Let’s say you’ve chosen to carry a defensive handgun concealed but can’t decide on exactly which one to carry. We’ve been there. There are hundreds of variations of CCW guns to select from—how do you even begin to choose? One look at a gun shop’s display case, and it’s easy to see how you could be overwhelmed by the vast selection of pocket-sized handguns.
Carry-sized pistols and revolvers not only come in different sizes, shapes and calibers, they boast a variety of materials and finishes as well. For many, the type of firearm one chooses to carry depends on a variety of factors, such as personal preference, defensive requirements, method of carry, hand size and even body type.
Since the situation for everyone is different, there isn’t a catch-all solution to this question. Though there’s undoubtedly some trial and error involved in finding the best fit for your needs, you can better educate yourself to make an informed decision. Learning from others’ experiences helps narrow down the best gun and its accessories, such as its holster and ammunition, while minimizing the trial and error process.
To help guide you in your path to selecting the right CCW setup, we asked our varied panel of industry experts to reveal what kind of gun they chose to carry, their method of carry and holster type and why they made their choices. Our Ballistic Round Table focuses on firearm industry experts with different backgrounds and experiences who graciously share their valuable knowledge with our readers. Read on to see what the experts of the Ballistic Round Table choose to use for their CCW setups.
- Affiliation: Triumph-Systems.com; Former Navy SEAL; Kryptek Pro Staff; Camillus Pro Staff
- Position: Co-founder/CEO, triumph-systems.com
- CCW Of Choice: Sig Sauer P239 9mm
- Modifications: SRT trigger
- Ammo: Hornady Critical Defense
- Holster: In the summer, my preference is a DeSantis SOF-TUCK, and for the first time last winter, I used a Kydex OWB holster from returnfiretactical.com and it’s become my top preference.
Why? Because I’m a creature of habit, my primary CCW weapon will probably always be a Sig with a DA/SA trigger. The Sig platform is what I learned on, became proficient using and fell in love with. That said, I’ve shot just about everything else on the market and nothing has worked better for me. When it comes to ammunition, gear and accessories, I’ll tinker by changing no more than a couple of variables at a time to allow for evolution, but not at the expense of slowing my ability to react.
- Affiliation: Taurus
- Position: Shooting team captain
- CCW Of Choice: Taurus PT738 .380 and Taurus Curve .380
- Modifications: None
- Ammo: Hornady Critical Defense
- Holster: Uncle Mike’s “Inside-The-Pant” Holster
Why? Both guns are easily concealable and great carry options. The Curve has a built-in light and laser and belt clip, so it doesn’t require a holster, making it more comfortable to carry. I also like the PT738 as another carry option. My favorite thing about both firearms is how easy they are to conceal. That’s always a challenge for women, to carry on the body without it being obvious. With these two firearms, I can do that and not feel restricted to certain types of clothing. I use Hornady’s Critical Defense .380 ammo in both guns. For the PT738, I carry it with an Uncle Mike’s “Inside-The-Pant” holster. The Curve doesn’t require a holster, so I use the belt clip on the side of the frame and wear it inside the waistband.
- Affiliation: Sturm, Ruger & Co.
- Position: CEO
- CCW Of Choice: Ruger LCP .380 ACP
- Modifications: Engraving and frame color
- Ammo: Inexpensive ball ammunition for most practice sessions and Hornady Critical Defense for carry
- Holster: A Fobus paddle holster, a Galco ankle holster and various pocket holsters
Why? I carry the Ruger LCP. I have several of them, with and without Crimson Trace Lasergrips, and in both blued-alloy and stainless-steel slides. Which one I carry depends on the time of day—there’s no need typically for a laser in broad daylight, but it could be a real lifesaver in twilight or dark conditions. And the LCPs have gotten better and better over the years, with improvements to the sights, trigger and trigger pull, so I tend to carry the newest ones most often.
We have made various color prototypes from time to time, so I have more LCPs than most (14 or 15 at last count!), in different colors and different slide engravings. My favorite is a bright-blue frame with stainless slide and “GO NAVY, BEAT ARMY!” engraved on the slide.
The holster I wear depends entirely on my clothing. If I have a sport coat on, my preference is a Fobus paddle holster. It is easy to slide around, so you can be comfortable getting into a car without having to remove the rig from your belt. I often wear khakis, and a Galco ankle holster works well for that. But if I’m wearing shorts and a T-shirt, it’ll go in my pocket. And I am a big believer that a pocket holster should protect all firearms carried in a pocket, so I have several of those from different brands.
I practice most often with inexpensive ball ammo, but I carry with Hornady Critical Defense. It’s important to practice with your carry ammo, too, to be absolutely sure your firearm feeds well with it.
I think the most important consideration in a carry weapon is, for me anyway, weight. Every other consideration is secondary. If the firearm is too heavy, you will come up with lots of excuses not to carry it. I think weight is far more important than caliber. Better to have the firearm with a less-than-perfect caliber for the situation with you when you need it than to have left it at home because it was too heavy or too bulky to carry.
- Affiliation: Law enforcement
- Position: LEO, firearms instructor
- CCW Of Choice: Smith & Wesson M&P9c 9mm and S&W M&P340 .357 Mag/.38 Special
- Modifications: Apex duty trigger, KKM barrel, 10-8 rear sight and a Trijicon HD front sight.
- Ammo: M&P9c: Winchester 147-grain Ranger Bonded; M&P340: Speer 135-grain +P .38 Special Gold Dot Short Barrel
- Holster: M&P9c: Kramer horsehide belt scabbard and Raven Concealment Systems magazine pouch with MD cut; M&P340: Renegade #50 ankle holster
Why? The Smith & Wesson M&P9c mirrors the operational characteristics of larger duty weapons while being ergonomic and reliable, and the modifications particularly enhance the pistol’s efficiency. The Kramer belt scabbard is very comfortable and concealable, regardless of the clothing type operationally dictated. The Winchester 147-grain Ranger Bonded load shoots very well in my particular pistol and has excellent terminal ballistics.
The Smith & Wesson M&P340 J-Framer revolver gets a Renegade #50, which is the best ankle rig I’ve come across, and I have been using one daily for 20-plus years. Speer’s 135-grain +P .38 Special Short Barrel load is arguably the best available ammunition for a J-Frame, and my particular revolver shoots it quite well.
- Affiliation: Rogers Shooting School
- Position: Owner
- CCW Of Choice: Ruger LCR 9mm
- Modifications: Modified the grip to better fit my hand
- Ammo: Winchester Silvertip
- Holster: Safariland pocket holster
Why? Living in Florida most of the year means wearing clothing for the seasons. Shorts and T-shirts do not lend themselves to conventional holsters for concealment. I like the simplicity and reliability of a revolver.
- Affiliation: Barrett Firearms
- Position: CEO, firearms designer
- CCW Of Choice: Colt Commander .45 ACP and Rohrbaugh R9 9mm
- Modifications: Extended controls, funneled magazine well, CTC Lasergrips for 1911
- Ammo: Speer Gold Dot
- Holster: Galco and DeSantis rigs
Why? I’ve carried a .45 since I was 18 years old. And for the most part it’s been the same one—the lightweight Colt Commander. I used the same gun when I competed, and as a deputy sheriff. I built the gun up myself about 40 years ago, and we’ve been one ever since. It simply shoots where I think. There are times when concealing a full-sized pistol is difficult, but with the advent of the super-small and light 9mms, that problem was solved by adding the Rohrbaugh, which stays in my pocket all the time.
- Affiliation: DeSantis Gunhide
- Position: CEO
- CCW Of Choice: Rohrbaugh R9 9mm; Smith & Wesson Model 342 .357 Mag/.38 Special
- Modifications: Both guns have been tuned-up by the manufacturers, and high-visibility sights were installed.
- Ammo: MagSafe Ammo
- Holster: DeSantis Nemesis pocket holster; DeSantis Apache ankle holster
Why? I generally carry one of two different handguns for CCW. My preference is the Rohrbaugh R9 or my S&W Model 342 lightweight five-shot revolver, both in a Nemesis pocket holster. I do have a Clip-Grip on my 342. With that I can even carry my revolver concealed even in a bathing suit. I can almost always be armed with moderately serious firepower without being restricted by my clothing. My 342 rides in an Ammo Nemesis and sometimes in an Apache ankle holster. The R9 resides in a Nemesis holster, and when clothing is not a problem, a #2 Speed Scabbard.
I have been carrying a handgun ever since I left the Army. With over 30 years of part-time law enforcement experience, I have had lots of practice. When I’m out riding my bicycle, rather than going unarmed, I usually carry my .22 Magnum NAA Pug mini-revolver in a pocket holster.
- Affiliation: Frontier Gunleather
- Position: Owner
- CCW Of Choice: Smith & Wesson 4516 .45 ACP
- Modifications: None
- Ammo: Factory, semi-jacketed, soft-point .45 ACP, consistent with ammo used by our local sheriff’s department. This selection limits your liability exposure in the event of a shooting incident.
- Holster: A simple and secure IWB rig, nothing fancy. Always keep your carry method very simple—no gadgets, no gimmicks.
Why? I like my time-tested doctrine, perfected over a 50-plus year period, because it is user friendly and has stood the test of time. I have always recommended the selection of one primary personal-defense pistol and carry method, carried in the same location in the same manner, all the time. This eliminates confusion and surprises in an emergency.
- Affiliation: Captain of Team Smith & Wesson and author of Shoot: Your Guide to Shooting and Competition
- Position: World and National Champion, professional shooter
- CCW Of Choice: Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm
- Modifications: Warren Tactical sights
- Ammo: Federal Premium Hydra-Shok JHPs
- Holster: As a woman, there are times when I have had to change up the way I carry based on my physical condition and clothing. I’ve carried my M&P Shield on my hip in a Safariland 5197, in a Can Can Concealment band holster and in a purse designed for concealed carry.
Why? The M&P Shield is a small, lightweight gun that I can comfortably conceal in a number of different ways depending on my wardrobe. What I really love about it is that, unlike a lot of other small, concealable firearms, it shoots like a full-sized gun and the recoil is very manageable. I’ve even competed with it. Switching out to Warren Tactical two-dot night sights, my Shield performs reliably in full- and low-light conditions. Loaded with Federal Premium Hydra-Shok JHP ammo, it has the capacity and stopping power I am looking for in a gun this size.
- Affiliation: Straight 8 Photography
- Position: Tactical photographer
- CCW Of Choice: Ruger LC9 9mm
- Modifications: None
- Ammo: Federal Premium HST
- Holster: Alien Gear Cloak Tuck 2.0
Why? The Ruger LC9 is very thin and comfortable to wear. I treat my CCW as a “break contact” weapon. It’s there to get me out of immediate danger so I can get to cover or my vehicle, where I have more firepower to make a true stand.
- Affiliation: National Rifle Association
- Position: Former president and current board member
- CCW Of Choice: Smith & Wesson Model 642 .38 Special
- Modifications: None
- Ammo: Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel +P
- Holster: Bruce Nelson Combat Leather
Why? I own and carry excellent guns from several different manufacturers, but the gun I carry concealed most often (but not exclusively) is the Smith & Wesson Model 642. The gun hasn’t had any modifications to it because it shot perfectly right out of the box. However, I did put several hundred rounds through it to make sure it performed flawlessly before I relied on it for self-protection. I’m happy with the performance of my Speer Gold Dot ammo, but I’ve been wanting to try the Critical Defense round that Hornady makes for .38 Special revolvers because my law enforcement friends who are using Hornady ammo in their semi-automatic pistols have had good test results.
If the occasion permits me to wear a belt, I carry the S&W 642 in a Bruce Nelson Combat Leather saddle-style concealed carry belt holster that my late husband made for me more than 20 years ago. It is compact, covers the trigger and tucks into my waistband nicely. For dress up (and not-so-concealed carry) I also have a totally wild and beautiful Amazon frog-hide belt holster in navy blue made for me by Sam Andrews of Andrews Custom Leather. When I can’t wear the gun on my body, I’ll carry it in a fanny pack or CCW purse, but I’ve found that it’s essential to practice extensively drawing from a fanny pack or purse before relying on that method of carry.
I especially like the 642 because it is reliable, easily concealable even on my 5’2” frame, the stainless finish resists rust, and the concealed hammer means there is nothing to catch on clothing or a purse when you draw the gun. Most of all, .38-caliber ammo is the minimum I accept for self-defense in a revolver. I “test” my CCW gun every few months by drawing and firing it from its carry position. If I ever have to use it, I want the confidence of knowing that it will go bang every time it comes out of the holster, purse or fanny pack. After I test it and shoot it for practice, I clean it and reload it with fresh self-defense ammo.
- Affiliation: Force Options Tactical Training Solutions
- Position: Owner, senior instructor
- CCW Of Choice: Glock 17 9mm
- Modifications: Meprolight Tru-Dot night sights
- Ammo: Speer 124-grain Gold Dot +P
- Holster: 45 Tactical Designs IWB
Why? I carry the G17 because of its reliability and accuracy. It also offers a full-sized pistol’s magazine capacity, which is critical for personal defense. Additionally, the 9mm round has evolved to the point that its fight-stopping capabilities make it a real player. I carry the G17 in an IWB holster because it is much easier to conceal, which is equally as important. Overall, the rig I carry is based around function and fit. I like this setup because it is fast, accurate and reliable 24/7.
- Affiliation: International Defensive Pistol Association
- Position: Executive Director
- CCW Of Choice: Wilson Combat Beretta 92FS Compact 9mm
- Modifications: Converted to “G” decocker, Wilson Combat sights, complete action job, round triggerguard, Wilson Combat G10 grips, black slide/Burnt Bronze frame Armor-Tuff. These are the standard modifications that Wilson Combat has been doing with Berettas. The action jobs on my guns might be a little better just because.
- Ammo: Speer 124-grain Gold Dot ammo—only because we can’t get the 147-grainers. The Gold Dots are some of the most effective bullets available.
- Holster: Wilson Combat Lo-Profile II. It holds the gun tight to my body and is really comfortable.
Why? I’ve been shooting one of the new Wilson Combat Brigadier Tacticals for about the last year now, and this is just a smaller version of it. I like the fact that I can carry 13+1 rounds and my spare mag can be a full-sized 18-rounder. This gun also has a light rail so I can put my Streamlight TLR-3 on it when it sits on my nightstand. I really like the DA/SA trigger with the decocker. The Wilson Combat action job makes the double-action pull smooth and very shootable, and the single-action pull is just as good as on my 1911s.
- Affiliation: Former Navy SEAL, tactical police officer
- Position: Gunner’s Mate Second Class (weapons specialist)
- CCW Of Choice: Guncrafter Industries .50 GI and Heckler & Koch P7M8 9mm
- Modifications: Leupold DeltaPoint sight
- Ammo: Guncrafter GI 230-grain
- Holster: Crossbreed IWB
Why? From my time with SEAL Team Six and serving in undercover and tactical roles in law enforcement, I then entered the world of private security, where I live today. These days, I carry only one of two guns. The first is usually my backup now, the finest handgun ever made: the HK P7M8. Truly ahead of its time, if this were in production today in .45 ACP, I’d still carry it well into the future. My primary is a Guncrafter Industries .50. As for sights I had to go to a reflex sight because I am used to being able to split hairs, or R.J. Thomas (former platoon commander of SEAL Team One) or Dick Marcinko (founder of SEAL Team Six) would have my ass.
Today I also carry great liability with the people I work for. At a distance, the front sight is essential. I chose the Leupold DeltaPoint and the newest version lets you replace the battery without disconnecting the sight. Holsters have varied over the years because of the jobs. In a private capacity when wearing a gun concealed, I have always worn my main weapon in my pants, butt forward on my dominant side. This is a holdover from my undercover days, where it allowed me to get to my gun effectively seated and with both hands if necessary. My favorite holster was first designed by CrossBreed and later copied by everyone else.
One thing about carrying a single action this way: They are made for right-handers, so when worn butt forward with most holsters, the magazine release button is exposed, but I added a collar around the release to protect it. As far as the ammo for this gun, I purchase mostly the 230-grain load from Guncrafter Industries for carry. When I know I am going into harm’s way and can’t have a long gun, then my P7M8 is on my hip in a cross-draw holster that I made.
- Affiliation: Gunsite Academy
- Position: Owner and CEO
- CCW Of Choice: .45 ACP 1911, G19 9mm
- Modifications: Novak sights
- Ammo: Remington Golden Saber
- Holster: C. Rusty Sherrick horsehide leather
Why? I work and travel a lot. Therefore, I carry that which is readily available in the environment in which I have to work. I am comfortable with both calibers and both weapons. Both will get the job done if you will.
- Affiliation: Full-time “We the People” hellraiser
- Position: Vermin-control Czar
- CCW Of Choice: I rotate a number of Glock 20s in 10mm
- Modifications: I installed tritium sights, a Crimson Trace under-barrel laser and a slightly larger mag release button.
- Ammo: My signature 180-grain Ted Nugent Ammo manufactured by Mike McNett at DoubleTap
- Holster: Galco Gunleather
Why? Shooting, training and experimenting with pretty much every make and model of handgun, I came to feel as one with my Glock 20 and the 10mm round. Tactics, function, reliability, accuracy and capacity are critical at all times, especially in today’s homeland war on terror. Being outgunned is a foolish choice. No one has ever said, “I have too much ammo.”
- Affiliation: GunTecUSA
- Position: Vice President
- CCW Of Choice: Glock 43 9mm
- Modifications: None
- Ammo: Winchester Black Talon
- Holster: Braids Holsters SOB
Why? I like how compact and slim the handgun is. In the Braids holster, It is perfect for
small-of-the back carry.
- Affiliation: NYPD & Nassau County Police Department, 25 years
- Position: Retired police officer and firearms instructor; currently an executive protection specialist
- CCW Of Choice: Glock 26 9mm
- Modifications: Meprolight night sights, Glock extended slide release, Pearce basepad extensions on all mags.
- Ammo: Speer 124-grain +P HP
- Holster: Fist Kydex IWB
Why? Reliability, functionality and simplicity. The last four years of my career as a police officer allowed me the opportunity to work in the Firearms Training Division. We were responsible for training 2,500 officers to qualify regularly. During my time as an officer and as an instructor, I learned to expect the unexpected—prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
My Glock, with a Pearce magazine extender and Meprolight sights, is my first go-to gun regularly. It marries up well with my Fist holster and is very accurate with Speer hollow-point ammo. I have other favorites, such as my Springfield XDs, Sigs, SCCYs, the Ruger LCR and LCP, and my trusty old five-shot S&W revolver. My current jobs include extensive traveling, checking guns and ammo on planes, boats, cars—you name it. The required attire might be a suit one day and cargo shorts the next. I need to be prepared to carry in all kinds of environments and weather. I’ll always grab