Today’s shooters have an unprecedented number of holsters to choose from. But even back when I was new to shooting, during the Stone Age in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, there was a decent selection. I know it’s hard to believe, but so much of our shooting culture started in California. Where I shopped, one could find the Hunter brand of holsters in gun shops and sporting goods stores for most styles and sizes of handguns and types of carry.
Those holsters were mostly only a generic fit i.e., “Large Revolver 6-inch barrel.” They were a bit tight for some and loose for others. They all had a leather strap with a brass snap that would hold almost anything.
For those more “in the know,” there was Alphonso’s in North Hollywood that made some very nice custom rigs. He received his fame from the motion picture industry and the celluloid cowboys he crafted them for. He also catered to the ‘fast draw’ gun crowd of Hollywood stars that were trained by Arvo Ojala who also appeared in western movies.
What you need to keep in mind… Back then, the Hollywood western ruled. Most holster makers catered only to the western style. Very little was done for the defensive pistol market, which consisted mostly of law enforcement. It must be remembered that Col. Jeff Cooper had not yet arrived on the scene with his “The Modern Technique of the Pistol.”
John Bianchi’s company was a new start-up that one could say catered more to law enforcement than the Hollywood western style. So was the spinoff, generated when Neale Perkins split from Bianchi and later established Safariland. For the most part, these and other companies are still with us today.
Trial and Error
What started out as a strictly leather product has now morphed into materials that did not exist back then. I can only say that as the holster industry was growing and learning, so was I. And, I have cardboard boxes filled with discarded holsters to prove it.
Most of those holsters worked for a time but for one reason or another they would no longer suit me. Something new would be released with ads saying it was better, so I would try it only to be disappointed. While hunting or in the field, so long as it carried the pistol, protected it, and was secure, it was okay with me.
Things changed dramatically once I started to carry concealed, and the search began anew. Shoulder holsters, ankle holsters, on the belt, behind the back, in the man purse, Mexican carry, and yes! even inside the hat like I saw in a movie. I think it was Brett Maverick who did it once.
Despite the incredible selection of holsters available today, I get students coming to introductory classes without a suitable holster to train with. Even worse, students come to the more advanced Defensive Combat Pistol Shooting Class with holsters that are the worst possible choice for them. They comment that they purchased what the salesman recommended or what was available for their handgun without giving it much thought.
I can’t overstate this, “How you carry is as important as what you carry!” For Defensive Pistol Shooting Classes and introductory CCW classes, I require my students to have an outside-the-waistband (OWB) strong-side holster that covers the trigger guard with an appropriately sturdy belt, and magazine or speedloader pouches. Only when so outfitted can they learn and practice the basics of correctly using a handgun for defense.
I bring boxes of holsters and cases of handguns to my introductory class, so I can establish my bona fides and demonstrate all the possibilities. This is done before I present my preferences, which were established over 57 years of carry — both open and concealed. My learning curve was long and slow, so I am not too hard on folks just beginning to learn. Likewise, we want to encourage training, not present an environment that would turn them from training.
About 35 years ago, I was working at the studios in and around the Los Angeles area, dating, going to nice restaurants, night clubs, and my carry options at the time consisted of a .32 Seecamp, Browning .380ACP, and Hi-Power. The Seecamp was carried mostly during working hours in a pocket. The .380 road in my “Man Purse” which was very stylish at the time.
On those occasions that I felt more firepower might be needed, a Browning Hi-Power was on my right hip. It was at that time that I developed an affectation for the “Shoot Me First” vest that I still wear today… More about that at another time.
A very fortuitous life changing event took place during that time. I had a conversation with a fellow shooter in my employ who also happened to be an instructor. Let’s call him Pete. During that conversation, Pete introduced me to the outstanding work of a custom holster maker out of Georgia. That really did change my life as far as holsters, and my search ended.
I was on a varmint hunting trip in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, not long after receiving a custom holster for a Jim Hoag Custom 1911s. We were riding ATVs, and it had been raining very hard for days prior to our trip. We had to cross a shallow arroyo awash in runoff. On the far side was a steep 6-foot embankment.
I was instructed by my two hunting partners, both much more experienced ATV riders (I was riding one of their extra ATVs) to stay on the gas until over the top of the embankment. As I hit the top and gave it gas. The ATV started to slip back. Then, the entire wall of the embankment gave way. I landed in the rushing water with the ATV on top of me. Extricating myself and standing up, I was met with raucous laughter.
My first thought was for the 1911 riding in a new holster with no straps to hold it. To my relief, it was still there — as secure as it was when I holstered the gun. I did not do anything to the holster except let it air dry on it’s own. In fact that holster has served me ever since with no loss of retention for the last 35 years.
When selecting the holster, because of the custom work done to the pistol, I ordered a holster to fit that specific pistol. If you like real “old world craftsmanship,” you will really appreciate the fit of a custom holster and the increased security it offers. At a minimum, avoid the off-the-shelf generic holsters and buy a holster molded for your specific gun. Leather is a proven classic, but modern materials such as Kydex will serve just as well.
What’s your favorite carry position? What type of holster do you have? Share your thoughts in the Comment section.