I have always loved shoulder rigs because they allowed me to carry large firearms and support gear comfortably and in a manner I can easily don and doff as needed. I have recently gone back to finding a good use for shoulder holsters. I spend a lot of time in vehicles. I travel extensively across the country for training and personal reasons. I also work a specialized security job that has me driving for very long periods. I am often behind the wheel or in a passenger seat for up to 36 hours.
As a full-size human, I have a large personal vehicle where carrying my firearms around the waistline is not a problem.
The issue I am having now is that vehicles I am finding myself driving as rentals are limited in size and have less room to maneuver to access a firearm.
Recently, I received a couple of shoulder holsters from one of my all-time favorite makers – Josh Bulman. I have used Bulman Leather professionally for specialized security and protection work, and his designs are exceptional. Josh disappeared for quite a while, exclusively building holsters for U.S. Government contracts. He has recently returned to making his exceptional carry systems for the commercial market. His newest designs are hybrid systems using Kydex for the holster and magazine pouches with a leather harness for comfort and to help evenly spread the weight over the shoulders and back. Josh made me one rig for my optics-equipped Sig P365 XLs that carries two magazines on the support side and a second lightweight rig that carries a small Sig P-365 with a red dot and a single magazine on the support side. I have spent many long hours driving or doing surveillance work in these rigs, and I could not be happier. In small vehicles, the ability to quickly clear seatbelts and access both my firearm and reloads is a considerable asset. Taking the weight off my hips and transferring it to my shoulders and back is very helpful.
For those choosing this method of carrying in a vehicle, it is critical to understand some simple realities of armed combat inside and surrounding vehicles. The most obvious is that you will likely violate at least 3 out of the four safety rules in any action. Rule 3, keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are aligned, and you have decided to shoot is beyond critical. Because of how much time I spend in vehicles, I am hyper-vigilant about rule three. Every draw in a car will be a Rule 2 violation (muzzle coverage) and likely a Rule 4 violation (backstop). When working in cars, the priority becomes working in the safest manner possible.
We should end up with the muzzle in the safest orientation we can have it in. A traditional ready position with the muzzle placed where a discharge will not strike anybody and no part of the muzzle covers anyone around you or downrange (including those we may not be able to see visually) is not a reality in a vehicle. You should do a good deal of dry practice to find how you can access the firearm when the muzzle is under the support side arm. This is difficult and becomes problematic if you use that support hand to control the vehicle during the draw. There is a lot of potential for disaster, which is why a no-compromise Rule 3 is so important. These factors will come into play no matter how you try to access a firearm inside a car in the typical chaos during a violent encounter while seated in a vehicle.
Another area of modern life where the shoulder holster has some benefits is for home defense use.
A popular shoulder rig I used three decades ago was the Eagle Industries Airborne Law Enforcement holster. This consisted of Eagle’s excellent Vertical Shoulder holster, with an off-side pouch that held two reloads of pistol magazines or two speed loaders for revolvers, a pouch that would hold a flashlight or multi-tool, and a pouch for a set of handcuffs. The pilots and many flight officers in our aviation unit used these. In that role, they carried all the critical police equipment within the small confines of our McDonnell Douglas MD-500 helicopters. I owned several of these rigs and used them while working in Air Support. They also worked well as a private investigator doing long surveillances in what was often the VERY affordable housing parts of Los Angeles.
They also found a place in my home for my primary home defense nightstand gun. A modern application is to have shoulder holsters made for a full-size pistol with a weapon-mounted light to be used as an easy-to-grab setup for any bumps in the night. I could hang one of these shoulder holsters over the bedpost, and I would grab it and throw it on like a jacket in any state of dress if awakened at night. And I would have a full-size firearm, reloads, flashlight, and a set of cuffs that was secure and easy to locate if needed.
I am glad to see people like Josh Bulman re-visiting the shoulder holster with some modern approaches to materials and building holsters for pistols equipped with red dot systems.
If users understand that the shoulder holster requires dedicated training and procedures that address some of the muzzle issues with them. In that case, the shoulder holster is viable for many specialized uses and should be part of a well-thought-out system of carry options. It is rare that someone would lead an armed lifestyle with only one way to carry a firearm.
We need multiple options for various dress, environment, and mission scenarios, and a well-designed shoulder holster can be beneficial in many situations.