HOLSTERS FOR SHOOTING - American Pistol Shooting (2015)

American Pistol Shooting (2015)

Chapter XXI


HOLSTERS are the most important accessories to practical pistol practice. Without suitable ones all forms of pistol work that serve useful purposes would be done less efficiently than would be the case if properly designed and serviceable types were used. Poorly constructed holsters are an abomination, and yet I know of no other single accessory to pistol work of which one can find more unsatisfactory examples today, than of these necessary adjuncts. There are on the American market holsters of every conceivable shape, size and material. They are made of cloth, leather, metal, fiber, wood, rubber and what not. They are constructed with flaps, straps, thongs, and springs to keep the pistol in place. They are designed to be worn on the thigh, in the pockets, on the waist belt, below the arm pit, on a saddle, attached to the steering wheel of a motor car or carried in handbags or similar receptacles. Every pistol “crank” has taken a turn at designing or attempting to improve the design of holsters, to the end that he may improve his practical shooting, or provide a more compact or protective carrier for his pet gun. Aside from the matter of protection for a gun and efficient service in connection with its use many gun lovers take a great pride in having handsome appearing holsters and belts that are practical and not merely ornamental. Beautiful workmanship whether it be on the gun or accessory is always appreciated by the real pistol lover.


Three small bore pistol holsters of different designs. The one on the left is a substantial, convenient and well fitted holster for the .22 Colt’s Woodsman Automatic. That in the center is a cheap, flimsy and poorly made holster for the S. & W. .22 target pistol and the model on the right is a well made and hung Mexican type holster for the S. & W. 22-32 H.F. target revolver.

The design of military holsters and the method of carrying them have undergone many changes, some of which have been due to the change in guns and some to the change in size and location of the soldier’s personal equipment or pack. Police officers have switched from carrying their guns in the hip pockets in leather or rubber holsters to the more convenient belt or shoulder types. The target shot varies the practice of carrying his guns in a case with other accessories to packing it in a holster when he does not wish to be burdened with too much equipment. The mounted man, due to the fact that weight of equipment is not such an important factor to him, is apt to encase his weapon in heavier material for better protection against hard service and frequent bumps and falls. The man whose hobby is defensive shooting is continually seeking for the fastest quick-draw holster and some of the designs advocated by these specialists are unique to say the least. Unfortunately most of the leather workers who cut the patterns for holsters are not pistol shots, and apparently have little or no idea of the qualification of good holsters but merely try to design some form of covering for the gun in which it will fit reasonably well, receive some protection and present a neat appearance. To design a holster for protection is one thing, to design it for practical service is quite another, and it is in the latter mission that most leather workers fail. The search for suitable holsters for practical purposes has occupied many spare hours of the writer’s time and he has purchased models in Maine and Southern California, in Washington and Texas and in many of the intervening states. The discussion here is the result of his study and experimenting in the designing, making and using of holsters.

What are the qualifications of a good holster? That is the question that arises in one’s mind when he considers the purchase of one for carrying his pistol. The question cannot be answered completely until the purpose of the holster is known. If it is merely to protect the gun and afford a means of carrying it on one’s person so as to shield the pistol against the weather, or rough service incident to hunting, fishing or camping trips it is sufficient that the holster be made of good leather, that it fit the gun reasonably well, is provided with a flap, contains no surplus material, and has a convenient means for attaching it to the belt or other personal apparel.

If the holster is desired for defensive work in emergencies and is to be carried on the body so that it may be readily accessible to the shooting hand then it must possess other qualifications and the greatest care must be taken in its design and construction. Vor police officers either in uniform or plain clothes the requirements of rapid drawing are not so essential but nevertheless holsters for their use must possess many of the same attributes as the defensive type.

Consider first this “quick-draw” type of holster. It should be made of good firm ten ounce saddle skirting leather, cut out of the back or shoulder of the hide or, if a lined holster is desired with a smooth interior for greater ease in drawing, the outer leather should be six ounce and the lining four ounce glued together. In no case should a lined holster be made with buckskin, chamois or similar leathers inside, as they are unserviceable and absorb moisture too readily. Good quality saddle skirting leather can be easily shaped, if properly cased, and is firm enough to retain its form after once fitted to a gun. Other kinds of leather are not nearly as satisfactory for the purpose as they stretch more easily and frequently get flabby and useless.

The second qualification is that the holster fit the particular gun for which it is intended. The test for fit is to hold the holster upside down with the gun in it and if the pistol stays in place the fit is not too loose. On the other hand the holster should not be a bit tighter than necessary to accomplish the above test. It should be so shaped and fitted as to hold the gun by pressure on the top of the frame and around the trigger guard. There should be no binding in any other place especially around the front sight or barrel. To accomplish this it is desirable that the maker actually use a gun or model form on which to fit the holster. The latter may be fitted to a gun as follows: Sponge the leather with warm water until it becomes pliable but not so wet that water can be squeezed from it. Lay it aside for an hour and then place the pistol or revolver in the holster and fit it to the profile of the frame and trigger guard by pressure of the fingers or of a wooden knob. When properly shaped withdraw the gun carefully and let the holster dry slowly at ordinary room temperature. Do not let the holster dry with the gun in it or it will be too large when dry, and do not dry it in the sun. When thoroughly dried the leather may be given a good dressing of saddle soap to preserve it. Apply the soap with a damp sponge, using sufficient to obtain a good lather. If it is desired to darken the leather this may be accomplished by sponging it with oxalic acid, followed by Neatsfoot oil containing a few drops of kerosene. A holster sponged with oxalic acid, oiled, and then rubbed thoroughly and frequently with tragacanth gum will take on a fine gloss finish. The acid cleans and opens the pores of the leather and the gum fills them and gives a rich polish.


Three handsome holsters hung on the same belt to show the difference in pitch of the barrels. They are, from left to right, the Montford Military Holster, the Hardy Quick Draw Holster and the quick draw holster designed by the author and made by Hardy.

The next qualification of a quick draw holster is that it hang properly. In this one detail many otherwise good holsters fail to measure up to the requirements. Let us consider right-handed drawing from a holster worn on the right side of the body. The question that has puzzled many pistol men is that of the proper pitch or slope the holster should have with the belt. Should it hang vertically, or should it hang with the barrel ahead of, or behind the butt when the gun is in place? Having long ago formed my own conclusions as to the way a gun should slope when in a holster I have asked this question of holster makers wherever I have been. The answers have varied but in certain sections of the country I found that the slope was generally with the butt to the front and the muzzle to the rear. A leather worker in Wyoming told me he made them that way because he had always done so, and they seemed to satisfy his customers. Another man in Texas said that the western style of shooting is to pull and shoot as the gun comes up to the target and that this can be done quicker with the butt to the front. He then qualified his statement by saying that for a “hip-shot” the gun should be vertical or with the butt to the rear. Personally, I believe there is a sounder reason for pitching a gun with the muzzle to the rear when worn on the right hip. It is because a revolver or pistol can be carried much more comfortably in this manner than otherwise and that it is not a question of rapid drawing at all. It is also quite noticeable that the leather workers who specialize in quick draw holsters make these models to hang either vertically or with the muzzle ahead of the butt. This is especially true of those intended to be worn in front of the body either to the right or left of the belt buckle. The finest holster for the service .45 automatic that I have ever seen is one that was made for me by J. R. Montford of El Paso, Texas, in 1913. It is patented and so constructed and reinforced on the inside and under the trigger guard that the gun fits it perfectly, the butt is thrown out, and the magazine catch is so well protected that there is no chance of it being pressed in and the magazine lost from the gun as sometimes occurs in using other military holsters. It is the Mexican type and can be easily slipped on the Sam Browne or any other kind of belt. This favorite holster has been in use for fifteen years, including service on the Mexican border and in France and is as good today as it ever was. It is pitched so that when worn on the belt or slightly in rear of the right hip, the barrel is to the rear and except for the weight one does not know it is there. It is shown in the illustrations. This is not intended for a quick draw holster but nevertheless I have done much aerial shooting from it by wearing it on a sagging belt and tying it to my leg with the buckskin thong that was part of it and which I have since removed. For quick drawing, holsters hung from a belt low on the right thigh should be designed so that the barrel is either vertical or slightly inclined to the front. Those worn on a tight belt about the waist should be hung so that the barrel inclines always to the left and the angle between the barrel and belt should be about thirty degrees. To maintain a proper balance care must be taken to see that the gun is not hung too high on the belt. Any holster which causes the wrist to be bent at a sharp and uncomfortable angle when drawing, is not hung correctly. This is the acid test for a quick draw holster.


The Montford Military Holster on a Sam Browne belt. An excellent design for its purpose.

There should be no unnecessary leather used in holsters. The day of the old Mexican type is past. That style had a few advantages and was intended primarily for mounted men. It was simple to make and could be worn on any width of belt but the surplus leather in the wide skirt added materially to its weight and bulk. It was picturesque when worn with a fine carved belt, fancy pistol, and in company with a beautifully made saddle.

The belt loop of the quick draw holster should be formed by bending back the extension of the back of the holster the full width of its upper part and sewing it firmly in the rear. This loop should exactly fit the belt on which the holster is to be worn and for best results this belt should not be less than two inches in width and of good weight. If it is worn tight about the waist there should be no necessity for tying down the holster to facilitate smooth, rapid drawing.

Holsters intended for the use of motorcycle officers, for military or other service that may subject the pistol to rough usage in inclement weather, in windy, sandy country, or in any place where it is necessary to pay particular attention to keeping the mechanism free from dirt should be substantially made and possess a flap. They should be made to fit the gun more snugly than the defensive type so as not to permit the weapon to jump around. Covered holsters should also be closed at the muzzle end, but open ones, worn in all kinds of weather, should be left open at the bottom to prevent water from collecting in them. Open holsters which many prefer for general service may be profitably made with straps or thongs attached with which to secure the pistol instead of a flap. Securing straps or thongs to tie a holster down have no place on a quick draw holster.


A soft leather shoulder holster of the pouch type suitable for carrying conveniently a small bore revolver. Lower: A serviceable suspender holster for wear inside the trouser band and designed for a pocket revolver.


The Hardy Quick Draw Shoulder Holster.

If other pistol enthusiasts have experienced as much difficulty in securing good holsters as the author, they will appreciate information of reliable leather workers who turn out well made and correctly designed models. J. R. Montford of El Paso, Texas, and Captain A. H. Hardy of Beverly Hills, California, formerly of Denver, Colorado, are both real experts in leather working and have been making excellent holsters for many years. The latter has been a pistol shot of national prominence as well, and his skill and dexterity with the revolver has given him a real appreciation of the requisite qualifications for holsters for all purposes.