“Hands up!” Let’s be honest. At least once in your adult life, you’ve fantasized about saying those words (or words like them) as a cowboy/private detective/action hero to save the day in your own, imaginary showdown with a bad guy. Once you get serious about gun ownership, you quickly realize that this sort of confrontation lives in the realm of fantasy. At least it should do and you hope so. Truth be told, as a handgun owner, you’re about as likely to be struck by lightning whilst fending off a white shark as you are to find yourself in a situation where he who unholsters first, wins. Stranger things have happened, but you can’t let Hollywood determine your choice of holsters.

For instance, cowboys in the Old West carried their guns on their hips. The thigh holster you see in countless Westerns didn’t exist. They were invented by Hollywood stuntmen looking for an easier/cooler/faster way for actors to draw their weapon and fire. While the U.S. military adopted the thigh holster, life imitating art isn’t always a good idea. The easier it is for you to draw a gun, the easier it is for someone else to draw it for you. And shoot you with it. And if you do make it secure, then it’s not easy to remove. And it’s not easy to remove, you might get shot, first.

Of course, the thigh holster is an example of “open carry.” That’s OK on the battlefield, or in the Great American wilderness. If you’re gonna carry a .357 Magnum long-barrel pistol to protect yourself from bear attacks while salmon fishing in Alaska, or shoot a deer for lunch, rock on. Otherwise . . . I’ve seen a gas station owner in a bad part of town wearing a thigh-holstered .45, but that’s just asking for trouble.

Sensibly enough, most handgun owners are trouble-aversive. By the same token, they’re not planning on making a political statement by swaggering into their local Starbucks like John Wayne wearing a sidearm. Most realize that discretion is the better part of valor.

But even in the world of concealed carry, Hollyweird has an undue influence on holster choice. Another example: the Miami Vice-style “shoulder holster”. This “must have” for Crockett and Tubbs wannabes (who haven’t died of old age) allows wearers to carry the gun under their armpit on one side, with a couple of extra magazines or speed loaders on the other. When Don stripped down, sales took off.

The shoulder holster has some serious drawbacks (so to speak). For one thing, you can’t take your coat off in most states. Once you reveal you’re carrying, you’re no longer concealing. D’oh! For another, sweat will stain the leather/material (Don had an infinite supply of shoulder holsters). As you might (or might not) imagine, the straps are about as easy to fit—and fit comfortably—as a bra’s. A custom-made shoulder holster sorts that out—at a significant price.

That said, a shoulder holster is the best way to schlep a large handgun for hunting (yes, there are such things). Carried under a proper, relatively loose-fitting coat, the shoulder holster protects the weapon from the elements whilst keeping it close by. Sensibly enough, most holsters of this type accommodate scopes and have a big ass chest strap across the front for extra stability. It’s not exactly the kind of look that flatters an Armani suit.

As you may be beginning to realize, comfort is a top priority. Quite simply, if a holstered handgun is large, heavy, bulky, sharp-edged and/or generally a pain in the ass, it’s only a matter of time before you won’t do it. If you’re buying a handgun for target practice—and target practice alone—that’s not an issue. A gun box’ll do ya. If, however, you”re purchasing a weapon for self-defense, you need to have the handgun within reach or on your person. For “safety” purposes, on your person is best.

Even security-minded handgun owners who are NOT planning on taking their weapon out of the house or car should give serious consideration to wearing their gun in a holster. Although bump in the night-variety home invasions get all the publicity, a significant number of these heinous crimes involve people who barge into your home under false pretenses. Chances are that gun sitting in that “pop-up” biometric safe by your bed will do you no good whatsoever. And how exactly are you going to transport the gun from the home to the car?

Believe it or not, a pocket can be a good place to carry a gun—if you have the right kind of gun. For instance, a hammerless wheelgun or a small, “melted” semi-auto, where all sharp edges have been removed (to facilitate getting the weapon out of a pocket without snagging) will fit nicely in the pocket of your favorite chinos. A couple of manufacturers make pocket holsters that will hold the gun, using fabrics and leathers that grip on the outside and are smooth on the inside (so they’ll stay in your pocket when you remove the gun).

While a “pocket gun will most likely be small caliber weapon, it’s a lot better than no gun for situations where a gun may be required. This type of carry does require fairly loose pants with deep pockets; you don’t want the gun frame (a.k.a. butt) sticking out when you sit down, or a gun pushing down on your thigh. Pleated trousers, like the aforementioned chinos, also help disguise the bulge. [Ed: the gun bulge.]

The best holster for a woman is not a holster. It’s a handbag. Given the fairer sex’s focus on fashion, it’s no surprise that there are literally thousands of styles and designs of gun-compatible handbags from which to choose. This is no joke; if the handbag is not your style, don’t buy it. If you’re used to changing bags with the seasons, or simply for different occasions, buy often.

If you must have a designer name, find a gun-aware seamstress (yes) who can modify your existing bag with a pouch for you weapon. Do not simply throw the gun inside an existing bag. The gun must be secure. Can you say accidental firing? Besides, if you’re in a life-or-death situation, your hand must find your gun quickly/instinctively. Practice “dry firing” and at the range. And remember: you can fire a gun through a handbag. It’s expensive to practice with ammo, but carjackers are out there, somewhere.

Always test a holster with the weapon inside (unloaded) in a variety of conditions before you buy it. Sit, stand, walk, run, jump, build shelves, drive, mountain bike, cook a meal, change a diaper—do everything and anything you will be doing with the holstered gun. You might look like an idiot prancing around and/or pantomiming at the gun store, but you do not want to waste your money.

Provided you’re not pregnant or dramatically overweight, the so-called “belly-band” is well worth a try. The system’s inexpensive, it fits all types of handguns, you can position the gun where it sits most comfortably (front or side) and you can draw your weapon quickly. Your genetic survival depends on using the gun’s safety properly; whether you go for a belly band or not, you can’t practice drawing and holstering your unloaded weapon (dry firing) enough.

Hip holsters—a term which refers to holsters positioned on your side or in the small of your back—come in two basic flavors: inside the waistband and outside the waistband. Carrying a gun outside the waistband and concealing it requires that you wear your shirt untucked, or wear a jacket/coat/sweater to cover the weapon. There are dozens of different designs, with holsters made of leather, molded plastic and metal, and they come in a variety of different “cants” (the angle in which the gun is held).

Carrying a gun inside the waistband (IWB) sounds ideal. It can be, unless you’ve got a beer gut or muffin-top thing happening. In that case, you’ll find that your love handles envelop the grip of your gun and make it difficult to remove from the holster. If you’re on the svelte side, IWB holsters are a great deal. Just make sure you get one that is either made with hard plastic or has some reinforcement that will prevent the leather from collapsing once you unholster your piece. You can even wear your shirttail tucked in, and simply allow it to blouse over the handgrip of your weapon.

I’ve heard a lot of people ask about the viability of ankle holsters. I’m not a fan. For one, you gotta bend over or raise a leg to reach your weapon. For another, you have to walk around with what amounts to a 20 to 30 ounce ankle weight on one leg. If you’re determined to go the ankle holster route, do yourself a favor: buy an Ace bandage and strap something roughly the same weight to your ankle for a day. If you’re cool with it, buy an ankle holster. Otherwise, move on.

Remember: how you holster looks doesn’t really matter. Sure, if you’re on the job, you might care about how a holster looks when exposed to view. But you’re looking for a concealed handgun holster; neither weapon nor holster is going to be seen. Until it is. One of my favorite IWB holsters is made by CrossBreed [above]. As far as looks goes, it would be charitable to call it “utilitarian.” But it works great, won’t break the bank (about $70.00), and it’s built to last.

The cost depends on what you want. You can get a nylon fabric holster for less that twenty bucks. Polymer holsters (ugly but highly functional) start around $35. Leather holsters can run more, sometimes a lot more, especially if you go for the custom-order jobs. Figure you’ll pay at least $60 for a decent leather holster.

You can expect to pay in the hundreds for something that comes from a custom shop. Some of the better holster manufacturers are essentially one-man shops, and you can expect waits of six-months or longer to get your custom holster. Once you’ve bought—and discarded— several holsters, you may find the cost and the wait for a custom job well worth it.

As you can see above, there is no end to the holster makers’ inventiveness. There are gun shirts, vests, pouches, slings and more. Focus on comfort, fit and function. Experienced gun owners have a saying: for every comfortable holster they wear on a daily basis, they have a drawer full of holsters at home that they’ll never wear again. In other words, trial and error (mostly error, sadly) plays a big part in finding your ideal holster. The one you end up with may not remotely resemble the one you thought would be perfect when you begin your search.

The critical thing to remember: if you’re not comfortable with your holster, keep looking until you find one that works for you. If you’re not comfortable, you won’t carry your gun. And in a self-defense emergency, a gun left at home is every bit as useless as owning no gun at all.

3 Responses to Choosing a Handgun, Part III: Shooting from the Hip. Or Not.

  1. Travis Bickle's sleeve gun comes to mind.

    I'd be curious to know how often people shoot themselves while unholstering their weapon.

  2. Carry my snubby in a IWB holster appendix carry,best way for me.Very comfortable,and ease of draw is fantastic.Be prepared and ready.Keep your powder dry.

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