One of the most common manipulations of a firearm is also one of the most often overlooked, so here’s a rundown on the safest handgun holstering practices.
I sold my first gun article a quarter-century ago while I was still working as a patrol officer. The article was about holstering a handgun. I’m not sure it was all that well written; I think it was partly accepted by the magazine because the topic was one that was important and often overlooked. The thrust of the piece was safety related because negligent, self-inflicted gunshot wounds often occur when holstering.
Nothing’s changed. Because shooters often holster too hurriedly with their finger on the trigger, it’s still a problem. I highly doubt anyone who read that article is reading this magazine, and since a lot of folks have been born since the original article was written, I felt the topic worth revisiting. It could save you from a scare capable of causing dirty underwear, an embarrassing moment or, more importantly, a lot of pain.
Watch What You’re Doing
The first thing to recognize when it’s time to holster a handgun is that there’s no need to be in a hurry. Without question, there could be a need to draw a handgun quickly, but after lots and lots of contemplation, I’ve yet to discover a need to holster one with the same urgency. I’m not saying there doesn’t or never will be a reason to holster in a hurry, especially a hurry so great you can’t take a couple seconds to make sure it’s done correctly. What I’m saying is I don’t know what that circumstance is.
By the same token, other than having to potentially holster a handgun in the pitch dark, I’m also at a loss for a reason to put your gun away without looking it into the holster. I’ve heard the arguments, like, if you have to look your gun into the holster, it looks like you don’t know what you’re doing. On the contrary, if you look your gun into the holster, might it not be the opposite? Might it be that you know exactly what you’re doing while you’re doing it, because you’re watching what you’re doing? I’ve also heard that you shouldn’t take your eyes off the threat when holstering. Um, dude…if you’re in the presence of a real or potential threat, why in the hell are you holstering your pistol?
Think of it this way: With the exception of the draw, with almost every other element of weaponcraft it’s a good idea to see what we’re doing. If you’re conducting a reload, you bring the handgun back into your workspace, high, where you can see what you’re doing, while also keeping your head erect, alert to potential threats. Similarly, when conducting immediate action to clear a stoppage, you do it where you can see—even if it’s just peripherally—what’s happening. Also, very importantly, when unloading a handgun, you should be visually checking to see that it’s clear.
I’m not suggesting that it be mandatory to watch your handgun all the way to the holster every time you holster. What I’m saying is there’s nothing wrong with doing so. If you’re skilled enough to do it safely without looking, good for you. My only question would be what is it that you’re gaining by not looking at what you’re doing?
Clear Your Digits
This is tied to the reason negligent discharges occur when holstering, and that’s leaving your trigger finger on the trigger. If you do, as you holster, your trigger finger can be pressed against the trigger by the mouth of the holster and the gun can go bang. If you’re wearing a hip holster, maybe you’ll be lucky, and the bullet will miss your ass or leg. If you’re carrying appendix style…um, I hope someone is there to administer first aid and call 911. If you’re watching what you’re doing, you’ll have the opportunity to observe your finger on the trigger before it’s too late.
The simple answer is to keep your damn finger off of—well away from—the trigger when you’re drawing or holstering a handgun. When you’ve decided the world would be a better place if your handgun was in your holster, relax, take a deep breath, conduct a tac-load addressing any ammunition issues if necessary, and then, reluctantly and slowly, holster your handgun while keeping your finger away from the trigger and straight along the frame.
If your handgun is equipped with a manual thumb safety, engage it, and if it’s a thumb safety that locks the slide in battery, keep upward pressure on the safety with your thumb until the gun is fully holstered. Some people wonder what the purpose of a manual thumb safety is, it’s partly to keep you from shooting your fool self.
If you’re using a striker-fired handgun, place your thumb against the rear of the slide with pressure to circumvent the possibility of the holster, pushing the slide to the rear and potentially creating a jam as you press the gun into the holster. If you feel the need to watch what you’re doing, then watch. If anyone tells you that you shouldn’t be watching what you’re doing, find comfort in the fact that you don’t have any extra holes in your body. Short of piercings—at least some piercings—common sense and the data are indisputably clear; extra holes in your body are a bad thing.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
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