For concealed carry, belt holsters remain the most popular choice. Such a holster worn either inside or outside the waistband affords the user the most efficient drawstroke. And they can be very low profile with the right covering garment. But “most popular” doesn’t necessarily translate to a universal choice. And for some lifestyles or missions, something other than belt carry may be the better way to go. So, we take a look at shoulder holsters as a concealed carry option.
Using Shoulder Holsters for Concealed Carry
As the name implies, shoulder holsters distribute the weight of the gun across the upper body rather than the belt. The holster itself is positioned under the support-side arm and secured to the torso via a harness.
Categories include horizontal, with the butt facing forward and the muzzle to the rear, and vertical, with the gun on a north-south axis. Muzzle-down and butt-forward is the overwhelming theme in vertical rigs. But muzzle “upside down” rigs have also been made.
Shoulder holsters have been immortalized on the silver screen as well as on television. Dirty Harry, Sonny Crockett, and even Fish on the old Barney Miller sitcom all sported shoulder rigs.
I’ll admit that a finely crafted shoulder holster with a blue steel revolver still strikes a chord with me. But we must go beyond aesthetics and consider practicality.
What The Experts Say
Not long ago, I had a query in reference to an article I wrote for an online law enforcement magazine. The reader asked my opinion on the viability of shoulder holsters for concealed carry. Rather than offering my thoughts alone, I polled several other instructors, all with extensive teaching experience.
Of the dozen responses I received, ten were hardly enthusiastic about shoulder carry and felt there were far better choices. However, two individuals were very much in favor of shoulder carry and went to great lengths to explain their position.
Instructor A is of trim build, and I doubt he tips the scale at 150 pounds. He has worked as a trainer for a major firearms manufacturer and continues to make a living as a highly regarded instructor.
Instructor B is a large man with vast experience as a road cop, investigator, instructor, and police academy director. In his jacket-and-tie world, a shoulder holster gave him the ability to carry a large pistol off the belt. Not to mention extra magazines and handcuffs.
Both of these guys discovered that one of the prime attributes of a shoulder holster is the fact that you can carry a large pistol with complete discretion. This is especially true with vertical scabbards and long-barrel handguns.
I find that the size of the handgun is a limiting factor with horizontal rigs. If you want to get in under the radar, compact-sized handguns such as a Glock 19 or Colt Commander represent the outer size limit.
Considerations of Shoulder Carry
Comfort is always a consideration when wearing a concealed handgun. A properly adjusted harness combined with a quality rig can be just the ticket. Especially when seated or driving for long periods of time. This may be outside the realm of possibility in warm, humid environments where a covering garment isn’t practical.
As with many other things in life, there are tradeoffs, and you have to take the good with the bad. To draw from a shoulder holster, the user has to reach across the body. This could be problematic in extreme close quarters when you’re in contact with a subject.
Weapon retention is also a concern. In a physical altercation, a pistol in a shoulder holster can be very difficult to defend against a disarming attempt.
I regularly encounter instructors or even ranges that prohibit the use of shoulder holsters. To a certain extent, I get that, as the muzzle will inevitably swing by other shooters on the drawstroke.
To solve this riddle, I simply positioned users of shoulder holsters on the outside lane where they would not cover anyone during the drawstroke. Trigger-finger discipline is doubly important when working from shoulder holsters.
Some Modern Options
While shoulder holsters have slipped in popularity, that option is still out there for the taking.
Check out the ShapeShift Shoulder Holster from Alien Gear, which is crafted from English bridle leather and modern synthetics and mated to a contoured shoulder harness for extreme comfort and a full range of motion. Ride height and cant can be adjusted by the user, and different retention options are offered.
DeSantis remains an industry leader in concealed-carry designs, and it offers several different shoulder-holster options. My favorite is the New York Undercover, which has been a staple of the DeSantis line since the 1970s and continues to be upgraded.
Over 30 years ago, I used an early version of this holster to carry a J-frame backup concealed under my uniform jacket. DeSantis has always offered a high-quality holster for a reasonable price. And the latest rendition of the New York Undercover is indeed top shelf.
This horizontal shoulder holster is crafted from top-grain cowhide and includes a dual magazine pouch. Another DeSantis offering is the C.E.O. Shoulder Rig with a lower-profile half harness.
Galco has forged a solid reputation with its finely crafted shoulder holsters. And the VHS Shoulder System is true to that tradition. This vertical rig can accommodate a full-sized pistol in fine style, and my copy is cut for a 1911.
The VHS features a comfortable, wide harness with a Flexalon backplate for a wide range of motion. A double magazine pouch for autopistols or a dual dump pouch for revolvers is included with the VHS rig.
I tested the Galco VHS with three different full-sized 1911 pistols and would submit that it is the best vertical shoulder holster I’ve yet to encounter. All things considered, the comfort level was very good, even with a large, all-steel handgun.
The drawstroke for any shoulder rig is not as fast or efficient as from the belt. But the tie-down of the VHS helps stabilize the gun for a reasonably fast presentation.
It’s Your Draw
In the end, shoulder holsters fill a specialized, rather than a general, niche. If you favor medium- to large-sized handguns and can get by with a loose-fitting covering garment, it may be a consideration.
A former big-city cop told me that he preferred a shoulder holster because he could access his gun easier from under heavy winter clothing. And the fact that you don’t have to settle for a mouse gun isn’t lost on me.
For some applications, a shoulder holster may still be a top choice. So, choose wisely.
This article was originally published in the Combat Handguns July/August 2022 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions at OutdoorGroupStore.com. Or call 1-800-284-5668, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.