DRAWING ON EXPERIENCE
The Holster, Though Often Overlooked, is Critically Important for Speed and Security
Story & Photos by Chuck Taylor
In the world of tactical handgunning, there is no shortage of opinions.
Gun type and size, caliber, design, accessory configuration, to name but a few, fuel endless discussions—and more than a few arguments—in gunshops, chat rooms and on shooting ranges.
And yet, only rarely does the subject of holsters enter the debate, and when it does, it’s even more rare that actual design is discussed. But holsters are far more critical than most tactical shooters realize. It doesn’t matter much what kind of gun you use when your holster won’t let you bring it into action quickly, efficiently and effectively.
Let’s reiterate the handgun’s primary mission; regardless of its design, caliber or configuration, it’s a close-range, defensive weapon, intended to allow its wearer to regain control of his immediate environment when unexpectedly attacked with as few shots fired and in the shortest possible time-frame. In order for it to be used for this purpose, the wearer must be able to get control of the weapon and present it to the target quickly and safely.
Therefore, two basic design criteria must be met. First, the holster must cover enough of the weapon’s trigger guard area to prevent inadvertent entry by the trigger finger or foreign object. Second, it must allow the wearer to obtain a proper firing grip on the gun while it’s immobilized in the holster. A fast, efficient weapon presentation demands that this is accomplished before anything else happens. If it is not, the shooter will fumble to achieve a firing grip throughout the entire presentation and end up with poorly placed hits or misses as a result because from the outset, he never had it under complete control.
Once these two criteria are satisfied, then—and only then—may we address other concerns such as safety, speed and security. For example, a uniformed police officer often grapples with suspects, so his weapon security concerns are acute. On the other hand, a plain-clothes officer does so far less often and typically under less chaotic circumstances, so his weapon security needs are less severe. A civilian only rarely gets physically involved with an adversary, so his security concerns are considerably less critical.
LEATHER VS. KYDEX
Generally speaking, form-fit holsters are thought of as being the least secure, but this isn’t necessarily true. Because of their susceptibility to moisture and their tendency to loosen with wear, leather form-fit rigs are less secure. On the other hand, Kydex (if properly fitted to the weapon) form-fit holsters maintain their rigidity and offer an excellent balance of weapon security and acquisition speed.
Adjustable form-fitted holsters that utilize a tension screw offer a good balance of acquisition speed and security as long as the wearer sets them properly. However, it’s been my experience both as a competitive shooter and tactical shooting instructor that this particular requirement isn’t always met and must therefore be constantly monitored
For a majority of applications, the thumb-break is perhaps the most popular, and rightly so. It offers a reasonable balance of gun acquisition speed and security and is simple to operate. However, for it to be truly worthwhile, there are two criteria that a thumb-break must satisfy. One, it must break toward, rather than away from, the body. And two, the tab itself must be reinforced to prevent it from simply bending under thumb pressure, which prevents the snap itself from releasing. Even if it meets the primary criteria of allowing a proper firing grip and preventing finger entry into the trigger guard while the gun is holstered, if the two thumb-break criteria are not met, that particular holster should be avoided.
For uniformed police officers who require a high level of weapon security, there are many holsters featuring multiple security devices. While theoretically appealing, holsters that force their wearer to rock the gun forward or backward and simultaneously press various buttons with the trigger finger are far less than optimum. As a result, if they have a choice, most officers opt for a good thumb-break rig with a rigid shank to hold the holster in place on the duty belt.
SHOULDERS, ANKLES, AND DROPS
Shoulder holsters are nice for hunting because they evenly distribute the weight of the gun between both shoulders, but for defensive use, they leave much to be desired. The biggest criticisms are that they aren’t especially concealable and because their multi-strap harness prevents airflow through the clothing, are uncomfortable in warm temperatures. In my experience, these criticisms are valid and as a result I can’t recommend them for anything but sporting use where they’re worn externally, rather than beneath clothing.
Ankle holsters, too, should be avoided unless your needs are highly specialized. Even if the holster itself is of a satisfactory design, locating the gun in such a remote place makes it so slow to access and present that it’s just not worth bothering with. The vast majority of its users utilize it for a second or “back-up”, rather than primary, gun, but it’s my opinion that there are better ways and places to carry it.
Though not widely popular, there are those who prefer their holster to be placed in the small of their back. If a large enough garment is worn, such a rig is without a doubt concealable, but it is uncomfortable whenever the wearer sits down and, though not as slow as a shoulder or ankle rig, it’s much slower than a strong-side or cross-draw.
Inside the waistband holsters have a definite place and are preferred by many because they’re highly concealable. As well, if the holster itself is properly designed, they also offer a good balance of speed and security. However, watch out for those that utilize a belt-clip, rather than a full belt loop, because with them there is a definite potential for drawing the holster with the gun! Obviously, the holster must stay on the person, so the loop is a “must-have.”
If you spend considerable time sitting down, a cross-draw is a good choice. Highly accessible, very concealable, fast and minimally inconvenient, they enjoy considerable popularity, especially with plain-clothes LE personnel.
So-called “drop” holsters, meaning those mounted on the thigh, are essentially SpecOps, rather than general-purpose, oriented. SpecOps personnel almost always utilize a SMG or assault rifle as their primary weapon, thus relegating the handgun to a secondary role. The drop-rig is intended to keep the handgun out of the way of the wearer’s primary arm, hence its location on the thigh. Realistically, although they’re relatively fast, they tend to “flap” a lot during physical movement and therefore subject the holstered gun to more abuse and potential damage. As an example, during SWAT training courses I’ve taught, I have on many occasions noticed pistols in drop-rigs banging into doorframes during dynamic entries.
The belt-slide (or “Yaqui Slide”) holster continues to ride a wave of popularity that began forty years ago, mostly because when there is no gun in it, few would recognize it as a holster. Most examples these days utilize simple friction retention or a thumb-break and many companies offer excellent versions. However, they don’t protect the weapon very well, so except for the most casual carry situations, they’re less than ideal.
Remember…even the best weapon/holster combination isn’t much good unless you know how to present that gun quickly and safely. There are many sources of training available, but be careful…only those whose programs are “real world,” rather than competition-oriented, should be considered, and that narrows the field considerably. Competition shooting is certainly a valid endeavor, but tactical shooting is as different from it as night is from day, particularly in mental process. As a former world-class IPSC shooter, and one who has also experienced multiple handgun encounters, I found the difference to be potentially deadly.