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There are many reasons for carrying a sidearm, most stem from one’s line of work or simply the protection of one’s home and family-the fundamental tenets of the Second Amendment. Choosing the right gun and method of carry, however, can depend on many varying conditions. Outside of military and federal service, where specific makes and models of guns are either issued or required, finding the gun and carry method that best suits an individual is a lot like buying a suit or a pair of shoes-it has to fit.

The general theory for CCW is “one gun, one method of carry.” The fundamentals come down to four things: gun, caliber, carry method, and comfort. With today’s modern concealed carry holsters, surprisingly size is rarely a factor. Choice of caliber (based on one’s skill level and ability to manage recoil) and the best means of carry for individual needs are still significant factors in choosing a “rig.”

Carry Large

A full-size or “Government Model” is the best option for combining stopping power and standard or extended magazine capacity. The most commonly carried .45 ACP is the Colt Model 1911 or current variations of the 1911-style. Other notable options in .45 ACP are the Glock 21 and 21SF. To carry any full-size handgun there are three traditional choices-a shoulder holster, a belt holster, or an IWB (inside the waistband) rig. The most comfortable is a belt holster that can best support the weight of the gun and, when worn at the 4 o’clock position, be well concealed by a long shirt, jacket, sport or suit coat.

Suitable for any large-frame semi-auto is the Galco FED Paddle (800-874-2526; galcogunleather.com). This holster has two exceptional features, an easily operated thumb break retention strap and a cant-adjustable paddle that allows the wearer to angle the gun to particular needs from vertical to 45 degrees. The beauty of a paddle holster is that one can use it without a belt and easily move it around the waist to suit different needs and conditions. It is, in this author’s opinion, one of the best choices for carrying a large-frame pistol.

Packing a Government Model 1911 has been easy since the late 1950s, when John Bianchi pioneered the Speed Scabbard. The look is unmistakable as is its ease of use. John Bianchi still makes them at Frontier Gunleather (877-877-4704; frontiergunleather.com) and the design has never been surpassed for making a full-size Government Model easy to carry. There is also a new version of the Bianchi Speed Scabbard called the Stryker.

Full-size semi-autos are equally suited to yet another style of concealed carry rig, the Kramer MSP (800-510-2666; kramerleather.com). This is an all-leather paddle holster with safety belt retention strap. The MSP holster not only looks great but also provides any pistol with a solid platform for concealed carry despite the size of the gun. Constructed from premium cowhide rig the MSP has a large leather paddle that curves around the waist with a hand-stitched leather catch smoothly pressing against the inside waistband behind your belt. The comfort factor is the all-leather construction, which has no hard edges like injection-molded paddles. In addition, the MSP has a belt loop retainer to ensure the holster stays put. The Kramer is a perfect fit for most large- and medium-frame semi-autos; it is also the current issue holster for the plainclothes officers of the Michigan State Police.

One other way to carry a full size semi-auto is the SOB approach, which has nothing to do with one’s personality. SOB stands for “small of the back,” and this carry method has less to do with gun size than comfort. The small of the back is a natural curve that allows placing a firearm, semi-auto or revolver, well out of sight covered by a shirttail or jacket. Most rigs place the grips at an upward angle for a more natural draw; grip’s down requires the hand and wrist to rotate in order to draw the gun, whereas a grip’s up requires only a single, linear motion. The only issues with SOB carry are the fact that the gun is behind you and less protected, and depending upon one’s build, sitting with a gun against your back can be uncomfortable. This is less so with small, narrow subcompact semi-autos.

There is also the crossdraw approach, which is considerably more limited with large frame semi-autos because the grips face butt forward and are more difficult to conceal. Crossdraw holsters are much better suited to subcompact and smaller semi-auto pistols and revolvers.

Glocks With Lights

The Glock has become one of the most popular semi-autos in the world. They are available in multiple calibers and frame sizes. A Standard or Compact Glock, regardless of caliber, can also be equipped with the Glock GTL 21 or GTL 22 laser sight/tactical flashlight; an excellent and potentially life-saving accessory for concealed carry. The problem with GTL-equipped Glocks has been holsters, there are very few available. The latest is a brand new CCW belt rig from Chisholm’s Trail Leather (678-423-7351; westernleatherholster.com), the Arc Light Tactical. It is designed specifically for concealed carry of any full size or compact Glock model fitted with a GTL light/laser. The basket weave pattern gives it a law enforcement look, and although it appears big, the holster is just slightly larger than the gun, making it suitable for concealed carry. The Arc Light uses a wide, double-stitched heavy-duty belt loop to keep the holster and gun close up to the body. This is the only all-leather, handcrafted Glock carry holster of its kind with a sturdy build that makes it possible to carry models as large as the G21 SF with a GTL light/laser mounted on the dustcover rail.

The last option for carrying a Government Model or other large-frame semi-auto is a shoulder holster that can place the gun high and under the off side arm for cover. One of the most popular styles of shoulder holster is the Miami Classic, available from Galco, which will accommodate full size 1911s or compact 1911 models with the same holster. Similar style vertical and horizontal shoulder rigs are made by most manufacturers. Another variation is the DeSantis (631-841-6300; desantisholster.com) New York Undercover designed by Gene DeSantis in the 1970s. The Undercover is one of the lightest and easiest rigs in which to carry a large frame semi-auto or revolver and it can be adjusted for different heights and angles, placing the gun higher under the arm or lower and closer to the waist. The shoulder holster remains one of the most popular carry options, but either a coat or shirt worn outside the pants are mandatory for proper concealment.

Carrying Small

Most people prefer a smaller semi-auto or revolver for concealed carry. This has been a constant for more than 150 years, with the most famous examples being the Colt Detective Special and S&W Chief’s Special revolvers, both of which were staples of plain clothed detectives in the early to mid 20th century. The .38 caliber revolver has also remained a favorite for civilian concealed carry. Subcompact semi-autos in .380 ACP (9mm short) have run a close second for nearly as long and both are easy to carry.

Many modern rigs are little more than an open muzzle scabbard to cover the frame of the gun, leaving the barrel exposed-thus the overall dimensions of the sidearm (barrel length) are irrelevant. Rigs of this style such as the Galco Quick Slide and DeSantis Mini Slide offer over the hip or 4 o’clock positioning of the gun that is well concealed by an unbuttoned sports coat, jacket or open shirt.

Smaller pistols also lend themselves to crossdraw carry with the same rig. Small-frame semi-autos and revolvers work well with belt or paddle holsters that offer a slight forward cant, which helps improves draw. It is important to consider the cant of the holster, not only for drawing a gun but also for security. A rig that places the gun at a 90-degree angle can, under some conditions, allow the pistol to be pushed upward and out of the holster when sitting. If gun retention is a concern, there are also thumb break safety holsters for small-frame semi-autos and revolvers as well, like the DeSantis Maverick, Triple K (619-232-2066; triplek.com) Secret Agent II and Bianchi Frontier Gunleather Defender.

IWB

That’s the acronym for “Inside the Waistband” a very specific style of concealed carry that either works for an individual or doesn’t. No middle ground here. It is a modern version of the old and not often wise idea of sticking a gun inside your waistband. We’ve seen it done countless times in movies and television shows and it really works, but only for a very short time, because guns have a habit of shifting around or worse, falling out. The IWB holster was developed to provide the same level of ease but with a holster to make sure the gun stays put. Every IWB rig on the market works, some better than others, but they all have one thing in common, putting the frame and grips up against your body. And that is where the problem can arise. If one has a short-waist, sitting with a pair of gun grips poking into your ribcage isn’t going to work. This is the one method of carry where the first consideration has to be comfort. The smaller the gun the easier this is to accomplish.

There is, however, one exception-a new semi-auto and IWB holster combo from Beretta (800-929-2901; berettausa.com), the 9mm Nano and Beretta Amadini IWB Ghost Holster. The Amadini IWB rig combines a trim, contoured injection molded pouch with a wide, soft, ventilated premium leather skirt, fitted with two large adjustable spring steel over-the-belt clips. This is a stylishly designed rig that is comfortable to wear and secures the Nano within easy reach for a clean draw. The flexible leather skirt totally isolates the upper frame of the Nano from the body so there are no hard surfaces rubbing against your side or under the ribcage when sitting. I tried it at the three o’clock hip position, which is generally uncomfortable with most IWB rigs and the Ghost Holster was just that, a ghost. The Amadini wears just as well at the four o’clock position. The other new option is the DeSantis Intruder, which uses a construction similar to the Amadini but is offered for a wide variety of revolvers and semi-autos. This too is a very large rig, but since it is 90-percent hidden, size is not an issue. Comfort is, and both designs are comfortable and very easy to wear, giving the IWB a stronger position among concealed carry options.

Pistols In Pockets

By and large, this is the easiest means of concealed carry on a day-to-day basis, period. A pocket holster and a small frame semi-auto or snub nose revolver are among the easiest to carry providing a variety of calibers and modest standard capacities.

Revolvers generally fall into the S&W J-Frame category and that, for the most part, means five rounds of .38 Special (.38 Special +P); some models offer six round capacity but that’s it. In the .380 ACP pocket pistol category standard capacity is usually 6+1 so there is a slight advantage, also a semi-auto is faster to reload if you have a spare magazine in the same pocket.

The best pocket holsters are designed to stay put and are constructed either of a synthetic that has a tacky outer surface to keep the holster in the pocket combined with a lined pouch for ease of draw, or a rough out suede finish to secure the rig against pocket fabric paired with a smooth leather lined pouch. Among top choices the DeSantis Nemesis and Super Fly, which are offered for a variety of pistols from small .380s like the Ruger LCP and Kel-Tec P-3AT, to J-Frame revolvers, subcompact 9mm semi-autos and the brand new Springfield Armory XDS .45 ACP. With the introduction of the XDS, Springfield Armory created the first truly “pocketable” .45 ACP. There are two rigs designed for the XDS, the DeSantis Nemesis and the McCabe (814-946-9342; mccabescustomleather.com) Front Pocket Holster, which is a rough out all-leather rig contour fitted to the new Springfield.

Pocket carry is discrete, easy, and with the proper gun and practice the most concealable means to provide quick access to your sidearm. It requires no particular style of dress and historically, pistols have been carried in pockets longer than any other means of concealment since the invention of the Henry Deringer more than 160 years ago.

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