When a new shooter or trainee begins discussing concealed carry, I offer the best advice I am able. One piece of advice is that you really need two guns — a large and a small handgun — if you live in a true four-season climate. Even in warm Florida, you probably need to have a smaller gun for under-the-shirt or in-the-trousers carry, along with a reasonable-size carry piece.
Another piece of advice is that a holster is a great modifier of handgun size, if properly designed. A larger handgun may be carried concealed in a good holster with the proper geometry. The holster must keep the handgun secure and angled properly for a sharp presentation from concealed carry.
I also carry a good knife and a spare gun load. Sometimes, I carry a combat light. I don’t want things to get out of hand and discourage the beginner from weighing down the belt, but a bit of acclimation is necessary. We all carry cell phones, so we have a lifeline. A well-designed knife may double as an impact tool. I like to carry a knife with a glass breaker, a carryover from my days as an LEO, and for use in rescue.
I’m not likely to use a knife in searches anymore. Most folders are poor fighting knives, but I like to carry something substantial for use in retention. I have two knife scars — not self-inflicted — and respect the edged tool, but also its limitations. The Steel Will folder is the piece I carry most often.
As for the big and small handguns, I relied upon a Colt Government Model .45 and a snub nose .38 for many years. They are each excellent in their respective roles, but something in-between is useful these days. I think .22s, .25s, and .32s are useful most as a threat. Their effect, or lack of it, on motivated felons is well documented, and I do not feel much better about the .380 ACP. The same goes for derringers.
Simple readiness demands a handgun that is ready for instant action. If you are uncomfortable carrying a handgun with a cartridge in the chamber, then you need a revolver. While reliability is the bottom line, heft, handling and speed may be more important than absolute accuracy. A balance of power and portability is important.
Small Guns for Concealed Carry
The smallest and least powerful handgun I occasionally deploy — and usually as a backup — is the Ruger LCP II .380 ACP. While light, this handgun features good sights, a good trigger, and solid reliability. It is surprisingly accurate. I load it with Federal’s 99-grain HST and hope for the best. It is too good not to have on hand.
A big step up is the snub nose .38 Special. The 442 with Ahrends grips is more concealable and the 638 with Pachmayr grips is easier to shoot well. A Blackhawk pocket holster is a big help with these. The revolver may be jammed into an adversary’s body and fired repeatedly. It will continue to fire when a self-loader would not.
I can’t remember when I have fired either of these, which isn’t the best program, but then I have a lifetime of revolver shooting behind me. These handguns are loaded with the Federal 129-grain Hydra-Shok +P. These are my most often-carried backup handguns. The 638 will get the nod for primary carry.
Sam Colt codified the three sizes of handguns — pocket, belt, and holster — and he made handguns in the appropriate frame size. I think this is still a good description. A slight upgrade in weight and size makes for much more effective handguns that are easier to use well and hit harder than pocket guns.
The Glock 43 is one choice. For greater wound potential, the Springfield XD-S in .40 S&W is a powerful and reliable handgun. It kicks — no sugar coating that — but it is controllable for those who practice. I load it with Hornady Critical Defense and enjoy good function and accuracy. I would rather have this pistol than half of the handguns going through concealed carry permit classes.
A rather remarkable, light handgun I carry often is the Bond Arms Bullpup 9. This is a unique design that offers eight rounds of 9mm ammunition in a compact package due to the unusual rear-feeding magazine and Bullpup design.
The next step up is to service pistol size. This results in an increase in hit potential, reliability and service life as well. The Glock 19 9mm is the baseline in this category. If you pay less, be certain of what corners are cut. If you pay more, be certain you get your money’s worth.
The slightly smaller Rex Delta 9mm is one choice, the slightly larger SIG P229 another. The Glock 45 9mm or Glock 19X offers a larger grip and excellent hit probability. Load these with the Federal HST or Hornady XTP and you have effective handguns that offer manageable recoil and durability.
These are probably as large a handgun as the majority of shooters are willing to carry. These pistols are a joy to use and fire, very accurate and controllable with a good reserve of ammunition.
When carrying these handguns, I always carry a folding knife and sometimes a tactical pen as well. The handgun isn’t the only resort, it is the last resort, and there must be other options. As for load-bearing devices, I use both leather and Kydex. The Werkz holster offers excellent balance and represents a good design.
Big Guns for Concealed Carry
The big guns are the revolvers and self-loaders I carry concealed more than half the time. Speed into action, power, and accuracy are important.
My threat profile includes the big cats and feral dogs, not to mention the ever more present psychopath found in the wild (a recent event included a veteran and hiker murdered and two people injured on the Appalachian trail), so I prefer to be well-armed with a handgun that I have practiced with. The full-size handguns invite practice.
With the 1911 Dan Wesson Heritage or Les Baer carried in the N3 Galco inside-the-waistband holster, I am as well-armed as possible with a handgun. I find the flat and fast-into-action 1911s more comfortable and better balanced than the SIG P229/Glock 19X class, and this is a product of long experience. I sometimes concealed carry the SIG 1911 Nightmare Carry Fastback. This isn’t a compromise in most ways, as the piece is powerful and accurate — but it also kicks harder than a Government Model.
I also deploy revolvers, for much the same reasons enumerated in the section concerning snub nose .38 revolvers. Animal attacks often involve surprise and the beast grabbing the victim about the neck or head. Those who survive have thrust a revolver into the animal’s body and fired repeatedly.
A .357 Magnum revolver isn’t too heavy to carry constantly but offers plenty of power. For personal defense, the revolver is far from outdated. I often carry a heavy-barrel Model 13 Smith and Wesson or a Wiley Clapp GP100 in .357 Magnum. I have an assortment of Lobo Gunleather products that make carrying the revolver viable and even comfortable.
What gun (or guns) do you prefer for concealed carry? Do you subscribe to the author’s belief in carrying a large and small handgun? Why or why not? Share your answers in the comment section.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in June of 2019. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.