Concealed Carry|Gun Gear|Safety and Training

Concealed Carry Choices and Modes

Colt 1911 pistol with a snubnose revolver

When a new shooter or trainee begins discussing concealed carry, I offer the best advice I am able. One piece of advice is that you really need two guns—a large and a small handgun—if you live in a true four-season climate. Even in warm Florida, you probably need to have a smaller gun under the shirt or for in-the-trousers carry along with a reasonable-size carry piece.

Blackhawk pocket holster and speedloader with the snubnose .38
A Blackhawk pocket holster and speedloader with the snubnose .38 makes for reasonable protection.

Another piece of advice is that a holster is a great modifier of handgun size if properly designed. A larger handgun may be carried concealed in a good holster with the proper geometry. The holster must keep the handgun secure and angled properly for a sharp presentation from concealed carry.

I also carry a good knife and a spare gun load. Sometimes, I carry a combat light. I don’t want things to get out of hand and discourage the beginner from weighing down the belt, but a bit of acclimation is necessary.

We all carry cell phones, so we have a lifeline. A well-designed knife may double as an impact tool. I like to carry a knife with a glass breaker, a carryover from my days as an LEO and for use in rescue. I’m not likely to use a knife in searches anymore. Most folders are poor fighting knives, but I like to carry something substantial for use in retention. I have two knife scars not inflicted by myself and respect the edged tool but also its limitations. The Steel Will folder is the piece I carry most often.

Speedloaders for pistol and tactical combat lights
Spare magazine carries are very important. That is a Steel Will folder and a Surefire Stiletto combat light.

As for the big and small handguns, I relied upon a Colt Government Model .45 and a snubnose .38 for many years. They are each excellent in their respective roles, but something in between is useful these days.

I think .22s, .25s, and .32s are useful most as a threat. Their effect or lack of it on motivated felons is well documented, and I do not feel much better about the .380. The same goes for derringers.

Simple readiness demands a handgun that is ready for instant action. If you are uncomfortable carrying a handgun with a cartridge in the chamber, then you need a revolver. While reliability is the bottom line, heft, handling, and speed may be more important than absolute accuracy. A balance of power and portability is important.

Small Guns

The smallest and least powerful handgun I occasionally deploy—and usually as a backup—is the Ruger LCP II .380 ACP. While light, this handgun features good sights, a good trigger, and reliability. It is surprisingly accurate. I load it with Federal’s 99-grain HST and hope for the best. It is too good not to have on hand.

Arex Rex Delta polymer framed pistol in 9mm
The author finds modern polymer-frame handguns are good to have. The Rex Delta, bottom, is a new introduction with excellent performance.

A big step up is the snubnose .38 Special. The 442 with Ahrends grips is more concealable; the 638 with Pachmayr grips is easier to shoot well. A Blackhawk pocket holster is a big help with these.

The revolver may be jammed into an adversary’s body and fired repeatedly. It will continue to fire when a self-loader would not. I can’t remember when I have fired either of these, which isn’t the best program, but then I have a lifetime of revolver shooting behind me.

These handguns are loaded with the Federal 129-grain Hydra-Shok +P. These are my most often-carried backup handguns. The 638 will get the nod for primary carry.

Sam Colt codified the three sizes of handguns—pocket, belt, and holster—and he made handguns in the appropriate frame size. I think this is still a good description. A slight upgrade in weight and size makes for much more effective handguns that are easier to use well and hit harder than pocket guns.

Two revolvers in leather holsters
A 4-inch barrel may be concealed with proper leather. The 2.75-inch barrel, bottom, is a good compromise.

The Glock 43 is one choice. For greater wound potential, the Springfield XDS in .40 is a powerful and reliable handgun. It kicks—no sugar coating that—but it is controllable for those who practice. I load it with Hornady Critical Defense and enjoy good function and accuracy. I would rather have this pistol than half of the handguns going through concealed carry permit classes.

A rather remarkable light handgun I carry often is the Bond Arms Bullpup 9. This is a unique design that offers eight rounds of 9mm ammunition in a compact package due to the unusual rear-feeding magazine and BullPup design.

The next step up is to service pistol size. This results in an increase in hit potential, reliability, and service life as well. The Glock 19 9mm is the baseline in this category. If you pay less, be certain of what corners are cut. If you pay more, be certain you get your money’s worth.

The slightly smaller Rex Delta 9mm is one choice, the slightly larger SIG P229 another. The Glock 45 9mm or Glock 19X offers a larger grip and excellent hit probability. Load these with the Federal HST or Hornady XTP and you have effective handguns that offer manageable recoil and durability.

Springfield XDS pistol chambered for the .40 S&W cartridge
Among the best compromises in size and power is this Springfield XDS .40.

These are probably as large a handgun as the majority of shooters are willing to carry. These pistols are a joy to use and fire, very accurate, and controllable with a good reserve of ammunition. When carrying these handguns, I always carry a folding knife and sometimes a tactical pen as well.

The handgun isn’t the only resort, it is the last resort, and there must be other options. As for load-bearing devices, I use both leather and Kydex. The Werkz holster offer excellent balance and represents a good design.

The Big Guns

The big guns are the revolvers and self-loaders I carry more than half the time. Speed into action, power, and accuracy are important. My threat profile includes the big cats and feral dogs, not to mention the ever more present psychopath found in the wild (a recent event included a veteran and hiker murdered and two people injured on the Appalachian trail), so I prefer to be well armed with a handgun I have practiced with. The full size handguns invite practice.

Colt 1911 pistol with a snubnose revolver for concealed carry
For many years, the author got by with a big gun and a small gun. There is more to the story today.

With the 1911 Dan Wesson Heritage or Les Baer carried in the N3 Galco inside-the-waistband holster, I am as well armed as possible with a handgun. I find the flat and fast-into-action 1911s more comfortable and better balanced than the SIG P229/Glock 19X class, and this is a product of long experience. I sometimes carry the SIG 1911 Nightmare Carry Fastback. This isn’t a compromise in most ways, as the piece is powerful and accurate—but it also kicks harder than a Government Model.

I also deploy revolvers, for much the same reasons enumerated in the section concerning snubnose .38 revolvers. Animal attacks often involve surprise and the beast grabbing the victim about the neck or head. Those who survive have thrust a revolver into the animal’s body and fired repeatedly.

A .357 Magnum revolver isn’t too heavy to carry constantly but offers plenty of power. For personal defense, the revolver is far from outdated. I often carry a heavy-barrel Model 13 Smith & Wesson or a Wiley Clapp GP100 in .357 Magnum. I have an assortment of Lobo Gunleather products that make carrying the revolver viable and even comfortable.

What gun (or guns) do you prefer for concealed carry? Do you subscribe to the author’s belief in carrying a large and small handgun? Why or why not? Share your answers in the comment section.

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Comments (27)

  1. I have tried carrying many weapons over the years, but kept going back to my Rossi .38 snub. A recent acquisition, an M&P Shield ported .45, has taken the #1 spot now. A little leary of the ‘new’ S&W as a company, but so far so good. It’s easy to carry in an IWB, including at times a belly band. Have come a long way from my first CC, an original 586 L frame 4” barrel. Thankfully as I have gotten older and heavier the guns have gotten smaller and lighter!

  2. I disagree with the author when he says a .38 special is a big step up from a .380 ACP. While the cartridge itself is longer and the recoil is greater, recent ballistics testing by numerous sources has shown the .380 ACP to be at least equal if not superior in ballistic and terminal performance.
    Of cours the normal caveats about both ammo and firearm choice apply, but otherwise I side with the .380.
    Also, having carried a Smith & Wesson model #36 Chiefs Special with a 3″ barrel for a while before switching to auto’s and using it to practice and qualify on the Orange County Sheriff’s range in the early 1970’s, when revolvers and snub nose revolvers in .38 special were still routine as duty carry for law enforcement, I can tell you they are more difficult to conceal for smaller framed people.

  3. I’v carried just about everything at one time or another. When in the wilderness hunting, fishing, or on a hiking trail I usually carry a 1911 in a Miami Vice shoulder rig or, if in Grizzly country, a Smith 629 4inch in a belt or chest holster. For social carry I prefer a behind the waist band (or behind the belt) De Santis sof-tuc holster carrying usually a Smith Shield 9 or Glock 42 or 43. I’ve even carried 1911 lightweight commanders in a sof-tuc De Santis comfortably with large untucked shirt in warm weather, but prefer the Shield 9 or small Glocks most times.

    1. The sr9 is the only hand gun I have right now and I really like it. It’s a bit big however I’m not really concealing. I don’t want to fine with my shirt is someone walks up behind me at the barn or greenhouse. I also carry when riding my horse so the holster should be secure and comfortable.

  4. One Taurus 605 (357) stays in each car and truck. Seldom do I carry on my person. I sometimes carry on the motorcycle. GP100 in and around the house along with an assortment of shotguns, etc…

  5. I believe the p290RS has been discontinued, with the P365 replacing it. Bought one a few months ago for summertime carry with jeans and tshirt. Tiny little thing, but shoots well, and is amazingly accurate. In a good IWB holster, it can be concealed with a tshirt. 10+1 with a standard mag, with 12 and 15 rd mags available. Night sights come standard. So far, it’s my only 9mm gun, all the others are .45auto(5). But a compromise had to be made to allow carry with only a tshirt in the deep south summers(GA). FWIW, for the milder months, I have a Springfield XDE in .45auto that has become the one I like to carry, DA/SA, very reliable, and carries well. Load it, chamber it, decock it, leave the safety off, and stick it in the holster. Pull it out and the bang switch works every time.

  6. MAN! Wilburn it must be nice to afford that many guns and holsters along with the ammo. I’m envious for you. I rely only a Springfield Armory 1911 Champion, .45 ACP with a Sig paddle holster. I cut my teeth on 1911s when I came into the Army a couple of decades ago. So I’m pretty comfortable with 1911s, Sig 228 (Army M11) and the Beretta 92 (M9). I’ve trained with revolvers, but never carried one. My SA Champion isn’t a tack driver, but good in close quarters and very reliable with a good quality magazine and very concealable.

  7. I am 68, 5′ 9″ with average hands, weigh 175, and carry a Kahr CW45. I can carry a full size 92, and have, but the Kahr is my normal carry as the trigger is superb. I just recently acquired a Keltec PF9 (trigger by comparison – eh) for the occasional times summer clothes make the 45 impractical, and it is “replacing” a Keltec .380 as my light carry. My preferred carry style is inside-the-pants, cross draw, with the frame draped over my hip. Even the 92 doesn’t show in that configuration, though, I do have to draw that side at least once a day (taking the gun off at night) to keep limber enough to be quick at it. Age and all, you know.

  8. The guns I prefer for EDC consists of either my Kimber Ultra Carry II, my Taurus 605 357 mag or by 44 magnum with a 4″ barrel. These are my big guns. And to carry a back-up is either a LCP 380 OR my 5 shot revolver from NAA. It small but It’s in my pocket day and night, so you don’t even realize It’s there. I Why? Because you never know!

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