U.S.A. –-(Ammoland.com)- One of the biggest names in Western-style holsters is Bob Mernickle. His holsters, belts, and rigs have appeared in movies, Cowboy Action Shooting competitions, Fast Draw competitions, Mounted Shooting competitions and are worn by concealed carriers nationwide.
I first met Bob and his family at a gun show at the Cow Palace in San Francisco nearly two decades ago and became more familiar with him and his work when I moved to my adopted home state of Nevada in 2005. The Mernickle family and their holsters are permanent fixtures on the local gun show circuit in Reno. I had bought a few of his holsters over the years and was impressed with the quality and craftsmanship.
Ten years ago, he sold me one of his custom holster belts complete with a dual set of holsters and it was a perfect fit, until I lost 60 pounds and after keeping it off for a few years, decided to have him refit the belt to fit my somewhat smaller frame.
Surprised that there was no charge for this service, I decided to sit down with him at his home and shop to discuss holster making, the history of Cowboy Fast Draw and a few other things.
In case you did not know, Mernickle was a pioneer of the sport, is the Northern Nevada chapter’s president and has set world speed records that still stand to this day.
AmmoLand: So how did you get started with holster making?
Mernickle: Originally, I was making dress belts up in Canada for my family and from time to time would make little purses for my nieces. A friend took me shooting and introduced me to the art of fast-draw in 1969. I watched how other shooters were performing and tried to emulate them
I got hooked on the sport but noticed that the holster I was using was slowing me down, so I bought others and they did not really help, so, I decided to make my own.
There was a lot of trial and error, until I got it right. I competed in a contest in Bothel, Washington. I didn’t win, but I set a world speed record and continued to compete.
After a while someone asked me where I got my holster and I told them that I built it. He asked me if I could build a holster like it for him and I did. Based on that, Mernickle Holsters was born in 1975.
My start was stitching a holster while watching television and it’s been a whole lot of fun ever since.
AmmoLand: When did you decide to take it full time?
Mernickle: 1992 or 1993 I got really serious about it. I got a business license and went back to school to get a degree in business management. Now I knew how to build a holster but needed to know how to build a company. In 1999 I got smart and married the bookkeeper (his wife Sherri) and we built the company together ever since.
AmmoLand: I love the look of your holsters, whether they’re fast-draw, cowboy action shooting or even your concealed carry line.
Mernickle: When I look at a pattern or a design, I look for two things. It must function first. They must be safe and effective. The look is secondary. You can make anything look good, but it must work first.
AmmoLand: I have one of your holsters that I bought almost 20 years ago, and it’s stamped “Made in Canada”. Why did you make the move to the United States?
Mernickle: All the materials I was ordering to make holsters such as the leather, rawhide, jewelry, etc. were made in the United States. So were all of the tools and other parts to make them, such as the stamps, dies and gun molds. Ironically, the bulk of the finished holsters were shipping back to the United States where most of my customers were based, so it made sense for us to move down here.
We don’t remember what gave us the urge to move away from all our friends and family, but we’re glad we did. We’re proud Americans now and love this country.
The year after we moved here I won the World Championship. It eluded me until I moved here.
I won Canadian championships, state championships and when I won the World Title I held. 21 records simultaneously.
AmmoLand: And a lot of that success beyond your athletic ability has to do with your holsters.
Mernickle: Speed shooting is what made me strive to put whatever I learned from shooting into building my holsters. Whether it’s competition or self-defense, you need to get to that gun fast. I’ve focused and excelled on speed.
AmmoLand: Before I came into your shop, I thought I knew something about making holsters, but apparently, it is not the right something. You seem to seamlessly blend old world or old school craftsmanship with modern methods of manufacturing.
Mernickle: We were one of the first holster makers to make use of CNC, but we mostly use it to make small parts like the hammer straps for fast draw, they fit over the hammer and when they flip off they fall forward to not interfere with the draw or the shooting.
Most of our work, as you saw here today, requires a lot of hand fitting. We do not have a machine that just turns out holsters with the press of a button.
AmmoLand: So, which is your biggest market?
Mernickle: It’s split evenly between the concealment lines and the Western lines.
AmmoLand: What got you into making non-Western holsters for semi-autos and concealed carry use?
Mernickle: Back about 1980 or so, I had a friend in Canada say, “You make great Western holsters, have you ever thought of making a holster for a 1911?”
I told him I probably could, but what’s a 1911? At the time, all I knew were single action revolvers.
He told me about IPSC and how he needed the gun to sit higher. So, I made him one with an open-bottom, but it wasn’t right. I made a better one and another. That third holster was perfect, and it was a prelude to our PS6 high-ride holsters we still make to this day.
AmmoLand: So, on the Western holsters, is it more Cowboy Action or more Fast-Draw?
Mernickle: It’s slightly more Cowboy Action, but Fast-Draw is gaining in popularity steadily.
AmmoLand: Can you tell our readers about the history of Fast-Draw?
Mernickle: Fast Draw was started back in the 1950s. The original fast draw was made up of all these small local groups which became world fast draw. In 2002 a shooter in SD decided it had gotten too spacey, like IPSC with a Western flair, so he started Cowboy Fast-draw.
AmmoLand: Do people still make fast-draw guns, I haven’t seen one in a while. I remember back in the day there were gunsmiths building them on Ruger Black Hawks with aluminum barrels to shoot the wax bullets.
Mernickle: That was the old sport and I don’t want to detract from that because that’s what I came up in and I still have a lot of love for that, but in Cowboy fast draw, you can use a revolver you buy off the shelf.
AmmoLand: But with no modifications?
Mernickle: You can tune it and most shooters will tune their guns to make them work better for them. Cowboy Fast-Draw allows you to buy a gun off the shelf, buy a holster and those are your most expensive investments in equipment. You fire a wax bullet with no powder behind it that is powered by a primer, so it’s an affordable family-oriented sport and once you have your gun and holster it’s just wax bullets and primers. The brass never expands so you can use it forever.
The important thing about Cowboy Fast-Draw is that like Cowboy Action Shooting is that it is run by an organization that acts like a business as opposed to being run by the members. That is what keeps these sports alive. There is no big prize money, it comes down to friends and family competing good-naturedly and mutual camaraderie.
AmmoLand: As a shooter, what was your fastest recorded time from the draw to hitting the target?
Mernickle: 0.214 seconds
AmmoLand: That’s insanely fast! Are there any secret tips to get better or faster?
Mernickle: A lot of practice.
AmmoLand: Do you still compete?
Mernickle: I don’t want to say that I’m retired from shooting. These days I am just too busy building holsters to compete anymore.
I still have my hand in it and when I’m at these events people will ask me what they are doing wrong or how they can improve and I will show them. A lot of it has to do with getting used to the adrenaline and making it work for you instead of against you.
I’ll be in it till I’m 99 as long as I’m able.
Refitting a Gun Belt
One of the disadvantages of losing weight is that few of your old clothes or accessories will fit you. Replacing old clothes is painless, but a custom cowboy action rig is another story. I thought of keeping the holsters and just shopping for a new belt, but this was a custom purpose-built holster setup made by Bob Mernickle. I asked him if he could do anything with it and he said it's a common request to help with his customers' weight-control. The only problem is: if you put on extra weight, he cannot resize them bigger.
He took a measurement around my hips where the belt rode on me and marked it. He checked it several times and had to remove a considerable amount of the silver studs. The belt was cut, reshaped, dyed again and sealed. When all the cutting and fitting was done, he replaced the silver buckle and set it up to dry.
When the interview was over an hour or so later, I tried it on and it had that exact same feel I got when I first tried it on 10 or so years ago.
There is no charge for this service, so if you go on the Keto or Paleo diet and drop some weight, Mernickle will resize your holster belt for free. He only asks that you pay a $15 return shipping fee and of course, only performs the work on his own holsters!
For more information, visit Bob's website at: https://www.mernickleholsters.com/
About Mike Searson
Mike Searson's career as a shooter began as a Marine Rifleman at age 17. He has worked in the firearms industry his entire adult life as a Gunsmith, Ballistician, Consultant, Salesman, Author and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1989.
Mike has written over 2000 articles for many magazines, websites and newsletters including Blade, RECOIL, OFF-GRID, Tactical Officer, SWAT, Tactical World, Gun Digest, Examiner.com and the US Concealed Carry Association as well as AmmoLand Shooting Sports News.
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