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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.

6. Support Hand: If your are more than a few yards from the shooter, having both hands on your pistol will certainly help your cause. Make your draw stroke. As your strong hand clears your garment and goes for your gun, bring your support hand to your body’s midline at chest level. Then bring your hands together to establish a shooting grip.

7. Carry a Real Gun: Sure, little guns are nearly invisible and are only a minor inconvenience. However, they get into action slower, have much less stopping power and aren’t nearly as user-friendly as subcompact, compact or service-size pistols. Carry the biggest pistol you can effectively hide. Mouseguns are indeed handy but fill a more specialized niche. Far better choices include new-generation micro pistols chambered for a legitimate service cartridge like the 9mm—you could also carry a snub-nose .38 Special revolver.

8. Be Aware and Willing: Mindset is a cornerstone to any fighting system. When carrying a handgun, you cannot afford to lapse into Condition White. If you’re asleep at the switch, you put yourself and those around you in danger. Be aware of your surroundings to spot potential problems before it’s too late. Being forewarned beats a l.5-second draw every time. If you carry a concealed pistol, you must be prepared to use it. Don’t think that the mere display of your drawn gun will send the bad guy scurrying away. If they sense you’re not prepared to take action, you will lose!

9. Avoid Stupid People, Places and Things: Cops have no alternative but to visit seedy places and interact with all sorts of questionable characters, but armed citizens have a choice. The most effective draw is the one that doesn’t have to happen. We are far less likely to get into a confrontation if we use our heads. Note that it might be tough to justify your application of deadly force in a strip club during Bike Week when your blood alcohol content was well over the legal limit.

10. Practice Makes Perfect: None of us can get to the range as often as we like, but we can still practice. Using the right precautions (unloaded gun checked twice, no ammunition in the room), you can dry-fire and practice drawing in the comfort of your home. When doing so, wear your holster and gun and dress in the clothing you would normally wear on the street. So team, get busy. Because right now some bad guy is practicing, and some day the two of you may meet.

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