SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT HOLSTER AND LEATHER DESIGN
By DETECTIVE JAY JOHNSTON
Det. Jay Johnston
Holster design and construction is of paramount importance to the armed professional. An evolution has occurred from covered and mechanical retention of various types and complexity, to retaining straps and finally thumb break and friction retention. Drawing a handgun in a tactical manner was not emphasized until the advent of the modern technique of the handgun, and indeed security over access was often seen in early holster designs.
Jeff Cooper noted in the 1970’s that a proper holster needs to be comfortable and accessible, providing a weapon platform that is “secure, convenient, protective and fast”. In my 22 years of concealed carry, I have seen nothing that contradicts these basic principles. And while there are many aspects of personal defense with a handgun that impact on effectiveness, gear selection and quality is very important. And additionally, without comfort, the handgun will not be carried on a consistent basis, deleting its utility.
The handgun, as primarily a defensive tool must be accessible, and the more retention devices we incorporate, from rotating hoods to mechanical releases, the more complexity in training and possible impact on draw speed we create. Of course there must be some degree of retention, and this leads back to proper design and quality. Proper leather gear, purpose built for the exact arm carried, and sized exactly to the belt, provides a high degree of retention that lasts many years. Master holster makers of the past such as Milt Sparks and Bruce Nelson among others, emphasized friction over mechanical retention, and indeed the armed professional relies on tactical mindset, distance and correct clothing choices to enhance concealed carry. Obviously the less we have to consider during a stressful circumstance, the greater likelihood we will respond in an effective way, and of course a handgun might have to be drawn with either hand under stress.
As an adjunct instructor at the Department of Energy Central Training Academy, and later Thunder Ranch, I was able to observe many different Law enforcement, Military and civilian holster and gear selections. In many cases the principles explained above were not followed for a variety of reasons. Often, a department would specify the type of gear carried, and little latitude was allowed for experimentation. However, for the armed professional off duty, or licensed civilian carrying concealed, some good choices exist like the gear produced by Erik Little at Rafter-L Combat Leather among a very few others. In my experience of carrying and teaching concealed carry, several considerations always apply. First, the individual should carry in a consistent manner, preferably on the strong side. This draw position builds reflexive skill, and reinforces previous training received by an officer. A proper firing grip, including thumb position, will be attained in the holster. The holster should be of minimum dimensions cut close to the trigger guard, have a covered trigger, and very importantly allow for one handed re-holstering. If a holster requires both hands to draw, stay attached to the belt, or re-holster, it is of deficient design and construction for defensive work. Training professional John Farnam noted that these considerations were of primary importance for the armed professional.
Any handgun used for personal defense should have a source of ammunition readily available. Spare loaded magazines are properly carried in a single or double magazine carrier, oriented to facilitate a proper reload on the off side. This pouch will be vertical, rounds forward, non-covered and formed to the specific magazine to achieve retention. I have had such carriers by top makers, retain retention for decades and no amount of unplanned movement will dislodge the magazine without intent.
The serious professional looking for leather gear should always demand the use of top quality hide. Belts should be of double thickness, cut on the curve for comfort, and at least 1.25” in width depending on the weight of the firearm. The magazine pouch and holster should be worn as a unit, not a collection of parts. Obviously, the holster and pouch should be sized to the belt to eliminate movement and facilitate draw and reloading speed and security. Neutral colors and finishes can be used by the maker to prevent rubbing off on clothing, and such gear will remain in place during extreme movement, since not every encounter requires the use of a firearm, or the situation has de-escalated. It has been my experience that gear of this type is never cheap, is usually produced in limited volume in a small shop, and unfortunately there will be a wait. But once carried, nylon, kydex or other man made material pales in comparison. Indeed, in my students, I could usually gauge an individual’s seriousness by the tools and especially the leather he or she carried.
I have watched the progress of Mr. Little’s leather shop with interest. I have custom leather from many of the top makers, both alive and deceased, and I recognize that Mr. Little has incorporated important design aspects and quality into his gear; these considerations have stood the test of time. His products deserve a look by the armed professional.
THE AUTHOR IS PRESENTLY A RETIRED DETECTIVE FROM A MEDIUM SIZED LAW ENFORCEMENT DEPARTMENT IN THE SOUTHWESTERN U.S. HE HAS TAUGHT FIREARMS AND TACTICS AT THE FEDERAL AND LOCAL LEVEL FOR OVER 20 YEARS, AND HAS RECEIVED EXTENSIVE TRAINING FROM THE DEPT. OF ENERGY, THUNDER RANCH, GUNSITE AND LAPD AMONG MANY OTHERS. HE CARRIES CONCEALED DAILY.