concealed carry mistakes
Previous Post
Next Post

By Joe in San Antonio

I acknowledge that I am not God’s gift to the concealed carry world. I am fairly accurate, decently fast on the draw and moderately trained. I would say my shooting skills are solidly middle of the pack of those who shoot and run drills monthly.

Disclaimer thus stated, the following are four mistakes that I have made over nine years as a concealed carrier. They say a smart man learns from his mistakes, the wise man learns from the mistakes of others. If that’s true I am an idiot, but hopefully I can impart some helpful wisdom to others.

1) Not taking formal training sooner

handgun shooting range practice pistol training
U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. Fifth Fleet [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I grew up around guns, long guns mostly. So when I bought my first handgun and got my permit I figured I was good because I could hit a ten-inch target at 25 feet on a static range. I took the mandatory licensing class for my state that didn’t require shooting. I paid the sheriff and went on my merry way, never grasping dynamic pistol shooting.

It wasn’t until I was deployed and cross-training with some German soldiers (part of an unremarkable military career) that I encountered dynamic pistol use. The Army taught me the pistol was a last ditch, Hail Mary third option for defense. You had your vehicle platform, your rifle and then maybe a pistol if one was assigned to you.

It took another three years before I put money on a pistol course for civilian armament and it was great. I learned a lot. If I could go back to the beginning I would start with that class and save myself a lot of angst.

2) Practicing too much with tactical kit

tactical training operator

Look, 3-gun competitions are cool. Molle gear rocks and 5.11 is in business for a reason. That being said, when when I looked at the reason that I carried, I realized I had invested too much time and money in outfitting myself with sweet gear and running cool drills (some of it has crossover value) and not enough in equipping myself to be proficient at daily carry.

Investing time in practicing with carry systems, and money into getting good systems would have benefitted me much more then burning rounds on static shooting trying to save up for the next gizmo to make me a better shot for the next zombie killing drill.

3) Carrying too big a caliber

ruger SP101
Courtesy TH from Iowa

“Only real men carry guns with magnum after the name.” Or for semis, “All real calibers start with a 4.” I made this mistake twice, hence the idiot remark above. The first time was with my first handgun, a beautiful two-inch stainless Ruger SP101 in .357. What a great gun.

It looked amazing, felt great in the hand, and the trigger was good. It was a little hard to aim, but that was easily overcome with a little nail polish and some familiarity.

The problem occurred when the .357 round ignited. The shock to my hand and then-lanky frame was enough to grit my teeth. But hey, real men shot magnums so I continued. Four more trigger pulls and four more curse words.

I figured to get used to the recoil, I just need to shoot it more. So I continued to put box after box of .357 down the barrel for the next two years. I did learn to shoot it better, but I also developed a wicked shot anticipation (read: flinch) which I am still prone to do to this day.

The second time I made this mistake was pushing a 9mm +p ammo on my darling wife that set back her carry mentality at least two years.

4) Carrying too small a pistol

Keltec PF-9
Chris Dumm for TTAG

Along with number three above, sometimes a gun is too small for the caliber it chambers. Sometimes it’s too small for the shooter and sometimes it’s just too small. My mistake was an option 1/2/3 from the above choices.

My second handgun was the much maligned, diminutive KelTec PF9. I never really had an issue with the pistol’s QC (it always went bang for me). I had a huge issue, though, with its ergonomics. Bought because I could conceal it anywhere, it chambered a common round and was affordable. So I overlooked things that should have given me pause.

Born favoring the Devil’s hand, I noticed upon shooting the gun that I would occasionally engage the mag release. I also noticed that 9mm ammo fired from the light gun drove the hard, squared checkering into my hand. Coupled with the relatively high bore axis, which produced horrid muzzle flip, follow-up shots took just over an eternity.

In truth all the major self defense handgun calibers are only a few percentages away from each other in first round stopping power. So in the case of a defensive gun use, whoever gets the fastest follow-up shot usually wins. If I would have taken that perspective, I would have picked something that handled recoil better and that I could bring back on target faster.

So there you have it, my four biggest mistakes. I hope this can open a discussion so that more lessons learned can be shared to keep others from making the same mistakes I have.

Previous Post
Next Post


  1. “The problem occurred when the .357 round ignited. The shock to my hand and then-lanky frame was enough to grit my teeth.”

    Good grief. What a wimp.

    • He was a new shooter, tough guy. .357 Magnum is a pretty terrible handgun round to get your feet wet with.

        • We tried Federal HST 9mm +P 147 gr in a Sig P938 and a buddies Kel Tec PF9,
          No jams which we were led to believe would be the result but wow what a kick!
          Especially the Kel Tec. In a P226 though we barely noticed the difference.
          And none of the 3 ever jammed which the ” experts ” assured us they would do.

      • You think shooting a .357 is bad? I shot a .38! That’s .023 bigger than a .357! The .38 made my hands shake and my heart race. Every round was like a nuclear detonation in a suburban neighborhood. The power was both erotic and terrifying. After two shots I was hyperventilating and had to sit down to get my anxiety under control. Afterwords I cried for two hours and had a mild case of PTSD for months. I’ve never shot a .357 but, based on math and common sense gun logic, a full cylinder of .357 can’t possibly be as bad as two shots from a .38 my friend!

        Eric Swalwell 2020

        • Dave G, somewhere on here a reporter shot an AR15 and that almost sounds word for word what he said.

        • “The recoil bruised my shoulder, which can happen if you don’t know what you’re doing. The brass shell casings disoriented me as they flew past my face. The smell of sulfur and destruction made me sick. The explosions — loud like a bomb — gave me a temporary form of PTSD. For at least an hour after firing the gun just a few times, I was anxious and irritable.” –‘Reporter’ firing AR-15 for the first time, 2015.

        • “Dave G, somewhere on here a reporter shot an AR15 and that almost sounds word for word what he said.”

          Chicago ‘journalist’, wasn’t it?

          Kuntzler or something like that?

      • Especially out of an sp101 or similarly small revolver. Out of a big Blackhawk, Gp100, 686, etc. it may not be so bad.

        • For comparison try a .357 in Chiappe Rhino with a 2″ barrel. After prolonged magnum shooting the hand does start to ache a bit but the angle of the grip and the very low bore axis with the round coming out of the bottom cylinder hole make for a very comfortable shooting 2″ magnum handgun.

        • The first time I shot the 357 it was out of a Ruger SP101 with the 2.25 inch barrel. While the firearm is fairly heavy. The problem was those cheap plastic grips. After shooting a couple cylinders of full power my hand had a burned feeling. I replaced the grips with the Hogue Monogrip and it made a vast improvement on comfort.

      • Cloudbuster,

        Do full-power .357 Magnum loads generate substantial recoil? Sure do! Is it fun to shoot? Sometimes, and sometimes not. Is is excruciating? Absolutley NOT if you know how to hold the revolver properly and it isn’t one of those stupid titanium snubbies that weigh 12 ounces or some such nonsense.

        I showed a 15 year old girl who weighed 110 pounds (and wasn’t muscular) how to shoot a .44 Magnum revolver with moderate loads. She loved it and asked for more. It is totally doable and even fun if you have an all steel revolver and proper technique.

        • That’s why I said and stand by that it’s a terrible round to get your feet wet with. Quite a lot of people won’t have an experienced shooter standing by their side to guide them through the process. That’s a shame, but it’s the facts. There’s a case to be made for working your way up in caliber. Sure, some, like the girl you taught, can handle it just fine, but others can’t and you probably won’t know until they’re cursing and flinching. There’s no shame in starting people off with .22 and moving up to a full size 9mm or .38 Special handgun that they can shoot comfortably. They’ll probably feel much more confident and ready to take on magnum calibers at that stage.

          I’ve got two .357 Magnum revolvers (and a lever action rifle) and I love them, but I love the relatively heavy S&W 681 4″ (42 oz, about 15oz. more than an SP101 with a 2″ barrel) a lot more than the Ruger LCR for shooting .357 Magnum.

  2. All good stuff.

    Another is thinking that everyone will see your bulge and “make” you.

    Nobody notices. And if they do, they won’t assume its a gun.

    Finally, its buying cheap belts and holsters.

    • Generally the only people who will notice are cops and other concealed carriers. Almost everyone else is completely clueless. I’ve also learned some expensive lessons about belts and holsters.

      • I appreciate a good holster, but I’ve only ever used my regular everyday belt. To be fair, I carry in waistband, so the belt makes less of a difference. But still, never felt the need for a purpose-built gunbelt.

      • No one sees my bulge because there isn’t one. I pull that belt so tight, the gun is plastered in my side. It was uncomfortable for a bit, but I am used to it now. I can go anywhere and no one would have a clue. It is worth it not to have a bulge and I carry the full-size S&W M&P .45ACP. So I don’t carry a small gun, but you’ll never see it on me. Forgot to mention, I carry just a bit forward from on my right side. So sitting down can be done naturally, without any protrusions poking me. Buying a good holster helps.

    • Been there. The first CCW class I took, during a timed drill, pulled out my gun along with the holster because I used a regular leather belt. Having the holster retention adjusted to high was another factor.

  3. I live in NY state. Can someone explain to me what a “carry gun” is? I am not familiar with the term. I was told that my guns need to be locked in a safe when not in use at the range or else they could jump up and go on a killing spree.

  4. I used to carry a .22 LR, until a met someone who started trouble and made me realize that a .22 would. Or have been sufficient to deter this spun out big honkin dude with 5 layers of clothes and a duster .

    • “I used to carry a .22 LR, until a met someone who started trouble and made me realize that a .22 would.”

      nice. because a .22 is just startin’ trouble…

    • First of all, aim for the head. People kick the 22 and I don’t have one, but remember that being armed is much better than not being armed. One thing that can be said is the that 22 will enable you to stay on target without any kick and get a couple of shots off before the other guy might (assuming he is armed).

  5. My first concealed pistol was the G19. It was my learner’s gun.
    Later on I moved up to a G22 but wasn’t willing to invest the time and money to be accurate with a more potent, expensive round. The .40 compounded my inaccuracy and misgivings with the original G19 so I sold it. Soon after, I bought a SIG 239 as a solid compromise for polymer guns and wasn’t disappointed. Admittedly it was a good solution, except for ammo capacity which can be solved with extra magazines.

  6. Buying and wearing tactical pants. Unless you need 19 pockets (you don’t, carry less stuff), wear what normal people wear.

  7. Carrying too small of a pistol. Highly overlooked. I hated my Glock 43 when I had it.

    But training with gear and rifles or duty pistol is entirely different than training for concealment, and you can do both.

    • I love my Glock 43. The capacity is a bummer, but everything else about it pleases me greatly. What didn’t you like about yours?

      • Just too small. When I would train with it I would have to manipulate my hands basically letting go of it to reload, and the mags would always catch my palm. I did so much training with it trying to get around this, but my palms would be bruised from reloading that damn thing. I did love how small it was for concealment purposes, but for practicality, not at all. Also, beyond 20m it was useless. I am not an amazing shot, but I am certainly not a bad shot, and I never felt confident that I could hit something with it. So I stepped up to a compact double stack and been happy at that level ever since. I also was never a fan of 9mm. Given the empty shelves we see now, it appears to have been a good choice. I do have a SIG p320 RXP XCompact in 9mm, but that and a g19 are my only ones and if they made a .40 conversion I would immediately invest in it.

  8. With regards to the SP101, couldn’t you shoot .38’s out of it? Not being a jerk, just looking to explore alternatives.

      • I have a SP101 snubby in .38 special. It’s a pleasure to shoot. No good for pocket carry though, because of the exposed hammer.

      • What’s the advantage of the .38 only vs the .357?

        The 101 had been on my wishlist for a while, possibly a Model 60. I’m always interested in everyone’s take on those guns.

        • I actually think I know this:
          Some claim the .38 only gun will shoot .38 more accurately. In a .357, the shorter.38 cartridge will result in more “freebore” before the bullet hits the rifling in the barrel. Others claim this is negligible. Others more knowledgeable than me can opine.

    • “…couldn’t you shoot .38’s out of it?”

      Yes, you could, with no problems, whatsoever…

      • You could get in trouble if you shoot 38 followed by 357 in the same session. The cases can get stuck.

    • I disagree with the author of the article about the Ruger SP101 – why he started out shooting 357 Magnum loads in it is just odd, but new shooters may not know much about cartridges. You can shoot anything in a 357 Magnum revolver from 700 fps 38 Special wadcutters (light recoil) up to the most effective handgun loading out there – 357 Magnum 1300 fps 125 grain jacked hollow point (very heavy recoil with a 27-ounce gun like the SP101). The latter will also have a lot of flash and pressure blast in any snub-nose revolver, since the medium-speed powder in those cartridges is made to burn completely in a four- or five-inch barrel. However, in between these light and heavy loads, you’ve got a few DOZEN of ammo options in 38 Special – different bullet weights and designs, and different velocities (higher velocity with the same bullet weight equals more recoil). Or you can move up to more options in 38 Special +P which has higher velocity and more recoil, but much less than 357 Magnum. Or you can just shoot any of the 38 Special loads in it all the time.

      After you have a lot of experience, and you WANT to shoot 357 Magnum [~1/8″ longer brass case] you will need to clean the small carbon ring that gets formed with 38 Special out of the cylinder – no big deal. You DON’T EVER start out shooting 357 Magnum as a new shooter, even with a much heavier gun like the Ruger GP100. The 357 blast, flash and recoil out of a snub-nose, will Of COURSE cause a new shooter to develop a flinch. As I mentioned, the cartridge loadings (i.e. the type and amount of medium-speed powder used) was developed for 4” or 5” barrel heavier police revolvers (around 40 ounces versus 27 ounces in the SP101). If you reload, there are hundreds of different options in powder and bullet weights that you can use in either 38 Special or 357 Magnum. I’ve even loaded “plinking” cream-puff loads in 357 cases that young kids can shoot.

      And if you are going to shoot 38 Special +P or 357 Magnum, the standard Ruger SP101 grips should be replaced with the Hogue Monogrip or the Pachmayr Diamond Pro grip, or else the trigger guard will ding your knuckle and the small grip will hurt your hand after a dozen rounds or so. (That’s why smart people wear shooting gloves for practice.) The standard grips are also too small anyway for most men’s hands; Ruger should have come out with a better grip option long ago.

      You can also find the SP101 in 38 Special only. They used to make 38 Special in 3″ and 2-1/4″, but now only in 2-1/4″; however, you can find the 3″ used. Interestingly, Ruger used to use the same length cylinders for both 357 and 38 Special models and just bore them differently. The newer guns use a shorter cylinder for 38 Special, with the back of the barrel extended farther into the frame opening. This improves the accuracy since the bullet travels a shorter distance before hitting the forcing cone.

      Regarding the articles comments on choosing a gun (and someone asked about choosing between the SP101 and S&W Model 60.) The same comments I made apply to the Model 60, and the new similar Kimber revolvers (I’d recommending looking at all three and finding a gun shop/range where you can try them to compare). There are lots of reviews off all three guns on-line – just Google them + “review.” The difference between the Ruger and Smith is the Ruger is a bit heavier and the frame is stronger for shooting 357 Magnum. However the Smith has a much lighter and smoother trigger out of the box (lots of people replace the Ruger hammer springs, but this is a hassle if you are not mechanically-inclined or want pay a gunsmith). The two guns have a quite different “feel” to them, so you definitely want to compare them. If you can’t try them at a range, see if your dealer will let you use some snap caps in them to compare the trigger pulls. The Model 60 comes in 2-1/8″ barrel, as opposed to 2-1/4″ for the Ruger. Or 3″ versus 3-1/16″ for the Ruger. In the 3″ barrel it has good adjustable sights. Neither of standard Ruger short-barrels have adjustable sights, though there are some “Distributor Exclusive” models that do (see the Ruger SP101 webpage.) Your dealer can order these but they sell out fast and are more expensive.

      For a home defense gun, the 3” Model 60 with the adjustable sights would be good, or you could move up to a Ruger GP100 (or similar sized S&W model) in 3″ or 4″ barrel – but they are significantly heavier. The lighter Ruger LCR revolvers (with a part polymer frame) are lighter than the SP101 and Model 60, and so they have more recoil and are not very pleasant to shoot at all except with the lightest 38 Special loads. The bigger-framed guns like the GP100 are actually hard to hold steady at arm’s length in one hand for some women or older people. For concealed carry, a 3″ barrel in a revolver is a bit too long to conceal easily. Revolvers in general (with the rounded cylinder surface) are more difficult to conceal than a flat-sided semi-auto. (However, the new Kimber revolvers have a slightly flattened cylinder side.) There are many semi-autos with a 3″ or 4″ barrel that are about the same loaded weight as an SP101 and have much higher cartridge capacity in the magazine. The SP101 and Model 60 only hold five rounds.

      With revolvers, their advantage is their simplicity of operation, though certain semi-autos like the Glocks (and many other similar striker-fired pistols without safeties) are quite simple to operate also. Many older people or those who are not mechanically-inclined prefer the simplicity of revolvers and the ease with which you can check if they are loaded. (There are lots of negligent discharges with semiautos with a round still in the chamber and the magazine removed.) Most people find semiautos easier to shoot accurately than revolvers for various reasons. I’d definitely try a Glock and other semiautos first, if you are a new shooter. If so, you’d want to take a new shooters class first – one where you don’t have to bring a gun and can try revolvers and semiautos.

      By the way, I’d stay away from the Chiappa Rhino revolver that someone mentioned. Yes, it has less perceived recoil because the barrel is lower in the frame. However, it has a very complicated internal mechanism, and is not as strong where it needs to be to protect your hand if you were to have a freak overcharge in a cartridge (to prevent this never buy someone else’s reloads or non-US made ammo.) If you have a problem, customer service also may not be as good with them as opposed to Smith or Ruger (it is made in Italy, with USA distributors).

  9. Some to add:
    * Carrying with an empty chamber. Early confidence levels were not there for me. Not until taking some classes was I comfortable carrying with a round chambered. Guess it goes to confidence in my ability to draw/shoot safely and consistently.
    * Carrying pistol with too complex manual of arms. Many options out there for pistols with extra safeties or carrying options (DA/SA, etc). The more doo-dads to a pistol, the less likely you will be able to perform under stress. There’s a reason why Glocks are great. If you are looking for a carry gun that has options w/ and w/o a thumb safety, opt for without. The gun is no less safe without it.

    • David:

      I like a pistol with only grip and trigger safeties (like an XD or an M&P EZ). You wrap your hand around the grip and put your finger on the trigger, and you’re good to go. It’s a safe setup with no fumbling.

    • “There’s a reason why Glocks are great Perfection.

      could not resist..Satan was daring me lol.

      Hope no one is “triggered”.

  10. As far as printing, what helped me was home carrying for almost a year before getting my CCW Lic. One observation playing with my little kids in the backyard was, they bump into the pistol grip, getting hurt, and me teliing them, sorry, it was daddy’s metal belt buckle.

  11. To the OP: if you only made four mistakes, you were way ahead of the game.

    From my point of view as a trainer and gun salesman, in MA the most common mistake is carrying too small. Newbies are afraid that they’ll be “made,” so they carry a diminutive pistol that they can’t shoot well.

    I tell them that they can duct tape a pistol to their forehead like a tiara and nobody in this state will notice. Not even the cops.

    • LOL true words. One of my biggest mistake was how many holsters I tried before I just got smart and kept it simple. I was so worried about printing. Now I carry a double stack compact at the 3 and if you are really looking you might notice I am lopsided, but I also know it’s just me looking in the mirror 😉

      I think most people just are not willing to dress accordingly. They want to wear the basketball shorts and that slim tee like their favorite youtuber. It can be done, but the sacrifice IMHO is just not worth it. I’d rather have a “bulge” and wear a slightly bigger shirt than carry something too small for my hands.

  12. Oh my God. Really? Just go slowly, practice often, and don’t read any internet shit.. Get a book by Elmer Keith. If you think you have it rough, read his biography. Believe it or not, my first handgun was a ruger 44 magnum. I knew NOTHING (still don’t!). The first time I shot it, it took a divot of flesh out of my thumb knuckle – blood running down to the elbow. After that it was not so bad, and I learned to shoot – by myself. Then I discovered my off hand eye was dominant so learned all over again to shoot lefty. Anything is possible if you are committed (bite yer tongue!). Really, don’t over think it before you do some shooting….

    • Super Blackhawk that Too Cool to Pass Up Dragoon style trigger guard is what got my finger. 1979-2020 and counting, IHMSA, deer, coyotes,one black bear, stolen and used in a robbery, saved me and my wife in an attempted car jacking( got a funny story on that one) and I’m sure one of the grandsons/daughters will get it.

  13. If a regular Joe saw your gun for a split second they would probably think you’re a cop. Even a cop might think so. Of course if you dress like a troublemaker then that’s different. Decent clothes, shave, nice shoes makes you look like a detective.

  14. My carry piece on a daily basis was a Colt Mustang Aluminum frame 380 acp. I carried it loaded with a round in the chamber and 6 in the magazine in a pocket holster. I would carry it with the hammer down and safety on. To fire it I would release the safety and thumb cock the hammer. I could do it very quickly with one hand as I drew the pistol. I practiced. If I had carried in a regular holster I would have carried cocked and locked, but in a pocket holster I was more leery. I carried this way because for me it worked the best. I always carried and did not leave my gun at home like others who carry too big a gun in the summer do. 380 acp is not a rocket but two to the chest and the rest to the face will dissuade even big guys. I practiced this drill at 7 yards and was good at it. I have moved from where I lived and I am in the process of applying for a new permit.

  15. Question. Does anyone know, from experience, how to conceal a Glock23 while skinny dipping in a river.

  16. I somewhat disagree with the author. After putting through 14,000 rounds through a G19 gen4 (which eventually blew up inside a Roni during rapid fire) in around a year and a half, and then another 19,000 through an M and P compact in another year and a half, I can say that firing at a static target at a range, building up speed and accuracy is invaluable.

    You will find that when you are asked to do new drills, whether kneeling or firing while walking- etc- it all becomes easy as manipulating the gun is simply second nature. Never underestimate the value of just shooting at a static target and becoming a master of your firearm……

  17. Also… as a black belt/teacher in free style karate, (I received my black belt from a Ninja master who was black 4th dan in Ninjutsu, karate, judo, and kung fu- and I saw him put his fist through a large rock and obliterate it), I firmly believe if you become absolutely proficient/expert in the basics- simply the four blocks and four strikes- you can confidently destroy most opponents…..
    Same with guns, learn the basics -and become an absolute master/wizard in the basics, and that will always be 90% of any training you’ll ever get…..

  18. The first and only time my wife ever shot a handgun other than a 22 was my Ruger Security Six. Shot a bunch of pepper poppers with 38 special and then I had her shoot full house 357. She just shrugged and went “Eh”. Carry and shoot what you are comfortable with. Nothing else matters.

Comments are closed.