Part II in a Series:
Photos & Report
More revolver-hauling options for shoulder and chest carry
by John Markwell
It’s always surprising what you can discover when you give things a second look.
We have run across some pretty neat additional options to the traditional shoulder holster since writing our first piece on this subject for the Dec.1, 2010 issue of Gun Week. We hope you’ll find these worthy of consideration if you are in the market for a field holster for your big bore revolver.
I am an admitted and unrepentant 1911 pistol zealot. I have “a few” from .17 to .45 caliber and carry them often for many purposes. However, I much prefer to carry a revolver for general field use; usually, but not always, a Smith & Wesson magnum revolver. Whether working, hiking, riding, fishing, or just loafing about outdoors, I like the versatility of being able to use different loads in a revolver without there being any question of their affecting the gun’s functional reliability. Case in point: when using CCI shot loads in an autoloading pistol, they have to be hand cycled. Your experience may be different, but these handy cartridges will not function the action of any auto pistol I have tried them in, regardless of caliber. The revolver digests these varmint busting shot loads with aplomb as well as any regular ammunition from mild to wild on the power scale.
I have tried a pretty fair number of belt and traditional style shoulder holsters for carrying big revolvers over the years. Most eventually ended up on a table at a gun show. I have yet to find a belt or conventional shoulder rig that is comfortable, convenient, or not in the way when getting into and out of vehicles, on or into ATVs/UTVs, on horseback, while carrying a pack, etc. Quite frankly, all of these types of holsters that I’ve tried (by no means all, but quite a few) don’t seem to work well with my physique or in the situations in which I carry revolvers when going about my daily business in the out of doors.
Whether here on our place in West Virginia, or traveling out and about in the west, I’ve found non-traditional rigs to be best for many of my uses. I generically refer to these as “chest holsters.” Manufacturers’ descriptions are often open to some interpretation. Although the holster’s position on the body may vary some, you get the idea. The holsters reviewed here were each used during the winter of 2010/2011 around our place here in the mountains of West Virginia. I carried each holster daily for about a week as I went about doing my daily chores such as cutting/hauling/carrying wood, feeding the horse, filling game feeders, etc. This gave me a pretty good idea of each rig’s comfort factor and whether they were suitable (not burdensome or always in the way) for use during most types of outdoor activities. The revolvers hauled around were presented and shot enough to get a feel for each holster’s user friendliness. Clothing varied depending on current conditions and gave a good idea of how each rig functioned both over and under outer wear. The following analysis is as objective as I could make it.
The Galco Kodiak is called a “shoulder” holster by the manufacturer but really rides more to the front of the torso than does a traditional shoulder rig. I’d definitely categorize it as a chest rig. The Galco catalog states the Kodiak is “Designed to keep a large hunting handgun both comfortable and accessible,” and this it does very well. I had to borrow an 8-3/8 inch S&W Model 29 to haul around in the holster for testing and immediately remembered why I no longer owned a long barreled revolver. Although excellent for hunting, they are heavy and a bit unwieldy for everyday field use. That said, the Kodiak holster’s padded shoulder strap allows for extremely comfortable carrying of a big revolver. The holster is extremely stable when the torso strap is pulled snug and, this also takes some of the weight of the handgun off the shoulder strap. Positioning of the holster to accommodate different body types or clothing and to adjust the draw angle is easy. By fiddling around with the adjustment of the shoulder and torso straps the angle of presentation of the handgun’s grip can be varied by quite a lot as can the holster’s location; i.e., high or low on the torso. Getting the rig into a comfortable position required very little time and there is enough webbing provided in the suspension system to compensate for any clothing one might wear (I cut about half of the webbing off and still had plenty for adjustment).
Carrying the long-barreled Smith required positioning the Kodiak somewhat lower on the torso than I normally like, in order to get a comfortable draw, but this in no way affected the comfort of the rig or its stability during activity. Constructed from a single layer of very heavy premium saddle leather, the Kodiak holster was very field friendly despite the size of the handgun I had in it. I used this rig in my trucks (both large and small) and while getting around in my Mule. Normal range of motion was not impeded in the least and the only time the Kodiak (and all the other rigs in this test) was in the way was when handling an armload of firewood. My only criticism is that this extremely comfortable premium rig is not made for shorter barreled revolvers (the Galco Custom Shop may help you out on this). But then again, it is advertised as a hunting handgun holster and most folks do hunt with longer barreled handguns. Truth be told, this is a very comfortable and the most nicely finished holster tested.
I would like to especially mention the unique spare ammo carrier available for the Galco Kodiak holster. The Kodiak Holster Ammo Bandolier is a nifty, caliber specific accessory that slides over the holster body keeping five or six extra rounds (depending on caliber) close to hand eliminating the possibility of ending up afield without at least one reload. Being a big believer in having spare ammunition with any given firearm, I wouldn’t have a Kodiak without this innovative addition to complete this rig.
The Kodiak holster and Ammo Bandolier come nicely finished in a “Havana Brown” color and retail for $189.95 and $54.95 respectively. If you need an outfit for your long barreled hunting handgun this Galco rig is certainly a comfortable, attractive, and practical alternative to ordinary shoulder holsters. I think I’ll trim about two inches off the bottom of my sample and put it to use with a 6˚ inch S&W Model 29.
DeSantis Leather’s Black Mamba is another pretty practical alternative for field carry of a big bore handgun although I would not call it a true chest rig. Constructed from a combination of leather and synthetic materials, this holster rides more like the classic Tanker holster and thus is not held snugly to the torso. I carried a 6˚ inch Model 25 Smith and Wesson N frame in this rig and found it comfortable but it often got in the way when bending over; a common trait of all Tanker-style holsters that have no torso strap. There is a tension screw near the trigger guard as well as a hammer loop for securing the revolver in the holster. A snap-fastened belt loop holds the Mamba down during the draw and keeps it from flopping around during strenuous movement. The Black Mamba retails for $128.95 and is available in Black only. The Terminator is a premium leather version of this rig and it retails for $238.95.
Dave Johnston of Diamond D Custom Leather has provided me with two more of his Guide’s Choice holsters; these for revolvers, specifically 5-inch Smith&Wesson N-Frames. These holsters are identical except for their method of retention and one has a protective flap. With both of these holsters I was able to carry the weapon higher on the torso (about sternum level) than with some of other rigs in this review due to barrel length. Carrying my 5-inch Model 29s in these rigs at the higher body position made for a comfortable draw with the shorter barrels: the longer the barrel, the lower a chest rig must be carried on the torso for drawing comfort and efficiency. The open topped Guide’s Choice holster I have has a traditional retention strap that is secured with a dot snap. The flap protected model, which has turned out to be my favorite, has a hammer thong (which is standard for this holster) for retention which, quite frankly, I could do without, especially since the Guide’s Choice holster for revolvers also has an adjustable tension screw that puts pressure on the revolver’s trigger guard enhancing security. These holsters sell for around $200.
For those wanting the utmost in weather-resistant construction and bomb-proof construction, the Alaska Sportsman Chest Holster by Alaska Sportsman Products is the answer. Billed as “the most popular chest holster in Alaska,” this rig is built from ballistic nylon, with a nylon webbing suspension (not polyester), and has metal fittings at all critical attachment points. The padded harness system is comfortable and easy to adjust to fit. The angle of presentation of the grip can be adjusted from near vertical to horizontal allowing the user to custom tailor the gun’s angle of carry to accommodate different body shapes, torso lengths, or clothing worn. The adjustable torso strap fastens to the holster via a metal clip and D-ring and holds the rig snugly against the body.
The handgun is held in place by a traditional type safety strap which is secured by a Fastex side release buckle. There is a strap and buckle arrangement for attaching the toe of the holster to the belt to prevent unwanted flopping during strenuous activity or while on horseback. This strap also keeps the holster from riding up during the draw stroke. Spare ammunition (12 rounds) can be carried in elastic loops located on the holsters’ front adjacent to the barrel channel (speed loader pouches are an option). The ammo is protected from the elements by a Velcro secured flap. I think the front side of this flap would be a capital location for a pouch to carry either a folding knife or a small flashlight. At $79.95 this 100% American-made holster is a great bargain and it comes with a lifetime warrantee. The Alaska Sportsman Chest Holster is available in either black or camo from the maker or at selected dealers in Alaska and the Northwest.
At the SHOT show in January 2011 I found two more offerings to include in this review. The first is a new line of true chest holsters being introduced by CorBon; yes, the ammo guys in Sturgis, SD. Pete Pi Jr. got two samples to me in short order (one for an N-frame wheel gun and one for a 1911) and they are very nice indeed. Constructed from a double layer of heavy skirting leather with a very comfortable harness, the revolver model carries a big Smith & Wesson securely against the body. Spare ammunition is accommodated with a combination leather and elastic cartridge slide that carries six rounds and is mounted on the shoulder strap above the holster. There is a tension screw to enhance retention but the main means of securing the gun in the holster is a common safety strap, which goes over the revolver and is fastened to an uncommonly nice military type metal stud; very unique! Prices on this new line of holsters will run from $140 to $170. For model availability contact CorBon.
Lastly, I ran into Mark Meyer at the Wild West Guns booth at the SHOT show. Mark makes the chest holster from alligator hide for the person who has everything. This holster was photographed and tried on at the show. With ammo loops on the front of the holster pouch and very nice suspension, this rig is available on a custom order basis for $1,200. If you want a unique and beautiful chest rig, this is the one for you.
Editor’s note: The first John Markwell article in this series on Alternatives to the Sholder Holster appeared in the Dec. 1, 2010 issue of Gun Week. It is archived online at: gunweek.com/archives/2010.
Alaska Sportsman Products
PO Box 874775, Dept. GWK
Wasilla, Alaska 99687
1311 Industry Rd., Dept. GWK
Sturgis, SD 57785
DeSantis Holster and Leather Goods Co.
431 Bayview Ave., Dept. GWK
Amityville, NY 11701
Diamond D Custom Leather
3800 E. Wickersham Way, Dept. GWK
Wasilla, AK 99654
2019 W Quail Ave., Dept. GWK
Phoenix, AZ 85027
1230 W.21st St.m Dept. GWK
Houston, TX 77008
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