ICORE moves International Revolver Championship to Universal Shooting Academy in Florida

In a press release that came out this weekend, the International Confederation of Revolver Enthusiasts announced that the 2016 International Revolver Championship will be held at Universal Shooting Academy in Frostproof, FL. This is a huge change, moving the match from the Hogue Action Pistol range in San Luis Obispo, CA.

ICORElogo135

I think that Universal Shooting Academy is a fantastic facility and that they’ll do a great job hosting the match. I’ve shot probably a dozen matches at USA over the years, and with the exception of one IDPA Nationals where I needed SCUBA gear to shoot, I always had a great time.

But I don’t like this call, and that’s where this post changes from reporting the news to an editorial. To understand, you have to look at a little bit of shooting sports history. In 2011, I shot the last Steel Challenge that was held in its historic location in Piru, CA. It was awesome. 2012-2013 the match moved to Frostproof at USA, and in 2013 the match had its lowest attendance in over a decade. This isn’t a knock on Frank Garcia or Shannon Smith, the operators of Universal Shooting Academy, because they run a solid business and have a great facility.

However, there’s a data point here from Steel Challenge that says when you move a West Coast match to the East Coast, you run the risk of losing participation. I really can’t stress hard enough that I’m not knocking Universal here, because I do think it’s a great facility, but it’s also in Frostproof. Which, if you’ve never been there, is in the middle of nowhere, FL. It’s about an hour and a half from Tampa or Orlando, there aren’t a lot of great restaurants around, and it’s just…not a great place to hang out for an extended period of time. Maybe I’m just a homer and miss California, but I think people would much rather go to the central coast region of CA for a match than go to Frostproof.

I hope I’m wrong, and I hope the IRC continues to flourish now that it’s been moved to Universal Shooting Academy. I will say that November is the best time to hold a match down there, as the weather is actually pretty nice! Hopefully I’ll be able to pull the resources together and go shoot my first ever IRC at Frostproof this year.

Kimber K6s Revolver

New for 2016 from Kimber is something that no one expected: a compact, six shot revolver. That’s right, Kimber is making a wheelgun.

Kimber-K6s-revolver

And it looks damn good to my eye. The new K6 is an all stainless steel carry gun with a 2 inch barrel, putting it square against the SP101 and S&W 640 as competitors, but unlike either of those guns it holds a 6th shot in its .357 Magnum cylinder. That is a neat trick.

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Pros and cons of carrying a moonclip revolver

S&W 986 9mm

There has been an uptick lately in the number of revolvers available that are chambered in traditional “semi-auto” cartridges. While some of them aren’t great, like the Rhino in .40, the recent offerings from S&W are pretty awesome. Especially the L-frame 986 pictured above. People have been asking me about carrying that gun, so here’s a quick look at some of the pros and cons of carrying a gun that uses moonclips.

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Dan Wesson 715: The Gun Nuts Review

Dan Wesson 715 muzzle

Dan Wesson revolvers occupy an interesting place in the world of enthusiasts. The company itself was founded by the great grandson of the original Daniel Wesson, and Dan Wesson II’s roundguns eventually gained a respectable cult following in revolver circles. Their party trick was an interchangeable barrel system, which allowed the end user to swap barrel lengths at their leisure, making a 6-inch silhouette gun into a 4-inch duty gun or a 2-inch carry gun with relative ease.

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Revolver Tour #9: Ruger Match Champion

Ruger GP100 Match Champion

You knew this one was coming. The Ruger GP100 Match Champion – the gun I’ve dedicated more pixels to writing about, and trigger time behind on this blog in the last two years than anything else. Ruger’s answer to the 686SSR, and one of the best all around 4 inch revolvers on the market.

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A revolver tour #6: Shot Show Edition Korth Sky Marshal 9mm

Korth Sky Marshal 9mm

We’re taking a break from revolvers that I own and looking at some cool wheelguns from SHOT Show. First on the list is the Korth Sky Marshal, a 6 shot, medium frame revolver chambered in 9mm that doesn’t require the use of moonclips.

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Revolver Tour #4: EAA Bounty Hunter .22 Magnum

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

EAA Bounty Hunter .22 Magnum

Everyone has to start somewhere. This is my revolver Genesis, the first wheelgun I ever owned, and one of two guns I’ll never sell, no matter what. It’s not an heirloom, or a priceless piece of history. It’s a humble .22 WMR revolver made by Weihrauch in Germany an imported by EAA in the states. But it’s special to me.

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Revolver Tour #2: Smith & Wesson 929, the Unicorn

Smith & Wesson 929 cylinder open

Unicorns are mythical beasts, and even though some (crazy) people claim to have seen one, they probably don’t exist. For quite some time after it was announced, the Smith & Wesson 929 occupied the same place as a unicorn: pure myth. But then the myth became reality, and for me that reality was awesome.

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Improving the J Frame – Sights…sorta.

For reasons that are probably not entirely rational, I find that I’m extremely fond of my little Smith & Wesson 638. It’s become my little buddy…we’re going everywhere together these days. The other day I even packed it as my only firearm on a trip to the gym. If generic apocalyptic event had transpired on my way to, time in, or return from the gym I would certainly have been in quite a pickle armed with just a 5 shot J frame, but thankfully the world as we know it did not decide to end at an inconvenient time for me. Good job, world. Now about this ebola thing…

There are, of course, some things I’m not terribly fond of on my little 638. Chief among them is the sights. The J frame still uses the same sort of gutter-style sights that you could find on a S&W revolver manufactured before the turn of the last century. Seriously. Go over to The Arms Room and take a gander at this hand-ejector model manufactured in 1896 and note the similarity in the sights between that gun and my model 638 manufactured well over a century later. If anything, the sights on that old hand-ejector might be a skosh more high profile than the ones found on the modern J.jframe

Under ideal conditions it’s possible to wring some surprising accuracy out of the sights as they sit on the revolver. While at a friend’s place function testing another gun some weeks ago, I pulled out the 638 and fired the first 5 rounds out of it. To my great delight, all 5 shots were essentially touching the 1″ square pictured to the right. A 1″ square is an exceptionally tiny target but I frequently use a target that small to work on accuracy fundamentals because it leaves zero room for error. (You can download another similarly useful target with a 1″ square here.)

As soon as the conditions aren’t ideal it becomes much more difficult to use the sights with that sort of precision. A few smiths out there will actually mill a J frame for more modern sights like small Novak sights or even these purpose built J frame sights from D&L. While there is a demand for such products and services, it doesn’t seem like it’s enough for someone to make a living doing just that modification. The cost is pretty high and the wait times can be substantial…and the service isn’t always available for the Airweight revolvers.

To improve the sights on my J, I used some old school trickery and some new age stuff: A Sharpie and some new grips from Crimson Trace.

One of the things you can do to improve the existing sights on a J frame is to add some contrast. I started using the brightest flourescent yellow paint I could find on black sights years ago to try and make at least the front sight easier to find in a hurry. On the 638 we already have a light colored front sight, so I added some contrast by blacking the rear sight notch out with a Sharpie. It’s not as good as a proper set of sights, but I find that it does help me get a quicker read on the sights. Enough so that I haven’t yet found the need to paint the front sight a loud color…the silver front seems to stand out plenty well on its own in combination with the blacked out rear.

 

The LG-105 for the J frame revolvers are the most economical , most concealable, and, at least in my experience, the most durable.
The LG-105 for the J frame revolvers are the most economical , most concealable, and, at least in my experience, the most durable.

The Sharpie/contrast trick does very little to aid you in low light. As it comes from the box, the little revolver is next to useless (from an accuracy perspective) in conditions of low light. You are limited to point shooting and hoping that’s good enough to get the job done. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I’m not a fan of relying exclusively on point shooting.

I’m generally a fan of Crimson Trace’s products but I think their offerings for the J frame and similar small handguns make the biggest difference in, for lack of a better term, “shootability.” I can make shots with a laser-equipped J frame that I would have absolutely no hope of making otherwise. Crimson Trace has a couple of different models for the J frame with each having their place. The LG-305 grips are fairly large and are ideal if you’re looking to make the tiny J frame grip more substantial. A larger grip on the J frame, believe it or not, often makes it easier to shoot. If you are belt carrying the little revolver then the larger grip might well be the best option for you.

I often carry the revolver in a pocket, so the 305’s are out. That leaves the LG-105 and LG-405. The 405’s have some really nice features and actually do make the little revolvers a bit more comfortable to shoot, but I’ve always gone with the LG-105 grips because A. they’re cheaper, and B. being made of hard plastic they’ve proven to withstand the abuse of daily carry extremely well.

It does add somewhere between $150-$185 bucks (depending on your luck in finding deals) to the cost of the revolver, but I think it’s still a bargain. You can literally put these grips on, adjust the laser to match your sights (if your revolver shoots as well as mine does!) and you’ve just made the little weapon much easier to hit with in most conditions…and let’s face facts: When you’re using a 5 shot .38 revolver with a sub 2″ barrel on it, hitting is of primary importance. Anything you can do to make hitting easier with a handgun like this is a wise investment because low capacity and on-the-bubble terminal ballistics performance makes getting the maximum effect from each shot that much more critical.

Improving the J frame – Wilson Combat Custom Tune Spring Kit

Handguns are, by a wide margin, the most difficult firearms to shoot accurately due in part to their relatively small size and the inability to stabilize them against larger structures of the body. They become more difficult to shoot as they get smaller and the trigger pull gets heavier. The typical J frame has a trigger pull that is several times the weight of the revolver itself and is usually carried with a very small “boot” style grip. This translates to the application of comparatively enormous levels of torque on a handgun with very little room for a grip that will resist that torque.

Making the trigger pull lighter helps ameliorate this somewhat, but unfortunately there is no free lunch. The J frame requires a pretty stiff hammer spring to achieve reliable ignition since the hammer itself has such little mass. Due to this I never really bothered trying to do any trigger work on my J frames before, but with the purchase of the 638 I decided I would try out the Wilson Combat Custom Tune spring kit. The Wilson kit seems to be well regarded by folks who know the J frame well and I’ve yet to hear a report of unreliable ignition with the Wilson kit.

The kit includes 4 springs, a hammer spring and 3 different weight trigger return springs you can use to get the trigger feel you want.
The kit includes 4 springs, a hammer spring and 3 different weight trigger return springs you can use to get the trigger feel you want.

The Wilson Custom Tune spring kit comes with 4 springs, a single hammer spring that is lighter than the stock spring and three trigger return springs. The idea is you select the trigger return spring that gives you the trigger feel you prefer. (I used the lightest one) When you pull the trigger on a J frame you are working against the pressure of both of these springs, so by making them lighter you can reduce the weight of the trigger pull. Replacing two little springs sure sounds simple enough, right?

It is…mostly. Even a simple job on a very well documented gun can turn into a soul-crushing experience if you don’t do the research and gather the right tools. One of the “right tools” I’ve been too lazy to acquire for myself before now is a good set of gunsmith’s screwdrivers or screw-driver bits. Contrary to popular belief, all screwdrivers are not created equal and use of the usual sort of tapered screwdrivers on guns often results in damaging screws or even damaging the finish of the weapon itself. Keep in mind that with the Airweight revolvers you are working on a frame that is made of a metal which is considerably softer than that of the screwdriver you’re using, and so if your taper-ground driver slips out of the screw slot you’ve just dug a nice trench in your new gun’s finish.

While I was buying the spring kit I also bought the Brownells rebound slide tool pictured. The rebound slide spring bumps up against a stud made into the frame that’s aluminum on the Airweight revolvers. I hoped that using the proper tool would reduce the chances of snapping that little stud off…which could be a pretty expensive mistake. Unfortunately either Brownells got the spec on the tools wrong or S&W changed the dimensions on the studs on some of their revolvers because the opening in the tool was too narrow to fit around the stud properly. I put the 13 pound return spring in the rebound side and with careful finagling and holding my mouth just right I managed to use the tool to get the rebound slide back into place without incident.

The J frame's internals are actually pretty simple to work on if you have a little bit of knowledge, the right tools, and some patience.
The J frame’s internals are actually pretty simple to work on if you have a little bit of knowledge, the right tools, and some patience.

The hammer spring/main spring is considerably easier to deal with…you just need a paperclip or a very small punch to capture the spring in a compressed state so you can remove the end cap that holds it into the frame. Getting the spring cap back on with the new spring is a little bit more tricky. If you are going to do a job like this I’d suggest doing so in a place where you have plenty of room and with no nooks and crannies that a little black piece of plastic can disappear into after it’s been unexpectedly sent on a ballistic trajectory by a spring.

While I had the little revolver’s guts exposed I figured I’d perform an additional task unrelated to the spring changes: Removing the lawyer lock.

When you bring up the topic of S&W revolvers you will hear folks speak about “pre-lock” guns quite frequently. In the early days of our new millennium S&W decided to integrate a locking mechanism into their revolvers which would prevent the revolver from being fired when engaged. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth has happened over this decision partially because it was the result of some Clinton-era political pressure (S&W has new owners now who had nothing to do with that nonsense, by the way) and partially because it’s not aesthetically pleasing to see that lock zit sitting on the sideplate of the revolver.

I have a different reason for loathing the lock, though: Under the right circumstances the lock can spontaneously engage. Initially it was thought to be something that could primarily happen with the extremely light titanium and scandium frame revolvers in heavy calibers, but over time credible reports have accumulated on good old fashioned steel-framed guns in common calibers as well. This assertion is highly controversial because most people have never actually seen it happen. I have, though. I’ve experienced a partial lock engagement on another S&W revolver I own and as a result I get rid of them on guns I carry. Opinions vary on how one should go about getting rid of the lock, but I’m content to simply remove the bit that actually prevents the hammer from moving when engaged. The other pieces stay put nicely, in my experience.

I hate you. So. Very. Much.
I hate you. So. Very. Much.

I know why S&W started including the locks on their revolvers, but I’d absolutely love to see them be rid of the bloody things. They made revolvers for almost a century and a half without any silly locks and you can still buy some of their revolvers without locks…so why not just ditch it altogether, Smith?

After putting everything back together and doing some quick function checks, I found a noticeably improved trigger pull with a slightly slower trigger return speed…which is to be expected when you reduce the power of the trigger return spring. I didn’t hear angels singing or anything, but I didn’t go in expecting a miracle. I just wanted to make the trigger pull a little bit lighter. The difference is most noticeable when dry-firing with just the left hand, as I tend to need to apply less torque and as a result I don’t get as much lateral movement during the trigger pull. When it comes to shooting a handgun little things make a big difference and that goes double for little handguns like the J.

Given the price of the Wilson spring kit and the ease of installation, I’m pretty pleased with the purchase. I’m confident Wilson has done enough homework on the J frame to put together a spring kit that will function reliably. I’m sure it’s possible to go a bit lighter than the Wilson kit with some other option but I’m certain that the Wilson kit will work when I need it to…and that’s critical for a revolver like this one. If you have to pull a revolver like this you are already having a bad day and you need it to do its job properly.