New Shooter’s Guide: Vehicle Carry

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Many of us are proponents and practitioners of concealed carry. What to carry has been the subject of endless conversations and gallons of ink, but what about how to carry your handgun? Let’s make that an even smaller subset and discuss how to carry while you’re in a vehicle. The vast majority of us drive while we’re packin’. Convenience and comfort are part of the decision process, but they seem to be relatively minor components.

At least it was for minor us until we pulled a 29-foot trailer on a 6200-mile journey from Southeast Texas to Northwest Montana. As longitude, latitude and altitude changed, so did our attitude about the different types of threats and how we needed to deal with them. Wolves, mountain lions and bears aren’t normally part of our threat assessment, but they were on this trip.

We confess that we own more kydex holsters than leather. They are normally cheaper and a bit faster to draw from, so we set those aside for range work and competition. We tend towards leather holsters for vehicle carry. The entire holster is softer, and the corners are more rounded making them more comfortable for long trips.

Having at least one old Boy Scout on this trip, we wanted to be prepared for most kinds of threats. That in mind, we packed up a pocket pistol, a somewhat larger, red dot equipped version of the pocket pistol and a 1911 in 10mm. Don’t worry, we had a long gun, too. But then came the question of how to carry all of that gear where it was comfortable, secure and accessible. Some of the things we remembered and more that we learned follow.

Our choices (from the selection we had in the safe) were a Sig Sauer P365 9mm, a P365 XL 9mm with a Crimson Trace Rad Micro red dot on board and a Sig Sauer Tacops, 1911 style 10mm. Bear in mind that it won’t matter how much artillery you have on board if you have to leave the vehicle. Statistically, you will have to deal with your situation with what you have attached to you. Your inclination may be to have something substantial in your glove box or console (that’s what we did with the 10mm) and we kept the P365 in a pocket holster or the 365XL in a belt holster when clothing allowed.

Remember, if you can’t access the hardware, you can’t use it to solve your problem. That said, we discovered the way we carried our EDC created some issues and we secured gear to solve those problems when we got back. So, what did we learn? Just about every option has pluses and minuses. Let’s look at some.

Console/Glove Box Carry

We could easily carry a full size 1911 in the console. It also got bumped around and mixed in with the other odds and ends we carry there. Reaching for it would be a bit slow and obvious. That “slow” thing would be a problem if we had to get out of the vehicle in a hurry. Security can also become an issue if we don’t move the pistol inside the trailer with us.

Pocket Carry

A very valid method for those who live where it is hot most of the year, pocket carry requires the right guns and the right clothes. This is where we carry the Sig P365 (not the XL version) in a DeSantis Nemesis holster. The DeSantis keeps the pistol oriented in the right direction (straight up and down) while it covers the trigger guard and masks the outline of the pistol. Note that whatever pants the pocket holster combo is placed in must be baggy enough to get the pistol out of said pants. We make sure that we buy baggy khakis or the like, there must be enough room in the pocket for us to be able to withdraw our pistol while it is enclosed in our fist. Try the method before you depend on it. It is also almost impossible to access pocket carry while driving. That’s why we also had the 10 mil in the console.

We live where it is hot and humid meaning that T-shirts and baggy shorts are common attire 9 months out of the year. This DeSantis Nemesis holster lives much of that time in our pocket where it supports and hides a Sig P365. Great for everyday wear, this holster is very difficult to draw from while seated or moving quickly.

Belt Carry

Probably the most likely method to choose and there are a number of options here. We realize that any choice made would leave us with a holster and a pistol held in place and obstructed by the seat belt. Both of those problems can be obviated by being ready to and knowing how to remove the belt. The problem lies in that the buckle to release said belt frequently sits directly on top of a right hander’s pistol. Practice taking your left hand and sliding it towards the buckle with the fingers underneath the seat belt. The left hand unlatches the buckle and being underneath, should not get entangled with the seat belt as it retracts. While doing so, the driver can lean slightly towards their window giving their strong hand a bit more access to the pistol. Always remember Colonel Cooper’s rule #2 here – Never point a firearm you are not willing to kill or destroy. That includes any passengers you might have up front with you and, especially, your own leg. A Southpaw in the driver’s seat has the easier solution in that both hands can be doing their job simultaneously. Clear the seatbelt and don’t get caught up in it. Lean in and draw.

If you use right side carry, make sure that you release the seat belt with your left hand and keep the fingers on the body side of the seat belt. That allows your hand to guide the seat belt away from you and not foul the draw.

Appendix Inside the Waistband

The AIWB holster sits up front where it is easily accessed by either hand, but for those not blessed with trim physiques, the location can be somewhat problematic. We’ve been taught that the best designs provide a foot at the bottom of the holster that pushes the muzzle away from the body a bit, making it safer to holster. That would also tend to angle the pistol where it would poke the carrier even worse. If we were the right shape, we might think more of this holster style. Since we’re not, we shy away from AIWB for vehicle carry.

Strong Side Belt Holsters

We will discuss several of the most popular types but note here that firearm choice once again makes a huge difference on whether carry will work at all. Grip length is very important. Even if you can physically carry the pistol, if the grip frame is too long, it will feel like something is turning your belt (you do have a real gun belt, don’t you?) into a tourniquet. Make sure your pistol choice will allow it to fit in the holster, in whatever space your body leaves in the seat. Normal carry position is between 3 and 4 on the body clock.

We’ve used these two strong belt holsters from tuckergunleather.com for years. They carry the pistol comfortably and securely, but they can get buried behind the hip and the seat belt.

Inside the Waistband (IWB)

Fitting inside the belt and inside the waistband (which means you buy your pants with enough room inside the waistband), IWB holsters tend to be very secure and easily concealed. Be aware that everything is a compromise so recognize that the better you conceal your pistol, the slower it will be to draw. One of our favorites of all times is the Milt Sparks Summer Special with the leather rough side out. It has a reinforced mouth that makes sure the leather stays open so you can reholster. You really don’t want to be standing there waving the gun around as you try to explain to the officer that you were the guy that called him.

This Milt Sparks Summer Special may conceal a pistol even better than the strong side outside the waistband models, but they are slightly more difficult to access while driving.

Outside the Waistband

More good questions come up here such as strap or no strap and vertical carry or canted. The retention strap is your choice and may even be required by law. We tend to gravitate towards retaining straps on rigs that are going to openly carried while accepting holsters without for concealed carry where the grip of the holster is sufficient for a secure hold. We also prefer a forward cant which helps the grip conceal better and lessens the chance for it to be pushed by the seat and torque your belt tighter. Styles abound. Some of our favorites are the Combat Master from Galco and the HF2 holster from Tucker Gun Leather.

You will note that most of our suggestions are made from leather. They are more expensive and take longer to produce. In our experience, they are also more comfortable to wear in confined spaces on long trips. We usually save our kydex holsters for fast range work and competition, not where hard edges and corners would press into our bodies. A good compromise can be found on the Galco website in their Kingtuk holster. It has a leather backing with a kydex shell for the pistol. Crossbreed and others can provide the same kind of product.

Experience and experimenting showed us that the more traditional methods of belt carry had their advantages and disadvantages as would any type of carry. Our primary concerns were getting the pistol covered by the holster and the hand fouled by the seat belt. So, we continued the process and found three more not-so-traditional methods that we thought worked very well.

Shoulder Holster

We secured a Galco Miami Classic Model that fit our Sig P365 XL including the red dot. The system was well made, very light and easily adjusted to fit us. It allowed the pistol to be accessed regardless of whether or not the seat belt was fastened. Two spare mags can be carried onboard on the opposite side.

A bit of advice on drawing technique is in order for the shoulder rig. Orient the support shoulder towards the target (this is the left shoulder for someone drawing with the right hand) and raise the elbow up pulling all parts of the arm above the level of the pistol. Otherwise, that handgun gets pointed at your arm when it is drawn. Orienting towards the target makes sure that you don’t sweep all bystanders in the process as well.

We really appreciate two holsters from Galco for their concealability, comfort and snag free draw while driving. Shown are the Galco Miami Classic Shoulder holster and their Hornet Crossdraw models.

Ankle Holster

The vast majority of American cars require the driver use their right leg to drive regardless of which hand you prefer. Unless you are driving a manual transmission, that leaves your left leg and foot free for other purposes. We’ve used a well-padded DeSantis Gunhide ankle holster for years. Simple secure it to the inside of the left ankle then raise the foot up to present the pistol to which hand you prefer.

Many think of the ankle holster as a deep cover, backup gun holster only. While complicated to draw from when standing, we’ve found them to be very easy to access while driving. Do yourself a favor and buy a model with the sheep’s wool backing. They are much more comfortable.

Crossdraw

Especially for right handers, a holster secured to the belt left of the centerline and butt forward may offer a convenient solution while driving. These are normally worn at about 10 o’clock. Just make sure the cover garment will cover the position when you leave the vehicle. Once again, we favor a Galco holster with the Hornet model doing a great job for the S&W J-Frame 38 SPL we sometime carry.

We understand this is not an exhaustive list of appropriate models, merely suggestions of holster types and methods that might work for you on your next road trip. Safe Travels!

These are normally worn at about 10 o’clock. Just make sure the cover garment will cover the position when you leave the vehicle.

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