As an armed professional police officer for three decades one of my main concerns after choosing a weapon for my various duty assignments was to ensure I chose the best leather gear I could possibly find. After you choose your weapon the leather choice will be your next item to purchase but no less important than the weapon you’ve decided to carry.
Over the years I’ve used leather gear from Bianchi in the form of the old Askins Avenger which is no longer made but is now available from many leather makers. I’ve also used custom leather from most of the well known leather artisans over the years. To make this perfectly clear your leather gear is as important as the gun you choose to carry make no mistake about it.
The importance of your gear is not only limited to your holster design but choice of material, craftsmanship, attention to detail, comfort in wearing it for many hours but the dedication of the custom leather artisan to giving the owner the best gear possible knowing your life can depend on the best holster, belt and mag pouches as well as other accessories.
In the 1970′s we started with revolvers and switched to semi autos in the 1980′s. Of course some of us were allowed to carry semi autos back in the 1970′s as primary guns or as backup weapons. My choice was the Browning Hi Power, 1911′s and the S&W model 39. The Askins Avenger was usually my choice for these models. I also used a cross draw holster when working plain clothes when I spent a lot of time sitting in a car doing surveillance.
As a firearms instructor I always tried to instill a sense of importance to my students of picking out the best leather possible that fit the weapon they carried and worked well for the intended purpose. Most instructors I knew didn’t place the same importance on leather as I did but in order to do a thorough job and to make my students as well prepared as possible very good gear was an important part of my instruction. You’ll note in my blog I refer to reviews on several holster makers who make fine products. What follows is not meant to put these fine makers down by any means but when I find something better I want everyone who reads this blog to know about it so they can enjoy the benefits as much as I do.
About two months ago I started a search for a new holster rig for my Hi Power with the idea of adding another rig at a later date for my Para 1911. Now I know good leather when I see it as well as very good workmanship and a dedicated artisan who cares about his customers, especially those who go in harms way. I found such a person in Erik Little of Buffalo, Wyoming. Erik has a one man shop and is committed to creating the ultimate in quality leather goods for law enforcement as well as those in the military.
Here is a short biography written by Erik:
My name is Erik Little. I am a retired Deputy Sheriff from a medium sized Sheriff’s Department in the southwestern part of the United States. I served eight years on the SWAT Team, five years as a helicopter pilot, three years on the K9 Unit, and everything else was patrol. I served eight years in the Marine Corps with 2nd Recon Bn and 4th Recon Bn. I was an operational recon team leader during Desert Shield/Storm.
I grew up on a family owned ranch doing leather work. While working for the Sheriff’s Department, I continued to do leather work as a hobby and to fix my wife’s clients’ saddles. I did quite a few floral carved and stamped belts for people as well. Then, some fellow SWAT Team members convinced me to make them holsters. The late holster maker and firearms instructor Bruce Nelson was very instrumental and influenced my holster making progress and philosophies. Whenever he was in town, we would discuss leatherwork. I kind of lost interest for several years because of work schedules, I was tied to a pager. After I got off the adrenaline and had two kids, I resumed my leatherwork. As word spread and my product greatly improved, it became a second job. In 2005, I had my time in for retirement and decided to do the holster thing fulltime. That is pretty much my background in a nut shell.
I read Erik’s entire website and was convinced that this is a man who knows his craft and is totally dedicated to giving his customers the best product he possibly can produce. I contacted Erik about crafting a holster for my Hi Power as well as a matching gun belt and single mag pouch in light tan. Within a little over two weeks I received a package in the mail that had the most beautiful rig I’ve ever seen. The tan color was uniform in all three pieces. The stitching is medium heavy and very straight not to mention being stitched in a way that supports the body of the holster, belt and mag pouch. The belt buckle is brass but is available in silver as well. The buckle can also be changed out by removing as screw in the back of the belt. You can attach a buckle like the Gunsite buckle or about any buckle you would want as long as the belt fits with the new buckle attached. The fit of the belt is perfect. Erik request you send exact waist measurements so the belt is custom to fit you and is not a stock 34, 36 etc. The stitching on the belt and the mag pouch are also very exact. One thing you find on many custom rigs is a tendency for the top of the gun to hang out to the side a bit. Erik makes his holster similar to the Askins Avenger but does ride a little lower so that the pistol and holster are held very close to the body. The mag pouch is constructed in the same manner and fits very close to the body as well. The belt is stiff enough to hold any accessory close to the body. The whole rig is very comfortable. I’ve been wearing it on the range and just around the house and it’s very comfortable to wear all day. The fit of the pistol in the holster is also snug but is easy to draw your weapon from. The same applies to the mag pouch. I wrapped my pistol in a piece of plastic wrap for a couple of days to obtain the best fit. Breaking a holster in this way works very well. The top of the holster is also reinforced to keep the holster open and easily reholstered. The edges of all the gear is smooth and slightly rounded not only for aesthetic purposes but to make it smooth and comfortable and will not snag.
Let me assure you this is an honest assessment of the best rig I have ever used! Not only is it beautiful but functional and very well thought out. Craftsmanship is second to none!
Normally I don’t use as many pictures as I am on this review but in this case all these pictures just serve to verify what I’ve said in the review. I hope you enjoy the pictures and will consider Erik for your next holster or other accessory. They are wonderful products with a very reasonable turnaround time.
Eriks advice on leather care:
Materials & Maintenance
Examples I only use hand selected, premium grade, full-grain, US grown, vegetable-tanned steer hides, which come from Thoroughbred Leather in Louisville, Kentucky. Vegetable tanning involves only non-hazardous organic materials, unlike other methods that use heavy metals. Thoroughbred Leather is the finest I have found here in the US for making gun gear.
For holsters, mag pouches, and other items that require hand bone forming, I use the shoulder area of the hide. The shoulder leather is more pliable and accepts forming much better than the other parts of the hide. For belts, I use the back and butt area of the hide. This area is the strongest part of the hide and is more resistant to stretch than the shoulder.
I only use #346 polyester bonded thread in all my products. Polyester thread does not stretch like nylon. I use bonded polyester because of its strength and resistance to UV light, sweat, chemicals, and rot.
Before the final finish is applied, it’s rubbed with a light coat of oil. All of my products are finished with a water based satin acrylic compound to completely seal the leather.
Do not submerge or saturate your leather gear in water or any other liquid.
Do not dry your leather product with heat from a hair dryer, oven, radiator, direct sunlight, etc. if for some reason you are on an armed swimming operation.
Do not use oils such as Neat’s-foot, Mink oil, or any other oil as they will saturate and soften the leather too much. I have oiled and sealed the leather prior to the final finish.
Do not leave your leather gear on the dashboard of your car in summer, or leave it otherwise exposed to the elements.
A tight new holster is much preferred over a loose one. If your draw is stiff at first, I recommend you work with it to see if it doesn’t loosen up with a bit of use. Anywhere from 30 to 50 presentations will tell you whether the holster will break in on its own or if may need a little assistance. There are many reasons why a holster would be excessively tight, variances in manufacturer’s tolerances, the pistol’s finish, humidity, etc. Not to worry, you can easily remedy an excessively tight holster. Get a Zip-lock freezer bag, insert the unloaded gun in the bag, carefully insert the bagged gun all the way into the holster, and allow it to sit overnight. All this is doing is stretching the leather a very slight amount.
Holster Fit and Weapon Retention
A good holster should retain the pistol during reasonable physical activity. Of course, if a holster would retain the pistol during any activity, it would also prevent drawing. If draw speed were not an important component of the pistol/holster system, the solution would be relatively simple—multiple positive closure devices. When the “utilization at upper performance levels” comes into play, functional clarity and design precision are critical. Experience in practical shooting has shown that absent some special purpose, the unfastening of a retaining device is best avoided. As well as being generally time consuming, retaining straps in many cases interfere with proper firing grip to some degree even when well designed. The fit of the holster therefore is important. In all cases holsters should be precisely fitted to the pistol they are intended to carry and should be used for only that pistol, or a pistol with identical dimensions. The practice of selling holsters marked “Medium Auto” or “Large Revolver” is common but unacceptable if serious use of the holster is intended. A holster which fits many pistols is not likely to fit yours very well. In fact, a new holster should fit like a new pair of shoes. When broken in, it should then be just right. Heavily oiled holsters should also be avoided since the good fit they initially may have will last only a short time, after which they will become soft and pliable. Other traditional retention devices such as thump-snap straps and adjustable tension devices are called for or even required under certain conditions and will be more fully discussed in the model description section.
Holster Balance/Pistol Weight Distribution
Often when a holster style or design is created, the manufacturer proceeds to create conceptually identical patterns for all pistols for which it is made. This practice, while useful for marketing or production simplicity, does not account for important differences in pistols. The exact wearing relationship between pistol, holster, and person is influenced, sometimes significantly, by pistol weight distribution. Consider the simple case of the comparison between semi-auto pistols and revolvers. While a revolver centers its weight in the cylinder area and sometimes forward depending on barrel weight, a semi-auto’s center of balance is often in the grip area with very little weight forward. The effect of this can be seen, for instance, in the notion of making a so-called “high-ride” holster. Particularly in the case of the semi-auto pistol placing the trigger guard any higher than belt level places up to 80% of the weight of the pistol from one to three inches above the belt. The only way to conceal a top heavy holstered pistol of this type is to uncomfortably tighten the belt and even this may not work. In general each design must be made with the individual pistol, not the style or visual look of the holster, as the central factor.
Consistent presentation of the pistol from the holster demands that holster and belt fit snugly to avoid any wobble or shifting of holster location. It is probably best to purchase both holster and belt from the same maker and to specify belt loop size to match your belt, since there are variations from one maker to the next. The same principle, of course, applies to magazine pouches.
When you buy good leather gear, you want and expect it to last. How long it will serve you depends on several factors, namely, the quality of design, the work and materials used, the frequency and conditions under which it is used, and the type and degree of care you give it. The truth about leather gear, any leather gear, is that it is not going to last a lifetime, unless it is not used or used very little. It is made of natural materials, not stainless steel. However, it can last many years if it is well made and receives care and maintenance.
I could fill a book attempting to describe all of the design and material choices which must be made. It should suffice to say that factory produced holsters must and do make compromises in their designs. Even if the designer of the mass produced holster has any firearms background, he is usually required to design for one factor that has nothing to do with what the holster’s function—this factor is ease of production. A holster factory is made up primarily of people who have no interest in shooting. They usually are trained on the job with no previous background in leather work. The holster then can be no better than the least skilled people who build it. This is a prime restriction on the functional sophistication of most holsters produced in a factory environment.
The second restriction on quality is that the very best materials are expensive and in some cases hard to obtain in quantity. When a mass produced holster is discounted up to 50% for the dealer, costs have to be cut somewhere to make a profit. The same goes for finishes, hardware, etc.
I hope you enjoyed this review and find it useful.