Concealed Carry

How You Carry Is as Important as What You Carry

Austin Behlert Custom Hi-Power and the author's first custom holster

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.

cover of a 1957 Guns Magazine with starlet Ann Francis on the cover showing her fast draw skills
The cover of a 1957 Guns Magazine with starlet Ann Francis on the cover showing her fast draw skills.

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.

featured article in the 1957 Guns Magazine with Arvo Ojala showing his fast draw skills
The featured article in the 1957 Guns Magazine with Arvo Ojala showing his fast draw skills.

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.

gun shop ad showing a western holster circa 1960
This ad from my favorite Gun shop appeared in that same issue and even it featured a western rig.

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.

man purse with a .380 ACP being drawn
The ‘Man Purse’ with the .380.

Life Lessons

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.

holster being held upside down to demonstrate it retention capabilities
Proof that the custom holster is as good as new, demonstrating a secure fit that “doesn’t let go until you want it to” more than 35 years later.

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.

  • An old school craftsman that relies on his attention to detail and personal handwork to create his holsters.
  • Bianchi #111 Cyclone leather holster
  • Lawrence holster from the 1960s
  • Alfonso’s H2 leather holsters
  • holster being held upside down to demonstrate it retention capabilities
  • Hunter brand leather holster
  • Ken Null holster with a Hoag Custom 1911 pistol, knife and wrist watch
  • box of holsters with a Safety Speed from Montebello CA
  • Austin Behlert Custom Hi-Power and the author's first custom holster
  • early Eddie Bauer ad from the 1950s
  • leather crafter working his trade
  • Mr. Null in his shop applying his considerable skills in the art of holster making.
  • man purse with a .380 ACP being drawn
  • gun shop ad showing a western holster circa 1960
  • featured article in the 1957 Guns Magazine with Arvo Ojala showing his fast draw skills
  • cover of a 1957 Guns Magazine with starlet Ann Francis on the cover showing her fast draw skills
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (12)

  1. As a shorter man (64 inches) , I find having a OWB is harder to conceal. I carry a .380, couple of 9mms ( single stack ) and couple 357s ( Revolvers ). Finding the right holsters for these weapons and concel at the same time. The only one that I can really carry without being seen is the .380.

  2. I went through a lot of different carrying options as said by the author. Nothing worked better than that custom made leather holster made by that leather man Kenny Knoll. Listen to the author and save your money. You will be best served by a well made custom holster.

  3. I trained at Jeff Cooper’s Gunsite Academy in 1977 and 1978. I used a cut-down Bianchi OWB holster (cut away the thumb break) and qualified Expert, Weather was very cold that year. Excellent training with heavy emphasis on dry fire as homework every night in the motel room. There was not much else to do anyway.
    I returned in 1978 with an OWB leather holster of my own making (a scabbard), open top, zero rake, high ride. Same result. I still prefer zero rake so that I can reach my sidearm with my weak hand if strong hand is disabled, and after many years of dry fire, I just prefer it above all others.

  4. Just bought two new holsters for my wheelguns from Don Hume Leather. Same quality as the one I’ve carried my pistols (1911 and Hi-power) in since 1970.

    In Vietnam. On the streets outside DC for more than 30 years. A well made beltslide is safe, concealable and ready to go. My two cents.

  5. Thanks Ed. One more item to cover in this business of gun ownership. Seems trial and error might be the only way to find the right holster that fits my comfort pattern. Appreciate your experience!

  6. I would like to first address Scott, who I am sure believes that he is more competent than Jerry Miculek and Rob Leatham on their best days and Rob who obviously does not know what the word egotistical means. It is apparent that neither of you have ever attended a class in which safety was a concern. In my classes safety is priority one and students have to show me that they can crawl before they walk, walk before they run and run before they can jump. It is also important to me that they establish a proper foundation and the only way to do that is for them to demonstrate how competent they are. Would you want to be on the same firing line with someone that has not yet learned basic safety and is waving their firearm about with their finger on the trigger?

    To Reiver the Maestro in Georgia’s name is posted in three of the photo captions with his photo, Ken Null.

  7. My carry position of choice is just behind the hip (3:30ish) iwb. I use custom kydex holsters with two soft loops spaced as widely as feasible on the holster.Good leather holsters work and look great but they have no advantages that I see over kydex holsters.

  8. So…
    Addressing the 2 comments above.
    Im of the opinion that its safety related.

    Beginners course? Iwb? Really? Asking for a negligent discharge, and someone ending up in hospital or worse.
    Owb was NOT an imposition fr me having taken Ed’s course.
    I cannot imagine trying to do that course while trying to learn basic draw and present from iwb. Later? Sure. But thats as i know wth im doing now.

    I was lucky. I found a nice leather holster for a hipower that was comfortable for 12 hours in the heat and didnt cost a bomb. It retained my gun well. Never had a moments worry it was gonna fall out.
    FN rules.

  9. Good read Mr.LaPorta. Can’t beat a good leather holster.

    Though for IWB appendix, some of the newer kydex(spelling?) holsters look very promising. I’ve had my eye on either the Tier1 Concealment or the T-Rex Arms sidecar style holsters. I’ve heard good things about Alien Gear as well but not nearly as much compared to the other two.

  10. Good informative article. Your statement, “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.” Sounds a bit egotistical to me. In the state where I live I would never wear an OWB holster. It is just too difficult to conceal your firearm that way. So, being required to learn/practice with a configuration I’ll never use makes no sense to me.

  11. I guess it depends on the type of class, but to me, you should be taking a defense class with the holster you carry in all the time, which is more often than not, iwb or appendix.
    Yes, a good owb is obviously faster, but if you carry concealed iwb, you better be able used to actually drawing from how you carry because it does add some complexity compared to owb.
    The getting on target, firing, reloading, etc are the same and obviously need to be honed skills through repetitions and practice, but if you can’t get the gun out of where you carry it in an emergency situation, none of the rest matters.

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