SIGHTING IN ON: Where Do You Carry Your Backup Gun?


The options have changed for your BUG.
By David Jones


Regardless of what type of firearm is selected as a BackUp Gun (BUG), the location and method in which it is carried is of primary importance. For maximum protection, it should be well concealed and carried in a secure manner. Ideally, it should be accessible with either hand due to the real possibility the officer has been injured during the initial confrontation that led to the need of the BUG. Also, the officer’s daily attire and job description must be taken into account (undercover narcotics officers have different requirements than motorcycle cops). Let’s examine a few hypothetical scenarios.

Hypothetical Backup Gun Scenarios

Example One: An officer assigned to a gang task force is following up a lead during an investigation. He is armed with a SIG SAUER 229 in a Galco FLETCH High Ride Belt holster carried on his left-hand side and a Smith & Wesson 642 (38 special) as a backup in a Galco Ankle Glove holster. While attempting to make contact with a witness, he is inadvertently attacked by a very aggressive K9. During the surprise attack, he is bitten in the arm and fumbles his SIG 229 during the draw. The severely wounded officer luckily is able to retreat to a nearby fenced-in yard where he is able to jump the fence to escape further dog bites. The detective learned the hard way it is near impossible to draw a backup gun from an ankle holster while running from a Pit Bull.

Example Two: A patrol officer is responding to an alarm call late at night and is the first to arrive on scene. She is armed with a Smith & Wesson M&P carried in a Safariland 6004 retention holster on the right side of her duty belt and a Smith & Wesson Shield as her backup gun carried in a DeSantis Nemesis pocket holster located in her right pant’s cargo pocket. As she is conducting a walk-around of the building, she is ambushed by a suspect who was hiding in a concealed location. The blitz attack takes her to the ground and she violently fights the much larger attacker as he tries to pull her duty weapon from its holster. As the officer fights to maintain control of her duty weapon, she wishes her backup gun was kept in a location that was accessible to her non-gun hand.

Example Three: A police school liaison officer is in the parking lot of the school during a football game and observes the ex-husband of one of the teachers. The officer knows from previous contact there is a restraining order and the ex-husband has a violent history. The officer is armed with a Glock 22 carried in a Blackhawk Serpa holster and his backup gun is a Ruger LCP 380 carried in his right front pants pocket in a Galco pocket holster. As the officer approaches the suspect, the suspect immediately recognizes the school cop who dealt with him the last time. Believing the officer somehow knows about the serious crime he committed moments earlier and intends to arrest him for it, the suspect draws a concealed pistol and immediately opens fire. The officer reacts, but as he starts to present his Glock, one of the suspect’s rounds hits him in the wrist, shattering both of the bones in his right forearm, causing him to drop his weapon. The wounded officer quickly takes cover by crouching behind the nearest car in the parking lot. It is only at this point the officer realizes he cannot draw his backup gun from a pocket holster while in the crouching position. Even if he could, he would not be able to do so with his non-gun hand. The officer wishes he would have carried his BUG in a location that was accessible from a crouched position and either hand.

Although these scenarios are hypothetical, they highlight how placement of a backup weapon can have significant consequences during emergency situations. That said, any time you need a backup weapon, it is very likely to be an emergency situation. If you are transitioning to your BUG, there is a good chance you have already been hit by enemy fire, been injured in a physical confrontation, or are unable to access your primary weapon due to the odd position you landed in as you dove for cover during the initial barrage of gunfire (pinned down behind a small object on top of your holster). You may be bleeding, sweating and breathing very heavily. Carrying your BUG in a well thought-out location given your daily attire and type of duty may one day save your life and the life of your partners.

Common Carry Locations

Since the use of concealable body armor became commonplace in the 1980s, many officers have carried backup guns in holsters affixed to their vests. This has generally been a preferred method by many officers as it is accessible by either hand and it is more secure while running or ground fighting than ankle carry. Several holster manufacturers make holsters that fasten to the vest straps, which carry the weapon in the same location as a concealed shoulder holster system. Other officers will simply carry the backup gun in a pocket holster and slide the gun (in a holster) into the vest carrier’s external plate pouch. Many popular uniform vendors have designed shirts with zippers to allow access for this method of carry.

A new trend in law enforcement, the body-worn camera, is a significant drawback to this method of carry. As most officers wear the body camera on their uniform shirt, when the shirt is expediently ripped open during an emergency situation to draw the BUG, critical video evidence may be lost as the camera is pointing in another direction. Many will say that is a small price to pay during a life-or-death situation, but that piece of evidence may later be used to exonerate the officer in a wrongful death lawsuit or more importantly, aid investigators in apprehending the man who killed him.

Ankle carry has been a longtime favorite of some older officers and with more departments adopting body-worn camera systems, some younger officers will likely switch to it from vest carry. There are many excellent ankle holsters on the market today that keep the weapon secure yet accessible. The ankle holster can be accessed from either hand and excels from the seated position (patrol car). As stated earlier, one drawback to an ankle holster is it is nearly impossible to draw from while running. Environmental issues can also be a factor for ankle carry as some officers work in muddy or swampy areas. Uniform considerations can affect ankle carry as some officers wear tall boots (motorcycle officers, horse patrol, etc.). Plainclothes officers may inadvertently expose their weapon when they cross their legs while seated.

With the recent development of micro 380s and other extremely small pistols over the past several years, pocket carry has become increasingly popular. Pocket carry has long been a method of carry for backup guns, especially in colder climates where officers would carry shrouded hammer revolvers in their winter coat pocket so they could discreetly be prepared for threats with their hands still concealed in their pockets for warmth. Micro .380s like the Ruger LCP and the S&W Bodyguard can be concealed in shirt or outer vest breast pockets, if the officer’s shirt size is a large or bigger.

Today, there are many great pocket holsters for small semi-autos and hammerless revolvers. A BUG designed for pocket carry should be hammerless and free of any spurs or sharp edges that may catch on clothing. A pocket holster is essential to cover the trigger guard, disguise the shape of the pistol, and position the firearm for a consistent draw. A winter-coat pocket holster can work well for officers whose outer jacket precludes the fast access of a body armor holster.

Cargo-pants pocket carry is very popular for officers whose departments allow the wear of such pants. For detectives or command staff, a small revolver or pistol can ride in the front-pant pocket holster. This would allow a plainclothed officer to conceal a weapon without having to wear a cover garment (other than ankle or deeper concealment options). A drawback of a pocket holster is it may be difficult to draw from the non-shooting hand depending in which pocket it is stored. It is also very difficult to draw from the front pants pocket while seated or in the crouching position.

One of the more interesting methods of BUG carry is the byproduct of the evolution of a different piece of law enforcement gear. The introduction of the external body-armor vest carrier that is fast becoming popular in many law enforcement circles was designed to solve other dilemmas. In addition to other intended uses, many external vest carriers allow officers to carry additional items on the carrier rather than on the duty belt. Some officers carry a backup gun in a fast, accessible yet secure and concealable pouch located on the external carrier or in a holster sewn into the carrier’s underside. A benefit of this method of carry is it is accessible by either hand, it is more secure than an ankle holster while running and ground fighting, and it should not interfere with the operation of a body-worn camera system (which can also be mounted on the external vest).

In addition to the above methods of carrying a backup gun, there are also some non-traditional methods. One such method is the popular line of concealment clothing produced by 5.11 Tactical. They offer a unique line of clothing that is capable of concealing a compact pistol. They have undershirts with a pocket holster sewn under the arms, which are great for wearing under uniforms, business suits or any undercover style of clothing. They also sell relaxed-looking button-down shirts with hidden, reinforced pockets designed for weapon concealment. In addition to the 5.11 line, there are many other brands of concealment devices from belly band holsters to underwear holsters.

No Single Solution So Choose Wisely

Just as there is no single best patrol vehicle, no best duty weapon, and no best caliber weapon for all law enforcement, there is also no best location to carry a backup gun. Just as the previous are dependent on numerous factors, so is the location in which an officer carries a backup weapon. The location is dependent on many factors to include uniform selection of the officer and his/her agency (flight suits, shorts, cold weather gear, etc.) or lack of uniform (detectives, undercover personnel and Federal agents), the use of specialized equipment (body-worn cameras, motorcycle boots, bomb-disposal suit, HAZMAT garment, weather-related gear, etc.), fitness level of the officer, and primary daily duties (horse patrol, SWAT, management, police school liaison, prisoner transport, etc.). You must find the location that works best for your current position in your agency; obtain a holster system that provides concealment and security, and then train-train-train!  PM

David Jones is a retired Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI). Since retiring, he has worked as a municipal police officer and is currently the Criminal Justice Program Chair at a university. He can be reached at


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