Tips For The First-Time CHL Holders
Written By: Lloyd Bailey
So you’ve just gotten that new concealed carry gun you’ve been wanting and you’ve got your CHL. Before you toss that smokewagon in your waistband and head out the door, here are some tips to get you started if you’re new to concealed carry. You’ve got some work to do before you start carrying that new gun.
“Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle.” — Psalm 144:1
How to Carry
The first thing you have to do is decide how you’re going to carry. For a lot of people, this is a simple question that they never stop to consider. There are so many ways to carry a gun. Only you know the way that is best for you. Inside the waistband, outside the waistband, pocket carry, off-body carry, man-purse, lady purse, car carry, belly band, bang bra, shoulder holster, small-of-the-back, cross-draw, appendix carry, funderwear. How you will carry is affected by a variety of things: weather (which dictates clothing choices), work attire, and (most importantly) the size of the gun you just purchased.
Get a Good Holster
Now that you’ve decided how you are going to carry, get a good holster. Don’t go to Wally World and buy some floppy, neoprene holster. Get a good one. Spend the money to buy quality if you have to. A $700 gun in a $15 prophylactic holster makes no sense. Do your research on which brands are good and which are not. Read and watch reviews. I have a number of holster reviews at www.ArmedLutheran.us. There are lots of companies making quality holsters in leather, KYDEX, or both. Sure, you could go to the big box sporting goods store and get a mass produced holster and start carrying right away, but you don’t want to. Quality holsters are made to order and they take time. Plus, you have other preparations to make before you strap on that smokewagon and stroll about town.
Choose Quality Ammo
No, the cheap ball ammo that you buy in bulk is not carry ammo. You want quality expanding, hollow-point, self-defense ammo. Do your research to find the best ammo for your gun. There’s lots of material online. You want ammo that will penetrate deep to reach the internal organs, and then you want it to reliably expand so that it stays inside the target. You don’t want a round that will overpenetrate and endanger bystanders. Choose brand names you have heard of — Hornady, Winchester, Speer, Cor-Bon, Federal — and get recommendations from others. Whatever you choose, it has to function in your chosen firearm. More on that below.
Get to the Range
You need to make sure that the gun functions reliably. If you have malfunctions early on, that may be normal. Some guns require a break-in period. The malfunctions could have been operator error. They could be a sign of a problem with the firearm or the magazine, or the ammunition. You need to determine which it is. If the malfuntion does not reoccur, then it’s probably bad ammo, or a bad grip, or just a new, stiff gun that needs to be loosened up. If malfunctions persist, you need to address them before carrying the gun in public. I typically want to shoot at least 200 rounds through a new gun before I feel comfortable carrying it. And don’t just shoot target ammo for that 200 rounds. You need to make sure the gun functions with your chosen carry ammo, as well.
Get to Know Your Gun
You also need to become accustomed to how your new gun shoots, how to operate the controls, how the trigger feels, the feel of the grip, the recoil, how much pre-travel (slack) and over-travel the trigger has, and how to manipulate the gun if a malfunction occurs. You need to make sure the sights are accurate and, if not, adjust them. You need to shoot the gun with your weak hand only and strong hand only. You need to make sure all the magazines function properly and that the slide locks open when the magazines are empty. If they don’t, determine why. Was it because you were resting your thumb on the slide lock or is there something wrong with the magazine? Mark or number your magazines so you can tell them apart, that way you can identify the ones with issues. If the slide is hard to rack, practice racking it with snap caps or dummy rounds. If the magazines don’t drop free, determine why. If the magazines drop free when you don’t intend for them to, work on adjusting your grip so you don’t inadverently drop the magazine in a real self-defense situation. If the gun has a manual safety, make sure that it works. If you find yourself accidentally engaging the safety, work on your grip. If the safety is stiff, make a note and work to loosen it up so that it can be engaged and disengaged smoothly and positively.
Once your new holster arrives, practice with it at home. Dry fire practice is invaluable for building muscle memory and developing basic skills without the cost of range fees and ammo. Put your magazines and ammunition in a seperate room and take your holster and handgun into a different room with a safe backstop. This could be a room with a brick or cinderblock wall. Even though your gun will be unloaded, remember Colonel Cooper’s first rule: all guns are always loaded. You need a safe area to point the gun just in case something goes wrong. Be sure to dress the way you would most days of the week. Don’t try this in your jammies. Unless you’re the typical Wal-Mart person, that won’t work. Tape a target onto the wall. Doesn’t have to be anything special. Just a 3×5 index card will do. Practice drawing the gun from your holster (or purse, or bra, or whatever) and presenting it to the target. Do that over and over again for 15 minutes until you can do it without looking for the holster, or making a mistake. Go slow at first then gradually try to increase the speed. The important thing is smooth, efficient motion. Try to avoid spastic, herky-jerky movements. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.
Now you can finally start carrying that new gun. But don’t stop there. Make a point of continuing to practice at home and the range. Dry fire and live fire. Get some real training. Your CHL class is not training in how to shoot or how to carry a concealed weapon. Take a defensive handgun course from a professional instructor. Watch videos. Read books. Never stop learning.
Just as the gun is not the talisman of evil that anti-gunners portray it to be, it is also not a talisman of good which will protect you simply because you have it on your person. The excitement of getting your CHL and carrying a gun has to be tempered by realistic preparation so that if the time comes to use that gun to defend yourself or those you love, you will be ready.
Lloyd Bailey is owner and editor at The Armed Lutheran Blog (www.ArmedLutheran.us)