If you’re new to concealed carry, you have a big learning curve in front of you. While that may sound intimidating, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Embracing a commitment to learning something new every day will make you not only more proficient but also more confident in your ability to defend yourself and your family. Here are a few concealed carry tips to get you started.

Don’t Choose a Carry Gun Based on Small Size

Choosing your concealed carry gun based on convenience is oh-so-tempting. A tiny pocket gun is light and easy to hide, right? True. Another truth is that your concealed carry gun won’t do you a bit of good if you can’t shoot it well under the worst of circumstances.

All else being equal, tiny guns are harder to shoot, especially under stress. They have short sight radiuses, so accuracy is far more sensitive to even small sighting misalignments. They have less surface area for your grip, so control can be a factor. They’re lighter. That, combined with the small surface area, means you’ll feel the effects of recoil much more than with a larger handgun. The bottom line is this. It’s not unrealistic to think of super-small pistols as “expert guns” rather than “beginner guns.”

Two-tone Beretta Tomcat pocket pistol pointing to the right as it lies on a weather-worn deck next to a larger black Beretta PX4 Compact Carry semi-automatic pistol, which is pointing to the left

The Beretta Tomcat (left) is a great little pistol and supremely convenient to carry, but it’s much tougher to shoot well than the larger Beretta PX4 Compact Carry pistol on the right.

It’s tempting to carry the smallest handgun you can find. But don’t make that decision until you evaluate how well you shoot with a larger pistol. If you can’t make fast hits when it counts, that small size and light weight won’t do you much good.

Choose Your Gun First, Wardrobe Second

As the old saying goes, “Concealed carry is supposed to be comforting, not comfortable.” That doesn’t mean you must willingly subject yourself to a lifetime of pain. What it does mean is that you may need to flip your objectives. Is your primary goal to save your life in an emergency or to have daily carry convenience? Those two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but you should focus on the “save your life” bit first. If you can architect your carry method and gear to do that while enjoying convenience and comfort, great. If you can’t, consider enduring a reduction of comfort in return for remaining alive.

A black semi-automatic pistol encased in a black leather inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster whose belt loops are attached to a writhing carmel-colored leather belt with gold buckle, all against a stark white backdrop

Belt carry is not convenient, and it takes work to conceal your handgun. However, it’s arguably the most accessible and secure method of concealed carry.

Before deciding on a carry method or equipment, think about how you might have to go about defending yourself. Yes, carrying in a purse, pack, undershirt holster or maybe an ankle holster is convenient. But a sudden attack occurs, will you be able to access that firearm immediately with one hand? When you think about (and try) different methods of concealing and accessing your handgun, you might find it’s far slower and more awkward to retrieve than you imagined.

Carrying a self-defense handgun in an accessible and secure location is not convenient. Most agree that belt carry — whether appendix or to the side — offers the best trade-off between security and accessibility. But this method will force you to make adjustments to your dress code. While it can be challenging for men, it’s especially difficult for women. You may have to make conscious trade-offs if your work has specific wardrobe requirements. Just be realistic about the “cost” of those trade-offs.

Commit to Homework

It’s so easy to mentally commit to practice without following through. Once you take a basic self-defense class from a qualified instructor, it’s important to practice. Fortunately, you can do the most valuable practice in the comfort of your home.

Using a verified unloaded gun, spend five to 10 minutes at a time dry-firing. Practice with a two-handed grip, then with your strong hand only. Finish with your support hand only. This simple activity is the single best thing you can do to improve your shooting skills — I promise. Yes, I’m saying that spending 30 minutes practicing dry-fire skills will improve your shooting more than 30 minutes of live-fire shooting on the range. Without the distractions of blast and recoil, you can focus exclusively on the perfect technique that will transfer seamlessly to your next live-fire session.

Black semi-automatic pistol sheathed in a black kydex inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster which has been molded to conform to the shape of the pistol. The holster is not clipped to any belt, but instead lies upon the weather wood planks of an outdoor deck.

An inside-the-waistband holster like this No Print Wonder from Clinger Holsters helps hide your handgun, but you’ll still need a cover garment to hide the grip.

Practice drawing your verified unloaded carry gun. Do this as realistically as possible using your carry firearm and regular holster. Wear the same clothes you would during the average day. Do this in slow motion while focusing on consistency of technique for every draw. If you “burn in” the perfect motions of moving your cover garment, drawing and aiming slowly and methodically, you’ll be amazed at how speed takes care of itself.

Keep Your Smartphone in Your Pocket

The most important thing you can do to minimize the risk of trouble is to pay attention to your surroundings. The simple act of putting away your cellphone until you’re in a secure place is the smartest improvement you can make. Pay attention to the world around you as you go about your day. Not only will you be more likely to spot potential danger, but you also might find a new appreciation for things you missed while checking social media!

There’s another benefit to stashing that phone and remaining alert. Bad guys target people who aren’t paying attention to what’s going on. By being visibly alert, you might remove yourself from the potential victim pool.

Be Your Most Polite Self

When you carry a firearm for self-defense, you have a higher level of responsibility and accountability. It’s up to you to avoid trouble and the potential for escalation from words to a physical confrontation. If a lousy driver ticks you off in traffic, smile and go about your day. If someone on the street starts mouthing off, smile and go about your day. In other words, do your very best to avoid confrontation, even if it means sucking up your pride. You really, really, really don’t want to use a self-defense firearm if there is anything you can do to avoid it.

Become a Student of the Law

Part of being more accountable than the average citizen is knowing the law. It’s entirely up to you to know the self-defense and firearm statutes at the federal and local levels. Know where and when you can carry. Know about, and adhere to, laws regarding guns and gear. Be sure to keep abreast of changes in the law — that’s a regular occurrence these days. The courts have always upheld that not knowing the law is not an excuse for breaking the law.

Here’s the bottom line: It’s essential to view concealed carry for precisely what it is — a commitment bearing the potential for life-or-death consequences. Make sure your priorities reflect that when you go about choosing a firearm, carry method, training and commitment to learning and practice.