The bargain was struck. I wrote a check for neighbor Sam’s Walther P-38 and he threw in a box of liberated German ammo, a beer stein inscribed “Deustchland uber Alles,” and began rummaging in his old footlocker for more booty. He emerged with a bulky holster, shiny new, that appeared to have been fashioned from fibrous, brown cardboard.
“I ordered this from the Bisley Bargain Basement,” said Sam. “Thought I might want to carry my pistol while rabbit shooting, but you may as well have it.”
The Walther fell into the bargain sheath like a pebble tossed into Carlsbad Caverns. The muzzle protruded about an inch below the holster’s open end and carried a tiny scratch from the cheap rivet that joined the leather at that point.
A little hog in a big wallow, the trim German automatic slapped back and forth in this abomination with a full half inch of lateral play, and the safety strap didn’t help much. It tore in two when I tried to snap it down. Sam thought I was the last of the big spenders when I presented his three dollar prize to his little son for cap pistol use.
What might seem to be something for nothing most often is nothing for something, and bargain hunters, at least bargain holster hunters, usually get taken.
I’ve been a cop most of my adult life, a hunter since I could cock a hammer, and a pistol packer for nearly 30 years. My holster maker is as important to me as my doctor. Do I have definite ideas about what makes a good holster? You bet.
The making of a good holster cannot be approached haphazardly, any more than the making of a good gun. The best materials must be used, and to me this means only one thing: saddle skirting leather. Look at a saddle. The skirts that extend down the horse’s sides have to take a helluva beating. They must last for years, maybe a lifetime, and still be stiff, solid, and hold their shape.
They are formed from leather taken from the shoulder areas of mature bulls, thick as a slice of sourdough bread and tough as a loanshark’s heart. Working this stuff into pistol scabbards is like rolling cigars out of cedar shingles.
A skilled leather worker cuts a hunk of this bullhide to a pattern that fits the handgun tightly. He inserts another welt, maybe two, of saddle skirting between the raw edges that wait to be sewn together. This welt holds the sides of the holster farther apart and enhances the fit to the gun. Our technician then stitches the thing together with heavy nylon or waxed linen thread. A wide tab of leather, integral to the original one-piece pattern, has already been folded down behind the holster well and stitched to hold tightly to the width of belt specified by the customer.
Properly made, the holster at this stage is too tight for its handgun. It is chunked into a can of water for a thorough soaking. When it is completely wet, a cast aluminum dummy or even a genuine specimen of the gun it is to receive is forced into it. The soggy leather is rubbed and caressed until it conforms to every convolution of the cylinder or slide.
The whole mess is dried together. When the form gun is withdrawn, it leaves a pocket that fits the customer’s own hogleg like it has been sprayed on.
My first good scabbard came from the old S.D. Myres Saddle Company, El Paso, Tex. The great peace officer Tom Threepersons designed for them the first gun-hugging, quickdraw model that tilted the revolver butt to the front, rode high on the waist belt for good concealment under a coat, and featured an absolute minimum of good, inflexible leather.
This old design is the epitome of what a belt holster should be. There is no excuse for a backflap that folds behind the belt, to be joined again by the part of the holster that holds the gun, flaring out for and aft like Aunt Mattie’s sunbonnet.
There is small justification for the flap holster that swallows the gun and uses an extra half-a-cowhide in its making, as does the traditional G.I. model.
A flap holster protects the gun from the elements, you say? How? “The elements” are simply water in the form of rain or snow. A leather flap, after a few hours of exposure to such precipitation, soaks up moisture and transfers it to the gun it should be protecting. If the handgun is to be used outdoors in an open holster for only brief periods, no corrosion will likely result if a daily cleaning and oiling is applied. Some dust may be warded off by a flap model, but any decent automatic or revolver will function despite a considerable amount of dust.
All flap holsters that I have seen have shared the main fault of the cheaper models designed to accommodate several different pistols. They don’t fit well, hamper an even fairly fast draw, and rapidly wear blue from the gun.
No, amigo, the best gumshuck is the simplest. Besides the Threepersons, which has been widely copied under other names, there is the Jordan Border Patrol model. The offspring of long cogitating by Bill Jordan, the Border Patrol gunshark, this rig is my choice for the uniformed officer. There is nothing about it that disqualifies it for hunting use either, and I have owned several for work with my heavy revolvers at those times when I wasn’t worried about concealment of my hardware.
Bill took the general shape of the Threepersons model, then doctored it up, still leaving the butt, trigger guard, and hammer of the handgun completely clear of the leather. The Jordan refinements included an extra slab of leather strategically sewn on the inner side of the holster well, bearing on the frame of the sixgun and holding it away from the inner wall of the holster. This allows the trigger finger to extend all the way into the guard and reach its normal firing position before the draw. Once the gun is grabbed, it can be drawn, leveled, and fired without the necessity of the slightest change of grip.
Steel inserts between the layers of leather make the Jordan rig rigid and unmoving when belted to your hip. The gun hand never needs to grope – the pistol always awaits in precisely the same position. The safety strap is extra long, affording a quickly-grasped handhold and snapping cleanly out of the way when not wanted.
Don Hume Leathergoods of Miami, Oklahoma, specializes in production of Bill Jordan’s Border Patrol and River rigs. The River holster is simply the Border Patrol style with a shorter drop to its loop, allowing it to be worn with the wide, low-riding River belt so liked by Border Patrolmen working in rough duty uniforms. Hume also catalogues a complete line of accessories such as handcuff cases, cartridge holders, and other police leather. His holster designs are not confined to the Jordan, and he offers swivel models, the venerable Tom Threepersons belt job, and numerous hideout styles for off duty guns.
Once very popular, crossdraw holsters now are deemed freaks by many new-generation pistoleers. The fact is they are the best choice for some situations and rank mighty low in others.
For the horseman, a crossdraw is ideal if he actually intends to fire from the hurricane deck of his pony. Drawing from the conventional hip holster while mounted involves leaning rather far forward. The hip, knee, and ankle joints cannot lend toward adjustment of the angle between the shoulder of the gun hand and the holstered gun. Try drawing while horseback or straddling a fence rail and you will see what I mean.
In this position a crossdraw holster riding on or slightly forward of the off hipbone can be reached easily with the shooting hand. It is a particularly fast rig when targets on one’s holster side are essayed, and fully as good for any other used by the seated gunman.
The right-handed police officer will find crossdraw rigs good when driving and carrying a prisoner. The gun is kept on the officer’s left side, away from the prisoner. On the pants belt, under a coat, the crossdraw conceals a large handgun better than any other holster, snuggling her butt into the small of the waist, yet offering it close to the jacket opening, ready for a quick, short stroke draw.
The uniformed officer using a Sam Brown belt should avoid the crossdraw like cyanide. Exposed as it then is, its butt-forward carry is an engraved invitation for the desperado to jerk the cop’s own gun.
Shoulder holsters have never pleased me. Eight hours of being harnessed into one of these brassiere-type riggings leaves me with tired, hunched shoulders and a plan for leaving my sixgun under the car seat the next day. For heavy revolvers or automatics, they offer poor concealment, and concealment is the reason most often put forth for their use. Some hunters claim to like them because they snug the pistol up under the coat – out of the elements. The same effect can be obtained with a belt holster and longer coattails, with far more comfort.
When small, hideout type guns are considered, I must confess the only contradiction to my dislike for shoulder rigs. A hideout is a last ditch weapon. To carry it in a belt holster is to place an eye-catching bulge at the waist which would be no more obvious if a larger, more powerful pistol were carried. Usually I stick a 2” .38 Special snubbie or a small automatic into my waistband or side pocket. But this is admittedly a slow proposition. When I want speed with a short belly gun I use the Berns Martin “Lightnin’” shoulder holster.
As fast as its name implies, this unusual marriage of spring steel and light leather holds the snubbie butt-down under the armpit. The gunstock drops naturally into the small of the waist, enjoying excellent concealment under a coat. Drawing from the Lightnin’ involves simply grabbing the gun hand pointing it at the target as it is swept from the spring-tensioned lips of the open-faced holster. The shooter’s wrist remains straight and in firing position all through the draw, with no need for adjustments in grip between drawing and shooting.
A variation of the Lightnin’ is the Triple Draw, also for 22’ revolvers. Essentially this is the same shoulder outfit, but with a belt loop allowing it to be used as a hip holster after detaching the figure eight shoulder harness. Thus used on the waist belt, the draw is different, with the open face of the holster right in line with the forward thrust of the shooters arm. The hand grasps the gunhandle and moves forward, aligning the muzzle on target and never the need of jerking it up and clear of the holster’s well before starting the forward motion.
Berns-Martin, now of Eberton, Georgia, makes the same rig, with belt, for heavier, longer barreled guns. Called the Speed holster, it was long popular with Special Agents of the FBI who favored the Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum. It is a most practical holster for extremely long barreled revolvers, and can be had basket stamped or hand carved.
Although Berns-Martin’s holsters don’t really fall into that class, this leads into an examination of the gimmick rigs. I once knew a worthy who fashioned his own upside-down shoulder outfits from good leather, weak leaf springs, and a flowing imagination.
His idea of a jazzy rigging involved a standard pouch holster hung upside-down from a shoulder harness. In such crude boots he packed four, five, and six inch revolvers. To keep them from falling out, a flat spring was riveted to the leather, a one-inch thick leather button built up on its end and hanging inside the sixgun’s trigger guard. In theory, all my compadre had to do was push the button with his trigger digit and the big six would fall into his hand. In practice, he spent much time bending over to pick up his artillery after it had fallen to get nicked up on a hard sidewalk or rocky trail.
Many another mechanical genius has tried. A clamshell version has long held a small popularity in the West Coast areas. Pressing a leather-shrouded button inside its trigger guard was supposed to let the holster unhinge itself like the doors of a two car garage. It worked – most of the time.
S.D. Myres marketed a wristband holster designed to fit the wrist like a cuff. A leather-covered metal clip pinioned a .41 Remington derringer or .25 Colt automatic into place. Eugene Cunningham, author of that good gunfighters’s book “Triggernometry,” liked this little viper. I never did.
In actual use the wristband rig is heavy and throws arm movements out of balance. Loaded with a fat little gun, it bulks so large as to jam the average coat sleeve. It is not fast. Apparently it was devised to prevent a hideout’s being discovered during a search by police officers, and today’s cops are far too sharp to miss a goiter-like appendage of this size.
Pleasant illustrations of ladies’ bosom holsters have appeared in recent advertising. Any remarks I might make here would be on the ripe side, and are best left unsaid.
To deny simplicity to a holster is to defeat its purpose. The undercover agent who must be clever in hiding his peashooter will use adhesive tape to affix it to nooks and crannies in his anatomy. We less adventurous types are privileged to enlist the services of an artful leather worker.
California is a new Mecca for lovers of fine leather. At 945 West Foothill Blvd. in Monrovia, police officer John Bianchi is applying years of field experience to the shaping of an imaginative new line of pistol rigs aimed at police, military, and sportsmen.
Although mainly catering to “combat” shooters – police and competitors in the live ammo quickdraw matches becoming poplar in California – Bianchi offers very practical hunting rigs, hideout models for pocket guns, and a good selection of belts, knife sheaths, and rifle boots. Quality of his materials and workmanship is excellent.
One of the more unique Bianchi offerings is his Model 7 “Ranger.” Meant for use with the Colt 1911 .45 automatic, this holster features a special pocket forward of the trigger guard recess. The pistol is carried with an empty chamber, the hammer down. As the gun is drawn, the muzzle can be forced back down into the pocket, actuating the slide, chambering a round from the magazine, and cocking the piece. With practice, this operation can be performed with considerable speed.
Safariland Leather Products, 162 East Montecito, Sierra Madre, Calif., is in the running with a patented holster they call the “Sight Track.” Rather than using one piece of leather rolled around the top of the pistol and sewed together top and bottom. A piece of ¼” plastic, grooved on the inside to provide a channel for the handgun’s front sight, is sewed between the layers of leather. The net result is a particularly flat, close-riding scabbard, and one that offers a great deal of protecti0n to your sidearm’s sighting equipment.
Safariland’s holsters are made from an especially dense, tough leather, and are well fitted to the individual gun. This firm also markets knife sheaths, shotshell carriers, rifle slings, and archery accessories.
One of the oldest names in fine leather goods is Lawrence. The George Lawrence Co. 306 S.W. First Ave., Portland, Ore., was established in 1857, is now run by third and fourth generation of the family.
Lawrence’s Number 120, named for magnum sixgunner Elmer Keith, and of the classic Tom Threepersons style, is a practical, popular holster for single action revolvers. Like all of Lawrence’s leather, it shows a handsome, deep-colored oil finish that is quite durable.
In general, quickdraw rigs as used by single action competitors in the Las Vegas type of shoots have small practical application for the serious gunner. Extra wide belts, worn low on the hips, lend to the rakish style of the neo-cowboy gunfanner and serve to hold loose, steel-lined holster in place.
I have found that while these outfits are comfortable on horseback, they are impossible to wear in an automobile because of the extremely low position of the holsters. When hiking after game, the weight of these Hollywood inventions is oppressive, and I have found their width to bind my hip muscles and make them sore.
Used in quickdraw contests, however, they reflect much thought and ingenuity on the part of their makers. Most of the ones I have examined showed fine materials and workmanship. Perhaps the best I have had the occasion to use was a belt and holster for the Colt single action revolver, made by Arvo Ojala, 3873 Lankershim, Universal City, Calif.
If you own a handgun, you need a holster. And if you need a holster, there is no sweat in choosing one.
Get the best.
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