Introduction to Shoulder Holsters

Few gun holsters have been as widely glamorized by various movies and TV shows as shoulder holsters. Shoulder holsters can be traced all the way back to the days of the old west as gunslingers and lawmen used them as a means of carrying a smaller or secondary handgun on their person. Historians that specialize in old west history have found evidence that a number of famous wild west personalities like Don Holiday and Bat Masterson were known to carry a shoulder holster at some point.

Any information on shoulder holsters would be doing an injustice if no mention of Miami Vice was made. This 1980’s television series brought a resurging popularity of shoulder holsters as a shoulder holster was worn by one of the main characters.

Shoulder holsters are designed to carry a handgun in a holster that is generally suspended under the armpit. Some of the newer generation shoulder holsters that are made for long barreled or scoped revolvers across the chest, although the harness itself is still worn over the shoulder.

The harness itself is usually made of a single or double loop that rides over one or both shoulders. The harnesses come in several different configurations including a full harness, half harness, or executive harness. The full harness has dual harness loops so one loops over each shoulder. The half harness has a single harness that loops over one shoulder. The executive harness is really only designed to support smaller handguns. It features a single loop that doesn’t fully go over the shoulder and connects to the belt.

For the most part, shoulder holsters come in three different variations:

  • Vertical carry – The holster portion itself rides vertical on the body so the barrel of the weapon points down (or possibly up in a few models). This model is popular for revolvers with medium to long barrels (4″ to 6″). The models where the holster actually points up is specifically designed for smaller short barreled revolvers like the S&W J frame or Ruger SP-101.
  • Horizontal carry – The holster itself rides horizontal to the body so the barrel points out underneath the armpit backwards from the body. This is probably the most popular style today as it will fit most any semi-automatic weapon.
  • Chest Carry – These are somewhat of a specialized shoulder holster where the holster itself rides in the front of the chest while it is still supported by loops that go over each shoulder. This style is very popular for hunting revolvers that have a long barrel (over 6″) or are equipped with a scope.

Like any gun holster, shoulder holsters have good and bad points. While they are fairly comfortable and allow the wearer to comfortably carry a large frame handgun, shoulder holsters almost always require some type of cover garment to be concealed. Shoulder holsters rely on somewhat of a cross draw method so they aren’t the fastest drawing holster.

If you are considering a shoulder holster, make your decision based on your actual needs and not the “cool” factor. I suspect that a great many people purchase shoulder holsters, only to find that they don’t really work for their particular carrying situation.