Is Gunleather Dead?
January 19, 2018
Opened in 1969, the Jackass Leather Company started out as a small shop in Chicago. In 1970, the company introduced the Jackass Shoulder Rig and was doing pretty well. By 1980, the company was renamed Galco and, in 1983, moved to its present location in Phoenix. In 1984, an actor in a little experimental TV show on NBC was unhappy with his shoulder holster, as it was uncomfortable to wear all day with the large all-steel semiautomatic that he carried. Company founder Richard Gallagher flew out and fitted the company's Jackass Rig to the actor, and television history was made. That actor was Don Johnson, the show was "Miami Vice," and the holster became the Miami Classic.
As a 12-year-old in 1984, I can attest to the power that the imagery of that holster had on my adolescent brain. One of the first things I did when I started working narcotics in 2000 was go out and buy a Miami Classic for my very own Smith & Wesson Model 4506. The same gun and holster as Sonny Crockett! A shoulder holster didn't fit with my mission at the time, so that setup only lasted about a week; however, the quality of the holster left an impression on adult me. I've used Galco products in one form or another for the last 17 years, even when cheaper (or free) options were available.
There has been an artisanal re-awakening in this great country over the last couple of years, with everything from craft holster makers to craft distilleries opening. Galco is in the enviable position of being able to sit back and say, "Damn, son. We've been doing it that way since 1969!" It's not just the attention to detail. Galco has made their bones using only the highest quality components in the industry. In fact, when Galco rejects a hide, it's invariably snapped up and eagerly used by competitors. From the highest quality, premium steer hide to brass fittings and buckles made in their in-house foundry, the quality begins before assembly. Despite being firmly rooted in the tradition of holster making, Galco is not afraid to innovate and evolve when they see an opportunity in the market. Their injection-molded, Kydex and hybrid holsters are some of the best.
Speaking with Galco employees Mike Barham and Derek Vest, you can hear the pride in their voices when discussing the products their company makes. Galco is not only a great holster maker, it is full of great people, too.
One of the innovations that Galco has been at the forefront of is the use of the forward molded design on many of its holsters. This manufacturing process takes more time and requires more cutting, stitching and gluing, but results in a holster that hugs the body closer and keeps the butt of the pistol tucked in nice and tight, especially when compared to a traditional pancake-style holster. Because the body side of the holster is smooth, it also results in a more comfortable holster to wear. Forward molded holsters cost more and take more time, but in the end, you have a holster that is more comfortable, conceals better and lasts longer than a traditional pancake holster. For the traditionalists, Galco still offers an extensive line up of pancake holsters, but if you haven't done so, try one of the newer forward-molded designs.
Galco's craftsmanship and innovation don't end at holsters, their belts are also among the very best in the industry. Galco's leather belts are manufactured from premium U.S. steer hide. In conversation with Vest, I learned that while Galco had looked at using offshore leather for some applications, not a single offshore shipment passed Galco's standard. The use of only premium steer hide is what allows Galco to manufacture a holster that is rigid and durable enough to carry the weight of a full-size pistol over the course of several years without sagging or disintegrating. Other companies rely on a polymer insert sandwiched between two layers of inferior leather, but the cheap and easy fix has never been the Galco way.
Galco also hand-makes some of their belts with a contour, so that the belt avoids "molding" to the user's body, which is another reason belts begin to sag. Finally, they align the grain of the leather, hand-stitch the reinforcing threads using a harness machine, and hand-rub oil into the belt to achieve the rich color for which they are known. It's an insane amount of work to put into a belt, but if you're carrying a full-size pistol every day, it's the details that make the difference. After the leatherwork is done, they top it off with solid brass buckles that are cast in their foundry. If you wear a belt and appreciate craftsmanship, this is the company for you.
OK, so you're not a fan of leather. Galco still has you covered. I've been using several of their Kydex holsters over the last couple of years, and they perform just as well as the leather, albeit without the same cachet.
The Triton is a Kydex, insidethe- waistband (IWB) holster with a slight forward cant to the butt. It's been a companion to my Smith & Wesson M&P340 on hikes since the weather has heated up here in the Southwest. Galco recommends a 3- to 4-o'clock position, but I've been carrying it closer to the appendix and it is comfortable and stable.
Recently, hybrid holsters, such as the Galco King Tuk, have become popular - and for good reason. They are comfortable to wear all day, even with a full-size gun. The issue is that these types of holsters can have problems with cracking and splitting, quickly becoming unserviceable. Galco has attempted to mitigate this issue by rounding the edges where the Kydex interfaces with the pistol and utilizing thicker
Kydex, but even with these modifications, it has been my experience that these types of holsters wear faster than either pure Kydex or pure leather. If you choose to wear a hybrid, inspect it often and change it out at the first sign of excessive wear. I recently taught a class with several experienced military secret squirrels, and of the six guys using this type of holster (not from Galco), four of them developed cracks that the users had not noticed.
The new Ironhide holster that Galco introduced this year is described in company literature as follows: "Using an innovative belt slidensystem, the Ironhide can be used for both strong-side or cross-draw carry. Fully ambidextrous, the Ironhide also allows carry in four different positions by unsnapping the holster from the belt slide, moving the belt slide to a different location on the belt, reversing the retention strap if needed, and reattaching the holster." This holster kind of does it all.
The Ironhide holster fits into a belt slide and snaps in and out. It has a reversible retention snap that works well with gloves and under stress; it can be rotated and affixed in the front of the holster or even removed. While Galco may not advertise it, the molding and overall quality of the holster allowed for secure open-top carry. Since I drive a lot, the ability to move from strong-side to cross-draw is a great option because cross-draw is more comfortable on long hauls. The ability to remove the holster from the belt slide is also preferred for many law enforcement officers who need to remove their pistols when booking or interviewing prisoners. It also looks really cool, in a retro-Western way. The hand-rubbed leather and the brass snaps make my $400 Glock look like a million bucks.
There's something to be said for weathering nearly 50 years in the firearms industry and managing to evolve while staying true to your ethos. Leather isn't dead, it's thriving - and Galco is a big reason why.