handgun aiming
Photo by Kevin Estela

If you’re a novice shooter now, remember that the best out there were once just like you. With all the cool gear that comes out each year and with the viral videos all over the Internet, sometimes it’s easy to let run-and-gun aspirations get ahead of realistic concealed-carry training and preparation. The seasoned advice we can offer in this article is valuable to the newcomer in need of fundamentals. If you want the responsibility of concealed carry, make smart and educated decisions. Be honest about your needs and abilities. We’ve assembled a logical approach to concealed carry to get you started the right away with little chance of making rookie mistakes along the way.

1) Find an NRA Handgun Safety Course or State Recognized Training

Local laws will vary and may require you to submit character letters with your application to carry concealed firearms. One constant in most states is successful completion of a handgun safety course. This more often than not is available through the National Rifle Association (NRA). While I’d like to say all NRA instructors are created the same, they’re not. Also, some states will accept other certified programs in case an NRA instructor cannot be located. These may be offered at reputable training facilities.

Find a recommended instructor. And find out if that instructor offers the course in a single day, on multiple weekends, and the like. Find out how large the class is and where it meets. See what firearms the instructor has for you to try when you head to the range for the live-fire portion. You may want to purchase one you are comfortable with afterward. Make sure you show up with questions. Instructors are there to provide answers. This first step will give you the proof of training most states require before issuing a carry permit.

2) Seek Out Concealed Carry Instruction

After you pass your basic NRA handgun safety course and become eligible for your permit, get your required paperwork, photos, and payment in order quickly. Once it is submitted, the wait can be lengthy. So start it as soon as you can. Don’t confuse your safety course with a dedicated concealed carry curriculum.

During this wait, seek out advanced training with proof of your initial training. While the safety course focuses on handling and basic operation of pistols and revolvers, an advanced concealment course will show many ways of accessing your firearm from concealment, various ways of sighting, ready positions, shooting while moving, weapons retention drills and so on.

One of the benefits of dedicated concealed-carry training is the likelihood of live-fire drills from concealment. Many shooting ranges do not allow anything except table drills and this inoculation to reality shooting is an important step in becoming a competent concealed-handgun carrier. While you wait for your handgun carry license, you can purchase a dedicated blue gun and practice repetitions of what you learned with an inert pistol before you transition to a real firearm.

3) Purchasing a Concealed Carry Pistol

The handgun you want may not be the best handgun you should carry concealed. If you are new to the realm of handguns, you’ll discover some pistols and revolvers are more “show” than they are “go.” Exotic wood grips won’t hold up like G10 and composite materials. Deep blueing will rust before a Nitride or CeraKote finish. Also, the firearm that looks the most impressive may be too heavy for practical concealment. The Glock 34, for instance, is an accurate 9mm full-size pistol with a 17+1 capacity but it isn’t as easily carried year-round in the same manner as a 6+1 Glock 43.

Try Before You Buy

Before you tuck your first concealed carry pistol into your waistband, find out if you can try before you buy. In the advanced course you took before your permit arrived, you may have had an opportunity to “test fire” other students’ firearms. You may find the gun that looks great in the display case or in someone else’s hands doesn’t fit your hand right. You have the rest of your life to find the pistol you can show off, for your first working gun, get something supremely reliable, easy to operate,  and comfortable to conceal carry.

After you make a logical decision, and when you are ready to put some real money down to purchase a firearm, look for a good gun shop to buy from. Don’t confuse a gun shop with a gun store. Gun shops are places where guns are worked on, where the employees are shooters, and where there is a lot of experience behind the counter. A gun store, on the other hand, may be manned by novices eager to earn commission with any sale they make. Look for the shop that takes interest in your business, in your needs, in your safety.

4) Don’t Turn Money Into Noise

Visit any public shooting range and you’ll see at least one person doing nothing more than turning money into noise. Shooting fast is exciting but it often is used to mask bad habits and inaccuracy. Throwing a round low left or missing the target entirely is not disconcerting as long as you are at a range with a sufficient berm. However, if you are carrying your handgun for personal defense, those flier rounds have your name on them. You want to hold yourself to a higher standard than the range monkey who doesn’t understand the value of accuracy.

At the range, you will want to incorporate training the rangemaster will agree to. Many ranges will not let you perform a complete draw from concealment (more on this later), so you need to settle on starting your course of fire from the low-ready position. Where is low ready? It is not what you see in the movies, with the handgun below your belt. Keep your sites just underneath the target in the dirt where it will be quicker to reacquire a site picture, if necessary.

The last bit of training you can incorporate into your visit to a restrictive range is a scan of your area. There is no need to do the “high speed” cool guy scan. Make your scan deliberate and more than 360 degrees to include what is above and below you as well. Use your time at the range to build good habits. Don’t worry about the guy shooting fast. Instead, focus on shooting true. Focus on hitting your target. Speed and accuracy come with time and practice. Don’t try to rush results or sacrifice one for the sake of the other.

5) Draw Stroke

Perhaps one of the most important abilities a person needs to develop is the ability to draw a firearm from concealment. This presentation of the firearm can be slow and unnoticeable when you must draw your pistol from a seated position in a diner or movie theater. It can be quick and used in conjunction with movement for scenarios when your plan involves your action beating the threat’s reaction. In any scenario, there are a few constants you can practice and must become proficient at for a successful outcome.

The first step in a good draw stroke is clearing your cover garment. Depending on where you are carrying on your waistline, this may involve using a lifting or sweeping motion. Also, depending on what you have in your hands or other variables, you may need to do this with your shooting hand or your support hand. Make sure to fully clear your cover garment from your firearm before you try to access it.

Following your clearing motion, you must achieve a master grip on the pistol. This means grabbing the pistol in a manner where you don’t have to adjust it in your hand when it comes up to position as you achieve a sight picture. This step can be broken down in various stages. You don’t even need to clear the holster to feel if the pistol is held in a good master grip.

Eye Level

The next step in the draw stroke of the pistol is bringing the pistol up to eye level. Some shooters sweep the pistol, some come to high chest index. Others have a modified presentation. Whichever you choose, become proficient at it. Know the limitations of it. Sweeping the pistol doesn’t allow you to get your front sight on the target until your pistol is far out in front of you. An exaggerated sweep is sometimes referred to as bowling as it resembles that movement. A high chest index requires two motions instead of one. It allows you to achieve a front sight picture earlier in the presentation. A modified presentation blends both in the straightest line possible from holster to full extension. Again, another highly exaggerated version resembles fishing and is often referred to as such.

After you present your firearm, you must achieve a good sight picture. While there are many ways to sight a handgun (backplating, front sight only, front sight/rear sight, and the like), you should always have a sight picture before you put your finger on the trigger. Otherwise, you prep the trigger and look for a threat with the possibility of discharging your firearm into something that isn’t a threat.

Slow Reholstering

When you no longer need your firearm, always remember to slow down your reholstering of it. You can be quick out of the holster but don’t rush it back in. Negligent discharges happen when people accidentally reholster with cord locks, fabric, or trigger fingers in the trigger guard. Unless you plan on keeping your firearm in your hand indefinitely, putting your firearm away is the final step at the end of each draw stroke repetition.

Summing Up Concealed Carry

You can never train the fundamentals enough. Those who perform the most impressively with their firearms are exceptional at the fundamentals. This includes those online firearm superstars mentioned at the beginning of this article. Even if their drills are too advanced for the novice to decode, watching their fundamentals reinforces the idea that time is made up in being smooth. Smooth is learned and trained by countless repetitions of the basics.

With constitutional rights being chipped away, we need to grow our ranks of those with concealed carry licenses. We don’t need anyone ruining the reputation or image of what concealed carry is by making mistakes or misrepresenting what we do by being the next viral video our opponents will use against us. Learn what it takes to get your permit, never stop training, and be more ready for the fight that may find you.

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