I am 65, have never been active duty military, nor in law enforcement. I have, however, legally (licensed CCW ) carried a concealed handgun on a regular, daily basis, for most of my adult life. This includes CCW permits in Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Indiana. When specific circumstances justified doing so (in my personal opinion at the time), I have also carried concealed in California “from time to time” without a CCW. I helped teach a concealed weapons class when living in Alaska by demonstrating how to carry effectively, regardless of weapon size. I have also had no fewer than seven instances in the last forty years when I have had to legitimately use a concealed handgun for personal defense of self or others. These include a home invasion attempt, an attempted “run my wife and I off the road” on a dark, deserted stretch of highway one night, two serious mugging attempts, two cases of effecting citizen’s arrests at gun point for attempted thefts while working as a late night cashier at a convenience store, and (most recently), intervening in a domestic dispute gone bad where the male half attempted grave bodily harm on his (ex)fiancee by taking a shot at her in front of my house. Please note my use of “attempted” in all of the above cases. Thanks to my being legally armed at the time, none of them were successful. Equally fortunate, all were successfully resolved without my actually having to fire a shot in any of them (although three were really, really close). The above is just to support that my personal opinions below are based on many years of actual street experience as a civilian carrier of a legally carried concealed weapon.
There was a recent post about an individual in Washington State who was pulled over for a routine traffic stop. Said individual happened to have two loaded, concealed weapons in his vehicle, one handgun and one rifle. What said individual did not have was a CCW. In addition to whatever resulted from the traffic stop itself, both weapons were confiscated and the individual ended up with a conviction for carrying a concealed weapon without a license.
I too been pulled over for routine traffic stops while carrying concealed, once in Anchorage, Alaska (failure to signal a lane change) and once in Seattle, Washington (cracked windshield). In Anchorage, I immediately informed the officer that I was licensed and carrying and asked if he wanted to secure the weapon. His reply was “No. You have done what you are required by law to do – inform me that you are carrying. It is safer for both of us if you just leave it in the holster.”
The difference between Anchorage and Seattle is that the two officers in Seattle did want to secure any weapons. By the time I was done divesting myself of any questionable items, there were two J Frame S&W .38s (both with Crimson Trace laser grips), a Colt Mustang Pocketlite .380, a Benchmade lock-back folder, a Leatherman Wave, a Swiss Champ knife, a canister of Pepper Spray, and an ASP tactical baton on the hood of my car. Reaction to what the liberal media would describe as a walking arsenal? One officer turned to the other and said “S***, he’s got better gear than we do.”
In both cases, I drove away with nothing more than a verbal warning, one to watch my lane changes and the other to get my windshield fixed. I have always suspected that my being legally armed and cooperative was a factor in receiving verbal warnings instead of written tickets.
I am a Life Member of the NRA, as pro Second Amendment as anyone reading SurvivalBlog, and personally believe that the only two states that have “got it right” are Vermont and Alaska, both of which allow concealed carry, with no permit required [even inside city limits]. Having said that, I also recognize that the remaining 48 states DO have restrictive laws governing the carrying of concealed weapons. I also recognize that, at least for the time being and immediately foreseeable future, they also have functioning law enforcement and judicial systems. While I may agree with the sentiment that no law abiding citizen should be required to have a license to exercise rights guaranteed under the Constitution, I also have no sympathy for anyone who assumes that position, gets caught, and ends up paying the legal price.
The question I would ask anyone who is considering carrying concealed without the necessary legal permit is this: Is the exercise of your principles worth the risk of losing the weapon(s) you are carrying, a criminal conviction that will probably result in failed background checks for any future purchases requiring Federal paperwork, and the distinct possibility in today’s political environment of the stop/conviction triggering a search warrant of your home (and subsequent confiscation of any weapons found there) because DHS  criteria suggests that you are obviously a dangerous extremist, if not an outright terrorist? Let your conscience be your guide. Just be sure to very carefully think through the potential ramifications of your actions.
The absolute Rule Number One of gunfights is simple and basic: Have a gun. Not only do I totally agree with Rule Number One, but without exception, all other considerations in the concealed carry decision process are insignificant compared to Rule Number One.
Rule Number Two generally involves weapon choice – revolver versus semi-auto. Depending on who is on the soap box at the moment, myriad reasons will be
Rule Number Three generally involves the best caliber. As with the revolver versus semi-automatic decision, one size does not fit all. While there is much truth to the old statement that a 9mm may expand but a .45 will never shrink, the size of the hole is of far less importance than the location of the hole. Bore diameter is nowhere near as critical as shot placement.
Rule Number Four deals with the How and Where to carry. The vast majority of gun writers/instructors teach/preach strong-side hip, preferably in an inside the waist band (IWB ) holster. This is an excellent choice. But as with Rules Two and Three, one size does not fit all. There are numerous reasons why this may be a less than optimum method of carry, depending on specific circumstances at the time.
Rule Number Five is to always carry at least one reload of spare ammo in either a spare magazine for a semi-auto or some kind of speed loader for a revolver. I totally agree about carrying spare ammo. I just don’t necessarily agree on the best way to do it.
Rule Number Six is to always use “aimed” fire by focusing on your front sight.
Rule Number Seven is the true weapon isn’t the gun; it is the person holding it.
Rule Number One: See above. No disagreement here at all.
Rule Number Two: See Rule Number One. Whether it is a revolver or semi-auto, your first choice should be the biggest (in terms of both caliber and capacity) that you will always have with you. A $2,000 tricked-out custom [Model] 1911 with all the latest bells and whistles is worthless if it is back home in your gun safe (you do have a gun safe, don’t you?) when you need it on the street. Having a carry gun that you don’t carry all the time because it is too big, too heavy, interferes with your clothing style, or any other lame excuse you come up with, makes no sense at all in my book. If you have made the decision to carry, then do so. Period. No exceptions. It makes not one whit of difference if that choice is a revolver or semi-auto as long as it is one you will always have on/with you. It makes a whole lot of difference if it is at home and you aren’t, regardless of type.
Rule Number Three: See Rule Number One. Years ago (before the days of high performance JHP bullets) caliber choice did make a difference in terms of proven street performance. After many, many years of documented shootings, the 125 grain JHP  .357 Magnum still holds the position of number one, one shot stop performance. It is followed very closely now by the .40 S&W, with the .45 ACP marginally behind the .40. Today’s high performance loads for .32 and .380, however, are vastly superior to the old 148 grain lead round nose .38 Special police loads, which were notoriously poor stoppers.
The point is that the caliber itself is not the key factor. What is the most effective (note that I said effective and not largest) caliber that you can comfortably handle and reliably control? My daughter and a personal friend of ours both have a medical condition which makes it physically impossible for either of them to control any semi-auto chambering more than a .380. “Muzzle flip” with heavier loads will literally dislocate their wrists because most of the recoil force is transferred directly to the wrist joint. Both of them, however, can very easily and comfortably control full frame .45 revolvers. This is because grip angle on the revolver transfers recoil into the web of the hand between the thumb and pointer finger and then in a direct line through the wrist and down the forearm. Not only is perceived recoil considerably reduced, actual recoil force applied to the wrist joint is in fact reduced.
Re-stating Rules Two and Three: See Rule Number One. What works best for you? You need to stop caring about what works best for someone else. Concentrate instead on what works best for you and in a type/caliber configuration that you will always have with you. Front Sight’s motto of “Any gun will do, if you will do” is absolutely true.
Rule Number Four: Are you ready? Can you guess? See Rule Number One. There is no question that a good IWB holster is one of the most effective ways to carry (and more importantly conceal) any handgun, especially full frame revolvers or semi-autos. Because the holster and lower portion of the weapon are inside the pants, nothing is visible below the level of the belt. Being inside the pants also allows you to cinch your belt tight, pulling the entire gun frame into your body instead of allowing it to flop outward, “printing” on your shirt or jacket. This is especially important if you are carrying a small revolver in a belt holster because they are “top heavy” with a tendency to have the butt of the gun flop or sag away from the body. But unless the IWB holster is properly designed to stay open with the weapon removed, it is virtually impossible to re-holster the gun one-handed.
But as effective as it might be, an IWB is not always your best choice. Do you spend most of your working day behind the wheel of a vehicle? Try drawing from a strong-side hip IWB holster some time while you are sitting behind the wheel, with your seat belt going over your jacket. Under these circumstances, a good shoulder or cross-draw holster would be infinitely more practical. Or maybe you work in an office that doesn’t have air conditioning in the hot and humid summer months. I can guarantee you that your co-workers will find it odd or strange that you are the only one in the office who never removes your coat. Been there. Done that. Switched to a different carry method.
Rule Number Five: Again, See Rule Number One. Given the proliferation in recent years of high capacity semi-autos using double stack magazines capable of holding 15 or more rounds, there is a tendency for the neophyte (and even some with more experience who should know better) to assume that spare ammo is unnecessary. The logic runs “If I can’t resolve the problem in 15, or 17 or 19 rounds, I won’t need spare ammo anyway.” I don’t care who the manufacturer is or how high the quality of the product, if it is mechanical, it can break or malfunction. Or, as I read recently, “Anyone who tells you they have never experienced a breakage is either lying or they don’t shoot enough.” With proper training, you can very quickly clear typical semi-auto jams or malfunctions. But if the magazine itself fails (like having the floor plate come loose, dumping all remaining rounds on the ground), the only way to get back in action (short of picking up one round at a time from the ground and hand feeding it in the chamber), is having a spare reload.
In spite of the argument that revolvers are more “functionally reliable” than semi-autos, they are not immune to problems. Older style firing pins can break. Inadequate crimping can cause bullets to pull forward from the case, locking up the cylinder. The early-production Model 586 L Frame S&W .357 Magnum had a design flaw that would cause primers to back out of the primer pocket, which would also lock the cylinder, preventing cylinder rotation. There is no “rack and tap” clearance drill for a locked up revolver cylinder. The only remedy is disassembly, which is best left to a qualified gunsmith. I was fortunate that my 586 locked up on me while testing it at the range and not in the middle of some serious social interaction. Or I should say, the 586 that I used to own.
Where I personally differ from Conventional Wisdom is that I don’t carry spare ammo for my primary strong side hip holstered weapon (either a Browning Hi-Power in .40 S&W or a Kimber Gold Match 1911 in .45 ACP). I carry a spare gun (Taurus 605 .357 Magnum with a 2-1/2 inch barrel). What I give up in the way of spare rounds (5 rounds of. .357 vs 10 .40 or 8 rounds of .45) I more than gain in speed and versatility. This is what is known as a “New York Reload” based on NYPD ‘s famed Stake-Out Squad. Simply put, the fastest reload in the world is a second gun.
That by itself is enough reason for me to carry a spare gun instead of spare ammo for my primary. But there are other reasons that, again for me, are even more important. If you are ever faced with multiple assailants and are with someone, tossing them your spare magazine won’t do either of you much good. Tossing them your spare gun might. What if you are out with your family some dark and rainy night and your car breaks down in a questionable area, requiring you to walk for help? (Yes, you should have a functioning cell phone for those situations. Is it fully charged? Do you have a charger in the car just in case it isn’t? Are you in a dead zone with no phone reception?) If it is necessary for any reason for you to leave them while you seek help, do you take your gun with you (leaving them defenseless), or do you leave your gun with them (leaving you defenseless)? This becomes a non-issue with a spare gun.
What if you are assaulted (mugged) on the street and your assailant grabs your gun hand/arm, preventing you from accessing your strong side weapon? This also becomes a non-issue if you are carrying two guns, strong and weak side, allowing you to quickly access a weapon with either hand. One of the two previously mentioned mugging attempts involved two assailants who positioned themselves in front and behind me while I was walking down the street one night. The only reason the lead assailant was unable to pin my gun hand/arm was that I had deliberately positioned him to my left when passing him. When he suddenly lunged at me, grabbing and pinning my left arm against my side, I was still able to access my weapon on the side away from him. Needless to say, he did a very quick “oopsy two-step” while disengaging from the encounter. That was forty years ago and when I first started thinking through the wisdom of carrying a second gun.
Before anybody says/thinks that the other reason is that this acts as my back-up gun, no, it does not. I refer to it as my secondary/spare, not my back-up. I do so for a reason, that reason being that my true “back-up” is either one of those previously mentioned J Frames or the Colt Mustang in my left front pants pocket. If you are beyond remedial math skills, you quickly realized that 1+1+1 = 3. The small J Frames or the Mustang are my always guns. I switch between the J’s and Colt based on the pants I’m wearing at the time. If the pockets are deep enough, I carry one of the Smiths. If not, I carry the Colt. Either way, if I am wearing pants, I will always have one or the other on me, even inside my house.
As an aside, legality of carrying multiple weapons (even with a CCW), varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In some states, the CCW allows the holder to carry whatever make/model/caliber and number of guns that suits their individual fancy. Not so in others. Some states are so restrictive that the CCW is weapon specific, including right down to make, model, and serial number. You are allowed to carry the exact weapon shown on your CCW and nothing else, period. Act according to what is allowed in your jurisdiction. The best advice if you live in one of the more restrictive jurisdictions is this: Move.
Rule Number Six: Once again, see Rule Number One. There are a number of very good “pocket” (Always) guns that don’t even have effective front sights. Full size weapons that do have decent “standard” sights may be very effective in well lit situations but become virtually worthless in the dark. Sorry, but you simply can’t focus on your front sight if you can’t even see it in the first place.
There are three effective ways to address this potential problem: glow in the dark “night sights,” laser grips, and “pointer fire.” Higher end (read more expensive) guns may come already set-up with night sights, or more recently, even Crimson Trace laser grips. Decent after-market night sights can be picked up for between $70 and $100, depending on brand, plus installation cost if you have it done by a gunsmith. Crimson Trace grips will run, on average, plus or minus $300 depending on make and model of the gun. Of the two options, there is no question that laser grips are the more versatile choice. You have to be looking down the top strap of the gun to see and use your night sights. Not so with lasers. Lasers are also an effective “force multiplier.” Putting that red dot on someone’s chest will almost always immediately cause them to “reconsider” whatever it is they are doing. End result is problem solved without your having to actually pull the trigger. Believe me, you really don’t want to have to pull the trigger if you can avoid it. I am such a huge fan of Crimson Trace grips that my Hi Power, Kimber, Taurus, and both J Frames are all equipped with them (as do my son-in-law’s three and my daughter’s two carry guns). My only carry gun that doesn’t is my Mustang. And the only reason it doesn’t is that always doesn’t make grips for it.
Pointer fire doesn’t work? Tell that to Bill Jordan, one of the fastest and deadliest real gunfighters of the last century. Or Thell Reed and Arvo Ojalla, both of whom were almost unbelievably proficient at “hip shooting.” Remember the old Gunsmoke television program, which always started with Matt Dillon having a classic “walk and draw” face-off on Main street? His “opponent” in that clip was Ojalla (who spent much of his career training Western actors). Ojalla’s “trademark” trick was to place a target 21 feet away. He would then, in one continuous motion, throw a knife at the target, draw, and fire a single action Colt – from “the hip.” The bullet would hit the target first, followed almost immediately by the point of the knife going into the bullet hole.
I personally “honed” my gun handling skills in the days before it became common knowledge that “pointer fire doesn’t work.” My “test fire” procedure for any new carry gun is six full loads (magazines in a semi-auto or cylinders in a revolver) at a standard silhouette target 21 feet down-range. I use 21 feet because contact to 21 feet is the distance at which the vast majority of actual gunfights take place. My first load is aimed fire, center of mass. My second is aimed fire, head shots. My third is slow and deliberate strong hand pointer fire. This is followed by the fourth load of rapid fire strong hand pointer. The fifth and six loads are slow and rapid weak hand pointer fire. If I cannot consistently keep all of my rounds on target at 21 feet, I don’t carry that gun. I do the same basic drill whenever I add laser grips to a new carry gun, with two modifications. I eliminate the two rapid fire sequences and move the target back to 25 yards. All “sighting” is then done using just that red dot on target. It should be obvious, but I will say it anyway. Pointer fire becomes even more effective if you have the added visual benefit of a red dot on target.
In this regard, weapon choice can and does make a huge difference. Some guns are “natural pointers” in that the grip angle naturally aligns the bore with the shooter’s hand, wrist and forearm. The gun “points” where the shooter points. Probably the two best grip designs for “pointability” in the history of firearms are the Colt Single Action Army and the High Standard Sentinel. As a general rule, with some exceptions, most revolvers are reasonably good natural pointers. This is not at all true for semi-autos. Some are excellent while others are absolutely horrid. You test this by holding the gun naturally in your hand, waist high, and point it at a target. Does the bore follow a straight line through your hand, wrist, and forearm? Or does the muzzle point up (or down) from a line running down your arm? If it does, you would have to make an unnatural compensation in your grip by “cocking your wrist” to bring the gun “on target” with pointer fire. Learning to be able to consistently do that, especially while under stress, isn’t worth the time, trouble, or ammo expense. Choose a different gun to carry.
When time and distance are appropriate, absolutely follow conventional wisdom. Focus on your front sight and use sighted/aimed fire. But I would strongly suggest that you have an effective, workable, fall-back option for those situations where conventional wisdom might be found lacking in real life.
Rule Number Seven: Don’t ever bluff with a loaded gun. Under the law, you will be held to a higher standard of conduct just from the mere fact that you are armed. If you are not mentally and emotionally prepared to pull the trigger if put in a situation that justifies doing so, then don’t carry a gun. And don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that someone is going to immediately comply with your wishes just because you pull a gun on them, because an uncomfortable percentage of the time they won’t. What are you going to do after you draw down on them and they then tell you “You don’t have the (whatever) to use that” and keep on coming? You are either justified in using deadly force or you aren’t. If your immediate situation does not justify deadly force then keep your gun in your holster.
Besides, it isn’t the gun itself that compels compliance, it is how you present yourself. Do you come across as confident or fearful? Resolute or timid? What does your manner and attitude convey to the other person? And I don’t mean acting aggressively, either. Very often, the difference between having to actually pull the trigger or not hinges on the other person’s perception of your willingness to do so if necessary. Or stated differently, if they believe you will, you probably won’t have to.
One of the two late night convenience store incidents involved two very “mouthy” individuals who proceeded to tell me “You think you’re such hot stuff with that piece? You better remember that there are two of us and just one of you.” And this was while they were being held at gun-point. Their attitude suddenly changed when I held up the J frame in my hand and said “Two to one? No. I count it five to two.”
An even stronger example of the impact of “presentation” wasn’t even included in my list of seven incidents. That was the night I backed down seven Gypsy Jokers (outlaw Biker gang) without ever giving the slightest indication that I was even carrying. After a fairly tense few minutes that included numerous threats concerning what they planned to do to me (during which I never once raised my voice or even flinched), one of them talked the rest into leaving the store. That particular individual came back to the store by himself a couple of nights later. I thanked him for defusing the situation. That’s when he told me “You should have been making wet spots on the floor. You weren’t. I didn’t want to find out why not.”
Two weeks later, he came back in, by himself. Only this time, he cornered me in the back room when I had both hands full of empty six packs of bottles. He also pulled a knife on me with the comment “Now I’ve got you where I want you.” I simply said “Whenever you’re ready, make your play. All I’m going to do is open my right hand and then put two just above your belt buckle before the first bottle hits the floor.” He responded with “You’re not that good.” I answered with “You think not. I think I am. Whenever you’re ready to find out which of us is right, go for it.” His parting words before he left the store (after putting his knife away) were “You’re not worth it.” I never saw him again. He may not have believed that I was good enough to pull it off, but he knew I was sure going to try. He also knew the other side of the coin to Rule Number One: Never bring a knife to a gunfight. “Presentation and Perception” were the keys that kept a bad situation from getting worse. Oh, and this incident was also not included in the list of seven because I didn’t actually “use” the gun that I was in fact very mentally prepared to.
ADDITIONAL UNCONVENTIONAL TIPS:
Since I have already pretty well belabored Rule One (it does not really matter what you carry, as long as you carry something), I am not going to spend any more time discussing weapon or caliber specifics. Instead, I am going to focus strictly on Rule Number Four – the How and Where of carrying in a less than conventional or textbook manner.
There are essentially just two basic ways to carry a handgun: With or Without a holster. There are, however, numerous specific ways to do both.
True holster carry includes strong and weak side hip (inside and outside the waist band), cross-draw, shoulder (vertical, horizontal, and upside down), ankle, and pocket. There are also variations, such as groin and belly band, that technically fall within the “holster” category but which are not in fact actual holsters in the traditional sense. There are also multiple different ways to attach a holster to a belt (clips, snaps, slots, paddle), as well as many different styles of belt holster. Depending on specific circumstances at the time, I have experimented with every one of the above (and others) over the last 45 years.
Whichever type is used, however, the crucial factors are comfort, concealment, and accessibility. All three are important. Which of these is most important, however, depends entirely on individual circumstances. As with Rules Two and Three, there is no pat answer. It all depends on the individual and their reasons for carrying in the first place. For someone who would be fired on the spot if caught carrying, absolute concealment is obviously more important than comfort or accessibility. By the same token, if you work in a high risk environment, accessibility will have the greatest importance. If neither of these circumstances is present, you would probably be more likely to opt for comfort first.
If the carry method isn’t comfortable, you will violate Rule Number One and leave the gun at home when you should have it with you. You will also have a tendency to constantly readjust or reposition it, which is a classic “tell” that you are carrying. If the carry method doesn’t adequately conceal the weapon (gun is visible because it is carried too far forward on the hip, allowing it to be seen if the covering outer garment is moved aside when retrieving something from a pocket, it is worn such that the gun butt “prints,” or the barrel can be seen beneath the bottom edge of the covering garment, as examples,) two less than desirable results occur. The first is that you immediately lose any surprise advantage should you be put in a position of actually needing to use your weapon. The second, depending on jurisdiction, is that you very well may also lose your CCW. My Indiana CCW allows either concealed or open carry. With my CCW, I am still legal, even if my weapon should become visible (such as having my shirt catch on the back of the chair at the restaurant recently, exposing my weapon). This is not the case in all jurisdictions. Exposing your weapon in public in some jurisdictions is grounds of and by itself for automatic cancellation of your CCW. The third, accessibility, should be obvious. If you can’t quickly and easily get to it if you should need it, strict observance of Rule Number One won’t do you much good.
The two key determining factors in holster selection can be summed up as lifestyle and dress code. What do you do to earn a living? Do you work in an office behind a desk? Drive a truck or taxi for eight hours? Stand on your feet all day long working retail behind a counter? Are you retired? Are you required to wear a uniform at work (company logo type thing?) Suit and tie? Coveralls (mechanic in a shop for example?) Casual attire? How can you best achieve the three critical factors (comfort, concealment and accessibility) in your specific situation? A holster that works extremely well in one scenario may not work at all in another. You may prefer a particular mode of carry but your job or required dress may prevent it. What works best for you for your specific circumstances at the time?
I have already mentioned the difficulty of drawing from a strong side hip holster when buckled up behind the wheel of a vehicle. You can encounter similar problems when seated at a desk, even without a seat belt. If you are sitting close to the desk (legs under the desk, hands and arms on the desk), the gun barrel will come up under the front edge of the desk when you draw it, unless you first push yourself back from the desk to give yourself adequate clearance.
There are four realistic holster options for desk work: ankle, cross-draw, shoulder, and Cavalry. The “best choice” depends on a number of factors. Do you wear your suit/sport coat while working at your desk or do you take it off? Do you (for whatever reason) only carry one gun? How much of your working day is spent at your desk versus out and around? What is your commute situation? Do you drive or take public transportation? Best choice? The reality is that answers to these questions may determine your choice for you. As I said earlier, what works extremely well in one scenario may not work at all in another. You need to balance the totality of your carry requirements in making your carry decisions.
If you work in shirt sleeves all day long at your desk, an ankle rig may be your only truly practical choice for concealment and accessibility. Your desk will prevent anyone from the front or side seeing it and it will be instantly “at hand” if you need it. It becomes increasingly less practical, however, if you don’t spend all day in the office and/or commute by driving.
Wearing a “covering garment” greatly expands your options, whether that garment is a coat or sweater, preferably with front buttons. Either a cross-draw or shoulder holster will put your gun very close “to hand” by allowing you to sit with your elbow on your chair’s arm rest, arms crossed in front of you, and your hand inside your coat or sweater. A cross-draw holster lessens the risk of catching the gun barrel on the front edge of the desk compared to strong side hip, but it is still a potential if you are sitting too close. You avoid this by simply “rocking back” in your chair as you draw. As your upper body goes back, your gun easily clears the front edge of the desk as you draw.
The “type” of shoulder holster directly affects both accessibility and draw. Horizontal rigs naturally position the gun above the desk edge. Simply execute your draw. An upside down rig has the same potential for catching under the front edge of the desk as strong side hip or cross-draw. You avoid the desk edge by doing the same “rock back” as with a cross-draw. A typical vertical shoulder holster, however, presents its own little twist to the draw depending on how tall you are and your “torso length” relative to positioning with the front edge of the desk. Draws from a vertical shoulder holster are executed with a “forward and down” motion. Unless you sit high enough, the front edge of the desk will also interfere and get in the way of your clearing the holster and acquiring your target. If you are tall enough to clear, simply execute the draw. If not, again do a “rock back” in your chair to gain the needed extra clearance.
My personal preference if I am wearing a coat or sweater, however, is a Cavalry draw. It is called this because that is the way Cavalry troops carried their handguns in the 180os – strong side hip, gun butt forward. The classic picture of Wild Bill Hickock also demonstrates this method of carry. He wore a sash with a pair of Colt 1851 Navy Cap and Ball revolvers stuck butts forward in the sash. As a point of historical trivia, this method of carry is the fastest known way to draw and fire a single action revolver while seated at a poker table. With modern weapons and holsters, use a left hand holster for a right hand draw (and vice versa). The gun/holster is worn high, butt against your side (lower rib cage). You draw by simply reversing your hand (palm out, back of your hand against your side). Grasp the butt of the gun and then snap your elbow back in against your body. This action brings the gun out of the holster in a horizontal sweep above the edge of the desk. Pull the trigger when the muzzle goes “on target.” I prefer this method because it works equally well for sitting at a desk, driving, or walking down the street. [JWR Adds: From a safety standpoint, be advised that this carry and presentation method also “muzzles” your legs if you you use your strong side hand, which is a no-no.]
Ankle holsters can be a practical option, but other than for desk work as described above, I personally feel they should be reserved strictly for deep cover back-up guns and not for your primary gun. They may or may not be comfortable because they have a tendency to chafe on your leg and ankle. To assure concealment, you also need to pay strict and careful attention to the cut of your pant leg for both tightness and length. If your pant leg isn’t long enough, it will ride up and over the holster, exposing your weapon. If your cuff is too tight, accessibility will be excessively (dangerously) restricted. My main objections to them, however, are speed and vulnerability while drawing. Of all of the holster options, an ankle rig is probably the slowest from initiating your draw until time on target. And I really don’t like the idea of having to either kneel or bend over to get at my weapon if I am in a literal face-to-face encounter with someone.
The only holster style that I have absolutely no use for is Small of the Back (SOB). They are effective for concealment. They are also just as accessible (for speed) as a strong side hip holster, and probably faster than a shoulder or cross-draw rig. The down-side is that they are not particularly comfortable when seated because the gun rests right against the spine. And this is why I don’t like them. I don’t dislike them because they are uncomfortable. I dislike them because they are dangerous. If you ever slip and fall flat on your back (or get pushed violently against a wall in a physical confrontation) while using a Small of the Back holster, you run an extremely high risk of having your back broken from the impact of hard steel directly against your spine.
There isn’t much that needs to be said about shoulder holsters, except for the upside down (old Berns-Martin) style. This is one of only two holster styles I personally know of where you can access and draw your weapon just as easily (and quickly) with either hand. In one sense, it is a vertical rig because the barrel points straight up, with the gun butt pointing toward the rear. If worn on your left side, you simply reach across with your right hand, bringing it up to grasp the gun in a natural grip. You access it with your left hand by reaching up under the covering garment, curling your hand/wrist to also grab the gun with a natural grip. The draw itself is executed by “rolling” your hand in a circular motion toward the rear, down, and then forward and up. Another thing I like about this design is that you can stand with the gun already grasped in your left hand (the outer garment drapes over your wrist and conceals your gun hand) and no one facing you has the slightest clue that you are in fact armed. They just think you are standing with your hand on your hip. At least they did when I “demonstrated” this very draw while working at the previously mentioned late night convenience store. An upside down shoulder holster also tends to conceal better than vertical or horizontal rigs because the top strap of the gun is forward, reducing “printing” potential compared to the butt making obvious bulges under the covering garment.
I mentioned that the upside down shoulder holster was one of only two styles allowing quick and easy access with either hand. The other is a cross-draw holster where you reach across with your strong side hand or use a Cavalry draw with your weak hand. The problem with this approach (and cross draw in general) is that positioning the holster far enough forward on the hip for easy access with your strong hand too often places it in a position where the covering garment no longer adequately conceals the weapon.
Pants pocket carry can go under either category – with or without a holster. Conventional wisdom is to always use a pocket holster because it keeps the gun in a constant position, preventing it from shifting around in your pocket, as well as breaking up the outline of the gun. The other aspect of conventional wisdom is to never carry anything else in the same pocket at the same time – just the gun and holster. While I can understand the logic of both points, and agree in principle, I personally don’t care for and therefore do not use a pocket holster myself. I also carry a money clip and small change purse in the same pocket, which I personally use to break up the outline.
Either way (with or without a holster), do not carry any gun with a standard “spur” hammer in your pocket. There is excessive risk of the hammer spur snagging on fabric when you draw the gun. The only way to avoid this is to place your thumb against the back of the hammer and doing so prevents getting a proper grip while drawing. You want either a round hammer like the Colt Mustang and some Browning models, or a hammerless model (the correct technical terminology is internal hammer but most people just call them hammerless) like the S&W 442 or 642 revolvers, something with a hammer shroud like the S&W Bodyguard, or one of the smaller double action only semi-autos that don’t have an exposed hammer.
I mentioned earlier that a J Frame or Colt Mustang is my “true back-up” gun. The reality is that it is actually my primary, in that it is the one I would probably be most likely to draw first. The reason is that surprise equals (or beats) speed. Most people stand around with a hand in their pocket, just looking relaxed (or slovenly depending on how fastidious you are). Well, when I am standing there with my hand in my pocket, there is a gun already in my hand (which takes care of any shifting around problem from not using a pocket holster.) Someone might anticipate, and block, a sweeping motion to draw my strong side hip weapon. They wouldn’t even see it coming when I pulled the gun out of my pocket because it would be totally unexpected. The surprise factor is also one of the reasons why, contrary to conventional wisdom, that I personally keep my money clip in the same pocket as my back-up gun. If I have been targeted for a strong-arm or mugging attempt because someone has observed me putting my folding green in that pocket, then that is what they are going to expect to see when I remove my hand from the pocket – not their worst nightmare. At contact range (which is when this scenario would go down), I feel just as adequately armed with a properly loaded .380 as I would with a .45.
There are also two particularly effective ways to carry without using a holster at all. One is if you are wearing a suit or sport coat and the other is if you are wearing a vest or coat with flap front cargo pockets. When I used to work in an office where circumstances pretty much dictated taking my coat off during the day (hanging it on the back of my chair), and I therefore could not use belt or shoulder holsters, I carried the gun upside down in my strong side inside coat breast pocket. I would place my checkbook in the pocket and the gun in behind it, using the checkbook to break up the outline. With the barrel pointing up, the butt would be toward the rear (same as an upside down shoulder holster). To draw the gun, grasp the edge of the coat with your right hand, just above the pocket opening. Then reach in with your left hand and pull the gun straight up out of the pocket, using your right hand and the coat to shield the gun from view. Once the gun clears the pocket, simply flip it out with your left hand into the palm of your right hand. If you are being mugged when doing this, make your motions slow and deliberate while saying something like “Take it easy. I’m just getting my wallet.” That’s the Teddy Roosevelt approach to Diplomacy – saying “Nice doggie” while you reach for the big stick.
For cool and cold weather, my carry number (since I can) more often than not goes from three to five. I still carry strong side, weak side, and pocket. But I will add an outer garment with two flap front cargo pockets, into each of which will go one of the previously mentioned J Frame Smiths. Now when I am standing around, keeping my hands warm in my pockets, I am hanging onto two guns, not one. And I never carry anything other than hammerless J Frames this way. The reason I will only use hammerless revolvers is that, like the fastest reload being a second gun, the fastest draw is no draw at all. It would definitely ruin the vest or coat, but with the hammerless revolvers at arm’s length distance, I can shoot right through the pockets without needing to first draw the guns from the pockets. And I can keep on shooting them until they run dry with no fear of either a hammer or slide catching on fabric. If you try that with a semi-auto, you will get one shot before the gun jams with fabric in the action [or short cycles]. You might not get any with a regular revolver if the fabric gets between the hammer and the frame. Like I said, you will definitely ruin the coat. In addition to bullet holes, you might (probably will) also set the coat on fire. But if you ever are in this situation, a ruined coat will be the least of your concerns.
The other mode of holster-less carry that needs to be mentioned dates back to frontier days and is typically called the Mexican Carry: shove the gun in your waistband. I only have one word of advice for this method: Don’t. There simply is no way the gun will stay in the same position. It will shift around, slide down inside your pants (and maybe even down your pants leg), or simply fall out onto the ground. And this is just with normal activity. Add running or wrestling to the equation and it will go where it shouldn’t even faster. The only guarantee is that it won’t be where you put it when you need it.
One final aspect of carrying concealed needs to be discussed and that is how movement affects concealment. Before you start carrying, you tend to not think about how various movements affect the drape and fit of your clothes. That instantly changes as soon as you strap on a gun. For discussion purposes, I am going to assume a coat as the covering garment in all cases.
Example one is a strong-side belt holster. Assume you are in a store and have to reach something on an upper shelf, such that you have to stretch to get it. If you reach for it with the same hand/side as your gun, that stretching action will cause your coat on that side to “ride up,” potentially exposing your weapon. This is a perfect example of why an IWB is particularly effective for concealment. But if you reach with the opposite hand, the same action will cause your coat to ride even lower on the gun side, maintaining concealment. Now you want to get something on the bottom shelf. If you simply bend over at the waist to get it, your covering garment will pull tight over your weapon, causing it to “print.” You quickly learn to avoid bending over under any circumstances. Instead, kneel down, keeping your back as straight as possible while doing so.
Do you spend much time around people who like to “hug?” If you do, it is important that you initiate the hug. If you hug them first, their arms will be forced to go around, outside of, yours. This prevents them from feeling your concealed weapon when they hug you first with their arms inside of yours. Also protect your “personal space” when in crowds to minimize/avoid detection from someone bumping into you.
Proper positioning of belt holsters just rearward of the body’s mid-line greatly reduces potential exposure from a frontal view. But it doesn’t eliminate it. Minimize the number of things you carry in your strong-side front pants pocket to reduce potential for exposing your weapon when retrieving something from the pocket. Also learn to “sweep” your covering garment into a blocking position, locked in place with your arm, when you reach into the pocket. The other high potential for frontal exposure is if your coat gets blown open by the wind.
My personal approach is to carry something else on my belt in front of my weapon. I use a .45 caliber double magazine pouch on my left side. I have a Streamlight Stinger flashlight in one pouch and my Leatherman in the other. I wear a double Swiss Army pouch with my Swiss Champ and miscellaneous small items on my right side. Both are worn just to the rear edge of my front pants pockets, far enough back to avoid blocking easy access to my car keys and wallet on the right and my money clip and small noise maker on the left. The concealment advantage of doing this is that both are thick enough to cause my coat to drape over them, thereby reducing potential printing of the two holstered guns. They also shield the guns from frontal view by being in front of the guns. Someone’s eye will be drawn to them first and not see the guns. You can further reduce potential for the wind to blow your coat open by carrying a tube of fishing split-shot weights in your outer pocket. The added weight greatly reduces, if not outright eliminates, the wind from flipping your coat open when you least expect it.
As for actual “fit,” there are some other things that need doing, depending on your chosen carry method. If you choose a shoulder rig for use with a suit or sport coat, you need to have the carry side tailored for extra room to prevent printing. If you choose an IWB belt holster, you need to wear pants one size larger than normal to provide adequate room for the gun and holster. If you don’t, your pants will be uncomfortably tight. You also need to use a belt one size longer than normal. Speaking of belts, avoid fancy leather dress belts. They are too thin and do not provide sufficient support. You want thick, reasonably stiff leather, and preferably 1-1/2 inches wide in most cases. Narrower does not provide enough load bearing support and wider may not fit your belt loops. You also want the belt to fit as snugly in the belt loops as possible to reduce shifting.
The preceding are just a few thoughts and ideas from an old Maverick with close to half a century of walking heavy. Always remember Rule Number One – and do it in a way that works best for you and not what someone else who doesn’t know your circumstances tells you is “the best” way to go.