Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fixing Trust Issues

I've mentioned several times on this blog that I have a Blackhawk holster for my Sig P226. It's not as sleek as many other holsters I own, but for the clothing I wear outdoors, it was a holster that a number of people recommended. This particular holster is unique in that there's a locking mechanism that keeps the gun in place during other than just strolling movement, as well as acts in preventing someone else from grabbing it.

Cabela's says "Thumb breaks can slow your draw and get in the way when you re-holster. But you won't experience those drawbacks with Blackhawk's patented SERPA Technology™. It engages the trigger guard as you holster your firearm and secures it until you release using the normal drawing motion with your trigger finger alongside the holster.

I noticed when I bought it how SECURE it was. It just flat out didn't budge and though it was a tad bulky I was happy with it. Until a weekend ago.

I went to a LEO range with a colleague and decided to do some "draw from holster" with it.


That's right. Facing off to Mr. Paper Bad Guy. I went to do a quick draw and it wouldn't come out of the holster. I checked the snugness of my belt. I checked the angle. Everything was normal. Same gun, the only gun I carry in it. I tried it the way I always do. Nothing. The gun would not come out. On about the 4th try it came out, reluctantly After that it worked, but not every time. I had Rangebuddy try it as well next time out with it. He's an ex Army Ranger and is as knowledgeable about weapons and their accessories as anyone I've ever met. He's quite familiar with Blackhawk. It stuck on him too.

A jam, equipment malfunction or a misfire on the range is frustrating. Hunting it will certainly ruin your mood. I'm sure more than one of us has been out there, muzzle loading or shotgun hunting for whitetail or Elk. You''ve been up since well before dawn, treading out into the woods across the sheen of first snow as quietly as you can, like walking on buttered glass, trying not to fall, trying not to make too much noise . You've waited, and waited, belly empty, bladder full, for that perfect shot. Still, you feel that old lift of your heart, that pristine feeling of new adventure, as if on your first day, as if you'd never lose it, no matter how long you've done this, the best of it all, the risk, the humility the pride. And you wait, until that perfect moment, the target clearly identified and in range and you pull the trigger and there's nothing but the snicker of metal against metal and nothing happens. The shot that wasn't lingers in the thick streaming air and your breath exhales as your 12 pointer and the does he was chasing bound away to the next county. It's not a good feeling.
But I don't carry this holster and this weapon for the range or for the hunt. I carry where I am the prey, and a"click click" instead of a "boom boom" may be the last sounds I ever hear.

I've worn this holster for over a couple of years, not daily certainly, but on regular weekends out in the city, drawing from it enough for practice until I found it easy to use. The SERPA button is very lightly sprung, I'm guessing by known weights of single action trigger pulls it's probably just a little over a pound. Point being, it's light, and doesn't require must of a conscious effort to operate it, no tugging or strength of hand, so I never noticed any impediment to a natural, instinctive draw stroke.

The holster has not been exposed to any heat or conditions that would warp it. It's not dirty. I wasn't doing a one-handed reload where I might have inadvertently inserted the gun in the holster facing backwards (when you do that I understand the tension device in the holster can lock behind the front sight, locking the gun in the holster.) I don't pull up on the weapon at all before or while pressing the button. I drew exactly as I've drawn it hundreds of times, having bought a couple of these over the years.

The SERPA button just stuck.

The manufacturer's website said The ‘Serpa Active Retention’ design consists of a plastic L-shaped component which functions as the release button [from the outside of the holster] and as the lock [which engages inside the trigger guard]. The short leg of the L-shaped lever pivots inward [toward the pistol], while the locking tab pivots outward to release the pistol from the holster.
My hand is as large as far as finger length as that of most men, so it's not the length of my index finger. It might be a piece of grit of something that not noticeable to the eye or just a defect in this one piece that showed up over time. Frankly folks, I'm at a loss as to explain, but I won't be using this holster for concealed carry any more. I'm not going to badmouth Blackhawk. Look, we all have issues with things, people, products etc. But I'm not going to put a label on someone or something for the entire interweb to see just for one problem. I still think they have a fine product overall. Certainly this one has worked for me for a LONG time. Anything made by man, even by the best of companies, has the potential to fail. Anything mechanical can fail. Looking at it closely I couldn't see any defect, scratch, dirt, etc. Nothing that would explain the failure when used in the same manner it's always been used. But I do know I will replace this one for concealed. I don't think I'd trust my life on it now.
I replaced it with the the Sig Arms/Sig Sauer Paddle Holster. They make one of these for the P220, P226, P229 and P250 models. It's polymer and fits over the waistband (which may be nice as I'm not a big belt fan) It seems to fit pretty secure and drawing from holster with it went off without a hitch. Sig advertises is as "one of the fastest drawing holsters you can find." and, like the Blackhawk, advertises "an easy to use retention system which holds the weapon secure. To access the pistol, simple depress the holster retention lever and draw the pistol from the holster. " The holster is fully adjustable for cant. I'll let you know how I like it after some range work.

I hate to let the Blackhawk sit. I've counted on it a long time. Trust is a two way street, if you ask for it you should give it back. And this old holster let me down.


  1. Quite understandable that you no longer trust the holster, I wouldn't either. It makes me worry about my wife's Blackhawk that she uses for her M&P9C. I will say that I love my Fobus that I use for my 1911. It doesn't have a retention device. But, I have shaken it upside down with my pistol in it, and the pistol did not fall out.

  2. Anything mechanical can fail, and a holster is no exception.

    I've got my P6 in the same holster as I type this, so needless to say your post is a bit disconcerting. I rarely use mine, as it's for around the house use or open carry only.

    How are you concealing a full-size Sig with it?

  3. I don't know about hard plastic holsters, but I have found that all of my molded, hard plastic knife sheaths with "unique" retention devices have worn out and the locks failed over time. The old stand by of a strap with pressure snap keeps on working though.

    I too really like my FOBUS holster.

  4. I've seen several comments about the Serpa release being vulnerable to dust, sand, or grit. I'm glad it happened at the range, instead when you REALLY needed it.

  5. ** Sigh **

    I just bought a Blackhawk/SERPA holster for my full-sized 1911. I guess I'll carry my S&W M19 in a shoulder holster this season. Have you contacted Blackhawk? If so, what did they say?

    BTW, I didn't know there was a Blackhawk available for a M&P9C.


  6. Ahh. Trust. My ruger mini-30 never leaves the safe anymore. I love the gun, but it just won't shoot straight. Should I dump 3 or 4 hundred more bucks into an attempt to accurize it? ( Or should I just get over it and use my very accurate black rifle for varmits? I almost pulled the Leupold off the Ruger and switched it to my Marlin 336 a couple days ago, but....even though my eye is on some new eye candy, old girlfriends are hard to kiss off. steve

  7. I have used a Serpa with my CDP pro 2 for many years now and I have noticed that if you apply upward pressure on the weapon before you press the release device, the button will be almost impossible to deactivate. Maybe this is a security feature to prevent gun grabs. I have been very happy with the holster and would suggest that you give it another try. I know that you had mentioned that you did not pull up before you tried to deactivate the retention device, but the device may have been barley engaged if the weapon was not fully seated in the holster. You may try backing off the tension on the passive retention screw to allow it the seat a little farther in the holster.

  8. Oooh, that is an eye opener. I agree, the worst possible time to find out you can't draw your gun is when you faced with a bad guy. Good thing you found out now.

    Thanks for letting the rest of us know. Definitely something to think about.

  9. There is a warning out hiting the LEO circuit about this holster. It is super popular for its retention however 2 things: any debris under the button will cause it to jam. Also if you reholster in a reversed position such as you might due if you are doing a one hand, weak hand reload, i.e. right handed and right hand is out of the fight so shooting left handed, and you reholster cross draw with the weapon reversed in the holster, you will be unable to activate the button and redraw the pistol from the holster. I was going to get one of these until i saw the warning.

  10. Old bacon residue?

    Junk it. Holsters are cheap. Lives aren't.

  11. Crucis, it is the same one as used for the compact Glock 9mm pistols.

  12. Can it be disassembled? It would be interesting to troubleshoot it and see if the problem could be found.

    Well, for me anyway...


  13. You did the right thing. New holster, not the same brand. Send the old one back to Blackhawk with detailed letter for R&D, they'll need it for improvement and will probably send you next version for try-outs. Nothing like field work for development.
    I do my own holsters.

  14. Yikes.. that gives me pause. Blackhawk doesn't yet make a Serpa holster specifically for the FNP9, but one of their current production models appears to work well with the gun after a little tweaking. I had planned to get one to carry the P9 in this winter - but I may rethink that now. If it jams like that on a gun it was made for, I doubt I would trust it after my tweaking it to fit a different gun.

    Thanks for the heads up.

  15. I have a blackhawk serpa for my XD. During weapons training we did a lot of rolling around with shotguns. Then would have to switch to sidearm. My Blackhawk failed twice. Once when a rock wedged under the button and the retention wouldn't engage, left my gun back at the last reload point, that sucked. The second time a rock wedged between the trigger guard and inside the holster. Put a lot of tension on the mechanism and had a very difficult time removing it. Once I got it loose the rock fell out the bottom and if I hadn't saw it fall, I wouldn't have known what happened. On quick drawing with it, I had one instance, out of a hundred, where I didn't get the button completely pushed when I pulled and wedged the gun in the mechanism, a slap to the butt and she was good to go, but I'm doubtful I'd go into harms way with this rig. I've heard really good things about it, but it makes a better rig for open carry prone to gun grabs.

  16. Brigid, I had a SERPA and it failed the first month in the same way, couldn't get the pistol to release. Folks in the sandbox have had MULTIPLE problems with them. I threw the two I had in the trash... Looks like the Sig model may be better, but I'm sticking with thumb breaks from now on.

  17. Ouch, that's scary. Glad it happened to you on the range, and not when you really needed your pistol. The only "holster malfunction" I ever had was during a training class. I *was* using a paddle-holster, secured with my belt, and the paddle part was outside of my pants. Problem was that it didn't grab the belt tightly enough, and towards the end of the class when my belt had loosened slightly, I made a draw, and the holster came up with the gun!
    I fired anyway, blowing the daylights out of the holster, and sending it downrange. The instructor said the look on my face was "priceless", but commended me for firing anyway.
    I'll _NEVER_ use a paddle holster again!

  18. I've got 6 different Serpas that I use off-duty.I have had no problems and the paddle style is great for on the go. Scratching my head wondering "what If" now...

  19. A well fitted LEATHER holster is actually pretty damn secure and has no mechanical mechanisms to fail.

    I'm happy with my Galco holsters for my 1911s.

  20. I have and use the same holster and was 'corrected' by a friend who does a lot of training for high speed folks. Says that he keeps a battery operated dremel tool to cut them open as they fail to release so frequently.

    They are banned at Tactical Response course, but issued by the USMC.

    I am looking at changing to Blade Tech.

    Read your blog every day, it is great.


  21. When my anatomy may be on the line, occasional malfunctions are not an option, I have gotten rid of more than one gun that wasn't reliable, and the other gear I use has to perform to the same standard. As has already been posted, a properly fitted leather or kydex holster has enough built in retention for concealed carry. (after all, if they don't know you have it, they won't be trying to take it) Law enforcement has different requirements, they need some kind of retention system. I'm not a fan of the Serpa holsters however.

  22. I had a similar problem with my concealed carry weapon, it got to the point that it would predictably jam at least once every two mags. Unfortunately, its the only one I have. For a time I was torn on what to do. Finally, I just started leaving it at home, so I wouldn't think I had protection when I didn't. On the plus side, this means I'm now getting to shop around for a replacement!
    Trust is such a fragile and complex thing.
    Oh, and I have heard good things about Fobus, but have never had one myself.

  23. Yipes i have one for my Glock. i will be looking for a different holster.

  24. All jokes aside long time reader, first time caller. Plastic holsters have a useful life of about two years in Law enforcement.
    They convert quite nicely to range house holsters with a dremel tool to cut the locks off.What kills them is practice draws.Used as issued, they run fine but the lock failures are real. There is no better retention than a thumbtreak with your hand on it while you fight your way out one handed. I still suggest three guns if retention is a big issue. Old rigs make nice bolt to a table holsters for useful house hider guns. I have come to suggest trashing holsters every bi annual budget. Happily for the money they are cheap.

  25. I've never been a fan of hard plastic holsters. I know a lot of LEO folks are required to use retention holsters but for concealed carry as a civilian I don't think I'm faced with that issue.

    I like leather and that gets expensive, particularly with some of the quality holster makers. I did a lot of online shopping before holstering my Sig P228 and went with Kramer. Got another Kramer for my first 1911, that one an IWB style. Both are open top, rigid for easy reholstering and quite secure without thumb breaks.

    Milt Sparks says he refuses to produce a thumb break holster, which says a lot to me.

    I just ordered a Mitch Rosen IWB for my carry 1911 4" and will report on it when it finally is delivered. Rosen is back ordered about three months worth and his stuff costs as much as my first car!

    But, no plastic, thank you.

  26. Dan - the thing is. THIS holster wasn't a LEO issued one. It is one of a couple I bought over the last 3 years for personal weekend carry when I was going into the city and wanted a .45 and was wearing bulky enough outwear for it. This particular holster has probably only been worn 3 dozen times and has not seen NEAR the kind of draws a service holster would get.

    The last one I gave to a gal friend who needed one so I don't know how it held up long term but the failure in this one is in a rig that was just getting broken in.

    I'm at a loss for why.

  27. Blogger giving me fits here. Its a design flaw. cut it open and look at lever it will be obvious what it is. We use them in a way that the design doesnt support.

  28. blogger locking me.Its a design flaw. Cut your old one open, look at the lever. B. BlackHawk only warrants one year, no warranty after delivery for pro use.
    No admission of flaw from BlackHawk so watch too much talking about it. They are funny.


    Try this link

  30. closest thing i know of from BHAWK was afew of these notes from them. All very low key.

    Ahhh, the beloved Serpa holster has been recalled. Perhaps yours has if you bought one recently...

    Updated Safety Recall Notice - Issued 07dec07
    Please note that the Updated Safety Recall Notice linked below and issued on 07dec07 for certain "High Wall" versions of both the Blackhawk Carbon Fiber SERPA and the Blackhawk Sportster holsters, supersedes all previously released notices about this recall (only).
    The linked update adds two additional Component Part Numbers (C1215-S and C1215-L-S) to the two (C1215 and C1215-L) that were contained in the preceding notice(s).
    Please read and follow the Notice linked below to determine if your holster is among the limited group affected by this recall.

    Blackhawk Products Group is announcing a safety recall that applies to the "High Wall" versions of Blackhawk's Carbon Fiber SERPA Holsters and Blackhawk Sportster Holsters intended to fit only Glock Models 20 and 21 and the Smith & Wesson M&P in any caliber or configuration that are marked: "Glock 20/21"; "Glock 20/21 S&W M&P; or "Glock 20/21 S&W M&P .45". These holsters also have the Component Part Number C1215, C1215-L, C1215-S, or C1215-L-S molded into the bottom of the rear wall of the holster body.
    As a result of a single incident, it has been determined that employing certain movements when attempting to place the Smith and Wesson M&P Pistol (in any caliber or configuration) into these "High Wall" holsters can cause the handgun to engage that "High Wall" and unexpectedly discharge if there is a round in the chamber and the trigger is in what Smith & Wesson calls "the striker fire action mode". A discharge or "firing" of the weapon in this manner could cause property damage or personal injury or death to the user and/or others.
    Regardless of what firearm you are using with the holster, you should immediately determine if your holster is included in the two groups of holsters affected by this recall as described in the actual Notice linked below. If it is, you must stop using it and return it to Blackhawk Products Group by following the procedure contained in the linked Notice.

    Important - Read Notice Linked Belw - Important

  31. Good post. My buddy who carries the P220 was looking ande considering the Serpa holster - Him figuring that a plastic holster and a metal gun *require* the retention button - or else it's bar-of-soap time. They're just that dissimilar types of materials. Nobody wants to go bar-of-soap when they reach for their gun... Meanwhile he still uses a Galco.

  32. I wouldn't trust that particular holster either (not the model or the line, just that holster.) I have SERPAs for the P220 and the Para 1911, and they've been perfect for me, but I only really use them for USPSA. I use them a lot less than you did that one, I'm sure.

  33. I agree with YeOldFurt, send it back to Blackhawk for them to inspect. It may be a manufacturing defect more than a design flaw: spring not at design tension, pivot bar installed improperly and worked out of position (not having seen a Sherpa, I'm going with rudimentary latching designs). They probably have a system in place to analyze and correct these issues in order to maintain their reputation for reliability; and in their line of work, this system is practically essential for good business.

  34. As I'm getting closer to paying off the XD, I'm starting to think about holsters. I usually carry IWB and have been eyeballing the Comp-Tac holsters.

    My only issue with my Fobus is that it hangs on the draw. My 1911 is so much smoother out of leather.

  35. Not intending to band-wagon or hate on the Serpa, but as something I have seen evidence of more than once:

    Make sure you have your draw stroke figured out and well practiced safely if you are going to carry with a Serpa; also make sure you are using the pad of the finger and not the tip to release the catch. It is very easy, particularly when the shooter is in a hurry, to ride the release on the drawstroke. This can result in a finger on the trigger with force at about the same time the trigger guard clears the mouth of the holster.

    Best of luck in the holster hunt, and stay safe.


  36. You've replaced the problem with the same problem. It happened with the Balckhawk and it will eventually happen with the SIG.

    My advice is to scrap retention devices, (unless you're required to use them) and buy a quality leather holster.

  37. I'm with Mark and Ed, leather is the way for me. My P6 rests in a City Slicker from Ryan Grizzle.

  38. I'd have to say that nothing beats a good leather holster. However, I like the FOBUS offerings as well. I'm not a big fan of the lock systems that are on the Blackhawks. I am beginning to love the paddle concept though, and the FOBUS seems to do well in that regard.

    I don't even like leather holsters that have retention straps. As awkward and fumble fingered as I tend to be, I can see a problem getting the strap off under stress.

  39. DRJim,

    Your problem wasn't in the holster design being flawed, but in the fact that you were using your paddle holster improperly.

    The paddle is supposed to ride inside your trousers, and the friction of your garment and body, and teh pressure of your belt secure the holster quite readily (some, like the Kramer MSP, even have a secondary belt snap to further engage the belt).

  40. I thought there had been several more than "one" AD traced back to a malfunction or design flaw in the Serpas, which is why some training schools have considered banning them?

  41. Warthog,

    I recently went hog-wild and picked up Fobus paddles for all the carry autoloaders in the house, for quick "running down the street" use. Haven't talked myself into paying full boat for a rig for the revolvers yet (both K-frames, they're both primarily house guns, and I've got a shoulder rig for one.)

    The trick I found with teh Fobus was to really snatch the pistol the first skosh of an inch; if you try to draw slowly or smoothly, it drags. Once it's "popped" free, it draws like smoothside in boned leather.

  42. Glad it was at the range and not when it really mattered.
    This indicates the flaw in the idea of the "Smart Gun" technology. If something this simple breaks, how much more likely is a malfunction when it is something as complex as a pistol that is only to fire when a certain person with the "key" is holding?

  43. Bought a Serpa about 18 mos ago when I was temporarily residing in DC area and needed a carry holster in a hurry for my Colt Delta Elite. The Serpa was a PITA to get on and off in paddle mode (which is the mode I needed) and THEN I took it to the range. Same experience. I dumped it that same day and have NEVER looked back.
    I was an early customer of Blackhawk (no I'm not gonna capitalize and add an exclamation, Mike Noell can just deal with it) To date I've had three failures with packs and other gear. They were pretty good about "lifetime guarantee" at first, then got progressively more difficult. I'm DONE with Blackhawk. "Full Stop" as the Brits would say...

  44. The one I had in Iraq lasted about a month before the retention button FELL OUT. Switched to a leather pancake holster and was quite happy. Call me a fan of good leather now.

  45. I've been a lurker over the months, first time commenter.

    The SERPA system has been very heavily condemned, going back at least 5 years. Search for SERPA and negligent discharge. I know within the training community we have referred to them as the 'shoot yourself in the ass' holster. Pushing in that button with your index finger while drawing invites said finger and pressure to transfer into the trigger guard upon clearing the holster. Then you get to the problems like you had, gun won't release.

    The SIG I have no additional experience to share with you save one: all Kydex paddle-sylte holsters suffer from the flaw that the holster may be pushed downward, hard, and the rivets fixing the paddle portion to the holster portion pop, leaving you with the paddle portion inside your belt line and the gun/holster unit somewhere else. If you are lucky, it was only a motorcycle accident or hiking fall that separated it from you. If you are unlucky it is a gun grab. here is a video of the gun grab. if that links gets nuked or doesn't work, go to youtube and search for paddle holster fail.

    You will never go wrong with a good leather holster sized for your gun, with or without retention straps. Don Hume makes some great, affordable products, I personally have an agent 3 slot for most of my handguns.

    From a trainer/ffl/gun rights attorney in the Buckeye State

  46. If you want to salvage that SERPA holster for some purpose, you can leverage out the pin that holds the retention release in, and pull the retention device out. Then you just have to screw down your passive retention screws a little tighter.

    Makes a great range holster, or if you're running it under a jacket, a fine OWB CC holsyer.

  47. Pros-light weight,paddle,comfortable con- kind of cheaply made material,i have the blackhawk holster and the difference in material is like night and day. for.aspx


I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..