Carrying a handgun like Dirty Harry Callahan - shoulder holster vs. belt holster?

The Dirty Harry Paradox

I’ve always been impressed with Dirty Harry Callahan. He runs, jumps and gets into fisticuffs, all the while packing that huge hand cannon. One thing I could never figure out, though, was why I kept coming up against problems carrying my gun that he just never did. Heck, I was even trying to pack around a much smaller gun. I still haven’t been able to figure out how Harry does it, but let me tell you about a few of the issues I have worked out solutions for. Maybe it will save you some time and disappointment down the road.

While my hero Harry uses a shoulder rig, I’ve never found one that I trusted in the real world. Thanks to stupid old reality I’ve always used belt holsters. I like these holsters because they’re fast, available and not that hard to hide. I’m from Montana and in Big Sky Country a guy has a great excuse for wearing a coat for about nine months of the year. Back when I first got my permit I would strap on my gun, don my heavy winter coat and walk around all day with my gun safely tucked away, but readily accessible. Sure, there were times when I might have gotten a little toasty and might have even looked a little strange, but I put up with it.

Over time I made small adjustments, like wearing a lighter coat if I knew I’d be indoors for a long period of time and more or less found ways to make it work. The problems always arose when I would find myself in a situation where I had to take my coat off.

What’s that? Why would a person ever end up in a situation where they have to take their coat off? This is a free country, right? Well, let me tell you: it happens more often than you might think. Years ago when I was a bail bondsman I was driving from the local jail back up to my office on a cold December night.

About halfway to the office I noticed a grey haired woman lying on the sidewalk. I pulled over and ran over to the gal. She informed me that she’d slipped on some ice, fallen and had injured something in her back. I called for an ambulance and would have let the old gal wait in my car but she didn’t seem to want to stand up and I didn’t want to pick her up because I had no idea how badly her back might be injured. To keep her warm I took off my coat and covered her with it. That was about the time a cop came cruising by and saw a guy with a gun hunched over an old lady lying on the sidewalk. Isn’t it funny how things look different from other perspectives?

After being ordered to put my hands in the air and back away from the woman I was able to explain things to the nice officer’s satisfaction. The point is that if you’re going to cover your gun with something you have to make sure that you’re not going to have to remove that garment later on. I’m not saying it happens often, but it pays to plan ahead.

Maybe the most impressive thing about Dirty Harry is that he never has to use a public restroom.

That’s one tough dude. Belt holsters are definitely the way to go, but they do have one failing: they don’t work that well when your belt is undone. When using a public restroom you are often faced with the choice of either setting your gun on the floor or trying to hold onto it with one hand.

Neither of these options has ever really suited me. I’m not exactly a germ freak but I would prefer to never set anything on the floor of a public restroom and holding the gun in one hand requires more agility than I’m really capable of most days.

If you’re not in a stall you may have the option of setting the gun on something like a sink or toilet paper dispenser, but these tend to be slippery and have curved surfaces that aren’t really conducive to holding a gun. They also open you up to committing the worst mistake a CWP holder can make which is leaving your gun somewhere.

I know it might seem impossible, but given enough chances you might be surprised what kind of mistakes you can make.

A local member of law enforcement in my home town recently left his loaded 40 caliber Glock in a restaurant restroom. It was found by a little girl; thank God she was a properly raised Montana girl who told one of the waitresses that there was a gun in the bathroom. The waitress, another fine Montana girl, retrieved the gun and returned it to the red-faced cop later that day. Obviously, this story could have had an ending that wasn’t nearly so humorous.

To avoid problems like this I’ve come up with a few tricks you may find helpful. For starters, I try to make it near impossible for me to leave my gun somewhere by making sure it’s hard to misplace. If I find myself in a public restroom and have to take my gun off I will hang my coat on the coat hook that most bathrooms have and put my gun in the coat. If I ever do forget the coat somewhere I’ll be reminded the instant I step outside into the weather that caused me to wear the coat to begin with.

An even better option is to keep the gun on you even if it can’t reside on your belt temporarily. I’ve found that any gun with a lanyard attachment can be hung around your neck for a little while with one of the cheap little cords that folks use to hold ID cards or sunglasses. If the gun lacks a lanyard attachment then you can unload the gun and run the cord through the trigger guard. This isn’t a great way to carry a gun but it’s more than fine for a short stop in the bathroom. Using this method you won’t leave the gun in the bathroom and it’s inconvenient enough to wear a gun as a necklace that you remember to put your gun back in the holster before leaving the restroom.

These days I tend to carry in an inside the waistband holster with an un-tucked shirt to cover the gun and a coat on top of that. This way I can be sure that my gun won’t be exposed while still being able to get to it quickly. I carry the aforementioned cord for situations that Hollywood writers prefer to ignore and do my best to be a rational and unnoticed CWP holder. No, it’s not like being Dirty Harry, but I get by pretty well anyway.

Take a look: Alien Gear Holsters for concealed carry


Bob Ryan  

About The Author


Bob Ryan is a native Montanan that has spent his life hunting, shooting and just generally being outdoors. When he’s not busy filling the freezer or playing with his nephew, he enjoys spending time at the range testing loads for his latest acquisitions. His wildcat, the .411 Ryan Express, has proven itself effective on big game throughout North America and Africa. He is currently working to harvest a big game animal with every caliber from .22 to .50 and is almost there, with only a few calibers remaining.