Concealed Carry on a Budget
Have you ever been broke? I don’t mean “I can’t afford that particular Jaguar” kind of broke. I’m talking about “looks like it’s Ramen for the rest of the month, kids” broke. If you’ve never been in that position, or if it’s been a while, you may have forgotten that one of the most challenging parts of living paycheck to paycheck is that you may have to settle for housing in a part of town where most of the windows are broken or have bars on them. You may also find yourself without reliable transportation other than your feet, which can be hazardous to your health in such neighborhoods.
It may not be “fair”, but the unfortunate truth is that folks who are struggling financially are statistically more likely to be the victim of violent crime than middle-class suburbanites. So is it possible for someone whose already scraping to get by to find an affordable concealed carry piece for self-defense?
There are usually a few dirt-cheap “bargain brand” options available in most gun shop counters, but I’ve never been satisfied enough with the reliability of these pistols to recommend them to anyone. Sure, a $150 Hi-Point beats nothing (probably), but if there’s any way to save just a little more, an affordable pistol that will actually last might be within reach.
A few weeks ago, I suggested some alternative options for under $300, and followed that with a review of the CZ-83, which, along with the CZ-82, is my favorite of that bunch. Surplus CZ-83 and CZ-82 pistols are cheap, reliable, easy to handle, and I suggested them as a good self-defense option for the budget-minded novice shooter. As a follow-up to the review, I promised to carry the CZ for a while myself, and also get a few inexperienced shooters to fire the pistol for a different perspective.
As a quick recap of that CZ-83 review, the CZ-83 is based on the CZ-82, a 12-shot semi-automatic blowback pistol chambered in 9×18 Makarov, designed as the sidearm for the Czech military 1980s. The CZ-83 is the civilian version of the CZ-82, and is nearly identical in every way except that it’s chambered in .380 ACP. Since these pistols have been retired by the police and military forces that originally used them in Europe, they have found their way to the secondary market here in the US where they are plentiful and inexpensive. Prices regularly fluctuate, but with a bit of searching and patience, currently it’s not difficult to find samples of either gun for sale in good condition in the $200-300 range.
Carrying the CZ-83
Normally, I carry the compact 9mm S&W M&P9c in a Custom Carry Concepts IWB “Looper” holster in the 1 o’clock or “appendix” inside the waistband (AIWB) position. The M&P and CZ are pretty close in size, but unloaded, the M&P weighs only 19 oz., compared to the much heavier 28 oz of the CZ-83. It’s been a while since I carried a gun that heavy, so the primary purpose of carrying around the CZ-83 for a couple of weeks would be to determine if the additional weight would be a significant hurdle to everyday comfort.
For the test, I tried to find a budget-priced CZ-83 holster that was as functionally close to the CCC Looper as possible, but knew that would be a challenge. Some searching on a forum dedicated to CZ pistols led to eBay seller “iwbholsterz“, who makes kydex IWB holsters for a variety of handguns. His CZ-83 holster is priced at $35 with free shipping, which is about as affordable as it gets for any kydex holster. The holster arrived a few days after placing the order, and overall, I was pretty happy with its quality and apparent durability. The CZ-83 fits snugly, but is easy to draw, and the sturdy belt clip is held in place with rivets.
The good news is that a stiff kydex holster on a quality gun belt made the extra 9 oz. of gun nearly unnoticable. At no point did I feel as if my belt was sagging or that the pistol was too heavy. This just further proves the point that a stiff gun belt is often more important than the holster itself as far as supporting the gun’s weight. And fortunately for the budget-minded, they don’t have to be expensive.
Unfortunately for me, most IWB type holsters are not set up for appendix carry by default. When carrying at the 3 o’clock position, or behind the hip, it seems that most people prefer the pistol grip to be slightly tilted or “canted” forward a few degrees in order to facilitate a quicker draw. However, in the appendix position, this forward cant is not only counter-productive for a quick draw, it also causes some serious comfort issues.
Below is an image of the CZ-83 holster next to my CCC Looper holster, which is specifically designed for AIWB carry. With the belt loops of both holsters in an identical orientation, you can see the problem. In the appendix position, the bottom corner of the CZ-83 holster essentially behaves like an ice pick jabbing directly in the front of my thigh all day. That is not comfortable.
I don’t blame “iwbholsterz” for this issue since the holster was not advertised as being appropriate for this style of carry. If I had been carrying in another position, the holster would have most likely been perfectly adequate. In hindsight, I should have ordered it with the optional leather belt loop instead of the kydex loop. The gun may not have stayed in place as well on my belt, but I would have been able to rotate the holster to the correct orientation for the appendix position.
But overall, I’d say the CZ-83 passed this part of the test. It may not be the smallest or lightest gun, but if your options are limited and you’re determined to be armed, I think it’s entirely feasible to be able to comfortably carry and conceal the CZ-83.
The Newbie Perspective
Satisfied that the CZ-83 would work from an everyday practical point of view, I set out to let a few less experienced shooters try out the gun at the range. Personally, I’ve been very impressed with how this gun shoots. It’s very accurate, and the trigger in both double action and single action is as light and smooth as any out of the box handgun available today.
Because of the way a blowback style action compares to the more typical recoil-operated action, the felt recoil of the .380 ACP is not quite as mild as you might think it would be in a 28 oz gun. That said, it’s still very mild compared to most 9mm pistols, and certainly easier to handle than a pocket-sized polymer .380 ACP. My hope was that these handling characteristics would still be apparent to a handgun novice. If they found it as easy to shoot as I did, then I would feel more confident about recommending the CZ-83 as someone’s first handgun; not intimidating and good for learning the basics, but still a decent self-defense tool.
My buddy David was the first “test subject”. David has been around firearms his whole life, and even owns two handguns himself, but rarely has an opportunity to shoot them. David is representative of a large chunk of the gun-owning public in that he’s familiar with basic gun safety and is comfortable handling a firearm, but his technique is pretty rough.
I wanted David to have plenty of basis for comparison, so he shot a few magazines through his own 9mm handguns; a Beretta 92FS Compact, and the diminutive Diamondback DB9. I also let him try out a full size S&W M&P 9mm, and its baby brother, the 9mm M&P Shield.
Finally, David tried the CZ-83, and seemed to shoot it just as well as the Beretta that he’s owned for years. Unaware that I was documenting his experience for this review, David commented afterward that the CZ was his favorite of all the guns we shot that day. He found the grip to be comfortable, and the recoil was easier to manage than even the much larger 9mm pistols.
A couple of weeks later, I brought another couple of friends to the range. Several years ago, Andy had shot .22 LR rifles and 20 gauge shotguns a few times, but never any handguns. His wife Lauren had similar experiences while growing up, but also was a complete novice with handguns. Since they were brand new to handguns, I took a slightly different approach with these guys than I did with David. First, I let them warm up on a GSG 1911-22 with a Silencerco Sparrow suppressor. What better way to learn the fundamentals of grip, stance, and trigger press than with a pistol that has almost no sound or recoil?
After a few magazines each of that, Andy and Lauren were ready to make some noise, so we loaded up the S&W 686 SSR with some light recoiling .38 special ammo, which Lauren in particular enjoyed shooting. We followed that with a box of .380 ACP through the CZ-83. And since the M&P Shield is often considered an affordable compact semi auto that has “pretty light recoil for such a small gun”, they each shot a magazine through that.
Their impression of the CZ-83 was similar to David’s. Both Lauren and Andy preferred the grip and trigger of the CZ-83 over the GSG 1911-22 (which, admittedly, doesn’t have an esspecially good trigger for a 1911). Andy liked the CZ-83 best of all the handguns they shot, and Lauren ranked it second only to the revolver. Compared to the S&W Shield, they both said the increase in recoil was “very significant” and they had trouble not flinching while pulling the trigger on the small 9mm.
So overall, it looks like I’m not alone in finding the CZ-83 enjoyable to shoot. It has enough recoil that you have to put some effort into controlling it (which is good from a training perspective), but not so much that it scares people away.
The Deal Killer
Sadly, the CZ-83 is far from perfect. There are a lot of things to like about it, but the gun has a few flaws that hurt its chances of becoming the reigning World Champion of cheap handguns. The plastic grips that come stock on the gun are far from ideal. Technically, they have “texture”, but much of the surface area is very slick and smooth. With only a slight bit of sweat on your hands, it can become very difficult to keep the pistol from shifting around under the force of recoil. They’re also shaped so that the magazine release is very difficult to depress with the strong hand thumb, requiring most users to shift the position of the gun in their hand in order to drop the mag.
The DA/SA action is also an issue. In the original review video, I mentioned that I like the option of being able to carry the gun cocked and locked, or manually decocking to carry in DA mode. For an enthusiast, this is a pretty cool feature, but for a novice shooter that’s a lot to remember.
But compared to its competition in the “under $300″ category, those issues are relatively minor. The most problematic feature of the CZ-83 is the cost of ammo. 9mm ammo is almost always 20-40% cheaper than the same brand in .380 ACP. That’s a pretty significant problem for someone on a tight budget. If you can track down a CZ-82 for a good price, newly manufatured 9×18 Makarov ammo tends to be a little more affordable than .380, even though the supply of dirt cheap military surplus that was so plentiful a few years ago has dried up. There are fewer load options available in 9mm Mak, but let’s be honest; on a budget, you’re just going to stick with the cheapest Russian steel cased ammo you can find, anyway. Whether the cost of ammo is a deal breaker for either of these guns will just depend on the specific situation of each budget-minded individual, but it’s an important consideration to make before reaching a final decision.
The Final Verdict
For someone stuck with limited options due to their financial situation, a bargain brand polymer 9mm might be tempting, but in addition to being less durable than the CZ-83, these guns are often not very fun to shoot, and I see that as a huge down side. One of the secrets to becoming a great marksman is learning how to enjoy shooting. The more you enjoy it, the more likely you are to make it a serious pursuit.
For a lot of people, if the gun recoils too much or doesn’t feel right in their hands or the sights are hard to see, they’re more likely to get frustrated and give up. A 9mm Para or .38 +P would be preferable to .380 ACP or 9×18 in terms of ballistic performance, but if having fun with the .380 helps motivate somebody to get out to the range and improve their skill, then I’d much rather them own that.