Tag Archives: competition shooting

Notes from the USPSA Offseason: A Fishy Winter Break

I don’t know if I mentioned it anywhere else, but I ended up taking a deliberate offseason from USPSA competition this winter. From about November 15 to the end of this week, I haven’t (won’t have) done any live-fire practice or any deliberate dry-fire practice. Beyond that, I’ve barely even touched my competition gun.

Why an Offseason?

Partially to give myself time for other big projects, partially to break myself of bad habits. The benefit to taking time entirely off from shooting pursuits is the brief period, upon returning, where previously unconscious things take conscious thought, and thus are malleable in a way they aren’t midseason.

In particular, it’s a good time to change equipment, and to make any tweaks to gun handling skills you want to make. And, having gotten a season of Revolver experience under my belt, there were some things I wanted to change.

Grips

The Ruger Super GP100 I shoot in competition came with Hogue hardwood monogrips. They have that Miculek-approved, sharply vertical grip angle, and look so stunning on the gun that grown men have cried1.

And I had to give them up. You see, the Hogue grips, unlike Mr. Miculek’s, are opinionated. That is to say, there are contours and swells on the grip that push your hands in certain directions, and they push my hands places I don’t want them to go. Namely, they swell about midway up, then narrow, then swell again at the top. That means you can’t get an extra-high grip without the wood digging into your hand and bashing your palm in recoil.

I replaced them with a set of Altamont grips. They’re more along traditional lines of revolver grip design in two ways. One, they’re simply shaped. They’re slightly fatter at the base, and taper to a narrower profile at the top, which lets me get my strong hand high while leaving plenty of real estate at the bottom. Two, they’re a rubber center core with grip panels. The grip panels are, alas, not gorgeous, lustrous, almost luminous hardwood. They’re fairly pedestrian walnut-dyed birch laminate. I did at least hold out for a little fleur-de-lis pattern on the grips.

To really belabor the point, they aren’t as pretty as the Hogue grips, but my suspicion is that they’ll be substantially better competition grip. A bit of shock absorption from the rubber, combined with minor power factor loads out of a 45oz gun, means they should sting my hands an awful lot less than wood grips which punish holding the gun how I want to. They have a bit of texture, too, and put my thumb closer to the controls, which opens up some interesting possibilities.

Holster

We’ll get to those later, though. The next item on the list is the holster.

To get started quickly and at relatively low cost, I bought the SpeedBeez Kydex holster. At the time, it was the only one in stock which I could guarantee would fit the GP100. It was perfectly serviceable, and cut down low enough in the front so it didn’t interfere with fast draws. It probably wasn’t holding me back in any way, and I still think it’s a good product, which is why I’m keeping it in my box-o-shooting-stuff.

But Revolver is a race division in USPSA, so I’m allowed whatever kind of crazy holster I want, as long as it covers the trigger guard and holds the gun so that it points less than three feet away from my feet. It just so happens that our very own parvusimperator was looking to ditch his Double Alpha Alpha-X2, and let it go at a very reasonable price. I sold the the Phoenix Trinity insert block he bought it with, got a Smith and Wesson N-frame block (the DAA website now lists the GP100 as compatible with that one), and added the muzzle rest kit for good measure, along with a 3D-printed muzzle support adapter.

The holster works well. Parvusimperator’s quarrel with it is that it can lock up on the gun if it’s pulled at a bad angle, which can happen under stress. The muzzle rest, which I got mostly because guns with round trigger guards, like my revolver, can rotate forward and back slightly in the holster, ended up solving the problem. Since the muzzle sits on a little peg, the muzzle rest constrains the angles at which you can pull the gun free, preventing it from binding before the insert block lets go. Plus, the muzzle rest gives me a target to aim at when reholstering, saving me the embarrassment of fishing around for the right angle after a stage.

Is it faster? Maybe incrementally. The best draw I’ve ever put on the dry fire timer is 0.78s, shooting at a target at a scale distance of about two yards, which is about a tenth faster than I could manage with the SpeedBeez holster. Drawing to a shot that poses even the slightest challenge, I’m up around between 1.0 and 1.2 depending on the shot and the draw, which is exactly where I was with the SpeedBeez one.

The Triple Alpha X, as one of those trigger-guard-only holsters, has nothing around the cylinder or non-trigger controls. This freed me to tackle another project that’s been on my mind.

Cylinder Release

Either I have short thumbs, or the people who design magazine and cylinder catches have extra-long ones. I don’t think I’ve owned a single handgun where I can reliably hit the ‘add more ammo’ button without breaking my grip in some way.

You’d think this wouldn’t be a big deal, given my preferred revolver reload technique, which involves letting go with my strong hand altogether. We’ll circle back to that. I still wanted a big fat paddle cylinder release.

Nobody makes one. I mean, certain gunsmiths do (David Olhasso, out in eastern PA, will do one for you, if you can get the gun out to him), but there’s no drop-in replacement, which was tremendously vexing. Or it was, before I bought a 3D printer. After that purchase, the lack of a part I could buy ceased to be a vexation and became instead an item of unfinished business.

A few hours with calipers and CAD led to my banging out in a weekend what Hogue, Ruger, et al. haven’t managed to do in a few decades: a functioning extended cylinder release for GP100s3. The one in my gun right now is printed in pretty bog-standard PLA+, and surprisingly, that’s proven enough to stand up to relatively intense dry fire. It took a dozen and a half prototypes, but I finally have one which is both functional and ergonomic.

There’s a lot that went into the design, which might get a post of its own, but on ergonomics, suffice it to say that I can hit the cylinder release with my strong thumb without moving my hand at all. This is obviously a vast improvement.

On function, I’ll leave it at this: I think a plastic part, though it might seem a bit chintzy, is actually going to be sufficiently strong to stand up to real use. The only thing that touches the cylinder release during the firing cycle is the spring-loaded pin that runs through the cylinder to unlock the front latch. All it has to do is bear that impact, from endshake, with a spring to help out. PLA might have heat problems, and it might be a bit too brittle around the pivot, depending on how hard the cylinder hits it. All that being said, I think some kind of engineering nylon will probably be perfectly adequate, and I have a sample or two on the way soon, hopefully.

Reloads (technique)

Earlier, I hinted at some changes to reloading technique, and here we are.

I have hitherto been an advocate of the strong hand reload, favored by one Miculek, as well as about half of the top 20 on the USPSA Revolver leaderboard4 and the current champ. Let’s assume you’re right-handed for the rest of this section, so I don’t get my strong and weak hands confused.

The strong hand reload starts with moving your left hand up to the cylinder, while your right hand hits the cylinder release. Your left fingers push the cylinder open into your left palm, and your left thumb hits the cylinder release. Meanwhile, your right hand goes to get a new moon clip. Your left hand brings the gun down to your belt, your right hand drops the clip in, and you rebuild your grip on the way up.

The strong hand reload has a major advantage amidst all the gun-tossing between hands: both hands are pretty much always occupied. There’s no dead time. It’s also relatively easy to do (though sometimes in compromised fashion) no matter which direction you’re moving.

I have more or less decided to switch to a weak hand reload, favored by the other half of the top 20, for this season. First, a description; then, my reasoning.

The way I’m doing it, the weak hand reload starts the same as the strong hand: my left hand moves forward to the cylinder. At the same time, my right thumb hits the cylinder release, but my right hand otherwise stays put. My left fingers pop the cylinder out while I tilt the muzzle slightly upward, and my left thumb hits the cylinder release while my right hand starts to bring the gun down. My left hand leaves the gun and goes for a moon clip. By the time I have the moon clip in hand, the gun is directly in front of it, and the cylinder is at the same height. My left hand lifts the moon clip off the peg, moves it forward a hair, and drops it directly into the cylinder. On the way back up, my left thumb closes the cylinder, and my left hand rejoins my right on the grip. Here’s an example.

This method has one serious downside. Watch the example closely, and you’ll see that the gun is stationary for an instant, waiting for the moon clip. There’s only so much I can do about that.

Is it really such a serious downside, though? By my reckoning, the split time in the video above is about 2.5 seconds, and it’s not the fastest I can go. I’ve hit 2.0 a few times already, which is pretty sporty by wheelgun standards, and certainly unlikely to hold me back.

Suppose you aren’t convinced. There are some positives, too. First: it’s a very simple set of motions. Unlike the strong hand reload, there’s very little gun dancing to it. Gun tilts, gun comes down, gun goes up. Parvusimperator remarked to me that he doesn’t think about going fast, he thinks about doing things efficiently and with urgency. (It’s not his formulation, but I forget who he got it from. Scott someone? Steve someone? Ah, there it is. Scott Jedlinski.)

Second: access to the cylinder is clearer. The strong hand reload puts the grip in the way. Sometimes that causes trouble getting the ammunition in, and the path from the moon clip rack to the cylinder is necessarily a bit more twisty.

Third: I just seem to do it better. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it is. Clearer access to the cylinder helps make the worst case bobble not so bad. My left hand has direct access to the cylinder, and can more easily solve problems there. Another contributing factor is probably the cylinder chamfer job I had done5. The mechanics of the reload, with the moon clip being so close to the cylinder, probably help too. My moon clips are relatively wobbly, which means they have the potential to flop as they drop from above the cylinder, and the weak hand reload drops them from closer. It’s also easier to see the positions of the chambers and align the moon clip correctly, since there’s no gun in between my sight line and the cylinder.

Or maybe I find the motions easier to pull off under pressure. The strong hand reload involves a lot of delicate manipulation of the gun, for the payoff that the strong hand gets to do the final positioning of the moon clip. The weak hand reload involves two or three big, simple movements, and one small one (the actual loading) that’s only moderately difficult. Whatever it is, I like this reload more, and so I think I’ll stick with it.

Reloads (ammunition)

Thanks to the fine gentlemen at the r/reloading subreddit’s Discord server, I came by a stock of 6,000 small pistol primers, which ought to be enough to get me through the 2021 season.

With components being scarce, I decided to get my bullets in bulk. A kind soul from the Brian Enos revolver forum sent me a little sample pack of Ibejiheads 160-grain coated numbers, and the Ruger likes them just fine. This was, I should note, back in October, and they’ve only just arrived. Components are, like I said, scarce.

Anyway, there are a few nice things about these particular bullets, but the most important one is that they’re the most tapered 160gr bullets I’ve been able to find, which makes them easy-loading. I’m fond of the ultra-heavy bullets: they only need to go about 800 feet per second to make minor power factor, which takes just a hair over three grains of Alliant Bullseye.

They’re still going in the same Starline .38 Short Colt cases, which I expect to last me years, and the load generally (heavy bullet, low velocity) has been my preference for the admittedly short time I’ve been competing with a revolver. The selection of the Ibejiheads bullets is just finalizing things. In the future, I might investigate a non-Bullseye powder—I’ve heard good things about Alliant Sport Pistol, especially with coated bullets.

Attitude

There are two components to this. The first is a change I’m trying to train. The second is an observation.

The change is this: I need to be looser when I shoot. It’s very easy for me to get tense, which leads to jerky motions, which means my reloads fall apart. I’ve been listening to a few podcasts on practical shooting of late, and one of them (the Shoot Fast Podcast, with Cody Axon and Joel Park) goes after the ‘slow is smooth and smooth is fast’ saying. I’m convinced that the saying is correct in some domains, but for shooting, I like the one the Shoot Fast guys allude to without ever outright saying: fast is smooth and smooth is fast.

I’ve verified this the only way I know how: experiments with the timer. The more I tell myself that a drill doesn’t matter, that I don’t care about the time, the better the time generally is, as long as I’m doing it at pace. With those results in mind, I invented a drill to try and burn the low-tension6 sensation into my shooting. I have my timer give me a start beep and do something fast (a draw, a reload, a double on a dry fire target). After I do the thing, I freeze, inspect my posture, and consciously relax and adjust how I’m standing or gripping, if needed, repeating until I’m relaxed while doing the thing.

Surprisingly, timed and regimented drills to enhance relaxation seem to be working, and fairly quickly. In combination with that, I decided to skip the par timer unless I’m actively working on speed. I still use a timer and still compare my times to the par times, I just have it set to shot-timing mode, to prevent getting in front of my skis while trying to beat the beeps.

And now for the observation, a closing thought for these almost-3000 words. Spend much time in practical shooting circles, and you’ll find a lot of big egos, and a lot of people correspondingly easily shaken by bad performances. At least, that’s what I take away from practical shooting podcasts. The ones I listen to put a lot of emphasis on the mental aspect of the game. I suppose that’s one of the advantages to being even-keeled by nature, and actively adhering to a faith that treats humility as just about the highest virtue. Those episodes are always slightly alien to me, which is to my advantage. It’s much easier to practice the shooting than it is to practice the mind games.

Goals

I wrote some about my goals in a previous post, and I can give updates on two of my 2021 goals already.

Short-term goal #3: end 2020 with a one-year stockpile of reloading supplies. I mostly did this. I have or can make about 3200 rounds of competition ammo, with the limiting factors being powder and bullets. Those are among the easier reloading supplies to find, so I’m not too concerned about my ability to use the primers that I have.

Short-term goal #4: work and shoot two majors. I’m on the list for Battle for the North Coast already, and may aim for the Buckeye Blast in June (if I want an earlier one) or the Virginia state championship in October.

And that’s about where things stand. I’m looking forward to getting this year rolling.


  1. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but people have commented on how good they look. 
  2. Triple Alpha X? Triple Alpha X. 
  3. I’ve pretty much made up my mind to sell them, once I work out some manufacturing errata. Unfortunately for my profit margins and the metallicity of the likely final parts, I can’t buy them from a Chinese factory and ship them here, because that would make me an international arms dealer according to ITAR, and just reading about the paperwork for that gave me a headache. 
  4. Well, the ones I could find footage of, anyway, which was about ten. 
  5. Oops, forgot to mention that one. I sent the gun off to Mr. Olhasso, who ground a chamfer into the non-business end of each chamber, so to make bullets drop more readily. 
  6. Or maybe focused tension is a better way of putting it. I want a tight grip on the gun, but I don’t want that tension to spread all the way through my arms and torso. 

Fishbreath Competes: 2020 USPSA Roundup

It’s the end of October, and that means it’s the end of the Western Pennsylvania USPSA season. How did it go?

Generally

I started shooting in Revolver division this year. I’m happy with my choice; my inkling I would enjoy playing the modern cowboy1 proved to be correct.

There are other articles here that explain in depth why I find Revolver fascinating, but I have a few further thoughts on the division after a year of shooting it.

First: it’s punishingly difficult sometimes, especially at local matches where the rule about how a single position can’t require more than 8 rounds is a little more loosely applied. The development of competition firearms pretty clearly states that nobody shoots a long, relatively heavy double-action trigger by choice. Getting my hits is not nearly as easy as it was with a red dot, and an eight-round capacity means that I don’t have nearly as much opportunity for makeup shots as I was used to with previous guns. Of course, I see that as a good thing. I was getting sloppy with my more race-y guns.

Second: it’s even more of a brain game than I expected. I’ve heard people slam the lo-cap divisions as just reloading whenever you move. That’s often the case, but not always, and I find that I have to spend a whole lot more thought on how to slice up a stage, and how to move through it efficiently, than I ever did with Carry Optics or Limited. The LCSA October match had a fair bit of this, although it’s not a great performance by any means.

Third: the heat isn’t quite as far and away better than me as it is in other divisions, which I suppose means that Revolver, in practice, is a little easier than Carry Optics. I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. If one of my goals in this sport is to be properly good relative to my peers (and it is), it seems like I could do worse than picking a division where I’m naturally advantaged.

Fourth: it’s a conversation starter! Everyone’s curious about the gun, the gear, and the why. On more than one occasion, I’ve been told, “You make that look really fun,” which is a good compliment.

Fifth: earlier in my Revolver career (so, June), I described the division as wheelgun-specific esoterica layered on top of the very, very basics of the sport. In the last few weeks, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not strictly accurate. For many of the form and technique items I was doing differently than I would with a semi-auto, I’ve swung back toward the semi-auto methods. A grip is a grip, no matter what shape of handgun it’s formed around; a double-action trigger pull is a double-action trigger pull, whether it’s turning a cylinder or not2. What I can’t say for sure is whether this is an absolute truth or a ‘local’ one—is it just me, or is it a more broadly-applicable lesson?

Moving on, I’ve started listening to Ben Berry’s Short Course podcast, and although I grant he’s not saying anything especially novel, he approaches the sport in the same way I do and says things that I don’t think I would have hit upon quickly without someone else saying them. Two items in particular are worth calling out. First, the value of live-fire training. I was previously in the camp of, “I’ll do my live-fire practice at matches.” This, of course, is a bad idea. You may burn a lot of ammo at a match, but you’re spending a very short amount of time on any one skill, and you don’t have the time for analysis in between every few shots like you would running drills at a range. Two, how to practice generally. His mantra is that it’s very hard to drill your way to faster times, and that improvement comes much more frequently from doing something different instead of doing it quicker.

There are a bunch of other things too, but I’ll save those for a separate post, since this one’s already 1200 words long and I’m not even close to done yet.

Gear

Everything pretty much worked. I realize that this is a slightly strange thing to say in a season where I was plagued by light primer strikes, but those problems were largely of my own devising. A 10lb hammer spring and Federal primers are a reliable combination. I was trying to get a little too cute, and paid the price for it3.

It took most of the season, but I think I’m pretty well acquainted with the double action trigger on my chosen Ruger Super GP100 now. I have more to say about the gun, but I think it’ll work better as an article unto itself.

Long story short, the gun did its part, except when I was doing ill-advised tinkering. What am I feeding it with? Originally, it was a diet of factory .38 Special. The hotter factory stuff tends just barely to make minor power factor. I had planned to reload from the beginning, since I get all my brass back on handy little clips, and it seems wasteful not to use it, but I was planning on .38 Special. Difficulties with getting moon clips in and out of the gun convinced me to make the switch to .38 Short Colt4. Although the exact load is still a work in progress, it ejects from the cylinder more readily (the ejector pushes fired cases fully free of chambers even on a partial stroke) and drops in easier, too (the cases still wiggle in my moon clips, but the magnitude of the displacement at the tips of the bullets is smaller, since the loaded cartridges are shorter). All in all, this is another place where I decided to take my lumps and do the thing everyone’s doing—a painful thing for a hipster like me to admit, but in this case, they’re not wrong. The last thing on my list for easier moon clip dropping is cylinder mouth chamfering, which I’m having done over the offseason.

The last item on the gear list is the belt and associated equipment. I’m still using the same Midway USA two-layer belt I bought for my Limited P-09. It still works just fine. My revolver gear is heavier than my Limited/Carry Optics rig, so I get a little bit more flex, but not so much that I care to change up the belt itself.

Since Revolver is a race division, I might buy parvusimperator’s old Double Alpha jobber. I’ll have to try it and see how I like it first, though. The SpeedBeez Kydex race holster is perfectly functional. I don’t feel like I’m giving up that much time on draws, and the Kydex holster may actually be more forgiving in terms of getting a good draw out of a bad start, because there’s a place where my knuckle hits to tell me if I’m on target.

The SpeedBeez moon clip rack works fine. It’s not adjustable like the Double Alpha individual moon clip holders, but I don’t see any need for adjustment, and Double Alpha claims their magnets hold the moon clips more tightly anyway, which is the last thing I need. The SpeedBeez rack was also about $40 cheaper than the equivalent number of DAA racks. The one downside to the SpeedBeez unit is that it’s curved to fit the front of a body, and since I wear it slightly around to my left side, it doesn’t quite contour perfectly to me. Not enough of a problem to merit a change, though, I don’t think.

Goals (2020)

I didn’t have many explicit goals for 2020, because the season got off to such a strange start with the initial pandemic closures and all. I did sort of develop two goals as we got a bit deeper into the year.

First: maybe make B class? I’ve been languishing in C class for a while across all my divisions, and was trending toward B in Carry Optics last year as I developed further familiarity with the gun5. This year is the most seriously I’ve taken the sport by far, and despite having to get used to the revolver, I put in a pair of good classifiers in July and August (73% and 56%). That was a good base to work from, but my my classifiers in September and October have not been up to the same standard, except for last Saturday’s 56%, and so I’m not going to make B this year—especially since the 73% gets bumped from the list-o-recent-scores soon.

Second: shoot two matches a month for the length of the season (this year, it was June to October). This was not, I grant, a particularly hard goal to hit this year, given how much I was itching to get out to matches during the COVID lockdowns. After we started back up, the main obstacle to that schedule was weather, but this was a pleasant enough summer in that respect, except on two occasions: LCSA in July, and the Battle for the North Coast match at the end of August. On both occasions, it rained. For LCSA, I decided to tough it out and get the match in anyway; for Battle for the North Coast, I was already out at a hotel in Ohio, and it would have been a little silly not to shoot the match given that it was free for staff.

Goals (2021)

That was 2020. What’s the story for 2021?

To answer that question, I think I have to ask about goals more generally. What do I want to get out of USPSA in the long run?

Number one: I would like to get good at Revolver. There’s a continuum of acceptability here; the bottom end is M-class (which I think should be attainable even if I don’t have the natural skill to push deeper), and the top end is ‘nationally competitive’, by which I suppose I mean ‘can finish in the top half of a Revolver nationals field’. Dream big, right?

A brief aside before I move on: that’s a performance goal, which I’ve come to dislike. In the short term, it’s much better to have process goals. The only thing process depends on is your own motivation, which is entirely under your control. Process goals need verification to guarantee that the process is working, however, and that’s where the long-term performance goals come in. They don’t have a time horizon, but I can use them to check my progress, and therefore the efficiency of my process.

Long-term goal two: give back to the sport by playing staff at more big matches. This plays into a short-term goal (shoot more major matches). This is not an entirely selfless aim: my shooting budget is relatively limited, so saving $100 to $200 in match fees and most or all of a hotel means I can get to more majors.

Long-term goal three: advance through the RO certifications. CRO for sure. Range master maybe? It might be nice eventually, but the range master page says, “This isn’t just so you get a nice certificate on the wall, it’s so you can work matches on a regular basis,” and I don’t know if I want to make that kind of time commitment to officiating specifically.

Finally, number four: classify in every division. This is obviously not as serious a goal as the rest, and pretty much depends on a) classifier matches and b) guns I can borrow.

Of those four goals, only the first three are more than for kicks, and I can only work on the first two in the near term, given experience/time requirements for higher-level range officer certifications. That leaves two to work on. As the saying goes, a goal without a plan is just a dream, so what’s my 2021 plan to move toward those goals?

Item one: shoot three times a month through the USPSA season, which is about March through October here, with at least one of those three sessions being practice rather than a match. My ammo budget allows for 5,000 rounds next year, which comes to a bit over 600 rounds per month. Given my usual local matches, that means probably about 300 match rounds and 300 practice rounds if I go two-and-one.

Item two: dry fire three nights a week. Right now, I’m on a four nights pace, but I want to leave myself a bit more time to do other things next year, with the expectation that I can fill half an hour with some dry fire on the ostensible off nights if I don’t have other projects calling my name.

Item three: end 2020 with a one-year stockpile of reloading supplies. (And, ideally, load them over the winter.) I have orders in for bullets and primers (somehow, I found a case of 5,000 for a price that doesn’t make me sick), so all I need is to grab a bottle or two of powder from the FLGS one of these days.

Item four: work and shoot two major matches. Three would be nice, but I’d take two. (Or maybe even shoot two on staff day and work one without shooting it.) Gotta get that RO card populated. I’d love to go back to Battle for the North Coast as staff next year, and maybe I’ll see if I can pitch in at the Western PA section match too.

Lastly, item five: take an offseason from about mid-November 2020 to January 2021. That is, no regularly-scheduled dry fire, no belt-on practice. Why? This will help me deprogram any bad habits I’ve developed over the year, and set me up for a fresh start on the season in 2021.

Grokking Reloads

I’m going to wrap up this extraordinarily lengthy post with a quick note on reloading. If you’ve been following my videos, you might have noticed that I switched reload techniques after the first match. One of my most surprising discoveries while working up my wheelgun skills was that there are, to the best of my knowledge, zero written descriptions of the two major competition revolver reload techniques6 on the Internet. This coda is an effort to rectify that.

There are two schools, named after the hand which handles the ammunition: the strong hand reload and the weak hand reload.

The weak hand reload, which I tried first, involves opening the cylinder with the strong hand: the thumb hits the cylinder release, and the trigger finger pokes the cylinder open. The weak hand hangs around for a moment to palm the ejector on the way down to the belt. After the empties drop, the strong hand drops the gun to belt level, while the weak hand picks up a moon clip and drops it home.

The strong hand reload, which I settled on later, leaves the gun handling to the weak hand. The strong hand thumbs the cylinder release, while the weak hand shifts up to push the cylinder open with the fingers. (I use the middle finger and ring finger, leaving the index finger on the frame to aid in muzzle control.) While the weak hand brings the gun down to the belt, thumbing the ejector on the way, the strong hand goes for a moon clip and sets it in place.

The weak hand reload’s advantage is that it lets you keep your strong hand in place the whole time: no breaking your grip. The disadvantage is that it’s slower: your weak hand is doing nothing while the strong hand opens the cylinder.

The strong hand reload’s advantages and disadvantages are flipped: it can be faster (and indeed, a certain famed wheelgunner by the name of Miculek prefers it), but you’ll be breaking and re-establishing your grip several times over the course of stage.

For the short-thumbed, such as yours truly, the strong hand reload has a second hidden advantage: the weak hand moving up to the cylinder gives me the opportunity to move my strong hand so that my thumb can actually reach the cylinder release.

For me, match experience suggests the strong hand reload is the right one. I find it much easier to align the moon clip with the cylinder when the former is in my better hand. Too, my experience is that the strong hand reload is much easier to perform when moving in non-optimal directions—not just right to left, but even downrange to uprange. Pointing my thumb in a safe direction leaves open access to the cylinder no matter where I’m moving.

And there you have it. My 2020 season in review. Expect a one-season-in bit on the Super GP100 a little later on in November.


  1. My co-blogger, of course, realized this well before I did. Late last year, I was debating what my next division would be. He wrote ‘Revolver’ on a piece of paper, folded it, and told me to look when I made my final decision. Lo, he was correct. 
  2. Reloads are, of course, different. 
  3. In a Short Course episode I listened to recently, Mr. Berry made the switch to softer primers after a long struggle with getting CCI primers to go off. He admitted to stubbornly saying, “No, I should be able to get this to work!” Here, I make a similar mea culpa. “Just use the right spring!” 
  4. Also, everyone who heard I was shooting a .38/.357 gun said, “You using Short Colts?” It’s a curious little cartridge—about the size of a 9mm, and in its Starline incarnation, capable of withstanding similar pressures. I’m pushing a 158gr bullet with about 3.5gr of Bullseye, which is miles off the top end of the pressure charts for the cartridge in its original 1870s guise, but not all that unusual in the modern era. 
  5. I’d been shooting it for two years, although for the first of those two years it was in Limited guise. 
  6. It goes beyond that—there’s basically zero learning material out there for competition revolver. On the other hand, the Brian Enos revolver forum is one of the friendliest places on the Internet. They never seem to tire of answering newbie questions. 

Gear Review: Double Alpha Dry-Fire Practice Mag

If you want to get better at shooting, you take the time to practice gun handling skills in dry fire. One such handling skill is reloading your pistol. It’s pretty easy to practice with the magazines that you normally use, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize that you never reload your pistol with an empty magazine.

To add some more verisimilitude to your practice, you could make (or buy) some dummy rounds and load your mag with those. Or, you could get Double Alpha’s new practice magazines.

I picked some up for my open pistol, which is a 2011-type racegun. 2011 magazines aren’t cheap, so I don’t have as many of them as I’d like. The Double Alpha practice magazines fit great in my gun and my mag pouches. Even though I have a newer, convex magwell, I did not need to file or dremel on the magazines to get them to lock in place. Since the mags have a plastic body, it would be easy to file them to fit if I had to deal with tolerance stacking issues.

The Double Alpha practice mags work as advertised, serving as stand-ins for a magazine weighted down with dummy rounds. You can’t actually load any rounds into the Double Alpha practice magazines, so there’s an extra element of safety there. Being purple plastic, they also stand out from your regular magazines.

Let’s get to value. The practice mags retail for $19.95 on Double Alpha’s website. Some value question will come down to do you care about reloading with mags that ‘feel’ loaded, and how much you value your time. If you had a bunch of spare components lying around, you could make some dummy rounds, load those up in your mags, and get to work. This would work even better if you had some old magazines lying around. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for convenience, especially in platforms with expensive magazines.

Fishbreath Shoots: Ruger Super GP100 .357 review

Ruger’s been making a big push into the competition world lately, with a USPSA Single Stack-ready 1911 and a Ruger American with slide cuts for Carry Optics. First on the menu from the recently-established Ruger Custom Shop, however, was the Super GP100 in .357 Magnum, a revolver designed from the ground up for practical shooting competitions.

I’ve had this year’s competition revolver in hand for some time now, taken it to two ranges and one match, and put a fair few rounds through it generally.

So, let’s get down to business.

The Gun

The Super GP100 is a .357 Magnum revolver1 built with competition in mind. Though it bears the GP100 name, it is in fact a hybrid design. Its frame is Redhawk-size (that is, large enough for an 8-round cylinder), but its dual-spring lockwork comes from the GP100. The cylinder locks in three places for maximum durability, and is cut down quite a bit to reduce weight.

The trick about revolvers for USPSA (this is one of them) is that an 8-round cylinder is the cost of entry. Under the rules, you can fire eight shots before reloading if you’ve declared Minor power factor, and six if you’ve declared Major. The USPSA rules further say that a stage cannot require more than eight shots from a single shooting position. Fewer than eight rounds loaded, and you have to reload flat-footed. Nobody likes that.

So, although it’s a .357 revolver, I’ll be shooting .38 Special almost exclusively2.

Size, Feel, and Look

To kick things off, it is a big gun. A 5.5″ barrel at the end of a large revolver frame makes for neither a small nor a light handgun. For its purposes, though, this is fine.

It feels pretty good in my hands. I have two minor gripes, however. One, the cylinder release is a bit hard to hit with my strong hand, and is relatively small. (I understand Ruger is working on an extended part.) Two, the stocks aren’t shaped in such a way as to fully promote a hands-high grip—the natural place to put your hands, given the contour of the stocks, is a bit too far down for the proper double-action grip. That can be fixed with aftermarket parts, however, something I may investigate later in the year.

As far as its general appearance, I find it quite handsome indeed. The diagonal cuts in the barrel shroud give it a somewhat retrofuturistic air, along with the fiber-optic front sight, but otherwise, it’s a revolver with classic revolver lines. It wouldn’t look entirely out of place on the set of Firefly, which is an aesthetic I can get behind.

Disassembly and Ease of Maintenance

I do not have very many revolvers, but the Super GP100 is middle-of-the-road on ease of disassembly. Swapping springs or removing the hammer at a match would be a no-go, although the latter is only because there are hammer shims inside to deal with3.

Of course, the manual says that no disassembly is required for basic cleaning. I suspect I’ll take them at their word, and only do the detail strip now and then.

Range Notes

Before the first match, I had two range sessions to come to grips with the gun, one at an indoor range where I did quite a poor dot torture (and ended up adjusting the zero on the sights), and one at an outdoor range with a bunch of steel plates between 15 and 30 yards.

Trigger

Pretty good, out of the box. Better than the 929 Performance Center I tried out at a different local gun store. I haven’t had the chance to play with a slicked-up Smith, so I can’t draw an exact comparison, but even with only lighter springs (no polishing), parvusimperator remarked that it felt pretty good.

The trigger scale says about 7.5lb double action and 2.5lb single action. Single action is a clean break. Double action has a bit of clickiness to it at one point, but I don’t mind.

Accuracy

More accurate than me!

It’s a revolver with a 5.5″ barrel. Not only is the sight radius correspondingly huge, but when it came back from warranty service4, the factory included a copy of the target showing a sub-1″ group at 15 yards.

Given that I’m shooting it double action in a practical shooting sport, that’s plenty sufficient.

Recoil

Tame, at least with .38 Special, which is what most people will be running through it. The gun weighs 44 ounces, plenty to soak up the pop from piddling minor loads.

Reliability

Because this is a competition gun, I didn’t even bother shooting it with stock springs. That, of course, raises questions of reliability.

Unlike my CZ P-09 race gun, which has happily consumed every load I’ve ever fed it, the Super GP100 with lightened springs (a Wolff 9lb mainspring) is a little more finicky. It happily runs on Prvi Partizan .38 Special, but handloads with decade-old CCI primers, though they were reliable in single-action, failed once or twice per cylinder in double-action. Winchester primers of the same vintage worked fine5.

One frequent complaint about .38 Special in competition revolvers is that the ejector won’t fully eject empties. I can confidently say that’s not a problem here—the ejector stroke is long enough to pop empty cases fully out of the cylinder.

Match Notes

Now, we arrive at the meat of the post. The Super GP100 is a competition gun. How can I fully review it if I don’t compete with it?

First thing’s first. Here’s the match video sans commentary. Here it is with commentary, which is probably not going to be too interesting to people without USPSA knowledge ahead of time.

So, how was it in match conditions? Pretty good. Although the stocks, as I mentioned earlier, aren’t quite shaped how I’d like them to be for the grip I want, they’re perfectly acceptable. I didn’t find myself taking the wrong grip out of the holster or off of the table starts, which is a good minimum benchmark.

You might notice in the video that I struggle with reloads in a few places. This is in part due to my inexperience and choice of the wrong basic technique6, but also in part due to the combination of factory ammo without a roll crimp and Ruger’s traditionally-tight chambers. Prvi Partizan-brand .38 Special in both the factory moon clips and the SpeedBeez version binds unless it’s dropped just so7, with the gun almost exactly vertical. Because of the taper on 9mm, it wouldn’t be a problem with the 9mm version, if you’re okay with spitting on revolver tradition8.

Match accuracy is, as I indicated earlier, just fine. I missed a few small steels at long range, but that’s on me more than it is the gun. The sights do come from the factory regulated for a 6-o’clock hold, which is fine if you like it. It’s not what I’m used to, however, especially after a long run of Carry Optics, in which you put the dot on the thing and pull the trigger, so before the next match I’m going up to the range to adjust them for a dead-on hold.

Conclusions

I’ll grant you that I’m not the best person to review competition revolvers. I only have the one, and I don’t have experience with tuned Smith & Wesson guns for comparison purposes.

That said, I’ll still put my recommendation on this one. The problems (iffy reloads with factory ammo, less-than-perfectly-ideal stocks) are relatively minor, and both easily solved (by handloads and by aftermarket grips) are smaller than the benefits (match readiness is a $5 pack of Wolff springs, not a $150 trip to a gunsmith). The value proposition is there, and the performance is nothing to sneeze at either.


  1. You can get it in 9mm too, but 9mm is not a fit caliber for a revolver, no matter what the Revolver Nationals stats say. 
  2. Because of USPSA power factor rules, I’m likely to go (in the low-power direction rather than the high-power one) to more esoteric cartridges in the future, like .38 Short Colt or custom cut-down .38 Special. 
  3. To put the hammer back in, you stick one shim to it with gun grease, put the hammer pin through that shim and into the hammer, and push the opposite shim into the frame with a piece of paper. 
  4. It came with a misaligned barrel shroud assembly. Ruger was highly accommodating, and had it turned around inside a week. 
  5. I understand that primers have been getting more sensitive over the years—thus saith the Lee reloading book, along with some random forum posters. Today’s CCI primers might work. Perhaps I’ll pick up a box at the reloading-supplies counter of the friendly local gun store. 
  6. I’m writing a post on this, too, but it comes down to gross motor movements with my dominant hand against fine motor movements with my weak hand, and I should have realized that before practicing the latter a bunch. 
  7. I bought a reloading press to solve this problem. It was always an inevitability once I started shooting competitive revolver, because you get to keep all your brass, but this is a bit ahead of schedule. Anyway, a roll crimp into the SNS Casting 158-grain coated bullets’ crimp groove drops easily9
  8. I’ve come down hard on 9mm revolvers, but it’s good-natured. If you’re considering shooting a revolver at USPSA matches, pick whatever caliber you want. (And granted, 9mm has advantages.) The division needs you. 
  9. Because I bought a gun that Just Works, like parvusimperator’s Open blaster, I have to find my tinkering where I can, and that’s evidently at the reloading bench. Next year: .38 Short Colt? 

Big Iron: Gearing Up for Revolver Competition

That’s right. It’s happening. This year, your correspondent is dedicating himself to the noble art of the wheelgun, embodied in the Revolver Division of the United States Practical Shooting Association.

In the spirit of previous posts, such as my CZ Limited and CZ Carry Optics shopping lists, I’m going to talk first about why I decided to embark upon this new task, and then about the gear I chose to carry me through it.

Why Revolver?

Because nobody writes ballads about semi-auto gunslingers1. The history they carry with them means revolvers are inherently romantic.

On top of that, they’re fascinating bits of clockwork. Take a gander at an exploded parts diagram! All kinds of tiny parts working together in non-obvious ways to turn and align a cylinder, bring a hammer back, push a transfer bar up (maybe), and let the hammer drop, just at the right time. It’s a kind of mechanical beauty.

Next up, revolver competition is fertile ground for a young(ish) guy like me. I may not have the hundreds of thousands of rounds of experience that the leaders of the pack do, but I do have fast, non-arthritic hands and good movement speed by USPSA standards. I think I can work that to do better in revolver than I can in more traditional divisions.

Finally, my choice of USPSA divisions in the past has trended more and more toward speed, extra bullets in the pipe, and limited reloading. Revolver gives me a reason to slow down and work on accuracy, which will be handy for, say, Carry Optics, where I’ve previously wasted a lot of time on make-up shots.

The List

Reader, you know me. I am cheap. Getting into a new division, however, is frequently not cheap. I did my best to keep the costs down, and I think I did a pretty good job in the final tally. Prices are all-up

Ruger Super GP100 .357: $1,138

When I first investigated revolvers for USPSA competition back in 2018, the only revolvers fit for USPSA rules (which favor 8 round cylinders and forbid barrel porting) were the Smith and Wesson 929, which I objected to on cost and everyone’s-shooting-it grounds, and the Ruger Redhawk, whose single-spring lockwork limited how much tuning you could do. My 2019 shopping list, written after Ruger’s release of the .357 Super GP100 but before the release of the 9mm Super GP100, settled on the former.

The first question this raises, which I don’t think I answered in preceding articles, is why Ruger, when Smith has all the aftermarket attention? For one, aesthetics. I don’t mean looks alone, though looks play into it, I also mean the hipster points. I don’t like shooting the same gun as everyone else. That’s boring. For the other, practicality. I had the chance to play with both a 929 and a Super GP100 at the local we-have-everything gun store. I liked the way the Ruger sat in my hand better, I could reach the cylinder release and the hammer spur more readily, and I thought the trigger on the Ruger was better out of the box. There are more Smith smiths out there, but on the other hand, I spent twenty minutes replacing springs on the Super GP100, and I have what I’d consider a match-ready trigger.

The second question is, why .38 over 9mm? Two of the three reasons are the same as above: aesthetics and practicality. 9mm is not a suitable cartridge for a revolver, stylistically. On practicality grounds, I have a ton of 9mm pistols already, with higher capacities and faster rates of fire than a 9mm revolver. I do not have very many powerful handguns, and none at the junction of powerful and easy to reload occupied by a .357 revolver cut for moon clips. Is that a common need? No, but there are guns for way less common uses in my safe, so there is at least an argument that it’s a practical choice.

The third reason is tinkering. Like parvusimperator, I see the reasoning behind buying a competition-ready gun and doing very little to it. It’s nice to have a gun that Just Works. Of course, that leaves me with nothing to do with my spare time2. .38 leaves me room to experiment with reloading in more exciting ways than 9mm—shortening cases, wadcutters and semi-wadcutters, different crimps, and the like.

Oh, and the .357 Super GP100 is about $100 cheaper.

Anyway, this is not a full review of the gun. One of those is forthcoming at a later date, after I’ve had a few range sessions and at least one match to try it out.

SpeedBeez Kydex Holster: $73

My previous shopping list called for a Guga Ribas universal holster, but that preceded the availability of SpeedBeez’s Kydex option.

It’s thicker than any of my other plastic holsters, and there’s a way to place the gun in it so that it rests rather than clicking into place, making it appropriately speedy. It’s also cut low on the top, so that I only need a short pull up on the draw before the gun is free to come forward.

All in all, a good buy, and it saves me a bunch over the fancy custom holster, which I put toward some other items.

eBay Holster Hanger: $24 with coupon

The holster, of course, came with a belt clip, but when I was putting my gear together, the USPSA had not yet corrected the rulebook to note that revolver holsters are allowed to sit up to the length of an overlay (3 3/8 inches, I believe) from the inner belt, so the Kydex drop-offset piece it came with was too offset and also insufficiently dropped.

I found this one on eBay for $27.50. Between tax and a $5 coupon, I got it for $24.

It does the job admirably, although I’m not using it quite as specced. Because the mounting points on your average semi-auto holster are further toward the muzzle than they are on the holster called out above, I had to mount it in such a way that I can’t actually use the adjustable offset. That said, the mounting holes on the holster provide for what just so happens to be the perfect amount of offset, and there are other hole options on the holster body. I was able to get the holster set up perfectly for my taste, with the grip straight horizontal and the grip just protruding above the top of the belt, as required by USPSA rules.

SpeedBeez Moon Clip Rack: $160

The SpeedBeez moon clip rack is the most competition-focused piece of equipment I own. What possible other use is there for an 8-rack of moon clips?

It does its job well, and is more or less the standard for moon clip shooters. What more is there to say?

SpeedBeez Moon Clips: $130

While I was at SpeedBeez, I figured I’d order some moon clips. For a bit more than I was prepared to pay at TK Custom in my 2019 shopping list, I got two and a half times as many.

Of course, there are tradeoffs. These are 0.020″ clips, whereas both the stock Ruger option and TK Custom’s standard are 0.025″. A tiny difference, but enough of one to matter. I bought a half case of PPU .38 Special to start out my revolver career. Loaded into the three stock Ruger clips, they drop into the cylinder cleanly. Loaded into the SpeedBeez clips, they wobble just enough to bind, slowing down a good proportion of my reloads.

There are a number of ways this could be fixed (a slightly more aggressive chamfer on the cylinder, a slightly more aggressive crimp on the case, thicker/stiffer moon clips), but unfortunately, I’ll have to live with it until I can implement one of the other solutions.

Crimp seems like the easiest thing to manage, especially given the ease of recovering brass when it’s stuck to your discarded moon clips, and the fact that my more-aggressively-crimped dummy ammo drops right in. One of those Lee classic turret presses is pretty tempting, not gonna lie.

SpeedBeez Moon Clip Tester: $37

I had a bit of budget left over, so I got one of these to simplify moon clip checking. Nifty little gadget. Does its job.

Original Precision Moon Clip Tool: $76

There are some ridiculously spendy moon clip tools out there, but this one does both moon clip loading and unloading for the price of one of TK Custom’s fancy moon clip loaders by itself.

It doesn’t work quite as well as a really purpose-built tool would, I suppose, but it’s perfectly adequate for loading a bunch of clips while I watch a Youtube video or something on my workshop computer.

Ammo Can Moon Clip Box: $15 and some scrap wood

Readers, I confess that your correspondent is beginning to come down with cabin fever3. So, two weekends back, I ordered a surplus .50-cal ammo can from Midway, set about some scrap wood in my basement with circular saw and drill4, and put together a moon clip box.

It has sixteen pegs arranged in two squares, with a missing peg in the middle of each square so I can get my hand down and into the box. Each peg holds up to four clips, for an ammunition capacity of 512 rounds pre-loaded—enough for all but the most grueling of match days. Handy little piece of kit for the revolver competitor on the go, and when the rust developing on this box grows beyond the tolerable, I can pop the caddy into one of the newfangled plastic jobbers.

If I can’t be at a match, at least I can be making my match days better!

Total: $1,653

Not only did I get more gear than I called for in my 2019 shopping list, I came in under the $1,705 total therefrom.

Granted, $1,653 makes it my spendiest gun project to date. (The Limited/Carry Optics CZ P-09 cost about $250 more.) Plus, reloading gear to come…

Even so, though, revolver’s been one of my dream divisions for a long time, to the point that parvusimperator wrote down his guess when I was debating between the Glockblaster 2.0 and the revolver last summer, and on my final selection a month or two ago, opened the paper to reveal he was correct. I like revolvers. (Clearly.) I’m looking forward to the chance to shoot one in competition, when they finally start back up.

And when they do? Why, you can expect a full review of the Super GP100 with attached match report, and you can certainly expect some match videos. Until then.


  1. At least, nobody I listen to. 
  2. This is a joke. I have way too much to do and way too little spare time to do it in already. 
  3. A little less, now that I can get out to driving ranges and golf courses, but man, would I really like to have shot a few matches already this year. 
  4. I really need to get myself a drill press, or at least a plunge router. 

The Kasarda Drill Is Stupid

We’re too lazy to set up a proper shared byline, but this is a collaborative work, and both our names are on it. – P. & F.

The Kasarda drill is stupid.

There, we said it. The Kasarda drill is a fixture of the sort of action matches featured on Ian and Karl’s Inrange channel down in Arizona. Briefly, it involves a stage where there is one (1) steel silhouette-type target at the end of a bay. The shooter has to cover a distance by repeatedly tossing a heavy kettlebell, and scoring a hit on the target from wherever the kettlebell lands. After the shooter has gotten the kettlebell across some predetermined line and scored a final hit, the drill is complete.

We hate this drill. We think it is profoundly stupid. Here’s why.

Karl loves to gripe about “practicality,” or the lack thereof in matches not designed in accordance with his preconceived notions. He doesn’t like raceguns. He doesn’t like compensators. Et cetera. And that’s fine. Open division isn’t for everyone. Fancy race guns aren’t for everyone. That’s why there are other divisions. Of course, he’s also griped about the 180 safety rule, lack of required use of cover, and other rules designed to make rules enforcement easily understandable by shooters and ROs.

And yet the Kasarda drill is also a massively impractical, completely artificial drill. It bears exactly zero resemblance to anything actually done by any law enforcement officer or soldier ever. Literally none, unless you want to completely abstract everything away and think of it as “physical thing plus shooting thing.” Let’s break that down.

First, the physical. This is not drag your buddy, or carry ammo, or lug a “support weapon”. It’s fling a heavy kettlebell. And they have to dictate how you do it, because if you do it wrong, you’ll screw up your shoulder or your back and be out of the match. And while the folks at Inrange preach about accessibility, there are plenty of folks who are going to look at a big ol’ 62 pound (or whatever weight) kettlebell and say “Nope!”, and I can’t seem to find the place where Inrange tells you how to accommodate those with bad backs. Anyway, matches near me have plenty of middle aged folks, and making them get into shape before they come to my match is going to result in a very empty match with not a lot of fees to cover my expenses. Likewise, being perceived as requiring people to get into shape before they come out and play at my match is also going to result in a very empty match.

If the point is “exhaustion and then shoot”, there are other ways to do it that are more accessible and less potentially injurious. Carry something heavy (cops and soldiers might do this). People can drag a heavy weight if they can’t actually carry it. Or, you could have people run a lot (cops and soldiers might do this too). Heck, the running challenge automatically adjusts to fitness levels if you do laps around a bay or something. You’d just have to make the par time work. And hey, it even reasonably simulates a real-world incident. Check out this video from Active Self Protection.

Second, the shooting. Seriously, just one plate? Really? No transitions? Not even a mandatory reload? This “drill” feels like someone is trying to inject a bit of shooting into Crossfit. If I want to crossfit, I’ll hit the gym. I’m on the shooting range. Can I at least have an interesting shooting challenge?

Open Gear Retrospective: Year One

I’ve been having a blast in Open, and thought I’d take a bit to talk through some of my gear and the small changes I’ve made. My gun has been running great, and I’m super happy about that. Let’s look at some of the other stuff, and one gun part swap.

1) Holster: Double Alpha Alpha-X vs. Everglades Magnetic Race Holster
I started with a purchase of a ‘belt kit’ from Double Alpha, which included their Alpha-X race holster. This holster requires inserts to fit the trigger guard of your firearm. Since I’m using the relatively new Lone Star Innovations Outlaw grip on my race gun, which doesn’t have an insert explicitly made for it, I guessed and got the insert for the Phoenix Trinity Evo grip.

Was this module the right choice?
Yes. Or, at least, it was retained correctly and drew (mostly) fine.

Why did I switch?
Sometimes I found that I could get my gun to snag a little on the draw. I also wanted something with a bit more positioning change options, so I gave the Everglades Magnetic Race Holster (MRH) a try.

Is the MRH better?
Yes. Much smoother draw, nicer adjustment range for holster position, and the adjustments actually stay in place without a bunch of loctite. It also has a much bigger lever for the lock to keep the gun retained when moving, which is easier to sweep off on the draw. The only downside to the MRH is that its only for hi-cap 1911 platforms.

Which should you buy?
If you’re shooting a hi-cap 1911/2011 type platform, get the MRH. It’s just better.

2) Mag Pouches: Double Alpha Racemaster vs. Alpha-X
I opted to go for the Racemaster mag pouches in my belt kit.

Why did I switch?
I decided to give the Alpha-X a try since forum reviews indicated they had a superior mounting system design and I found that my mags could drag a little when drawing from the aluminum-bodied Racemasters. The Alpha-X pouches have plastic liners to try to correct this.

Which is better?
The Alpha-Xs are better. The belt attachment is a lot more secure, and only requires you to tweak/torque/loctite one screw instead of two. The plastic liner really does allow you to get a clean, slick mag draw even after you’ve messed around with tension. Plus, if you like to run your pouches bullets-out like me, the Alpha-Xs are way easier to set up that way. I’ll slowly switch out the Racemasters for Alpha-Xs, but being an open shooter, extra mag pouches are a seldom-used item anyway.

3) Magwell: Dawson ICE vs. Limcat V2
My awesome open gun came with a nice, big Dawson ICE magwell on it. This is a pretty typical choice and it’s been around for a while. It’s got an aluminum top with a replaceable plastic liner, so when you gouge it up after practicing reloads, you can just replace the liner rather than the whole magwell.

Why did I switch?
I noticed sometimes during reload practice that there was a way I could actually get my mag stuck in the grip if I didn’t rotate it correctly to align it with the grip. Some googling showed me that I wasn’t the only one with this problem, and Limcat made a magwell to try to fix it. The Limcat V2 magwell has an aluminum top and a hardened steel liner, which isn’t easily replaceable, but it should be resistant to getting all gouged up by reloads as you try to get faster.

Which is better?
The Limcat by far, even if I had to spend some time fitting it with a file. It’s got a shape that helps push your hand up higher on the grip, and the magwell’s narrower mouth and convex shape really does mean that you can’t get the mag to jam up. If you don’t miss the magwell, your reload is gonna happen. It’s a fantastic magwell design, which is probably why everyone is trying to copy it. And the hardened steel liner is, in fact, resistant to gouges.

4) Which helped more, minor kit tweaks or consistent practice?
Consistent Practice. Duh.

5) Do I want to try any other minor changes?
Of course. In no particular order, I’m considering trying the following:

  • Some kind of thumb rest, mostly because this is open and I can have one.
  • The Atlas ‘Ape Hanger’ racker, because it looks cool and it won’t smash your thumb if you flag it (old habits die hard).
  • The Limcat Heavy Brass V2 magwell, because I kinda like my current heavy gun, so why not try more weight low in it?
  • Possibly the SIG Romeo 3XL red dot, but that’s a lot more expensive than everything else on that list, so I might wait.

But really, the big thing is just get more practice.

DISCLAIMER: I paid my own money for all of the above parts and received $0.00 in compensation from any of the manufacturers listed here.

RIA VR80: Open Shotgun for a Reasonable Price?

Previously when I’ve talked about Open Shotguns, I’ve mentioned the gold standard that is a Vepr 12 worked over by Dissident Arms. They’re feature packed and work great, but come at a hefty price of $2,200 for the base competition model and $3,400 for the KL-12, one with all the bells and whistles. Alternative designs haven’t really caught on, often because they’re unreliable. An unreliable, cheap gun isn’t all that useful. The RIA VR80, a rebranded Derya Mk12, is a new option. Let’s see how it shakes out.

VR80: $699 (MSRP)
The VR80 comes out of the box with a couple of small magazines (thanks ATF), a charging handle that can be swapped to the left or right side, and threads for chokes. It also, of course, comes with a few chokes to get you started. A stock Vepr 12 comes with neither of these features out of the box, and both are only available on the fully tricked out KL-12 from Dissident. Early reports say that the VR80 is a pretty reliable weapon after a break-in with higher velocity shells. We’ll see what shakes out.

Long compensator: $99.99
Open shotgun demands a comp. So far, we just have one from Advanced Tactical, RIA’s importer. Done.

Taccom Buffer: $49.95
Taccom has a buffer which is supposed to improve the recoil feel. It’s not that expensive, and probably worth a try. Taccom makes good stuff.

Magwell: $39.99
I’m not sure how necessary this part is, but open guns should have magwells. Also, both Dissident guns feature a magwell. It’s a cheap enough addition.

Magpul ACS stock: $85.45
I picked this stock because I like it, the price is reasonable, and it comes with compartments in case I want to add weight to get the balance where I want it. The VR80 comes with a lame thumbhole-type stock, probably for import reasons.

New pistol grip: ~$25.00
Pick one you like.

Fix that trigger: ?? (budget $200 based on fancy AR triggers)
There are apparently a few differences that make this not a standard AR-10 style lower, so we’re waiting on a nice trigger to be made. I’m using AR trigger prices as a ballpark here.

There are other parts forthcoming. Hayes Custom Guns is working on a mid-barrel comp and alternative handguards are also in progress. The big question is how well will it work? Dissident’s guns come already tuned and ready to rock out of the box, and that’s not nothing. I’m quite happy with that aspect of my open pistol.

Fishbreath Shoots: Cowboy Up – Another Potential Project Gun

The Glockblaster 2.0 post sounded an awful lot like I’d made a choice, didn’t it? Well, joke’s on you. I’m terrible at decisions.

The price on the street for the Ruger Super GP100, an actual, non Smith & Wesson competition-focused revolver, is surprising and compelling. Parvusimperator liked the one he picked up at the USCCA Expo a month or two ago. I’m going to go and fondle one at the local gun store two Saturdays hence, and will likely make my decision on which division it’s going to be at that time.

Why am I attracted to revolver? Four reasons.

One: it’s just cool. Wheelguns are fascinating machines, first off, and their Old West heritage makes them cooler than any semi-auto can hope to be. Impractical, sure, but so also would be the Open Glock.

Two: Revolver is a wide-open division. There aren’t a lot of young folks shooting it, and by picking it up when I’m still young and agile, I buy myself an advantage over the stereotypical revolver shooter. Put another way, there’s no division where I’m more likely to attend major matches on merit, if only because there are so few competition revolver shooters out there.

Three: way more pie-in-the-sky, but because Revolver is a wide-open division and there aren’t a lot of new shooters, if I pick it up and do well with it, I’m dramatically more likely to attract sponsor attention than I am in any other division. Not very likely, granted, but the rumor is that Ruger is looking to push into the competitive shooting space. How many other shooters are there who are a) interested in revolver and b) in the market for Ruger equipment specifically? I don’t have to be nearly as good at Revolver to find a Ruger jersey in the mail than I would have to be at, say, Carry Optics to catch CZ’s eye. I doubt I’m anywhere close yet, but Revolver is nevertheless much closer.

Four: I have the CZ set up for two go-fast divisions: Limited and Carry Optics. I’m fond of Carry Optics, and it sates my desire to have a competition gun I can burn down stages with. Open is more of the same, whereas Revolver goes entirely in the opposite direction: plan hard, slow down, get your As. Eight rounds in the cylinder leaves no room for mistakes. Minor scoring means accuracy is crucial. Slow reloads mean it’s sometimes better to run away from a miss. There’s a great deal more thinking required in Revolver, both before the stage and during it. That’s appealing, and I suspect it’ll make me a better shooter in the fast divisions, too.

So, in the spirit of these posts, let’s take a look at the shopping list.

Ruger Super GP100 .357/.38: $1160, shipped and transferred

An 8-round cylinder cut down to be as light as possible, a chambering readily suited to minor power factor, and hopefully Ruger-size controls. (My hands are too small for Smiths out of the factory, but I can generally reach everything I have to on Ruger revolvers.) Competition sights, an allegedly-light double action trigger, and moon clip cuts.

The Super GP100 is designed pretty much exactly to fit USPSA and IPSC revolver requirements, which saves me time and effort over my previous revolver plan, which would have taken some amateur gunsmithing effort. I do like tinkering, but parvusimperator has talked up the benefit of buying a gun that Just Works™, and I’m willing to give it a try.

Initial Competitive Capacity

Guga Ribas revolver holster: $190, shipped

Revolver is a race division, so you’re allowed to use the gun-rest-with-trigger-guard-lock holsters you find in Limited and Open. I’m game.

The Super GP100 is new enough that I’m stuck with universal holsters, which practically means only the Guga Ribas unit is a guarantee.

Speedbeez moon clip belt rack: $160, shipped

You need a way to keep those moon clips close at hand. Speedbeez makes an 8-clip belt rack with magnetic retention, which gives me plenty of ammo for even the most hamfisted stage plan.

There are other options, but none match the capacity, ease of use, and free shipping of Speedbeez’s.

20xTK Custom blued steel moon clips: $105, shipped

By opting for blued steel rather than stainless, I can get moon clips for about half as much, which means I can load a bunch pre-match and do less loading on the day. Moon clips are, of course, slower to fill up than magazines, so any savings in time is worth a bit of a spend.

Original Precision moon/demoon tool: $80, shipped

There are tons of tools out there to load and strip moon clips. This one is the right balance of price (less than two separate tools), size (two connected steel rods), and ease of use (the Youtube video makes it look pretty easy).

Grand Total: $1705

Not only is this cheaper, I think I also overestimated some of the shipping costs.

As I said in the Glockblaster 2.0 post, I like tinkering. On the other hand, I also like being in the running equipment-wise in my divisions, and I love me some wheelguns. I can see a path forward where, if the Super GP100 strikes me as a fitting choice, I go that way for now, and save the tinkering of an Open Glock or home-machined 2011 for later in life, when my eyes start going bad and I can’t move like I can now.

Unlike the Glockblaster 2.0, I don’t have a list of upgrades to try. Ruger hasn’t made any yet, for one, but I understand they’re working on a skeletonized hammer and an extended cylinder catch. Those may find their way to the gun eventually.

Cosmetically, why would I mess with a good-looking wheelgun? Instead, I’d put the money toward some good in-ear headphones and a cowboy hat.

Is that what will happen? Time will tell! Until then, enjoy a stage video from a match in May, and keep your eyes open for more such things as I consider investing in a hat cam ahead of a two-match July.

Fishbreath Shoots: Glockblaster 2.0 – A Potential 2019/2020 Project Gun

Something that’s been rattling around the back of my mind, especially now that Parvusimperator’s admittedly sweet Open-division custom double-stack 1911 came in, is the segment sometimes called ‘Ghetto Open’. What is Ghetto Open? Well, let’s use a car analogy.

If you’re a fan of driving fast around tracks and money is no object, the obvious thing to do is to buy a proper track day car: something by Caterham, say, or an Ariel Atom. They’re street-legal in the technical sense, but they’re clearly designed with a particular purpose in mind, and that purpose is going fast around a track. This is your double-stack 1911.

If you’re fond of cars with pedigree, you might instead buy something used from BMW or Mercedes and carefully tune it, making something refined into something both refined and fast. Here you find your Czechmates, your Tanfoglio Gold Teams, and perhaps your carefully-smithed Beretta and CZ one-offs.

If you’re one step up from a mad scientist, you know you can find twin turbo kits for your 2009 Honda Accord online, and why not bolt ’em in? You aren’t going to beat the Atoms and Caterhams around a track on an average day, but maybe every now and then you’ll snatch a bit of implausible glory. And hey, even if not, you raced with the big boys on their terms, and were way closer than you had any right to be. This is Ghetto Open.

I’ve been thinking about Ghetto Open guns for a while. The problem is that most of the ones I’ve had in mind are too far outside the mainstream1. You need a big aftermarket for a Ghetto Open gun to work, because you need parts of all sorts. The 2009 Honda Accord of the firearms world is, then, the Glock: ubiquitous, reliable, predictable, a little boring, and not especially fast. We can change that2. First, though, we should define some goals for Ghetto Open.

Goal #1: it should be cheap. If it costs as much as buying the right tool, then there’s no point to it.

Goal #2: it should be easy. The less work you have to do to shoot Open, the more heartfelt your mocking can be on the rare occasions when you’re on par with the proper guns, and the more resistant you are to mocking when you come up short3.

Goal #3: it should be weird. Buying a worn-out 2011 on the cheap is not Ghetto Open, which is defined in part by being the unwise tinkerer’s choice.

Goal #4: it should be functional. This is distinct from competitive. We’re fond of saying that it’s the Indian, not the arrow, but between Indians of equal skill, arrows do matter. Happily, at my level of competition, the Indians are anything but equally skilled, and I think I can fulfill my USPSA goals—to be moderately competitive—anyway, even if my hardware isn’t up to the top-of-the-line standard.

So, let’s take a look at a possible shopping list.

Law Enforcement Trade-In Glock 22: $325

If you’re familiar with Glock’s ridiculous naming scheme, you’ll recognize ‘Glock 22’ as a .40 S&W Glock. Notably, that’s a bigger bullet than the traditional .38 Super[Comp] or the 9mm Major which make up the bulk of Open division. Why would I hamstring myself with a bullet which is harder to pack into those juicy 170mm magazines?

See Goal #2 above. 9mm Major is iffy in most off-the-rack guns, to say nothing of Glocks. If I buy a gun which was designed to run .40 S&W, which need not be loaded very hot to make major, I should hopefully avoid some of the durability problems you might run into shooting dramatically over-spec 9mm through the same model of gun4.

It also means I can buy factory ammo—165-grain, 1050fps .40S&W is not at all hard to find, and is no more expensive factory-bought than 9mm Major ammo is to make. This represents a huge cost savings, too. With 9mm Major, more or less every round you put through the gun has to be a reload. I save on not just the time it would take to get loads worked out and produced, but also on the money it would take to set up a reloading rig. Even if 9mm Major comes out cheaper per round than .40, which I doubt it would in the end, it would have to counteract a big initial outlay to be cost-competitive. I can also use the same ammo in my Limited gun for added multi-tasking.

Shooting .40 will, of course, limit my magazine capacity: ETS 170mm magazines claim 24 rounds of .40, while the SJC 170mm big stick or the Taylor Freelance 170mm extensions claim 25. Does that matter? Not really, at this level. 1911 drivers only steal a reload on me on stages with between 26 and 29-30 shots required, which don’t show up much. Typically, club matches here are either short stages of about 20 rounds or long stages of the maximum permissible 325.

Initial Competitive Capacity

SJC Open Gun In-A-Box Kit: $1070 (incl. frame weight and red dot)

SJC, purveyors of Glock Open supplies, have a kit which takes you from zero to more or less ready to rock and roll. This price includes a frame weight but not the thumb rest (cool, but not required) or the slide racker (see preceding parenthetical). You also get a compensator and threaded barrel, a frame-mounted sight mount, an extended magazine release, a brass magwell, springs, a guide rod, and some other miscellaneous gubbins.

The price also includes a C-More Slide Ride sight. Why a C-More rather than a standard micro-dot? For one, it and the mount weigh a little more, which is desirable given the lightness of the starting platform. For another, it’s simply the largest window available on a pistol sight at any price, and that price is within $30 or so of the price of a micro-dot.

Mounting them in the correct orientation on the Glock (that is, with the bottom facing down) requires extractor tuning to ensure that empties get flung clear of the sight. That sounds difficult, so I’ll opt instead for the sideways mount, which clears the ejection port altogether and has the added benefit of getting the dot closer to the slide.

A Trigger Kit: $130?

I’ll have to consult with Parvusimperator on which is best, but Austrian-pattern toaster parts can’t be that expensive.

Upon consultation, he suspects that $130 is probably high, especially if I’m fine with the base-model trigger shoe. We’ll leave it in to make the final tall look better.

Magazines: $125

Taylor Freelance makes 170mm extensions which claim to be +10 over the factory 15-rounders. Buying a pair of those, with the included springs, gets me two 170mm magazines with the hopefully-theoretical-maximum-25-round capacity for relatively cheap.

If I want a third magazine for a bit of extra cushion, I could throw in an ETS 170mm for $206.

A CR Speed Holster: $175

If I want to use the frame weight, and I do want to use the frame weight, I have to follow SJC’s recommendations on holsters. The CR Speed jobber is the only race holster which fits the bill.

Grand Total: $1825

Including shipping and transfer fees, where appropriate. A complete gun costs considerably less—more like $1350 (leaving out trigger work, magazines, and holster). That’s probably where I would start, so I could properly assess how well it works and what, if anything, I need to change before buying into the rest.

Future Upgrades

The nice thing about the Glock aftermarket is that it’s gigantic, and anything I don’t like I can replace. Leaving aside functional parts, here are some options.

Slide cuts

Reducing that reciprocating mass is a good thing for controllability and also looks sweet, but there’s likely a balance to be struck between slide lightening and light springs, given the strange push-pull nature of the Glock spring system.

Barrel porting

Parvusimperator described a double-inline-ported Glock he got a chance to play with at a class, and deemed it good. If the compensator isn’t enough on its own, some extra porting (following some slide cuts to support it) might be a thing to try.

One of those inertial shot counters

Radetec, the guys behind that smart Glock slide from SHOT a while back, make an inertial shot counter. It’s exactly the kind of silly frippery I can get behind for a gamer gun. It precludes use of a slide racker, but between a slide racker and a sci-fi bullet counter…

Sweet Cerakote color scheme

After everything’s squared away, the obvious thing to do is to make it look nifty. Options I’ve considered: blue and white (or white and blue) because I like that scheme, The Red Ones Go Faster, Nerf colors, NES colors, X-Box black and green.

Conclusions

No revolver?

You may recall that last year’s question was between Carry Optics and Revolver, and Carry Optics won. Now that the Ruger Super GP100 has hit the streets, and market price looks to be in the $1000 to $1200 range, it’s cost-competitive with a handicap Open gun, and I picked Carry Optics in part because it would be more competitive. So, why does it look like Open is a leading contender ahead of Revolver this year?

In short, tinkering. If I get into Revolver, granted, I get to cowboy it up, but there’s very little to change on the gun. I buy (most likely) a .357/.38 revolver, put some reduced springs in it, and maybe send it away to get a trigger job. There are very few choices involved, and so also it was with the CZ race gun. With a Glock project, on the other hand, I have at least two options for almost everything, and the parts aren’t so expensive that I can’t experiment.

So am I going to do it?

Maybe.

The tinkering potential is through the roof. I’m told that even a working Open Glock will occasionally require some workbench-based TLC. Second, at the nearly-$1800 total, it gets me into Open with all the non-cosmetic Open accoutrements for less half the cost of an STI Open gun on its own. Even a used Open gun will run you north of $3000 most of the time and require you to hand-load either .38 Super/Super Comp or 9mm Major. I’m willing to accept some limitations for that kind of savings in time and money.

On the other hand, Revolver forces me to develop some skills I can get away with ignoring in high-capacity divisions—namely, good planning and good hits. The Super GP100 presents a compelling value proposition, given that it’s a top-of-the-line competition revolver at a lower price than the decidedly less top-of-the-line Open Glock. The project as a whole is a few hundred dollars cheaper, too, and gives me a second go-slow division (next to Production).

It comes down to how important I find fielding competitive equipment (important, but not critical), how much I like going fast (yes), how much I want to do revolver competition eventually (also yes), and how much Ruger’s new entrant is going for at the end of the summer. We’ll update you then.


  1. Parvusimperator thinks the gun described in this article is a bad idea. My other proposals are not merely bad but also ridiculous. 
  2. All of it, including the reliable part. 
  3. “Sure, I was slower, but I also have never pulled a reloading machine lever in my life.” 
  4. Parvusimperator notes that Gen3 Glock 22s don’t have a great reputation for long-term reliability unmodified, though. 
  5. Major matches, I understand, can feature longer stages. That adds a second plausible window where the 1911 drivers can get ahead by a reload, at 51 to 60 rounds. 
  6. Parvusimperator dislikes them for dust intrusion reasons. For a rarely-used magazine, I’m willing to take that risk.