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Handguns

Practical Carry Techniques

by Jim Wilson   |  January 3rd, 2011 3

Using the right carry technique is as important as picking the right defensive handgun.


Regardless of the method you choose, your defensive holster should be molded to fit your specific firearm model. The one-size-fits-all types usually end up not fitting anything. (Pictured) Galco Concealable With Springfield Armory’s XD

The selection of a practical carry technique is only second in importance to the selection of the defensive handgun itself. Unfortunately, too often this matter is given very little consideration, and the handgunner goes home with just any old holster that looks like it might work. Given the fact that close-quarters criminal assaults are the most dangerous, the proper holster plays an important part in providing a rapid response to such a threat, so it is very important that the handgunner obtain the very best rig that he can possibly find for his defensive handgun.

Regardless of the holster style, the defensive rig should be built out of the very best materials available. Cowhide is the most traditional holster material, and it will give many years of good service. However, horsehide is also a good choice for concealment holsters; it is thin, tough, and extremely durable. Kydex is a material that has become quite popular for holster use, and I’ve seen some very good examples of these synthetic rigs. Holsters made of nylon fabric are not nearly so good a choice because they are usually too soft and don’t hold up well under extended use.

Whatever material is chosen for the defensive holster, it should be molded for a particular handgun. The one-size-fits-all rigs usually end up not fitting anything, and this designation often indicates low quality. Buying one of these rigs is like buying a brand-new, top-of-the-line Cadillac and then fitting it out with retread tires. A sturdy holster, properly molded for a particular handgun, will hold that gun securely and aid in the defensive speed draw.

Another important consideration for the defensive holster is that, whenever possible, it should not have any retention devices that have to be manually operated. This includes safety straps, thumb snaps, or safety levers that you have to push. Again, the most dangerous


Sheriff Jim says you should choose a carry technique that allows access to the handgun with both hands. Whenever possible, you should select a holster type that does not utilize any hard-to-manipulate retention devices. (Pictured) Galco Yaqui Slide With S&W’s Model 442

defensive situations are the close-quarters surprise attacks, and a quick deployment of the handgun is critical. Being surprised, nervous, and in an almighty hurry, the handgunner could very well fumble these manual safety devices and come out on the losing end of the encounter–that’s the “second-place winner” that Bill Jordan wrote about. The safety device that I prefer is the tension screw. It simply helps hold the gun in the holster and can be pulled through when the gun is being drawn.

When selecting a defensive holster, pick one that is designed so the shooter can get a shooting grip on his gun the moment he places his hand on it. This is critically important for a smooth, quick draw. In line with this, holsters also should be designed so the mouth of the holster stays open, allowing the gun to be reholstered with one hand. The shooter’s attention and other hand may be dealing with a physical confrontation that doesn’t require shooting. Many models of holsters have extra leather sewn around the holster mouth to help it stay open for one-handed reholstering.

The defensive handgunner should also select a holster and carry technique that allows him to access his handgun with either hand. Street criminals will often watch the intended victim and determine which hand is the master hand. During the initial attack, this hand and arm are quickly immobilized.

It’s often quite a challenge to practice using the weak hand to access a pistol or revolver carried for strong-side draw, but it is the smart thing to do. When you begin this kind of practice, you’ll also see why I’m not real excited about safety straps, thumb snaps, and those tricky little safety levers.


Being able to get a shooting grip on the handgun the moment you place your hand on it is critical. The best practical defensive holsters are designed with this mind. (Pictured) Galco Side Snap Scabbard With Springfield Armory’s 1911A1

Just like the defensive handgun, the defensive holster should be simple and functional in design. There shouldn’t be a lot of gimmicks and gizmos to get in the way. The individual is just going to have to do some experimenting to see which carry style suits his own situation and needs.

On The Hip
The conventional hip holster has a lot going for it in terms of comfort and security. For concealed carry, it should be designed to sit high on the belt with either a straight-drop cant or a slight FBI cant. The best of the hip holster designs have at least one belt loop on the rear edge of the holster.

Some rigs, often called pancake holsters, will have belt loops fore and aft of the holster body. These outbound belt loops help mold the holster to the wearer’s side and are a great aid in keeping the handgun close to the body.

The hip holster can be worn behind the strong-side hipbone. It can be worn in front of the strong-side hipbone for what is called an appendix carry. Or it can be worn in front of the weak-side hipbone for a crossdraw. The crossdraw is really coming back into popularity for those folks who spend a lot of time seated, especially in their cars. Even when you wear your seat belt, the crossdraw can provide a rapid response to a carjacking.

For concealment purposes, the hip holster must be concealed under a covering garment. And, due to the length of most defensive handguns, this generally means a sports coat or other longer coat. A general rule of thumb is that the covering garment should be four to six inches longer than the bottom of the holster. And, if you’re wearing your handgun in the crossdraw or appendix carry modes, it means you’ll have to keep your jacket buttoned so that it doesn’t blow open and expose your pistol or revolver.



For comfort and security, using a conventional hip holster is a good way to go. Good-quality hip holsters have at least one belt loop on the rear edge of the holster. (Pictured) Galco Avenger With Ed Brown’s Sheriff Jim Wilson 1911

Inside The Pants
The inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster doesn’t require nearly as long a covering garment because most of the handgun is concealed inside the pants. A sweater, sweatshirt, or even just wearing your shirttails out is often all the cover needed. And just like the hip holster, the IWB holster can be worn in several different locations at the wearer’s discretion. However, there are two important factors to remember when considering an IWB holster.

The first is to avoid those IWB holsters that utilize some sort of metal or plastic clip to attach to your pants or belt. Too often, when the stuff hits the oscillating device, you will reach for your gun only to have the holster come out with it. This is not good. The best IWB holsters will use some sort of belt loops to secure the holster. I particularly like the kind of IWB holster that has integral double straps that snap around the belt.

The second important factor of using IWB holsters is that you have to go shopping for bigger pants. If not, that gun stuffed into your tight waistband will sure make for a lot of discomfort at the end of a long day. If you carry a flat autoloader, you might well get by with purchasing pants that are one size larger in the waist. However, if you pack a revolver or a big, beefy pistol, such as a Beretta 92, you might well want to go two sizes larger. This often-overlooked consideration makes all the world of difference if you are serious about using an IWB holster.

Around The Ankle
The ankle holster is another method of concealment carry that deserves some discussion. As a rule, ankle holsters work well with small, lightweight handguns. And the best ankle rigs have plenty of padding to protect the ankle. The best carry technique is to install the ankle holster above the inside ankle on the weak-side leg. In this manner, your weak hand pulls up the pants leg while the strong hand goes directly to the gun.


Carrying a defensive handgun inside the waistband is an effective method. If an inside-the-pants holster is to be used, select one that utilizes belt loops rather than belt clips. (Pictured) Galco Royal Guard With Les Baer’s Thunder Ranch 1911

Obviously, the ankle holster is not a good idea if you usually wear jeans or other tight pants. You need a rather full pant leg to help conceal your rig and to make a smooth, quick draw.

Actually, I have a real problem with using the ankle holster to carry the primary firearm. To access the handgun, you either have to stand on one foot and raise your other leg, or you have to drop to a kneeling position. Neither move is a wise one when someone is in your face and pressing an attack. For this reason, the ankle holster is really a better choice for carrying a backup gun.

Under The Arm
Modern shoulder holsters are also worthy of consideration for the defensive handgunner. Like the crossdraw holster, the shoulder rig is especially useful in dealing with carjackings. Both carry methods are just easier to get to when you are seated. The modern shoulder rig is usually designed to carry spare ammo, a flashlight, or other accessories on the opposite side of the body from the handgun.

The best of the defensive shoulder rigs hold the handgun horizontally under the weak-side arm. For this reason, especially on the larger handguns, the holsters nearly always have a thumbsnap safety. This is the one exception to my retention rule, because it is simply necessary to safely carry the handgun.

Shoulder holsters really have only two drawbacks. The first is that carrying a large handgun, extra ammunition, and other accessories for long hours in a shoulder rig can really put a strain on the shoulder muscles. The second consideration is that the typical shoulder holster is not as rigidly fastened as is the belt holster, so when you make your draw, the holster rig is going to give a little. What this boils down to is that the shoulder rig is just not as fast as the average hip holster. Personally, I like the shoulder rig for carrying a second gun or when I have to spend all day driving.

One Other Worthy Way
Finally, regardless of your preference for a concealed-carry technique, everyone ought to have at least one fanny pack. These little rigs are just so handy for those times when the climate or activity don’t encourage conventional carry.


One carry technique that is effective in defense of a carjacking is the shoulder holster. It allows the defender to draw his handgun while seated. (Pictured) Galco Miami Vice With Les Baer’s Thunder Ranch 1911

Some fanny packs come with zipper enclosures while others have Velcro to fasten the pistol pocket. Given the choice, I prefer the Velcro that can be snatched open to expose the handgun.

I generally prefer the kind of fanny pack that has pockets in the front so that you can actually carry your wallet and keys. It’s a good idea to avoid getting a black fanny pack; pick another color if you have a choice so that it won’t look so much like a gun bag. And it’s also a good idea to get a patch from your favorite sports team or camera company and have it sewn onto the front of your fanny pack. That way, you just kind of blend in with the other tourists until the Big Bad Wolf shows up.

This overview of concealment techniques and holsters should get you started down the right track. I wish I could factor in your age, size, and the gun you carry to come up with just exactly the right holster for you. But due to the vast differences in our body sizes, clothing preferences, and the climates in which we live, I just can’t do that. Each carry technique has its good points and its weak points, so you’ll have to do some experimentation on your own to find what works best for you.

Just remember that the selection of a proper holster is exactly like finding the right defensive handgun. You ignore the latest fads, avoid the gizmos and gimmicks, and you buy quality.

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