Rule One Gun Roundup: S&W 638

In the original picture for the Rule One Gun Roundup you’ll note that the picture includes a gun I haven’t written a Roundup post on yet: My J S&W 638. I’ve written about my acquisition and modification of the 638 previously, but the circumstances that brought me to the Roundup presented an opportunity to consider the J in context with the competition. By this point I’ve tried most of the Rule One Gun options on the market, so why do I still find myself carrying the J frame so often?

The Good

Smith & Wesson 638-3Power. The .38 special +P loaded with the right jacketed hollowpoint round gives terminal ballistic performance that none of the smaller calibers can hope to replicate. I’m personally fond of the Speer “BUG” load (Back Up Gun) with a 135 grain Gold Dot JHP, as it was developed specifically to meet FBI requirements from the J frame revolvers. While it’s possible to get .357 magnum J frames these days, I do not buy them. They tend to be considerably more expensive than the .38 revolvers rated for +P ammo. Stuffing actual .357 magnum ammunition in the little J frames just gives you a boat-load more recoil and blast without any significant increase in terminal effectiveness on the other end…and I can assure you that an airweight with .38 +P ammunition and concealment-friendly grips is already no picnic to shoot. Full .357 loads in a revolver as big as an N frame are pretty zippy…you do not want to try shooting them in a J frame sized revolver that weighs under a pound equipped with typically used concealment-friendly grips. If I found a .357 J at an attractive price with desirable features like significantly improved sights, I’d happily buy one but it would only be fired with .38 special ammunition.

The function of a double action revolver relies primarily upon your trigger finger. If your finger can pull the trigger, the cylinder will turn and the weapon will fire. Small semi-autos require enough clear space and grip for the slide to move freely for reliable function. I want to pause here and remind everyone how easy it is to stop the slide of a semi-auto from working:

 

While the demonstration was done with a Glock 17, smaller semi-autos are even more vulnerable to being choked than a reliable service pistol like the G17. One a typical range day this really doesn’t matter, but in a defensive scenario where you may be required to literally shoot someone off of you it can make a considerable difference. The J frame can be repeatedly fired through a pocket. It won’t go out of battery if pressed up against the anatomy of an assailant. If you’re fighting for control of the gun the cylinder will likely still turn if the person you’re fighting with isn’t able to apply sufficient pressure to the cylinder to prevent movement. These are all reasons why the J frame has been a popular backup gun in law enforcement for decades. I trained with an officer from a large metropolitan area who was attacked by a 300 pound former college football player turned drug dealer. During a traffic stop the guy literally picked the officer up and power-slammed him into the pavement.

It’s impossible for the English language to adequately convey just how much force you are dealing with from that type of assault. A hit like that can break ribs, collapse lungs, crack vertebrae, or kill outright. The officer was dazed and barely conscious, but he did realize that the violent felon was trying to get his sidearm out of his security holster. The officer took advantage of the bad guy’s tool fixation to draw the J frame he kept as a backup gun. He grabbed the guy by his hair and to borrow the officer’s exact phrasing “screwed the barrel into his head” and pulled the trigger multiple times, stopping the assault.

The Not-So-Good:

As I’ve written before, the J is probably the most difficult handgun on the market to shoot well and this, in my mind at least, is the primary strike against it. A very heavy trigger relative to the size of the gun and tiny sights does not make the gun easy to shoot well at speed. There’s no such thing as a free lunch: the things that make the J frame safe and convenient to carry also make it difficult to shoot well. The power (again relative to size) of the revolver makes it challenging and frankly fatiguing to perform serious live fire practice with, especially if you’re using an Airweight or lighter revolver.

The Tactical Professor in his "Secrets of the Snubby" DVD discusses trigger control with a snub revolver
The Tactical Professor’s DVDs on the snub revolver are a worthwhile investment for those curious about snubs.

To have any hope of using the little revolver effectively you will have to make a pretty serious commitment to train with it…but how? Thankfully there are still some folks out there like Claude Werner, The Tactical Professor, to give useful guidance on that. Claude has a couple of DVD’s that cover most of what you need to know to use a J frame effectively as a defensive implement that I would recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about the J frame. I have to depart from Claude’s advised practices on a few things (I use a different trigger finger placement than he advises because of the size of my hands, for example) but the discs are solid content that will steer you in the right direction.

Capacity is often mentioned as a limitation on the J frame, but in the context of other Rule One Guns the 5 shot capacity of the typical small revolver isn’t too bad. Just to give you a ballpark, the Glock 42 holds two more shots (6 in the magazine plus one in the chamber) than my 638. Reloads with the Glock are certainly easier for most, but none of the Rule One Guns are going to be reloaded at the speeds you see with the larger pistols like the Glock 19, S&W M&P, Sig, Beretta, etc. With the right equipment and some training, reloads of the J frame can be accomplished more quickly than you might think. I like the Safariland loaders for the J frame as I’ve found them to be a good blend of size, simplicity of use, and durability in daily carry. Claude’s DVDs cover other worthwhile options for carrying extra ammunition that might suit your needs better.

Overall:

I find that the J frame is extremely easy to carry. It can be carried unobtrusively in a small holster just about anywhere on the waistline in perfect comfort, but is equally happy in a good pocket holster like the Desantis Nemesis. I’ve spent years carrying a J frame either as a backup or a low profile primary gun, and even though I have other Rule One Guns readily available I still find that I’m sliding the 638 in my pocket most days. Perhaps it’s just habit…do something long enough and you’ll keep doing it even if it doesn’t make sense. I’m by no means an expert marksman with a J frame even though I’ve trained with one quite a bit over the years. Nevertheless, I know I can use it well enough to get the hits I’m most likely to need.

It’s by no means my ideal handgun, and yet it fits a niche for me so nicely with a blend of desirable features that I don’t really feel any need to replace it. It is kind of weird to have so many issues with a gun and yet when it comes down to it to really like it so much.

I don’t really recommend the J frame to many people. There is a pretty steep learning curve involved in using the little revolver well and I don’t think most are willing to put in the work to really get the benefit out of the little revolver…but for those that do the J seems to develop quite a hold on them.

Safariland Adds 7TS Holster Fits for Glock and Sig Sauer Firearms

New 7TS fits also now available for light-mounted firearms

ONTARIO, California – Safariland® announced today the expansion of the 7TS™ Holster Series with new fits for the Glock 17/22 and 19/23 with the most popular lights, and new fits for the Sig Sauer P220R/P226R, P227 full-size/compact and the P229R. Quickly gaining popularity since they hit the market in 2013, 7TS holsters boast a proprietary nylon blend called SafariSeven™, which is impervious to extreme heat and cold, is non-abrasive to the firearm’s finish and features a special construction that strengthens the holster body. These new fits are offered in a variety of duty, tactical and concealment models.

7TS 7360 Holster with Light

“With the sales growth in this series since they made their debut last year, there has been an evident demand for 7TS models for firearms with lights,” said James Dawson, Category Director, Safariland Duty Gear. “We will be looking to satisfy the market with more fits for firearms with lights in the future.”

Six Safariland models available for Glock 17/22 and 19/23 accommodate the ITI M3, Streamlight TLR-1, and Surefire X200, X300, or X300U lights. These are the first fits to be introduced for firearms with lights in the 7TS series. Additionally, Safariland is releasing nineteen 7TS Series holster fits for the rail and non-railed Sig Sauer P220R/P226R, P227 full-size/compact and P229R firearms. These are offered in a variety of models with the ALS open-top, ALS/SLS, or SLS-only retention features. Safariland will continue to release fits for the H&K P2000 and P30, and will be available in the coming weeks.

Safariland patent-pending 7TS holsters are injection-molded, highly durable and are operational in extreme weather conditions from -50 degrees to +300 degrees, Fahrenheit. Constructed from a SafariSeven™ nylon blend, the 7TS is completely non-abrasive to the weapon’s finish. SafariSeven is also extremely lightweight and impact-resistant.

Gun Fit

Duty Models
Glock 17/22 w/Light
7280, 7285, 7287
7004, 7005

Tactical Models
7287, 7367, 7377, 7378, 7379
Glock 19/23 w/Light
7280, 7285, 7287
7004, 7005

Concealment Models
7287, 7367, 7377, 7378, 7379
Sig P220R/P226R/P229
7280, 7285, 7360, 7365, 7390, 7395
7004, 7005, 7304, 7305, 7354, 7355, 7384, 7385,
7287, 7367, 7377, 7378, 7379
Sig P227R3/P229R
7280, 7285, 7360, 7365, 7390, 7395
7004, 7005, 7304, 7305, 7354, 7355, 7384, 7385
7287, 7367, 7377, 7378, 7379

The 7TS holster models are priced from $49.50 – $199.00 and are available in Black and FDE Brown. For more information about Safariland holsters and other premium duty gear products, please visit www.safariland.com/dutygear.

About Safariland®
Established in 1964, Safariland® has earned worldwide renown and a leadership position in the industry for its technologically advanced holsters and other gear to the law enforcement, military, concealment and competitive sporting markets. Safariland holsters, belts and accessories provide users with high-quality tools to perform their jobs safely and effectively. Safariland is credited for developing the first Level III retention holster for the uniformed duty market. With a reputation for INNOVATION NOT IMITATION®, the Safariland brand continues its position as the worldwide leader in retention holsters. Safariland is a part of The Safariland Group family of brands. For more information, visit www.safariland.com/dutygear.

About The Safariland Group
The Safariland Group is a premier global provider of trusted, innovative, high-quality law enforcement and security products for the public safety, military and outdoor recreation/personal protection markets. Offering many of the world’s most recognizable names in these markets, principal brands include Safariland®, ABA®, Second Chance®, Bianchi®, Break Free® and Mustang Survival®. Forensics brands include Identicator® and NIK®. The Safariland Group’s mission, Together, We Save Lives™, is inherent in the lifesaving products it delivers. The Safariland Group has its headquarters in Jacksonville, FL.

Safariland 5377 GLS Outside Waist Band holster review

This review is about the Safariland 5377-83 GLS OWB (Outside Waist Band) holster for Glock 17s (Glock 19s and 26s will fit as well).  There is a paddle variant of this holster, denoted as the Safariland 5378 and a clip model, the Model 5379.   This model is also known as the “GLS” or Grip Locking System.  The holster is classified as a Level I retention holster in that it can withstand active attempts to remove it for at least five seconds without the safety/retention device enabled.

This holster was generously provided for review by my friend Chris Abernathy of XS Sights.  Since reviewing this, I made sure to purchase one as a gift for my brother, who is now a full time cattle rancher and prefers a retention OWB holster he can rely upon when a’horseback.

The holster is typical Safariland quality, in that it’s (excuse the pun), nearly bullet proof.  Heavy duty plastic, felt lining (not thick felt though), and a sturdy belt slide which is adjustable for cant, three positions.  You may adjust the tension of how securely the weapon is retained with a hex key.  The holster is compatible with all of the Safariland three hole mounting systems.

 

Adjustment for cant is accomplished using one of the three holes at the bottom

Safariland bills this as a concealed carry holster but that is most certainly not the case in real life.  This is the holster to have for anyone considering OWB (outside waist band) carry that doesn’t want a slow draw but does want Level I retention.  The GLS is noticeably thinner than the industry standard (and standard for many police and military) ALS.

 

The GLS and Dark Star Gear OWB compared.  The GLS is much more bulky due to design.  Note the release button on the GLS.

Views showing the weapon inserted and comparison shots.


The silver hex head is how you adjust tension with regards how securely the pistol is held in the holster

Using the GLS is easy and…..instinctive.  Simply bump the button with the knuckle of your middle finger as you draw.  It took me roughly ten dry fire draws before I was drawing and dry firing without thinking about hitting the button.  Reholstering is similarly easy and instinctive but you do have to shove the weapon down into the holster until you feel the retention device engage.

Using sand, Virginia dirt, and talcum powder; I was not able to disable this holster’s locking mechanism (anything can be disabled with enough dirt, I concede).  Adults were not able to wrench the unloaded weapon out of the holster when I was wearing it.  My body was literally pulled and twisted around as folks tried to (in testing) to wrench the pistol out of my holster.

Using my shot timer, I was not able to register a statistical nor perceived difference between the GLS and my “go to” OWB holster; the outstanding Dark Star Gear OWB.  However, using one made me miss the other:

  • Using the GLS made me miss exactly how well the Dark Star Gear OWB hugs my hip.  I really don’t think OWB holsters are “concealed” for the most part but the Dark Star Gear OWB is the best OWB in my “box o’ holsters” for concealment with an untucked shirt.
  • Using the Dark Star Gear OWB made me yearn for the simple, intuitive, and secure GLS retention system.  Once you use it, you “get” the need for it.  You understand WHY? people like retention holsters.

  In the past, I’ve written about a certain trend in the Open Carry movement; that of using the junk SERPA holster or a SERPA knockoff.  Open Carry folks, please consider the GLS.  It’s a whopping fitty bucks or so shipped and at that price, it is worlds better than the SERPA or Uncle Mike’s you normally carry.  It’s even made for the Open Carry movement’s pistol of choice: the Springfield XD.

  Law enforcement personnel, if a Level I retention holster is mandated by your department; This.  Is.  It.  Just get one.  The draw speed is such that you can take your retention duty holster to your local IDPA/USPSA gun games and not miss a beat as you compete with your duty gear.  Hikers, folks who work outdoors, get you one of these.  It’s the ideal retention holster when concealment is not an overriding priority.

  Safariland knocked this one out of the park.  Now if they can follow up on their success and make a true CCW friendly GLS; that would make many gun owners very happy.  Ditch the requirement for the three hole Safariland mounting system capability and just give the holster two belt loops.  It’s OK to make CCW only holsters, Safariland.  Also, Safariland…..please consider working on your website’s layout and navigation.  It’s in desperate need of a refresh. 
I would like to note that I received the GLS holster as a loan and am sending it back to Chris at XS Sights.  The Dark Star Gear OWB was bought and paid for by myself.

Open carry gear: Safariland ALS holster with Colt 1911

Safariland ALS with Colt 1911-1

For the OC experiment, I wanted to practice what I preach. That means a proper retention holster. Yesterday, I wore a Galco M4, which was a pretty good choice, but the narrow paddle was uncomfortable for all day wear. I remembered that I had a spare ALS for a 1911 sitting around, so I put a Safariland paddle on the ALS and am now using that. It’s more comfortable, and the on-belt retention is better, but the smaller release on the ALS gives up a bit of speed to the Galco.

Quick Photo: OG Team Safariland

Original Team Safariland

Photo courtesy Safariland – this photo was shown to contestants at Bianchi Cup this year, and it shows the original Team Safariland wearing what was the very first “shooting uniform.” It’s AWESOME – matching pants and shirts, and the pants even have a gold stripe down the side. I wish people at matches on teams still dressed like that. If you look at this photo too long, your face will melt from all the swag.

From left to right: Doug Koenig, Rob Leatham, Scott Carnahan, Jerry Barnhart.