Hunting and Field Holsters

By Chuck Hawks

As the title indicates, this little piece is about the kinds of gun belts and holsters suitable for use in the field. Concealment rigs are covered in my article Concealed Carry Methods. The subject here is holster rigs suitable for full size hunting and trail guns.

I am thinking primarily of revolvers with barrels at least six inches in length and similar in size to the Colt Diamondback, Python, Anaconda, and Peacemaker; Ruger Single Six, Blackhawk, Super Blackhawk, GP-100, Redhawk, and Super Redhawk; S&W K, L, and N frame models and their sundry copies. Autoloading pistols commonly encountered in the field include pistols the size of the various Browning Buckmark models, Colt Woodsman models, High Standard pistols and all subsequent clones, Magnum Research Desert Eagle models, and the numerous variations of the Ruger .22 Auto. All of these guns, and others of their type, are large enough and heavy enough to require serious holster rigs.

The basic requirements for a field rig are comfort, convenience, and protection. The belt and holster must be comfortable for all day wear, it must allow (as much as possible) a normal range of activities and body movements, and it should protect the gun from a hostile environment. Instant access (i.e. a fast draw) is not usually a requirement, although the pistol should be reasonably accessible.

Modern holsters and gun belts are made of leather (the traditional material) and a variety of perfectly satisfactory synthetics. As long as the quality, design, and construction of the rig are satisfactory, the material is of secondary importance. I have used both leather and synthetic holsters with complete satisfaction. With any material, a smooth holster interior will cause less wear on a gun's finish than a rough interior.

A fanny pack designed for toting a gun might be convenient in the field, worn in front, but these are usually not large enough to accommodate a hunting pistol. Fanny packs might be used successfully with compact "kit guns" like the Ruger Bearcat or S&W .22/32 Kit Gun.

But the usual methods of carrying a full size handgun in the field are in a shoulder holster, a strong side belt holster, or a cross draw belt holster. In addition there are pouch holsters suspended from a wide carrying strap, usually worn diagonally across the chest or over one shoulder, for large scoped handguns. Any of these can be a comfortable and utilitarian way to carry a large pistol, depending on the circumstances and individual requirements.

Shoulder holsters are a good way to carry the substantial weight of a hunting pistol. They get the weight high and supported by the shoulders. They are usually secure and, if worn under a hunting coat, offer excellent protection from the elements. They allow a good range of body movement and do not interfere with sitting, riding, or driving, activities often associated with hunting. They also do not interfere with the use or carry of a long gun, often a requirement in the field. A field-type shoulder holster can have a strap running across the chest to help stabilize the pistol, a big advantage over a shoulder holster designed for concealed carry.

The disadvantages of shoulder holsters are that they tend to be the most expensive type of holster, and they require considerable fiddling and adjustment to get a good individual fit. Sometimes the only way to get a good fit is to have a shoulder holster custom made. The shoulder holster's straps cut off air circulation under the shirt, making them generally unsuitable for use in hot climates. Perhaps the biggest drawback to shoulder holsters is that many shooters simply find them uncomfortable, no matter how they are adjusted. I have read that women, already accustomed to wearing brassiere straps over their shoulders, are less likely to object to wearing a shoulder holster than men. For those whose temperament and climate are amenable to wearing one, a heavy-duty shoulder holster is an excellent way to carry a big pistol in the field.

Belt holsters, either strong side or cross draw, are the most common method of carrying handguns in the field. A good belt holster should cover almost the entire pistol; old style calvary-type flap holsters are excellent in this regard. Avoid cut-down fast draw holsters for field use. The holster should stay in place without a tie down around the thigh, which prevents air circulation under the pant leg. The holster should retain the pistol securely in the event of a fall. The holster should cover the trigger guard to prevent snagging on branches and twigs. The bottom of the holster should be sewn closed to keep dirt out of the gun's muzzle when the shooter sits down, and there should be a drain hole in the end of the holster to let rain and moisture out.

The gun belt must be wide to spread the strain for comfortable long-term carry. It should exactly fit the holster's attachment slots or straps. It should adjust to accommodate small changes in girth, since it will probably be worn over heavier clothes in winter than in summer.

Strong side belt holsters are probably the most common method of carrying a heavy handgun in the field. There is a long Western tradition behind this method of carry, which is in fact quite satisfactory.

A strong side belt holster allows excellent access to the firearm. If the belt is wide and worn high, not slung low on the hips like a movie gunfighter, it is reasonably comfortable. (Wear a heavy pistol like a movie cowboy for a few hours and it begins to feels like the belt is cutting you in half.) Best of all, the strong side rig feels natural to a great many shooters.

But the strong side belt and holster rig is not without its drawbacks. It positions the pistol in a place where it is likely to interfere with carrying a long gun; I find that the two constantly bang together, with deleterious effects to both. It is awkward to sit on the ground when wearing a strong side holster, since the barrel of the pistol tends to dig into the earth. And it is uncomfortable to drive a vehicle, or even sit in an easy chair.

For these reasons I prefer a cross draw rig for field use. The gun is carried high and at an angle, which allows generally unimpeded sitting and driving. A long gun can be carried in the strong hand or slung over either shoulder without interference. In inclement weather a typical thigh length hunting coat provides a bit more protection to a gun and holster worn in the cross draw position. The longer the gun barrel, the more desirable a cross draw holster becomes.

Scoped guns are bulky and present additional carry problems. Sometimes a conventional shoulder or belt holster can be found for a scoped hunting pistol, and sometimes a conventional leather holster can be modified to accept a scoped handgun. For years I carried a scoped Ruger .357 Blackhawk in a modified Hunter brand belt holster. I simply used a razor knife to cut a slot in the front of the holster to accommodate the scope mount, which on that revolver was attached to the top strap. The gun was in the holster, the scope was outside.

Today there are pouch holsters specifically designed for scoped handguns. These usually come with a wide loop strap that is worn over the shoulder or diagonally across the chest. I have found these to be a convenient solution to the problem of carrying a scoped revolver or autoloader in the field. T/C offers a pouch type holster for their break-action hunting pistols.

Really huge single shot hunting pistols, such as the Remington SP 100 and Savage 500 series bolt action pistols, are pretty much impossible to carry in any sort of holster. For these cut-down rifles, a sling is probably the best carry method, just as it is for a conventional length carbine.

Whatever method you adopt to carry a full size handgun in the field, having both hands free is a godsend. Hunt safely!

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Copyright 2002, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.