From reader Ernie comes the following:
I just bought my first J frame revolver, a model 642 hammerless. I have previously only carried autos. I was hoping to get some suggestions from you on holsters. I know I want to pocket carry, but what about ankle holsters? OWB? Perhaps a blog post on this?
First off, let me congratulate you on a fine choice. I personally consider the air weight J-frames and their equivalents to be the proverbial berries when it comes to civilian CCW. They’re light, very reliable, easy to carry, reliable, simple to operate under stress, reasonably powerful, and reliable. (I mention “reliable” three times because it’s the most important criteria in a defensive firearm. The gun must go bang without fail when called upon–everything else is icing on the CCW cake.)
Due to its small size and light weight, the J-frame is also very flexible when it comes to carry options. Its shape and weight do make some of those options more suitable than others. Let’s go through the list of suitable carry modes one by one.
This is my preferred carry mode for full-sized carry guns, but it’s not the optimal location to tote the little J-frame. You can carry it in a good inside-the-waistband holster, but the short barrel and the girth of the cylinder mean that it either rides too high for a secure and comfortable fit, or it rides too low to afford a good firing grip on the gun. When you carry the J-frame outside the waistband, you put up with the main compromise of the gun (its smallish grip and low capacity) without making use of the trade-off (better concealability than a belt gun.)
If I were to carry a J-frame on my belt, I’d stick it into a secure, high-quality leather holster with pronounced forward cant, probably a Milt Sparks OWB.
This is where the J-frames really shine, especially the Airweight frames like the 642. They’re just the right size and weight to ride in a pocket, as long as you use a quality pocket holster. The bulge of the cylinder paradoxically helps to break up the shape of the gun in your pocket. Put a 642 or equivalent in your dominant-hand side pocket, drop a speed strip or two in the other pocket, and you’re not only more than adequately armed for any self-defense scenario a civilian with good street smarts can find themselves, but your gun is also optimally concealed for most climates. Access is a bit slower than from a belt holster, but that’s more than negated by the fact that you can get a hold of your gun in a very inconspicuous manner if and when you see trouble coming. The fastest draw is the one where you have your gun in hand already.
The tiny .32s and .380s beat the J-frame for low profile and offer one to three more rounds, but the J-frame is easier to shoot well, and beats the pocket autos for power slightly (when loaded with .38 +P), or substantially (if you’re nuts enough to carry one of those lightweight .357 Magnum snubbies.)
For pocket carry, I’d be quite content with a J-frame in a Galco or similar pocket holster. I like the kind that has a leather flap in front of the gun to break up its outline and make it look just like a wallet in your pocket.
This is one carry method that usually gets you snarky comments at the gun shop. They call it “Dead Man’s Carry” in some circles. While it’s true that the draw from an ankle rig is very slow—you have to bend or kneel down, and then hike up your pant leg before you can even get a hold of your gun to begin the draw—this carry method has some overlooked advantages.
First of all, it’s a great way to tote a gun if your day-to-day activities involve sitting down a lot. If you spend most of your time at a desk or behind the wheel of a vehicle, for example, you don’t give up much speed to belt carry. (This is especially true if you’re buckled into a car seat, where fast access isn’t in the cards if you carry inside the waistband.)
Secondly, ankle carry is as deep-cover concealment as it gets. Nobody looks at someone else’s lower legs and feet with any sort of scrutiny.
A caveat: the bottom of an ankle rig will show if you wear loose slacks or khakis, and sit in a way that will hike up your pants leg even a little. A good way to avoid unintentional flashing of the ankle rig is to pull the top of the sock over the bottom of the holster, so it looks like a sport bandage, and not the very obvious form-fitted leather of an ankle rig.
For ankle carry, I have used, and highly recommend, the Galco Ankle Glove. The back of it has sheepskin lining, and it’s a very comfortable way to carry a backup or deep-cover primary gun. I’ve carried a J-frame and a Glock 26 in one of those in a “business casual” work environment for months without problems.
The J-frame is a decent candidate for a belly band holster. It will disappear under a buttoned shirt, yet it’s easily accessible via what I call the “Clark Kent draw.” Just make sure you get a belly band that uses a retention strap. Presentation will be a bit slower, but the short little J-frame can ride out of the shallow pocket of a belly band with vigorous movement, and end up in your shirt at waist level (or worse, fall out of your shirt.) Belly band carry is also a little harder on the gun, since it’s so close to the skin without any protective leather around it.
For belly band carry, there are a few virtually identical ones from companies like Galco and ActionDirect.
I do not recommend off-body carry, especially (and this may read like a paradox) for small, lightweight guns like the J-frame. They’re very easy to hide inside a day planner or purse, but their light weight also can make you forget that you’re actually carrying a gun in there. Also, you don’t want to leave an unsecured, loaded weapon out of your control for even a moment, and people set aside their day planners or purses all the time. As a last caveat—if you get into a situation where you may have to defend yourself, your off-body item is the very first thing a mugger will target.
If off-body carry is your cup of tea, you could do worse than buy yourself a Wilderness Safepacker. It looks like an innocent PDA or map case on your belt, and comes with a variety of carry options—as a clutch, as an urban flap holster of sorts for belt carry, or buckled into your seat belt strap for vehicle access.
The shoulder rig has its uses. However, if you strap a harness to your body, you limit your concealment options. If you have to wear a covering garment at all times, why not make use of all that cover and carry something slightly bigger? On the plus side, shoulder rigs make the gun very easy to access while seated, and an Airweight J-frame will be very comfortable to carry that way.
For shoulder rigs, I like the Galco “Jackass” and “Miami Classic” lines. The Bianchi suede-type shoulder rig is also nice for a lightweight gun like a J-frame. Just do yourself a favor and get a decent one made of leather, not a $25 nylon gun show special.
And there you have the most common carry methods for the J-frame, and my recommendations.
For the rest of the week, I’ll take reader requests. I already have one reader mail queued up that has been sitting on my desk and waiting for a response for a while now, so that one will follow shortly. If you have any questions for me that you’d like to see answered in this spot, send me an email at marko dot kloos at gmail dot com, and give me an obvious indicator in the subject line. You can ask about guns, politics, personal stuff (but not too personal; some things I’ll not address on my blog), writing, or anything else that comes to mind.