Is Your Concealed Carry Gear Up to Speed?

In mid-July [2014] I found myself once again on the range at the Greene County Fish and Game Association with Dave Spaulding and Brian “Bucky” Buchanan from Handgun Combatives; Larry Moore, Joe Eaton, and Clint Lake from the Buckeye Firearms Association (BFA); and about fifty-five others. We were all there for “Pistol Basics with Dave Spaulding”, a fund-raiser course Dave does to help benefit BFA. You may remember that I took this course last year and wrote about it. This year, rather than being a student, I was there to help out as a range safety officer and assistant instructor. In this new role I got a completely different perspective—in addition to watching and listening to Dave’s excellent instruction once again. I was also able to put into use some of the instructor techniques and skills that I learned back in June during the Rangemaster Instructor Development Course.

Separate sessions were conducted on Saturday and Sunday with the participants about equally divided between the two sessions. Sunday’s group was a little different from the one on Saturday in that it contained a large number of school teachers and administrators that had previously gone through BFA’s [FASTER] Program conducted at the Tactical Defense Institute (TDI). The participants for each session were divided into two 13-14 person relays.

The things that really jumped out at me during the weekend were the choices participants made with regard to holsters and magazine pouches. A few individuals chose the cheap black nylon generic holsters that are not specifically designed for any particular model of handgun—barrel length being the primary selection criteria. The biggest problem seemed to be they were not designed to allow the shooter to get a good shooting grip on their pistol while it was still in the holster. Instead of being able to get their hands completely around the grip, most of the individuals using these holsters had to pull their gun up slightly out of the holster before they could complete getting a proper grip. Yet another issue with these holsters is they rely on a strap with a snap or Velcro to keep the gun securely in the holster. The retaining straps have to be unfastened in order to draw the gun. As a result it took the individuals using this type of holster longer to draw their handguns than it did for the other participants that used holsters specifically designed for the model of gun they were carrying. It was also more difficult for individuals with this type of holster to re-holster their guns. The tops of the holsters would often collapse and the individual had to use their support hand to hold the holster open so the gun could be re-inserted into it. This often resulted in the individual “muzzling” parts of their own body with their gun — not a good thing to do if you are trying to avoid getting bullet holes put in your body!

There were mixed results with regard to in-the-waistband (IWB) holsters. For some individuals they worked well. Not so much for others. Those that were made out of stiff material — leather or kydex/ plastic — worked better. Some otherwise good quality leather IWB holsters were just old and worn-out. Their tops would not stay open and thus the individual had to use their support hand to hold them open so the gun could be re-inserted or the individual had to “poke around” with the muzzle of their gun trying to find the opening. Doing this also resulted in the individuals “muzzling” themselves.

A few individuals used IWB appendix-carry holsters, those designed to be carried towards the front of your body. It is claimed that it is quicker to access the gun when carried in this position and it can be. However, being able to carry a pistol in the appendix position is heavily dependent on body shape. If you have a flat belly, you are probably okay — otherwise not so much! The biggest criticism of this carry position is that it points the muzzle of the gun directly at some rather important body parts that you probably do not want to put bullet holes in. The gun also tends to dig into portions of your body if you are sitting. If your stomach protrudes any, it can push the grip area of the gun away from your body forcing the muzzle to point more back towards your vital areas. To compensate for this, some individuals just shove the holster and gun deeper into their waistline. The result, however, it that it becomes harder to get a good grip on the gun, making it much more difficult and slower to draw the gun from the holster. Re-holstering was problematic with this type of holster as well, and it was not unusual for individuals to muzzle themselves in the process.

The biggest problem some individuals using IWB—and even some outside-the-waistband (OWB)—holsters had was getting parts of their shirt tucked down inside their holsters as they re-inserted their guns. This can interfere with the operation of the holster’s retention mechanism, can make it more difficult to subsequently draw the gun, or can even cause the gun to come out of the holster when the individual simply raises their arms up, stretching their shirt material.

Some individuals wore paddle holsters (those with a large plastic area that is inserted into the waist of the pants to hold the gun in place) or holsters with metal belt clips. These types of holsters are much easier to put on and take off during the day if you do not wear your gun all the time. An example would be if you wear your gun to work, but then put it in a desk drawer while you are at work. These can work quite well, but you should wear a belt with them, not just stick them into the waist of your pants. Without a belt, there is nothing to hold the holster in place securely as you draw your gun. As a result, both the gun and the holster come up several inches during the draw process and thus it takes longer for your gun to clear your holster so you can orient the muzzle towards the target. In some instances, you may pull the holster out of your pants with the gun and now you have to get it off the gun before you can do anything else — probably not something you want to deal with at the start of a gunfight!

One individual that I observed wore an OWB holster that placed the loops that connected to his belt quite far apart. While this works well for IWB holsters in spreading the weight of the gun around the waist better and making extended wearing of the gun more comfortable, it did not work very well for this individual. Because there was such a great distance between the points where the holster was held by the belt, it allowed the holster to tip away from the body at the top pointing the muzzle back towards the individual’s leg rather than straight at the ground. I suggested that he route his belt along the outside of this holster so the belt would help hold the holster and gun closer to his body.

Holster cant was a topic Dave addressed during the course. Several individuals wore holsters with the “FBI cant” where the butt of the gun is tilted forward. The trouble with this is that if the holster is placed at the 3 o’clock position on your waist you have to bend your elbow away from your body rather than straight back to get a proper grip on the gun and this might not be possible in confined spaces. Instead, if you wear a holster at the 3 o’clock position, it should be oriented straight up and down. Holsters with the “FBI cant” are designed to wear in the 4 or 5 o’clock position — i.e. more towards the back, but not in the small of your back! Appendix carry holsters may benefit from a reverse cant that tilts the butt to the rear and the muzzle forward more.

Magazine pouches suffered from many of the same problems that holsters of the same design and materials did. Those made from black nylon material tended to have flaps that held the magazines in place. Some leather magazine pouches also were designed this way. While providing good security for carrying the magazines, they greatly slowed down and hindered the process of rapidly accessing a spare magazine when needed to reload the gun. Carrying spare magazines in your pocket is even slower! Instead, Dave recommends only using magazine pouches that hold the magazines in place with friction and that cover only approximately half of the length of the magazine. This allows the user to get a better grip on the magazine when drawing it to reload the gun.

Well, I hope this has given you some “food for thought” about the gear you use for concealed carry. Most of you carry good quality handguns and you have put a lot of thought into selecting it. Shouldn’t you put the same amount of thought into your carry gear? While some of the issues I addressed here are somewhat unique to training environments where repeatedly drawing your handgun is necessary, you need to practice with your gear so that you can perform with it under stress and so that you have confidence in it to be able to properly function when you need it to.

Gary Evens is an NRA-Certified Instructor and Range Safety Officer.

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