ASAA   Europe



One 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 best.

Still, 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.

And 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 or civilian.

The 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.

Second, 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.

Third, 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

Fourth, 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 response.

How 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.

When 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.

However, 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.

Regardless 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.

Weapon 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.

To 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.

Unfortunately, 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 then!

At 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.

Another 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 place.

A 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.

Super-fast 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.

For 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, etc.

Storekeepers 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.

Friction-locks 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."

Used 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.

Shoulder 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 environment.

Moreover, 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.

Conversely, 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.

For 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.

Inside-the-pants 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.

With 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.

GALCO 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.

As 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.

Yet, 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 the process.

Last, 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 them.

Anyone 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?

The 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.

Statistically 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 price.

After all, how much is your life worth?



Additional information about ASAA is available. Please email me directly at:

American Small Arms Academy
PO Box 12111
Prescott, AZ 86304

2003 Chuck Taylor's American Small Arms Academy, All rights reserved.