Hiding the Heavy-Weights: Concealment Strategies that Work


by Mike Cumpston

photography by Mike Cumpston

February 16th, 2003




With the growth of Right-To-Carry legislation, comes a redefinition of what might constitute the center of the Universe –if there has ever been such a thing- as it applies to handgun users.  Rough estimates indicate a minimum of 3.5 million civilian concealed handgun licensees in the several states.  They outnumber duly constituted law enforcement officers by a factor of three. Their numbers dwarf those of the participants in the organized shooting disciplines.  The largest print magazine devoted strictly to firearms boasts a monthly circulation of about 400,000. 

The only gun owner demographic that exceeds the concealed carry licensees is that of licensed hunters. It stands to reason that a substantial number of armed citizens come from the ranks of the hunters or the huge terra incognito of the un-affiliated handgun enthusiast.  Such a group is likely to be heavily invested in the large, general purpose handguns, and less inclined to trust the pocket sized arms overwhelmingly preferred by the licensed non-enthusiast.

Aside from having participated in a few of the organized handgun disciplines and having spent a large portion of my life with a gun magazine hanging off the end of my nose, I fit pretty well into the picture I have just drawn.  I also have a substantial amount of field time with a number of holsters suitable for portaging moderately large handguns in a state of concealment.  Herewith, a discussion of strategy for the reasonably comfortable carrying about of large handguns. I begin with the most comfortable and accessible and proceeding from there. Each of the options explored will successfully conceal the handguns discussed under an un-tucked summer weight shirt of full to large cut with comfort and speed of access dependent upon several variables.

Strong Side Belt Holster – Outside the Waist Band

The holsters of this type most frequently encountered by sportsmen as well as those not especially “into” guns are the synthetic numbers from Michael’s of Oregon and similar companies.  Gun shop owners report that they sell about ten of these for every leather holster that leaves the shop.  As a rule, these holsters have large, generic belt slots to fit the widest variety of belt sizes and tend to flop around during normal activity. They also tend to stick out.  The same is true of the closer-riding synthetic belt slides and both types hang down too far for effective concealment. An effective OWB concealment rig consists of a dedicated gun belt that is rigid and sized to the holster slots, and a high riding holster.  A number of holster makers catalog quality rigs that keep the gun butt close to the body and feature minimal drop below the belt-line.  My favorite is the Mountain Gun holster produced for Dillon Precision by Kramer Leather. Worn over the hip bone and secured with one of Dillon’s gun belts, it holds the revolver butt close to the side and the bottom of the holster is only 3.5” below the belt line.  It is comfortable, lightning-fast and conceals under a sports shirt or even a full-cut tee shirt.  This holster, and the general line of Kramer Vertical Scabbards, are closely fitted to the specific gun. They cause minimal wear to the surface finish of the gun.

Inside the Waist Band

These holsters fit inside the pants and are secured by the belt.  None of the holster is visible below the belt line. They require a generous cut to the waist and optimum comfort often dictates pants one size larger than otherwise might be required.  Least comfortable and convenient are the soft nylon models with no provision for easy insertion of the gun.  They tend to shift around during ordinary activity and the inadequate belt/pants clips often result in the holster being drawn along with the handgun.

Bruce Nelson/ Milt Sparks “Summer Special”

The Summer Special is the standard-setter among IWB holsters. Very well suited to the large auto-pistols, it is also available for the 4”barrel Model 29 and other large revolvers.  The Summer Special was my first dedicated, legal CCW rig.  It effectively conceals, not only my 4” 29s, and various mid-frame Rugers, but is just long enough to accommodate the popular 5” N-frames like the S&W Performance Center 627-8. A spring is sewn into the mouth of the holster holding it open for easy holstering of the handgun.  The belt loops are situated directly over the cylinder bulge-which rides under the belt.  Both belt and pants must be let out considerably for any degree of comfort. Discrete reposition of the arm is frequently required. Allowed to work backwards from the hip bone, the holster can cause the gun butt to “print” in a way that is not at all apparent when the rig is in the correct location.

Versa-Max 2

This is an auto-pistol only design from Milt Sparks. The designer and current CEO of the company, Tony Kanaly, considers this to be the best of a number of similar holsters he has created. The V Max is closely fitted to the specific firearm, is of rigid construction and is double layered- smooth inside and out. It is very protective of the gun finish.  Belt loops are position fore and aft of the gun pocket –minimizing the bulge and materially adding to the stability of the rig.  The Versa-Max is standard with belt loops and optional clips that convert it to the “tuckable” option.  These clips ride behind the belt and provide a positive anchor so that the rig does not shift and the holster will not be drawn along with the pistol. So equipped, a model 1911 will disappear under a normally tucked sports shirt and is every bit as invisible as the smallest pocket handgun.  I used this option quite often when employed by an agency peopled by individuals who regarded the presence of a firearm with the same horror that would be occasioned by the sudden appearance of Michael Jackson’s penis.  Nevertheless, I was expected to dissipate and destroy any threat from our very feral client population.  I often wore the .45 thusly holstered and never was “made.”

Kramer Thomas Perfectionist

This is an unmistakable, high-class IWB rig.  In consists of a first rate, double welted belt, a classy six-round ammo pouch and the highly evolved inside the waist band holster developed jointly by Doug Kramer and gun writer Dwayne Thomas. It is rendered entirely in horsehide. I ordered mine in the Mahogany finish and it looks good! It is a high-riding strong side IWB holster that places the cylinder above the belt line to minimize bulge. The belt slot cinches the holster into the belt and stabilizing pad and the butt-forward rake holds the gun stock close to the wearer’s side. Once the wearer arrives at proper positioning, (usually directly over the rear aspect of the hip bone), everything disappears under any covering garment, however light. Odds are that anybody who can stand to wear a revolver in an IWB holster will love this one.

Horizontal Shoulder Holster

I have only one of these for the heavy N-frames, but it is a very good one.  The Aker Comfort-flex depends on gun fit and a positive thumb break for retention and is open ended making the barrel length of the handgun non critical to a degree.  Mine will work with the 4” 29s and would probably hide a 6” for a wearer with a deeper chest.   My 6.5” Heritage Model tents the back of my shirt and would not do at all.

The free-swinging holster rides comfortably in cross draw format while the off-side harness suspends a double magazine pouch for the autos and a double speed loader carrier for the revolvers. Advertising claims that it “goes on like a vest” and conforms to body movement are right on the button.

Vertical Shoulder Holster

Here, the synthetic sporting holsters from Michael’s of Oregon really come into their own. I have a couple that see regular use with my 1911s when I am riding my bicycle in winter clothing. They provide good concealment, quick access and reasonable comfort, particularly when worn for limited periods of time. I use one of the holsters correctly as a cross draw – since it carries the pistol under my left arm.  The other was intended for a left handed shooter but lends itself to the Hickock reverse-hand draw.  It is positive and fast when worn under a loose coat.  

I have an Uncle Mike’s Vertical Cross draw for my long revolvers too. It will handle any large frame revolver with barrel lengths to 8-3/8”.  The usual occupant is my long barrel 29-2 but I have also had occasion to carry Ruger Super Blackhawks and 6.5” Smith N-Frames in this one.  This outfit really strains the concept of concealability under a summer weight shirt and requires a liberalization of the concept of “comfort.”  Nevertheless, it does come in handy from time to time.

The synthetic vertical shoulder holsters are primarily designed with the outdoorsman in mind. My Bianchi X2100 Phantom, on the other hand, is the sort of thing that entered the public consciousness with the Dirty Harry movies.  It is an open front, spring loaded cross-draw number designed for 6” barrel .38/. 357 revolvers.  It will positively retain a variety of large bore revolvers and is the preferred concealment rig for my 6” GP100.  The gun pouch is high quality leather while the straps are light canvass. It is definitely faster than the closed pouch Uncle Mike’s rig above. It is OK in the comfort department but you will never forget there is something hanging under your left arm. 

The specific holsters discussed above range in price from just under $50 for the Uncle Mike’s Verticals to right at $200 for the Thomas/Kramer Rig.  The Dillon–Kramer is a bargain at about $100 as is the Aker Comfort Flex for about the same money. 

In the Rig-Most-Carried department I would divide the honors between the Mountain Gun in the Thomas Perfectionist and either one of my 1911’s in the Sparks Versa Max.  Both are extremely comfortable and well concealed with a slight edge to the 1911 for maximum comfort and deep cover applications. The Mountain Gun rig allows rapid acquisition of a positive shooting grip and holds the advantage in speed of draw and presentation.

All of this of course, is best regarded as food for thought and/or entertainment.  With the infinite variation in body types, preferences and comfort thresholds, it is impossible for any person to make blanket statements about the suitability of a specific holster for a given individual.  With the variety of options available however, comfortable concealment of the larger handguns is an achievable goal.

Mike Cumpston



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Many civilian handgun carriers are adept with sporting and general use revolvers and auto pistols. Their perceptions and needs are different from those of law enforcement officers or the non gun enthusiast.


Mark Pixler, Editor of the Blue Press, commissioned this variation of the Kramer Vertical Scabbard for Dillon Precision.  It combines effective concealment with rapid access and a lightning-fast draw. It is molded for the S&W Model 29 Mountain Gun.




The Dillon holster holds the revolver close to the body and drapes only 3.5” below belt level and is completely concealed by the tail of the average sports shirt.




Designed by Bruce Nelson and a long-time mainstay of  the Milt Sparks Company, The Summer Special, ordinarily a semi-custom item, is kept in stock by major national shooting academies.




This is the Versa-Max 2, a state of the art IWB holster from Milt Sparks. The full-sized 1911 conceals as comfortably as a much smaller handgun in this high quality rig.




A favorite carry combination. The  Kramer Thomas Perfectionist and the Smith Mountain Gun provides power, speed and concealability.




Riding high and close, the Thomas Perfectionist presents the Mountain gun for an instant shooting grip and fast deployment.




The Aker Comfort Flex is available for large revolvers and full sized auto loaders.  It is a high quality horizontal shoulder rig –a lightweight harness for the heavy weight handgun.



Michael’s of Oregon produces these value priced vertical shoulder rigs with the sportsman in mind. They do an effective job of concealing large auto pistols and revolvers.




This very large Uncle Mike’s Vertical harness will effectively conceal the 8-3.8” S&W Model 29, is but indifferent fast and is comfortable only in the sense that wearing it does not actually hurt.



The Phantom combines reasonable speed, reasonable comfort with the ability to carry the 6” medium to heavy revolvers under wraps.