At the SHOT Show this past February I got to see and – to some extent – handle the prototypes of BlackHawk’s Level III Duty Holster incorporating their SERPA locking technology. To be called a “Level III” holster, there have to be three different and independent retention devices built into the holster. In this case the three retention devices are: 1) tension. Adjust it with any philip’s head screwdriver. 2) The SERPA lock which secures the trigger guard of the weapon until activated / released by the shooter during the draw stroke. 3) What BlackHawk calls a “Pivot Guard” which is a spring-loaded chunk of polymer which pivots up and over the back of the weapon slide and, again, is released / activated during the natural draw stroke. Various people tried out this holster at SHOT and I admit to taking my turn playing with it. At first I questioned the positioning of the release mechanism for the Pivot Guard, but a little education from BlackHawk personnel quickly changed my point of view (and understanding). I recently received a first run T&E SERPA Level III h
olster and we’re going to take a closer look at its form and function this week.
The test gun I used was my old reliable Glock 19, but it should be noted that this particular holster will fit Glock 9mm, .40S&W or .357Sig pistol. It MAY (but I didn’t get a chance to check) fit a Glock Model 36 (single stack .45ACP). I doubt it would fit any of the Glock .45GAP pistols simply because the slide on them is measurably wider than the slides on the 9mm/.40/.357Sig models.
As you can see from the picture above, the holster completely covers the weapon’s trigger when holstered. That’s an important safety requirement I have for every holster. No shooter (with the possible exception of competition shooters) should be able to get their finger on the trigger until after the weapon has cleared the holster on the draw stroke. As I’ve had a number of SERPA holsters since they first came out, I was knowledgeable of and comfortable with the SERPA lock technology. With the Level II holsters – using tension and the SERPA lock only – the weapon is drawn after the trigger finger pushes the SERPA release. If you try (or a bad guy tries) to pull the gun out before activating the SERPA release then the release mechanism itself is locked. Try it sometime. With an unloaded and safe weapon, holster it and then grasp the frame as you would during a normal draw stroke. Pull the gun up as if trying to draw it and then see if you can push in the SERPA release mechanism. You shouldn’t be able to and the harder you pull the harder you make it to release the SERPA lock.
Now let’s talk some about the Pivot Guard. This is the new feature BlackHawk added to make this holster a Level III holster. While it is possible to holster the weapon and activate the SERPA lock (it happens automatically when you push the gun into the holster) it takes more directed effort to activate the Pivot Guard. Two things are important to note here and both were intentionally designed into the holster by the good folks at BlackHawk.
1) The Pivot Guard is spring loaded so that when you release it during the draw stroke it pops out of the way of your draw and it stays out of the way until you intentionally re-activate it. What this means is that it can’t accidentally close on the holster preventing you from quickly securing / holstering your weapon. That’s important. Sometimes you have to go hands-on pretty quick.
2) If, due to whatever freak circumstances can occur during ground fights, climbing through windows, etc. the Pivot Guard release is activated, the gun isn’t free to fall out of the holster (as it would be with some other manufacturer’s holsters). The SERPA Lock has secured the trigger guard retaining the weapon until such time as YOU choose to draw it.
Another thing I noticed was that the Pivot Guard can’t easily be put back into its locked position without the gun in the holster. The way BlackHawk designed it, unless the gun is in the holster, it takes two hands to close the Pivot Guard. That doesn’t happen by accident. That’s something you think about and do, so you should never have reason to complain that the Pivot Guard unexpectedly closed on you and prevented you from holstering your weapon.
Now, because I’m a doubting Thomas and I don’t like trusting myself to any piece of equipment I haven’t done my best to break, I asked a friend of mine to see if he could get my gun out of this holster under different circumstances. For obvious safety reasons we used a Ring’s Blue Gun instead of a live (even unloaded) weapon. Our tests for him to take away the weapon were as follows:
1) I showed him how the releases worked and then offered no resistance or movement while he tried to take the weapon out of the holster with one hand. We did this facing each other and he tried it with both hands. In both situations it took him quite a bit of maneuvering to get the gun out of the holster and I had to stand perfectly still for it. #2 shows you why.
2) For this test I secured the weapon in the holster and then resisted his gun grab attempts only by moving my hips back and forth or side to side as I saw fit. When I could, I was allowed to resecure the holster but only by pushing the Pivot Guard closed if he succeeded in getting it open. Because of the exacting effort it takes for a bad guy to manipulate this holster to remove the gun, it’s all the more difficult for the bad guy to do it if the holster isn’t perfectly still. With minor movements of my hips I could make his effort to take my gun last up to a minute. Frustrated hell out of him. Every time he’d get the Pivot Guard open, before he could get the SERPA Lock released and the gun out, I’d shift my hips, push the Pivot Guard back on and he’d be fighting both security measures again.
3) Using one hand to secure my gun in the holster I then invited him to use one OR two hands to try to take the weapon out. The control was that neither of us was allowed to strike the other in the attempt to take / keep the gun. Pressure points, joint locks, etc were acceptable. All attempts by him to use two hands to take the gun failed. He finally realized that he had a better chance of taking the gun with one hand and fighting me with the other if he really wanted the gun. He still never got it out of the holster.
4) Final test was for him to grab the gun – with no protective movements from me at all – and see if he could physically rip the gun out of the holster. He used both hands and pulled every direction he could try. I didn’t do anything but go along for the ride. After about fifteen minutes of him slinging me around by the holster, and never getting the gun out, he was tired and I was sore – but the gun was still in the holster.
After about a dozen practice draws, the drawing motion was smooth and quick. Both security mechanisms are automatically released during the normal draw stroke, but if you’re in too much of a hurry – without any practice – it’s possible to miss the Pivot Guard release and have to move your thumb to get it. Like I said, within a dozen practice draws I had the motions down smooth and quick.
I like the fact that, if I have reason to be gun-in-hand and then have to go hands-on quickly, I can holster the weapon and ignore the Pivot Guard until circumstances warrant putting it back in place. When I holster the weapon, the SERPA Lock secures it in the holster and I’ve tested the strength of the SERPA Lock before. I did pull ups holding onto the handle of a blue gun that was holstered in a SERPA holster with the holster tied into a tree. The trigger guard on the blue gun broke but the holster / SERPA Lock didn’t.
BlackHawk has the BlackHawk LE Duty Gear Level 3 SERPA Duty Holster on their website listed at a retail price of $99.95. That’s about average in the industry for a Level III duty holster. I’d be willing to bet that if you searched around on the interent and found the right BlackHawk Distributor, you could probably get this holster for about 2/3 to 3/4 of that price which makes it an exceptional value.
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