Safe Handgun Holstering: Tips, Techniques and Trivia

posted on February 13, 2018

Avoiding a negligent discharge (ND) while drawing and reholstering is a training issue, not a holster issue. Still, there are some who think that having a holster that covers the trigger guard of their pistol somehow makes them safer. To really understand the relationship between a defensive handgun, a holster and safety, it is necessary to first look at the history of the handgun holster.

In the early days of the American frontier, handgun holsters were usually made of rather thin leather and tended to cover quite a bit of the handgun. The simple reason for this was that the holster was considered a carrying device for the pistol, nothing more. It was most important that the holster securely retain the handgun during strenuous exercise, such as riding horseback. It is also clear that no one had the idea that the holster should offer any assistance in obtaining a fast draw. In fact, no one really thought about the need for a fast draw.

“Wild Bill” Hickok wore his guns butt forward, either in holsters or just stuffed in the waistband of this trousers—not the best position for quick work. Wyatt Earp, about to engage in the OK Corral fight, took his revolver out of his holster and either held it under his coat or in a coat pocket. We can find many other examples of this in frontier history. But, clearly, those old-timers seemed to think that, if a fight was about to happen, a fellow ought to have his sixgun in his hand and ready to go.

Sometime around the late 1800s, handgunners and holster makers began to realize that the holster should be an integral part of the defensive draw. Consequently, holsters were made from thicker pieces of cowhide and were crafted to more-closely fit a particular handgun.

At the same time, it was believed that it was critical to a quick draw to get the trigger finger on the trigger as quickly as possible. Some holsters, like those from A.W. Brill, were partially cut out to expose the trigger. Other holsters, like the famous Threepersons holster from S.D. Myres, completely exposed the trigger and trigger guard of the pistol. The only real problem with these holsters that exposed the trigger guard of the handgun occurred when the shooter was quicker on the trigger than the draw.

In the 1970s, with increased interest in practical pistol shooting, holster designs were changed. It was believed that a covered trigger guard would prevent a negligent discharge while the handgun was being drawn. The problem, of course, was that if the trigger finger was still in contact with the trigger during reholstering, this extra material in the area of the trigger guard could cause an ND during the holstering process. This became especially true with striker-fired handguns, some with no external safeties, and other types of pistols when the shooter forgot to properly engage the safeties.

Finally, as part of the development of the Modern Technique of the Pistol, instructors began to teach the importance not only keeping the trigger finger off of the trigger, but keeping it out of the trigger guard entirely. It quickly became clear that the safest drawstroke was to have the trigger finger straight along the pistol frame until the sights were on the target and the shooter was ready to deliver a shot.

I can remember, years ago, when I was first exposed to this straight-finger concept. I was positive that it would slow down the defensive draw and shot. I spent quite some time shooting DA revolvers and semi-automatics only to realize that such was not the case. As the gun goes from holster onto the target, there is plenty of time to shift the trigger finger onto the trigger and be ready to break the shot.

I have done a little informal survey of defensive-shooting schools and am satisfied that the majority of NDs occur during reholstering. And, they occur because the shooter’s finger is on the trigger during the process of putting the pistol back into the holster. Also, just so you know I’m not knocking striker-fired handguns, we can document such NDs with just about every type of defensive handgun. The common thread for the ND is that the finger was on the trigger when it shouldn’t be.

It is not the job of the defensive holster to keep us from shooting ourselves. It is our responsibility to get professional training and learn to handle our guns safely. Learning to keep the trigger finger straight and along the gun frame until the sights are on the target is an extremely important part of the whole process. When you keep that finger straight, it is just amazing how few NDs you will have.

I don’t have much sympathy for folks who are quick to blame their equipment for their problems. Avoiding negligent discharges is not a holster problem, it is a training problem.

Consider this:  If you keep your finger straight along the frame during the acts of drawing and reholstering, it doesn’t matter what kind of holster you are using. And, if you can’t learn to keep that trigger finger straight and completely out of the trigger guard, there isn’t a holster made that will keep you from eventually having an ND.


scope facing right
scope facing right

First Look: Meopta MeoSport R 3-15x50 mm RD Riflescope

Meopta's MeoSport R 3-15x50 RD riflescope offers an affordable, durable option for long-range shooting.

First Look: Cabot Guns Moonshot 1911 Pistol

Cabot Guns introduces a 1911 that's literally out-of-this-world--with an actual lunar meteorite part of the construction.

Sightron S6 5-30x56 ED riflescope

Sightron is launching of a new line of S6 5-30x56 ED premium riflescopes for long-range pursuits.

Editor's Picks: SHOT Show 2022, Day Four

Here are five more neat new things we saw at SHOT Show 2022 on our last day on the show floor.

New for 2022: Taurus 327

The .327 Fed. Mag. cartridge has long been overlooked, but it is a powerful, versatile option for personal protection. Taurus has recognized the .327's appeal and is now offering an affordable revolver chambered for this hidden gem of a self-defense round.

New for 2022: Burris Introduces XTR Pro Riflescope and Accessories

Burris' latest riflescope features multiple illuminated, front-focal-plane reticle options, an innovative locking turret system and an optical design ideal for anyone looking to shoot at extreme distances.


Get the best of Shooting Illustrated delivered to your inbox.