Recently, a female acquaintance posted on the book of faces that she had gotten her concealed carry permit a couple months earlier, but hadn’t started carrying yet. She specifically asked about the best prices for her first carry gun, which would probably be a hammerless .38. Obviously, I cringed when I read it.
I recommended that she shoot as many different guns as she could before making a decision. Something that may feel or look good at the gun counter may very well not be the best choice. I posted a short comment to this effect, and offered my limited arsenal, my range, and the pleasure of my company, should we manage to coordinate our schedules. Others seconded my suggestion to shoot everything she could get her hands on before buying anything.
After thinking about it for a few hours, I started writing down some new shooter/carrier advice for her. Before I realized it, I had written a novella, but I went ahead and sent it to her, in the hopes that some of it may help her. I have decided to present it to you for critique. What did I miss? Is anything I said inaccurate?
For context, I should probably mention that one of the managers that I worked under at BigBoxRetailer tried to introduce us for dating purposes several months after Wifey left. She agreed to meet me, but backed out after she found out that I hadn’t gone through the divorce process. She didn’t unfriend me, although we never communicated again after that (mid-2012) until now.
I’ve been thinking about your situation. You may know what I am about to say already, but in the interest of helping new and new-ish shooters, I wanted to throw out some information, in case you are unaware of or just hadn’t thought about some of it. Feel free to take as little or as much as you deem useful. I hope that I don’t come across as telling you what to do or how to live your life. I simply want to help.
The gun you choose as your primary carry weapon depends on many things besides how it looks and how it feels in your hand – although they are also important.
How you plan to carry is a big factor. A gun is only useful if you have access to it. You should pick a gun and carry method that are comfortable for you. Not just physically comfortable, but something that matches your life, wardrobe, and environment where you will carry. If it is too complicated or time consuming to put on, you are more likely to leave it at home. Same thing if it only works with 10% of your outfits. The less likely you are to carry it, the higher the risk that you won’t have it when, God forbid, you need it.
And please, don’t talk yourself into only carrying under certain circumstances. Yes, some places are higher risk than others, but there is no truly safe place, including your own home. I don’t mean to come across as paranoid or fear mongering. The chances of you ever needing to defend yourself with deadly force are extremely low. But it is one of those things that if it happens, regardless how remote the possibility, you will need every bit of mental preparation and the best tools possible.
There are many options, some that work better for females than males. I can provide links for any of these that are unfamiliar to you, if you want. Having never seen you in person and not knowing you, I have no idea of your body type or fashion preferences. Some of these likely won’t fit your lifestyle, but I want to be as thorough as possible.
Outside the waistband (OWB), either strong side or cross draw. This is probably the most common, but also arguably least concealable. A cover garment is necessary to provide any sort of concealment, but large frame guns still tend to “print” through the garment. If the cover garment is worn unfastened, either for comfort or ease of access, it doesn’t take much wind to blow it back and expose the gun. If you want or need ultimate stealth, this is not the best choice.
Open carry is legal in NC, and this is how I carry most often, simply because OWB is by far the most comfortable for me, and because I don’t really care who knows that I carry unless I am at work. Cross draw doesn’t work for me because of where I wear my pants (waist below my belly) and the resulting overhang from my enjoyment of good food. I see a significant number of women carrying cross draw, though. Women tend to wear pants higher, so it may be a good option for you. Again, I don’t know your body type or wardrobe.
A variation of OWB known as small of the back carry is somewhat less popular. I have carried this way, and while it is less uncomfortable than you may expect, I had weapon retention problems. Translation – moderate activity caused it to fall out, despite maximum adjustment of the tension screw and a holster made for my specific gun. A lighter gun would probably be less likely to have a problem, and it is entirely possible that the same gun in a holster from a different company would have worked with no problems. I never pursued the matter.
Inside the waistband (IWB) – strong side, appendix, or cross draw. This is probably the second most popular way to carry, and I would guess the top choice when concealability is of high importance. Although I have carried for over two decades, I only tried IWB for the first time about three years ago -about the time I started working at BigBoxRetailer. I assumed that it would be more uncomfortable than it is. Concealment level is excellent. A small gun disappears into an IWB holster, even with a shirt tucked over it. Ask MutualFriend if he ever saw my gun while I was on the clock – in my year and a half there, I might have failed to carry ten times. Although we never had the conversation, I am pretty sure he knew. Even so, I would wager a nice dinner that, if he ever saw it, which I seriously doubt, he would never have suspected it to be what it was, had he not known already.
Even larger guns conceal well IWB, although they can be slightly less comfortable to carry. I know people who carry thin frame full size pistols this way, and they are invisible unless you know where to look and what to look for. Thicker guns (double stack pistols like most Glocks, or large caliber/large cylinder capacity revolvers) work less well simply because of physics – thicker=larger bulge, but are still feasible options for some.
Ankle. Excellent concealment, but slow access and requires belled pant legs with enough length to maintain concealment when crossing one’s legs or performing other activities that cause pant legs to climb.
Shoulder. (Remember Miami Vice?) Excellent concealment of up to a full size gun under a heavy cover garment like a suit coat, provided that it is cut in a way that disguises the bulk. Few women’s suits that I have seen would work without custom tailoring. Impractical for most people in most everyday situations.
Inside the pant pouch holster. I carried this way long enough to wear a hole in one where the muzzle ended, mostly because it concealed very well. Even so, it was one of the least comfortable and slowest carry methods that I ever used. Concealment would be much less effective for most females due to anatomical differences and the way most women’s pants are made.
Fanny pack. Convenient. Excellent concealment. Outdated fashion trend for anyone for whom such things matter. I still carry this way occasionally.
Bra holster. You may be surprised at how large of a gun can be concealed effectively, carried and quickly accessed even by A-cup types, although tucking your top obviously slows access significantly. No, I’m not being a pervert. (Actually, yes, I am, but she doesn’t need to know this.) This is a recent development, but based on videos that I have seen and reviews by well known and respected females in the gun community, it is an awesome option. Obviously, I don’t possess the equipment necessary to have had any first hand experience.
Belly band. This is a deep concealment option that is tough to top in the stealth department. It is also arguably the slowest draw of any common carry method. If you absolutely must not be found out, and can avoid hugs, or can control the hug technique, nobody will ever have a clue that you are armed. Having to partially disrobe in order to access your weapon is the trade off. I used this initially at BBR. But, I am a fat man. Fat men sweat, especially at BBR’s expected pace for the job that I had. Sweat is corrosive and hard on metal. Even with treatments designed for saltwater applications, I had to buff out surface rust every week. I decided to take the small hit to concealment in exchange for gun longevity, and transitioned to IWB carry.
Pocket. This is how I currently carry my backup gun, and is my choice for quick outings when I am too lazy or rushed to put proper pants on. With the proper holster to break up the outline of the gun, it looks like a wallet. In other words, invisible. The major drawback is the size limitation. I am pushing the limit with my baby 9mm, and even 5-round cylinder revolvers are thick enough to challenge the ability of any holster to sufficiently disguise it. This works best for “pocket 380s”, .32s, etc. For me, anything less than 9mm, while much better than harsh words or a sharp stick, is inadequate for personal defense.
Off body carry in a planner, briefcase or purse. Off body carry comes with some unique challenges. It is the ultimate in concealment, but much easier to lose control of, whether at the hands of a thief or inattention and something as simple and innocuous as a curious child. It may be a top choice for you, but be particularly vigilant to maintain control of it at all times.
Whatever your choice, and you are likely to try a couple different ones before you make your final decision, invest in good gear. Buy a quality holster and belt (if you choose a waistband option). A $10 Uncle Mike’s nylon universal holster is fine initially to help you decide if purse carry is for you. But try to get a quality holster made for your specific gun by a reputable company. You don’t need to spend a fortune on a custom leather rig, but stay away from anything that says “universal” on the package. A reasonably thick leather belt is a good idea.
Whatever you do, always use a holster. Even for purse or pocket carry. Digging in your purse for a pen, only to have it get caught inside the trigger guard, could make for a really bad day. There are purpose-made concealed carry purses out there that (according to those who know) are fashionable and good quality.
After considering your manner of carry, you are ready to start considering the gun itself. Most common handguns available today will work reasonably well in most of the methods mentioned earlier. Just make sure you choose something appropriate. For example, if your top carry choice is pocket carry, you would not want to waste your time looking at long barrel hunting revolvers. Common sense, I know. But on more than one occasion, I have brought a gun home, only to find that nobody makes a holster for it, and my only options were to not carry it, pay big bucks for a custom holster, or sell the gun. I’m not saying that you are inclined to do such things, but we are all human.
Common wisdom is to carry the most gun that you can shoot well. A .44 Magnum that you can’t hit the broad side of a barn with is much less useful as a defensive tool than a .22 that you can draw smiley faces on a target 20 yards away with – regardless of how much more powerful the. 44 is, though. This is a big reason why I recommend shooting as many different guns as possible.
You have to determine your budget, and then shoot everything you can get your hands on that might be a fit. Aesthetics are secondary, but important. If you think it is ugly, you will be less apt to carry it.
Ergonomics are very important. If it doesn’t feel right in your hands, you probably won’t shoot it very well. Handling guns in a gun shop can be deceiving, though. Weight distribution changes when a gun is loaded. Shoot everything you can. (I know, I keep repeating myself. It is intentional.) Something that feels iffy at the counter might be what you shoot best, and vice versa.
Pick something that is comfortable to shoot. If you’re holding it properly and it hurts when it goes off, you probably won’t shoot it enough to become better than passable with it. Shooting is a skill. While weekly range trips aren’t mandatory, I would hate for you to do what my sister has done. Shoot one or two cylinders through it, and never shoot it again. Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy that she carries. I just wish she were more familiar and proficient. The gun is just a tool. Like any tool, the more you use it, the better you will be at its use.
Your choice of weapon should also be something that you can afford to shoot from time to time. A specialty caliber that costs $50 per box of ammo, and/or ammo is only available by special order, is probably not a good idea, even if it is a perfect match in every other way.
I’m sorry. This has gotten much longer and more preachy than I ever envisioned. I hope it has been at least somewhat useful.
As for my guns, I don’t have as many that are likely to be appropriate for you as my “arsenal” comment probably made it seem. I have a snub nose. 357 revolver that, with .38 ammo would simulate the .38 that you initially expressed interest in. I also have my “baby nine” but it is pretty snappy with the recoil. All light guns are, though. Even with standard (non +P) ammo, the light .38s can get your attention in a hurry. Unless you end up being a recoil junkie like me, who shoots the aforementioned .44 Magnum one handed for fun.
I have a mid-sized 9mm that is a joy to shoot. Depending on your carry choice, though, it may be a bit bigger than would be ideal. I also have two large frame pistols, identical except for caliber. One is .45, and the other 10mm (remember what I said about specialty calibers – but since I reload my own ammo, this doesn’t apply to me). The larger and heavier the gun, the less the perceived recoil, all else being equal. But the heavy bullet that the .45 shoots, and the magnum-like power of the 10mm make both of them less pleasant to shoot than the mid size 9mm. I wouldn’t hesitate to let you shoot either one, but neither is suited for concealed carry because of size, and I would be surprised if you liked either.
(remainder redacted, since it pertained to range location and schedule specifics)
She graciously accepted my advice, and indicated that she would like to meet me at the range at some point, whenever circumstances and schedules allow. She also said that she was thinking about vehicle carry, which I did not touch on. I can’t think of much to offer in that department other than “use a holster”. It is tough to properly secure a pistol in the average car in a way that allows quick access. Glove compartments and consoles are the most common options, but mounting a holster in either so that the gun is in exactly the same place all the time is damn near impossible. Same idea for wedged between the seats or under the seat. Having to dig for your gun when you really need it right fucking now is not a good thing. Any thoughts or suggestions?
Any feedback on my advice?