# How To: USPSA Analyst career statistics

Over on Instagram, I did some career statistics using USPSA Analyst. Since the data I have easy access to is for major matches only, and a date-limited set besides, those ‘career’ statistics were necessarily partial.

Now that the latest version of USPSA Analyst is released, you can run career statistics for yourself, including every match you’ve shot, locals too. Here’s how.

### 4. Right-click on the resulting page and click ‘view page source’.

To be sure you have the right page source, Ctrl+F to search for ‘matchid’ in the output.

### 6. If you have participated in multiple divisions and want to combine your statistics, tap the edit button next to ‘Active rater groups’.

Click ‘None’, then ‘Combined’.

# USPSA Elo Ratings: how do they work?

In USPSA circles these days, I’m known in roughly equal measure for being ‘that East Coast revolver guy’ and ‘that Instagram Elo ratings guy’. This post is about the second topic. In particular, it’s a simple, mostly non-mathematical primer about Elo ratings in general, and Elo ratings as I have applied them to USPSA with the tool I call USPSA Analyst1.

This article is up to date as of September 2023. It may not be up to date if you’re reading it later on, and it may not be fully complete, either—this is not meant to be full documentation of Analyst’s guts (that’s the source code), but rather a high-level overview.

### Elo basics

The Elo2 rating system was first developed to measure the skill of chess players. Chess is what we call a two-player, zero-sum game: in tournaments, each chess game is worth one point. If there’s a draw, the two players split it. Otherwise, the winner gets it. Elo operates by predicting how many points a player ought to win per game, and adjusting ratings based on how far the actual results deviate from its predictions.

Let’s consider two players, the first with a rating of 1000, and the second with a rating of 1200. The second player is favored by dint of the higher rating: Elo expects him to win about 0.75 points per game—say, by winning one and drawing the next, if there are two to be played. If player 2 wins a first game, his actual result (1 point) deviates from his expected result (0.75), so he takes a small number of rating points from player 1. Player 2’s rating rises, and player 1’s rating falls. Because the deviation is relatively small, the change in ratings is relatively small: we already expected player 2 to win, so the fact that he did is not strong evidence that his rating is too low. Both players’ ratings change by 10: player 2’s rating goes up to 1210, and player 1’s rating goes down to 990.

On the other hand, if player 1 wins, his actual result (1 point) deviates from his expected result (0.25) by quite a lot. Player 1 therefore gets to take a lot of points from player 2. We didn’t expect player 1 to win, so his win is evidence that the ratings need to move substantially to reflect reality. Both players’ ratings change by 30, in this case: player 2 drops to 1170, and player 1 rises to 1030.

The amount of rating change is proportional to the difference in rating between the winner and loser. In Elo terms, we call the maximum possible rating change K, or the development coefficient3. In the examples above, we used $K = 40$ multiplied by the difference between expected result and actual result4: $40 \times 0.25$ makes 10, for the rating change when player 2 wins, and $40 \times 0.75$ makes 30, for when player 1 wins.

Expected score can be treated as an expected result, but in the chess case, it also expresses a win probability (again, ignoring draws): if comparing two ratings yields an expected result of 0.75, what it means is that Elo thinks that the better player has a 75% chance of winning.

There are a few things to notice here:

• Standard Elo, like chess, is zero-sum: when one player gains rating points, another player must lose them.
• Standard Elo is two-player: ratings change based on comparisons between exactly two players.
• Elo adjusts by predicting the expected result a player will attain, and multiplying the difference between his actual result and expected result by a number K.
• When comparing two ratings, Elo outputs an expected result in the form of a win probability.

### Elo for USPSA

Practical shooting differs from chess in almost every way5. Beyond the facially obvious ones, there are two that relate to scoring, and that thereby bear on Elo. First, USPSA is not a two-player game. On a stage or at a match, you compete against everyone at once. Second, USPSA is not zero-sum. There is not a fixed number of match points available on a given stage: if you win a 100-point stage and another shooter comes in at 50%, there are 150 points on the stage between the two of you. If you win and the other shooter comes in at 90%, there are 190 points.

The first issue is simple to solve, conceptually: simply compare each shooter’s rating to every one of his competitors’ ratings to determine his expected score6. The non-zero-sum problem is thornier, but boils down to score distribution: how should a shooter’s actual score be calculated? The article I followed to develop the initial version of the multiplayer Elo rating engine in Analyst has a few suggestions, but the method I settled on has a few components.

First is match blending. In stage-by-stage mode (Analyst’s default), the algorithm blends in a proportion of your match performance, to even out some stage by stage variation7. If you finished first at a match and third on a stage, and match blend is set to 0.3, your calculated place on that stage is $1 \times 0.3 + 3 \times 0.7 = 2.4$, rewarding you on the stage for the match win.

Second is percentages. For a given rating event8, the Elo algorithm in Analyst calculates a portion of actual score based on your percentage finish. This is easy to justify: coming in 2nd place at 99.5% is essentially a tie, as far as how much it should change your rating, compared to coming in 2nd place at 80%. The percentage component of an actual score is determined by dividing the percent finish on the stage by the sum of all percent finishes on the stage. For instance, in the case of a stage with three shooters finishing 100%, 95%, and 60%, the 95% finisher’s percentage contribution to actual score is $95 / (100 + 95 + 60) = 0.372$.

The winning shooter gets some extra credit based on the gap to second: for his actual score, we treat his percentage as $P_{1} \div P_{2}$, where P is the percentage of the given shooter. For example, $\frac{100}{95} / (\frac{100}{95} + 95 + 60)$, for an actual score of about 0.404 against 0.392 done the other way around9.

Analyst also calculates a place score according to a method in the article I linked above: the number of shooters minus the actual place finish, scaled to be in the range 0 to 1. Place and percent are both important. The math sometimes expects people who didn’t win to finish above 100%, which isn’t possible in our scoring, but a difficult constraint to encode in Elo’s expected score function. (Remember, the expected score is a simple probability, or at least the descendant of a simple probability.) Granting points for place finish allows shooters who aren’t necessarily contesting stage and match wins to gain Elo even in the cases where percentage finish breaks down. On the other hand, percentage finish serves as a brake on shooters who win most events they enter10. If you always win, eventually you need to start winning by more and more (assuming your competition isn’t getting better too) to keep pushing your rating upward.

Percent and place are blended similar to match/stage blending above, each part scaled by a weight parameter.

That’s the system in a nutshell (admittedly a large nutshell). There are some additional tweaks I’ve added onto it, but first…

### The Elo assumptions I break

Although the system I’ve developed is Elo-based, it no longer follows the strict Elo pattern. Among a bevy of minor assumptions about standard Elo that no longer hold, there are two really big ones.

Number one: winning is no longer a guaranteed Elo gain, and losing is no longer a guaranteed Elo loss. If you’re a nationally competitive GM and you only put 5% on the A-class heat at a small local, you’re losing Elo because the comparison between your ratings says you should win by more than that. On the flip side, to manufacture a less likely situation, if you’re 10th of 10 shooters but 92% of someone who usually smokes you, you’ll probably still gain Elo by beating your percentage prediction.

Number two: it’s no longer strictly zero-sum. This arises from a few factors in score calculation, but the end result is that there isn’t a fixed pool of Elo in the system based on the number of competitors. (This is true to a small degree with the system described above, but true to a much larger degree once we get to the next section.)

### Other factors I consider

The system I describe above works pretty well. To get it to where it is now, I consider a few other factors. Everything listed below operates by adjusting K, the development coefficient, for given stages (and sometimes even individual shooters), increasing or decreasing the rate of rating change when factors that don’t otherwise affect the rating system suggest it’s too slow or too fast.

• Initial placement. For your first 10 stages, you get a much higher K than usual, decreasing down to the normal number. This is particularly useful when new shooters enter mature datasets, allowing them to quickly approach their true rating. Related to initial placement is initial rating: shooters enter the dataset at a rating based on their classification, between 800 for D and 1300 for GM.
• Match strength. For matches with a lot of highly-classified shooters (to some degree As, mostly Ms and GMs), K goes up. For matches heavier on the other side of the scale, K goes down.
• Match level. Level II matches have a higher K than Level I, and Level III matches have a higher K than Level II.
• DQs and DNFs. When a shooter DNFs a stage (a DNF, in Analyst, is defined as zero time and zero hits), that performance is ignored for both changing his own rating, and contributing to rating changes for other shooters. If match blend is on in stage-by-stage mode, it is ignored for DQed shooters. In by-match mode, DQed shooters are ignored altogether.
• Pubstomps. If the winning shooter at a match is an M or GM, two or more classes above the second place finisher, and the winner by 25% or more, his K is dramatically reduced, on the theory that wins against significantly weaker competition don’t provide as much rating-relevant information as tighter finishes. This mostly comes into play in lightly-populated divisions.
• Zero scores. Elo depends on comparing the relative performances of shooters. One zero score is no different from any other, no matter the skill difference between the shooters, so the algorithm can’t make any assumptions about ratings based on zero scores. If more than 10% of shooters record a zero on a stage, K is reduced.
• Network density. Elo works best when operating on densely-connected networks of competitors. The network density modifier (called ‘connectivity’ or ‘connectedness’ most places in the app) increases K when lots of shooters at a given match have recently shot against a lot of other shooters, and decreases K when they haven’t. In a sense, connectivity is another measure of rating reliability: someone with low connectivity might be an artifact of an isolated rating island, shooting against only a few people without exposure to shooters in the broader rating set.
• Error. Rating error is a measure of how closely a shooter’s actual scores and expected scores have matched recently. If the algorithm’s predictions have been good, error gets smaller, and K also gets smaller. If the algorithm’s predictions have been bad, error gets bigger, and so does K, to help the rating move toward its correct value more quickly. This is an optional setting, but is currently enabled by default.
• Direction. Direction is a measure of how positive or negative a shooter’s recent rating history is: positive direction means that recent events have generally led to increases in rating, with 100 meaning that every recent change is a positive change. Direction awareness increases K when a shooter has highly positive or negative direction and is moving in that direction, and decreases K when a shooter moves opposite a strong direction trend11. Direction awareness is an option, currently disabled by default.
• Bomb protection. Bomb protection reduces the impact of single bad stages for highly-rated shooters. Because people with above-average ratings lose much more on the back of a single bad performance than they gain because of a single good performance, ratings can unfairly nosedive in the case of, say, a malfunction or a squib. Bomb protection attempts to detect these isolated occurrences, and reduces K significantly for them. Repeated bad performances lose protection, and allow the rating to begin moving freely again. Bomb protection is an option, currently disabled by default.

In 2024, bomb protection and direction awareness will be enabled for the main ratings I do. Notably, these make the ratings slightly less accurate at predicting match results. It’s sufficiently small an effect that it may not be statistically significant, and it also substantially improves the leaderboards according to the experts who have seen the output. At the same time, the predictions will continue to use the 2023 settings, since (again) they are slightly but consistently more accurate.

In any case, that’s the quick (well, quick-ish) tour of Elo ratings for USPSA. Drop me a comment here, or a DM on Instagram (@jay_of_mars) if you have questions or comments.

1. The name may change at some point, if USPSA asks, to avoid stepping on their trademark. At the time of writing, I’m not affiliated with USPSA, and they have not publicly sanctioned my work (in either the positive or negative sense of ‘sanction’).
2. Not ELO— the system is named after its inventor, Hungarian-American physics professor Arpad Elo. It’s pronounced as a word (“ee-low”), not as an initialism (“ee-el-oh”).
3. You’ll find ‘development coefficient’ in other sources, mostly. I always call it ‘K’.
4. I will probably refer to these as ‘expected score’ and ‘actual score’ elsewhere in the article. They’re the same thing.
5. “You don’t say!”
6. Expected scores and actual scores are scaled so that they sum to 1 across all competitors. This is mainly for convenience and ease of reasoning.
7. Some, but not all. Stage-by-stage mode works better in my experience: the more comparisons an individual shooter has, the better the output, even if winning stages isn’t quite what we’re measuring in USPSA.
8. A rating event is a stage, in stage-by-stage mode, or a match in match-by-match mode.
9. Writing this article, I realize I should probably be making the adjustment for every shooter, but that’ll have to wait until the 2024 preseason12
10. I’m a good example of the latter: Analyst isn’t willing to bump my rating by very much at most revolver matches, because it’s expecting me to put large percentages on the field.
11. The reasoning here is that a shooter whose rating matches his current level of skill should have a direction near 0, which is to say a 50-50 mix of positive and negative changes.
12. There’s probably a more correct way to generate percentage-based scores in general, but I haven’t set upon it yet, even if I have a few ideas of where I’m not quite on track.

# Why Revolver?

In USPSA, I shoot an elegant weapon from a more civilized age: the revolver. The most common question I get, in one form or another, is, “Why?”

Here are some of my answers.

### It’s Cool

Coolness is, of course, subjective, so your mileage may vary, but I think revolvers are cool. For one, there’s the cowboy cachet. If you’ve seen my match videos, at least after I started leaning into the spaghetti western theme, I’m sure you can tell I find that compelling.

For another, a revolver is a mechanical marvel: delicate clockwork nevertheless tough enough to survive a cylinder hammering back and forth. Bunches of tiny metal parts, all interlocking perfectly, cooperating to bring the cylinder into line and the hammer down at just the right moment.

And that’s saying nothing of the internal ballistics, which rely on the notion that standard-pressure air is more or less solid to a jet of gas at 20,000 PSI, at least on the timescale needed for a bullet to cross the barrel-cylinder gap and make it out the business end of the gun.

It’s a mechanically and historically fascinating tool. If your ‘why’ was intended to mean ‘why did you get into Revolver over, say, Open or CO?’, that’s why.

### It’s Esoteric

Come, reader, I have nothing to hide from you: you know I like weird hipster things. The fact that revolver is an esoteric corner of the USPSA game is a draw to me. Getting to1 work out a lot of how the wheelgun interacts with modern USPSA is an engaging mental exercise for me.

I don’t want to spoil my revolver techniques series too much2, but USPSA Revolver is a layer cake of similarity sponges and difference fillings. There are parts of the game that are the same as in semi-auto divisions, but then you look deeper and there are differences, and then you zoom in to the techniques that underpin those parts of the game and they’re the same, and then you get better at those parts of the game, and they turn different again.

It keeps the gears turning in my head, and the Revolver game has not yet fully revealed itself to me. If you want to know why I keep at it, that’s one reason why.

### It Invites—And Rewards—Perfection

USPSA, fundamentally, ends up being more about speed than accuracy. There are only so many points available on a stage, but you can always go faster. Just about anyone can shoot 90% points at a USPSA match. The measure of a shooter is how fast he can do it. There are some wrinkles in that clean formulation. Maybe you shoot 85% points a little faster, or 95% points a little slower. Ultimately, though, your speed improves a whole lot more than your accuracy as you get better at the game.

Inevitably, and not incorrectly, that leads people to shoot as fast as they think they can go to get good hits. Shooters in almost every division except Revolver3 have enough ammunition in the gun to turn the dial a bit more toward speed. Even in Production, if you throw a shot off target and take a fast makeup shot, you’re still in decent shape.

The dial has to go a bit more toward accuracy in Revolver. Shooting a wheelgun, I don’t frequently find myself pulling into a position with extra bullets in the gun. Usually, my stage plan calls for eight shots, and all eight of those shots have to hit, or else there’s going to be a standing reload somewhere. Revolver is a deadeye’s game. If you want to win against solid competition, you have to be able to shoot any given USPSA position with perfect accuracy, and you have to know exactly how fast you can go while doing it.

What do I find compelling about the actual shooting in Revolver division? That.

### I’m Good At It

Toward the end of 2021, after a year and a half of shooting almost exclusively revolvers4, I took a few detours into semi-automatic divisions: one day in Carry Optics, one in Open. I shot those guns, and those matches, pretty well. I’m clearly a better shooter now than I was the last time I ran my Carry Optics gun, and that was plain to see in the results.

That said, at the end of the match in Open, I donned the Revolver belt for a run at the classifier. In the aftermath of a 100% run, I remarked to a friend, “I shoot that gun like it’s an extension of my arm.” Revolver clicks for me. For the amount of practice I’ve put in, I run the revolver better compared to some hypothetical baseline skill than I would with the semi-autos. I’m shooting classifiers on a pace that should put me into Grandmaster soon, and in contention to win stages that don’t excessively handicap the wheelgun at the smaller of the two local matches I frequent.

Why revolver? Because I’m good at it, and still getting better.

1. An uncharitable soul might phrase this ‘having to’, instead.
2. A series, I might add, that doesn’t take quite as much hedging now that I’ve shot my way into Master class.
3. Single Stack shooters running major power factor have the same concerns as Revolver here.
4. There are 25 matches on my record since the start of 2020, of which three, all in 2021, were semi-auto matches.

# Competition Revolver Technique: An Introduction

Shooting competition revolver, I have noticed that there’s a lot of wisdom floating around the Internet about how to do so, and very little of it written down in one place. While revolver and semi-auto in a run-and-gun sport like USPSA are more similar than you might expect, there are still substantial differences in the finer, shot-to-shot techniques. One of the obstacles to coming to Revolver division as a newcomer is that you are largely left to your own devices in finding those differences, understanding them, and developing the skills to address them. I aim to fill that gap in the world of written shooting instruction.

This is a project I’ve kicked around for almost a year now. The first question I expect is, “Aren’t you a C-class scrub?” To which the answer is yes1, but bear in mind that I’m not presenting much in the way of original work here. Information on competition revolver techniques exists—it just hasn’t been compiled yet. Look at me as your librarian more than your instructor, and expect me to say if something I’m doing is something I figured out myself, or something I’m recording from more experienced wheelgunners.

That’s all I have for this first post. Keep an eye on the ‘revolver technique’ tag worn by this post for future entries. I’m hoping to have one out this week on stage planning and finding places for reloads, using a real stage and a local Single Stack shooter for comparison. It is, however, a match week, and one I’m running to boot, so we’ll see if I have the time.

1. At the time of writing, which may not be the time of publication, I am in fact the #1 C-class revolver shooter nationwide. King of the Scrubs2
2. At the time of continued writing, I’m now a B-class scrub, so I’m doing something right, or at least not as wrong as I was before.

# Revolver belongs in USPSA

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.

1. 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.)
2. 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.
3. Revolvers are technically allowed in Production, but Production-legal holsters for N-frames and Redhawk-size guns are not readily available.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. Caveat: if I took it as seriously as I’m taking Revolver.
8. 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.

# Fishbreath Prints: the Glockblaster 3D

First, there was the Glockblaster. It’s parvusimperator’s favored carry Glock 19, with its micro red dot and its little compensator. Then came the Glockblaster 2 and Glockblaster 2.0, two USPSA project proposals parvusimperator and I both considered, then ultimately dropped1.

Now, there’s the Glockblaster 3D2.

The Glockblaster 3D is a project I’ve been wanting to tackle for some time now, and recent and upcoming stimulus checks provide the perfect excuse. I mean, the perfect reason. In short, the goal isn’t to build an everyday USPSA Open gun. The goal is to build a to build a .40 S&W3 Open gun using about as many 3D-printed parts as I can get away with4.

The obvious place to start, since the ground is well covered, is the frame. There are a number of options out there, but the best one was just released: the Defense Distributed G17.2, recently released by one Ivan the Troll, noted 3D printer gunsmith. It uses milled metal rail sections secured by pins front and rear, which helps out in a later step.

I may have gotten a bit ahead of myself, though—why a Glock in the first place, among all the printable options? Even if I’m not a Glock guy, the arguments in its favor I made in my Glockblaster 2.0 post still hold: the aftermarket isn’t there for any other option. The Glock is the de facto AR platform of the pistol world, even if the P320 has a better claim to the title given its design. Triggers, internal parts, and partial and complete uppers are all dead easy to find. Expertise is a bit harder to come by, but our very own parvusimperator happens to be a bit of a Glockhead, and is interested in seeing how this project goes5.

So, Glock it is. What do I want to get out of the project? As I alluded to earlier, what I don’t need it to be is a daily-driver competition gun6. I’m happy in Revolver, and plan to shoot it to the near-exclusion of all other divisions for some time to come. So, the Glockblaster 3D doesn’t have to be especially reliable, or especially good at its job. It’s a 3D printing technology demonstrator on the one hand, and a silly range toy I can take to matches for the afternoon shoot on the other, and if it jams up or disassembles itself, so be it.

Unlike a lot of my projects, this one isn’t as simple as buying a bunch of parts and putting them together. I see seven steps between where I am now and a completed Glockblaster 3D.

### Step 1: finish a frame in PLA

PLA is easy to print with, and durable enough to make a frame that’ll stand up to both 9mm and, eventually, .40.

So, to get my feet beneath me in the field of making Glocks from nothing, I’m going to to start here. I’ll print a frame in PLA, buy the rails and parts kits I need, and get to a working frame.

### Step 2: finish functional 9mm build

Parvusimperator has a Glock 17 upper I can slap on to see if everything fits, and perhaps even if everything works live.

I don’t know if I want a 9mm upper myself, at least at first. It depends in part on what kind of money the US government decides to send me. Given the parameters of the project (‘build a .40 Open Glock with 3D-printed parts’), spending money on a 9mm upper seems like a distraction. On the other hand, if I build a 9mm upper using a .40->9mm conversion barrel, I’m only out the cost of a barrel, and then I have something to shoot between this step and the end of the project. Plus, I can modify the rail units as required for a .40 slide without having to worry about 9mm function later.

So, I guess we’ll see.

### Step 3: set up the printer for nylon

For something with long-term durability, I’m going to want a better material. In the past, PLA’s strength has surprised me, and its mechanical properties are sufficient for printing firearms, but nylon has two advantages.

First: it’s slipperier than PLA, which is good for parts that interface with metal. A slide whipping back and forth on top of nylon will do less damage to the nylon over time than it will to PLA. Second, and more importantly: nylon has much better performance at high temperatures than PLA, and will easily stand up to a match on a hot day, or being left in a hot car.

To print in nylon, I’ll need a hotend for the 3D printer that can push filament at about 270C, or 30-40C hotter than is wise to push the current hotend can7. I may also need an enclosure for the printer, which keeps the print area hotter to limit warming, and will definitely need some filament drying supplies: a box with some spools in and a layer of silica gel on the bottom, to keep dry filament dry, and a food dehydrator to turn wet filament into dry filament. (And also, perhaps, to make beef into match jerky, although I’ll have to look into whether it’s safe to use the same food dehydrator for both items.) I think I’d probably want to invest in an air purifier for the printer room, too, not for nylon specifically but just because it’s good for our indoor air quality to suck up all those VOCs and microparticles.

All of that makes for a fairly expensive and fairly involved process, so that brings me to step 4, which I can work on at the same time.

### Step 4: make a sight mount for the DD/FMDA Glock

SJC makes perfectly serviceable Glock sight mounts that don’t occupy the accessory rail and don’t block the ejection port, but they require drilling into the frame to make a second pin hole. The FMDA Glock, on the other hand, has a pin forward of the trigger guard, for the front rail unit, that can be used as a second anchor point (along with one of the locking block pins).

That front pin is featureless and thus easy to replace with a longer one. Both pins above the trigger guard, however, have additional features: the locking block pin is slightly dumbbell-shaped, with wider ends and a narrower middle, while the trigger pin has cuts into which the slide release fits to help retain it.

I am not a Glock guy, so I don’t know if those cuts are function-critical. My hope is that the locking block pin can be replaced with a featureless, non-dumbbelled one, which makes the task of designing a sight mount super-easy. (Although I may still have to have it printed by some manner of print house, so I can have it glass- or carbon-fiber-reinforced for stiffness.)

If the locking block pin can’t be so replaced, then it’s on to hooking into the trigger pin. I’m pretty sure, based on how the SJC sight mount is attached, that the cuts on the trigger pin are purely for anti-walk, and for a technology demonstrator like this, I can either omit them entirely and just push the pin back into place when it starts moving, or cut them in myself with a dremel.

### Step 5: build a .40 upper

Now we’re getting into the home stretch.

A .40 upper requires a slight tweak to the lower: I’ll have to modify the front rail unit to allow the slide to fully cycle. Happily, it’s not a hard modification—just need to shave a bit off of the front so that the slide doesn’t crash into the rails, and a light chamfer with a file or a dremel is not hard to achieve.

I haven’t decided yet if I want to do the Glock 22-length slide or the Glock 35-length slide. On the one hand, the latter adds weight (good!) and gives me a bit more room to hang a weight under the front of the gun without getting in the way of the eventual DAA holster block (also good!; saves me money on a different holster).

On the other, the Glock 22-length is actually tested, and parts availability is a bit better.

I think I probably lean slightly toward the 35-length, because I like giant handguns.

### Step 6: compensator, spring tuning, etc.

SJC sells the benchmark Glock compensator, an 11-port number that seems to work fairly well even in its .40 version8. Not much more to say about it. This is one part I clearly can’t 3D print, not that it isn’t tempting to try with a prototype and a laser-sintered version.

Spring tuning includes both recoil spring (to get the gun to run well with the compensator) and trigger work. Since I shoot Revolver in USPSA by day, I think I want a Walther-style ‘rolling break’, emulating the wheelgun’s double action pull. That’s easier to achieve than glass-rod break on partially-cocked striker-fired guns anyway.

### Step 7: random Open accoutrements

USPSA Open lets you do just about anything you want. I have a few ideas that go from normal to silly.

Normal idea 1: a slide racker in place of the rear sight. Because the sight mount covers some of the slide, there aren’t as many ways to get your hands on it. A slide racker gives you a knob or handle of some kind to grab, resolving the problem altogether.

Normal idea 2: frame weight and brass magazine well. A magwell is a traditional Open gun feature. Making it out of brass adds a bunch of weight, which is good on lightweight guns like Glocks. SJC makes one, although I’ll have to modify the frame to attach it.

The frame weight is also a traditional Glock item, adding weight to the gun and also reducing muzzle flip. In this case, I think I’ll have to roll my own: the existing options don’t play nice with the DAA holster I have for the revolver, and I don’t feel like buying a new holster for this goof-off gun.

Silly idea 1: a Radetec RISC bullet counter. I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t do any detection of reloads, and since I wouldn’t expect to be shooting to slide lock very often, it’ll be wrong after I drop the first magazine. That said, given the constraints of USPSA, I don’t really care. It’s 75% about looking cool anyway.

Silly idea 2: a tuned mass damper in place of a frame weight. A moving mass on a spring, damped by either liquid or a near-airtight fit, seems like it might help? It worked for the Renault F1 team in the early 2000s, anyway, and a gun moving back and forth shooting doubles is kind of like a stiff suspension moving under load.

This, I think, is the most silly of my ideas, but it’s an indication of a greater truth: 3D printing makes prototyping a silly tuned mass damper for a pistol a matter of a few hours of CAD work and a few dollars of filament. I can explore random things like this with effectively zero cost.

### Conclusion

Well, that’s my plan. I’m not expecting to get it done anytime especially soon. I’m about midway through Step 1 now, and there are a number of demands on my finances I consider more important than this.

As I make progress, I’ll be sure to keep you up to date.

1. He decided to get a real Open gun rather than putz about with trying to turn a Glock into one. I was fine with the putzing around, but decided I’d rather shoot Revolver, so neither Glockblaster 2 nor 2.0 ever existed beyond our imaginations.
2. It’s supposed to sound like a bad 80s movie, in the vein of parvusimperator’s Glockblaster 2: Glockblast Harder post.
3. I think I’ve gone into ‘why .40’ in the past, so I won’t relitigate that issue here, beyond to remark that it’s still because the project parameters don’t require me to have 30-round magazines.
4. I say ‘about’ to leave myself wiggle room if I decide that prudence should dictate I buy a part instead of making it.
5. Possibly interested in the same way as people who watch videos of Nurburgring crashes or that one can-opener bridge, but I haven’t asked and don’t intend to.
6. If it turns out that it’s that reliable, I won’t complain. Ignore the sound in your head; that’s parvusimperator’s muffled laughter.
7. The standard Ender 3 hotend has a PTFE tube that runs all the way down to the nozzle. This is good, because PTFE is low-friction; this is bad, because PTFE offgasses neurotoxins at temperatures above about 250C, and I don’t want to sniff (if you will) that temperature.
8. Received wisdom in USPSA is that compensators work best with light bullets going fast, because a light bullet going fast enough to make power factor requires more pressure, which means more gas coming out the end of the barrel, which means more power to the compensator.

# 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.

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 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.

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.

# 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?