Tuesday, April 20, 2010

N Frame Carry

Well I've been meaning to write this for a while now and here it is - How I carry my "N" Frame Smith & Wesson revolvers. I will limit my discussion here to holster brands and types that I have actually used myself, not what someone else told me or something I heard from a "friend of a friend", or read on a gun forum somewhere. Everything that I write here is from my own personal experiences using and carrying these great guns. Be aware that some of these holsters I have owned for many years now and may no longer be available from the holster makers that I have linked to. You may be able to find something similar. Also, all of my experiences have involved carrying and concealing 3 ½ and 4 inch N frame guns and I will confine my comments to those. The longer barreled revolvers have their own special problems that I don't feel qualified to discuss since I have never done it myself. You would think however that my comments, at least to a small degree, apply to those longer barrel guns as well.

Let me also say that without a great gun belt the holsters below are useless. A quality made gun belt is required anytime carrying, even more so when carrying a large, heavy revolver like a Smith & Wesson N frame. Without a good belt concealed carry will be difficult if nearly impossible. Under the best circumstances a cheap belt would certainly be uncomfortable and under the worst circumstances could be downright dangerous. Personally I use a Galco belt that is 1 ½ inches wide and I would consider that to be the absolute minimum width to use with any gun as large and heavy as a S&W N frame.

Listed below is an inventory of the various holsters that I have used in my efforts to carry a large N frame Smith & Wesson revolver over the years...Hunter belt scabbard - This was the very first holster I bought for an N frame revolver and is a typical thumb break type offered by many different holster makers. Many companies sell this or similar types of holsters that have a strap or tension screw to secure the gun instead of the thumb break. This is a suede lined model that I don't believe is in production any longer. This holster (and a S&W Model 28) is actually what I used in the shooting portion of my CDW license test. The holster secures the gun very well and is comfortable enough to use for long periods of time. It is a field type holster and was never intended for concealed carry, but it can be used in that capacity and I have done so on rare occasion. But as a concealment holster it would definitely be limited to the colder months of the year as a heavy outer garment is required to cover it. If concealment is not really an issue for you (but comfort is) then this is the type of holster you should be shopping for.
Saguaro belt scabbard - This is a fancier dress up belt type holster, similar to the basic design above, that has an adjustable tension screw (cleverly disguised as a Mercury dime) instead of a thumb break. It is also a beautiful example of leather artistry. But besides being great looking this holster also secures the gun well and is actually a little better for concealed carry than the Hunter because it holds the gun a little closer to the body. Like the Hunter though it still requires a heavier outer garment for concealment.Brauer Brothers Manufacturing belt scabbard - I picked this 1960's belt holster up at a gun show many years back and at a bargain price. It's a good utility type holster best suited for field/range work. The gun is held by means of both a metal reinforced opening and a tension screw and is very secure. The holster has a neutral cant and can be used on your strong side or as a cross draw. Like the other belt holsters above this can be used for concealment but only if using a heavy cover garment.Smith & Wesson brand shoulder holster - I must confess that I have only used this vertical shoulder holster a few times since owning it. This is an older type with all leather construction. The muzzle end of the holster attaches to your belt to secure it on your left side. For the right side there is a strap that goes across to hold the holster down and there is no provision for anything (speed loaders, handcuffs etc.) on that side. Admittedly this design is very "old school" and that there are much newer (and better) shoulder holsters available but I have never got around to buying one. Fairly or unfairly, this holster has probably prejudiced me against all other should holster designs. Having a 44.5 ounce (loaded) large frame Smith & Wesson revolver hanging from under your left arm for prolonged periods is not my cup of tea and this lopsided rig left me feeling like Quasimodo after very short periods of use.DeSantis IWB - This is a very well designed inside the waistband holster that not only secures the revolver well but also conceals it well too. The Holster has a shield on the back side that keeps the hammer and frame from digging into your body. This is a well thought out and practical holster design which will allow you to carry your N frame anytime of the year you want as this IWB holster only needs a shirt to cover it completely. However like all IWB holsters for a large gun, because the largest portions of the revolver (the cylinder especially) are under your belt you will have to take your belt and pant sizes into consideration. At least one size larger should be assumed and possibly more. The only flaw in this design is the single belt attachment point that sits right over the gun's cylinder, increasing the overall width of the set-up and making concealment just a little more difficult. Still, all things considered a great concealment holster for the large frame S&W.Don Hume JIT slide - I must admit I am not the biggest fan of belt slide type holsters and probably would have never bought this one myself. I received it, along with other accessories, after buying a N frame .357 last year. I don't like belt slide holsters because personally I want as much of a gun to be covered as can be. It is my preference that as little as possible of a carry gun actually be in contact with your clothes or skin. As a general rule, the less gun you are in contact with the more comfortable you will be and the less wear and tear you will have on your clothes. Having said that I must admit that this Hume design secures the gun very well and holds the gun close to the body, making concealment somewhat easy as long as you have a coat or shirt tail long enough to cover.Milt Sparks Versa Max 2 - In my opinion one of the best holsters made for carrying the N frame Smith & Wesson - if concealment is your highest priority. A light shirt will easily conceal the gun and with this holster you can carry all year long with all types of clothes. The belt loops, being spread out, help secure the gun better and distributes the weight more evenly while also making the gun (slightly) more comfortable to carry and easier to conceal than the DeSantis above. With the Milt Sparks VM2, like with all other inside the waistband holsters, you are sacrificing comfort for the ability to conceal the weapon. The cylinder of a S&W N frame revolver is just over 1 5/8-inches wide and having that (and the majority of the gun) under your belt and pants does make concealing the weapon easier but you do have to give up something for that feature, and that "something" is your personal comfort, especially if you are going to be seated for long periods of time. But as stated at the beginning, if concealment is your main concern the VM2 is the holster to buy.Milt Sparks PMK - MY BEST holster for carrying an N frame revolver concealed, period. This holster is secure and holds the gun very close to the body. Being that it is on the outside of the belt it is much more comfortable than trying to carry IWB while only being slightly more difficult to conceal with it. Concealment itself is easy with a light coat or even a long shirt will not be a problem. Because the PMK pulls the gun up close to your body the result is a very secure and stable platform that will allow you to carry discreetly for many hours without problems or discomfort.

Carrying an N Frame Smith & Wesson does require more effort but it is certainly not an impossible task as some might think. To me it is worth the extra effort involved to actually use and carry these great guns as intended. Maybe this short article will help convince a few others that the big S&W revolvers they love so much are not a lost cause after all...


Boat Guy said...

Good post. One of the "no longer made" (actually still made but nowhere near the quality) I've used is the Bianchi Cyclone. The ealier holsters were GREAT; recent examples are lighter-weight leather and just won't do the job. My N-frames are either 4" or 5". I've purchased Milt Sparks products for my Bride and have been VERY pleased with the product and the service.
I've been disappointed by Galco and won't be using their stuff anymore.
I've recently ordered from El Paso Saddlery and am eagerly awaiting delivery.

Wilson said...

Thanks, I must agree, sadly with many holster makers “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” really applies. I bought my Galco belt several years ago and have been very happy with it. But I do have to admit that I have heard a lot about their quality going down recently. I think that Milt Sparks is one of the best holster makers currently going, too bad about their wait time. I bought a VM2 for a Sig P228, delivery time was over 6 months! I’ve never owned anything made by El Paso Saddlery but have only heard good things about them!

Unknown said...

Hello, I am a small holster maker in NC. I have been asked to make a copy of the Brauer Brothers holster you have pictured. Is there anyway I could get a picture of the back side of the holster?

Thank you,

Wilson said...

Eric, contact me at wilsonblog@netzero.net and I will see if I can't dig it out and take some photos in the next few days.

Unknown said...

. Really useful stuff .Never had an idea about this, will look for more of such informative posts from your side.. Good job...Keep it up. For best concealed carry holsters just check here

M said...

A great read. I've often lamented the fact that I wished in many respects I would have spent the last twenty years carrying an N frame. The N frame .357 has always been the one gun that would be the "only" gun if forced to choose.