Tag Archives: firearms

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. 

Parvusimperator Opines on the Knight’s Armament LAMG

Shortly after I last looked at light machine guns and squad automatic weapons, Ian and Karl got some hands-on time with Knight’s Armament’s Light Assault Machine Gun, or LAMG. Let’s take a look at it.

The LAMG is a result of the continued development of Gene Stoner’s Stoner 86 machine gun design. It sports a number of modern improvements, but they’re all in the same spirit of the original, and Gene Stoner’s design principles. It’s number one claim to fame is a shockingly low weight. It’s a belt fed 5.56mm gun, and it weighs 11.4 lbs unloaded (per Knight’s website at the time I write this). Some other, lighter weights have been listed, so you can cut that down more depending on your configuration. That’s a super lightweight gun for a beltfed. For comparison, the M249 weighs 17 lbs unloaded (per FN’s website at the time I wrote this).

Light weight is the first thing that catches the eye on the spec sheet, but it isn’t the only nice new thing on the LAMG. To keep the gun controllable, there’s a low rate of fire, a long receiver, and a constant-recoil system. This should help the receiver life, since the bolt never slams into the back end. The receiver itself is an aluminum extrusion, which simplifies construction and doesn’t require a ton of rivets or welds to assemble.

Since the rate of fire is low, Knight’s Armament decided to not rip off the MG 42 feed mechanism, unlike the vast majority of modern machine gun makers. That mechanism may be combat proven and a popular choice of homework to copy, but it was originally designed to keep up with the MG 42’s extremely high rate of fire. Knowing that the significantly lower rate of fire of their machine gun was a lot easier for a feed system to work with, Knight’s went with a much simpler feed system that uses a significantly shorter cover. Simpler means fewer parts, which is generally preferable from a weight, manufacturing, and reliability standpoint, and it also allows them to mount a reasonably sized sight rail behind the short feed tray cover. This means optics aren’t on a moving tray cover, so they hold zero better. Also, it means worn hinges and latches don’t affect optics and their zero.

Knight’s Armament has also made quite a bit of provision for suppressed use, having both an available suppressor ready to mount on the gun, as well as a barrel assembly with integrated suppressor. I’m a big fan of general issue suppressors for military applications, so this is very nice to see.

Reliability and durability remain outstanding questions. We know what sort of abuse an M249 can take. We know what the design receiver life is. We can also track down some MRBS numbers. I haven’t been able to find anything like that for the LAMG, which is a damn shame. And in the videos Ian and Karl did, they kept insisting that the LAMG “wasn’t intended for sustained fire.” I wish they had actually gone into that, because I don’t know what that means. The barrel profile looks reasonably heavy. There’s a quick-change mechanism for that barrel. And there’s a belt, usually in a 1-200 round box or soft pack, so there’s plenty of bullets. Silly marketing aside, it hasn’t actually gone through the abuse of some troop trials, so while it’s seen a bunch of development time and money, I’d hesitate to call it “mature,” even if it has gone through a number of revisions.

Speaking of ammunition, the LAMG has no provision to feed from rifle magazines, which is a good thing. Those mechanisms never seem to work right. Plus they add weight and complexity all for the off chance that supply might not be able to get the frontline infantry linked 5.56mm in addition to 5.56mm in magazines. Which ignores all the times that they did, or that they supplied link 7.62mm and magazines of 5.56mm in past wars. Or .30-06 and .30 Carbine, and .45 ACP. We can safely skip the mag feed.

So what do we think? Is the LAMG better than the competition for 5.56mm squad automatic weapons? Yes, yes it is. The weight is pretty crazy. There were IAR entrants that weigh more. The LAMG loaded with a 200 round belt weighs about as much as an M249 unloaded, and that’s pretty significant weight savings. I’m a big fan of general-issue suppressors, and the LAMG can be readily configured to run with a suppressor and a suppressor-friendly gas system so the weapon doesn’t wear more or become less reliable over time from the extra pressure. And the constant recoil system makes it super controllable, even when fired from the shoulder. We’re willing to take a chance and deal with having to work out a few bugs to deal with a better machine gun.

Suppressor Vindication

A couple years ago, I wrote an article talking about how suppressors should be general issue for the modern infantryman. At the time, I thought this idea was good but a little out there, since it was the only one of my force multipliers not adopted by a major military. A little while later, I discovered that someone at the US Marine Corps had a similar idea, and they were putting it to the test.

Now, it appears this testing has produced some results, and these results have been analyzed. The United States Marine Corps has announced that they’ll be issuing suppressors to every infantryman. Check out the full story here, courtesy of Task & Purpose.

I think that’s awesome. Better communication. Hearing protection works better. More effective infantry. Fewer hearing issues for the soldier after he musters out. But you already gathered that. It’s nice to see the Corps coming to the same conclusions.

Let’s talk a little bit about how they plan to implement that in the short term. They’ve got a contract with Knight’s Armament for NT4 suppressors. The NT4 is an older suppressor, with the design dating back to 1998.

This is not a state of the art suppressor, but it’s a known one. It’s in the system already. It’s pretty durable as far as suppressors go. And the mounting is super cheap: the NT4 just requires replacing the crush washer behind a standard A2-type flash hider with a shim kit. So an existing rifle is ready to get quieter for less than $5. And all M27s already have a venting gas block to bleed off excess gas from the suppressor. It’s not the suppressor I would choose if I had to buy a new general issue setup right now, but given the system as it is, the choice is a reasonable one.

It’s great to see this idea get some serious traction. Bravo Zulu, Devil Dogs!

FN HAMR

When the US Marine Corps put out an RFP for companies to submit automatic rifle candidates, FN responded with a SCAR derivative that had some neat technological tricks. Let’s take a look.

The HAMR-16 (Heat Adaptive Modular Rifle) looks like the SCAR-16 that it was derived from at first glance. Same monolithic upper, same folding/telescoping stock with two-position cheek riser. Same polymer lower with short-throw (90 degrees of total travel) safe/semi-/full-auto selector. Same love-it-or-hate-it reciprocating charging handle.1 The barrel has a notably heavier profile than on a regular SCAR-16, and there is a heatsink protruding from under the handguard.

All of that might be expected to handle the sustained fire requirements of the IAR program. But FN hid an extra trick inside the HAMR. They put in a bimetallic thermocouple on the barrel, just in front of the chamber. As the barrel heats up from use, the thermocouple draws a linkage forward, activating a secondary sear. So when the gun got hot enough, it would automatically convert from closed-bolt to open-bolt operation. After the gun cooled, the thermocouple would push the linkage back, automatically returning the weapon to closed-bolt operation.

I might have suspected such a system to potentially cause problems, but the USMC 60,000 round reliability/endurance test showed otherwise. The goals for the IAR were as follows:

  • Three Units Under Test (UUTs) were provided for each model under evaluation.

  • The UUT shall have a Mean Rounds Between Failure (MRBF) of 900 for Class I and II failure combined (Threshold), 5,000 (Objective). The MRBF for Class III failures shall be 15,000 (Threshold), 20,000 (Objective).

The definitions for failure classes are as follows:

  • Class I failure: A failure that may be immediately corrected by the operator within 10 seconds or less while following prescribed immediate action procedures.
  • Class II failure: A failure that may be corrected by the operator, and that requires more than 10 seconds but not more than 10 minutes to correct (less the TM/OM defined cool down period if a hot barrel condition exists). Only the equipment and tools issued with the weapon may be used to correct the failure.
  • Class III failure: A failure of a severe nature. The failure (1) can be corrected by an operator but requires more than 10 minutes; (2) cannot be corrected by an operator and requires assistance (no time limit); or (3) requires higher level of maintenance or correction by an authorized operator cannot be accomplished because of unavailability of necessary tools, equipment, or parts.

The HAMR-16 met the objective goal of 5,000 mean rounds between class I and II failures, and was the only entrant to do so. It did not experience any class III failures, so MRBF for class III failures could not be computed. It was also the only entrant to not experience any class III failures.

For comparison, the winning HK entry that would become the M27 IAR had an MRBF for class I and II failures of 1,622, and a MRBF for class III failures of 20,000.

The HK entry was estimated to have a significantly longer barrel life than the HAMR. It was also somewhat lighter, with the HAMR weighing in a bit over ten pounds (unloaded and sans grip pod it’s usually shown with), and the M27 weighing a bit under eight pounds (unloaded and sans accessories). I might also expect the HAMR to be a bit more expensive than the M27.

I would have rated the HAMR better at being an automatic rifle, and the M27 better at being a backdoor carbine improvement, for what that’s worth.

As for my opinion of the project, I think it’s a very cool design with some well thought out innovations. However, I’m not a big fan of the automatic rifle concept, so I’d pass. It might be interesting to see what the thermocouple/sear setup does in a more standard SCAR design as far as reducing cook offs goes.


  1. Lots of people hate it, but SOCOM did request it in the original design. For what that’s worth. 

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? 

Book Review: Chassepot to FAMAS: French Military Rifles 1866-2016

Ian’s book is out. How is it?

Disclosure time: I was a backer of this book on Kickstarter, for what that’s worth. Mostly because I wanted to support Ian and his new publishing company. Take that as you will. I was pretty ambivalent about French Military rifles when I backed it.

First off, the production values of the book are amazingly good. The book itself has a really nice cover: it’s hardbound in a leathery, old-world sort of way, and it’s full of really good color pictures. These pictures were done carefully with good lighting, and they are always very clear. I don’t think I have nicer reference books, and Fishbreath can confirm I have lots of reference books.

Next, the material. French rifles aren’t commonly discussed in a book in English, which makes this a pretty unique work. And, the French tend to go their own way a lot, so lots of the engineering is unique. The reasoning and doctrines may also be not what you are used to. I’m not an expert on French Rifles, so I can’t attest to how thorough the book is. But Ian is pretty well known as a knowledgeable source on firearms in general and French military firearms in particular, so this is as good as you’re likely to get in English.

The French often come up with their own answers to doctrine or engineering questions. Or, perhaps that’s because the American stuff I’m most familiar with usually cribs from someone else for small arms. Anyway, because the French stuff is usually somewhat different, it’s a more interesting book than it would be if we were just revisiting clones of the Mauser action.

So let’s get down to it. Should you buy this book? I’m gonna go with a ‘yes’ if you’re even remotely interested in firearms or enjoy Ian’s content over at Forgotten Weapons. And I really do, even if I sometimes disagree with him.

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. 

Cadillac Gage Commentaries: Design Goals

It occurred to me that I should probably pull some specific points into their own article, so I’m not repeating myself over and over. Let’s get on with it.

When choosing parts for one’s custom carbine, one ought to first conceive of the carbine’s purpose. What are you going to do with it? And why do the characteristics you plan to add help this? Admittedly, this requires some degree of maturity. It is not possible to do everything well. Purpose drives the build. Or at least it should.

Light for light’s own sake doesn’t make sense to me. Lightness is best for a gun that is carried much and shot a little. Competitors shoot their guns a lot, and the rest of the time the gun sits in a rack, a bag, or a cart. Even militaries optimize the gun for being actually used. The US Army went to a medium-profile barrel in the M4A1 for better shooting characteristics on full auto. Ditto the Marine Corps in the M27 (which also has an op-rod). And both services will load the rifle up with bipods, day optics, thermal optics, infrared lasers and, at least for special operations, suppressors. All of that is added weight, but all of that is added capability.

What of the historical exercise? Well, CONARC doesn’t exist anymore, and designing a weapon to fit in between the M1/M2 Carbine and the M14 rifle doesn’t make a whole lot of sense: neither are common service weapons of the US Army. Now, we could think about ‘can we make the infantryman’s carbine lighter,’ but then we should probably think about durability and reliability too. And some notion of acceptable accuracy. In other words, all of the things we’re going to do from before.

Those excessively nostalgic about some imagined past, like Pierre Sprey, conveniently ignore all of the innovations universally added to improve capabilities at the cost of weight. For Mr. Sprey, modern radars and computer systems make the F-16 able to do many more missions than the LWF was originally envisioned to do. Similarly, the M16/M4 has gained capabilities at the cost of weight. Everyone who can afford the added capability has gone for it.

Cadillac Gage Commentaries: Lowers

Fishbreath hasn’t finished up the usual WWRW for today, so I’m running this instead

It occurred to Fishbreath and I that, while we have chatted at length about the What Would Stoner Do (WWSD) project of the good folks at Inrange, I haven’t written about it. And, with Inrange revisiting it, it’s a good time to shamelessly piggyback and comment on it.

The name for my series, of course, is a play on what Stoner actually did after working on the AR-15: go work for Cadillac Gage.1 As a firearms engineer, the real answer to the question “What would Stoner Do?” is that Mr. Stoner would design what you paid him to design. Were he still alive, and still designing things, I would love to see his take on an NGSW proposal.

Snark aside, let’s get to the project. I do love building AR-15s and working out parts lists. The first part they are talking about is the lower. And they chose the GWACS Mk. II polymer lower originally. They now have KE Arms making an improved Mk. III, which is good as GWACS is no longer a going concern.

As a stylistic choice, I would have preferred a sort of Battle Royale where they look at competing options, so we can better gauge why they went with what they did, and what things they didn’t consider. But that would also lead to fewer questions from yours truly so perhaps I should be grateful that they didn’t play it like I did.

In terms of weight reduction in Anno Domini 20202, we can go lower with a standard forged lower and a carbon fiber stock like the one from Smoke Composites. We can also get even more weight reduction with an aluminum-lithium alloy receiver, such as those made by V7 systems or Hodge Defense Systems Inc. Those are expensive, but the WWSD project didn’t set a budget ceiling.

Anyway, I don’t like the whole integrated grip and stock thing3. I grew up in a ban state and purchased my first AR in “Ban compliant” format with a pinned stock. So maybe I have an irrational aversion to a fixed-length assembly. But I like to be able to adjust my stock. I like to be able to choose a stock with adjustable comb height if I so choose. I even like stocks like the Odin Works Zulu or the Tacmod that let me change the angle of the stock’s recoil pad. This is America. We like choices.

And frankly, the stock should be something that works with the optic, not the other way around. Unless you have a very peculiar parts list, your optic cost more than your stock. Which means that if one of the two parts has to give, it ought to be the stock. Not that adjustable is a compromise, frankly.

We also like choices about our grips. And I realize that grip choice is at once very personal and probably doesn’t matter a whole lot on the clock. But a comfortable grip that Joe Civilian likes helps him to practice with his rifle, since he lacks a sergeant to yell at him to do so.

My choice would not be the CAV-15 polymer lower. The AR-15 is as popular as it is in large part because of its massive aftermarket, and I don’t like closing off large parts of that aftermarket. I like picking the grips that I like, and changing them as my tastes change. I like choosing a stock to suit the intended purpose of my builds and to get the balance where I want it. But my goals and priorities are not necessarily those of Ian and Karl, and they may or may not match up with yours. Purchase your lowers accordingly.

Were I picking a lower for another build, I would choose a nice forged lower from a reputable company with a rollmark that I liked. If I wanted to save weight in my lower, and didn’t care about paying through the nose for the privilege, I would purchase a fancy aluminum-lithium lower.


  1. Obvious disclaimer: this post series and this blog are in no way affiliated with Textron Marine and Land Systems, the former Cadillac Gage. Duh. But I’m writing this anyway in case you had any doubt. 
  2. I don’t recall if these were available in 2017. But it doesn’t matter thanks to the revisit. 
  3. Yes I recognize that’s what makes the GWACS/CAV-15 a viable polymer lower. No, I still don’t like it. You might think that this means I don’t like the core concept, and you’d be right. 

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.