Over the past few months, I’ve heard a number of high-level shooters express the thought that Revolver is an anachronism with no place in the modern USPSA1—perhaps not in so many words, but it’s fairly clear from their comments how they feel about wheelguns in our sport. As a Revolver competitor myself (although not at all a distinguished one, as of this writing), I’d like to offer some counterweight to those opinions.
First, and most pernicious: the idea that revolver doesn’t belong in USPSA because it’s unpopular. Unpopularity is not a crime. 1911s (in narrow and widebody form) are unpopular, by the standard of ownership numbers. .40 S&W is unpopular. We shoot those anyway, because the rules either allow them (in the case of Single Stack) or encourage them (in the case of Limited Major) in spite of their unpopularity.
But, even beyond that, we ought to answer a question about what USPSA is, and what it ought to be. It is the big leagues for competition handgun shooting in the US, full stop. Depending on where you are in the country, it’s either the best option for practical handgun shooting, or the monopoly player in the field. What it ought to be is more or less what it already is: the sanctioning body for the top level of pistol competition in the United States.
In both of those cases, the arguments for excluding revolver are on shaky ground. If USPSA is the sanctioning body for the top level of handgun competition, how can it justify withdrawing its support for fully half of the pistol taxonomy2?
If the USPSA is the monopoly provider for high-level handgun competition, and it preaches competitive equity, how does forcing revolvers—which are nothing if not very different than semi-autos—into Limited3 fit that aim? Make no mistake, that would happen, because USPSA is the only option for a great many people with philosophical disagreements with IDPA4. I can get to the entire USPSA Western PA section and a few Ohio clubs in a shorter drive than it would take me to reach the nearest ICORE club.
You can’t say USPSA shouldn’t have a carve-out for revolvers without also saying that USPSA ought not be the last word in top-level pistol competition. If you are saying that, you should be clear that you are. Further, you can’t say that there shouldn’t be a Revolver division while also saying USPSA should be about competitive equity and the division system should be about pitting like against like. Making wheelguns shoot against semi-autos is in fundamental opposition to the ideal of competitive equity.
I mentioned ICORE just now, which leads me to anti-Revolver assertion number two: USPSA doesn’t adequately or accurately test revolver skills.
The existence and nature of ICORE argues very strongly against that claim. ICORE is pretty much USPSA, except with time-plus scoring5, D1 targets instead of the silhouettes and octagons, some revolver-specific divisions for those people who want to shoot optic-and-compensator guns or six-shooters, and six-round neutrality instead of eight for the six-shooter-shooters. Those are, to within a rounding error, the meaningful distinctions between USPSA and the sport revolver enthusiasts designed specifically for testing revolver shooters.
USPSA is an entirely valid test of revolver shooters and revolver skills.
The final line of reasoning I’ll address is that the existence of Revolver somehow cheapens other divisions. The logic goes that because Revolver has fewer participants, it has less heat. It’s easier to reach the top of the heap, and therefore being Revolver national champion is less meaningful than, say, being Limited national champion.
For one, and to be entirely frank, I find this complaint to be rooted in ego: “I finished 20th in Production, and my percentage is comparable to the revolver guy in 10th! How unfair!” This is not a problem with the system, or with Revolver—it’s a problem with you. Do you care about how your raw score stacks up against Open or PCC? If no, then why do you care how your percentages stack up against Revolver? Divisions are not directly comparable in raw hit factors or stage times, but they’re also not directly comparable in per-division match percentages and placements. That’s one of the best things about this sport: it’s like automotive endurance racing. Multiple divisions get to compete on the same track, speak the same language, and see each other perform, even if they aren’t scoring themselves directly against each other.
The other assertion backing this line of argument—that it’s easier to climb the ladder to the top of Revolver because there are fewer competitors—I consider unlikely. There’s a video floating around of Michael Poggie, reigning revolver champion in the post-Miculek years, putting about a 1.3-second reload on the clock. I urge you to try to hit that mark, or even to get under 1.56. Now do it on the move. Now do it every time.
Suffice it to say, it’s not easy to match the top dogs. If you look at the odds of me winning a Revolver national championship and compare it to the odds of me winning, say, Production7, they’re similar, and they’re both long shots8.
Of course, you can always prove me wrong. Strap on your wheelgun and climb the ladder! If it’s easier than your semi-auto division of choice, it shouldn’t take you very long, right?
Addendum #1 (10/2023): The Purpose of Divisions
It’s common to say that lack of participation, in itself, is a reason to axe a division. On the other side, the recent addition of Limited Optics to USPSA implicitly says that the presence of a lot of people shooting a kind of gun, absent any other factors, is a reason to add a division.
I don’t necessarily subscribe to either of those ideas, because they miss the point of equipment divisions in the first place. Once we’ve accepted that the right number of divisions is greater than one (“run what ya brung”), the most important factor in deciding what those divisions should look like is competitive equity inside those divisions. Put another way, a division’s purpose is to ensure that the large majority of variation in performance between competitors within it is down to skill, not gear.
This is a powerful framework! Applying it to Revolver, the inescapable conclusion is that a revolver division serves a valid purpose. There isn’t a division that admits semiautos where a revolver isn’t a massive performance handicap, and that handicap varies from stage to stage based on the presence of long-range shots (slower in DA than SA) and room or lack thereof for reloads (adding varying time penalties). If we look at Limited Optics, the question gets fuzzier: a magwell makes reloads more consistent, and a 1911-style single-action trigger is easier to shoot, but is it a big enough difference to warrant a separate division, compared to allowing single action in CO? The jury is out, on that subject.
With this rubric, we can say whether a division makes sense to include in a set of other divisions, but it doesn’t provide any guidance on the overall shape of a division system. Personally, I think the goals of USPSA’s division system specifically should be to stick relatively close to IPSC, and somewhat less importantly, accommodate a wide range of the handgun taxonomy. Competitive equity inside divisions doesn’t have much to say about Production 10 vs. Production 15, but I like the latter because it’s the IPSC rule, and because 15-round full-size handguns is a lot more accommodating to the plain-jane iron sight duty-size or mid-size compact handgun that is overwhelmingly the most common firearm in the US.
If I were designing a shooting sport from the ground up, I would probably line up the divisions a little differently than we do in USPSA/IPSC, but I personally reject the calls for wholesale realignment in those sports—one of the great resources USPSA/IPSC has over many other action shooting sports is an unbroken history, and upending it to match the firearms that happen to be common in 2023 seems a little short-sighted to me.
- Curiously, the two I’m thinking of are either Production-first shooters (Ben Berry, in a blog post from a few months back), or recently successful in Production (Mason Lane, on the 2021 Locap Nationals episode of the Shoot Fast Podcast). You’d think people in what’s pretty clearly going to be next Single Stack/L10 would have a bit more self-awareness in calling for the end of an unpopular division, but let it pass—this footnote notwithstanding, I’m more interested in sniping at bad ideas than the good eggs who sometimes end up proposing them. (10/2023 update: Ben is now in the ‘revolver doesn’t need to go’ camp, so I withdraw any critique there. I don’t know about Mason, but at least half of the time people say ‘kill revolver’ they’re joking.) ↩
- Granted, not by participation, but none of the anti-Revolver voices are calling for the end of Single Stack division, and despite their prevalence in competition, 1911s and 1911-derived guns are a much smaller branch of the modern family tree of handguns than revolvers. ↩
- Revolvers are technically allowed in Production, but Production-legal holsters for N-frames and Redhawk-size guns are not readily available. ↩
- Even if I didn’t think IDPA’s rules make it a less serious competition than USPSA, I’m not exactly drowning in IDPA matches around here, either. ↩
- The Soapbox has always been at least half in favor of hit factor scoring, but now I believe we’re entirely in favor—parvusimperator came around on it, at least as of the last time we talked about it. ↩
- A year and a half of fairly focused practice has me into the one-point-fives, but not yet close enough to call it a second and a half. ↩
- Caveat: if I took it as seriously as I’m taking Revolver. ↩
- Caveat 2: I originally wrote this article quite a while ago, and I’m no longer nearly as much of a long shot for a revolver title, but the point stands. ↩