A full-sized handgun offers a different set of challenges than a subcompact when it comes to concealed carry. The key is to make sure you know what those challenges are and then adapt to them. For instance, a full-sized handgun generally has a larger trigger guard. While this may make it easier for you to safely operate a trigger while you’re wearing gloves in cold weather, it doesn’t mean much if you don’t practice doing so.
You need to become familiar with quickly and safely drawing your sidearm and extra ammo while you’re employing different carry methods and holsters and when you’re dressed for different types of activities and weather conditions.
So What Are Your Options?
The best method in which to carry a larger handgun concealed has a great deal to do with your body size and how you plan to dress. Unfortunately, a large firearm will often produce a noticeable bulge against your outermost garment (which is a concern when you’re trying to conceal said larger gun under a lightweight shirt in warm weather). To compensate for this, I usually wear a larger colored T-shirt when it’s warm outside.
Keep in mind that certain brands of clothing are cut differently, which means that a shirt from one manufacturer can be looser- or tighter-fitting than a shirt in the same size that is made by a different manufacturer. The same is true for other types of clothing as well.
One option that has its limitations is to carry a larger handgun in the small of your back. Although this type of carry may not be possible with some larger guns, certain makes and models have a flatter profile and tend to be easier to carry concealed in this fashion.
As an example, some of my favorite striker-fired pistols are made by Springfield Armory. Over the years, I have field-tested and owned a number of XDs and XD-Ms in all of the available calibers offered by the manufacturer. The relatively flat profile of a full-sized XD or XD-M makes it ideally suited for small-of-the-back carry. This is also the case because the grip portion of the polymer frame on a full-sized XD is heavily contoured and not all that large. This translates to the Springfield printing less, which limits the obvious bulge that a lot of pistols end up producing on that outermost piece of clothing.
The fact that full-sized XDs and XD-Ms are equipped with a grip safety makes these pistols even safer to carry in this fashion. A similar comparison can be made for certain other pistols — specifically single-column-magazine, flat-carrying 1911s.
While small-of-the-back carry enables you to conceal a larger handgun, I personally find this method to be extremely uncomfortable when I’m seated, especially while I’m in a vehicle. A solution to this problem is removing my handgun from the small of my back and placing it next to me in my truck or SUV. This obviously cannot be done (and should not be done) in a more public setting.1
A well-made IWB holster or belly band holster is a much better alternative than using the more limited small-of-the-back carry method to conceal a full-sized handgun. Two companies that excel in manufacturing IWB and belly band holsters for various XL- and XXL-sized pistols are DeSantis Holsters and Alien Gear Holsters.
It can also be just as difficult to conceal a supply of spare magazines as it can be to conceal certain full-sized guns. One of the best ways to conceal two spares when you’re wearing long pants is to use a DeSantis Neoprene Double Magazine Ankle Pouch. Even though this particular carry method does not allow for the execution of a fast combat or tactical reload, it does allow you to possess two spare gunloads when belt carry would cause an unnecessary bulge against a shirt, jacket or coat.
Carrying speedloaders for a large-frame revolver in an empty strong-side pants or coat pocket is also a better alternative than carrying spare rounds in a dump pouch on your belt. This is especially true when you’re wearing layers of clothing in colder weather.
It is also possible to use a well-made high-ride hip holster for warm-weather concealed carry, provided you wear a button-down shirt (over a T-shirt) that is neither buttoned nor tucked into your pants. Wearing a button-down shirt that is kept open over a T-shirt allows you faster access to your sidearm, and this arrangement also enables you to conceal your supply of spare ammunition without sacrificing ease of access.
Wearing an unbuttoned (or not zippered closed) sleeveless cargo vest over a T-shirt, sweatshirt or sweater can also help you conceal a full-sized handgun, though you will want to be certain such attire will fit in wherever you’ll be spending time.
Cold Hard Facts
As someone who has worked as both a uniformed and plainclothes law enforcement officer in all kinds of weather conditions, I know that it can be difficult to access a concealed handgun that is carried under various layers of clothing. By keeping the zipper on your outermost layer unzipped (or partially unzipped) or by keeping several buttons on that layer unsecured, you should — with proper training — be able to reach beyond the outer layer of any heavier clothing to draw a handgun that you’re carrying in a suitable holster.
One option worth considering for certain extreme-cold-weather or rainy conditions is to carry a full-sized handgun under your outermost garment in a well-made chest holster. Because the Blackhawk Nylon Universal Spec Ops Pistol Harness is not weapon-specific, I use this holster to carry a full-sized auto — it works with a wide variety of models — and a spare magazine under my outermost layer when it’s cold or rainy.
In contrast, the DeSantis Yukon Hunting Rig is a chest holster that is weapon-specific. The holster is made with heavy-duty ballistic nylon and is designed to comfortably carry a full-sized pistol or revolver, depending on which you need.
Another option includes using a crossdraw or traditional-style shoulder holster. However, reaching for and drawing a handgun that is carried under layers of clothing in an IWB, belly band or shoulder holster can be incredibly difficult to do in time to react to a threat.
Know What You Carry
Even though subcompact and compact handguns are extremely popular, a significant number of legally armed individuals also own and carry large-frame pistols and revolvers at different times and for different reasons. But regardless of the handgun you choose to carry, you need to be properly trained before you adopt a carry method that is different from what you are accustomed to using.
The good news is that the firearms industry is constantly addressing the needs of armed professionals and legally armed citizens by introducing new products that can aid in the way they carry firearms and spare ammunition, and there have never been more experienced, qualified instructors ready to get you up to speed on exactly how you can best — and most comfortably — carry the sidearm of your choice.
(1) For safety purposes, it is necessary to use a well-made inside-the-pants holster when you carry any handgun concealed in the small of your back. A right-handed shooter will also need to use a left-handed inside-the-pants holster to easily draw a handgun from this position on his or her body, and the opposite is true for a left-handed shooter.