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The Shoulder Holster – Going Full Crockett

A bare minimum of research will turn up very little support for the use of a shoulder holster as a method of concealed carry, as I was quick to find out recently.

Shoulder holsters look great in movies, but functionally are among the least used carry methods. In fact, some would argue only three sorts of shooters use a shoulder rig; a) amateur shooters or tacticians mimicking something on television or wanting to look “cool”; b) those who have a specific professional reason to carry that way; and c) those who have other limiting factors, such as a physical or medical constraint.

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Shoulder holsters, like crossdraw rigs, present the butt of the weapon either forward or down toward the hip. That’s a poor choice for a number of reasons, not least because of the slow draw and difficulties in retention — retention is, or should be, a huge issue. Wearing a shoulder holster pretty much says, “Here asshole, here’s the butt of my pistol. Make sure to get high on the backstrap when you establish your master grip.”

You’ll also always be required to wear an additional layer as a cover garment, which isn’t always a welcome or comfortable addition. Not to mention it’s almost impossible not to muzzle yourself of someone else (behind or beside you) on the drawstroke to presentation, and when reholstering.

Pesky brachial artery.

That said. There are a few niche places where a shoulder holster is best or only option for certain shooters. When considering those, one must discard some training/range limitations for the realities of daily carry, i.e. no instructor is going to be thrilled at the idea of a student whose barrel consistently points back behind the firing line. Of course “muzzle downrange” constraints are an artificiality; they’re only a reality when you’re actually on the range. The need for muzzle discipline is, as always, paramount, which is why that phrase should probably be, “muzzle pointed in a safe direction.”

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I have always liked the look of the shoulder holster, but never had any interest in a carrying a weapon that way, I mean why would I? I had no job or environmental issues that dictated a should rig, looks aren’t what’s important when it comes to a self-defense tool, and I’d always heard the negatives anyway. Shoulder holsters aren’t comfortable, they aren’t practical, they’re slower than a belt holster in almost any configuration, etc. You’ll shoot your eye out, kid. Besides, everyone makes Sonny Crockett jokes.

Then things changed. After my second hip surgery I noticed I was opting not to take my carry revolver with me on certain outings, mostly hikes.  I tried to push through rehab and get back physically to my condition before the surgeries, but it was a non-starter. The added weight of my revolver (I typically carried a Ruger SP101) on my right hip eventually began causing me more pain than I was willing to deal with.

I began researching other carry options, looking for something that would take weight and pressure off my hip, allowing me to continue carrying a defensive firearm without exacerbating my injury or suffering sufficient discomfort that I was dissuaded from going armed. Not being a fan of off-body carry, I decided to try a shoulder rig.

It was not easy. I have a small frame, and had no luck finding an “off the shelf” shoulder holster that fit. Most all were designed for men. Hairier bigger, taller, wider-framed shooters than I.

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I quickly deduced my best option was to have one custom made.  Luckily a friend just received a custom leather holster from Doyle Burdette of Burdette Custom Holsters, describing him as a true craftsman who hand builds his holsters one by one.  I took a quick look at Doyle’s work and knew I wanted him to build mine.

Doyle has over 20 years of law enforcement experience, and, more importantly, has built custom holsters for more than 15 years. He started making rigs when he couldn’t find the quality he wanted for the gun/accessory combos he wanted.  As his work progressed, other officers began to notice the results, inquiring about having one built. Since then, he’s built scores of holsters worn by LEOs and armed civilians alike.

I reached out to Doyle, who asked for my measurements and went to work.  He used what he describes as premium grade vegetable tanned leather and quality components. I chose a dark mahogany for the color and, based on his recommendation, an offset piece for two speedloaders. He admitted the build was going to be a little tougher than usual, since he wasn’t able to measure me himself, but felt he could dial it in close and we could adjust from there.

I quickly received my rig in the mail, tried it on, made a few adjustments and sent it back for the finishing touches. I couldn’t wait to get it back.  Two weeks later it returned in final form and I immediately put it to use.

I’m so very happy with how the rig turned out, and how it feels to carry. My main concern from the outset, after training and familiarity, was printing. Thankfully that has not been a problem. I can wear a lightweight flannel shirt and keep it any outlines from showing, and of course, if I wear an outer cover garment, such as my lightweight, shell jacket nothing shows, so I’m good there.

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The drawstroke from a shoulder is obviously very different from any holster on the belt and required numerous reps to grow used to. It took a little time to become accustomed to lifting up my support arm from the shoulder so I wasn’t muzzling myself. That wasn’t terribly difficult for me to get used to and actually felt good. I also spent time building muscle memory with the thumb snap, which, having used passive retention holsters before, wasn’t something I was used to.

I’m out enjoying hikes again, and going armed, without the same level of fatigue and discomfort I had before, and the Burdette rig has held up nicely. Shoulder holsters are certainly not for everyone, probably not even for most, but if you are willing to put in the time to become proficient with it, it’s certainly an option worth considering.

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Hopefully we’ll soon have more feedback; but first, we’re in for some formal classes and SME consultation. I’m already getting conflicting expert advice on the best way to wear a shoulder rig — more on what I learn in the weeks to come.

You can find Doyle’s small business online here; he’s on Facebook too, /BurdetteCustomHolsters/.

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About the Author: Sara Liberte is a photographer-videographer with a fascination for motor sports, vehicles, and firearms. She criss-crosses the US in the Dodge Mahal (an old Dodge van) with a plucky Boston Terrier at her side, photographing everything from new car releases to cross-country back road motorcycle races to GoRuck events. An avid outdoorswoman who enjoys firearms and won the lottery when it comes to surnames, you can find more of her work at SaraLiberte.com. She’s on Instagram, @saralibertephotography.

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