Sometimes deep concealment may be more important than ease of access. That doesn’t mean concealed carry can’t be practical. How do you pull it off?
In a perfect world, you might carry your self-defense handgun in an outside-the-waistband holster and cover it loosely with a shirt or jacket. That method offers ease of access and speed in an emergency. However, in the real world, you may have a workplace that’s not keen on concealed carry or perhaps you travel to places where others might freak out should your handgun ever peak out from under that shirt or jacket.
It’s the real world where we have to make conscious trade-offs. Simply put, the better the concealment, the slower the access to your firearm when you might need it most. If you spend time in environments where deep concealment is a must, then perhaps you’ve made a decision that having your gun, even if it is slower to access, is better than leaving it at home.
There are a million ways to conceal a carry handgun, and we can’t go into all of them here, but one method that’s worked well for me when I absolutely, positively have to perfectly conceal is undershirt carry. I’m talking about those Under Armour-type shirts that have built-in pockets on the sides under the armpit areas. Most of these shirts have pockets on either side, either general purpose, or specific use for the gun and spare magazines or other gear. The 5.11 Tactical Shirts I’ve used for years have identical pockets on each side with dual Velcro closures.
The concealment performance of shirts like this is outstanding. Positioned under your arms (more or less) there is no noticeable bulge that shows, even when leaning forward or backward. Since there is no belt attachment, you have no issues with tucking in dress shirts. Unless you lay a seriously vigorous hug on someone, they’ll never know you’re carrying. However, there are practical considerations for which you’ll want to plan.
Access is a challenge and must be practiced. As you stow your handgun on the support-hand side, you must reach around your chest to get your hand on the gun. Here’s where subtle differences in shirt design make a big difference. Some shirts place the gun pocket directly under the armpit. This is great for concealment, and your arm serves to help keep the gun in place. However, in that position, it’s a farther reach to draw. The 5.11 Tactical Holster shirts have pockets that are rotated a bit to the front so if you were looking down from above, they would sit at maybe a 10 o’clock position. That’s enough to the side so that your arm helps conceal the gun bump, but it makes a huge difference in ease of access.
Some shirts use a top strap to secure the gun, kind of like those on an ankle holster. I don’t care for these as it can be even more difficult and slow to draw the gun. Security is great, but access is just too awkward for my personal taste. Shirts like the 5.11 have angled openings with Velcro closures that keep the gun in place. With this design (Velcro closures), you can blade your fingers right into the pocket to open it so there is no separate step required to remove the security strap. On the flip side, it’s not as secure as the under-the-armpit design so you’ll need to be more aware of gun security and position.
Clearing the Shirt
These are undershirt solutions, so you’re wearing a shirt on top. If you’ve arrived at this particular carry method, then odds are good that your outer shirt is tucked in. When you need to access your gun, you have two choices to get to that undershirt holster area. You can untuck the outer shirt and reach up from underneath or you can open at least two or three buttons on your shirt to create an opening big enough to reach in and draw your gun.
Drawing practice is an absolute must if you carry this way. Unlike in the movies, shirt buttons don’t fly off when you yank on your shirt, so definitely DO NOT count on being able to do that in an emergency. If you have an old shirt destined for the trash, try it. You might be surprised at how difficult and unpredictable ripping buttons can be. No worries, here’s where purpose-built gear comes into play.
The folks at Blackhawk make nifty concealed carry button-down shirts in a variety of short and long-sleeve styles. They have attractive and professional looking buttons that are… completely fake. These “buttons” are actually snaps that appear to be a button on the exterior. So, by design, you can shove your hand in between any two of them and the shirt will fly open and offer access to a belly band or holster undershirt. I really like these. They look “normal” and not tactical.
The good news is that undershirt carry offers a great way to carry one or more spare magazines comfortably and discreetly. Since you have the gun on the support hand side, you’ll carry a spare magazine on the firing hand side so you can access it with your support hand. Using those 5.11 shirts I can easily carry a spare double-stack magazine and it’s as deeply concealed as the pistol. You can even carry two if you like and some shirts are equipped with multiple magazine pockets. You’ll also notice a slight balance benefit since you have distributed weight on both sides of that holster undershirt.
Here’s the bottom line. Undershirt carry can offer outstanding concealment but it comes at a price. It will take you extra work and time to access your gun but that just might be a better alternative than leaving your carry piece at home. More so than with other holster types, you’ll need to test and train with this one as it has some unique challenges.