Holster that Sig Part 1
G&A’s 2020 Holster Maker of the Year weighs in
By Dennis Adler
Holsters were an afterthought. While much is made of them today, back in the early 19th century, and as far back as the 18th century, a man was just as apt to stuff a single shot pistol into a coat pocket or his paint’s waist as he was to go and purchase some form of belt and pouch holster (though sword belts made a decent belt to hold a leather pouch designed for a pistol). That began to change with the advent of revolvers in the mid 1830s and by the end of the century holsters were commonplace, though most were simple cowboy rigs, Slim Jims or Mexican drop loop designs for any number of Colt’s, Remington, Smith & Wesson or other popular revolvers.
Custom, hand-carved cartridge belts and holsters were pricey and most cowboys went for what was in the “holster barrel” when purchasing a handgun. This isn’t to say that there weren’t some very fancy holsters from the 1870s on, but most were plain. The arrival of semi-auto pistols by the late 19th and early 20th century created an interesting challenge, as their general shape did not fit many established old styles. By the early 1900s and the advent of models like the Colt 1911 and other Colt and European semiautomatic pistols, the demand for belt holsters increased exponentially, though early handcrafted 1911 holsters were still pretty much variations of single action revolver rigs.
The first dedicated production holster came shortly after the U.S. military adopted the Model 1911 as its standard issue sidearm with designs evolving from the military flap holster seen during the Civil War. Civilian holsters for the Model 1911 were typically handcrafted with most continuing to bare a strong resemblance to popular Mexican drop loop designs used for revolvers. Even by WWII the military flap holster was still the primary style along with a bandoleer style shoulder holster, the M7, used by soldiers in the field, tankers, and paratroopers. Shoulder holsters were evolving as well and the look of belt holsters was beginning to change as well. Still, the majority of holster designs remained basically unchanged from the 1930s to the 1950s. Most consumers still relied on a the salesman or gun shop owner to go rummage through a box and find a holster to fit, just like in the Old West. Of course, there were a number of long-established holster makers in the U.S. that had been manufacturing traditional holster styles for decades; one usually purchased the prevailing designs whether from a well-know quality maker or a less expensive copy made from cheaper grade leather.
The 1911 was really the most significant semi-auto of the mid 20th century for military, law enforcement (though most police departments still carried revolvers), and civilians, alike. The first real innovation in 1911 holsters came in the late 1950s when John Bianchi designed the original No. 2 Model Speed Scabbard. Bianchi noted in his biography, John Bianchi – An American Legend, “I got the idea in 1958 from a slim eyeglasses case that I happened to see on somebody’s belt. I don’t know that I’d ever really paid that much attention to them before, but for some reason the belt case caught my eye that day. I even had one at home, so that evening I took my Colt 1911 and tried to fit it into the eyeglasses case. I was amazed. It slipped in and it was a perfect fit!”
What Bianchi liked the most about the shape of the eyeglasses case was its slim profile and the way it hugged a wearer’s belt. He designed a prototype belt holster about the same size and shape, only he left the triggerguard fully exposed. “This had never been done before by any of the little custom operations making holsters for the Model 1911, mainly because in the 1950’s the big .45 semi-autos were not popular concealed carry guns. The Speed Scabbard was able to solidly retain a Model 1911, with the grips and triggerguard exposed, and without using a safety strap. The trick was to balance out the gun’s center of gravity in the holster. When the Speed Scabbard came out it became the first commercially successful, high-production concealed carry holster for the 1911.”
The 1958 design has been duplicated by holster makers the world over for 50 years and the Speed Scabbard is still manufactured today. More importantly, it got everyone thinking about contoured holsters for 1911s and other semi-autos, leading to more than half a century of holster designs from makers like Galco, DeSantis, Safariland and Bianchi International, with contoured belt and paddle holsters to accommodate everything from full size 1911-sized handguns to compact and subcompact variations.
Full size law enforcement-style rigs are still used today, but a vast majority of holsters designed now are for concealed carry use with the latest lending themselves to 21st century semi-autos like the Sig Sauer P320 and M17.
And then it didn’t fit…
Modern holsters for the Sig Sauer P320 and M17 entered the market immediately after the guns were introduced (for civilian, law enforcement and military needs), but when Sig added the optics mount for the 9mm and then excellent Sig Air CO2 models (as training guns) the vast majority of holsters designed for the M17 would not allow the gun to fit because the front of the reflex sight hit the pouch before the gun was all the way in. This really impacted the CO2 market because most M17 ASP purchasers also bought a commercially available holster designed for the P320 or M17. The fact is though; the M17 ASP has proven to be a much better gun to shoot with the Sig Air red dot reflex sight.
Holster makers quickly began designing and manufacturing new rigs to fit the M17 as they had for other centerfire models mounted with reflex sights (like Glocks), but the M17 (and M17 ASP) was the last being addressed because it was among the newest guns to take the optics ready path, and this is especially true for the M17 ASP. Of course, minimalist holsters like the Galco Yaqui Slide and Yaqui Paddle, which fit the M17 and other Sig models, have no problem with optics because the holster pouch doesn’t get much above the triggerguard, but these narrow minimalist holsters are one of the least effective designs for pistol retention. Contoured leather and modeled polymer and Kydex holsters are preferred, and now we have a relatively new company, 1791 Gunleather (established in 2005) coming to the forefront with holsters ideally suited to the M17 and M17 ASP Sig models with and without optics. The company’s name is the year the United States ratified the Bill of Rights, December 15, 1791.
The company uses 100% certified American, heavy native steer hide for their leather holsters, as well as building superb Kydex and combination polymer and leather rigs. The quality of their products (as shown) is above average and 1791 Gunleather, though new, has the knowledge and skills from four generations of professional leather artisans within the company. And it shows in their workmanship.
The two models shown with the M17 ASP and Sig Air reflex sight are the leather Optic Ready OWB Paddle Holster OR-PDH-2.4 which perfectly fits the M17 (and M17 ASP), and the TAC-PHD 320 Kydex molded paddle holster. The Kydex rig is lightweight and the paddle designs for the TAC-PHD and OR-PHD-2.4 are cant adjustable (angle of the holster) for user preference. As both are Optics ready designs for the P320/M17, the holsters have a sweat guard that extends upward to protect the optic.
I found the Kydex to be the easiest in which to holster the M17 ASP, which slides easily into the contoured molded pouch. The handsome leather holster is a little tighter (as leather holsters tend to be until broken in) but even new out of the box, the M17 ASP holstered easily enough and draws cleanly without any drag.
As for the choice of paddles over belt holsters (1791 makes both) paddle holsters that are well designed are easy to mount and remove and move around the waist as situations or clothing choices dictate. Some paddle holsters can be a bear to put on and especially remove because of the retention clips and stiffness of the materials used for the paddle. The 1791 paddles are more flexible and the edges of the clips smooth and rounded to hold in place inside the waistband but be easy enough to free when the rig has to be removed. You will only find this in the best built paddle holsters. The prices are reasonable, too, with most averaging between $50 and $65 ($46 for the leather holster shown and $65 for the Kydex).
So we have three possible holsters from 1791 Gunleather for the Sig Sauer M17 ASP. Three? Yes there is a third, which we will look at in Part 2, in what I have decided to call “Holster al Dente.” What do I mean by that? It is why 1791 was awarded “Holster of the Year” by Guns & Ammo. And this rig will fit the M17 ASP with the Sig Air reflex sight.