With the growth of
Right-To-Carry legislation, comes a redefinition of what might
constitute the center of the Universe –if there has ever been
such a thing- as it applies to handgun users.
Rough estimates indicate a minimum of 3.5 million
civilian concealed handgun licensees in the several states.
They outnumber duly constituted law enforcement officers
by a factor of three. Their numbers dwarf those of the
participants in the organized shooting disciplines. The largest print magazine devoted strictly to firearms
boasts a monthly circulation of about 400,000.
The only gun owner
demographic that exceeds the concealed carry licensees is that
of licensed hunters. It stands to reason that a substantial
number of armed citizens come from the ranks of the hunters or
the huge terra incognito
of the un-affiliated handgun enthusiast.
Such a group is likely to be heavily invested in the
large, general purpose handguns, and less inclined to trust the
pocket sized arms overwhelmingly preferred by the licensed
Aside from having
participated in a few of the organized handgun disciplines and
having spent a large portion of my life with a gun magazine
hanging off the end of my nose, I fit pretty well into the
picture I have just drawn.
I also have a substantial amount of field time with a
number of holsters suitable for portaging moderately large
handguns in a state of concealment.
Herewith, a discussion of strategy for the reasonably
comfortable carrying about of large handguns. I begin with the
most comfortable and accessible and proceeding from there. Each
of the options explored will successfully conceal the handguns
discussed under an un-tucked summer weight shirt of full to
large cut with comfort and speed of access dependent upon
Strong Side Belt
Holster – Outside the Waist Band
The holsters of this
type most frequently encountered by sportsmen as well as those
not especially “into” guns are the synthetic numbers from Michael’s
of Oregon and similar companies.
Gun shop owners report that they sell about ten of these
for every leather holster that leaves the shop.
As a rule, these holsters have large, generic belt slots
to fit the widest variety of belt sizes and tend to flop around
during normal activity. They also tend to stick out.
The same is true of the closer-riding synthetic belt
slides and both types hang down too far for effective
concealment. An effective OWB concealment rig consists of a
dedicated gun belt that is rigid and sized to the holster slots,
and a high riding holster.
A number of holster makers catalog quality rigs that keep
the gun butt close to the body and feature minimal drop below
the belt-line. My
favorite is the Mountain Gun holster produced for Dillon
Precision by Kramer Leather. Worn over the hip bone
and secured with one of Dillon’s gun belts, it holds the
revolver butt close to the side and the bottom of the holster is
only 3.5” below the belt line.
It is comfortable, lightning-fast and conceals under a
sports shirt or even a full-cut tee shirt.
This holster, and the general line of Kramer Vertical
Scabbards, are closely fitted to the specific gun. They cause
minimal wear to the surface finish of the gun.
Inside the Waist
These holsters fit
inside the pants and are secured by the belt.
None of the holster is visible below the belt line. They
require a generous cut to the waist and optimum comfort often
dictates pants one size larger than otherwise might be required.
Least comfortable and convenient are the soft nylon
models with no provision for easy insertion of the gun.
They tend to shift around during ordinary activity and
the inadequate belt/pants clips often result in the holster
being drawn along with the handgun.
Bruce Nelson/ Milt
Sparks “Summer Special”
The Summer Special is
the standard-setter among IWB holsters. Very well suited to the
large auto-pistols, it is also available for the 4”barrel
Model 29 and other large revolvers.
The Summer Special was my first dedicated, legal CCW rig.
It effectively conceals, not only my 4” 29s, and
various mid-frame Rugers, but is just long enough to
accommodate the popular 5” N-frames like the S&W
Performance Center 627-8. A spring is sewn into the mouth of
the holster holding it open for easy holstering of the handgun.
The belt loops are situated directly over the cylinder
bulge-which rides under the belt.
Both belt and pants must be let out considerably for any
degree of comfort. Discrete reposition of the arm is frequently
required. Allowed to work backwards from the hip bone, the
holster can cause the gun butt to “print” in a way that is
not at all apparent when the rig is in the correct location.
This is an auto-pistol
only design from Milt Sparks. The designer and current
CEO of the company, Tony Kanaly, considers this to be the
best of a number of similar holsters he has created. The V Max
is closely fitted to the specific firearm, is of rigid
construction and is double layered- smooth inside and out. It is
very protective of the gun finish.
Belt loops are position fore and aft of the gun pocket
–minimizing the bulge and materially adding to the stability
of the rig. The
Versa-Max is standard with belt loops and optional clips that
convert it to the “tuckable” option.
These clips ride behind the belt and provide a positive
anchor so that the rig does not shift and the holster will not
be drawn along with the pistol. So equipped, a model 1911 will
disappear under a normally tucked sports shirt and is every bit
as invisible as the smallest pocket handgun.
I used this option quite often when employed by an agency
peopled by individuals who regarded the presence of a firearm
with the same horror that would be occasioned by the sudden
appearance of Michael Jackson’s penis.
Nevertheless, I was expected to dissipate and destroy any
threat from our very feral client population.
I often wore the .45 thusly holstered and never was
This is an
unmistakable, high-class IWB rig.
In consists of a first rate, double welted belt, a classy
six-round ammo pouch and the highly evolved inside the waist
band holster developed jointly by Doug Kramer and gun
writer Dwayne Thomas. It is rendered entirely in
horsehide. I ordered mine in the Mahogany finish and it looks
good! It is a high-riding strong side IWB holster that places
the cylinder above the belt line to minimize bulge. The belt
slot cinches the holster into the belt and stabilizing pad and
the butt-forward rake holds the gun stock close to the
wearer’s side. Once the wearer arrives at proper positioning,
(usually directly over the rear aspect of the hip bone),
everything disappears under any covering garment, however light.
Odds are that anybody who can stand to wear a revolver in an IWB
holster will love this one.
I have only one of
these for the heavy N-frames, but it is a very good one.
The Aker Comfort-flex depends on gun fit and a
positive thumb break for retention and is open ended making the
barrel length of the handgun non critical to a degree.
Mine will work with the 4” 29s and would probably hide
a 6” for a wearer with a deeper chest.
My 6.5” Heritage Model tents the back of my shirt and
would not do at all.
holster rides comfortably in cross draw format while the
off-side harness suspends a double magazine pouch for the autos
and a double speed loader carrier for the revolvers. Advertising
claims that it “goes on like a vest” and conforms to body
movement are right on the button.
Here, the synthetic
sporting holsters from Michael’s of Oregon really come
into their own. I have a couple that see regular use with my
1911s when I am riding my bicycle in winter clothing. They
provide good concealment, quick access and reasonable comfort,
particularly when worn for limited periods of time. I use one of
the holsters correctly as a cross draw – since it carries the
pistol under my left arm. The
other was intended for a left handed shooter but lends itself to
the Hickock reverse-hand draw.
It is positive and fast when worn under a loose coat.
I have an Uncle
Mike’s Vertical Cross draw for my long revolvers too. It will
handle any large frame revolver with barrel lengths to 8-3/8”.
The usual occupant is my long barrel 29-2 but I have also
had occasion to carry Ruger Super Blackhawks and 6.5” Smith
N-Frames in this one. This
outfit really strains the concept of concealability under a
summer weight shirt and requires a liberalization of the concept
of “comfort.” Nevertheless,
it does come in handy from time to time.
The synthetic vertical
shoulder holsters are primarily designed with the outdoorsman in
mind. My Bianchi X2100 Phantom, on the other hand, is the
sort of thing that entered the public consciousness with the
Dirty Harry movies. It
is an open front, spring loaded cross-draw number designed for
6” barrel .38/. 357 revolvers.
It will positively retain a variety of large bore
revolvers and is the preferred concealment rig for my 6”
GP100. The gun
pouch is high quality leather while the straps are light
canvass. It is definitely faster than the closed pouch Uncle
Mike’s rig above. It is OK in the comfort department but you
will never forget there is something hanging under your left
The specific holsters
discussed above range in price from just under $50 for the Uncle
Mike’s Verticals to right at $200 for the Thomas/Kramer Rig.
The Dillon–Kramer is a bargain at about $100 as is the
Aker Comfort Flex for about the same money.
Rig-Most-Carried department I would divide the honors between
the Mountain Gun in the Thomas Perfectionist and either one of
my 1911’s in the Sparks Versa Max. Both are extremely comfortable and well concealed with a
slight edge to the 1911 for maximum comfort and deep cover
applications. The Mountain Gun rig allows rapid acquisition of a
positive shooting grip and holds the advantage in speed of draw
All of this of course,
is best regarded as food for thought and/or entertainment. With the infinite variation in body types, preferences and
comfort thresholds, it is impossible for any person to make
blanket statements about the suitability of a specific holster
for a given individual. With
the variety of options available however, comfortable
concealment of the larger handguns is an achievable goal.
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