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In the world of carrying a handgun, everything is subject to change. One of the few fundamentals that remain constant over time is the concept of carrying your gun on your strong hand side so that it can be drawn with your (wait for it) strong hand. Well, that is of course, unless you use a cross draw.


So put yourself in a time machine and let us go back to the 1850s. Revolvers were new-fangled items but those sold in a caliber large enough to do damage were huge. For instance, the 1851 Colt Navy, a .36-caliber cap and ball six-shooter, weighed 42-ounces and was 13-inches overall-- and it was not the longest revolver on the market by any means. For comparison, a full-sized K-frame Smith and Wesson 38 of today comes in at 30 ounces and 9 inches overall.

With such beefy and out-sized revolvers, if you wanted to carry one of these so called new 'belt pistols' on your person the best way was in a cross draw fashion in which the holster was mounted on the offhand side (e.g. left side if right handed) with the butt forward so that it could be drawn across the midsection with the strong hand. These guns were simply too long to pull out of a holster located on the belt directly under the strong hand, especially if mounted on a horse.


A Union Army horse solder with a rare Hall Carbine in its strap as well as his saber and a Colt cap and ball revolver stuffed cross-ways in his belt. Though they typically used holsters, you get the idea. Image from Library of Congress.

The cross draw was standard until shorter cartridge revolvers like the Colt Peacemaker came on the scene in the 1870s. Still, for huge long barreled revolvers such as the S&W Model 29 and the Colt Python, the cross draw remained in use with law enforcement officers as late as the early 1980s for the same reasons as in the Civil War-- it was just more practical.

Policewoman Florence Coberly preparing for undercover work luring rapists in Los Angeles. Note her 38 carried in a cross draw holster.

Female officers for generations were instructed to carry in this method as it assisted in retention as it forces the butt of the gun into the body and it was thought the female body shape (hips) worked against drawing from the strong side.

Black-and-white Film noir Monochrome Sitting Photography

Although as witnessed by this image of Policeman Randy Kennan (actor Ted de Corsia) carrying a Colt Commando revolver in the 1956 film The Killing, cross draw was popular with LE for generations.

Don't knock the fact that it's an actor in this image, De Corsia, who played gangsters and criminals in dozens of films and TV programs, was also for several years an LA County reserve deputy. Street officers of the time often wore a "Santa Claus belt" with just a 38, cuffs, and wooden baton.

In Europe, the cross draw was standard for generations. Here, a police officer comforts a crying boy who got hit by a car when he skateboarded over a street in central Malm, Sweden 1986, Inside the clamshell, leather holster located on his offhand side is a Lahti pistol

French Montfort Commando-marine Mose Saillant with a FM 24/29 LMG, in Ha Long Bay, circa 1950 note the crossdraw MAB pistol.

Problems of the technique

Today the cross draw is rare in both law enforcement and in personal defensive carry. The largest segment of the population that uses this technique is the cowboy-action hobbyists and Civil War reenactors who carry reproductions of the same guns that pioneered its use to begin with.

Probably the worst thing for concealed cross draw carriers is the fact that almost any technique where you draw your handgun is going to require two-hands: one to pull away the jacket or coat and one for the weapon. Bigger guys and girls with a good-sized belly will have issues reaching across unless the gun is carried more in the 11 or 1 o'clock positions.

Shoulder holsters by definition, are cross draw, but like the 1970s and the era of the six-inch S&W service revolver for law enforcement, their time has peaked. There are only so many carry options for shoulder rigs (sports coats, roomy rain jackets etc.) that don't print excessively unless you go with a small frame gun.

Upsides of the cross draw

Now don't get me wrong, there are those who prefer the cross draw and carry as such every day. If you are in a seated position, in either an office chair or automobile, the cross draw is a near ideal method of carry as it puts the butt-forward and within easy reach while seated. Remember this is why the old horse soldiers carried their Colts and Remingtons cross draw fashion in the first place.

While many standard holsters can simply be rotated around to the offhand side for crossdraw carry, a number are specifically made to take into the change in cant to place the grips flat against the body and within quick ergonomic reach. This has the bonus of allowing a draw from the offhand, which is usually not the case if carrying strong-hand only.

For those with limited strong-hand side mobility, cross draw can be a lifesaver. For instance, I know of a long-serving detective who had a spiral fracture of the distal humerus (which is actually even worse than it sounds!) who has a loss in his range of motion to the rear that physical therapy didn't correct, thus limiting his strong-hand draw. His solution? Cross draw and it works fine for him. He can draw and present, getting rounds on target in under 2-seconds when qualifying and his scores are just fine.

Waist Abdomen Arm Shoulder Hip

Using it with a belly band style holster

Handgun holster Belt Gun accessory Brown Buckle

A Wright Leatherworks Regulator Cross Draw Holster. If you shop around, there are plenty of modern options.

Bottom line, in most circumstances, cross draw is dangerous, easily accessed by an aggressor, and hard to present from. However, in certain conditions, with certain users (especially if you spend a lot of time in a car), and with certain guns, it works great-- but has to be practiced religiously to build up muscle memory.

With proper training and a good bit of sweat equity put into practicing your draw stroke to where you minimize muzzle flash, the cross draw can be fast and efficient.

Even for a 175-year old technique.

Officer Jim Ritter uses a fully restored 1970 Plymouth Satellite police cruiser as his everyday cruiser. And the vehicle is attracting attention on the streets of Seattle. He also wears the 1970s Seattle PD uniform complete with service bars and a crossdraw S&W.

If you have any experience, good or bad to share with the cross draw, drop it below.

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I can't imagine any other carry technique that would be better than a cross-draw. I carry at 5 o'clock with a right handed IWB holster. It's probably the best conceal method for not printing, AND still be able to access your handgun faster than other methods. Most people are sitting these days, and in a car with a shoulder belt would be common. Even in this very common situation, you're able to get to you handgun fast, and without the effort needed of other carry methods (not counting a shoulder rig). Common these days are also t-shirts. That eliminates shoulder rigs! So what's left? Pocket carry, wallet carry, small of back, strong side? Nothing will work as well as a cross draw, or appendix carry. The old folks knew the deal. Us modern folks are always wanting to change something and try to prove it's better. But it's not. It's very much much like the latest debate that 9MM is as good, ballistically, as a 45 ACP or 10mm. BS to all you "experts." As for carrying concealed, please don't show me that your strong side carry with a fancy holster doesn't print. The first time you bend over a bit, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Too funny.

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I discovered crossdraw and shoulder holsters early on, thanks to advice from my elders. Now that I AM an elder, they are still in my carry rotation. As for the "arc" that flags innocent bystanders...well, learn to keep yer boogerhook off the bang switch until you are on target. Simple, no? A crossdraw rig can be as simple as the old shoestring holster (a shoestring or piece of cord knotted into five loops) or a really well designed piece of the holstermaker's art. With shoulder holsters, however, you really do get what you pay for. Don't scrimp. There's a lot of junk out there. Oh, BTW, that photo of the Civil War soldier is a reversed image. Look at his belt buckle. Standard practice was (for a right hander) to wear the sword on the left, where the right (strong) hand could swing it and to have the revolver set up for either a crossdraw with the weak hand or a twist draw with the strong hand. (Talk about flagging yourself!) Cheers! Splice

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Splicenut is absolutely right on the CW image. Particularly cavalry troopers, who were trained with sabers, pistols, and carbines, had to learn to not only handle their weapons, but a spirited horse, simultaneously. The thinking was exactly as stated. The saber was always in the strong hand - the reins and the pistol in the weak hand. I far prefer a crossdraw for several reasons; reaching up and back with the strong hand is somewhat awkward for many of us and immediately flags your intention. A cross draw can be much more natural and can be accomplished in a very natural motion if practiced. If you are wearing a jacket or long sleeved shirt (preferably untucked), you simply leave the outer garment unzipped or unbuttoned. It is quite easy to reach across under the garment to draw without retracting your outer garment. It allows you to effectively carry a somewhat longer-barreled pistol. Those that are open-minded enough to give it a try will be amazed at the difference.

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I always cross draw. No matter how you conceal carry you almost always have to use your off hand to sweep the concealing garment off your weapon. Which means a reach across your front with your off hand and a lift of the garment. This for me feels unnatural and awkward. I believe it is a dead giveaway as to the intention to reveal my weapon. In addition I have extensive nerve damage in my off (left) hand making the probability of me not being able to expose my weapon quickly and efficiently for a right side dominant draw very high . In a cross draw scenario I almost don't need my left hand. I can eather reach under a untucked shirt or through a partially unbuttoned shirt to reach my weapon ( it works the same with a shirt or jacket/coat). All this leaves my left hand/arm relatively free to fend off an attacker while I am reaching for my firearm. Note: This method of Carry and defense also works well for a knife as while you are drawing the knife, if your attacker is within arms length as you're coming across his front you can slash with the knife in one drawing motion
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