Concealment Tricks and Tips, Vol. 3: The “Shoot Me Last” Vest

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!). 

As always, thanks for reading.  If you have any questions or comments, please post below or on our Facebook page.  Also, per the stats available to us, it seems we have picked up some new followers of late.  Please take the time to scroll through some of our older articles, reviews, AARs, etc., as we would like to think that there is now a small wealth of information available here on our blog.  Thanks again!

 

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23 thoughts on “Concealment Tricks and Tips, Vol. 3: The “Shoot Me Last” Vest

  1. I think the fear of the Shoot Me Vest is about as valid as the fear of using a gun with a bad name, because a jury would be upset that your gun was a model called the Pit Bull instead of a Model 123. Yes it’s possible but what leads you to that point is more an issue. As best I can tell the Shoot Me Vest started with gun writer who never shot anyone nor was ever shot at. That being said a photographer vest may look out of place in some situations and you wearing it may look uncomfortable if you are worried about being “seen” as a guy carrying a gun. I’ve yet to hear of anyone being targeted simply because he was wearing a photographer vest.

    The key is wearing you cover garment everyday even if you aren’t carrying. You have to be comfortable. Think of it like wearing kilt. If you are uncomfortable you will be noticed. On the flip side if you wear it everyday you’ll walk right by the crowd.

    Photographer vest or fleece vest or down vest or my personal favorite, a tweed dress vest all can be used. It a matter of fitting your dress to your location. It’s far easier to blend in downtown with a tweed or dress vest and a pair of jeans than a down vest and a Brooks Brothers tie in a board room.

    I suspect we are more worried about cops seeing us with a gun than bad guys. We may tell ourselves differently but the truth is we are at least as much worried about the police seeing us even if we are legally armed. That level of fear multiplies by huge amounts if we are illegally carrying because we are taking our protection seriously even against local laws.

    In ether case fitting in is the issue. Look like you belong. We used to call it being gray; but I think it’s as much about looking comfortable. That goes back to daily dressing like you are carrying, even if you’re not. The key is looking like you belong there and not being the guy the cops zero in on when they are looking for a guy with a gun. Who do you think gets more attention, the guy in the professional suit or the guy in the biker vest? The answer depends on if it’s downtown on a work day or in a biker bar after midnight and even then the cops are gonna look at the bikers as a bigger threat than their lawyer.

    …..and if you really want to be unseen try dressing as a priest

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      1. Sure sounds like satire to me. I guess I get that the photographer vest has its own “profile”; but I just not sure it’s truly recognized outside the shooting community, anymore than guys wearing 5.11 cargo pants

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    1. MD,

      Interesting perspective. The head custodian and horticulture teacher at my school both wear these exact same shoes (they aren’t boots, BTW). I’ll have to tell them they look “tactical”. Likewise, I didn’t realize Wrangler cargo pants from WalMart are “tactical” either. Hmmm.

      Thanks for the comment!

      –Robert

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  2. I can confirm part about the weather in San Francisco (our guide told the same joke and quote, too).

    The vest is a good idea for concealment, but not in all weather and places. In Europe (Spain specifically, where carrying a gun for self-defense is basically forbidden, and weather is hot most of the year) you rarely see fotographer vests ouside of tourist areas anymore. And with all cameras beng digital nowadays, is a rare sight unless the guy is carrying a lot of expensive professional cameras (last time I used one was eight years ago, and only because I needed the pockets for drinks and snacks).
    All those pockets will make you a more likely target for thieves in many cities.

    Of course, I have a different perspective and environment here (legal, too).

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    1. Antonio,

      Thanks for the comment from the other side of the pond.

      Yep, weather plays a big role in this, which is why I mentioned that early in the article. Definitely something to keep in mind.

      –Robert

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  3. I live in Mass. so vest work great. I wear canvas vest, leather vest,. One thing to look out with the fleece or “outdoor wear” vest is they often have cord locks and bungee cord around the waist.. cut them out.

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    1. Jim,

      Thanks for the comment.

      This Eddie Bauer vest doesn’t have those pull-cords, but many do, and it’s always something I check for when purchasing new outerwear. Good tip!

      –Robert

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  4. I really think the whole tactical wear fear has been taken to extreme. Yes you can go too far and blouse your pants into spit shined jump boots and search for designer Gucci-fluage. The fact of the matter is cargo pants and hiking boots are normal casual dress I’m in a Urgent Care center right now and the nurse is wearing cargo pants and hiking style tennis shoes. Tan pants and hi king shoes are just plain normal BUT if you feel conspicuous then you will be conspicuous.

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  5. The whole tactical dress fear thing is another part of the photographer vest hysteria. YES it can be over done, if you are one to f the types that seek out Gucci-flague and have business suits made from bolts of Rhodesian camouflage smuggled out on the last plane from Salisbury–then maybe.

    The fact of the matter is cargo pants and hiking boots are normal. I’m in a Urgent Care center right now and the nurse is wearing cargo pants and hiking type tennis shoes. So short of starched BDUs with a chest full of jump wings and doodads with your own custom dog tags the tactical clothes fear is largely BS. That being said being dressed in at least semi professional attire will get you more respect if you ever become involved with the police and courts (as in following a shooting). …. and I keep saying if you really want to be overlooked then dress like a priest. That simple white collar will get you practically everywhere without anyone noticing your face.

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    1. 8mm,

      This article, if read through and through, is much less about “tactical” clothing and much more about a simple vest that fits in in many more places than a photographer’s vest (which, even if not identified as “tactical”, doesn’t fit in in many places). That’s all. I think some people are reading WAY more into it than they should. Such are the risks of higher levels of readership, I guess. I’ll take it.

      –Robert

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  6. I appreciate recognizing how much more low key the fleece vest is. I can say I have interviewed plenty of felons and they do look for keys on who is carrying guns. One was quite adamant he considers almost anyone in bdu or cargo pants to be carrying a gun. The sheep might not have a clue what to look for but the wolves sure do.

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    1. Todd,

      Thanks for the comment and relating your experience.

      I must admit that, after reading comments here and on Facebook, I am kinda shocked about the response to “tactical cargo pants”. First, I never considered a set of Wrangler cargo pants purchased at WalMart for $19.99 as “tactical”. Second, I find jeans uncomfortable. I occasionally have to chase people down and also have to carry a lot of (non-tactical) crap around at work, and just find jeans way too restrictive. Third, cargo pants are quite popular amongst the non-gun carrying crowd; many of my friends wear them regularly, and I’m the only one who regularly carries a firearm. Weird.

      Thanks again!

      –Robert

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  7. Somewhere, I have read and followed advice about being the grey man. Depending on your setting a lot of the stuff that people worry about. fit right in. Where I live, a significant portion of the population walks around in cargo pants, tactical/photo vests, and even the dreaded fanny pack. It is all about carrying stuff. Mostly old people in town so they don’t care about looking odd. And old people are a key target for predators. Sometimes, I can spot a gun but other times I can’t or it is just not there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Richard,

      Thanks for the comment and I agree on matching the environment (people and their typical modes of dress/accessories, weather, etc.). I’ve only explored fanny pack carry when running/biking.

      I’ve gotten a lot of comments about cargo pants and I just don’t get it. On a trip to the grocery store the other day I decided to take a count of the number of men I saw wearing cargo pants. There was a high percentage (and I’m quite sure most did not think of themselves as tactical and were almost certainly not carrying guns, since that is pretty rare where I am). I find them comfortable, especially when carrying just the mundane items of EDC: wallet, phone, keys, etc. They allow for much better freedom of movement and air circulation than jeans, and also show a lot less wear.

      Thanks again!

      –Robert

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      1. Robert – from my perspective it’s not just the fact that your pants have cargo pockets. It is the earth tone color of the pants, the G-shock (or similar) watch, and the hiking shoes, along with a general clean-cut demeanor. Its not one item of clothing, its an ensemble. You’d definitely ping my radar regardless of what vest you happen to be wearing. And maybe that is good – you don’t look like prey. But the point of the article seemed to be about lowering your profile based on clothing choices, in particular a vest. If you’re comfortable in that outfit, terrific. But I think you have work to do if you want to be a low profile armed citizen.

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      2. MD,

        I hear ya, I guess. I seriously need to take a photo of the horticulture teacher at my school and you can see if he “pings your radar” as well. He’s as hippy dippy as they come and dresses almost exactly like me.

        Also, I don’t see a lot of (men’s) pants that aren’t in earth tones. Khaki, brown, grey, maybe navy blue, plus jeans. Sorry, but I’m not going to wear pink or orange pants. And hiking shoes/boots definitely abound where I live, though I wear sneakers just as often.

        If I took the same photos as above but with jeans on, I wonder how that would change the perspective of people.

        The main point of the article, however, was addressing the vest issue, not everything else (which I just happened to be wearing that day). I think a lot of people are getting wrapped around the axle about a watch and shoes, which are much less obvious than a photographer’s vest.

        All just my opinion, of course, as written on a free site. And I’m happy to allow comments that disagree because I–and I think our readers–value such discourse.

        Thanks again for the comment.

        –Robert

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  8. Although the author did give lip service to hot climates, I wish to note that the reason many folks wear a vest in the first place is because a jacket, windbreaker, etc. is too hot. Down here in Mississippi where it’s commonly 97 degrees with 90% humidity, a fleece vest will definitely solve your problem, because you will either be in the emergency room or dead from heat stroke, and you won’t have to worry about crooks. But a ventilated light canvas or ripstop vest works OK.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jeff,

      It’s all about context, no doubt.

      However, I was just down in that neck of the woods a month or so ago, and during a cold snap people down there were acting like I do when it’s below zero outside where I live. A fleece vest would have fit in fine.

      If it’s 90 degrees outside with associated humidity, I would suggest that ANY vest, made of ANY material (again, short of sitting in a fishing boat) is going to make you stand out. Under such circumstances, I’d suggest concealing under just a shirt.

      I like the vest for Spring and Fall (a jacket replaces this when necessary), a jacket/coat for winter, and just a shirt for summer.

      Thanks for the comment!

      –Robert

      Like

  9. Be the gray man, don’t wear tacticool clothes. I counted 3 concealed carriers today all wearing tacticool crap including two with shoot me first vests.

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