Those who love to mock the competitive shooting sports—especially IDPA—should be familiar with the concept of the “shoot me first” vest. While various versions exist, and I am not entirely clear about the history of these garments, the basic gist is as follows. IDPA requires shooting from concealment. No doubt, many matches are held in the heat of summer, so a vest would probably have seemed ideal (no extra heat trapped by sleeves). Photographer vests seemed perfect, as they are light in weight, long-ish in hem, and covered with pockets that could be used various items that could prove useful over the course of a long match (snacks, lube, who knows?). Then, I assume, someone figured out that it was STILL hot under a vest, and so got the bright idea to make some or all of the back of some of these vests out of a cooling mesh material. The result is that such a vest worn anyplace outside of the competitive shooting sports arena looks foolish, as it is a vest that serves no purpose except to potentially conceal something worn between about 2-4:30 and 7:30-10:00 on the belt.
Because these vests are so closely associated with the shooting sports, those who wear them outside of such venues (or perhaps a gun show) stand out quite noticeably. Accordingly, such vests have been known for quite some time as “shoot me first” vests. Anyone entering an area intent on doing harm might be able to quickly identify anyone wearing such garb as a probable concealed carrier and make him (or her, I guess) the first target.
Now, I must admit that I own a vest that has some things in common with the shoot me first vest. However, mine is more of a pure photographers vest, lacking the large mesh back panel but having quite a few pockets on the front. I bought it at an Eddie Bauer outlet probably around 2005, and wore it on multiple trips to Europe as a way to easily carry passport, money, camera, phone, etc., and keep everything in front of me away from potential pickpockets. To those who might mock the efficacy of the vest for this purpose, all I can say is that, over the course of multiple European jaunts, I was never a victim of a pickpocket (mockery for my clothing choices, however….). The good thing about the vest is that the fairly prominent “Eddie Bauer” on the back does not scream “GUN!” This is the vest I have worn for the few IDPA matches in which I have thus far participated.
As it is, such a vest still looks a little odd unless I am wearing a camera or holding a fishing rod while kneeling in a canoe. Fortunately, there are other options. I am going to qualify what follows as primarily geared toward those who live in more temperate climates. To our readers in South Florida, Panama, etc., what follows may not be as applicable. (Note: for my two prior installments in this series, see here and here)
I happen to live in a more temperate climate with a fairly well-defined set of four seasons. Accordingly, I can get away with wearing a fleece vest about nine months of the year. Even on a spring or fall day when the high temperature might reach 70 degrees Fahrenheit, once the sun starts to dip the temperature can drop fairly quickly. It is not at all unusual to see all manner of folk walking around in spring or fall wearing a fleece vest (some even get away with puffy “down” vests). Heck, I even recall a tour guide in San Francisco (in August) politely mocking all of the tourists buying “San Francisco” fleece vests and jackets, all foolish in thinking that San Francisco is actually warm in August! (What was it Mark Twain once said? Something like the coldest winter he ever felt was a summer in San Francisco.). My fleece vest got a good workout during multiple trips to San Francisco as well as a few Aprils ago in Santa Fe, New Mexico; it did not look out of place on me in either locale.
In temperate climates, the fleece vest can make an excellent concealment garment. Such a vest might be of particular interest to those who carry at around the 3:00 position–outside or inside the waistband–especially those who compete in IDPA and might be used to wearing a vest. One can leave the vest unzipped, weigh down the pockets with something to prevent it from catching in the wind (keys, etc.), and access the pistol in the same way as in competition.
As I typically carry in the appendix position, I have found the best use of a fleece vest and/or jacket is as a print-preventer. With the vest/jacket zipped, the slight “puffiness” of the fleece can soften any hard print lines of the concealed pistol. Any lumps that are visible will just appear to be items worn in the front pockets of the fleece. If access under two layers (shirt and vest) is a concern, the user can tuck the shirt in behind the gun, leaving only the vest to clear should the need arise. If doing this, however, one must be cautious to untuck the shirt back over the gun before unzipping the vest in public.
Those who are used to concealing under a jacket will no doubt recognize that these advantages of the vest are also present when a jacket is worn. They are correct. The difference is that, in my opinion, the vest can be worn for more of the year than a jacket without looking out of place. As noted earlier, plenty of people wear a vest on days with cooler mornings and evenings and then just leave it on all day.
Once I am through a stretch of weekend classes this spring, I plan to start shooting competitively again. On the cooler days, I may go ahead and don my fleece vest rather than my photographer’s vest for some matches and see how I do.
In summation, my advice is to limit the “shooting” vest to the competitive arena. Those who wear them out and about are not fooling anyone. If, however, you like the idea of a vest for concealment, try a fleece vest instead.
Thanks to my wife for taking these photos (for the sake of convenience, we’ll blame any blurriness and the fact that I’m looking a little paunchy in a few of them on her suspect camera skills!).
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