Everybody knows about ’em, everybody talks about ’em, but hardly nobody carries ’em. Those who do are mostly old guys. Old guys like Clint Smith, whose YouTube video on ankle revolvers is short and sweet and straight to the point: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=Ym7DpuFmLy4 . Or old guys like Massad Ayoob, who I noticed was carrying a J-frame revolver on his ankle at the very first class I took from him in Indiana in 1998. Or old guys like me, who have found that ankle carry is a good option for a variety of carry conditions.
The advantages of an ankle gun are significant, as the video points out. The cop literature is full of anecdotes of coppers who have used an ankle gun when they got into a ground grapple, and in other awkward circumstances. I’ve carried my BUG (backup gun) in a variety of locations over the years: front pocket, cargo pocket, bellyband, and other locations, but the carry location I keep coming back to is the ankle. For comfortable long-term wear and for deep concealment purposes, an ankle rig is about as good as you can get. And for some folks, ankle carry is about the only way they can carry a firearm on a regular basis due to workplace considerations. For instance, an electrician or carpenter who wears a bulky tool belt will not be able to carry his daily CCW piece on his pants belt; ankle carry can be ideal for this person.
First thing you need to do after watching Clint’s video referenced above, is select an appropriate firearm for ankle carry. People who have never tried ankle carry sometimes have the most bizarre ideas of what will work. This issue was recently brought to my attention by a re-post of the Clint Smith ankle gun video on a Firearms page I follow in Facebook.
As is usually the case on social media, the first couple-three replies were on point, then people started posting pics of their personal favorite handguns with no regard as the practicality of the matter–one guy posted a pic of a 4″ Model 29, for cripes snakes… seriously, dude?–and in no time the discussion devolved into a Glocks vs Revolvers debate, of course. Hay-ZEUS!!!
Anyways. Firearm selection. First, it has to be reliable, like any carry firearm. Second, it has to be light, because it’s gonna be riding on your ankle, and no matter how much you work out you’re gonna notice the imbalance induced by a heavy gun carried on one ankle only. Third, it has to be small or it will not be concealable. Fourth, and I admit this is not really a firearm issue, it has to be carried in a quality ankle holster that actually works. We’ll get to this fourth item later.
So, what about reliability? This is extra-important for ankle guns, because they tend to get really dirty, and they do it fast. After all, your feet are in the dirt, mud, cowshit, and other nastiness every day. So a gun that is finicky about being clean is not a great choice here. Tightly-fitted autos would fall into this category. Some autoloaders seem to be more impervious to muck, but in general I think revolvers are a bit better in this respect. YMMV, but if you do carry a semi-auto on your ankle, you’ll want to clean it and lubricate it frequently. How frequently? I dunno. I can only tell you that I field-strip and lube my Kahr PM9 ankle gun every couple of weeks when I’m working indoors, and if I’m going outdoors with it, I inspect it daily and clean it every 2-3 days or more, depending on how messy it’s got. And of course it gets cleaned and lubed after every range session. Revolvers seem to need less maintenance… a good wipe-down with an oiled cloth cleans them up.
In the main, revolvers tend to be solid performers even when a bit grungy, so I tend to lean in that direction. This may be a serious consideration in the event you have to shoot someone at contact or near-contact distance. Blowback of blood and tissue fragments from a GSW of this type can be significant, and all of that debris can jam your autoloader’s slide in the frame rails, rendering your autoloader useless. Revolvers work very well even with muzzle contact, as there is no reciprocating slide to get gummed up. Just keep pulling the trigger, and more bullets will happily show up at the usual muzzle velocity. (Clint’s comment about the amplification of effect of contact GSW’s is spot-on, BTW… basically, you inject the high-pressure gases from your muzzle into the wound, which can greatly amplify the amount of permanent tissue damage of the GSW.) The limited capacity of a J-frame revolver may give you pause, in which case it may make sense to you to carry an autoloader with 6 or 7 rounds in it. The choice is yours, but be aware of the pros and cons of both options.
Second factor: weight. You want your ankle gun to be light, because an ankle gun puts your body mechanics out of balance. You will find you have to change the way you stand, the way you walk, the way you cross your legs when you sit, the way you run. Now, those changes will become almost unnoticeable if the gun is light, but as you add weight this can become a serious problem. Example: a S&W Model 442 Centennial aluminum revolver (loaded) in my ankle holster weighs 25 ounces, but a similarly sized Model 640 revolver in the same holster weighs 35 ounces. Do you think that extra 2/3 of a pound makes a difference? Well, I didn’t think it would until I carried the heavier M640 around for a few weeks and developed Achilles tendonitis in that ankle! Not good! After my doc treated me for the tendonitis, I went back to carrying the lighter M442 and its equally light autoloading compadred, the Kahr PM(, and have had no Achilles problems since.
I know a couple of cops who have chosen a “baby” Glock for their ankle gun, reasoning that having a 9mm or 40 S&W gun that they can use their primary pistols’ magazines in makes a lot of sense. I agree with them. However, at least two of the guys I know who have made this decision found they needed to put a magazine holder on the opposite ankle to balance things out for patrol duty. They particularly noted they were clumsier when running with the gun on one ankle alone, but this seemed to improve with a couple of magazines on the other ankle to even things out. I haven’t tried it, so I can’t comment one way or another, but balancing your ankle weights makes intuitive sense to me.
Third factor: size. Small is good for ankle carry, and smaller is better. The primary reason is that you have to pull up your pants cuff to access the gun, and you want this operation to be as smooth as possible. So a small gun with smooth grips worn under loose trousers make the most sense here. Skinny jeans have no place, obviously (not that they ever do, IMHO!). Now, for T&E purposes I have tried carrying a larger gun on my ankle… as it happens a S&W Model 65 3″ K-frame. I found I had problems with the extra weight (42 ounces, loaded), but the real problem was pulling my pants leg up to access the gun due to the larger size of the K-frame compared with the J-frame. Likewise, I tried a friend’s Glock 26 in his ankle holster for a few days, but found the weight of the rig (37 ounces) and its bulk was significantly more bothersome than my Kahr PM9 (22 ounces).
Size comparison: Smith & Wesson Model 640 (top), 65 (middle), and 442 (bottom). The M442 with CTC Lasergrips weighs 25 ounces in an Alessi ankle holster fully loaded, compared to 35 ounces for the M640, and 42 ounces for the M65.
As Clint Smith commented in his video clip, once you get used to the weight and bulk of your ankle gun, you won’t even notice it’s there. This may take a few hours to a few days, in my experience, but the lighter the gun, the sooner you will become comfortable with it.
The fourth factor to consider is the holster itself. I’ve personally tried half a dozen different ankle holsters, and have only been satisfied with two: the Alessi model, long considered the industry standard, and ComforTac. I’ve had my Alessi holster for almost 20 years; it was made for me personally by the late Lou Alessi, with whom I had become good friends on the internet and over the phone. Lou developed his holster for the most demanding customers there are, American cops. Mine has logged thousands of hours over the years, both in civilian use and on-duty use. The molded leather holster grips your gun very tightly without needing a hammer strap, something that I was initially leery of, but which I found was never a problem. You can run, jump, ride horses and bicycles, or any other activity you care to name, and your gun will stay put. I carry a S&W M442 Centennial Airweight in mine most often, which in my experience is the ideal ankle revolver. You can buy one or more of these excellent holsters from Alessi Holsters online. The ComforTac holster is the only non-leather ankle holster I’ve tried that works as advertised: the gun is held in an elastic pocket by the power of the elastic band and the security of a thumb-snap safety. Unlike most elastic holsters, this one actually keeps my gun firmly on my ankle quite comfortably, almost as comfortably as the Alessi model. I have carried a Kahr PM9 in this holster nearly every day for about 2 years, and I’m pleased to report that it works.
Ankle holsters work best when worn over top of a long sock. The sock helps pad the holster and keep it in place. But keep in mind that the rig will slide downward due to the tapered anatomy of the lower leg, until it hits something that will keep it from sliding further, which is typically the top of your boot or shoe. For this reason, I find wearing an ankle-high lace-up boot to be the best footwear choice. This not only puts the gun up a little higher inside your pants cuff, it keeps the holster off your ankle bones, which is a lot more comfortable. If you prefer to wear a low-cut shoe, you can improve your holster’s concealment and your wear comfort by putllng a second sock over top of the holster. A friend of mine who works as a paramedic does this, but he cuts the front of the foot portion off his oversock, so that it doesn’t make his shoe too tight. I’ve tried it, and it works, but I still prefer to wear an ankle-high boot most of the time with my ankle holsters. Also, if you wear cowboy boots or motorcycle boots, you can wear your ankle holster higher up on the calf inside the top of your boot.
Two ankle holsters that work.
Drawing your firearm from an ankle holster isn’t slick or pretty. I’ve tried a variety of methods, but they all come down to either a) bending over to get to the gun, or b) bringing the leg up to where you can get the gun. The bendover method works best for me: step back and out with the right (non-gun) leg, grab the trousers below the knee and rip upward, then draw the exposed handgun. Dropping onto the right knee as I bring the gun up allows rapid presentation of the gun to the threat, but taking the time to rise to a standard stance enhances your mobility options. Situational variables will dictate which presentation is best.
Since small guns tend to be harder to shoot well, I tend to practice with mine at every range session. I carry a spare magazine for the Kahr in a pocket on my left side, and a Speed Strip for my revolver in a right-side pocket. Practicing your reloads from these non-traditional spare ammo locations is a good idea. Also, spending the cash to get a Crimson Trace Laser grip for your hideout gun is a wise investment. I am comfortable with hitting the -0 zone of an IDPA target with my ankle guns’ open sights quite quickly out to 12 yards, but with a CTC laser I can extend that effective range well past 25 yards.
So, should you try ankle carry? I think it’s an option that every serious CCW person needs to consider. However, the costs involved in buying a dedicated ankle gun and holster might be daunting if not prohibitive for some folks. If that’s the case for you, it might be best to borrow an ankle rig from a friend, or perhaps two or three people can share the expense of a try-out rig that they can all test. But my guess is that every serious defensive firearms person should have this option for carry to fall back on when/if it is expedient or even mandatory for your personal safety.