On The Different Modes Of Pistol Carry

Gabe Suarez

There are many ways to carry a pistol. There are crotch holsters and shoulder holsters and ankle holsters. There is Mexican Carry and Colombian Carry and even Pocket Carry. Each of these can present a study in itself.

Assuming we are discussing waistline holster carry, and there is good reason to select this over the various other possible carry locations, we will look at the various points along the waist line suitable for carry.

For clarity of discussion we will use the clock analogy with the belt buckle being at 12:00, and assuming a right handed fighter. Let’s also consider that not every spot on the waist is suitable because not every spot can be reached by the hand quickly in a fight.

Traditionally at most training institutions, they favor a straight 3:00 dominant side carry. Why? Because it is easy to train a large number of marginally trained people to a suitable level of skill safely with this mode of carry. The 3:00 lies within the arc of motion of the arm (sort of), and allows a novice to draw in relative safety, from open carry (not concealed) when in a line with twenty other “General Pistol” students.

It also can be seen that tradition is involved when you consider that many of the founders of those institutions came from an era when a coat and tie was common wear, thus limiting where a pistol might be placed unseen on the belt. Even before the legal reason to keep the gun out of sight, there was the tactical reason to keep it hidden. Regardless, today’s “sloppy” fashion of tails out shirts and oversized logo sweatshirts and t-shirts would not have gone over well with the gentlemen gunmen of 30 years ago.
Problems with 3:00 carry are evident the moment you try and hide the weapon with a coat or sweatshirt. It sticks out on the side like an overfull colostomy bag and every casual glance will show that you are obviously carrying a piece.
Most students who actually carry a weapon will slowly gravitate to 5:00 carry. That is not bad, but not perfect either. 5:00 is on the dominant side, slightly to the rear. On the belt, this falls just forward of the rear pocket, and in the hollow of the back at about the kidney.

This allows for acceptable concealment with an average sized male body-type. The drape of the clothing tends to hide the piece well until bending over occurs. It also creates the problem of a “bump frisk”. This is the common, accidental or intentional, touching of the holstered gun, “way back there” by persons in crowded environments. Whether they realize what that is or not is another issue.

Problems with this type of carry also include an unmistakable motion indicative with reaching for a weapon. Students who have never drawn a weapon outside of class or matches do not appreciate the importance of not telegraphing your intentions to the adversary. Or of the concept of the covert draw. Reaching behind your back in a tense situation may be enough to get you shot by a twitchy thug. And before anyone begins to send me emails about how fast their draw is, I will suggest actually concealing it for street carry and then playing it out in an uncontrolled armed robbery, or stand-up grapple, force on force scenario drill.
Some will gravitate to 6:00, behind the back carry in some sort of SOB (Small Of Back) holster. This offers the same concealment issues as the 5:00 Kidney Carry discussed above, but exacerbates the problems. Having had back injuries at one point in my life, I can well imagine the issues of falling backward onto the holster which is now strategically placed right at your spine. Not my idea of a good thing.

There is also Cross Draw. Cross draw would place the gun at the 11:00 or the 10:00 position. I would not consider the 9:00 position as it simply takes too much movement to get the pistol on target.

Cross draw carry seemingly offers advantages in terms of access. While access is simplified in some situations, such as having bladed your body to the dominant side, or from a seated position, access is hindered in other positions, such as moving toward your support side. Be careful about evaluating a holster and carry mode from a single advantageous position because there is no guarantee you will be able to take that “sweet position” in a real fight.

Additionally, the cross body movement is definite “tell” of your intentions and offers the close distance adversary your flank if he is familiar with moving to the outside lines. One other issue with cross draw is the problem of concealment. Unless the pistol is carried straight up and down, which makes for a difficult draw due to requiring excessive wrist articulation, the butt of the gun will stick out like a samurai’s katana handle from under your cover garment.

The last likely waistband carry position is the 1:00-2:00 Appendix Carry. This mode has fallen way out of favor in the USA due primarily, in my opinion, because of the influence of certain training institutions and competition groups on the shooting community. Try to show up to certain schools with an Appendix Inside The Waist Holster and see what happens.

Appendix Carry was popular among narcotics officers several decades ago. Jeff Cooper notes in his 1972 book – Cooper on Handguns, that it is both faster and easier to protect than any other type of carry location, and was faster than any “strong side hip” holster. Cooper was friends with one Bruce Nelson, who reportedly carried a Colt Commander in an Inside The Waistband Appendix holster of his own design (which would later become the famous Summer Special). Cooper noted that Nelson had adopted the habit of sloppy dress with a tails out shirt and a peace-nik slouch which concealed, and protected the piece, but allowed for a startlingly fast draw.

Problems with this type of carry include the initially uncomfortable pointing of the pistol at the groin equipment. Holsters suitable for this type of carry are in short supply, although that is starting to change. Finally, this type of carry tends to be uncomfortable for those who tend toward large waistlines.

Advantages, other that what was discussed above include accessibility during grapple situations (and please don’t tell me this will never happen to you), seated access, potential for covert drawing, and the truth that the hands can generally get to centerline easier and faster (under most circumstances) than getting behind the back or to the side.

Something else to consider. The basic level is the basic level. At basic level a student is “standing” on the line in a “stance” along with several others. They are trying to learn the mechanics of the gun and how to run it. “Never let your muzzle cover ANYTHING but the dirt and the target”, becomes an inviolable mantra to avoid accidents and safety lapses are dealt with quickly.

However, once these “failsafe” practices are internalized we begin to look at applications. In the real world you will not be using the same clinical processes you use on the firing line of a basics class. Any instructors who insist they do, well, I invite them to prove it to me at a force on force event.

In the real world you will cover all manner of things with your gun muzzle. You cover your legs on the draw and holster every single time. Watch a class of beginners and see how the muzzle covers the upper quad every time they draw and holster. Draw on the move, or seated, or from awkward grounded or covered positions…or in a F.U.T. Be honest and let go of the gun mafia doctrine of “always and never” and see how true what I have written is.

So where does that leave us? Safe Combat handling must be ingrained and internalized so when combat compromises must be arrived at there will be no problems with premature finger placement on the trigger, etc.

Invariably someone will say, “but I’m just a regular guy and I can’t train so much”. What they are actually saying is that it should be OK for them to either stay at Novice level, or its OK for them to be unsafe in a true fight.

Sorry boys, there is no free lunch. If you wish to arrive at the upper levels of the art, you must put the time in and have safe combat handling as reflexive as scratching.

For beginner levels I would suggest standard 5:00 Kidney Position, OR 10:00 Cross draw. Once they have 3000 good repetitions, and grip, finger index, etc. is reflexive they can experiment with other carry modes more suitable for the trained hand, such as Appendix Carry.
None of these is perfect and is influenced by a number of factors to include; social dress requirements, crowded or sparse operational areas, waist girth and physical state, etc. Each person must select what suits them best, but don’t dismiss one way simply because of what someone told you. Look at the different modes of carry and test them, and then select the one which offers you the best utility, and then test the hell out of it in force on force drills to see if it works for you.

Gabe Suarez

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