By Jerry Ahern
Photos by Sharon Ahern
There are various types of concealment holsters, of course, but one of the most concealable, when worn correctly with the proper handgun, is the upside-down shoulder holster. These days, however, you rarely see one.
In the era when there were only three sizes of semi-automatics, things were different. In those “olden times,” there was the large-frame semi-automatic, the medium frame and the small frame. Small-frame autos—those that were among the smallest of the small—were sometimes categorized as “vest pocket pistols.” Typical small frames were pocket pistols. These were usually .25s, although sometimes found in .22 Short or even .22 LR.
Medium frames were sometimes referred to as pocket pistols, too. These were .32 ACP and .380 ACP, although such a pistol would sometimes be found in .22 LR. A typical large-frame auto would have been the 1911 or the Browning P-35 Hi-Power. The vastly smaller Colt Commander—only three-quarters of an inch, actually, which always struck me as silly—was also a large frame. There were no compact full-size autos in those days, except for some heavily customized handguns, but there weren’t compact SUVs, either.
The penultimate medium frame was the Walther PPK, which, of course, in the aftermath of the absurdity known as GCA ’68, could only be had at grossly inflated prices, because no more could be imported. The slightly longer-in-the-butt Walther PPK/S was the next best thing to the PPK, its legality for importation resting on the same arbitrary measurement criteria as those which banned the PPK. These days, Smith & Wesson manufactures the PPK and PPK/S in the USA.
In small-frame autos, the Beretta 950 single action (still one of the best .25 autos ever made) was just the right size, banned of course, then manufactured in the USA. The Baby Browning and the stainless steel Bauer clone were smaller still, the no-longer-made Bauer kosher because it was made in the USA, the Browning banned for importation. It’s made here, these days, too, but the little Beretta is gone, its double-action clone is all that remains.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 was a singularly useless and stupid law, of course. And, while such silliness was going on in the world of semi-automatic pistols, concealed carry revolvers were little affected. Comparatively diminutive shorter-barreled defensive revolvers were largely produced in the good old USA and GCA ’68 couldn’t ham-handedly regulate these guns.
To conceal revolvers, of course, there were many, many options, albeit something the size of a Smith & Wesson Chiefs Special or a Colt Detective Special or a Charter Arms Undercover usually didn’t work too well in a pocket, at least in the absence of heavier outerwear.
Frequently, the best choices for carrying revolvers with a nominal 2-inch barrel were the simplest choices. Certainly, conventional belt holsters could be used successfully, but inside-waistband carry with a holster or with the marvelous Barami Hip-Grip was much more concealable. Ankle holster carry, when the holster and gun were worn properly on the inner side of the off-gun side ankle, could be quite concealable, despite the fact that accessing the gun could present some problems. Do you stand on one leg in order to draw? Do you crouch? Do you drop and roll onto your back?
There was always the shoulder holster, but so many shoulder rigs had way too much leather for such small guns and presented a great deal of bulk under covering garments. And, especially in the days when diagonal shoulder rigs, such as those pioneered by Galco (www.galcogunleather.com) in its early days as The Famous Jackass Holster Company, were just getting into the public consciousness, most shoulder holsters carried the revolver right side up, butt protruding forward. This straight vertical carry in a shoulder rig very frequently leads to concealment problems, wherein the gun butt shows prominently under the covering garment.
So, when people wanted a conveniently sized concealment handgun with at least a modest degree of performance on target, they’d select a medium-frame auto, like the Walther PPK/S, and stoke the gun with those new-fangled Super-Vel hollow point .380s or homemade recipe handloads. Either that or they’d go to a snubby .38 Special revolver. Sometimes, one might upgrade to a snubby .357 Magnum—the Smith & Wesson Model 19 or Model 66, with a 2Â½-inch barrel, or the Colt Lawman Mk III with a 2-inch barrel (an excellent, rugged handgun that never got its due).
EARLY UPSIDE-DOWN HOLSTERS
In order to obviate the shortcomings of the typical vertical shoulder holsters available at the time, people turned to a holster design that had actually gotten started in the 1930s by the firm of Berns-Martin. Bianchi International and Safariland, along with other smaller makers, offered upside-down shoulder holsters. Bianchi eventually bought Berns-Martin, morphing its own upside-down original Bianchi Model 9R into the Berns-Martin Triple Draw (it could also be worn as a right- or left-handed belt holster).
Clint Eastwood wore one of the Bianchi holsters in “The Gauntlet,” with a short-barreled S&W Model 66 under his arm and Sondra Locke on the back of his motorcycle. Steve McQueen wore one of the Safariland holsters in “Bullitt,” with a Colt Diamondback .38 Special with a 2Â½-inch barrel. McQueen got a classic Mustang to ride, but it wasn’t equipped with a pretty girl.
By the late 1970s, however, it seemed that everybody had started to carry semi-automatic pistols, because there was more and more variety in caliber, capacity and overall size. For a while, it actually seemed as if the concealed-carry revolver might go the way of the passenger pigeon. Fortunately, though, that never happened, and snubby revolvers from Smith & Wesson, Taurus, Charter Arms, Rossi, Cobra and even Ruger are more popular than ever. But, those excellent, comfortable, concealable, fast-into-action, upside-down shoulder holsters almost became extinct.
TODAY’S UPSIDE-DOWN MODELS
Today, upside-down holsters survive from only a few makers. And, there’s even a holster maker who offers upside-down rigs for semi-autos. The popularization of semi-autos for concealed carry is what, in fact, caused both Bianchi and Safariland to stop selling upside-down holsters. In order for the typical upside-down shoulder holster to work properly, there must be a space between the trigger guard and the grip frame, as there is with a revolver. Modern semi-automatics—from the 1911 to the PPK to the Glock pistols—don’t have such a gap. The root of the trigger guard emerges from the grip’s front strap, rather than dipping down from the frame.
All conventional upside-down revolver holsters are designed so the rearmost portion of the holster curves around to cradle the revolver behind the trigger guard. At the front of the holster, there is either an elastic gusset (the Safariland upside-down holster), leather-covered spring steel lips (the Bianchi and original Berns-Martin holsters) or a snap.
As it stands today, the (new to me) firm of Nevada Gun Leather is the only company that offers an elastic-gusseted upside-down holster. I’ll be checking it out in a future issue. No one, to my knowledge, is offering an upside-down holster that features leather-covered spring steel lips anymore.
ALESSI AND K.L. NULL MODELS
Both Alessi Gun Holsters and K.L. Null Holsters use snaps, but in different ways. Alessi has a leather upside-down rig with a thumb break. It’s called “The Guardian.” Alessi Holsters are comfortable, reliable and good looking. I’ve used various Alessi Holsters for years, as did “John Rourke” in “The Survivalist.” And, I’ve used Ken Null Holsters for years, as well.
Ken Null has three different systems. One utilizes a pull-through snap over the rear of the frame. Made from heat-formed plastic, one merely draws the gun and the drawing action pops the snap as the gun forces the snap open. This is the SKR “City Slicker.” One of the principal characters in our series “The Defender” wore one of these. The SKR is well-suited to men or women.
Still another high-tech upside-down Ken Null shoulder holster, also made from plastic, is very skeletonized. The SMZ actually carries the weapon in a sling. One grasps the butt of the weapon and draws as the weapon is rolled away from the body. This breaks open the snap and clears the holster in one fluid motion—with practice. The SMZ is offered for a wide range of revolvers and semi-autos.
Also for revolvers and semi-autos is the USH (and USH-X). It is offered in horsehide or plastic and affords full coverage of the gun, including the trigger guard. The well-respected firearms trainer and writer, John Farnam—an old friend and a really nice guy—and I each have a USH holster for a Detonics CombatMaster .45. John’s holster is made the way Ken Null usually makes the USH for a 1911-style auto—for cocked-and-locked carry. Ken made mine for a hammer-down carry.
QUICK ON THE DRAW
In order to draw the gun from a Null USH, grasp the weapon as normal and vigorously rotate the weapon outward and away from the body. This rips open the two snaps—one is below the trigger guard, the other below the forward portion of the frame—and the gun is produced with lightning rapidity. A hint: Those snaps will scratch a delicately blued surface.
The Alessi and the Null holsters are all quite concealable and reliable. They are also fast. If you are in the early stages of trouble and it isn’t quite the time to draw, you can have the butt of the gun in your hand, the weapon ready for instant presentation.
When it comes to ratio of debt to value—say with a car or a residential property—being “upside down” is not good. But, upside down, when it comes to a concealed carry rig, can be very good indeed!
Alessi Gun Holsters
2525 Walden Avenue
Cheektowaga, NY 14225
K.L. Null Holsters
161 School Street NW
Hill City Station
Resaca, GA 30735