July 17, 2017
Blackhawk is doing things backwards. Most companies that make holsters start out with nylon and leather and move into Kydex and injection molding. Blackhawk made its bones with tactical nylon, backpacks and gear bags in Cordura nylon, as well as holsters. When it introduced the Serpa holster, made out of injection-molded polymer, it enjoyed the kind of success most companies can only dream of. The number of Serpa holsters made is in the millions.
Now Blackhawk has gone old school and introduced a new line of leather holsters in its CQC holster line. Not only is leather a traditional holster material, but also Blackhawk is making a number of traditional holster designs. I obtained three of them — two traditional models and one that's a modern take on a proven design. The holsters are made for a number of different brands/types of pistols, in both right- and left-hand models.
First up is the 3 Slot Pancake. Pancake holsters have been around for almost as long as leather holsters themselves. In the basic pancake design, two layers of leather are formed around a pistol; belt slots are then cut into the excess material in front of and behind the holster.
Three-slot holsters have three belt slots—one behind the holster body and two in front—so the pistol can be carried in a vertical/neutral position or at a butt-forward angle, known as an FBI cant. In my opinion it's easier to draw a gun from a vertical holster, but pistols positioned on your belt at an FBI cant are easier to conceal.
While I don't see most people switching back and forth between vertical and angled carry, the
three-slot holster design allows the holster to appeal to as many potential customers as possible. That said, I think it works much better as a canted holster than a vertical one, because when running it vertical the holster sits high on the belt. The Blackhawk 3 Slot Pancake body isn't just an amorphous pouch but rather has been fit around the specific firearm for which it has been designed. It features a polymer-reinforced thumb break at the top for security. I don't see a need for a thumb break in a concealed carry holster, but some people just don't feel right unless their rig has one.
The slots will accommodate belts up to 1.75 inches. The holsters are available in black or brown finish, and with the brown leather it's easier to see the nice stitching that went into making this holster. The finish work on the leather is excellent.
Second up from Blackhawk is the Compact Askins. This is Blackhawk's take on a classic holster
design most commonly known as the Askins Avenger. The name Askins comes from Col. Charles Askins, who is perhaps best known for his exploits in the Border Patrol prior to World War II, which he documented in his book Unrepentant Sinner. In addition to being in dozens of gunfights, Askins was an accomplished competitive pistol shooter.
As I understand it (and many thanks to Mike Barham of Galco Gunleather for the history lesson), the original design can be traced back to Bruce Nelson's No. 1 Professional. Milt Sparks and then John Bianchi both began to make versions of this holster in the 1970s, but Bianchi consulted on his design with Col. Charles Askins, with the result being the Askins Avenger.
The Blackhawk version of this design is executed perfectly. It is an open-topped, outside-the-waistband belt holster, simple yet amazingly effective. I like this holster design because it's efficient, taking up no more room than it needs to. The holster has a vertical cant and covers up the trigger guard while still allowing a full grip on the pistol during drawing and holstering. The top of the holster is reinforced, so it will stay open for holstering. That extra layer of leather comes down on the backside of the holster to form a belt loop behind the gun. To the rear of the trigger guard of the pistol is a second belt loop angled inward, so the holster keeps the pistol tucked in toward the wearer's body. The belt loops will fit a belt up to 1.75 inches in width.
Blackhawk's Compact Askins is a smaller version of this design, with an open muzzle. The company has also added a few modern touches. In addition to a tension screw just below the trigger guard, inside the holster you'll find a polymer channel to protect the leather from the front sight during the draw. Leather holsters stretch over time, but between the reinforced top of the Askins holster and the tension screw, this holster will work for decades of daily carry, long after it has stopped being pretty.
Last but not least, Blackhawk is offering what it's calling the Detachable Slide leather holster. It's a traditional design treated to some insightful upgrades. A slide holster traditionally has belt loops front and rear that make it easy to slide the holster on and off the wearer's belt. The body of the Blackhawk is pretty much a standard pancake holster form-fit to a specific firearm, an outside-the-waistband model with an open muzzle and a thumb break retention device that holds the pistol at a slight angle. The Blackhawk holster departs from the usual in two ways. The first is the thumb break. On the back of the holster you'll notice the leather strap of the thumb break is not sewn onto the holster but rather attached
via a hook-and-loop fastener pad with a retaining nylon strap. Why do that? Leather stretches over time, especially on thumb break straps. When the thumb break on this holster begins to get a little stretched out and loose, you can readjust the strap on the hook and loop pad and tighten it right back up, extending the life of the holster greatly.
The second is the snaps. At the bottom of the 1.75-inch belt loop slots you'll see metal snaps. Those snaps mean you won't have to undo your belt to remove the holster. Just pop the two snaps and you'll be able to pull the holster up and off your body without having to mess with your belt.
Blackhawk's leather holsters are made in Italy, and the back of the holsters indicate which gun a particular model is intended to fit a detail I appreciate. If you only own one pistol, it's no great mystery wondering which gun your holsters fit. But if you've got a handful of pistols, sometimes figuring out which holster fits which gun can be a pain. Leather holsters by definition require more hands-on time by skilled craftsman than Kydex or injection molded units, so they generally are more expensive, but you get what you pay for. These three holsters retail for between $70 and $80 apiece, which as leather holsters go is very competitive.