Many folks think retention holsters are only for cops, mall security operators, and other uniformed folks who tend to get in frequent groping, grappling, or ground altercations. Not so—there are plenty of ways to lose control of a holstered firearm. While droppin’ it like it’s hot is fine for twerking, it’s not so cool for guns.

First, consider the word retention. You can retain water, an attorney, or perhaps your sanity. Just yesterday, I was retained by a very nice law enforcement officer. Wait, that was detained, not retained. Sorry, moving on. In all these cases, “retention” means something like “to keep possession of.”

So really, retention holsters are simply designed to help you keep possession of your gun. The potential cause for loss of such retention is not specified, and is certainly not limited to street fighting and the risk of your opponent grabbing your gun. If you live an active lifestyle, you’re likely doing things that might cause you to lose your gun. If you’re a simple couch potato, you’re still apt to partake in some activities that may cause you to lose your gun. Let’s talk about a few real-world scenarios that might warrant consideration of an active retention holster.

Disclaimer: As I wrote about extensively in my book, The Insanely Practical Guide to Gun Holsters, I’m a big believer in passive retention designs. Some use friction. Others rely on pressure. Many feature an adjustable retention screw. It’s hard to go wrong with a high-quality passive retention holster. However, for purposes of this article, we’re talking about active retention holsters, meaning those designs that require a positive action on your part to release.

You ride a bike. I’m not much of a triathlete. Or a runner. Or a jogger. Or even a brisk walker. I blame that on my high school lacrosse coach who enjoyed having his boys run a few miles on asphalt roads, wearing cleats, before each and every practice. In case you’re wondering, that’s not good for the knees. So nowadays, when I’m feeling spunky, I’ll roll over on the couch at least twice per hour. On those rare occasions when I feel super-duper energetic, I ride a mountain bike. Even my lacrosse-induced Rice Krispy knees can take that. But getting back to the point, assuming you’re wearing a hip holster, your legs are pumping up and down non-stop, and this provides a good bit of incentive for your gun to work free of its bonds for a taste of delicious freedom.

Retention holsters come in all shapes and sizes. I consider this N82 Tactical Professional model a type of retention holster as you have to apply a deliberate twisting motion to remove the gun.
Retention holsters come in all shapes and sizes. I consider this N82 Tactical Professional model a type of retention holster, as you have to apply a deliberate twisting motion to remove the gun.

You’re a clod. I have a tendency to bump into things, even when I’m not partying at that secret old farts rave on Friday night. Ever knock into something at just the right angle and hit the stock of your handgun? Yep, that can launch your gun at inopportune moments. This can be a real concern if you frequent Wal-Mart—there’s always junk in the aisles (which are way too close together, anyway).

You’re a chair potato. Open-back style and exposed-arms chairs are a great place to catch a gun. If you have to stand suddenly, like when someone mentions the name “John Moses Browning,” you just might catch your gun on the way up. Yep, done that.

You play Grand Theft Auto—in real life. Or at least you spend a lot of time in a car. I’m amazed at how many times the act of getting in and out of a car puts some sort of pressure on my gun. Then again, maybe leaping through the window like Bo Duke is not such a great idea for a guy my age. But seriously, seat belts, arm rests, and exiting the back seat of a two-door car all create potential problems. If you drive a lowrider, you’re at even higher risk for a contortion-induced gun loss.

You’re a genuine Bear Grylls impersonator. Do you spend time in the woods? Hunting, searching for that perfect fishing hole, or perhaps hiking the Appalachian Trail naked? No wait, that was our last Governor here in South Carolina. Whatever the reason, outdoor activities are hard on wimpy holsters. Climbing, running, stalking, bushwhacking, and falling are all good ways to lose track of a holstered gun.

Sometimes you just gotta get your dance on. Once I saw Miley Cyrus getting her twerk on at the MTV Video Music Awards, I knew it was for me. It’s a great way to keep the love handles under control. And when I want the neighborhood kids to to leave me alone, I just do a little twerking on my front porch. When I bust a move, even my dogs tend to leave me alone for a couple of days. I guess my skilz make them jealous.

We’ll talk about different types of retention holsters some other time. Just know that they’re not all law enforcement-specific designs for open carry on duty belts. There are plenty of retention designs that allow easy concealed carry and an easy draw—like the Blackhawk Serpa and N82 Tactical Professional shown here.

What activities are part of your lifestyle that might cause you to think about using a retention holster?

Images courtesy Tom McHale

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  • E.

    Good article, enjoyed the humor and the reminder.

  • Barbara Baird

    Dear Tom McHale,
    First, you bare your ankle at the Women’s Outdoor News to model an ankle holster, and now this? Shocked, just shocked. And laughing out loud!

    • Ankles are clearly a “gateway drug” and once you start, things escalate quickly…

  • Jim

    Buy a professional grade holster, wear it on/in a belt designed to support a firearm (aka gunbelt) and you won’t be dislodging your firearm doing the things described. Buy a fabric no-name $15 holster, put it on a soft belt from WalMart and you will have the problems described. I’ve been carrying for decades and, outside the military, have never lost a firearm from a non-retention holster.

  • Dodged5

    Some very good points made in this article. I carried in a level III retention holster for many years before retiring from law enforcement but not off duty. That was until one day I was in Sears and was suddenly informed by Mother Nature that I needed to pay a visit to the men’s room. I rushed in, darted to a stall, undid my belt and dropped my jeans. It was then that my non-retention holster stopped retaining and my Glock 17 clattered to the tile floor and skittered into the next stall. Fortunately I was the sole occupant of the restroom and was able to easily recover it and conduct my business. Now normally I take the time to unholster and set my firearm aside before conducting business of this nature but I was under extreme pressure at the time and freely admit that I just forgot, but it did teach me a valuable lesson. I now carry with at least a strap & snap holster to retain my weapon.

  • Evyl Robot Michael

    Good job Tom! Like others, I got a good laugh out of your lighter points here.

  • tnd2

    If anybody is looking at a OWB retention holster give the 5.11 Thumbdrive a try, it is a natural release and keeps the trigger finger from getting task loaded with press to release but stay off the trigger until needed. To be fair i’ve never tried a Serpa, but really like the simplicity of the Thumbdrive and with OC and no cover I think its just safer from a grab to have a retention holster. Now the whole twerking thing just drives the point home-some things just shouldn’t be done by some people!

  • A_Reel_Lady

    Great article. Sadly the twerking picture is missing the tongue out!

  • mac

    unfortunately, very very few IWB holsters with retention, ie: thumbsnap, are available.