Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ballseyes Guns Shots 83 - Don't Let Your Holster Confuse You...

...or for that matter don't let any of your other firearms related equipment do likewise. For now though, let me explain what I mean by using a few of my holsters as examples but first let me tell you about the pistols I carry regularly.

I carry virtually everyday. The most recent pistols I carry regularly are my agency issued SIG 229 DAK and my personally owned Glock 26. I highly recommend carrying a back-up pistol if you have high risk assignments. I carry the Glock 26 when I go out on high risk operations such as arrests and searches for contraband. The Glock 2 and the SIG 229 are both fairly different in design but both are double action only. Yet there is so much of a difference between them that if I go for the Glock as back-up after having fired the SIG, I have to remember I am now using a pistol with a much shorter and lighter trigger pull. After much practice, at the range, I have gotten to where this does not present a problem for me - at the range - and where I am pretty sure it will not present a problem in the field.

Normally though, I strongly suggest that if you carry a back-up pistol, the absolute best one you can carry is the same as your primary pistol. Simply put it is in essence exactly the same as the primary weapon and there is no transition in how you grip, sight in, fire or load one from the other. The second best would be one of smaller size but that is basically a sized down version of your primary carry pistol and that can use the same magazines as the primary. (In the case of revolvers, then one that uses the same speed loaders as the primary weapon.) When I was issued the Glock 19 by my agency as my primary carry sidearm, the Glock 26 was the almost perfect compliment to it, only another Glock 19 could have been better. I had an issued Glock 26 then. It was smaller and therefore a bit easier to carry as a back-up than would have been a second Glock 19 and it functioned in exactly the same way as the larger model though the grip was pretty different in that it was so much smaller. In addition, and this is a great plus, it could use the same 15 round magazines as the larger pistol. So, if I had to go to the backup, which I kept loaded with a 10 round mag in the holster, I could use the 15 round magazines I had in my mag pouch when reloading it.

When the job did away with the Glock 19s and went to the SIG 229 DAKs, we were allowed to continue carrying a Glock 26 as a secondary firearm. I bought myself one either just before we got rid of the Glock 19s or just after we got the SIGS. I had quite a bit of transitioning to do after having fired a couple of hundred rounds through the SIG and then had to fire the Glock. I think my first shot went off and hit dead center of the target. The second shot though smacked the paper bad guy in the forehead and I was supposed to be shooting chest shots. This was because, as the pistol recoiled and I brought it back to bear on the target, I started to pull my finger back slightly once on the target at all (as I always do) and the gun went bang when normally it would not have done so. Why - because I did not realize how much pressure I was exerting on the trigger after having fired the SIG with it horrendous DAK trigger that requires way to much pressure to shoot it. Having on gloves - it was very cold out - did not help at all. This is a problem almost all of the Glock shooters faced. I have since gotten used to it and it does not happen at the range, hopefully it will not happen in the field if the pucker factor kicks in during a real life or death incident. I practice regularly to avoid it happening again and am confident it will not but it took several trips to the range to be cured completely. Normally I would follow my own advice and carry the same model weapon for secondary as I would for primary. I did not have much of a choice but did have some. I could have gone with a SIG 239 for a back-up weapon but I was also looking forward to retirement and the Glock 26 was my choice with that in mind.

Now to the holsters. Just as different styles of pistols can cause problems, so too can different styles of holster, even if they are pretty similar in design and operation. It is the little things that can get you (as in get you killed) and that lesson was hammered home for me last week at my agency's firearms qualifications. As is usual, I carried by issued SIG 229 in the holster that was issued with it, a DeSantis model 011 M5 (not currently offered as far as I can tell but very similar to the ICE II holster now offered by DeSantis). Look at the pics and it is easy to tell that this holster is a thumb break. In order to draw the pistol from the holster the thumb snap must be opened and as the name implies this is usually accomplished with the thumb, the thumb of the hand that grips the pistol to draw it.

I have worn thumb break holsters almost exclusively for the 30 plus years (31 years next month) that I have been a federal agent. They hold the gun securely if they fit the pistol or revolver that they carry, the thumb snap is easy to open for a fairly fast draw and the thumb snap offers enough security against a takeaway to thwart one if attempted and if you know what you are doing to otherwise prevent one. They are not the most secure holster when it comes to takeaway attempts but then I can draw with either hand even when it is in a holster on my strong side and that is almost impossible with some other types of retention holsters. I have carried my primary weapons in this type of holster from day one of my armed federal service and have carried my secondary sidearms in one since I was eligible to carry a back-up piece.

Having and using the same type of holster for both my primary and secondary sidearms assured that whenever I had to draw my pistols, the manner in which I did so would be virtually the same. There would be very little difference, if any, in the way my hand traveled to each holster, how I gripped the sidearm, how I opened the retention device to draw, how I drew, or how I then put the gun back into the holster and then secured it.

As you can see in the pictures, I have a few different examples of the holsters I have used over the years with my Glock 26 pistol. All are of the thumb break design, that is except for my most recent acquisition. I got that one from Brendan when he bought it for me at a gun show not all that long ago. It is a DeSantis Facilitator. As DeSantis describes it, it made from Kydex, and uses their Redi-Lok™. The Redi-Lok is basically a spring tensioned lever that locks the pistol in place when it is properly placed into the holster and that requires thumb action against a lever to release the lock allowing you to draw the pistol. Similar to but yet not a thumb break. DeSantis says this about the Redi-Lok: "The Redi-Lok™ is a trigger locking device that is totally instinctual so almost no new training will be necessary." Well, while it seems to be a fine holster and a very nice gift indeed, maybe it is not the holster I should be using when I carry my Glock 26 as a back-up if my other holster is a thumb break design. As a matter of fact, I think you would be reckless to carry both types of holster at the same time. Lucky for me I learned this while I was at the range.

Now, allow me to explain why I say that about what I think is otherwise an acceptable holster. As is usual, with anything I get that is new to me, I practiced my drawing and shooting, from my new Facilitator holster, at the range. The thing was, it was the only holster I was wearing. It took a little getting used to because the Redi-Lok lever that you release with your thumb is not in the same position as were any of the thumb snaps on any other holsters I have ever used to carry my Glock or other service use pistols or revolvers.

With the thumb break holsters, as can be seen in all of the pictures here, the thumb snap closes over the rear of the slide. Thus the snap is at the top of the pistol as it sits pretty much vertically in the holster. So, as your hand goes to grip the pistol, if you position your thumb correctly to first hit the snap, your thumb is in almost exactly the same position each time you draw from any one of these holsters. You could therefore wear one as primary and one as back-up and draw in virtually the same manner with your thumb in almost exactly the same position, relative to each holster, when you draw. That is a good thing. You do not need to change what you are doing from one holster to another and this could be the difference between life and death if speed of draw is of the essence. Even if one holster rides at more of an angle than another, as your hand approaches each holster, regardless of the cant of the holster, your thumb will be in virtually the same position relative to the holster in order to unsnap it regardless of which holster it is from which you are about to draw. Look at each of he pics of the thumb break type holsters and what I mean should be obvious.

While the Facilitator seems to be a fine quality and adequate holster as a stand alone, or as a back up with another holster that also utilizes the Redi-Lok system, I do not think it wise to combine its use with that of a thumb break holster and this would probably go for also not combining any two holsters with differing retention/release systems.

The Facilitator's security device is activated by properly seating the pistol into a properly adjusted holster. Let's see just what that means. First, when you get one of these holsters and take it out of the bag, you realize that in all likelihood it does not fit your pistol securely. I checked this after got mine by looking at others of the same model in gun stores. So you probably ave to manually adjust this holster after you purchase it. I say probably because maybe there are some that already fit the intended pistol securely but that was not my experience. Adjustment requires the tightening and or loosening of a few tension screws. I had to do this several times before I found the spot for each screw that made the pistol feel secure in this holster. To date none of the screws have loosened as far as I am aware and the pistol fits into the holster snugly.

Once the Facilitator is properly adjusted you can securely holster your pistol in it. All this requires is placing the pistol into the holster until you hear a faintly audible click. Under stress you might not hear it so after I holster I give the pistol an upward tug, trigger finger nowhere near the trigger guard or trigger) to make sure it has been locked in place. To draw, you grip the pistol and place your thumb on the inboard side of the pistol grip and activate the Redi-Lok (basically a lever release) and draw the pistol just after doing so. It is a seemingly natural movement. Yet there is a design feature that is an issue, for me, between this holster and those with a traditional thumb break. That issue seemingly, at least to me, conflicts with using both types of holster at the same time - one for primary pistol and one for back-up pistol - in my case the Facilitator for back-up. The design feature at issue may also make you wonder if you should wear a thumb break one day and then this holster the next day.

The feature of which I speak is the location of the thumb release on the facilitator. It is not that this design is one that makes this a bad holster in any way but that, as I said, I think it conflicts with use of the traditional thumb break using one as a back up, or using one on one day then the other on another day. Why? Because during a stressful situation you may go for the release you use most frequently and that can cost you dearly if you go for the wrong one. At the range it only cost me time and a bit off of my score - on the street - I do not even want to think about it.

You see, in order to activate the release, your thumb winds up in a very different positions than it does on a traditional thumb break (blue circle thumb break position, red circle the Redi-Lok release). It is literally inches reward and
inches further down from where it would be to open a thumb snap. In addition, it is now between the grip and the side of your body on which you are wearing the Facilitator holster. During practice at my local range (not during my agency's quals), when this was the only holster I was wearing, I had a bit of a problem getting used to its position. I was drawing slowly, consciously making sure I found the release lever, before trying to draw. Several times I found myself going to the area where a thumb break holster would have the snap - at and across the back of the slide but I simply realized this and moved my hand until my thumb found the lever. No sweat, done easily enough, and with lots of practice with this holster I was certain I would always go for the right spot with my thumb. So, I practiced a lot with it and became comfortable with its use over the course of a few to several trips to my local ranges. The thing was, that was not good enough as I was soon to find out.

When I was at the range for qualifications, last week, I qualified with the SIG 229 first. I had a somewhat off day with it. My score is usually above 245 out of 250. I shot in the high 230s. Not good at all for me. I was shooting too slowly on the timed portions and dropped 10 points by not getting off 2 shots. I think my score was 238 and that was even when I made up one of the shots, in a subsequent sequence, that I had not gotten off earlier. In other words I dropped 5 points because I had not gotten off a shot and also dropped 7 points shooting like a loser relative to my usual scores. Then I shot the Glock. was shooting it much faster than i had been the SIG. I am more comfortable with it, and am much more used to it. The thing is I was throwing shots haphazardly. I scored a 236 with the Glock even though I was able to shoot faster since the trigger is much more to my liking than that of the SIG (which is horrendous) and I did not miss getting any off. So why were my shots going somewhat wild? Because I was jerking the trigger most likely. Why was I doing that? To try to make up for time lost in trying to get the Glock 26 out of the new Facilitator holster that's why!

About 25% of the times I went to draw, during this timed course of fire, I wound up going for the thumb snap. Wen I realized their was no snap I then went for the release lever by allowing my thumb to go down to where I thought it would be and I wound up fiddling and pushing and twisting until my thumb got it. by that time a second or maybe even two had elapsed. For about another 50% of the times I had to draw, I went right for the lever and did not find it immediately. I usually hit a bit too high, or got my thumb behind the holster and was hitting the holster body itself thinking my thumb was on the lever. The other 25% of the time, I got it right. That potentially could have gotten me killed 75% of the time if I had been out on the street and had to draw quickly and that is if I had done everything else right.

My solution - next time I will wear two holsters that are thumb breaks, with the snap at the back of the slide. Why chance it with the Facilitator! Now, I am not going to throw out the facilitator. I will practice with it more at the range for those times I may decide to carry it as a solo holster, or with an eye ahead toward when i use it in retirement. I doubt i will ever carry it as a back-up holster again. Then again, I may not carry this holster all that much in retirement because there is something else about it that has come to mind that is unsettling to me. While I can draw from a thumb snap holster with my strong hand very quickly and easily, I can also draw from that same holster (while still on my strong side) using my weak hand. In other words, if my pistol is on my belt on my right hip as is normal, I then normally draw with my right hand. Should that hand become incapacitated for some reason in a fight, then I can also draw from the holster by reaching around with my left hand. I practice it frequently, I am pretty good at it. The thing is, I am very doubtful that this would be an easy, or even possible, accomplishment with the design of the Facilitator. I think at the least it would take a really concerted twisting effort to reach the release lever with my left hand if the holster was on my right hip or even if it was on the right side of my back on the belt. I am not saying it is impossible since I have not tried yet. You can safely bet though, I will be seeing if I can do it from the various positions in which I might find myself if I ever need to draw left handed from that particular holster when it is riding on my right side.

I probably said this up above and if so allow me to repeat myself, if not then let me say it here for the first time today, THANK GOODNESS I LEARNED THIS AT THE RANGE AND NOT OUT ON THE STREET WHERE THE LESSON MAY HAVE COME TOO LATE. My recommendation to you is never to wear two different types of holster, with one for your primary pistol and one for your back-up and also that you do not switch the type of holster you wear from one day to the next relative to retention/release devices. I suggest that when carry a gun as a back-up, you try to use two holsters that both have the same type of retention device and the same type of release. Same goes if you switch from one holster one day to another the next day - try to use ones with the same type of retention/release devices. Unless you have an absolute need to change the types of retention/release types, keeping them the same just might make all the difference for you in an armed encounter - the difference between you being the winner or you being the loser.

All the best,
Glenn B