Monday, August 13, 2007

What to Bring to a Utah Polite Society Event

The basic philosophy behind the Utah Polite Society’s equipment rules is simple: carry the same gear you carry every day. Since the goal of all of our events it to help people prepare to use their firearm in self-defense, it only make sense to use your every day carry (EDC) gear. Indeed, one of the great benefits of our monthly shoots is that it gives you the chance to test your EDC rig in fairly realistic self-defense situations.

Of course, with a rule like this, there’s really no way to enforce it except for relying on the honesty of the participants. We’re certainly not going to show up sometime during the month to make sure you’re carrying the same gear you used in our last event. However, unlike competitive shooting games like IPSC and IDPA, our events are not competitions. We don’t even keep score. So if you don’t use your EDC gear, the only person you’re really cheating is yourself.

For most of us, “every day carry gear,” means a concealed weapon. You should bring a cover garment that conceals your pistol from casual observation. Again, the cover garment should be similar to what you wear every day. A cover garment is part of your shooting gear and if you practice with a tactical vest draped over your pistol, it’s not going to be very applicable to getting the gun into play from underneath a polo shirt. While concealed carry is the norm for most of us if you are in law enforcement, private security, the armed forces, or some other profession which involves open carry, you are welcome to use your duty gear.

Required Equipment
While we don’t have a whole lot of hard and fast rules about equipment, there is certain gear that you’ll need to participate in one of our events.

Handgun – Bring a handgun suitable for self-defense use. If you are a new shooter, and haven’t selected your carry gun yet, feel free to bring another pistol if you have one available, even if it’s a .22 target pistol. However, if you have a defensive handgun available, you will be much better off practicing with that even if you end up selecting a different model for carry. While most of our events are shot using handguns, we occasionally have optional carbine and shotgun stages. If we’re going to have one, it will be mentioned in the e-mail announcement.

Magazines – Bring at least two magazines (one for your gun plus one spare). Some of our stages involve reloading or clearing a malfunction, so an extra magazine will be required. If your carry gun is a revolver, bring two speedloaders or three moon clips.

Holster – Almost all of our scenarios start out with the gun in the holster, so a holster is definitely required. All holsters must cover the trigger guard of your pistol when the gun is holstered. While we don’t have a blanket prohibition on any particular holster type, for safety reasons we ask that new shooters don’t use shoulder holsters, cross draw holsters, fanny packs, smart carry/thunderware, t-shirt holsters, purses, small of the back holsters, and waistband clips attached to the gun. All of these types of holsters require great care to avoid sweeping yourself or bystanders with the muzzle of the gun when drawing or holstering. If you’d like to try using one of these holsters after you’ve come to a couple of events and can demonstrate that you can use them safely, then we’ll be happy to let you use it. If you carry a small firearm in your pocket, we strongly recommend carrying it in a pocket holster.

Belt – For any holster that rides on the waistband, a good belt is a necessity. A thick, heavy belt will keep the holster and other gear on the belt in place.

Magazine Carrier – Bring a magazine carrier or pouch to hold your extra magazine(s).

Ammunition – Most of our events involve shooting 50-75 rounds of ammunition. Bringing 100 rounds will generally provide a good cushion and leave you some extra rounds to shoot a stage a second time or shoot steel targets on the range after the event is over. We make an exception to our, “carry the way you do every day” policy for ammunition. Inexpensive full metal jacket ammunition works perfectly well for practice, and is a lot cheaper than hollowpoint defensive ammo.

Eye and Ear Protection – Eye and ear protection is mandatory.

Some scenarios may require additional equipment (a flashlight for a night shoot, for example), but this is relatively rare. If additional gear is necessary, the e-mail announcing the event will mention it.

Equipment Advice
Despite our lack of detailed equipment rules, experience at Utah Polite Society events has given us a pretty good idea of what sort of gear works best. This section is intended to provide some guidance about different types of gear, particularly for those who are new to concealed carry and defensive shooting. While we think it’s good advice, none of the following is mandatory or required.

It’s useful to think of your gun and everyday carry gear as a system. Each individual piece is important, but the bottom line is how well it all works together. A particular make of holster might work great for one gun, but not for another. To further complicate matters, a person’s body type, gender, lifestyle, clothing choices, and the degree of concealment required are also part of the system. A gun, holster, and belt that work great for one person may not work at all for someone else. If the following advice seems distressingly vague at times, it’s because of this personal element. When people give gun advice over the internet, telling you to buy a particular gun or a particular holster, what they are really saying is how well this gun or holster works for them. This may or may not have any bearing on what will work best for you. Rather than telling you to buy the same stuff I’ve got, the goal of this section is to provide information so you can make an informed decision.

Handgun – The relative merits of different firearms and calibers have inspired countless hours discussion, debate, and internet flame wars. Rather than telling you which gun and caliber is best, I’m going to describe what sort of pistols and calibers are most common at our events. The most common types of firearms are Glocks and various makes of 1911s. We also see Heckler and Koch, SIG, Springfield XD, and Smith and Wesson pistols on a regular basis. Taurus, Kahr, and Kel-Tec guns show up occasionally. Most people shoot either full size or compact pistols, though a few favor subcompacts. The most common calibers are .45 ACP and .40 S&W, with 9mm and .357 SIG being somewhat less common.

One additional thing to take into consideration when choosing a handgun is the availability (or scarcity) of accessories like holsters and magazines. There are good firearms out there that are less than ideal for concealed carry because accessories for them are expensive or difficult to find. This can apply both to less popular or niche weapons and to newly introduced models. If a newly introduced gun proves popular, accessories will become easier to find as time passes.

Magazines – The more the better, particularly if your firearm has a relatively low capacity. Two magazines will probably get you through any drill or scenario we do and three definitely will. The real benefit of bringing more magazines comes when you’re not shooting. In my experience, it’s possible to learn as much from watching other people shoot a stage as you can by shooting it yourself. Having more magazines means you can spend more time up at the firing point observing and less time back at the bench stuffing rounds into your mags.

While I definitely recommend bringing more magazines, I’d advice against buying cheap ones. Magazines are the number one source of jams, misfeeds, and other problems in semi-automatic firearms. Your experience at one of our events is going to be much better if you can shoot without battling magazine induced malfunctions. Aftermarket magazines, particularly 1911 magazines, vary widely in quality. For most weapons, factory magazines are going to be the most reliable. For 1911 shooters, Chip McCormick and Wilson Combat make very reliable magazines. If you have another type of gun and can’t find factory magazines, Mec-Gar manufactures many of the “factory” magazines provided with new guns by various manufacturers.

Holster – Finding a good holster is quite important to being able to carry a gun comfortably and well concealed. Trying to carry in a poorly made holster, or even a good holster that’s a bad fit for your clothing choices or body type can be a huge source of frustration. With the right holster, even a full size handgun can be carried comfortably and easily concealed. With a bad holster, even the smallest pistol is going to be uncomfortable and hard to hide. Most people end up trying several different holsters before they figure out what’s right for them.

By far the most common type of holster at our events is a strong-side hip holster. Our shooters are fairly evenly split between inside the waistband (IWB) and outside the waistband (OWB) holsters. For those of you who are new to concealed carry, outside the waistband holsters carry the gun on the belt, just like an ordinary knife sheath or cellphone carrier. Inside the waistband holsters place the gun inside the waistband, between the pants and the body. Which is better depends heavily on personal preferences, what sort of clothing you usually wear, and body type. OWB holsters are harder to conceal, but many people feel they are more comfortable. IWB holsters are more concealable, particularly if you are carrying a long-barreled firearm, but they can be less comfortable and require pants about 2 inches larger than your normal size in the waist.

In addition to comfort and concealability, another important characteristic for a holster is the ability to reholster one-handed. If you need to manually spread the holster open to get the gun back in it, it is very likely that you’ll point the gun at your hand or fingers while reholstering. IWB holsters are the most problematic in this regard because they need to be stiff enough to avoid being squished shut by the belt when the gun is removed. This is a particular problem with cheap nylon holsters. Some leather holsters have this problem as well, but the better ones will generally have some sort of reinforcement around the mouth to keep them open when the gun is drawn. Pancake style OWB holsters without reinforced tops can suffer from the same problem. Thumb-break holsters can be difficult to reholster in because the straps can get in the way when reholstering (a particularly dangerous problem when combined with a gun that has no external manual safety such as a Glock). Unlike collapsing holsters, this can be overcome with practice, but a thumb-break isn’t really necessary on a concealed carry holster in any case.

The most popular holster materials are leather and kydex (a stiff, hard plastic). Some inexpensive holsters are made from nylon, but as noted above these are not recommended.

Holsters come in a wide range of cost and quality. At one end of the spectrum, mass produced plastic holsters can costs $20 or less. At the other end, high-end custom leather holsters can cost hundreds of dollars and waiting lists of up to a year. Aside from some beautiful high-end leatherwork (which are priced more on their aesthetics than their function) you usually get what you pay for. A $20 holster is generally going to be less effective, less comfortable, and less concealable than a $70 one. However, for the same level of quality, a kydex holster is generally cheaper than a leather one.

In addition to the general admonition about getting what you pay for, I would advice against buying cheap, “generic” holsters that are advertised as fitting “any compact pistol” or that claim to fit a long list of weapons from different manufacturers. Any decent holster, whether it’s made of leather or kydex, is going to be molded around a particular gun.

Women’s body types and fashions make it somewhat more difficult for them to carry and conceal a firearm effectively. Since this is one are where I’m not really qualified to give advice, I recommend that any women trying to figure out the best holster and carry method for them take a look at The Cornered Cat.

Many holsters intended for police use include some sort of manual retention device. These are intended to keep an assailant from grabbing the gun out of the holster. There are various forms of retention including thumb snaps, hoods that rotate over the rear of the gun, and buttons that have to be pushed to release the trigger guard. Such devices are appropriate for police officers who carry their guns out in the open and get into physical scuffles with suspects, but they are generally unnecessary for concealed carry. A good concealed carry holster will keep the gun in place by friction even when you engage in vigorous physical activity. There’s really no need for any additional retention.

If this all seems complicated, that’s because it is. Choosing a holster, especially your very first holster, is difficult. While I am a firm believer that a high quality holster is the best investment in concealed carry equipment you will ever make, the fact is that someone new to concealed carry probably doesn’t have enough experience carrying a gun to choose the holster that will fit them best right off the bat. To trot out a personal example, I bought by second holster before my CCW permit even arrived. Because of this, I’m going to recommend buying an inexpensive injection molded or kydex OWB holster from Fobus or Uncle Mike’s (note that Uncle Mike’s also makes nylon holsters and, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, these are not recommended). This will get you in the door for $20 or less. If your carry gun is a Glock, another option is the Glock Sport/Combat holster, which costs less than $15. I want to emphasize that a holster that costs under $20 probably isn’t going to be something that you’ll end up using over the long term. I am recommending these holsters solely to provide something basic and inexpensive you can use while considering what your next holster is going to be. In particular, please don’t decide that concealed carry is too uncomfortable, or that your gun is too big to conceal based on your experiences with one of these holsters. There are much better options out there once you know enough to make a bigger investment.

Once you have a basic holster, the best way to learn about your options is to come to one of our events and take a look at what other people are wearing. If you ask some of our more experienced folks about their holster they will probably be willing to talk your ear off about their gear.

Belt – Even the best holster can be uncomfortable, difficult to conceal, and even difficult to draw from if it’s not supported by a good belt. Dress belts are generally too thin to provide good support. A heavy duty work belt is better, but best of all is a purpose made gunbelt. A gunbelt will be stiffer and do a better job of supporting your holster and gun than a belt that’s just intended to hold your pants up.

While a purpose made gun belt is the best choice, new shooters may find it easier (and less expensive) to get a heavy 1.25” leather belt to get started with. This will work well enough for them to get your feet on the ground, and learn more about different belt options.

Magazine Carrier – The most common types of magazine carriers are open topped ones, where the magazine is held in place by friction, and ones with a flap covering the magazine. Open topped magazine carriers are generally faster and easier to deal with. Magazine carriers with top flaps are not recommended. Magazine carriers should be carried on your hip on the side opposite the pistol, with the bullets facing forward. This puts them in the easiest position to access for a fast, smooth reload. Magazine carriers that hold the magazines horizontally are more difficult to access and are not recommended either. Some holsters (usually cheap nylon ones) come with a built-in magazine pouch. These are difficult to reach and aren’t recommended. Fobus and Uncle Mike’s both make inexpensive injection molded or kydex magazine carriers (Uncle Mike’s also makes nylon magazine pouches with velcro flaps, these are not recommended).

Eye and Ear Protection – The best eye protection has good side coverage, so it’s difficult for a stray shell casing to get behind the glasses (hot brass stings!). Sunglasses are generally acceptable eye protection, but you may also want to bring a pair of clear shooting glasses in case it’s cloudy. If you wear prescription glasses, you can use them for eye protection instead.

Foam earplugs and noise reducing earmuffs both do a good job of protecting your hearing from the sound of gunfire. However, it is easier to lift an earmuff to talk to someone than it is to pull out an earplug. Best of all is electronic hearing protection. These are earmuffs with built in microphones and speakers that retransmit soft noises to your ears while blocking out loud noises, allow you to carry on a normal conversation without taking the earmuffs off. Electronic hearing protection is fairly expensive, costing from $65 to $175 dollars a pair. However, a great deal of what you learn at our events comes from interaction with the other participants. Being able to talk easily without getting deafened when someone in the other squad opens fire unexpectedly really helps in getting as much as possible out of the event. Keep in mind that you’ll be wearing your hearing protection for three or four hours straight, so it’s important for it to be comfortable as well as protecting your ears.

If you’d like more advice about equipment, feel free to contact us. In addition, you can visit the Warrior Talk and Defensive Carry forums. Both are excellent places for advice on guns and gear for self defense.

Non-Shooting Gear
In addition to the shooting related gear described above, there are some non-shooting related items that can make your experience more pleasant.

Foremost among these is appropriate clothing. Keep in mind that Hendrickson range is approximately 1000 feet higher than Salt Lake and it will be somewhat cooler there. Temperatures vary from the upper 80s during the summer to the low 20s in the winter. Low temperatures can continue surprisingly late in the year (we got snowed on in early May this year). The weather up at the range can also be quite different, raining up at the range while it’s clear down in the valley, for instance. Utah Polite Society events continue regardless of weather conditions. We shoot rain or shine.

During the winter, most of the range is covered with snow. Our scenarios and drills will generally involve walking on the snow, so a good pair of snow boots or waterproof hiking boots will make things more pleasant, as will a pair of warm socks.

Sunblock is recommended year-round. It may actually be most necessary during the winter, when reflected sun from the snow can cause intense sunburn in a short period of time.

Our events are generally over by noon or one o’clock, so lunch isn’t really necessary. However, some snacks and something to drink can be nice if your stomach starts rumbling mid-morning.

How Much is All This Going to Cost?
If you already have a firearm and magazines it is possible to put together everything you need for less than $100 (Fobus or Uncle Mike’s holster and magazine carrier, leather belt from WalMart, two boxes of inexpensive practice ammunition, inexpensive shooting glasses and earmuffs). If you want to go whole hog, the total can easily reach several hundred dollars. However, if you’re going to carry all the time and be shooting with us on a regular basis, I think many of these upgrades are worthwhile (a better holster and magazine carrier, purpose made gunbelt, and electronic hearing protection). If you’re uncertain about whether the Utah Polite Society is for you, buy some inexpensive gear to dip your toe in the water. Once you’ve shot with us a bit, you’ll very likely gain some new insight into what equipment will work best for you and decide to upgrade or just replace some or all of the gear you start out with.

Where to Buy on the Wasatch Front
Handgun and Magazines – Gallensons (166 E 200 South in Salt Lake City) and Impact Guns (4075 W 4715 South in Salt Lake City and 2710 S 1900 West in Ogden) have a good selection of defensive firearms and magazines.

Holsters and Magazine Carriers – Gallensons and Impact Guns both carry Fobus and Uncle Mike’s holsters and magazine carriers. More expensive kydex and leather holsters are rarely seen in retail stores; these are specialty items most commonly found online.

Belt – A heavy 1.25” leather belt from WalMart, Target, or similar stores is enough to get you started. Purpose made gun belts are another specialty item seldom found in local retail stores, but there are a variety of manufacturers online.

Ammunition – Inexpensive practice ammunition is available locally from Gallensons, Impact Guns, Sportsman’s Warehouse, and WalMart.

Eye and Ear Protection – Available from Gallensons, Impact Guns, Sportsman’s Warehouse, and Cabelas (2502 W Grand Terrace Parkway in Lehi) (Cabelas generally has the best prices on electronic hearing protection). In lieu of shooting glasses, eye protection from Home Depot or Lowes also works well.

All of these items (except handguns) are easily available from various online stores as well. Local outlets tend to carry the types of holsters and shooting accessories that sell in the greatest numbers. Unfortunately, most of this is more appropriate for casual shooters or hunters, than it is for folks who choose to carry concealed handguns. Concealed carry gear is very much a niche market and doesn’t provide enough sales volume to make it profitable for local outlets to stock much of these kinds of items. Most of the better concealed-carry equipment just isn’t available locally. Over time you’ll learn that much of the gear you’ll need will have to be purchased from Internet sources. Many of the folks who have shot with us for any length of time have purchased gear from Internet sites that specialize in this sort of thing, and can direct you to the more reputable vendors.


  • Handgun
  • Magazines
  • Holster
  • Belt
  • Magazine Carrier
  • Ammunition
  • Eye and Ear Protection

1 comment:

Dan Hood said...

Sunny outlook on life!


Utah's Personal Protection Laboratory