The March issue of the Rangemaster Newsletter is out now, and look who’s babbling on page six! Tom asked me to put together my thoughts on this neat new rig I’ve been test driving for a while now, so I finally did. Most of you already know I usually carry in a belly band, but a buddy of mine has helped me implement some vast improvements to my usual set up. So far, I am more than pleased. Below is the text of the article, or you can grab the full newsletter here.
For anyone wondering, the base model I used here is a Gould & Goodrich “Body Guard” (actually, two of them that I chopped up and sewed together for a second holster). In this post on PistolForum.com, I went into more detail about the many alterations that I like to have done on all my belly band rigs. I’ve gotten lots of inquiries about this method of carry over the years, and especially since the newsletter hit the interwebs. If anyone has (or knows someone who might have) further questions about belly bands in general or my current rig in particular, please feel free to contact me. Happy to help if I can.
Band of Druthers
(Originally featured in the Rangemaster Newsletter, March 2016)
After my committee meeting ran long and a three-car pile-up slowed traffic to a crawl, I was over 20 minutes late to last month’s Rangemaster Instructor Night. I raced into the range and scrambled for ear plugs, hoping Tom Givens would show mercy and let me join the firing line. I was still in office attire: a long skirt with an elastic waistband and a knit sweater (as opposed to everyone else’s jeans and cargo pants). Despite being completely rattled by the rush, I somehow managed to shoot the drill clean on the first try. Thank goodness! I would hate to be late and suck all in the same session. As we packed up to leave, another instructor tapped me on the arm and asked, “Hey, what kind of holster are you using?” He had barely finished the question before I started gushing besotted rhapsodies about my prized new carry rig.
But first, let’s back up. In a perfect world, we’d all be donning whatever bulky batman belt and super-sturdy contraption best secured our gear. But of course, not everyone works at a military surplus outlet or a hunting and fishing store. If I tried to conceal that system in my committee meeting, my colleagues might wonder if I was harboring a conjoined twin on my hip. That’s why I’m a huge fan of the belly band.
I’ve been double-carrying in a four-inch band for several years. The upsides are numerous, especially for women. The relatively soft material is extremely comfortable. Compression holds the firearm snugly, so it conforms to the body’s shape instead of leaning outward (which causes tenting, particularly on people with curvier hips). The band allows for unobstructed, hands-free, on-body carry (yes, even while using the restroom). It can be worn either IWB or OWB. It’s far less expensive than most leather or kydex, it’s lightweight, it breathes, and it’s washable. It goes on and comes off like a breeze — work the Velcro, done (no threading a bunch of loops one at a time). It can be easily, quickly, and cheaply customized by your local tailor or seamstress. This includes anything from reinforcing the trigger protection, to changing the holster cant, to adding more pockets (mine has several and holds a knife, a spare mag, and my phone).
The belly band has its fair share of downsides, too. But perhaps the biggest single disadvantage to the belly band is holster collapse. Folks who wear a belly band have to use their non-gun hand to open it, which precludes one-handed holster work and greatly heightens the risk of self-muzzling. Therefore, even though I wore one every day, it was practically impossible for me to train with my belly band. That was unacceptable.
Enter the one and only Spencer Keepers! Spencer and his company (Keepers Concealment) are known for the now-patented “Keeper” holster and several other popular AIWB designs. Several months ago, I reached out to him in hopes of finding a solution to my collapsing belly band. Thus began a weeks-long odyssey of Facebook chats, emails, crude drawings, annotated snapshots, and evolving design iterations that we passed back and forth by priority mail. Finally, it was ready. Spencer had fashioned a pair of modest, minimalist, removable kydex inserts that I secured within the belly band holsters using industrial-strength Velcro. The inserts are molded to my particular guns, they shield the triggers with something more substantial than cloth, and they don’t collapse when empty. Eureka!
The final product came together just in time for Establishing a Dominance Paradigm, the flagship course that Tom Givens, Craig Douglas, and William Aprill taught back in January. I was there to help with the class, but Tom let me shoot all the range blocks just so we could test out this new holster. It passed with flying colors. Anyone who has ever trained with Tom knows that his range drills suffer no shortage of presentation reps. As I un-holstered and re-holstered my firearm dozens and dozens — possibly hundreds — of times over three days, I had precisely zero issues with the belly band whatsoever. It stayed in place, it secured both guns, it didn’t slide up, I didn’t have to adjust it, and every time I drew my firearm, I was able to return it right back to its happy place with only one hand, while keeping my eyes up and focused on the threat. Even Tom was impressed. If it weren’t for me getting sloppy and throwing a few shots on the drills, I might have thought I had ascended to concealed carry heaven.
I’ve worn this rig every single day since then, and my gear has never felt more secure. It’s also never accommodated so many different styles of dress and variations of movement. And last month at Tom’s Instructor Night, I trained with it yet again — only that time I managed not to toss any bad shots.
I don’t often pepper the internet with my subjective musings on gear (unless someone asks). But in this case, I had to publicly thank Spencer Keepers for so meticulously fine-tuning this design to meet my needs. He understood my somewhat obscure vision and committed himself to realizing it. And now I have a weapon system that allows me to sit comfortably through an extended meeting, run down two flights of stairs to my car, zip across town, hustle into the range, and shoot a perfect 100% on the FBI qualification course, cold, without having to make the slightest adjustments to my business attire or my equipment. Nary a cargo pocket in sight.
To those who train seriously and often: when you prepare for a firearms class, do you swap out your everyday apparel for that favorite training holster or preferred pair of pants with the belt loops in exactly the right spot? If so, you might be gaming yourself out of the whole point of taking classes. Do whatever you can to enable yourself to practice using the gear you actually carry — disadvantages and all. If your number ever gets called, I doubt the bad guy will wait for you to dip into the phone booth and re-emerge in the superman costume that always made you two-tenths of a second faster than the guy next to you on the range.
To those who teach in the firearms community: please encourage your students to think outside the box. Belly band carry isn’t for everyone, and I’m the first to admit it’s not perfect. But if the alternative is loathing your own gear (which leads to not wearing it at all), a belly band is a viable option for anyone who takes the time to understand its nuances. When your students doubt the feasibility of toting a few extra pounds of clunky metal and plastic every day, don’t condescend. Don’t tell them to just suck it up. And don’t expect them to abandon the lifestyle they’ve known for decades and start dressing like a longshoreman. Instead, assure them that with a little effort, anyone who wants to safely carry a firearm can find an effective, reliable, concealable way to do so.