Sunday, May 17, 2020

Review: Craft Holsters' "Grizzly" Holster

Grizzly Holster on belt and oriented as you would carry it.
Earlier this year, I reviewed a shoulder holster from a company called Craft Holsters (they also have a Facebook page and Instagram page). I subsequently learned that Craft Holsters had released two new models--an IWB holster line they are calling the Lynx, and a small-of-the-back holster line they are calling the Grizzly--both made completely in-house. Both are priced at $59 each and available in a Mahogany brown (picture) or black. I convinced them to send to me a Grizzly holster for my Beretta 84 for an upcoming comparison between the various holsters I have for that weapon: a strong-side OWB holster, the aforementioned shoulder holster, and, now, the small-of-the-back holster. But before doing the comparison, I wanted to do just a straight-up review of the specific holster.

     I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about trying out this holster. When I first started carrying concealed I tried out several different firearms and methods of carry (see "Concealed Carry--No Elegant Solution"), including small-of-the-back with both a .22 Beretta and a .380 Grendel P-12, and discovered it was extremely uncomfortable if having to sit--so uncomfortable that I never wanted to try again. Then last weekend, just after I received shipment of the holster, I tweaked my back, so I was understandably more reluctant to try a small-of-the-back holster.

    With all of that in mind, let me just tell you what a difference a quality holster and belt can make! 

     First, let's take a closer look at the holster. Below are photographs I took of the holster the day I received it. (Each square is 1-inch).

Back of holster (i.e. what will be pressed up against your body)

Front of holster (i.e., what is facing away from your body)
       As you can see, the leather is molded to the specific model of firearm. The leather is heavy duty and very stiff. The coloring and finish of the holster is very good and even. Stitching is also very even, with good tension. Fit around the gun was good, but not what I would term tight: that is, the pistol fits nicely without play, but it was easily inserted and removed. Although it probably wouldn't have made any difference, just for peace-of-mind, I wished it was a little tighter.

      The holster, as you can see from the photographs, is a single layer of leather folded over and stitched together into a double layer below where the trigger and muzzle end of the frame rest. Where the two layers meet up, the leather has been trimmed and smoothed so it is difficult to even see the seam (see photos further below in the article). There is then a third-piece of leather stitched around the mouth of the holster that helps further protect the holster from collapsing after the gun is drawn. 

      The gun attaches to a belt via two 1-3/4 inch loops: the belt slot you can see on both of the photographs above, and an actual loop on the backside formed by the piece of reinforcing leather (see below). As with most any holster worn on a belt, you need to use it with a quality gun belt to keep it from sagging outward. I used a Kore gun belt from Kore Essentials which, with its ratcheting feature, worked very well for tightening or loosening the belt as necessary.

Back view with belt fed through loop and slot.
       Obviously, when you have to feed a belt through a slot and loop like this, it is difficult and not something easily done while wearing your slacks. Especially since if you have a belt loop in the middle, you probably will want to feed the belt through the slot on the holster, through the belt loop, and then through the holster's loop. I found it just easier to do all of that with my slacks off. 

      I did get in some time with the holster before tweaking my back, mostly just to see how it felt. My real test was this weekend, though. My back pain had alleviated enough I thought I would give it try, and I thought it would be good day to test it because I would be running to the grocery store (i.e., riding in a car and walking around a large Fred Meyer department store) and doing some work around the house (drilling holes and hanging some brackets and peg board on the wall) which would require repeated bending and climbing up and down from a step stool. Finally, although not expected, my father-in-law decided to take us out to dinner since Saturday was the first day that restaurants had re-opened, so that had me sitting and eating a meal and visiting for a period of time. All-in-all, a pretty good test of how the holster performed doing typical daily activities. 

      And it did very well. Because of its position, it was well balanced for my back. In fact, what lower back pain I still had from the prior weekend resolved during the day, so it obviously wasn't putting any additional stress on my back. The mix of a good belt and the extra leather on the back of the holster kept poky things, such as the safety lever, from poking into my back. Upright activities such as the standing, walking, and stepping onto and off of the step stool were great. While I like the shoulder holster, I have to admit that I liked not having that bit of drag and slightly freer range of motion while using the drill, level and screwdrivers as I hung the brackets and peg board. 

      As for sitting, I'm not going to lie and tell you it was as comfortable as other holsters. But it was not the painful experience I had when younger and trying different methods of carry. Again, a good belt and holster can make a world of difference. It was fine for the short drives I made in vehicles. I tend to slouch a bit when sitting anyway, so there was no issue while at the restaurant. 

     One of my fears with the holster was that maybe the firearm would fall out. Admittedly, I was not attempting athletics or trying to do a backflip on the dance floor, but I did not have any issues with the firearm coming out during the day. The only issue I had was that I was reclining on my bed late in the evening watching some YouTube videos, went to get up, and had the gun fall out and onto the floor. I suspect that in that instance, just shifting around with the gun pressed up against a pillow had been enough to pull the gun out of the holster so when I stood up, it fell out.

     My cover garment was a loose fitting Hawaiian style shirt in a dark blue. My wife didn't notice any printing while we were out and about and I didn't have problems with the shirt riding up and over the gun. But, I had pulled my slacks up and belted it around my waist (not my hips as is common today, but my actual waste above the hip bones) and the shirt was long. 

The day after: minimal deformation of the leather around the belt slot

The day after: the mouth of the holster looks pretty good.
      It is easy to say that "thou shalt not use [fill-in-the-blank] style of holster," but the reality is that concealed carry is often full of trade-offs based on physical factors (e.g., body shape or size, weight of a firearm, disabilities), economic factors (e.g., how much do you have to spend on a firearm or holster or belt), and job (nature of your job, such as sitting or standing, type of dress, etc.). That's not to say that you should discount or ignore the pros and cons of various types of holsters or methods of carrying, but what works for one person will not necessarily work for others. And you may have to make trade-offs with respect to access or safety.

     So, what are the pros and cons of small-of-the-back carry and this holster? Well, as I discovered, when coupled with a good belt, was that carrying with the gun centered relative to the spine meant that I didn't have back pain from it at the end of the day. Thus, this might be an option for someone who suffers from back pain, or a good option for someone that stands or walks most of their day if you are able to wear a loose shirt or wear a coat/tunic or vest as many stores require their associates to do.

     I haven't practiced a whole lot with the draw, but it is a bit unusual in that you have to turn your hand upside down from normal to grasp the pistol. Of course, like any holster under a covering garment, you will need to use your off-hand to pull up the cover garment in order to have a clean draw. I plan on testing this and comparing it against other holsters in the next few weeks or so.

     Access to the holster is good while standing, but nigh impossible if you are seated in a car with the seatbelt on. Something to consider. While not uncomfortable (at least to the point of distress) while seated, I would observe that I made short trips in vehicles and was seated at the restaurant for the time necessary to order and eat a meal. So, I can't say what it would be like after a long period of sitting.

     As I noted above, I was nervous as to the issue of passive retention. For most day-to-day activities, I think this holster is fine. I would probably not use this particular holster for athletic activities such as running or playing sports or doing back flips on the dance floor, although a small-of-the-back holster with a retaining strap would probably be fine. As for someone trying to take the gun, if they are coming from the front, they would have to reach around your body to get at the firearm, so probably not as easy as trying to grab a firearm in a side-holster or appendix carry. I didn't experiment with someone trying to foul a draw or what might happen if you fell or were knocked to the ground.

    Obviously, with the gun canted and pointing off to one side, there is the issue of muzzling both others and, potentially, yourself when drawing the firearm. I think you can do so without muzzling yourself, but you have to practice to make sure that the muzzle doesn't cross over your leg or hip when you bring it around your body and up to presentation. Because of this, like some other styles of holsters, don't expect a gun range or firearms instructor to allow you to use this type of holster. 

     In conclusion, the Grizzly holster was a quality built product and should hold up well over a long period of time. It easily equals or exceeds in quality similarly priced holsters from other manufacturers. 

      For those of you worried about ordering from a company in Slovakia, I will just say that shipping is fast even with the disruptions due to COVID-19. My son's shoulder holster that he ordered from Craft Holsters and this holster shipped on the same day and both arrived within one week (mine arrived on a Friday and his was delivered on the following Monday). He had selected the standard delivery option. If you order a setup that is not in stock but has to be manufactured (i.e., crafted) for you, it may be several weeks before it ships, but that is no different from any other custom holster shop. But as long as you select the standard shipping option, you needn't worry about it coming via a slow boat--it will be delivered in a timely manner.

      Pair this holster with a good belt, and I think you would be pleased with the Grizzly holster.

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