February 3, 2011

Thoughts on Concealed Carry

Many times along the way I was mighty glad I was armed

For more years than I'd care to recall I've had a gun secluded on my person somewhere. No, I didn't always have a CCW permit. During all those years I've never had to present the gun to stop a fight, but many times along the way I was mighty glad I was armed.

I began carrying a tiny Browning 25 Auto a long while back. I liked it because it easily fit into my pocket and was essentially undetectable. I had it with me one late night in downtown Detroit. My lady friend and I had just left a fine Chinese restaurant that was off the beaten track, and we had stayed late. On leaving the restaurant we saw three young -- er -- street guys hanging out between the restaurant exit and my car. We had to walk right by them. This was during the heyday of really short skirts, and my friend Nancy's very fine legs were fully on display. Trouble was brewing, as I well knew. I had the little Browning in my coat pocket, and as we approached the group of young men I very pointedly put my right hand into my coat pocket. The obvious leader of the street-wise group saw that movement, paid good attention to it, and we had exactly no trouble.

Would the guy have known if I were bluffing? Yes, street-wise folk can easily tell who is a "mark" and who is not. That guy well knew I was the real thing, and acted accordingly. I showed no fear nor hesitation, because I knew that tiny gun was nested in my hand inside my coat pocket.

A while later I had that Browning in my pocket when I turned a corner in another city to see one of the biggest men I've ever seen, walking my way with a frown on his face. He made the Incredible Hulk look tiny. He was not after me, but he sure made me think long and hard about the power of that little Browning. I got a bigger gun.

I went through several calibers along the way, including (I hate to admit) a whole collection of 32 autos of the general size of the Mauser HSc, Sauer M 38, PPK, etc. I eventually arrived at a 32 PPK. It would fit in a big pocket, but not all my pockets were big enough. A holster was in order. I bought a shoulder rig for my PPK, and it served well enough for several years. This was all so very long ago I had yet to reload my first cartridge. I was experimenting with all sorts of pistols and rifles in a variety of calibers at the time. Like most inexperienced shooters I was put off by the bigger calibers. One day I bought a 375 H&H rifle, realized it was not a man killer, and never looked back. My handguns began to get more powerful, too.

Ray Ordorica

The writer began his carry career with a 25 ACP Browning shoved in his pocket. Today's 380 Kel-Tec P3AT is about the same size as the Browning, but a whole lot more powerful. This, he says, is one of the best pocket guns available today.

About that time, my good friend Jim Gould, a gunsmith, pointed out to me a 45 auto is actually thinner, and easier to conceal, than a .38 snubby, which at the time was a favorite carry gun for many folks. Today's grand selection of concealable handguns simply didn't exist. What Gould said made lots of sense. Accordingly, I acquired my first 1911, and shortly thereafter began my metallic-cartridge reloading "career" with the 45 Auto.

Packing -- or rather, hiding -- a full-size1911 was no easy task, not for a skinny guy like me. I acquired a crude and inexpensive shoulder rig, but it was a pain in many ways. It telegraphed -- made the presence of the gun obvious to the informed -- the big gun and didn't hold it as securely as I would have liked. Jim Gould came up with a good and simple solution. He made a steel clip that fit under the left grip panel of a 45 auto, which let you stick the gun inside the pants belt with the clip riding over the belt to keep the gun from sliding downward. Several makers today offer a similar setup in plastic, but the one I got from Gould, and still have, is hand made of hammered steel. Again this setup worked for me for quite a few years. Then one day I got out of the passenger side of a big truck and the 45 fell out of my belt onto the concrete. I scrambled around under the truck retrieving my gun while the guy whose truck it was wondered where I had gone, and later, wondered out loud what I had been doing. I never told him I was field-testing a concealed-carry rig.

More years passed and eventually I got involved with IPSC shooting. I began that game with a 44 Mag revolver carried in a really good Bianchi shoulder holster, and did well enough with it. I still have that holster. I used it in Alaska several winters to pack a K-22 every day, all day, on the snowmobile. It's still an excellent holster today. Good products last a lifetime or more. In IPSC, the 45 autos dominated IPSC competition. After some time with the 44 Mag I decided to try my Gold Cup 45 in IPSC competition. I had been using the Goldie to shoot NRA target matches. All I needed to do for IPSC was to chop the hammer to avoid cutting my hand (beavertails were also unheard of for a year or two more, at this time), put in a stiffer recoil spring, and get a holster for the gun.

Ray Ordorica

Here are three fine Milt Sparks rigs tried by the author. At the left is the Executive's Companion, which the writer thought was too bulky and carried the gun too low. Next is the famous Model 1AT, with its adjustable welt secured by that small brass thumbscrew at the bottom. This holster was excellent for IPSC competition and reasonable for concealed carry. At the right is the Bruce Nelson Summer Special, the only one of these three still used frequently by the writer. All three guns are full-size 45 autos by Don Fisher, Valtro, and Ray Ordorica. The latter has Robar's NP3 finish. All the 45s in these photos have Ahrends grips.

IPSC being relatively pure at the time, many "competition" holsters were also ideal for concealed carry, though many competitors used "trick" and cowboy-like rigs that had no place on the street. My first holster for the 45 for IPSC competition was a tricky piece of plastic that sort-of held the gun with a questionable degree of security. It would generally pass the reverse-somersault test for gun retention. To present the gun you simply pressed it forward out of a slot in the front of the holster. Today I shudder that I ever put a loaded gun into that rig. In my defense I never used that plastic thing for concealed carry. I had no business using it for anything.

Finally I did what I ought to have done years before. I talked to my old friend Milt Sparks, and finally got a decent holster for my 45, for IPSC competition. This was his famous Model 1AT, a leather rig that had a moveable welt which could be pressed tightly against the dust cover of the gun. The welt was secured with a screw. This no-longer-made holster worked very well to keep the gun snugly in place during the running and jumping and crawling of IPSC. The holster covered the trigger for added safety. The gun was carried behind the right hip bone with the grip slanted toward the front. The gun lay snug against the body, and hence was both a good competition rig and not bad for concealed carry.

Several other fellows I competed against had similar holsters, not all by Sparks. Some of them were custom made to the shooter's specifications. These shooters, my fellow competitors, were unknown at the time, but they seemed to know what they were doing, especially about packing and using a 45 auto. They were in fact laying the groundwork for much of what you see for sale today in holsters and related equipment. You might recognize a few of their names: Ross Seyfried, Ken Hackthorn, Chuck Taylor, Don Fisher, Ron Phillips, Ida Younger, and one or two others. Ida was a revolver gal, and she was generally unbeatable. Ross Seyfried used a Sparks 1AT rig to win the IPSC US National Championship in 1978, and World Championships in 1981.

Ray Ordorica

Here's the author's old Bianchi "X-15 Large" shoulder rig carrying his M29 S&W. This holster served in IPSC competition with that M29, and for packing a K-22 four winters in Alaska. It's still like new. The upper holster is the famous Lawrence 120 rig, which carried author's Linebaugh # 21 in 45 Colt in Alaska. The gun is fully engraved by the author.

Though the Sparks 1AT worked reasonably well for concealed carry, it was still not the best answer for me. For better concealed carry I eventually went to another rig still sold by Sparks, called the (Bruce Nelson) Summer Special. I also tried the Executive's Companion, but it carried the gun too deeply, was bulky, hot, and not much to my liking. The Summer Special was small, light, and fit inside the pants belt. It had a rough exterior that helped keep your shirt in place. The only complaint I had, and have, about it is that you have to buy your trousers a size larger to have room for your gun inside the waistband. Despite that, I like that holster a lot for serious concealed carry. The gun is held tightly against the body and is easily concealed by any garment that comes over and slightly below the belt.

I was, by this time, close to nirvana in packing a big gun. But I had one more revelation in store for my iron packing.

One day I went to visit my friend Rick Bachman, who has a one-man holster-making operation in Florence, Montana, called Old West Reproductions (www.oldwestreproductions.com). His old-time holsters and other old-West leather goods have appeared in many movies, including "Dances With Wolves" with Kevin Kostner; "Tombstone" with Val Kilmer, Kurt Russell and Sam Elliot; and "Gunsmoke II" with James Arness.

Rick also makes modern holsters. On my visit he showed me a modern rig he had put together that got my undivided attention. This was a simple sheath that held a 1911 outside the pants belt, similar to the old Yaqui Slide that Jeff Cooper liked so well. But this was better. There was none of the looseness I've seen in the Yaqui. Long story short, I bought one of his rigs and ended up giving it the name it bears today, the Bachman Slide. It's his #101, and is by far the finest all-day, every-day rig I've ever used for packing a 45 auto. Yes, you've got to wear your shirt with the tails out, or a suitable jacket to cover the gun, but with so little hanging on your side the gun is not very noticeable even if it's partly visible. You don't need to buy larger trousers. Best of all is the comfort factor.

Ray Ordorica

After many years of trial and error, the author arrived at this solution to his concealed-carry needs. The gun is an engraved 45 CCO in the simple, comfortable Bachman Slide #101. While this may not be for everyone, it has been the author's best carry solution for the past decade.

My current choice -- for the past decade -- of carry gun is the Colt CCO, which is the short aluminum Officer's Model frame mated to the Commander-length slide. Mine has had its innards coated with Robar's NP3, and some engraving by me on its exterior. When the CCO is in my Bachman slide, I generally am not aware I'm packing iron. I've worn it for months on end, every single hour of every waking moment, and generally don't realize I'm packing a 45 auto. This, friends, is the be-all and end-all of firearm carry for me. A powerful handgun is packed in extreme comfort out of the way, relatively securely, and is ready for instant use any time you need it. I don't know if it would survive the backwards-somersault test, but I'm not doing many of those these days. Cops might need better retention. Military guys might need better protection. Some might demand more concealment. But this combination, the CCO in the Bachman Slide, works for me like nothing else I've tried.

Are there other ways to carry? Sure. Ask any holster maker. Are there better guns than a good, light, reliable 45 auto? In a word, no. Not if you've trained with one and have packed one for more than thirty years. Do I still like pocket guns? Yes I do. Today's tiny guns like the 380 Kel-Tec P3-AT or the Kahr PM series are not much bigger than the tiny Browning I used to carry in my pocket. With modern ammo from Buffalo Bore or Cor-Bon, these are far better protection than could be imagined in small guns 25 years ago. But the big gun will do it all if you can carry it so easily you don't know it's there. My solution may not be for everyone, but it sure works for me.