Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Better Pistol Trap?

While perusing the aisles of my local Gander Mountain I spotted an interesting product from Uncle Mike's; the Reflex Tactical IRT belt holster.  I've usually considered Uncle Mike's lines of holsters to be what new gun owners buy until they learn better.  That is, their products are cheaper than most and you generally get what you pay for.

Active retention holsters use some sort of mechanical device to hold the pistol inside the holster.  This prevents the pistol from being dislodged accidentally and can also prevent someone else from drawing the pistol, depending upon the design of the holster.  Retention is both the upside and the downside.  The same device that keeps the pistol from falling out can also prevent the user from drawing it quickly.  It's generally been a tradeoff between safety and speed until designers began incorporating retention devices that were deactivated by the same motions used to draw the pistol.

I personally own and have used two other holster designs with active retention; the Safariland ALS
and the Blackhawk! SERPA.  Both designs permit the deactivation of the retention feature while the user is drawing the pistol.  The goal is to provide the benefits of retention while reducing or eliminating extra motions.  The ALS achieves through a button high on the interior side of the holster; as the user grips the pistol, the user's thumb depresses the button and deactivates the retention device.  The SERPA employs a button release over the trigger-guard of the pistol, the user's index finger pushes the button as part of the act of drawing the pistol.

Both designs are fairly intuitive and with sufficient practice become automatic and extremely fast.  One valid criticism of the SERPA design is that it requires to user to flex the trigger finger as part of the draw.  This makes it possible for the finger to unintentionally slip inside the guard and depress the trigger, resulting in a negligent discharge of the handgun while it is still being drawn.  I have read of two incidents resulting in serious injuries to the user.  One is here.  As a result, I have retired my SERPA from use.  I am unaware of any safety issues with the ALS design.  The only valid criticisms I have heard of it are that the retention release uses a spring that could potentially fail, resulting in the handgun coming out of the holster unintentionally.

The Uncle Mike's Reflex IRT uses a third method.  The holster is constructed of two pieces of polymer but it feels much stiffer than the riveted soft plastic used by other manufacturers.  The pistol requires a deliberate shove to holster and there is an audible clicking sound when the pistol is seated. To draw the pistol the user flexes their wrist, pulling the grip towards the body, and pulls straight upward.  This causes a small polymer shelf to flex.  The slide of the handgun rotates clockwise, clearing the other shelf on the opposite side that locks the holster in place.  It's quick and easy.

The upsides to the holster? The holster comes with both a belt attachment and a paddle attachment.  I'm personally not a big fan of paddle holsters and using one on a holster that requires a strong tug seems like an easy way for the entire holster to be drawn along with the pistol.  But your mileage may vary and it is there if you want it.  The belt attachment accepts a 1.75" belt, which makes me happy.  In many cases I have had to order 1.75" belt loops because the standard loops were 1.5".  There are no springs or levers to break under use.  The only moving part is the small shelf inside the holster that flexes slightly.  It's not expensive.  I paid $35 for mine.  An ALS costs just a few dollars more.

The downsides?  The belt holster attachment is molded for 1.75" belts and there is no way to modify it.  Using a narrower belt will result in a holster that shifts around while worn.  You will need a 1.75" belt to wear the holster on the belt. The draw stroke requires an unusual action; pulling the gun towards the body is not difficult but it is new.  Regular practice (a couple thousand draws to create the muscle memory) will be required if the holster is intended to be used under stress.  This is not the holster for someone who does not carry the same way, every time.  The holster is thick, just like the ALS, and it does not ride tucked in close to the body like an inside-the-waistband holster.  It's not uncomfortable, but if you tend to walk close to doorjambs you can expect an occasional thump.

I like the Uncle Mike's IRT holster.  It is not demonstrably superior to the ALS but neither is it inferior.  It rides a little higher on the belt than the ALS.  It's another option in a field where choices are good.

Uncle Mike's makes a holster that is as good as one made by Safariland.  There, I said it.  But the nylon holsters are still junk.