General

Concealed Carry Choices and Modes

Colt 1911 pistol with a snubnose revolver

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 under the shirt or for in-the-trousers carry along with a reasonable-size carry piece.

Blackhawk pocket holster and speedloader with the snubnose .38
A Blackhawk pocket holster and speedloader with the snubnose .38 makes for reasonable protection.

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 inflicted by myself and respect the edged tool but also its limitations. The Steel Will folder is the piece I carry most often.

Speedloaders for pistol and tactical combat lights
Spare magazine carries are very important. That is a Steel Will folder and a Surefire Stiletto combat light.

As for the big and small handguns, I relied upon a Colt Government Model .45 and a snubnose .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. 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

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 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.

Arex Rex Delta polymer framed pistol in 9mm
The author finds modern polymer-frame handguns are good to have. The Rex Delta, bottom, is a new introduction with excellent performance.

A big step up is the snubnose .38 Special. The 442 with Ahrends grips is more concealable; 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.

Two revolvers in leather holsters
A 4-inch barrel may be concealed with proper leather. The 2.75-inch barrel, bottom, is a good compromise.

The Glock 43 is one choice. For greater wound potential, the Springfield XDS in .40 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.

Springfield XDS pistol chambered for the .40 S&W cartridge
Among the best compromises in size and power is this Springfield XDS .40.

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 offer excellent balance and represents a good design.

The Big Guns

The big guns are the revolvers and self-loaders I carry 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 I have practiced with. The full size handguns invite practice.

Colt 1911 pistol with a snubnose revolver for concealed carry
For many years, the author got by with a big gun and a small gun. There is more to the story today.

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 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 snubnose .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 & 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.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (29)

  1. I probably have too many CCWs. Every day: G26 or G19 (124 gold dot)-I can’t tell the difference in most of my clothing choices in their size (or accuracy and speed at the range), but the 26 wearing a cut out slide is lighter. Both with Trijicon night sights, both wear a light. I rarely carry a Ruger LCP with a spare mag –(like in a place surrounded with friends and no conceivable threat). Dirt bike riding OWB leather holster I carrry an XDs .45 (185g Gold dots at a true 1000 fps -by the book handloads) & spare mag. On foot in the hills I carry a Smith M29 4″ with 240g XTPs that will flatten a bulldozer. Double diamond Cross draw chest holster with a spare speed loader. I live 15 miles from the Continental Divide in Colorado -not much urban threat but dogs, tweakers, bears, and lions are all potentials. I carry the Smith 44 because it is good for an 8″ plate at 100y -meaning my wife & 4 kids are safe even if they are ahead or behind a bit on a hike or hunt. A spare G19 with light lives in the console of the Suburban in a holster mounted with velcro to the inside of the console -surprisingly quick draw if needed. I keep a Titanium J-frame Smith at work (I own the place) in case I need something really small and all I have on me is a double stack Glock. I won’t talk about the rifles.

  2. I carry a charter .44 spl with a speedloader and a speed strip, qn old surwfire execustive flash and a cold steel Rajah II 6 in. folder. Wveryday wear is bob overqlls so the chartwr goes in a Sticky pocket holster and the knife goes in the tool pocket on the thigh. Blazer 200 gr. Gold Dots work like a charm. Have fixed the issue of opssum and coons in with the chickens, one bobcat doing the same and coyotes messing with newborn calves. Also one fat doe filled an open tag. It has also cpnvonced one gentleman that I REALLY was not going to share what I just took out of the ATM and another soul who wished to borrow my pickup qnd take the 12 pack I just got with him. No shots fired on them, and a heartfelt, “it’s cool, relax man” and they went away.

  3. Good article! Particularly like the way that you presented your carry options as personal preferences, and the logic on which your decisions were based, rather than as the end-all for everyone.

    I, too, believe in a “New York Reload” whenever possible. Normally a Ruger LCP or a Diamondback DB9 (smallest 9mm on the market) in a pocket or ankle holster. On the belt is either a Glock 23 or a Glock 27 (with extended mag base for my pinky), both with night sights and Crimson Trace Laser Grips, and two Glock 22 mags, all filled with Federal HST. My nightstand gun is a Glock 22 with light and Crimson Trace Laser Grip. All of my at hand pistols in the house will accept the Glock 22 spare mags, which is all that I keep in the house as spares – doesn’t matter which spare mage I pick up in a stressful situation or in the dark, it will work with the pistol in my hand. These pistols, of course, help me get to my Mossberg 500 12 gauge, fully loaded with 6 more in a side-saddle and a light.

    My hands are not too small, so the Glocks fit well. The .40 S&W offer an advantageous compromise between hole size and number of rounds available.

    But, as with you, these are just my choices and are not the only way to be prepared.

  4. As a ex Police Officer, I carry a Glock 22 .50 which is what I was issued on the force. But depending on the occasion I sometimes carry a Taurus 85 2” barrel with .38 special because it is light and much smaller. I have a .44 magnum S&W revolver but it’s way to big to conceal with an 8”? barrel.

  5. I carry a Smith & Wesson model 640 2 1/4″ 5 shot .357 magnum everyday all day. I load with the Remington 125gr Golden Saber .357 loads and use a Galco thumb snap outside the waist band holster. I find it meets the needs to include the random gray squirrel trying to enter my house. I leave in the mountains of NY and coyotes are plentiful and i wanted something big enough to stop both 2 and 4 legged threats.

  6. Excellent comments.
    Oldprof— I too have small hands. I cannot use a Glock 21 very well.

    Otherwise, little worries with modern firearms. I like good firearms but also like the low risk lifestyle more and more— travel in France and the Bahamas armed with only my wits. Would hate to do so in Socialist paradise of London, Detroit or Chicago–

    FB Petrini We are brothers. Good choices.

    Miked Small package big holes? lIke that a lot

    Brass — claims may be one thing but actual testing is another—– The .38 Special can throw a 158 grain bullet at over 800 fps, the .380 cannot— But the .380 ACP is actually better than the .32 Magnum, etc, but why limit yourself to such ineffectual calibers? A SIG P365 9mm is little if any more difficult to manage than a small .380

    Good comments thank for reading

  7. I have tried carrying many weapons over the years, but kept going back to my Rossi .38 snub. A recent acquisition, an M&P Shield ported .45, has taken the #1 spot now. A little leary of the ‘new’ S&W as a company, but so far so good. It’s easy to carry in an IWB, including at times a belly band. Have come a long way from my first CC, an original 586 L frame 4” barrel. Thankfully as I have gotten older and heavier the guns have gotten smaller and lighter!

  8. I disagree with the author when he says a .38 special is a big step up from a .380 ACP. While the cartridge itself is longer and the recoil is greater, recent ballistics testing by numerous sources has shown the .380 ACP to be at least equal if not superior in ballistic and terminal performance.
    Of cours the normal caveats about both ammo and firearm choice apply, but otherwise I side with the .380.
    Also, having carried a Smith & Wesson model #36 Chiefs Special with a 3″ barrel for a while before switching to auto’s and using it to practice and qualify on the Orange County Sheriff’s range in the early 1970’s, when revolvers and snub nose revolvers in .38 special were still routine as duty carry for law enforcement, I can tell you they are more difficult to conceal for smaller framed people.

  9. I’v carried just about everything at one time or another. When in the wilderness hunting, fishing, or on a hiking trail I usually carry a 1911 in a Miami Vice shoulder rig or, if in Grizzly country, a Smith 629 4inch in a belt or chest holster. For social carry I prefer a behind the waist band (or behind the belt) De Santis sof-tuc holster carrying usually a Smith Shield 9 or Glock 42 or 43. I’ve even carried 1911 lightweight commanders in a sof-tuc De Santis comfortably with large untucked shirt in warm weather, but prefer the Shield 9 or small Glocks most times.

    1. The sr9 is the only hand gun I have right now and I really like it. It’s a bit big however I’m not really concealing. I don’t want to fine with my shirt is someone walks up behind me at the barn or greenhouse. I also carry when riding my horse so the holster should be secure and comfortable.

  10. One Taurus 605 (357) stays in each car and truck. Seldom do I carry on my person. I sometimes carry on the motorcycle. GP100 in and around the house along with an assortment of shotguns, etc…

  11. I believe the p290RS has been discontinued, with the P365 replacing it. Bought one a few months ago for summertime carry with jeans and tshirt. Tiny little thing, but shoots well, and is amazingly accurate. In a good IWB holster, it can be concealed with a tshirt. 10+1 with a standard mag, with 12 and 15 rd mags available. Night sights come standard. So far, it’s my only 9mm gun, all the others are .45auto(5). But a compromise had to be made to allow carry with only a tshirt in the deep south summers(GA). FWIW, for the milder months, I have a Springfield XDE in .45auto that has become the one I like to carry, DA/SA, very reliable, and carries well. Load it, chamber it, decock it, leave the safety off, and stick it in the holster. Pull it out and the bang switch works every time.

  12. MAN! Wilburn it must be nice to afford that many guns and holsters along with the ammo. I’m envious for you. I rely only a Springfield Armory 1911 Champion, .45 ACP with a Sig paddle holster. I cut my teeth on 1911s when I came into the Army a couple of decades ago. So I’m pretty comfortable with 1911s, Sig 228 (Army M11) and the Beretta 92 (M9). I’ve trained with revolvers, but never carried one. My SA Champion isn’t a tack driver, but good in close quarters and very reliable with a good quality magazine and very concealable.

  13. I am 68, 5′ 9″ with average hands, weigh 175, and carry a Kahr CW45. I can carry a full size 92, and have, but the Kahr is my normal carry as the trigger is superb. I just recently acquired a Keltec PF9 (trigger by comparison – eh) for the occasional times summer clothes make the 45 impractical, and it is “replacing” a Keltec .380 as my light carry. My preferred carry style is inside-the-pants, cross draw, with the frame draped over my hip. Even the 92 doesn’t show in that configuration, though, I do have to draw that side at least once a day (taking the gun off at night) to keep limber enough to be quick at it. Age and all, you know.

  14. The guns I prefer for EDC consists of either my Kimber Ultra Carry II, my Taurus 605 357 mag or by 44 magnum with a 4″ barrel. These are my big guns. And to carry a back-up is either a LCP 380 OR my 5 shot revolver from NAA. It small but It’s in my pocket day and night, so you don’t even realize It’s there. I Why? Because you never know!

  15. As an officer, I carried a 1911 for years w/ a S&W 2 inch backup. Then , was required to carry Glocks so went w/ a 21 primary & 30 backup. Now that I’m retired, I carry the Glock 30 most of the time & the 1911 in the cooler months in Arizona. For my money, big holes in a small size is hard to beat. I always carry a knife, usually the SOG Aegis, the same one from my duty years.

  16. I just picked up the Glock 43x for summer carry to replace my Gen 4 Glock 19 and I love it! It gives me the same round capacity as it’s bigger brother (we can only carry 10 round mags here in Connecticut) in a much smaller package. I have a Gen 4 Glock 41 in .45 ACP in the safe should I ever need to go bigger then the G19.

  17. I concur wholeheartedly with all of the author’s firearm choices. I would suggest that he rethink his ammo selections. The Underwood ammo with fluted Lehigh Defense solid-copper projectiles have revolutionized defensive ammo selection, especially for small handguns. These projectiles are barrier blind and do not rely on expansion to achieve the desired terminal effects. I believe that future shooting reports will prove that this ammo is truly a game-changer.

  18. Oldprof49 try the Desert Eagle compact 45. It is good for small hands and does not kick bad with hardball ammo

  19. My everyday carry pistol is a 45 cal. Glock 30 Gen 4. It is very accurate with relatively low recoil. It lays flat with a Kydex IWB holster. Back up is a 9mm Glock 43 pocket pistol with a flat kydex holster that does not print in the pocket. Regular practice is a must with any handgun to ensure you hit your target and nothing else. Practice drawing from the holster is mandatory, with snapcaps loaded, as most ranges do not let you draw from the holster.

  20. I live a low-threat lifestyle in a low-crime area, so I just carry a 638 most of the time, along with a pocket knife and a Streamlight about the size of a fat cigarette. It’s hard to justify toting around pounds of tactical gear in the sweltering deep-south summer, when my entire circle of family and friends can barely come up with four self-defense incidents in their accumulated lifetimes. In case you’re interested: one scared away with a Kel-tec in a store, two scared off from houses (one revolver, one rifle), one unarmed friend mugged at knife point. No shots fired in any case. I kind of feel sorry for people who have such dangerous environments that they need to gear up as heavily as many folks on this board do.

    1. I have no doubt that some of the posters gear up with a small arsenal because of a real or realistically perceived need. However, I suspect that a majority of them do it because it sounds and looks “tacti-cool”. I have no problem with that as long as it doesn’t lead to an aggressive, “every problem is a nail” attitude. I also live a low threat lifestyle in a good area of a major metropolitan area with at least one reported act of violence on every newscast (Phoenix, AZ). Thanks be to God, I’ve had only two minor skirmishes with street violence in my adult life here (>50 years). In addition to my devotion to my chosen deity, I give credit to the many authors and trainers who drilled Condition Yellow into me years ago. Actuarially speaking, I have <20 years left. I hope and pray I can maintain my peaceful lifestyle. But I still carry a small semi auto or revolver, folding knife and flashlight everywhere I go. Just in case….

  21. My small hand size (insert crud jokes here) and short stature preclude most full size handguns. For example, a j-frame or Ruger SP101 fits fine; a k-frame or GP100 doesn’t. My favorite 9mm semi autos are from Kahr: K9, MK9, P9 or PM9. All fit and feel great in my hand. Favorite pocket gun is the LCP (not LCP II) or the Kel-Tec P32. Yes, I know the limitations of both 32 and 380. I wish I could find a compact 45 that fits my hand. I wish Kahr made their P45 with a steel frame (K45?).

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