Carry Out

I’m going to ask you to please excuse my arrogance this month. I’ve been writing this column for seven years now—since the magazine started—and I’ve worked hard to supply information that’s worth your time to read. Some months I’ve done a better job at this, but the desire to offer worthwhile information has always been my goal.

This month I’m highlighting a couple of holsters I like—and it’s not because they share my name. Instead, I think they’re well-designed, top-quality kits that work well for a wide variety of folks on the job. “Why?” you ask. Because they work for me and I’m about as “average” as they come. I’m not too tall, too short, too thin nor too fat. My skills aren’t superior, but like many of you, I work hard to keep them as sharp as possible because I realize my life may depend on them. I also realize that gear can enhance performance, but it doesn’t make the combatant.
Proper Gun Placement
After three-plus decades of practical street experience and a lot of time spent researching the topic of interpersonal conflict, I truly believe combat is 90% attitude and 10% physical skill. Skills need to be sharp so that you can run on autopilot. Having the right gear for your real world of work will only enhance your ability to operate without conscious thought. Being able to access critical pieces of gear by feel due to proper placement is certainly part of the “time-is-life” concept.
I recently read a news report of an off-duty police officer who discharged his gun in a crowded shopping mall. It appears the officer was carrying his Smith & Wesson M & P pistol in his waistband without a holster, relying on friction to hold it in place. Obviously, this didn’t secure the pistol. The gun slid down his pants and as he tried to grab it, the gun discharged into the ground with impact debris striking a nearby shopper. This type of gun placement is what’s now commonly called “Plaxico Burress Carry,” named after the football player who inadvertently depressed the trigger on his concealed gun as it started sliding down the inside of his pant leg. He suffered an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound to his right thigh.
The point: I was involved in the early development of the M & P, so I know the gun is safely designed and engineered. The culprit in both cases here was improper carriage that led to an unsafe situation.
Combative Carry Holsters
Holsters are important. When selecting a holster, you should give them as much consideration as you would your handgun. For 16 years, I wrote a column for Guns and Weapons for Law Enforcement Magazine entitled “Plainclothes,” and while I did discuss tactics and techniques, I also reviewed a large number of holsters over the years. Some were good, some were bad and some were just OK. But the one thing that became obvious is that there’s no one holster that will work for everyone—and there never will be.
A combative carry holster, especially a concealment rig worn everyday in street clothes, should be selected based on the normal mode of dress, the type of gun used, your body shape, any physical limitations to the draw action and other personal considerations and attributes. In other words, the holster needs to fit you and not some writer, instructor or gun store clerk. This isn’t to say that such people are ill-informed, they just aren’t you.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet a handful of skilled holster makers, such as Milt Sparks, his protégé Tony Kanaly, John Bianchi, Neale Perkins, Tex Shoemaker, Ted Blocker, Thad Rybka and Ken Null. These masters of leather can produce holsters designed to hide a large gun on a very small person if the individual involved is truly committed to a concealed carry lifestyle.
The gentleman I got to know best was Lou Alessi, the founder of Alessi Holsters, who passed away a few years back way ahead of his time. Alessi Holsters are still being made in a new, updated facility while Alessi’s former partner, Skip Ritchie, makes holsters in the original Alessi shop under the name Ritchie Leather. Like many people who have carried a large number of holsters over the years, I’ve formed my own opinions on the features that make a good carry rig. On one visit to Alessi’s Amherst, N.Y., shop I was able to have my say.
Close Quarters Covert Holsters
During my visit, I started showing Alessi how he could improve his design on models he’d been making quite successfully for many years. He stopped, looked at me and said, “OK @$$hole, if you’re the expert, show me how to do this!” He said it good naturedly of course, as that was the kind of man he was, but I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity to add features I thought were essential to a top-quality design.
I described a holster with less cant for wearing on the side of the body, an outside piece of leather molded as a pocket, reinforced mouth band for one-hand manipulation and a shorter profile to take up less “real estate” on the belt. To make a long story short, the result was the Close Quarters Covert (CQC) holster, which Alessi told me before he died was his best-selling holster. I pushed Alessi for an easy on/off version, which resulted in the snap on/off Close Quarters Covert Snap (CQC-S) holster, which might be the most copied holster in the holster industry today. Both of these holsters are still available from Alessi Holsters and Ritchie Leather.
The Dave Spaulding Holster
As Kydex grew in popularity, I saw the advantages of having a CQC-S style holster made with this fast-on-the-draw material, but Alessi was too busy to venture into the increasingly popular synthetic. With Alessi’s blessing—he was that that kind of guy!—I approached Jim Murnack of Fist Holsters and asked him to make a Kydex version.
Murnack has mastered a process of stitching Kydex together like leather, which helps keep the holster thin and low-profile. He was able to capture the flat ride of the CQC-S in Kydex making it fast into action. Square Kydex holsters, like those from Raven Concealment and NTAC, are popular these days and this Fist holster rides just as close to the body as these rigs but with the advantage of being easy to take on and off the belt. Murnack named the holster the “Dave Spaulding.” I’m flattered, and I don’t make a dime from its sale either.
So if you have a problem with me, don’t let those feelings keep you from trying a very good holster design. The photos on pg. 45 show a Dave Spaulding rig with and without leather facing to make it look like leather, but it’s actually Kydex underneath.
The Scalding Spaulding Holster
I’m a fan of paddle holsters but haven’t found many that are well executed. The design became popular with revolvers because the gun’s center of gravity is in the middle (cylinder) of the gun, which isn’t the case for pistols. Grip-heavy semi-autos aren’t stabilized on a belt with a traditional paddle design so the gun is able to rock and shift constantly as the body moves. Obviously, this hinders an operator from intuitively drawing the gun. Groping and searching for a shifting handgun isn’t conducive to maximum performance, but the idea of a high-performance paddle holster is enticing.
So I took a Kydex rig from a well-known manufacturer and over several months, modified it in an effort to create a close-fitting, stable and comfortable paddle rig. I finally arrived at what I (and a number of my students) felt was the right combination. Unfortunately, this holster maker blew me off, so I took it to Dan Hillsman.
Hillsman is a little-known custom maker to the shooting community at large, but very well known in the special operations and federal law enforcement community. Hillsman made the holsters worn by actor Denzel Washington in the Tony Scott film Man On Fire after Mr. Washington was trained for the role by Don Rosche of Advanced Weapons Training International, one of Hillsman’s very satisfied customers. He makes his holsters from Bolatron, which allows him to mold his synthetic holsters to a degree that rivals leather. They’re simply the best Kydex-style holsters available!
Because I know that Hillsman likes a challenge, I contacted him and explained what I wanted. The holster needed to lock on to the belt and waistband because I wanted the added support trouser material offers a belt-mounted gun. I also wanted the paddle/lock pad to be screwed to the holster body because a constant on/off motion eventually cracks a Kydex paddle that’s molded over the belt from one piece of material.
After months of trial and error, Hillsman was able to create a pouch-style holster that locks onto the belt to keep the grip in one position. It can also be worn close to the body, be made in various cants and is fast on the draw while staying concealed. As a matter of fact, he was so impressed with the speed of this holster that he named it “The Scalding Spaulding.” Although, once again, I don’t make a dime from it.
Both holsters that carry my name are top-of-the-line carry rigs that will work for a wide variety of end users. Are they the end all, be all of handgun carriage? Hardly, but I think they deserve your consideration. Check them out and see for yourself if they work for you.
Advanced Weapons Training International
Alessi Holsters
Dan Hillsman


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