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Gun concealment is largely about wardrobe. Common sense would tell us that the more clothing the ambient temperature demands that we wear, the easier it should be to conceal guns. There’s some truth to that, but it overlooks the fact that heavy winter garb can also restrict range of movement, making certain techniques more difficult. It also ignores the fact that the more clothing you’re wearing to cover the gun, the more clothing you have to get out of the way to bring that gun into action in an emergency. Let’s look at some practical elements of this topic that a lot of folks seem to have missed.

Cold Weather Guns

I lived most of my life in Northern New England, which can become a bitter, frozen wasteland in the depths of its long winters. It taught me a few things about concealed carry when bundled up like the Michelin Tire Man.

I learned early on that double-action revolvers are not very compatible with gloves, particularly the thick-fingered ones you have to wear when outdoors for any length of time in truly arctic temperatures. The first shot will go off fine, but the thick glove material may prevent the trigger from returning all the way forward. This will prevent it from firing again. Turning your six-shooter into a single-shot is a very real concern, and because so many people don’t want to shoot outdoors in bitterly cold weather, a scary number of them have never discovered that this very real concern exists.

Another thing to watch out for is very small triggerguards in single-action autos, such as the 1911. It’s not that the trigger won’t return, so much as that the unfeeling glove material can fill the triggerguard so much that it begins to exert rearward pressure on the trigger without the shooter’s index finger feeling it. That can be a prescription for disaster. We all like to say that we’ll keep our finger out of the triggerguard until we’re in the act of intentionally firing, but anyone can make a mistake, and our practice shooting itself has habituated us to have the finger inside the guard.

Traditional double-action autos with long, spacious triggerguards and a design that keeps the trigger to the rear after the first shot is fired, work well in winter. Once the shooting is done, the trigger finger leaves the guard and the thumb activates the decocking lever. Another design that works remarkably well in deep winter weather is the Glock, thanks to its combination of Safe Action trigger system and large triggerguard. This pistol was designed as a European military weapon, remember, and that part of the world has a long history of military operations in frigid weather. Ski troops and all that. The Austrians know how to make winter handguns. Note that the Glock is the single most popular police service pistol in Alaska.

Remember that with gloves off, fingers quickly become numb with cold. With gloves on, the sense of touch is significantly reduced. This means that light trigger pulls are more likely to lend themselves to unintended discharges in this kind of weather than any other, all other things being equal. It’s one more reason to avoid “hair triggers,” and to consider Glock’s NY-1 trigger on that brand of pistol. It gives a firm resistance from the beginning of the pull, and is more easily felt when cold weather has impaired the sense of touch.

Cold Weather Calibers

Even a high-tech hollow point bullet expands from the inside outward, as resilient flesh pushes against the walls of its nose cavity. If that cavity plugs with inert material from heavy coats and thick insulated winter vests, any jacketed hollow point might fail to open, and turn into a ball round. We’ve known for about a century now that 9mm ball is a relatively impotent “manstopper,” but .45 ball is pretty good in that regard. That’s why for a very long time, I’ve made a point of carrying a .45, or at least a .40, in deep cold weather. Note that those Alaskan law enforcement agencies generally issue large caliber guns: the Glock 21 .45 is standard for Anchorage PD, and the Glock 22 in .40 is issued to Alaska State Troopers. Fifteen or sixteen years ago, all the New England state police agencies were carrying 9mms, but time taught them all to upgrade. Half of them now carry .40s (Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont, all Sig Sauers); a third of them carry .45s (HKs in Maine, S&W M&Ps in New Hampshire), and one carries the high velocity .357 SIG (Rhode Island). I made a point of carrying a .45 every time I traveled to Alaska in winter, too.

There’s a common myth that ball rounds will work better against heavy clothing than jacketed hollow points. Untrue. The JHP may fail to expand, but if it does, it simply turns into flat-nosed ball, which is a better thing than round-nose ball. And, there’s no guarantee that the JHP won’t expand in flesh after passing through heavy clothing, only a decreased likelihood that it will. Besides, your defensive shooting may happen indoors against a lightly clad opponent, and then you’ll want the dynamic effect of the JHP working for your side of the fight.

Remember that night sights are more important than ever in the colder months. Even in Florida, there is the time change to consider. In winter, there’s simply more darkness, and it gets dark earlier, during times when most people are still out and about. Heck, if you’re wearing really heavy clothing, you can even conceal a hip holster with a pistol that’s already mounting a white light unit.

Cold Weather Holsters

Some holsters work better in winter than at other times of the year. Since the left side of the coat folds over the right side’s buttons in menswear, a right-handed man might find some type of crossdraw – a holster on the left hip, with the gun butt forward, or a shoulder holster under his left armpit – easy to reach through the front of a heavy outer garment that is fastened against the cold. Leave one button undone, solar plexus high with a low-slung horizontal or upside down shoulder rig, the one above that for a vertical shoulder holster that holds the gun butt high toward the armpit, or an unfastened button belly high for a crossdraw rig on the belt. This allows the right hand to knife through the otherwise-fastened garment for pretty quick access. Crossdraw will be easier to reach when driving while wearing heavy winter clothing, too.

However, crossdraw isn’t for everyone. Many police departments forbid its use, even for plainclothes or off-duty wear, for their officers. Many private citizens are also habituated to carrying on the strong-side hip. One example would be private citizens who shoot IDPA competition, where only strong-side hip holsters are allowed. The shooter who has learned to reflexively draw from behind the hip strong-side may be understandably reluctant to change holster location when the snow begins to fly.

It took me a while when I was a lot younger, but I finally figured out a good way to stay with strong-side hip carry even when wearing long winter coats, without leaving the coats open and suffering any discomfort.

It works like this: If you’re dressing in layers, if the first layer is open front (a suit coat or blazer, for example), don’t fasten it closed. Now the outer layer, the topcoat or whatever, goes on. Button the outer coat over the chest to just above the solar plexus. The natural drape of heavy winter garments should keep the front from flapping open in all but heavy wind.

The draw to practice, in case you need that hip-holstered gun quickly, is as follows. Knife the fingertips of your gun hand into the opening below the fastened part of the outer coat, with all four fingers touching your torso at abdominal midline. Now, with the fingertips maintaining torso contact, sweep the hand back toward the gun. The edge of your hand should sweep both the outer coat and the underlying garment out of the way, until hand meets gun. Drive the web of your hand down onto the backstrap of the grip-frame and take a drawing grasp, releasing any of the holster’s safety devices. Throw your hip toward your weak side (to your left if you’re right-handed); this will drop the holster down and help pull it out from around the gun, giving you extra range of movement. Now clear the gun and thrust it forward, going into your regular draw.

I recommend and use outer garments with snapped buttons, not zippers or old-style “buttonholes.” This can help to “pop” another button or two if you need more range of movement suddenly. While you can get dual zippers that open from the bottom up as well as the top down, that bottom zipper can work its way down and block your access at the worst possible time.

A final thought on winter carry. When the season brings snow and ice, we’re highly likely to slip and take a fall now and then. It wouldn’t hurt to have a holster with some retention to it: a thumb break safety strap, perhaps, or the BlackHawk SERPA, or something similar that will keep the gun from being inadvertently spilled or pulled from its scabbard if you take a butt-over-teakettle tumble.

Hot Weather Guns

On Internet concealed carry forums, the dog days of summer bring the cry, “Wa-a-ah! It’s too ho-o-ot for me to carry a gun to protect my family!” Well, it ain’t my place to judge, but I’ve spent some pretty hot summer days in Miami carrying a full-size Government Model or equivalent, in South America carrying a Browning Hi-Power or el quarto-cinco, and in South Africa wearing a 4-inch Smith & Wesson .44 Mag, always concealed. And I’m not a big guy. It’s simply a matter of knowing how to comfortably dress around the gun.

With a little care in clothing selection, it’s no trick to carry a full size handgun. New York State Police has issued full size Glocks to all its troopers including plainclothes detectives since the 1980s – first the 9mm G17, currently the .45 GAP G37 – and while they get some hot and humid summers in the Empire State, these guys and gals manage just fine. Still, if a smaller gun – thinner in profile, and perhaps with a shorter grip-frame – conceals better for you, there’s no reason not to go for it. Nor is there any need to scale down to a “mouse gun.” There are plenty of compact, super-light revolvers in calibers .38 Special and .357 Mag, and lots of fine subcompact autoloaders in 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 SIG, .45 GAP, and .45 ACP. There’s just no reason to trust your life to underpowered cartridges anymore.

Carried tighter to the body, at a time when we’re likely to be sweating for at least part of the day, summer carry guns are exposed more to salty human perspiration. I’ve turned blue guns brown in a single day carrying them tight against my torso on hot days, and I’m not alone. Stainless is much more rust resistant than blued finish, and I much prefer it over blue, but it can still rust if it isn’t wiped down with an oiled rag every day or three. The single finish I’ve found most impervious to human sweat is the Tenifer used on the Glock.

If your method of summer carry is going to put the gun next to bare skin, you want to be sure it isn’t going to chafe. A smooth grip panel next to the skin, and a rougher one on the outside where it will contact the firing hand’s palm, might look funny at “show-and-tell” night at the gun club, but will give you the best of both worlds. Remember, you’re more likely to have sweaty hands in tropical heat, and the palm is where most slippage against the grip occurs.

Hot Weather Holsters

With less clothing to conceal the handgun’s outline, an inside the waistband (IWB) holster will be more valuable than ever in very warm weather. If the belt attachments are behind the body of the holster, or fore and aft of it, there will be less-bulge yet. Remember that when carrying IWB, a 2-inch wider waistband will improve comfort and fit.

The “belly band” holster, first developed by John Bianchi in the early 1960s and first actually produced by the now-defunct MMGR in New York, has been a Godsend for people with tight dress codes at work who have to dress lightly to cope with heat. Picture a 4-inch wide elastic band with holster pouches sewn in. These are best worn at beltline level (not at the midriff, despite some of the ads). They ride “over the underwear and under the overwear.”

With a full-size handgun, the sidearm rides just behind the hip on the strong hand side. A dress shirt and tie can be worn, with the shirt tucked in, and the suit coat off without this gun showing. Just in one small Florida town, I can point you to two male executives, one female executive, and one self-described blue collar business owner, all of whom wear tucked in shirts and use belly bands to conceal full-size Glock, S&W M&P, or Springfield Armory XD pistols at work even in 107-degree heat factor and 100% humidity in the depths of August.

With a button-front shirt that’s tucked in at the waist, another option is to carry a small handgun just to the off-side of the navel, butt forward. By leaving the second button above the belt undone, an amazingly fast “front crossdraw” can be accomplished. Leaving a button undone is at worst a misdemeanor with the Fashion Police, but a necktie tends to cover it, and if you’re really worried about it, you can put a little Velcro patch there to hold it closed and sew a button to the outside of the shirt in that spot. The fingertips can still knife right through it in the rigid-finger position martial artists call a “spear hand.” I personally find it best with a J-frame revolver with 1.88-inch barrel, but a sub-compact auto such as the Kahr or the Baby Glock, etc. can also work in this type of carry. Anything longer will find the muzzle or front of slide digging painfully into the juncture of groin and thigh.

In between the inside the conventional inside the waistband holster and the belly band is what’s now generically called a “tuckable,” invented to the best of my knowledge by gun rights advocate Dave Workman, and one of the most widely copied designs of our time. It’s an IWB of leather (Dave’s original design) or Kydex, with an extra V-slot between belt clip and holster body to allow for a shirttail. This allows a tucked in dress shirt, just like a belly band.

A “shield” feature between gun and body (shielding the one from corrosive sweat, and the other from sharp metal edges) is a must for many who carry tight to the body, especially against bare skin. It will, however, slow the draw slightly, particularly for the shooter whose pistol has a safety and who wants to start the draw with thumb in proximity to that lever.

Wearing the gun on the hip under an un-tucked shirt is fine if the dress code allows. You want the shirt one size large, and with straight drape, not a tapered “body shirt” if you intend to keep the gun discreetly concealed. Patterns conceal bulges, and you want an opaque fabric. If you wear a button-front shirt, something like the Cuban guyaberra shirt, a Hawaiian “aloha shirt,” or a good ol’ American bowling shirt will do well. On the latter, you want to leave the lower button undone so there’s enough flex that the hem of the shirt won’t bind before you can get your gun out. The Cubans, an armed society, made the guyaberra that way intentionally. A Columbia-style shirt, very popular in heavily armed Florida, works similarly.

A good old gun concealment vest is a fine idea. Only another “gunny,” or maybe an off-duty cop, is likely to “make” you as a pistol-packer for wearing one. Most everyone else will take you as a photographer, fisherman, tourist, or gear-packing yuppie. The extra pockets are great for phones, PDAs, and all the other accoutrements of modern life…and a vest made of lightweight ripstop fabric isn’t at all uncomfortable. I shoot for Team EOTAC, and wear one of their vests a great deal on my own time in the summer. It conceals a big gun perfectly in a comfortable outside-the-waistband holster.

Hot Weather Draws

The concealment vest is normally worn open, and drawing is a snap. The closed-front garment, such as an un-tucked polo or tee shirt or the tucked-in button front dress shirt, mandates two drawing techniques that aren’t as easy as they look. One is attributed to my old friend Ken Hackathorn and is known as the Hackathorn Rip. The support hand comes across and grabs the garment low in front of the holster, ripping it up as close to the shoulder as possible, while the gun hand performs a conventional draw. Most find this slower than a regular draw from under an open front garment, but it can be amazingly fast: Todd Louis Green beat all the rest of us at Tom Givens’ Polite Society match in Tulsa in 2010, drawing his HK45 this way from a Kydex IWB in the appendix position.

Because you won’t always have both hands to commit to a draw – the free hand may be warding off the threat or pushing a victim out of harm’s way – you want to spend at least as much time drawing one-handed. With a closed front garment, use the gun hand to rip the tucked in dress shirt up, or the thumb of the gun hand to lift the hem of an un-tucked shirt. Once again, throwing the hip to the side opposite the holster will give you more range of movement and help pull the holster down and out from around the gun as the gun hand is pulling the sidearm up and out of the holster.

The weather isn’t always the same. Therefore the clothing isn’t always the same. Therefore the way we arm ourselves and practice for self-defense can’t always be the same, either, at least if we intend to maintain optimum capability.

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