When choosing a handgun, find what fits. Consider your build, weight, physical condition and even age, because as we get older our vision, flexibility and strength will change. There is no mold that every single person is going to fit into. So here are the ground rules for finding the right gun.

If you are tall, long-waisted, trim and muscular, almost anything goes. If not, evaluate your physical assets accordingly, because concealed carry directly impacts every one of them. After you define your physical parameters, consider how much gun you can handle. It is amazing to see a 5-foot-tall woman pick up a .44 magnum and fire it almost nonchalantly, while the big, strapping 6-foot-4-inch man beside her cringes from the same recoil. We all handle guns differently, and size doesn’t matter! But your being able to handle the recoil from a large-caliber handgun does not guarantee that you’ll shoot it well. Begin evaluating your abilities at a public shooting range that rents out handguns and also has licensed firearms instructors. Find the caliber you can consistently and accurately fire, starting with something small like .38 Special or .380 ACP then working your way up. Most people find themselves most comfortable shooting .38 Special +P in a short-barreled revolver or 9mm in a subcompact semi-auto. Find the caliber and type of firearm that works best and practice with it until you feel comfortable. Only then should you start looking to buy.

Why would anyone choose a revolver over a semi-auto? The answer is mindset, personal preference and ease of use. Size used to be the fourth reason, but today handgun size has little to do with caliber—consider the bevy of semi-auto pocket pistols chambered in .45 ACP and lightweight snub-nose revolvers that can fire .380 ACP, 9mm and .40 S&W semi-auto rounds.

The choice often comes down to intended use. For daily carry, subcompact semi-autos are generally the most preferred (caliber notwithstanding) for their narrower frames and higher cartridge capacity (usually seven rounds compared with a small revolver’s five). A semi-auto is also easier to reload, and a spare magazine easier to carry. A speed strip for a carry revolver offers the same convenience as a semi-auto magazine, but a revolver’s reload time is much greater. Revolvers tend to be favored by individuals who have had prior experience with them and find the ease of use a stronger benefit.

Revolvers have long been favored for home protection, as they are highly stressful situations, particularly when they are at night and you’ve been suddenly awakened. Firing a revolver only requires aiming and either cocking the hammer first or directly pulling the trigger to cycle the action and discharge a round. With a semi-auto, however, depending upon its design and how it is stored, you may have to manually cycle the action if a round is not already chambered, or release a safety before the gun will fire. In the suddenness of a home invasion, eliminating one or two steps and knowing that the weapon is ready to use allows you to put more thought into assessing the actual threat, which is already wide-awake and prepared to do harm.

Both revolvers and semi-autos can be equipped with laser sights, which provide an unparalleled advantage in a home-invasion scenario, as you won’t need to get a direct view of your weapon’s sights, and are a definite plus in the dark. Once adjusted to the gun’s point of impact (windage and elevation at a predetermined average distance), a laser sight will pinpoint where the round will strike.

Lastly and most importantly, ask yourself why you need a concealed-carry weapon. The answer often comes down to your environment (a rural area in which local law enforcement is many miles away or a city that has a high crime rate or history of break-ins), line of work (law enforcement isn’t the only perilous career), or peace of mind.

How You’re Packing

Many modern belt rigs are little more than an open-muzzle scabbard to cover the frame of the gun, thus leaving the barrel exposed and making the overall dimensions of the sidearm (barrel length) 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 can be easily concealed by an unbuttoned sports coat, jacket or shirt. Smaller pistols in open-top holsters also lend themselves to crossdraw carry.

Small-frame semi-autos and revolvers work well with paddle holsters that go over the belt and use a paddle against the wearer’s body to secure the holster. A paddle holster is also easier to move around, depending on the situation. Many styles offer a slight forward cant, which helps improve draw. It is important to consider the cant of a belt or paddle holster. A rig that places the gun at a 90-degree (straight up and down) angle can, under some conditions, allow the pistol to be pushed upward and out of the holster when you sit. If gun retention is a concern, there are also thumb-break, safety-strap holsters for small-frame semi-autos and revolvers, like the DeSantis Maverick, Triple K Secret Agent II and Bianchi Frontier Gunleather Defender.

Inside the waistband (IWB) carry is a very specific style of concealed carry that either works for you or doesn’t. The IWB holster was developed to provide deep concealment and ensure that the gun stays put. All IWB rigs on the market have one thing in common: They put the frame and grips up against your body. That is where problems can arise. If you’re short waisted, sitting with a gun grip poking into your ribcage isn’t going to work. Also, carrying a little extra weight around the middle may make the use of an IWB holster impractical.

There are a handful of exceptional IWB designs that negate many of these issues. Among these are the Amadini Ghost Holster sold by Beretta for the BU9 Nano, the DeSantis Intruder for subcompact semi-autos and J-Frame revolvers, and the N82 (Nate Squared) Tactical for subcompact semi-autos. Each utilizes a large, protective skirt behind the holster to eliminate any contact between the gun and the wearer’s body. Because of the skirt, they look very large, but they almost completely disappear when worn and offer a level of comfort generally not found with IWB designs.

By and large, pocket carry is the easiest means of carrying on a daily basis, period. Revolvers generally fall into the S&W J-Frame category, and semi-autos, in the subcompact class like the 9mm Ruger LC9 and Kimber Solo or in smaller calibers like the .380 Kel-Tec P-3AT. 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 the top choices are the DeSantis Nemesis and Super Fly, which accommodate a variety of pistols. Pocket carry is discrete, easy, and, with the proper gun and practice, the most concealable means of having quick access to your sidearm. It requires no particular style of dress, and historically, small pistols have been carried in pockets more often than in any other area of concealment.

Another carry option is the ankle holster. I am not a big proponent of it, especially if carrying only one gun. Ankle holsters can be awkward and hard to get to under most circumstances. Used for a secondary backup weapon, however, and in conditions where events are already unfolding and the elements of surprise or stealth are no longer important, a backup gun in an ankle holster can be all that separates a person from eternity. An ankle holster is particularly helpful when the wearer has been knocked to the ground, forced into a kneeling position or to a sitting position such as in a car, at which point access is considerably easier. Many police officers, detectives, undercover agents or civilians in harm’s way have ended potentially deadly events with a gun drawn from an ankle holster.

The last option is a shoulder holster. Like the IWB, this is a very user-specific choice. Shoulder holsters work well with a wide variety of handguns, but have one very significant limitation: While wearing one, you cannot remove your outer cover garment. I have sat through some very stifling dinners over the years, helpless to take off my jacket. As for concealed-carry use, unless you never have to remove your jacket or you’re a police detective, a federal agent or in personal security, a shoulder holster is not a good first choice.

Vests, Jackets, and Shirts

When conventional holsters just won’t work, the best solution is to forego the holster and turn to concealed-carry clothing. Start with something like the Tactical Undergear Holster Shirt manufactured by 5.11 Tactical. Initially designed for law enforcement, it has a tight, contouring fit that holds a semi-auto pistol and an extra magazine securely without sagging. The 5.11 shirt has multiple support seams and an all-important shoulder yoke to support the gun’s weight. It is essentially a built-in shoulder holster that can be worn under an open shirt or any cover garment. The holster pockets are ambidextrous and will support weapons up to medium-size revolvers and semi-autos. Available in V-neck or crew neck styles and in black or white, they use hook-and-loop panels to seal the holster pouch, ensuring that the gun won’t be exposed until needed.

You can also wear a lightweight jacket with integral holsters or holster pockets. Among the newest designs is 5.11 Tactical’s Torrent, which has the look of a fine, casual, all-weather jacket, with a durable 100-percent cotton, duck-canvas shell with a water-repellent finish, zippered outside pockets and bi-swing shoulder panels for a wide range of motion. The 5.11 has also an inside liner with hook-and-loop panels and web platforms suitable for mounting accessory pouches or a holster (MOLLE style), as well as traditional hook-and-loop-secured, inside slash pockets where a revolver or pistol can be carried concealed.

If it’s too warm for a jacket, how about a vest? Blue Stone Safety Products offers a variety of concealment vests that look like an everyday, casual, denim, zippered vest. The Blue Stone, however, is designed with two inside snap-closure holster pouches for ambidextrous use, with the off-side usable for a spare magazine or other accessories. In addition, the vest has 12 exterior, zippered pockets for additional storage of magazines, a tactical flashlight and other necessities. Either a jacket or a vest can be an excellent means of carry when weather or social situations make holsters impractical.

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