EASY TO CARRY AND CONCEAL, SMALL HANDGUNS CONTINUE TO BE POPULAR CHOICES
Easy to carry and conceal, small handguns continue to be popular choices.
By Leroy Thompson
Handguns have been slipped into the pocket for convenience and concealment for centuries. And today’s small handguns are better than ever for this purpose.
A LOOK BACK
From derringers to compact 19th century revolvers from Colt and S&W to powerful Webley Bulldogs, pocket handguns had evolved into reliable and concealable companions by the first decade of the 20th century.
By that date, the automatic pistol offered a slimmer design for pocket carry, eliminating the bulge of the revolver’s cylinder. Colt and FN offered early models in .32 ACP and .380 ACP and for “vest pocket carry” in .25 ACP. By World War II, double-action autos such as the Walther PPK, Mauser HSC and Sauer 38H were available, offering a slimmer alternative to the revolver that still offered a fast first round with just a pull on the trigger.
CONCEALABLE, EASY TO CARRY
As popular as pocket pistols were historically, however, it was passing shall-issue concealed carry laws in much of the U.S. that has made pocket handguns more popular today than ever.
Reasons for their popularity should be obvious: These guns may be carried concealed even in summer clothing yet be readily at hand, they may be presented quickly and unobtrusively from the pocket, and they can always be available when needed.
There are so many pocket handguns available today that the choice can sometimes be difficult. I’ve carried a pocket handgun as a primary weapon or a backup weapon for years. I have found some work especially well while some concessions may have to be made when carrying them.
In my case, at least, oldies are still goodies. I still like the S&W Models 638 and 438. These revolvers are light in weight and readily fit into most pockets with a pocket holster. Both have shrouded hammers to aid in a pocket draw yet allow the hammer to be thumb-cocked for a longer shot.
I frequently carry the 638 as a second gun so have a left-hand Thad Rybka pocket holster with loops for two spare rounds that I’ve been using for almost 40 years. The 438 takes +P .38 Special loads, giving it more striking power. I also still carry another oldie: an early model Colt Agent with hammer shroud. The Agent offers one more round in the cylinder than S&W J-frame snubs and, surprisingly, with the original short butt, conceals easier in a pocket.
I rate other snub revolvers highly. S&W’s Model 42 Classic is a lightweight hammerless design that incorporates a grip safety, thus making it an especially safe pocket choice. I’ve also tried S&W’s M&P Bodyguard with Crimson Trace Laser and found it fast out of the pocket and fast on target.
Ruger’s LCR is an inexpensive, lightweight, reliable .38 Special snub with shrouded hammer. It will also fire +P .38 Special loads. I do use one snub revolver that does not have a shrouded hammer. Smith & Wesson’s Model 360PD in .357 Magnum packs a lot of power into a snub revolver. Some years ago, I had a broken ankle and had to wear shorts because of the cast. My 360PD loaded with 158-grain JHP .357 Mag loads was in the pocket. Recoil is noticeable. I normally fire only 10 or 15 rounds when I train with my 360PD, but I have faith in its stopping ability. For it, I use a pocket holster that covers that hammer so it does not snag. My wife carries a snub Charter Arms occasionally, though she prefers .380 autos. Her Charter southpaw is designed for left-handed users. When she carries it, it is in a winter coat pocket.
.32 AND .380 POCKET AUTOS
Still on the oldies but goodies, I carry a Walther PPK sometimes in a pocket holster. It has an exposed hammer but it is rounded and less likely to snag. When I use a Walther, these days it is normally a .380; however, in the past, working overseas I sometimes carried a PPK-L in .32 ACP. I also have used and still use a FEG R-61, an alloy-framed PPK copy in 9x18 Makarov caliber. It carries as easily as a PPK but hits harder. The larger 9x18mm Makarov PM pistol has become popular in
“...THESE GUNS MAY BE CARRIED CONCEALED EVEN IN SUMMER CLOTHING YET BE READILY AT HAND...”
the U.S. as a carry gun and can also fit in a good-sized pocket.
My wife likes .380 autos with lasers for her pocket guns. She uses either a Kahr P380 or S&W Bodyguard .380. For small pockets, she uses a Kel-Tec .32 auto without a laser.
The only other .380 I carry in my pocket from time to time is a Seecamp .380 LWS. It is a close-range pistol, most useful at 10 yards or less because it is a DA-only without sights. But it conceals in very small pockets.
9X19MM POCKET POWERHOUSES
For side-pocket carry today, I use one of the compact 9x19mm pistols now available. Though compact, the “Pocket Nines” are larger than most .380s. Still, most will fit in typical Levi or slacks pockets. The first 9mm pocket pistol I started using was Kahr’s PM9. I still carry one. At 5.3 inches overall, it conceals really well. Its striker-fired design allows it to be hammerless, yet also have a good trigger pull.
Combined with good sights that are still low profile, these features allow the PM9 to be shot accurately to 25 yards and beyond. Mine has night sights. Sometimes, I carry the PM9 as my only handgun, in which case, I carry a spare magazine in the other pocket. Flat-bottomed or extension magazines are available for the PM9. I normally only use the flat-bottomed ones.
The PM9 is also available in .40 S&W or .45 ACP, but these models are bulkier and harder to shoot due to the small grip. I’ve tried both, but have stuck with the 9x19mm version.
The other compact 9x19mm pistol I carry is the Glock 43. At 6.2 inches overall, the 43 takes a slightly deeper pocket than the PM9, but it still conceals well in most pockets. It has a cartridge capacity of 6+1. The Glock 43 has all of the features that make the other Glocks popular carry guns. I have a half dozen friends who use it as their carry gun.
I would stress that because of the Glock’s safety lever incorporated into the trigger, a good pocket holster that fully covers the trigger guard to prevent negligent discharges is a necessity. Actually, I recommend a pocket holster for any handgun carried in a pocket, but one is necessary for the Glock 43. As with the PM9, I carry a spare magazine when I carry the Glock 43.
I’ve had friends who carried a Glock 26 as their pocket pistol. It is only slightly longer than the Glock 43 but offers 10+1 cartridge capacity. That wider grip also requires more room in the pocket, though.
HIGHER MAGAZINE CAPACITY POCKET NINES
I am not opposed to larger capacity 9x19mm pocket pistols. Most of my Levis or trousers have pockets large enough that I can carry an HK P30SK, thus giving me 10+1 rounds, night sights, and ergonomic features such as an ambidextrous mag release. Mine has the LEM trigger, which gives me a consistent trigger pull (about 5.5 pounds) and no protruding hammer.
I carry the P30SK enough that when a dealer friend of mine ordered a couple at a bargain price, I bought a second one to use for practice. I find it especially comfortable to shoot as it comes with interchangeable grip panels and back straps that allowed me to tailor it to my hand. I practice headshots with the P30SK to 25 yards and normally conclude a 50-round practice session with one magazine on plates at 50 yards.
There are other 9x19mm pocket pistols I have shot and liked. Ruger’s LC9 is only 6 inches overall and has a 7+1 cartridge capacity. A DA-only design,
the LC9 draws readily from the pocket. I would recommend that anyone using one as a pocket gun change out the finger rest magazine base for the optional flat one to lessen the chance of snagging.
Springfield Armory’s XD Compact 9x19mm offers some appealing features. I use the XD 3-inch that is only 6.25 inches overall, which is within the pocket carry range. With its flush fit 13-round magazine, it gives its user 14 rounds without carrying a spare magazine. Its sights are good and it offers both an in-trigger lever safety and a grip safety enhancing its security in the pocket. I’ve shot the XD 3-inch quite a bit and have found it reliable and accurate.
Another compact 9x19mm pistol I like a lot is the Walther PPQ SC. It has a lot of the features I like about the P30SK, including good sights, comfortable grip, and 10+1 cartridge capacity. At 6.6 inches overall, it is the longest of the Pocket Nines that I use. It is striker-fired with a 5.6-pound trigger pull. As with the Glock 26, it relies on an in-trigger lever safety, so a pocket holster must be used and the user must train to keep the finger away from the trigger until the pistol is on target. That should always be the case anyway. Walther also offers the CCP, which is similar to the PPQ. I like Walther handguns and like both of these pocket 9x19 ones.
“...CHOOSING THE RIGHT HANDGUN IS A TRADEOFF BETWEEN STOPPING POWER, CARTRIDGE CAPACITY, ACCURACY, AND EASE OF CARRY AND CONCEALMENT.”
THE POCKET .45 AUTO
There is another chambering for pocket autos that appeals to some shooters who like bigger cartridges. These could be termed the “Pocket .45s.” The only “pocket” pistol of traditional 1911-type that I have carried lately is the Kimber RCP—currently available from the Custom Shop as the RCP II. Only 6.8 inches overall, it has a magazine capacity of seven rounds and is designed for slimness.
The hammer is bobbed to lessen the chance of snagging, and “trough” sights are used, also to prevent snagging. I purchased mine years ago and have carried it occasionally in a pocket as a backup to one of my carry .45 autos. Currently, though, it is quite expensive. Three of the compact 9x19mm pocket pistols can be purchased for the same price.
For those who like the .45 chambering, other compact pistols are available. For example, the Springfield Armory XD-S 3.3 is available in .45 ACP.
One of the earliest pocket handguns was the derringer and various iterations are available today. The Double Tap over-and-under two-shot derringer is available in 9x19mm or .45 ACP chambering. It is light and slim and fits readily into a pocket. But, I found recoil heavy with the 9x19mm round and horrendous with the .45 ACP round.
American Derringer Company offers derringers in an array of calibers for those who like the “Old West” style derringer. I fired both the traditional SA American Derringer M-1 and the DA38 model in .38 Special and found them usable. To be honest, though, I find that one of my snub .38 Special revolvers conceals as readily and gives me more rounds.
For pocket carry, choosing the right handgun is a tradeoff between stopping power, cartridge capacity, accuracy, and ease of carry and concealment. Fortunately, today, the concealed carry licensee can choose among classics such as the snub .38 Special revolver or the .380 Walther PPK or current compact fighting handguns such as the Glock 43, Kahr PM9 and numerous others in 9x19mm.
Whichever pocket handgun you choose, you must practice with it often enough to use it effectively if it has to be drawn for self-defense. Compact guns generally require more practice to shoot well. CC
“WHICHEVER POCKET HANDGUN YOU CHOOSE, YOU MUST PRACTICE WITH IT OFTEN ENOUGH TO USE IT EFFECTIVELY IF IT HAS TO BE DRAWN FOR SELF-DEFENSE.”
The 9x18mm Makarov PM is an inexpensive, reliable pistol that carries in a holster but also conceals in a goodsized pocket.
Above: The hammerless S&W Model 40 or 42 remains an excellent pocket revolver. Thompson prefers the Model 42 for its alloy frame and, thus, lighter weight in the pocket.
Above: Thompson’s “heavy duty” Pocket Nine, the HK P30SK shown in a Don Hume pocket holster, with spare magazine in Galco pocket mag pouch.
Springfield Armory XD 3-inch Subcompact, along with its Remora pocket holster.
Thompson’s favorite .45 auto for pocket carry is the Kimber RCP. Right: S&W’s Model 438 Bodyguard offers a shrouded hammer that allows thumb cocking for longer shots but keeps the hammer from snagging during a pocket draw.
Drawing the Model 438 from a left-hand jacket pocket; note that despite appearances the finger is not on the trigger.