Skip to main content

Four Carry Positions: How Well Do They Work?

Richard Nance looks at four carry positions and how well they work—or don't.

Four Carry Positions: How Well Do They Work?

When I started carrying a concealed handgun, I used an appendix holster. As a new police officer, I chose this mode of off-duty carry at the recommendation of a fellow officer with slightly more experience. I didn’t consider that drawing my gun from an appendix rig would be different than drawing from my hip-mounted duty holster. It is. Before you affix a holster to your belt, you should understand the nuances of drawing from different carry locations.

For simplicity, let’s divide the belt line into four sections: forward of the hip, on the hip, behind the hip, and across the centerline with the butt of the gun forward (cross draw).

Richard Nance at top of hip holster draw stroke
When carrying on or behind the hip, this retention shooting position is a natural component of the draw stroke.

On the Hip

As my mentor, Dave Spaulding, is fond of saying, hip carry produces the most “physiological efficient” draw stroke. In other words, it’s more natural than drawing from any other location along the belt. Here’s why.

To get to your hip-worn gun, just drive your elbow straight back, allowing your arm to fold naturally. Keep your wrist locked. This will place your hand on or in very close proximity to the grip of your gun. From there, you have a couple options for establishing your grip.

The most popular method is to thrust the web of your hand down onto the backstrap of your pistol and wrap your middle, ring and pinky fingers around the grip. Of course, your trigger finger remains straight and, as the gun leaves the holster, it indexes along the frame until you’re on target and prepared to fire.

This method helps ensure a high grip, which mitigates recoil. However, thrusting your hand down on your gun before drawing it results in wasted motion, which equates to a slower draw stroke. This technique can also be problematic when carrying a revolver since there’s no backstrap to index.

There’s another technique for establishing your grip, one that’s more universally applicable. Instead of coming down on the gun, you could approach it from the side. In this version, the side of your middle finger (near the first knuckle) indexes at the juncture of the frame and the back of the trigger guard. With this middle finger index serving as a point of reference, you can consistently achieve a proper grip.

Another benefit to wearing a gun on the hip is it can be concealed with an open garment such as an unbuttoned shirt or unzipped jacket. You can clear an open garment and grip your gun in the same motion. Here’s how.

Curl your fingers and bring your hand to your chest. Hook your cover garment with your fingers and slide your hand across your chest then down to the gun while keeping your hand in contact with your torso. With your garment cleared, you can draw as if you were carrying openly.

You could conceal a hip-worn gun with a closed garment like a T-shirt, a pullover and similar clothing, but not as easily as with an open garment. That’s because a closed garment will tend to hug your holstered gun, while an open garment simply drapes over it. A closed garment also makes it harder to get to your gun.

Typically, your off hand reaches across your body and lifts the garment over the gun, allowing you to grip and draw. You could draw with your dominant hand or even with both hands, but this needlessly complicates and slows down your draw stroke.

No matter how you get to your hip-worn gun, after establishing your grip, draw the gun by pulling your elbow up as high as possible without having to contort. This results in a discernable midpoint in your draw stroke, enabling you to protect your gun in close quarters without extending it toward the awaiting hands of your adversary.


With your wrist locked and the heel of your hand indexed to your chest, you can fire predictable, combat-accurate hits to the pelvic region of an assailant who’s within arm’s reach. When there’s room, drive the gun to the target where you can use the sights.

Bringing the gun up before driving it out also works when seated at a table or behind the wheel. Under these conditions, trying to drive the gun out before lifting it up is a potentially fatal error. The likely result would be your gun slamming into whatever object is between you and the threat. At best this would slow you way down. At worst, the gun could be dislodged from your hands.

Although carrying on the hip produces a natural draw stroke, its shortcoming is concealability. A gun worn on the hip will protrude more than a gun worn in front of or behind the hip. That’s because your body’s natural contour leaves less surface area at the hip. Also, a gun worn on the hip makes inside-the-waistband (IWB) carry uncomfortable, as the rig presses against your hip bone.

An IWB holster is easier to conceal than an outside-the-waistband (OWB) holster for a couple reasons. First, since the gun is worn inside pants, it’s closer to your body. Second, the bottom of the holster is hidden inside your pants so no portion of your gun or holster is visible below your belt.

Reaching across body to lift outer garment with off hand in behind-the-hip carry.
A closed garment is harder to manage when carrying behind the hip because you must reach across your body with your off hand.

Behind the Hip

A gun worn slightly behind the hip helps prevent the butt of your gun from printing through your cover garment and enables you to employ an IWB holster more comfortably. There’s also less chance that a gun worn behind the hip will inadvertently be exposed should a gust of wind blow back your cover garment.

With your gun worn behind the hip, a closed garment is even harder to contend with. With the gun farther away from your off hand, lifting your garment over the gun is that much more difficult. The tendency is to pull the garment forward, rather than up. When this happens, the garment often snags on the gun.

Drawing from behind the hip using an open cover garment is nearly identical to drawing from on the hip. The only difference is that with the former, you’ll need to open the garment a little farther and to grip your gun, you might have to flex your wrist allowing your fingers to point more across your back than straight down.

The exact positioning of your holster along your belt and the cant of the holster are determining factors as to the degree in which you will have to flex your wrist. The farther back you reach, the more holster cant will benefit you in this regard. In any event, a gun worn behind the hip will require you to steer the gun around your body before driving it toward the target.

Because drawing from behind the hip requires you to reach farther back and guide the gun around your torso, it’s inherently slower than drawing from a hip-mounted holster. But we’re talking fractions of a second. For many, the comfort and concealment behind-the-hip carry provides more than makes up for the slightly decreased draw speed. Carrying behind the hip offers another advantage that’s seldom considered: It affords you more standoff distance in close quarters.

With your gun worn behind the hip, it’s farther away from an assailant who is in front of you. Your gun is shielded by your body, and with your off hand between you and your adversary, it’s much harder for him to foul your draw stroke.

Off hand initiating draw stroke by lifting outer garment
The off hand usually initiates the draw stroke from appendix carry by lifting the cover garment.

Forward of the Hip

Stuffing a gun into the front of the waist must be natural because every cop will tell you this is the most common location for concealing guns as well as knives. Why is that? Because items stowed in front on the waist are easily concealed with a shirt or jacket, and since it’s in front of your body, the concealed item is easier to monitor and retain than if it were stashed anywhere else along the waist.

While the front waistband may be the most natural belt carry location, it’s not necessarily the easiest to draw from. First, because you’ll need to cover an appendix rig with a closed garment, you’ll typically need both hands to draw.

Often, the gun is so tight against the body that it’s difficult to wedge your thumb in between to establish your grip. As an alternative, assuming your gun doesn’t have an external hammer that would prohibit it, you could place your thumb over the back of the slide. Then allow your thumb to wrap around into shooting position once the gun leaves the holster.

From there, you draw the gun up. This is like drawing from on or behind the hip, with one disconcerting difference. The midpoint of the draw stroke from appendix carry doesn’t result in the gun’s muzzle orienting to the threat. Instead, the muzzle points downward until your off hand joins the grip, near your chest. There’s no physical index from which to fire as there is when you draw from on or behind the hip and the heel of your hand rests against your chest.

Drawing a gun worn forward of the hip leaves you more susceptible to having your gun grabbed because it’s much closer to an assailant in front of you, and both of your hands will likely be occupied to draw.

You could draw with only your dominant hand—leaving your off hand free to deal with the assailant. However, clearing your garment and drawing one-handed from appendix carry is considerably more difficult than with a gun worn farther back and concealed with an open garment.

Richard Nance cross-drawing a revolver
Cross draw is a viable option when sitting, especially behind the wheel, but when standing, it’s slower than other carry positions.

Cross Draw

Although once a very popular mode of carry, cross draw is far less common today. However, for someone who’s seated for extended periods, especially driving, wearing a cross-draw rig is a viable option. A right-handed shooter can easily access a gun worn in this manner. In fact, there’s no more efficient way to deal with a threat who has approached the driver-side door.

Unfortunately, for all other applications, cross draw has some glaring weaknesses. Reaching across your body to draw your gun is a slower, more telegraphed movement than drawing a gun from your dominant side.

Cross draw starts with your gun’s muzzle pointed closer to you than an assailant in front of you. This results in a slower presentation and one in which you’re more likely to inadvertently point your gun at someone other than the assailant.

A gun carried cross draw also leaves you particularly vulnerable to having your draw stroke fouled. In close quarters, an assailant can jam you by applying pressure to the back of your arm, above the elbow. This could prevent you from drawing your gun and leave you in a precarious position from which to defend.

Carrying a concealed handgun will always be a compromise. What is the easiest way to conceal your gun might not produce the fastest draw stroke or vice-versa.

There is no best carry method. Do your homework so you can make an informed decision about where along your belt to carry your gun. Only by considering the pros and cons of different carry locations and diligently practicing your draw stroke from each location will you determine which is right for you.

Shirt catching on holstered firearm system
A closed garment is more likely to snag your gun as you attempt to draw, and that’s something to keep in mind.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Scott Rupp and Richard Nance correct some common shooting advice.

Smith & Wesson M&P in 5.7 and .22 Mag. Calibers

Scott Rupp and Richard Nance correct some common shooting advice.

Streamlight Updates Its Wedge Flashlight with Tail Cap Switch

Scott Rupp and Richard Nance correct some common shooting advice.

Hodgdon Adds Match and HD to Its Winchester StaBALL Powder Line

Scott Rupp and Richard Nance correct some common shooting advice.

Crossbreed Rogue Holster and System with Mag Carrier

Scott Rupp and Richard Nance correct some common shooting advice.

Smith & Wesson Model 350 Hunting Revolver In .350 Legend

Scott Rupp and Richard Nance correct some common shooting advice.

First Look: Taurus GX4 XL

Scott Rupp and Richard Nance correct some common shooting advice.

A Perfect 10? The S&W M&P 10mm

Scott Rupp and Richard Nance correct some common shooting advice.

S&W M&P Shield Plus

Scott Rupp and Richard Nance correct some common shooting advice.

A Perfect 10? The S&W M&P 10mm

Scott Rupp and Richard Nance correct some common shooting advice.

Beretta A1 Carry

Scott Rupp and Richard Nance correct some common shooting advice.

First Look: Federal .30 Super Carry Pistol Cartridge

Scott Rupp and Richard Nance correct some common shooting advice.

Bad Shooting Advice

Handguns Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Handguns App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Handguns stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Handguns subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now