Iconic Leather Craftsman, Passes.
Gordon Davis, or “G. Wm. Davis” as he stamped his work, was a groundbreaking leather craftsman. In the shooting world he was best known for his superb holster rigs, but he was also a renowned saddlemaker. In the ’60s and early ’70s he worked with two young fellows who started out making holsters in their basements, John Bianchi and Neale Perkins. In 1975 Davis began making holsters carrying his own name. While his friends grew their businesses into the industry giants of today, Bianchi and Safariland, Gordon Davis chose to keep his business a 1-man operation, designing and crafting holsters and rigs one at a time.
He came along just as interest in handguns and new shooting sports was taking off. Practical shooting (IPSC) and handgun metallic silhouette (IHMSA) were established. Annual matches such as Second Chance, the Bianchi Cup, the Steel Challenge and the Laramie NSL match were drawing shooter interest.
Davis made both practical carry rigs and match-winning competition rigs. In the early years of IPSC it was common to see “gunfighter-style” rigs at matches, worn low on a separate gun belt. The Davis Contender and Championship rigs were sterling examples of the style. In those days competition holster rules were evolving, but whatever the rules required there was a Davis rig being made. The popular Realist was a behind-the-hip holster showing the classic Tom Threepersons influence. When crossdraw rigs had a brief vogue, Davis built the Usher International for a top shooter of the era, Jerry Usher.
Rob Leatham won the 1983 Nationals and World Shoot using a Davis Phoenix holster,
and was still using it in this photo, when he won the Nationals again in 1985.
In the early ’80s a couple of skinny kids from Phoenix, barely into their 20s, spent hours every day shooting in the desert, figuring out by trial and error what worked. For all-around use they liked a strong side, straight draw holster. Gordon Davis made such a holster for them and called it the “Phoenix.”
In 1983, the young fellows, Rob Leatham and Brian Enos, finished 1-2 at the US Nationals. Leatham won the IPSC world title the same year. Both were relative unknowns in the IPSC world at the time, and I recall shooters saying (in “Butch Cassidy” style), “Who are those guys?” The ensuing demand for Davis Phoenix holsters was such they were almost impossible to find. I remember calling several practical shooting suppliers and getting nothing but pity and a “We’ll add you to the list.”
Competition holsters continued to evolve, and by the ’90s were adjustable in every dimension, and made of synthetics. But for Davis the best years were ahead. In 1981, Harper Creigh had the idea of a shooting sport dedicated to the Old West. He called two buddies, Bill Hahn and Gordon Davis. The three of them started the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS), and the sport known as cowboy action shooting. Maybe IPSC guys didn’t want leather anymore, but cowboys did — and always will.
In 2006 I met Gordon’s son Jason Davis, and of all places in a hunting lodge in Africa. Jason is a police officer with Arcadia, California PD. I found out Gordon had been forced to quit work due to health problems, and passed away in the fall of 2012. He was a great craftsman and a staunch supporter of the shooting sports.
The Davis rig Dave bought in 1981, with single-mag pouch and #453 Liberty
holster. Back then it carried a stock Colt Gold Cup, today it holds a
Nighthawk Falcon. If I’d had such a pistol in 1981 I’d have thought I was in heaven.
Still In Use
Back in 1980 I shot my first “official” practical pistol match. IPSC had been organized in 1976 and was just beginning its rapid expansion. In 1981 the governing body of IPSC passed a “concealable carry” rule. While guns/holsters did not actually have to be concealed at matches, the carry rig had to be inspected and deemed to be suitable for concealed carry.
There was a lot of grumbling about the new rule, sometimes on principle, sometimes because shooters had just bought expensive competition rigs. For me the new rule was an opportunity to get new gear. Which make to get wasn’t ever a consideration. Everyone knew the holsters we wanted were stamped with the logo “G. Wm. Davis, Maker.” Yes, there were other good makers but the hot setup at the time was a Davis rig.
The only decision was which model. Finally I ordered the #453 Liberty along with both single- and double-mag pouches and matching gun belt. The Liberty uses a rear slot to pull the gun snugly into the body; a design first used, I believe, by another holster genius, Bruce Nelson. In 1981 I used the Davis holster and a stock Colt Gold Cup to win a sectional championship, and 3rd place in a national championship in Canada.
Shortly thereafter the concealable rule was repealed. Over the next 15 years I used a lot of terrific competition holsters. Yet today they are in honored retirement, mementos of changing technology. The only holster from those years I still use is the old #453 Davis Liberty. It was practical then — and it’s still practical today.
By Dave Anderson
WEB BLAST EXTRA
The Davis rig I bought in 1981 with single mag pouch and #453 Liberty holster.
Back then it carried a stock Colt Gold Cup, today it holds a Nighthawk Falcon.
If I’d had such a pistol in 1981 I’d have thought I was in heaven.
This was how Davis leather was marked in early years. Note how the rear slot
of the #453 holster pulls the gun butt in tight. Though useable as a cross draw,
I prefer it as a straight draw, strong side holster.
A few years after getting the full-length #453 I found a Commander-length
version. The fabulous Nighthawk Falcon Commander is a better fit in the Commander
size holster, though I sometimes wear the old holster when feeling nostalgic.
Brian Enos at the 1985 U.S. Nationals, wearing a Davis Phoenix holster.
From an American Handgunner story, the top shooters at the 1983 Nationals.
Top three shooters all used Davis leather.
Holster models from a 1980-era Davis catalog. There were models
for practical shooting competition, cowboy rigs, and practical rigs
for concealed carry.