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AIWB: A Frank Discussion on Carrying Forward of the Hip

Carrying a defensive handgun forward of the hip is not new, nor is it going away any time soon. Often referred to as appendix carry (AIWB), the position offers some great advantages, but ignoring its disadvantages may prove dangerous.

AIWB: A Frank Discussion on Carrying Forward of the Hip
As trendy as it may seem today, carrying a defensive handgun forward of the hip has been around as long as handguns have been carried. (Photo by Joe Kurtenbach)

When I graduated from the basic police academy in the mid-1970’s, my first act was to buy my off-duty gun. Concealed carry for citizens was non-existent at that time, so having the ability to carry a handgun 24/7 to protect against possible attackers seemed like a real advantage. As years went by, I came to realize the off-duty gun was more for my protection, and my family’s protection, than it was for preventing crime. After all, I arrested thousands of people during my law enforcement career and remember very few of them. Making another arrest was not a big deal, it was just part of the job. For the suspects, however, being placed in jail was a very big deal, and I’m sure most of those people remember me quite well. On several occasions, I was confronted by people I had arrested and I had no idea who they were. Fortunately, there was no animosity on their part.

My first off-duty gun was a small stainless-steel revolver in .357 Magnum called a Security Industries PPM (Police Pocket Magnum). Having read up of the concept of “stopping power,” I was convinced the .38 Special was a “weak reed” and I needed a Magnum to stop a human attacker. Yep, I believed everything I read; if it was in print, it had to be true. Fortunately, I continued to learn and adapt as the years went by. Once I had the PPM (later a Smith & Wesson Model 60), I had no idea how to carry it well. Leather holsters were expensive; an outside the waistband (OWB) rig was around $25 in those days, so I didn’t want to choose wrong. In the end, I selected a clip-on suede holster that was designed to be carried inside my waistband (IWB). It was thin and soft and since I had a 30-inch waist at that time, shoving it in my jeans was no problem. It was also just eight bucks!

Milt Sparks Summer Special
The Summer Special from Milt Sparks carries on Bruce Nelson's original design for a trim, comfortable inside-the-waistband holster. The Retro model, shown, even offers the single-loop throwback, which works well for carrying forward of the hip. Features of the Summer Special include a metal-reinforced mouth for easy holstering, an internally protected sight channel, and "rough-out" leather construction for both comfort and to add friction so the gun and holster stay in position when carried. (Photo by Joe Kurtenbach)

I tried over my hip since that was the same location as my uniform duty rig, but the protruding cylinder made it uncomfortable. I settled on shoving it down the front of my pants. It was quick and easy, and with a little adjustment it was also reasonably comfortable. The problem turned out to be access. The grip of the PPM, even though it was a finger-grooved Craig Spiegel-like configuration, was hard to get my hand around to draw. The Model 60 was even worse. And when the draw was successful, the metal clip used to attach it to my belt gave way half the time, allowing the gun and holster to come out as a single unit. I once shot it off the end of my gun as I did not notice in time that it was still wrapped around my revolver.

Years went by as I tried various ways to carry my off-duty revolver comfortably. I tried shoulder holsters, ankle holsters, cross-draw holsters and more belt holsters that you can imagine. I found ankle holsters to be uncomfortable (and inaccessible when pursuing a suspect, but that’s another story), shoulder rigs seemed like a lot of leather just to hold on to a little revolver, and cross-draw just did not work for me. I kept returning to the forward of the hip carry due to convenience and the ability to hide it under typical off-duty clothing. I finally settled on a leather holster made by Lou Alessi called a Talon Ny-Clip (still available from Richie Leather as the Nighthawk) which offered a thin, but rigid, holster body and a nylon clip that hooked under the belt so it would not dislodge. I finally had a rig that worked and suited my needs!

Unfortunately it was the mid-1980s, and I set up my revolver rig just in time for pistols to take over law enforcement.

Pistolero Mag
The Bruce Nelson Summer Special IWB holster was intended for forward-of-the-hip carry as this 1980 article from "Pistolero" magazine explains. The position has advantages, but the disadvantages should not be ignored. (Author Photos)

My former agency approved the Smith & Wesson 469/669 as a personal purchase option. Several years later, the S&W 6906 became the first pistol issued by my department, and the guns had a lot going for them. The pistols were big enough for duty carry but small enough for concealment. The advantage of carrying the same gun all the time was not lost on me and having 13 rounds (12 +1) and faster, easier reloads — as compared to five rounds that had to be aligned precisely to insert — seemed like a real plus. I ordered an Alessi Talon Ny-clip holster for the 669 and expected to move on as before, only to discover the pistol did not ride the same as my snubby on my, then, 33-inch waist.

To make a long story short, I ended up buying 34-inch trousers and carrying the 669/6906 in a Milt Sparks Summer Special IWB rig just behind the 3-o’clock position in the notch on my glute. What many folks do not realize is that the original Summer Special holster, as designed by LE Officer, Gunsite instructor, and master holster maker Bruce Nelson, was a forward-of-the-hip design. How do I know this? He told me so during a phone conversation. Nelson worked as a plainclothes narcotics officer and chose to carry a lightweight Colt Commander in .45 ACP. He told me that by carrying the pistol just forward of the hip in the notch next to his abdomen that he could easily conceal it under a T-shirt and that it was less susceptible to being discovered during a quick bump frisk. He also told me the draw was faster due to “less distance travelled” by his hands. This was around 1990.

I include this story to make it clear to the reader that carrying forward of the hip is not new to me. I worked with it for years. While some see the current appendix -inside-the-waistband (AIWB) carry trend as a fad, I do not. I think it can be a very effective carry location, but to ignore its drawbacks is less than wise.

Safariland INCOG X
The Travis Haley-inspired INCOG X from Safariland is the perfect example of today’s holsters intended to be worn forward of the hip. Its dual clips with grip-pushing wing help keep the pistol well concealed under light clothing. (Author Photo)

It saddens me that the gun community has developed its own form of “cancel culture” where a person can no longer express an opinion without being shouted down. It seems social media has brought out the “ugly” in people. These attacks go beyond the opinion itself and attack the person, in some cases trying to ruin their reputation. At a minimum, if you are in my age bracket, you are called a “Fudd” regardless of your training, experience and background. Name calling is easy when you don’t have to face the person, and it’s a tactic often used by folks who lack real experience or who can’t articulate intelligent counterpoints. Let’s just say, I won’t be surprised if it happens to me after this article.

Let’s address the obvious. Pointing a gun at your groin or leg is potentially dangerous, period. Yes, you can shoot yourself when carrying on the hip, but the potential wound is likely to be less severe. I have seen this type of wound multiple times in my life, and it tends to happen high on the leg with the bullet traveling in and out. There is typically little blood, with some fatty tissue seeping from the holes. I’m sure there have been other type wounds, but I have not seen them. Those that I witnessed were all caused by fingers on the trigger while holstering, and the weight of the trigger action did not matter. I have seen it with revolvers, DA/SA pistols, and striker-fired handguns. If the finger is on the trigger when the gun is shoved in the holster it will fire. It’s as simple as that.

Muzzle In
Instead of running the pistol’s muzzle down the torso to reholster, try inserting the dust cover first to find the holster pouch and then rotate into place. This keeps the muzzle off the body until the last possible moment and helps locate any material or object that may be in the way before pushing the gun home. (Author Photos)

It should be noted that a negligent discharge in an offset duty holster can miss the body entirely and impact the ground next to the shooter’s foot. I have seen this as well. The tighter the holster is to the torso, the more likely the round will travel through some part of the body.

Some, maybe many, will argue that this is a training issue. I have to disagree. I’ve seen very well-trained shooters make these mistakes. The root cause is inattention, thus everyone is susceptible. Again, in my experience, it occurs at a moment the shooter is not focusing on what they are doing and make a serious error that results in an injury. True, a draw string or piece of clothing can be the culprit, but more often than not it is the trigger finger. Interestingly, Bruce Nelson mentioned this during our conversation, stating he was glad for the 1911’s thumb and grip safety when holstering. This brings us to the concept of holstering without looking.

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It has long been taught to law enforcement officers not to shift their focus from potential threats while engaging in enforcement activities, especially taking suspects into physical custody. I still think this is sound practice. But understand, the typical peace officer is reholstering to an off-set duty rig on the side of the body. Too, anyone who has never dealt with a true criminal will not have a complete understanding of their street smarts and cageyness. Watching videos is the not the same as placing your hands on them and putting them in handcuffs. If they see you look away, whether it's to holster your pistol or some other reason, they will take advantage of the opportunity and their action will always beat your reaction. Playing catch up is not fun during an arrest that suddenly becomes a fight!

No-Look Reholster
Re-holstering without looking makes sense for law enforcement officers while involved in enforcement activities. The holster is offset from the body reducing danger. If the gun is being holstered forward of the hip, by all means, look! (Author Photo)

The relevant question, then, is does the no-look reholster concept apply to the legally armed citizen? It would depend on the situation. I tend to avoid “never” and “always,” but its my feeling if you are not actively confronting a person at close range, it’s probably better to be sure about where your gun is going. Should I look as I am replacing my pistol to the holster above my leg or groin? You’re damn right you should! If the gun fires it will be a serious problem! I know of several situations where people have discharged their handgun while holstering forward of the hip and, while it is not a huge number, all were very serious injuries. Better to know, with certainty, the condition of your handgun and garments before pushing the pistol home.

Now that we have addressed the elephant in the room, let’s talk about the pluses of forward-of-the-hip carry. First, not all locations are truly “appendix.” This has become a catchall term of description, but let’s be honest, more and more people are carrying in an abdominal, directly over the navel, position than they are off to the side toward their leg. The further forward the more comfortable for most people, and it has proven to be more concealable. The use of chassis- or side-car-style rigs, where the mag pouch and holster are attached has also led to a more centered and balanced mode of carry. No right or wrong here, its whatever works best for you.

Continuity of Motion
Continuity of motion is important when deploying a pistol to a threat. This means both hands should acquire gear in the same relative locations. Thus, if the pistol is being carried in the 2 to 2:30 position, the spare magazine should be located between 9:30 and 10 o'clock. (Author Photo)

In reality, the chassis system is a good idea as the pistol and spare magazine should be located in the same position on the opposing side of the body. If carrying at 3 o’clock, the spare mag should be at 9, on the opposite hip. If I’m carrying around 2 o’clock, forward of the right hip, the magazine should be forward of the left hip. Having your pistol on your abdomen but your spare magazine at 9 o’clock may create a disjointed feeling biomechanically as you draw the two pieces of kit. Try it for yourself and you will see what I mean. Continuity of motion is quite important for proper performance. While the Summer Special was intended to be worn forward, it did not offer the carry advantages of today’s AIWB rigs. The single attachment strap was better suited for hip carry, while today’s rigs offer two attachment points well separated from one another. This removes the “teeter-totter” affect created by a heavy grip frame. Wings designed to push the grip into the torso also enhance the utility of carry rigs today.

As Bruce stated so long ago, forward-of-the-hip carry is faster due to “less distance travelled” by the hands. I always smile when I hear an AIWB supporter tout this as it should be as obvious as daylight. In my experience, I find forward carry to be somewhere between .25 to .50 seconds faster. Is this important? I will leave that up to you, but I will say that if you suffer lag time of 3 to 5 seconds, the extra half-second of draw speed will not help you. What is lag time? The amount of time it takes you to see, recognize, react, and respond to danger. This is the speed you should be working to reduce if you wish to be truly prepared.

AIWB With mag
If carrying more towards the abdomen, in what we'd call and AIWB position, the magazine should be placed in a similar spot, making the chassis or side-car systems of current holsters important and useful. (Author Photo)

Lastly, let’s look at the two-handed concealment draw of the forward carry as an advantage and disadvantage. The two-hand draw includes lifting the closed front garment with the offhand and then drawing the pistol with the primary hand. It’s quite intuitive and having both limbs perform similar motions is aligned with how the body naturally works. For an example, ask a shooter to uncover their pistol while keeping the offhand at rest and see what happens. They may actually freeze up for a moment while they think of something for the support hand to do. It’s at this moment that I suggest they think about the offhand being occupied and how they would draw with one hand. The “cadence” of the two-hand draw is fast and natural, but it might not always be available. For example, if your fight is already physical or you are shielding a loved one, your support hand many be occupied and you need to be able to draw with just one hand.

Ultimately, carrying forward of the hip is not new, nor is it going away any time soon. It offers some great advantages, but to ignoring the disadvantages and consideration may prove dangerous. Pay attention to what you are doing, train hard, and stay open minded as not everyone thinks like you do. Differing opinions can lead to healthy debate, so don’t kill the concept — or the messenger — just because you disagree.




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