Experience can be an unforgiving teacher. But after a bit of trial and error we eventually find the right path, benefitting from what we’ve learned. I’ll confess that my journey into the world of concealed carry has involved more than a few missteps. And, like many pistoleros, I have a duffle bag full of orphan holsters to prove it. When a holster fell short in comfort, access or concealment, I moved on to the next one. While this process of trial and error can be expensive, having gear that works is what makes for successful concealed carry.

You want to begin with the right combination of holster and firearm, but there is more to do. Scenarios involving pistols are often predictable; the need to get into action, immediate. But in order to neutralize the threat, you must first locate and assess it then take the appropriate action. Quite simply, you are starting the process much later than you attacker has. You want a fast and effective draw, but drawing a handgun from concealment comes with its own set of challenges. Here are a few pointers to help speed up your response to deadly threats.

1. Holsters Matter: Your holster is every bit as important as the gun it carries. It should help conceal the gun and be comfortable, secure, durable and quickly accessible. Designs that works well under a heavy winter coat will give you up when worn under a suit or an untucked shirt. For maximum concealment, it’s tough to beat an inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster, which allows you to discreetly carry a compact or even service-size pistol in polite society. However, IWB carry doesn’t work for many individuals, including this writer. No matter what design you choose, it should allow a full firing grip on the holstered pistol, a one-hand return and a close fit to the body for concealment. These qualities will not be found in many unmolded leather and nylon holsters. If you buy cheap, you buy twice.

2. Dress for the Gun: Remember, in just a heartbeat you may need to get into action. There will be no time to dig for your roscoe under multiple layers of clothing, so be sure to utilize a belt capable of supporting your holstered pistol. Manufacturers of quality holsters also turn out the best belts. Cheap department store belts compromise concealment and hinder the draw stroke. Also, avoid clothing that draws attention or signals to some street cretin that you are armed. Several manufacturers of tactical clothing now offer stylish shirts that effectively conceal and don’t stand out or raise any red flags.

3. Sweep: When you’re wearing a front-opening garment such as a sport jacket or windbreaker, use the sweep technique for the most efficient draw. (Needless to say, this technique won’t work with a jacket that’s buttoned or zipped up.) Curve the pinky and ring finger of your shooting hand and hook them over front edge of the open garment. Sweep it well to the rear of the holstered pistol then quickly reverse the direction of your shooting hand to acquire a shooting grip on the gun.

4. Lift and Grab: Getting a handgun out from underneath a closed-front garment like a loose sweatshirt is a bit trickier. Old-school doctrine has shooters grabbing and lifting with their support hands while their strong hands go for their guns. This works great on a sterile range but not so much when you are fending off a close-quarters attack. Lifting the garment high with the strong hand and quickly bringing it down to acquire a shooting grip is better.

5. Efficient Draw Stroke: Consider the S.I.G. (simple is good) principle when drawing the concealed handgun. As you sweep your garment to the rear, your elbow will go straight back while your strong hand is going for the gun. From there, establish a firm, final shooting grip and lift up. By extending your elbow all the way to the rear, you will bring your gun up to chest level. Rotate the muzzle toward the threat and press out.

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