Run, run, run|hop, hop, hop|'run, run, run|hop, hop, hop. That was my cadence chasing a suspect through a backyard. I was hopping on one foot while attempting to pull my ankle holster containing a Chief's Special on my ankle. It was either that or, like so many cops back in the day, searching with a flashlight trying to find my backup gun.
While still in uniform patrol, I changed my backup gun placement from my ankle to under my uniform shirt with a Horan Hide Out leather holster for my then backup Smith and Wesson 3913. The hideout rig I carried had two external straps, which allowed me to affix the holster under my support-side arm under my shirt. To draw, I had to unzip my shirt and reach across, similar to a shoulder holster. It was not fast, but it was more secure and discreet. I continue the practice when in uniform with an Uncle Mike's rig of similar design and my backup Glock 26.
While attending university, I began working security at a large outdoor concert facility in my area. I was in charge of the pavilion and lawn areas, including the assigned seating and stage, supervising security personnel both uniformed and in T-shirts. Two of my guys were friends of the boss, law enforcement officers assigned to a narcotics task force. To make extra money for their families, these two worked T-shirt security off duty. Both were armed with small-frame .45 semiauto pistols; one carried a Star PD .45 and the other a Detonics Street Master .45. Truthfully, these pistols were not carried in ankle rigs, but rather calf holsters. As I remember, they were a Safariland design, no longer available, which looked like the top half of a sock, and they were mostly elastic with a hook-and-loop retention strap. Scott was the larger of the two, with a build similar to a football lineman, but Bob was a medium-size guy who secreted his Spanish-made seven-shot Star PD .45 on his leg.
I've always had more than one ankle holster around for those occasions when nothing else would do. A couple of years ago, when I walked my eldest daughter down the aisle, I had my Glock 26 in an Uncle Mike's ankle rig under my tuxedo trouser leg. Although there were several cops in attendance, I don't count on anyone else to protect me or my family.
Not the Preferred Method, But
I don't believe that ankle carry should be option number one if at all possible, and here's why: 1) It is not fast. Because you have to reach down to ankle level before you start your drawstroke, you're adding substantial movement and that equals time. 2) You're limited to a smaller frame/barrel handgun, which is invariably harder to shoot, unless you're a large person with big calves and ankles. 3) If you're within close range or moving, the physical act of reaching down to your ankle is risky. 4) Ankle carry exposes your handgun to more dust, dirt and possible road salt in the winter than belt or higher carry. The handgun you choose must not be finicky in terms of function. This used to be more of an issue with smaller-frame semiauto pistols a number of years ago. Fortunately, modern pistols run well when dry, dirty or dusty, but a good protective finish might be worth the investment.
That said, ankle holsters offer an option when attire, such as my tuxedo, or circumstances don't allow belt carry. For instance, I recently instructed two seminars on training gunfighters at the annual training conference of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) in Illinois. As I lectured, I saw more than a few ankle holsters worn by the cops present. Sure, we would all like to carry a full-size fighting pistol all the time, but sometimes you can't, and that's when ankle holsters shine.
In addition, smaller-stature males or females looking to carry concealed can be limited as well. Ladies' fashions are far more restrictive in options for on-the-body carry. With some women's attire, ankle carry may be the only or at least the best option.
So for law enforcement officers or citizens looking for a method to carry a backup gun, for concealed carry when an untucked shirt or suit coat cannot be worn to conceal a belt-carried handgun for females or small-stature males or for anyone wanting to carry a personal protection handgun when full- or mid-size handguns cannot be carried, ankle carry is an option.
Let's start by saying that first and foremost, the handgun must be secure. It must be fastened to your leg and held securely within the holster. The most common method by which ankle holsters attach to the leg is with elastic straps and hook-and-loop material. This allows some degree of adjustment vis-a-vis tightness around the ankle and sufficiently secures the holster to the leg. Next the holster must be form fitted to the handgun or made of elastic material that envelopes the pistol or revolver. Regardless of how form fitted, I prefer some type of retention strap as well. This strap can be of a thumbbreak design or a strap that secures the revolver by way of the triggerguard. I would suggest a retention strap that can be disengaged or pulled through as you obtain the grip or draw the handgun. To be avoided is a design that must be disengaged prior to the grip being obtained, i.e. undo the strap, then get a grip.
Leather, polymer or Kydex ankle holsters are on the market. These scabbards are usually form fitted specifically to the make and model you carry. Despite the form fitting, it is my opinion that a safety strap should still be incorporated in the design. Running or other physical activity as well as accidental contact with objects think chair legs or crossing your legs may create enough force against the holstered handgun to dislodge it.
We've already stated that there are ankle holsters as well as calf holsters. The calf rigs can be of a pocket type, which the handgun slides into, or the elastic type that my old narc friends carried. Both types require a looser trouser leg. As I remember it, the narcotic detectives wore construction-type jeans that were roomier in the leg area to adequately cover their pistols. This is pretty much a requirement for all lower-leg holsters. The pant leg must be long enough to conceal the holster as you sit down and large enough not to let the handgun print. Although it is tough on the elastic of your socks, putting the sock on over the ankle rig increases its concealment. This is especially true when you sit down and your pants invariably ride up.
There is a large variety of true ankle scabbards available from all the large holster houses: Bianchi, DeSantis, Galco, Blackhawk. There's a new model from Sticky Holsters called the AnkleBiter Leg Rig that came out after I titled this article. There are models to fit most popular small-frame pistols and revolvers. DeSantis even makes an ankle holster for an X26 Taser for plainclothes cops or civilians who are armed with this less lethal device. Some have a second strap or garter that helps keep the holster up on the ankle and not down in/on the shoe. I'm not a fan of the garters, as for me they tend to cut off circulation. Newer designs for law enforcement officers include extension straps or lacing holes so you can wear them over your duty boots.
A requirement with either ankle or calf carry is a pad between the back of the holster and your leg or ankle bone. Without a sufficient pad such as sheepskin or a synthetic, you'll be in pain in short order or constantly readjusting the holster, neither of which is conducive to carrying concealed for hours.
Be advised that some of the designs, such as Renegade Holsters' excellent Cozy Partner Model 50 I've had for years, do not allow you to reholster with one hand. As part of your ankle carry repertoire, you may have to count on placing the handgun in a pocket or in your waistband until such time as both hands are available to reholster.
Make no mistake about it: Wearing a handgun on your lower leg is kind of like being harnessed with an ankle weight on one side not comfortable.
The way not to draw the ankle-carried handgun is to hop on one leg while you lift the other, trying to draw. The presentation of the pistol from the holster should be a methodical process and practiced from all imaginable positions, i.e. standing, kneeling, seated, prone and supine. Without a prepracticed presentation, your drawstroke will not be smooth and your time to target will be increased.
The best way to draw the ankle-concealed handgun from a standing posture is to create a solid base. The off or sup port hand reaches down and grabs the trouser material on the holstered leg on the thigh around the knee. You take a large step forward, wider than shoulder width. The step out is to lift and clear the trouser material from the handgun. The wide step is to create a stable base. Your gun hand reaches down to grip the pistol. If at all possible, you should keep your head up to view your assailant during the drawstroke. As always, the drawstroke culminates with the pistol held at eye level so the eyes, pistol and target are on a straight line.
This same process trouser pull and handgun presentation can be used from the kneeling position if cover is available. Kneeling within the distance of most armed encounters seriously reduces mobility and makes you an easier target, neither of which is good. When seated in a car or in a chair, the same process can be used. Prone ankle holster presentation may require that you turn on your side while bending the knee, bringing up the gun ankle and lift ing up the trouser with both hands, then drawing. Supine or face-up position (imagine being hit or shot and landing on your back) requires that you bend the knee up, grab the trouser with both hands to clear the handgun, then draw.
Like all firearm skills, the various ankle holster drawstrokes should be first practiced dry fire. After you double and triple check that your handgun is empty and there is no live ammunition in the room, work through the various positions. When working prone and supine, address targets at your head and feet. The idea is to have a skill set prepared if the need for it arises.
Armed defense is more than just carrying a gun, it's about preparing plans. Plans must have options, and when Plan A is carrying a full- or midsize handgun at belt level and this is not possible, Plan B should entail carrying a smaller-frame pistol or revolver somewhere else. One of those options is concealing with an ankle holster. There are limitations in terms of handgun size and a slower drawstroke, but equipping properly and engaging in effective practice with your handgun and holster can improve your performance dramatically.
We cops or civilian concealed handgun carriers, as well as the holster industry have learned much since my run-and-hop experience in a darkened backyard. Designs have improved, as has training. Coupled with awareness, sound strategy and tactics, these "ankle biters" handguns carried in ankle holsters can provide a deadly force option to take a bite out of crime, a lethal threat against you, and allow you to save your own life. That's comforting, not comfortable.
Kevin R. Davis is a full-time law enforcement officer with more than 29 years of experience. Previous experience includes uniformed patrol, street narcotics, SWAT team leader and lead instructor. He is currently assigned to his agency's training bureau. The author welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.