Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Ankle Holster: Convenient but possibly deadly

My first experience with an ankle holster was the 1971 Academy Award-winning movie The French Connection. I was in high school at the time and hadn’t even thought about a law enforcement career. My life’s total focus was two things: girls and sports, in that order. I saw the movie at the drive-in and was immediately taken by the concept of strapping a gun to one’s leg. It was so cool looking!

When I graduated from the police academy, one of the first things I did was buy a snubby revolver and an ankle holster. Carrying the gun was easy because of the pants style of the time (large bell-bottom trousers). I fantasized about confronting armed robbers and being able to swiftly draw my gun from my leg while saving every damsel in distress (most young male cops do). But once it happened, I realized that relying on an ankle gun for primary carry was/is a huge mistake.

Like many young police officers trying to make ends meet, I took a number of off-duty security jobs. One was at a local hotel along the interstate at the southern end of my county. Known as an upscale location, the hotel in question had indoor and outdoor pools, a fine-dining restaurant and a nightclub that stayed open late. With the exception of a few vehicle break-ins, this business was considered a low-crime area.

The thought of not carrying a gun while working these off- duty jobs was out of the question. And let’s be honest, that’s why these businesses hire off-duty cops. But carrying a concealed weapon can be a hassle, especially because nothing ever happened at this hotel, so I succumbed to the siren song of the ankle holster and carried a Smith & Wesson Model 60 as my only carry gun. It was convenient and out of the way, and I didn’t have to wear a jacket. For a while, I carried a Bianchi Speed Strip in my front pants pocket so I’d have some spare ammo. As time went by, I even quit doing that. I’d fallen into a complete state of complacency, and it almost cost me my life.

One evening, I’d just reported for work and walked back to the office located behind the front desk to punch my time card. After doing do, I took off my glasses and was cleaning them as I walked around the corner to talk with the desk clerks. It was at that moment I noticed their hands in the air. I looked up into the muzzle of a .38 caliber revolver and noticed it had a cheap-looking Colt Python-like rib on the barrel. It’s interesting what you notice at the strangest times.

The robber told me to raise my hands, and it was at that moment, a certain clarity came over me. I was facing a gun with my hands in the air. Not only could I not see clearly, my hands were at the opposite end of my body from my holstered firearm. I couldn’t protect the hotel and its staff. I couldn’t even protect myself. I’ve never felt so helpless. I might die and there was nothing I could do about it.  Its interesting to note the circumstance in which your realize you are stupid!

Fortunately, the suspect decided not to shoot anyone, took the cash and fled out of the front door. I immediately went into super hero mode as I put my glasses on and went to leap over the counter to give pursuit. Unfortunately, my left foot became entangled in a wire brochure rack that was sitting on top of the front desk, and I slammed face first into the floor.

Not to be deterred in my heroic pursuit, I got up and ran to the same doors the suspect exited. This was a double door with a carpeted mat in between, and, as I opened the first set, I thought it wise to draw my gun. As I tried to both run and draw from my ankle rig, I slipped on the mat, going face down for the second time in less than a minute.

I finally cleared the Model 60 from the holster and exited the second set of doors, looking left and right but not seeing the suspect. I went to my right because it offered the quickest path out of my field of view. As I rounded the corner of the hotel I saw the suspect in the distance just as he fired a round in my direction. At that moment, I did the only thing that I could possibly do… I tried to crawl into a crack in the pavement! Finally realizing this wasn’t a good idea, I moved to a wall and tried to get my bearings. It might come as a surprise that the suspect made a successful getaway. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

My life changed that night. It wasn’t my finest hour, and I admit to a great deal of embarrassment regarding my preparation and performance. But as a professional trainer, if my mistakes can save a life, then a bit of embarrassment is a worthy price to pay. I became a training “junkie.” A never-again attitude enveloped me, and I never used an ankle holster for primary carry again. Only a “hand full of gun” would be mounted on my belt. Even when carrying a back-up gun, I leaned toward pocket holsters because they required less movement. I was fitted for contact lenses, and tried to minimize my wearing of glasses. Looking back now, it’s a humorous story but one that also changed my life. Don’t take your personal security for granted. Bad things happen to good people in nice places, and I had to make sure it never happened to me…or my family… again!

The model 60 was replaced with a 4" Smith & Wesson model 66 and once semi-autos were approved, a S&W 669 9 mm. I carried the gun in a belt-mounted speed-scabbard on my right hip, which I soon realized was the closet position to my shooting hand. I practiced drawing so I could get a solid hit on target in less than 2 seconds from concealment regard- less of the position I was in, and this included seated and laying on my back.

I still have a couple of snubby revolvers and a few ankle holsters, but they were long ago relegated to back-up gun carry only. While seated, the ankle gun can be accessed reasonably fast, but it will never be as quick as belt carry. Keep in mind trousers with enough space around the ankle are needed, meaning something like a boot cut jean or larger. Uniform trousers usually have enough room for ankle carry. There are several methods of ankle draw that work well, but the ankle holster will always require more movement and time than more conventional, standing upright carry modes.  Also, bending over or kneeling down takes your eyes off the threat and makes you less mobile.

If you choose to carry in an ankle holster, please understand the potential drawbacks and complications: It’s not as easy as it looks. Although they’re certainly convenient, they’re also slow and complicated to draw from. Think about your real world of work and the threats you are likely to face, and decide if the ankle holster is right for you or potentially life threatening. Keep in mind why you carry a gun and decide if it’s a fashion accessory or life-saving tool. This will be an important decision. If you choose to carry your primary weapon on your leg, practice, practice, practice. Nothing else will allow you to be an active participant in your own rescue.

Stay safe, and check your 360 often!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Dave, You have obviously been there done that. Sharing in a candid manner your less than glorious career highlights. Will some day save a life of a perceptive young officer.

    Thank You, Roc

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  4. A good holster is one which is comfortable on wear, easy to drag out the weapon and concealable. I would also say, that the holster should be durable too. Thanks for this informative article.

    Best Regards,
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  6. I remember when I was on the cop job as a young rookie getting involved in a foot pursuit. Of course I had a snubby .38 on my ankle, too. Well guess what? It bounced right out of my holster! After about 10 minutes of hyperventilating and seeing my career end before my very eyes, I was lucky enough to have found it along with help from another officer. That was the last time I ever used an ankle holster again. Shortly thereafter, I too became a convert to a pocket holster on my reactive, or otherwise known as off-side. This worked out for me for a number of years. My .38 was not only accessible, but just as importantly safe & concealable with just a very short reach.

  7. I would normally pocket carry or IWB & have a Bodyguard 380 in an ankle holster. One weekend I was working on my car & took it out to the middle of nowhere for a test drive. All of a sudden a big biker dude appears in my rear view mirror, then passes me & cuts me off. He jumps off his bike & runs over to my open drivers window. This day, I was pocket carrying & had my ankle holster on. I knew I couldn't get to my pocket gun & get it out in time, so I went straight for my ankle holster. I go to pull up my pant leg & couldn't get it to clear the holster! The pants were too tight! I managed to get my Bodyguard out right as he stuck his face in my window! Then he said, "Man am I glad I saw you! I went for a ride & I am totally lost! Can you help me get to a main road?" I told him sure, follow me. I learned a valuable lesson. While I had trained repeatedly with my ankle holster, I had never tried in my car & had never practiced with those pants! I now practice with every pair of pants I have & almost always IWB carry now.