquire, gain control of and then bring into action.
Therefore, belt loops that are sufficiently wide to allow rigidity
on the belt are also part of the equation.
the holster must protect the gun appropriately for the environment
in which it is to be carried. Dust, moisture accumulation, and the
threat of impact damage to the muzzle, sights or stocks all cause
negative effect on a carried weapon and must be dealt with.
it must provide a level of security against weapon loss that is
appropriate for its wearer's needs. After all, the handgun won't
do you much good if its lying on the ground three steps away because
it fell clear due to the wearer's physical activity
the holster must also provide the highest acquisition speed possible,
thus in turn allowing the fastest possible weapon presentation.
There is an old gunfighter's saying: "When you need a handgun,
you need it bad and you need it fast!" Take it from me, it's
true. The handgun is the technological successor to the old Roman
short sword and is therefore generally used just outside of arm's
reach. This means that engagement times will be extremely fast,
making rapid weapon presentation a "must" for successful
can the holster best fulfill these requirements? Well, before we
do anything else, we must first define our needs. Everyone has a
different lifestyle and goes about their daily routines in different
nature and socio-cultural environments. As such, no specific type
of holster can be universally superior. What works well for the
uniformed police officer won't get the job done for a plain-clothes
detective; the best choice for knock-down, drag-out military situations
is too slow for the civilian who carries a pistol for self-defense,
and so on.
defining your needs, remember to KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid).
The more complicated things become, the higher the potential for
both operator error and materiel failure and the more time it takes
to complete any kind of required procedure. Armed confrontations
between people is nothing new. Therefore, certain integral trends
can easily be identified and KISS has always been the most successful
concept throughout recorded history.
a word of warning here. Don't take simplicity to extremes and compromise
the mission for which you intend to carry the weapon. KISS means
keeping things as simple as possible; but it doesn't mean that simplicity
for its own sake overshadows the accomplishment of the ultimate
goal -- successful self-defense. In other words, for maximum efficiency,
we need to temper one with the other. One would think that common
logic would make this fact obvious, but it has been my experience
that, to some, it is not.
of whether the holster is intended to be worn inside or outside
the pants, in a purse or fanny pack, cross-draw or firing side,
or under the armpit, to be totally efficient, it must exhibit two
basic characteristics. One, it must allow enough firing hand clearance
for the firer to obtain a correct firing grip with the gun completely
holstered. Two, it must cover enough of the weapon's trigger guard
area to prevent inadvertent entry by the trigger finger or external
object, such as twigs, etc. , thus eliminating the possibility of
an inadvertent discharge.
security is certainly a major concern and is, in fact, the balancing
factor to weapon presentation speed. But, the need for security
is not more important than presentation speed, something too many
law-enforcement holster designers have either forgotten or not realized
in the first place. Sure, by virtue of their daily function, uniformed
policemen often must grapple with suspects, making the need for
weapon retention a major issue. Still, if the officer needs to use
that weapon, he needs it quickly. So, the holster's ability to allow
rapid weapon acquisition and presentation is thus at least of equal,
if not more, importance.
achieve the best of both worlds -- reasonable security with reasonable
presentation speed -- the thumb break concept is widely espoused.
It's a good combination of the two, provided the thumb-break tab
crisply releases toward the torso and is reinforced to maintain
the rigidity necessary for long-term efficiency and service life.
concerns over weapon security have often been the central issue
of holster design; so much so, that due to its elaborate release
procedures, the poor fellow saddled with such a rig cannot possibly
bring the weapon into action in less than several seconds, far too
long given the fact that the typical handgun encounter is over by
the other end of the spectrum, we have the competition rigs designed
to provide high presentation speeds, but offer little or no weapon
security. These, too, should be avoided, as the purpose for which
they were designed has little resemblance to the harsh realities
of real-world self-defense situations.
method of providing security against loss is called form-fitting,
wherein the holster is configured to fit the various contours of
the gun. Its advantages are that it is simple, light, economical
and demonstrates a reasonable balance of speed and security. Its
weakness is that, being made of leather, sustained use over time
will cause loosening, reducing its ability to retain the gun in
third means is to use synthetic materials, such as Kydex, which
will not loosen with age and use, allowing a snug "snap fit,"
which releases with a brisk tug of the firing hand.
but still secure, the lightweight "Taylor Thunderbolt,"
features straight-up carry and a clearance cut in its front to enhance
speed, but also protects the gun well, is highly concealable, making
it quite popular with both undercover police officers and civilians
who carry a gun for self-defense. In fact, it is the hands-down
choice of all the instructors here at ASAA and an increasing number
of our students as well.
decades, a simple snap-strap was used to provide weapon security,
but at the cost of being a bit on the slow side when quick presentations
were needed. As such, especially since more modern designs providing
at least equal security and much faster presentation speeds are
now readily available, the snap-strap design should be relegated
to uses no more serious than "boondocking," the back country,
and others who wish to be armed in their establishments, but don't
carry weapons otherwise often prefer a simple belt slide. These
are essentially skeletonized loops, which provide someplace to put
the gun on their person, but don't look like a holster when empty.
They're very light and simple, but they're not very secure, offer
virtually no weapon protection, and are somewhat slow in presentation
speed. As such, they must be classified as special-purpose, rather
than general-purpose holsters.
are also a popular means of obtain reasonable weapon security, but
remember that they tend to loosen with use and require more or less
constant tightening to maintain any degree of true security. Many
times, they're used in conjunction with a thumb-break to allow even
better security than either method used by itself. One highly successful
holster that utilizes this concept is a modification of a rig Gordon
Wm. Davis and I designed, called the "T-Omega."
widely by many undercover and plain-clothes law-enforcement agencies,
including some integral to the Los Angeles Police Department, it
offers quick weapon presentation, but enough security to allow the
gun to be replaced in the holster without re-engaging the thumb-break
without immediate concern for its possible loss.
holsters, while popular in the movies and television, lack comfort
because they eliminate air flow through the wearer's clothing. Though
concealable enough, they give the wearer a feeling of being "cinched-in"
like a plow horse, a most uncomfortable situation unless the wearer
has the luxury (and some do) of operating in an air-conditioned
if they're not connected on both sides to the waistband, they tend
to "flap" and "creep," drastically reducing
weapon acquisition and presentation speed and often disclosing the
presence of a concealed weapon by "printing" the butt
of the gun clearly against the inside of the concealment garment.
In addition, several shoulder-holster designs incorporate horizontal
carry of both the weapon and spare ammunition, resulting in the
holstered gun being pointed rearward, which has proven to be sufficiently
disconcerting to cause its prohibition on many training ranges.
the shoulder holster does protect the weapon well and distributes
its weight more evenly across the shoulders instead of forcing the
lower back to absorb its weight. So, for handgun hunters (who characteristically
use heavy handguns), et al, it is a fine choice and is, in fact,
a better choice than a waistband-mounted rig.
full-fledged military activities, full-flap holsters have always
been popular and rightly so. The military environment is by nature
highly abusive, making weapon protection of paramount importance.
In contrast, military use of the handgun only rarely features quick
weapon presentation, so the fact that full-flap rigs are a bit slow
isn't of as much concern as it would be for a civilian or policeman.
holsters are also highly concealable and if properly designed, can
be very fast. However, beware of those which utilize a spring-steel
open-ended belt clip to retain them on the waistband, for they tend
to allow presenting the holster along with the weapon, sometimes
with catastrophic results! So, if inside-the-pants seems attractive
to you, better to get one that utilizes belt-retention loop that
snap in place to insure that the rig stays where it belongs.
today's casual dress codes, the so-called "fanny pack"
holster has achieved quite a measure of success. However, the same
criteria that apply to normal holsters also apply to them -- the
wearer must be able to obtain a proper firing grip with the weapon
still in the holster and the trigger guard area must be protected.
The same applies to women's "gun purses," too. In my opinion,
the best examples of both of these are produced by my friend Rich
Gallagher at GALCO International, Ltd.
also offers a complete line of nearly every other kind of holster
you can imagine, including the ever-proliferating paddle-rig. Intended
to be installed and removed without removing the belt, the paddle-holster
concept became immediately popular with those personnel who needed
to alternately wear and store their weapons, such as in a desk drawer,
with as little muss and fuss as possible.
you can see, holster selection is one of the most important parts
of self-defense handgunning. If the rig you carry won't allow you
to quickly acquire and present your weapon, it places you drastically
"behind the power curve," meaning that you're unable to
keep pace with the rapid flow of events taking place. To try and
catch up, you've no choice but to sacrifice something, that "something"
almost invariably being proper attention to sights and trigger control
once the gun is finally presented and on target. This is an entirely
unacceptable trade-off and one which, over the years, has been directly
responsible for the deaths of far too many.
if your holster isn't sufficiently secure to assure reasonable protection
against weapon loss, it won't matter much how "fast" it
is, because the gun won't be there when you need it. Somewhere in
between, the answer lies. The secret is simple -- before you even
start looking for a holster, define and then consider your needs
carefully. Once this task is complete, remember to keep everything
as simple as you can without compromising mission-efficiency in
get yourself some competent professional training and then practice,
practice, and practice some more. Practice dry and live, in all
possible weather and light conditions, and use a variety of the
most realistic targets you can find, but don't get carried away
with shooting until you "burn out." Too many training
programs fill time and space with shooting instead of instruction,
thus causing a reinforcement of existing errors instead of correcting
can shoot, shoot, shoot, but remember that truly competent instructors/schools
don't just burn powder, they teach! Any institution that spends
all its time just shooting isn't the best choice if truly efficient
tactical, shooting and weapon-handling skills are your goal. After
all, do you want to be entertained, or do you want to be trained?
And how can that happen when you shoot as much as 2000 rounds in
a mere four days?
answer: it can't. Here at ASAA, we get hundreds of students with
various levels of skill certification from other institutions that
are still unable to correctly execute the three fundamentals of
successful shooting of any kind -- sight alignment, sight picture
and trigger control! We deal with and correct their problems, but
my instructors are always amazed at this sad situation that should
and would not exist if the training programs to which they were
previously exposed were correctly administered.
speaking, in life and death situations, weapon presentation from
the holster is required a full 50% of the time. This means that
not only should the training program you select devote considerable
time to formal presentation procedure from both open and concealed
carry, but feature as well a detailed analysis of the issue of holsters
in classroom lecture form. Not only will this save you a great deal
of money, but it might just save your life as well, making whatever
time and money you spend on attending such training well worth the
all, how much is your life worth?