Book Excerpt: Secrets to Concealed Carry for Women

Gila Hayes knows from experience . . .

In this final post in a 3-part series from Personal Defense for Women, author Gila Hayes reveals insider tips and secrets for selecting and wearing concealed carry holsters and gear for women. (Click here to read the first article in this series, and here to read the second.)

The following excerpt is from Chapter 20, Concealed Carry:

The “art” of concealed carry is more complex than stuffing a revolver in your handbag or in the waistband of your jeans! Newcomers to the world of armed self defense are dazzled by the array of holsters, gun bags, and other carry devices marketed. The topic is one of such depth and breadth that it deserves its own large book, but until that work can be attempted, let’s cover the high points about how to carry a concealed self-defense gun.

There exists no utterly comfortable way to wear a concealed handgun. The best we can hope for, primarily, is complete concealment of the gun. Comfort can be fine tuned with different holsters, maybe even using various models of one brand of handgun for various situations. Winter clothing will accommodate a larger, generally higher capacity handgun than the lighter garb of summer. Two guns, one large, the other small, with comparable locations for safety and magazine releases can make it easier to carry a gun all the time.

Unfortunately, it may take several purchases to find the right holster for you and your gun. Nearly every gun owner I know jokes about wanting to have a holster garage sale. Like me, they own several holsters per gun, some they know they will never use because they looked more functional than experience proved them to be. The following principles may keep new gun owners from spending money and accumulating way too many holsters in an attempt to find one that works.

A loose polo shirt covers the Para Ordnance belt holster.

Start with the Basics
Among experienced armed citizens, the primary holster choice for concealed handgun carry is generally some variety of belt holster. Many women have tried holsters made for men and given up prematurely on the idea of using a belt holster. Before you admit defeat, try one of the belt holsters made specifically for women from makers like Kramer Handgun Leather, Blade-Tech, Mitch Rosen, Rusty Sherrick, FIST Holsters, or Matt Del Fatti. Other women have found the cross-draw holster is a good belt rig alternative.

Like any other personal-safety issue, learning to wear a holstered gun and becoming accustomed to its presence is not altogether easy. It takes effort, patience and ingenuity. A belt and holster place some restraints on your wardrobe. Casual garb is more likely to accommodate a belt and holster with minimal fuss. Until I began using a tailor, I fought suits on which the trousers belt loops were too small for the belt that fits most of my holsters.

There are numerous belt holster variations, but you should insist on one with a rigid mouth that remains open after the gun is drawn. Sometimes, a spring steel band will be enclosed in leather to keep the holster open for safe, one-handed holstering. Other holsters rely on very stiff construction, like Greg Kramer’s premium-quality horsehide holsters or Jim Murnack’s duplexed Kydex and leather holsters.

This is an important feature should you find it necessary to hold an assailant at gun point. What will the police perceive when they come on the scene? How will they know you are the victim, not the assailant? Trust me, the gun in your hand marks you as an unidentified threat to officers responding to your call. You can avoid a mistaken-identity shooting by discretely holstering the gun the moment before officers arrive. The rigid, open top allows you to holster the gun without looking, so you can keep your eyes on the assailant. Rigid nylon holsters, like the Bianchi Accu-mold line, and gear made from other synthetic materials like Kydex approach the performance of leather and are often less expensive. You should, whatever the material, insist that the holster remain open at the top when the gun is drawn.

The small Kahr Arms PM9 simply disappears beneath a light shirt when carried just forward of the strong-side hip.

A Better Fit
For the womanly figure, I like a concealment holster positioned in what is called appendix carry, tucked in the concave curve between abdomen and strong-side hip. It was recommended to me when I was first carrying a five-shot revolver and when climate allowed an over shirt or vest to conceal the gun. I continued to use it when I carried the larger Glock 23. Although the gun seems obvious to the wearer in this position, it quite invisible to those not in on your secret.

For the same reason, cross draw holsters work well for women. A woman’s figure is studied in the buttocks or bust line. The abdomen is not subject to that much scrutiny. Although care must be taken to do so safely, the appendix carry is very fast from which to draw, and the only downside I discovered was that it required a closed vest or shirt to conceal it.

Women are substantially shorter through the torso than men. Recently, a 5'8″ tall friend described trying out her husband’s paddle holster. We laughed as she indicated the spot in her armpit to which she reported the grips of her Glock 23 extended, yet we were happy she hadn’t paid $80 to buy the holster only to discover that men’s high-rise holsters rarely are functional for women. One of my leading criteria in belt holster selection for women is a holster mouth must not sit any higher than the beltline.

Mitch Rosen’s American Rear Guard holster is an excellent example of a very high quality holster that sits low inside the trouser waistband for the best-possible concealment. While many find an inside the waistband holster uncomfortable, Rosen’s design eliminates many of the problems by angling the gun at an extreme cant. For several years, I carried a Heckler &Koch P7M8 in the Rear Guard, and it was so comfy that, at times, I would check to see if I’d forgotten to put on the gun. It remains the only gun and holster I’ve ever worn that I could literally forget I had on. John Ralston’s Inside Burton Scabbard has proven nearly as comfortable for the Springfield EMP I carry today. Not surprisingly, it also carries the gun at quite an angle directly behind my strong side hip.

In this mode of carry, one learns not to lean over in public, since the butt of even a small gun makes a recognizable outline even when covered by fabric. In the grocery store, for instance, I’ll squat to pick up items on low shelves instead of just bending over to collect them. Choose a good quality holster from a reputable manufacturer. Readily available choices include Bianchi, Galco, Blade-Tech and DeSantis. Spend a few more dollars and you can have the workmanship of a Milt Sparks, Rusty Sherrick, Greg Kramer, or Mitch Rosen rig.

North American Arms .380 Guardian carried in an ankle holster is sandwiched between two stockings for better concealment and comfort when the dress code makes it impossible to carry a larger gun at the waistline.

Some holsters come outfitted to accommodate several widths of belts. My Milt Sparks Executive Companion, for instance, has two screws that attach the belt loop to the holster. A smaller loop is sold for 1-inch belts and costs $9, which I gladly spent, knowing some trousers wouldn’t accommodate my inch-and-a-quarter gun belt. And speaking of belts, your common dress belt isn’t going to last long under the weight of your gun and holster. Budget $90 to $125 for a rigid gun belt produced by a reputable holster manufacturer. A sturdy belt, like Galco’s Contour Concealable, is critical to successful belt holster carry, as it eliminates most of the holster’s movement. The contour cut lets the belt snug to your curves with surprising comfort and having worn contour-cut belts for years, I cannot imagine why a woman would try to carry a holstered gun on anything else.

As the Internet brings smaller artisans into the public eye, I’ve discovered holster maker John Ralston of 5-Shot Leather, who crafted a belt, holster and magazine pouch set that incorporated a contour belt with thinner front section, the exact angle I prefer on the holster and other refinements individual to my needs. This kind of service is available for the asking and comes highly recommended.

The rest of this chapter is dedicated to learning to wear the holster, alternatives to the belt holster, holster purses and clothing for concealed carry – all from an author who knows from experience what works and what doesn't.

To read more concealed carry tips and advice for women, buy your copy of Personal Defense for Women from the Gun Digest Store today. Get free standard U.S. shipping on your order by using promo code INSIDEGDB. Promo code fine print: This offer is valid with the purchase of Personal Defense for Women. Items which ship directly from the manufacturer (see the “Drop Ship Message” for the item in the GD store website) do not qualify for free shipping.

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