Brucenelson.com has one mission, to preserve the history and legacy of Bruce Nelson and Bruce Nelson Combat Leather. The focus will always be about Bruce, his work, what he did, his contributions to practical combat shooting and combat leather, and the influence he has had on people and the firearms industry. The website is basically going to be an online museum for Bruce.
My name is Erik Little. I am a retired Deputy Sheriff from the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I served eight years on the SWAT Team, five years as a helicopter pilot, three years on the K9 Unit, and everything else was patrol. I served eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps as a Reconnaissance Marine/8654 with 2nd Recon Bn and 4th Recon Bn. I was an operational Recon Team Leader during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. I am a past Commander for VFW Post 2469.
I was first introduced to Bruce Nelson back in 1993 as a SWAT Team member attending a handgun class at the Department of Energy’s Central Training Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At that time, he was making most, if not all of the CTA instructors’ leather gear. A handful of the instructors were also Reserve SWAT Deputies that also rode uniformed patrol and used Bruce’s duty rigs. Everyone quickly learned that Bruce’s gear was good looking, purposefully designed and built for the professional combat shooter, and based upon his years of real world carry and practical competition experiences.
Whenever Bruce was in town or over the phone, we would discuss leatherwork. Early on he explained, only use as much leather as needed to accomplish the task, use the best leather and materials you can afford, the best sewing machines for holsters were the needle and awl types, always mold the holster to the specific gun/pistol, insure a full combat grip could be attained, insure you can re-holster the weapon with one hand, and many other things I retained that would greatly influence my holster work and philosophies. Early on I became a collector of his gear and would snatch up everything I could find from friends, eBay, forums, and my clients who had also been Bruce’s clients. I have studied every facet of his work. I give Bruce all the credit for my attention to detail, basic pattern designs, and motivation to continue this labor. I have and always will give Bruce the credit for everything I have done in regards to holsters. He is my mentor.
I grew up on a family owned ranch doing leather work. While working for the Sheriff’s Department, I continued to do leather work as a hobby. I kind of lost interest for several years because of work schedules, I was tied to a pager. After I got off the adrenaline and had two kids, I resumed my leatherwork. Several years after Bruce’s untimely passing in 1995, some fellow SWAT Team members convinced me to make them holsters like Bruce’s. As word spread and my product greatly improved, it became a second job, and I started Rafter-L Gun Leather. In 2005, I had my time in for retirement, decided to do the holster thing fulltime, and changed the name to Rafter-L Combat Leather.
Having made Clint Smith, of Thunder Ranch, quite a few gun rigs and knowing he and Bruce’s wife Sandy were friends, in 2014 I asked Clint if he would make the introduction. I told him I wanted to talk to her about reintroducing some of Bruce’s original work to preserve his legacy since, everything ceased upon his passing. He agreed and made the introduction. It took about four years for Sandy and I to figure it all out and make this public.
I will reproduce holsters, mag pouches, and belts using Bruce’s original patterns, tools, and sewing machine. All gear will be marked Bruce Nelson Combat Leather/BNCL along with my personal makers stamp (on the inside). I will craft the gear according to where I think Bruce would be today in his leathercraft, if he was still at it. I have examples of his early work and examples of work he was working on the day he died, there was definitely huge improvements in his skills.
I am only going to sell the holsters and magazine pouches I craft through distributors, Heirloom Precision, Milt Sparks Holsters, and Wilson Combat. I will take orders for belts for the obvious reason, they are a custom fit item. This project is a passion and will come secondary to my Rafter-L holsters and thus be done in my spare time for fun. I will focus on the two most innovative holsters Bruce produced, the #1 Professional and the Summer Special along with their associated magazine pouches. At times I may produce a limited run on some of the more specialized rigs Bruce made. Initially I will only make gear for the 1911 and its variants.
It is one of the highest honors of my life to be able to bring Bruce's work back. There is a whole generation and maybe more that don't know who Bruce was and what he did for our industry, lives, and rights. It has made me sad over the years to think that he is being forgotten. I think about Milt Sparks, Lou Alessi, Gordon Davis, and a few others that have a continuing legacy. I am truly humbled and blessed.
I also want to thank Bruce’s family for contributing to this project and allowing me to be a part of their lives, a true honor, privilege, and blessing.