Not everyone wants to or has the ability to carry a concealed weapon in a holster on his or her body. But you still need a gun, right? So where do you put it? In our wonderful, market-driven economy, where there is a need, someone will fill it. And you know what they say about building a better mousetrap. With those two things in mind, it’s easy to see why there are so many options for what I call off-body carry.
But first, an important point: Weapon retention has to be the primary consideration when you opt for off-body carry. A fanny pack or belt pouch like Uncle Mike’s Gun Runner will ensure you don’t set your gun down and forget it at the local breakfast diner, but those are not always the best fashion options. A briefcase or handbag with a built-in holster or a portfolio with room for a pistol are great options when you can’t wear a fanny pack, but remember that you can never let those items out of your immediate control. If you do, you’ll be both morally and legally liable for what happens with your firearm. So, before you opt for any style of concealed carry other than the traditional holster, be absolutely sure you are ready for the added responsibility that comes with what could be called a non-traditional style of carry.
For those who insist that the means of carrying their firearm remain firmly attached to their person, the fanny pack and the belt pouch are the two best options. In light of today’s fashion and technology choices, the belt pouch is the most likely to go unnoticed. Between PDAs, Blackberries and IPods, a simple nylon or leather pouch hanging on the belt is something hidden in plain sight. You will be limited to small revolvers or one of the deep-cover auto pistols, but those are easier to carry all day anyway.
Uncle Mike’s Gun Runner offers a small, front pocket with a Velcro closure and a main pouch closed with a stout, two-way zipper. A thick, nylon panel topped with Velcro divides the main pouch into two compartments. The rearmost compartment is for the pistol. This panel allows you to conceal your small handgun tightly, up against your body and still keep your personal gear like a wallet or car keys in a separate area. If there is one drawback to the unit, it is the access tab to the gun storage area. The tap is a bit small to grab under stress, but that can be corrected by attaching a simple key ring to the tab. The nylon strap of the key ring gives you plenty to grab onto and insures you get the pouch all the way open when you need the gun.
The best place to carry the Sidekick is just in front of your weak-side hip, with the tabs of the zippers away from your centerline, allowing for the quickest access to the gun. Your strong hand pulls the zipper tab open to the center. Your weak hand yanks the Velcro pouch wide open and your strong hand retrieves the gun. This gives you a bit of a cross-draw presentation, and it must be practiced repeatedly to insure that you perform smoothly. This, as with any of the off-body options, is by no means a quick-draw rig, so think about the situations you might be in and the tactics you might employ when you carry this way.
The fanny pack was all the rage about a decade ago. With perfect, casual styling providing hands-free carrying capacity for everyone from soccer moms to long-distance runners, it was only a matter of time before the concealed carry crowd followed suit with packs built specifically for firearms. Such a pack might be more appropriately called the belly pack because you need you carry it up front and arrange it properly to provide access to the firearm. I own two different fanny packs specifically designed for concealed carry.
I purchased the first one from one of those mega-discount catalogs. I honestly can’t remember if it was Sportsman’s Guide or Cheaper Than Dirt, but the $20 was a wise investment. This pack is a big, tough, solidly built mass of Cordura nylon with Velcro access on both sides, behind the main storage compartment. It’s big enough to carry a full-sized auto and a couple of spare magazines. I love the side access, but it wasn’t long before I realized toting that much hardware was getting to be a burden. And with a pack that big, I got the feeling everyone knew what it was anyway. It still makes a great pack to use on the trail.
The Uncle Mike’s fanny pack is a bit smaller, better for a mid-sized auto or revolver, and it comes with some features I love and one I don’t. Access to the pistol is from the top. This is not much of a problem, but it took some getting used to when switching from my original store-brand pack with side access.
The two elements of the Uncle Mike’s fanny pack I really love include the retainer strap that holds the pack in place on my belt and the internal strap that holds the pistol in place in the pack. The latter is a straight, Velcro hook band that allows you to secure the gun in any position against the back panel of the pack, which is completely covered with Velcro loops. Once the Velcro band is secured, the pistol is not going to shift inside the pack during any activity.
This type of pack is also worn just in front of the weak-side hip and requires a practiced cross-draw movement to deploy the pistol. Remember to watch your muzzle and keep your finger off of the trigger during the draw stroke. During the draw, your hand will briefly be inside the pack, meaning there are plenty of opportunities for the gun to snag, so keep that finger clear of the trigger. It’s Gun Safety 101, but it becomes all the more important when drawing from a pack.
For those who have to carry a briefcase to the office, choosing one with a built-in holster might be a great option for concealed carry. Trying to use a traditional briefcase just won’t work. Even if you can find a way to secure the handgun inside the case, you’ve still got all that other stuff in there that can get in the way of drawing the gun or worse, interfere with the function of the firearm. Imagine what a paper clip would do if wedged into the cylinder of a revolver or behind the safety lever of an auto-loading pistol.
If you want a big briefcase with room for everything you could ever need, Uncle Mike’s #5255-1 is the one for you. Not only will it keep all your professional work properly organized, but there’s also a hidden, yet easily accessible compartment for your gun. The case also has room in other pouches for extra ammo, and if you are so inclined, a few elements of a basic first-aid kit.
The case is made of ultra-heavy Cordura that is water-resistant, but it leaves a rather casual look. If you require gleaming, polished leather, you might look to some of Dillon’s Urban Camouflage line. I’ll get there in a minute. But if you want a tough, well-built briefcase with an ambidextrous holster hidden inside, Uncle Mike’s is the case for you. With four individual compartments aside from the holster area, the case could nearly be used for an overnight bag. Just remember to remove your pistol before you use the briefcase as a carry-on bag on your next flight.
Using this case also requires a fair amount of forethought as to pistol placement. If you are right-handed, you’ll want to start by carrying the bag on your left shoulder and insert the pistol with the butt facing forward. Again, this gives you a cross-draw presentation, so basic safety elements are all the more important. Once you have the precise set-up figured out, you’ll need to practice getting the pistol into action. This can be accomplished through dry practice, as long as it is done safely, without any ammunition in the vicinity.
… unless you can completely secure a spare magazine for the pistol inside your pack, pouch or briefcase in such a manner that it does not interfere with your draw, the gun-storage area of any off-body carry option should be reserved for the gun and the gun only.
Another option for effective concealment is within a portfolio designed for the purpose. Dillon Precision offers a fine example called Plan B, made of premium leather with a full-length zipper. The portfolio offers ample room to store a full-size pistol and you could keep a spare magazine too, if you use Velcro to hold it in place. First and foremost, there’s not much room for anything else in there: perhaps a few business cards, a pen and a small notebook. What’s worse, you pretty much have to display the pistol if you open the portfolio. But if the negotiations are going so poorly that you need to revert to Plan B, it’s nice to have a full-size pistol and extra ammo. And this is just one of several fashionable options sold in Dillon’s Blue Press catalog.
Again, organization and practice are important when using something like the Plan B day planner. The nylon holster inside the planner will require a bit of adjustment, depending on what pistol you carry. You’ll also want to adjust the Velcro straps and perhaps sew a tab on the end to allow you to get the pistol out of the holster.
As for tactics when it comes to off-body carry, one thing must ring clear. As I mentioned above, these options do not allow a really quick presentation of the weapon. In a reactionary situation, as most self-defense situations are, don’t expect to open the zipper, peel back the Velcro and draw the pistol while you are fending off and attack. As always, maintain situational awareness and attempt to move toward cover or some safe (or safer) area to give you time to draw. The second rule is equally important. When you do feel the need to draw the weapon, get that pack, pouch or briefcase wide open. Open it forcefully and completely, to insure you have enough room to grab the gun and get it into action.
Finally, unless you can completely secure a spare magazine for the pistol inside your pack, pouch or briefcase in such a manner that it does not interfere with your draw, the gun-storage area of any off-body carry option should be reserved for the gun and the gun only. Anything else in there will get in your way and could cause a malfunction or a fatal delay in your presentation. Don’t risk it.
There are many great concealed carry options out there, and with forethought and practice you can insure your safety any number of ways. But remember, you can’t just drop a gun in a pouch or briefcase and call it good. Get training and keep your skills sharp with real practice.
[ Kevin Michalowski is an NRA-certified Pistol and Personal Protection trainer and a reserve deputy with the Waupaca (WI) County Sheriff’s Department. ]