Is A Holster An "Accessory?"

By David Tong

Sidekick holsters

Uncle Mike's Sidekick belt holsters. Illustration courtesy of Michaels of Oregon.

In a word, the answer to the question that serves as the title of this article is "No." Save for quite esoteric types of handguns, such as Olympic Free Pistols, all handguns require a holster if they are to be comfortably carried. A quality holster, primarily made of leather but increasingly in these modern times also of plastics or nylon, is in my view a necessity.

A hunter wants his handgun protected from hard knocks, falls or weather. Often, the sidearm is carried as an adjunct to one's rifle, or sometimes as the sole game harvesting implement. One might see a full-flap holster similar to those carried by military personnel, to keep foreign debris (dust, sand, water) off of your handgun. These offer good protection for one's sidearm when worn on a wide waist belt (gun belt) matched to the holster. Such holsters are available in cross-draw and strong side styles, with the former preferred if the hunter is also carrying a rifle.

Sometimes a vertical shoulder holster for a large revolver or single shot pistol is chosen by the handgun hunter. These are worn under one's offside armpit, usually under some sort of hunting coat in cold or inclement weather and provide excellent protection for the gun. Such shoulder holsters are usually large and sturdy, quite different in purpose and design from the shoulder holsters intended for concealed carry. A supporting strap may cross the chest as well as the back. Handguns equipped with an optical sight are often carried in this manner.

Handguns for concealed carry are carried in smaller shoulder or belt holsters. In the case of the former, the shoulder holster is designed for compactness and (usually) handguns of smaller size and shorter barrel. Concealed carry shoulder holsters can be designed to carry the handgun vertically or horizontally and must be worn under a cover garment (usually a coat) at all times.

Concealed carry belt holsters may be designed to be worn either inside or outside the waistband. Depending on its design, the holster can be positioned practically anywhere around the waist, except directly in front. For concealment, some sort of cover garment that covers the pistol and hangs below the waist must be worn.

This constitutes the vast majority of pistol packer's holster choices these days in a country that has legal concealed carry for personal defense in 47 of our 50 states. There are so many designs of such holsters it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss them all, but some general statements can be made.

Holsters for the concealed handgun can be quite abbreviated, attached to a sturdy belt with a metal or plastic clip, or with belt loops or slots integral with the holster. These are among the most popular holsters made, used for daily carry of the defensive firearm. I prefer those with a "sweat shield" that can help protect the firearm from perspiration damage.

For the legal concealed carry permit holder, or in jurisdictions that dispense with that requirement (Alaska, Arizona and New Hampshire), this type of holster is popular. It separates one's sidearm from the other detritus that we all carry, such as ID, wallet, credit cards, cash, keys and phone. This can be a pretty profound advantage.

Service style holsters, which are designed for open carry, are mounted on a separate gun belt and may have some kind of drop loop to position the holster below one's belt outside the waist, as in a police duty holster or cowboy action type holster. This is intended to position the gun closer to the hand and allows the wearer to have ready access to the pistol, without having to brush aside a jacket or other waist level cover garment.

These holsters are not for concealment, but are faster from which to draw. They usually incorporate some kind of retention device for security and to foil attempted snatch attempts.

Of course, there is also the holster as art. These holsters are nearly always made of fine leathers, often combining more than one type, such as Hermann Oak Leather top grain cowhide, bison, alligator, crocodile, ostrich, sharkskin, snakeskin, etc. These holsters may feature extensive embellishment, including carving, decorative stitching, jewelry-grade engraved metals and contrasting colors.

The apex of fancy holsters may have been reached over a century ago in America, when the famous New York jewelers Tiffany & Co. made accoutrements for Theodore Roosevelt's time in the North Dakota Badlands. In terms of aesthetic appeal, nothing beats a fine leather holster to carry one's equally fine personal sidearm.

Holster design has followed the development of handguns for well over 500 years. Good holsters allow the handgun to be easily accessed and comfortably carried and are one reason the handgun is the most prevalent firearm in American households.

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Copyright 2016 by David Tong and/or All rights reserved.