classic handguns for concealed carry

Classic Handguns That You Can Carry Everyday

There are a whole bunch of classic handguns out there that are beloved by collectors and shooting enthusiasts, but a lot of them are primarily good for the safe or maybe - maybe - nightstand duty. Not every handgun is necessarily good for concealed carry.

Except that some really are.

In fact, there are a number of classic handguns that are well-suited to concealed carry (or at least can be concealed and carried with relative ease compared to some other pistols) and some of which are actually still popular carry guns. Here are 7 examples of classic guns that make for great carry pistols.

Smith and Wesson Model 39

smith and wesson concealed carry

Smith and Wesson's Model 39 was their first successful semi-automatic pistol, finding adoption among law enforcement and civilian shooters throughout its production run. The Model 39 was partially based on the Walther P38, in that it was a single-stack double-single action pistol in 9mm, with a slide-mounted decocking safety. The 39 is a true medium pistol, with a 4-inch barrel and an overall length of 7.55 inches and a manageable width. Unloaded weight is 28 ounces, so quite moderate.

Lighter than the service revolvers of the era and with greater capacity, it was the Goldilocks gun of the day for sure...but with some teething problems. Models made before 1971 (the Model 39-2 series) didn't feed hollowpoints well, but the 39-2 series was modified for greater reliability and was equipped with a redesigned feed ramp. Look for those models.

The 39 stopped production in 1982. If you can't stomach the idea of a gun of that age, look for Models 439, 539, 639, 3904 and 3906. These models were the exact same gun as the Model 39, but with the refinements common to the second and third generations of S&W's semi-autos. The last of them (the four-digit models) were produced into the early 2000s.

Browning Hi Power

browning concealed carry

The first of the Wonder Nines, the Browning Hi-Power was the first double-stack semi-auto. The double-stack magazine was actually invented for the "BHP," and given it's virtues, the Hi-Power was an instant success and has remained a classic handgun for good reason.

It was John M. Browning's last gun, even though it had to be finished after his death. Fans of the 1911 will be right at home; it's a single-action gun with a manual safety for carrying cocked and locked. Dimensionally, it's a little smaller than the Government frame 1911, with a shorter barrel (4.62 inches vs. 5) and a little lighter, at 32 ounces…about on par with most Sig Sauer pistols.

Granted, it's a full-size pistol - 7.75 inches long, 5 inches tall, 1.4 inches wide - so carrying requires a good holster and a good gun belt. That said, for those that can put up with carrying a bigger's a good choice among the classics.

However, there are a few hitches. Not everyone likes the magazine disconnect safety. Some shooters find the hammer bites with the relatively short beavertail on the grip. Older models do not feed hollowpoints well, so vintage examples may need a replacement barrel that will. They're also a bit expensive. However, it's a service pistol with pedigree (more than 50 countries and countless police officers served) than can be relied on.

Colt Cobra And/Or Detective Special

colt concealed carry

Colt and S&W were the primary suppliers of police sidearms to uniformed officers in the United States for most of the 20th Century. Plenty of models from each are considered among the finest of classic handguns for good reason. The Detective Special and Cobra were the snubbies of Colt's lineup, complementing the Police Positive and later the Python as backup guns or as a concealed carry gun for plainclothes and off-duty officers.

The default round was .38 Special, but unlike Smith's snubbies the Colts carried 6.

The Detective Special was in production until 1995, so relatively newer examples can be had. Provided good care (Colt's lockwork is known to be delicate, so they can't get a steady diet of the hot stuff) they last a lifetime, so a used model is certainly a reliable carry gun. You can pick one up for a bit less than a new snubby. Colt has resumed making the Cobra, though only in stainless.

Conjure every benefit (but also drawback) of a snubnose revolver and it applies. You'd be hard-pressed to do better in a classic snubbie.

Walther PPK and PPK/S

walther ppk

The Walther "Polizeipistole" or PP was released in 1929 as a police pistol, followed up by PPK, or "Polizeipistole Kurz" (meaning short police pistol) the following year as a smaller model for easier concealment by plainclothes officers. In that role and as a civilian carry gun, the PPK proved itself a reliable back-up gun or CCW pistol.

It's a slim single-stack double-action pistol, with a slide-mounted decocking safety that allows the user to carry on safe or in double-action mode. It holds 6+1 or 7+1 (depending on model) of .380 Auto or 9+1/10+1 of .22 LR. There are .32 ACP models available as well, though that chambering isn't as popular as it used to be so not too many get sold these days.

There are some drawbacks, though.

It's a pocket gun, so you better be okay with slide bite. Some find the trigger a tad heavy and since it's a subcompact, it's best work is done up close and personal. They're also a bit on the expensive side ($600 isn't unheard of) for a mouse gun, which is what induces a number of people to buy a Bersa Thunder instead since it's darn near the same gun. That said, the PPK is a classic for good reason.

The 1911

Of full-size pistols, one of the most popular for concealed carry is the 1911. It doesn't make sense from a certain perspective. It's big; the Government frame has a 5-inch barrel and is 8 inches long. It's heavy; many models weigh upward of 40 ounces unloaded. It doesn't hold too many, as capacity is 7+1 or 8+1 of .45 ACP depending on your magazine. Really good examples are expensive, costing upward of $1000 or more.

Why do so many people like it?

The frame is slim, at about 0.9 inches in most cases, which makes it easy to conceal for such a big gun. They take some care, but with a bit of regular attention they run like clockwork. The ergonomics are incredibly comfortable and with a relatively low bore axis, 1911 pistols point naturally and don't recoil too harshly despite shooting a big, heavy round. The weight also soaks up some of said recoil, meaning the end result is a big gun that is easy to shoot.

You get a big-bore that's easy to handle and conceal despite the size, though you need a stout gun belt. You also don't really need to drop top dollar on one; you'd be surprised how good a budget import gun becomes with some high-quality magazines and a spring kit.

S&W J-Frame

s&w concealed carry

The classic snubbies from Colt were previously mentioned, but then there's the J-frame. The J-frame (and the Colt snubbies) were basically THE concealed carry guns for a long time. The J-frame carried one fewer round than the Colts (5 of .38 Special) but are slightly sleeker, fitting a little more easily in a pocket though not really by all that much.

The J-frame is available in a ridiculous number of iterations. A wealth of options exist in frame material, sights, and other features. DAO models, shrouded hammers, other chamberings (.357 Magnum, .22 LR and .22 WMR are also available) and even lasers. Really, you just need to figure out what you want and what you're willing to spend.

A lot of people still carry J-frames either as backup guns or as primary CCW pistols. There's good reason; they're simple, reliable and with good carry ammunition, effective at close range. Just don't expect long-range wonders and be okay with only carrying five rounds.


The Makarov pistol was the sidearm of the Soviet Union for half of the 20th century. The operating system is basically copied from the Walther PPK, as is the manual of arms, and it even kind of looks like one. In fact, a good number of them were made for the same chambering, .380 ACP. A great many were made for 9x18mm Makarov, which essentially splits the difference between the 9x19mm Luger (common 9mm) and .380.

The upside? They're usually pretty inexpensive, and fairly common as thousands and thousands of them were imported as military surplus pistols. Some versions, usually depending on the country of manufacture as some were made in Mother Russia, others in Bulgaria and some in East Germany, go for a bit more money than others, but an example can usually be had for not too much.

The downside? A stiff DA trigger, just like the PPK. But it's a classic, classy, and they'll run for quite some time.

Sam Hoober  

About The Author

Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.

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