Carrying and training with a BUG

Most officers have trained exclusively with full-size duty guns, but BUGs are a whole new animal

This article is part of a year-long series for Police1 registered members from Todd Fletcher titled "Police Firearms: Discussion, Drills & Demos." Todd will write about current hot topics related to police firearms training, outline firearms training drills and demonstrate shooting techniques on video. If you have a topic you would like Todd to cover, or a training problem you need to solve, email  

A duty belt, handgun and vest are part of our everyday loadout. On the worst calls imaginable, these tools could be what we need to save our lives or the lives of others. They need to be easily accessible and immediately available. But there’s one more piece of equipment we need to carry: a backup gun (BUG).

You should check your department policy to confirm your department allows carrying a BUG, but I am amazed by the number of officers who fail to carry a BUG on uniformed patrol even though their department policy allows it. These same officers are diligent about carrying medical kits and taking care of their equipment, but they don’t see the need to carry a BUG. And those who do carry a BUG rarely train with them.

As a firearms instructor, I often inquire about backup guns and the training departments provide for officers who choose to carry one. Most officers tell me they choose not to carry a BUG, and their departments don’t offer any training for officers who do. In a recent Police1 poll, more than 72% of respondents indicated that their agency did not provide off-duty/concealed carry training, so I’m sure it’s the same or higher for backup guns.

While disappointing, this is hardly surprising. We need to be active participants in our own defense, so it is our responsibility to take up the slack and get the necessary equipment and training for ourselves.

The gear

When it comes to choosing a BUG, there are many great options available. Both semi-automatics and revolvers can be good choices depending on your personal choice and preferred method of carry. Revolvers are still popular as backup guns.

Some officers envision a BUG being used during an extreme close-quarter fight where they can’t access their primary duty weapon. If this is the case, it is reasonable to assume that contact shots could be used to stop the threat. A revolver can be pressed into a threat and fired, whereas a semi-automatic BUG could have the slide pushed out of battery causing a fail-to-fire malfunction. This simplicity of the operating system is the reason usually given for selecting a revolver as a BUG.

Some officers have never shot revolvers and are more comfortable sticking with their semi-automatic handguns. Officers who choose to carry a semi-automatic can select from a huge variety of makes and models from every major handgun manufacturer. This includes choosing a BUG that closely resembles the look, feel and operating system of your full-size duty handgun.

Carry location choices

I advocate carrying your BUG on your support hand side. I like the idea of being able to access my BUG using my support hand in case my dominant hand is busy doing something else or has been injured.

Next, you need to decide how you’re going to carry your BUG. The three most common carry locations are ankle, pant pocket and vest carry. Before deciding which works best for you, be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of each choice. Regardless of carry position, invest in a quality holster that covers the trigger guard while keeping your BUG secure during physical activity.

An ankle holster is a good choice if you are sitting a lot. It’s accessible from a chair or while driving. If on your back with someone in a mount position, an ankle holster can generally be accessed. However, they do change our balance and affect how we walk and run. Additionally, an ankle holster is only accessible when you’re stationary. To move and draw from an ankle holster is awkward at best. Your uniform pants can get hung up on your ankle rig, so a modification to your pants may be in order. An officer I worked with cut the inside seam of his pants and placed Velcro in that area to make it easier to access his ankle holster and BUG.

With an ankle holster, a BUG can be carried covertly and accessible by either hand.
With an ankle holster, a BUG can be carried covertly and accessible by either hand. (Photos/Sgt. Ron Taylor (ret.), Bend (OR) Police Department)

Another popular carry location is in a pant pocket. If your uniform pants have a cargo pocket, securing a holster inside the cargo pocket is a great option. Aside from a cargo pocket, carrying in a pant pocket may limit your ability to access a BUG. Equipment on your duty belt can get in the way, so make sure you have access if your duty belt inadvertently changes position. If you decide to carry in a back pocket, you need to be aware that back problems can develop from sitting on your BUG shift after shift.

I prefer the option of carrying a BUG on my body armor. Prior to wearing an external vest carrier, I carried my BUG in a holster attached to the front of my vest. This kept my BUG secure, and I could access it with either hand. One drawback to this position was that unzipping my shirt under stress was difficult. A solution is to sew a button to the top of the shirt and use Velcro below that to keep the shirt closed. This helps provide access to your BUG while keeping your uniform shirt inspection ready.

External vest carriers make life even easier. A quality holster attached to the inside of the vest on the support side keeps a BUG secure and accessible at the same time. For many officers, carrying to the support side of their trauma plate is a comfortable and concealable location. From this spot, the BUG can be drawn from any position and while moving.

An outer vest carrier provides multiple options for carrying a BUG.
An outer vest carrier provides multiple options for carrying a BUG. (Photo/Todd Fletcher)

BUG training

Most law enforcement officers have trained exclusively with full-size duty guns, but BUGs are a whole new animal. Generally, the smaller the handgun, the more difficult it is to shoot well. Small handguns have less grip area. Many BUGs barely have enough area for your ring finger let alone your little finger. When your little finger isn’t part of your grip, and the overall weight of the handgun is significantly lighter, there will be more muzzle rise during recoil resulting in slower follow-up shots.

BUGs are meant to be carried and deployed primarily in close-quarter environments, so we don’t need to spend a great deal of time practicing long-distance precision marksmanship. To begin, I suggest taking your BUG to the range and testing it with your training and duty ammunition. This doesn’t have to be a hard training session, but it should give you confidence in your new BUG’s ability to fire dependably. Generally, we can determine the reliability of a handgun with less than 200 rounds. You can use this time to become familiar with the fit and feel of your new handgun while working on your marksmanship skills. By the end of this session, you should be able to make accurate headshots with your BUG at 10 yards as a minimum standard.

After you have tested your BUG on a static range, it’s time for some serious training. It’s best to begin training with your BUG and holster using dry fire drills. Before you begin, remove all live ammunition from your training area. Ensure your pistol is empty, and then check it again. Once you’ve confirmed your pistol is unloaded, you can begin dry fire practice.

It’s important to spend time working on drawing your BUG from your chosen carry location. Work the draw from a variety of positions such as standing, sitting, prone, supine, and rollover prone. Don’t forget to practice holstering, too. Be doubly careful about holstering since it is extremely easy to muzzle yourself when holstering a BUG. There are a lot of good reasons to be fast coming out of the holster but few reasons to be fast back to the holster.

I believe the best venue for practicing accessing your BUG is on the mats during ground fighting or defensive tactics training. This will test your equipment and carry location showing you the advantages and disadvantages of your choices. Once again, remove all live ammunition from your training area. Ensure your BUG is empty, and then check it again. Once you and your training partner have confirmed it is unloaded, you can begin training. Can you access your BUG when someone is in a mount position preventing you from accessing your duty handgun? Does your BUG stay secure when grappling with someone else? These are all important considerations.


In today’s world, law enforcement officers should be carrying a BUG whenever possible. Get the proper equipment and training even if your department doesn’t allocate the time or money. The life you save may well be your own.

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