Shoulder Holsters and Carry Angle

The Galco VHS, or Vertical Shoulder Holster System is ambidextrous and can be purchased for a wide range of pistol and revolver models.

The Galco VHS, or Vertical Shoulder Holster System is ambidextrous and can be purchased for a wide range of pistol and revolver models. Photo courtesy of Galco.

Shoulder holsters can be configured to carry handguns vertically (with the muzzle pointing straight up or straight down), horizontally, or at a 45-degree angle. Grant Cunningham explains the pros and cons.

Vertical Shoulder Holsters

Vertical holsters with the muzzle pointing up are generally referred to as upside-down holsters. They are very concealable, but because the butt of the gun is pointing toward the back and is on the backside of centerline, they are the hardest with which to achieve a good firing grip.

They are also limited in terms of the barrel length that can be accommodated, with the armpit serving as an upper limit.

Vertical holsters that carry the opposite direction – with the muzzle down – are superb choices for larger guns with longer barrels. (As a point of trivia, Dirty Harry’s six-inch Model 29 was carried in such a holster.)

Some are made to accommodate scoped hunting guns, though obviously not as a piece of concealment gear. Muzzle down holsters are relatively easy to draw from, but do sacrifice a bit of concealment – especially with the longer barrels.

Horizontal Shoulder Holsters

Galco's Miami Classic is a great example of a popular horizontal carry angle shoulder holster. Photo courtesy Galco.

Galco’s Miami Classic is a great example of a popular horizontal carry angle shoulder holster. Photo courtesy Galco.

Horizontal holsters seem to be the most commonly available, and they are certainly the easiest to draw from. The gun’s butt is in a position to afford a very natural grip and draw stroke, and the butt is carried the furthest forward of any style.

This makes them not the best choice for concealment, as the gun is carried with its longest dimension cutting across the body’s shortest dimension. The cylinder width is on the midline and pushes both the butt and the muzzle away from the body, leaving the gun in a sort of rocking position that I liken to a turtle on its back.

The muzzle tends to poke out at the rear and the butt in the front, a clear sign that the wearer has something under his coat. It is also the only shoulder holster where it is impossible to draw without sweeping the muzzle across an unintended target. If one insists on a horizontal holster, I can only recommend sticking to the very shortest barrels and smallest frames.

45-Degree Shoulder Holsters

Those carrying the gun at a 45-degree angle, with the muzzle pointing up, are a workable compromise. The grip is easier to access than an upside-down model, and the geometry of carry makes the gun easier to hide. The 45-degree also works with slightly longer barrels than the horizontal types.

Here’s something that might surprise you: most men, in my experience, don’t have the upper body flexibility necessary to draw efficiently or safely from a shoulder holster. Most women do.

The more muscular the man, the less likely it is that he’ll be able to make use of the shoulder holster, while women seem to not be so limited regarding their figure. For this reason I tend to recommend shoulder holsters for women more often than I do for men.

Shoulder holsters are generally available in leather and nylon cloth, though at least one maker has constructed them out of thin polyethylene. I recommend avoiding those made of nylon; I’ve not encountered any that were not cheaply constructed and/or very poorly designed.

If you decide to make the shoulder holster your default concealed carry option, be aware that virtually all shooting schools prohibit their use in class, and I know of no shooting competition which will allow them.

This is an excerpt from Grant Cunningham’s Gun Digest Book of the Revolver, available at GunDigestStore.com.


Recommended Revolver Resources

Gun Digest Book of the RevolverGun Digest Book of the Revolver

Gunsmithing Pistols & Revolvers

Massad Ayoob’s Greatest Handguns of the World, Vol. 2

Massad Ayoob’s Greatest Handguns of the World, Vol. 1

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