Wheel Gun Wednesday

I have a fascination with speedloaders. I guess the same “mechanicalness” that draws me to the revolver also draws me to the speedloader. I have a few Dade loaders, as well as a few of the Safariland Comp series which are my go to loaders, one HKS loader, and of course speed strips. Over at revolverguy.com, Mike Wood did a great write up on some of the older designs, quite a few I have never heard of.

https://revolverguy.com/blast-past-popular-police-speedloaders-1970s/

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Tuesday Training Update

My blogging has been a bit inconsistent lately, hopefully I can get it back where it needs to be. A couple weeks ago I went to a pistol class in western PA. Two critics made by the instructors were speeding up my presentation of the handgun on draw, and keeping by chin up to improve my vision of the sights and target by looking through the front of my eye as opposed to the top. My plan is to take those critics, work them hard in dry fire relying on video feedback and applying the improvement towards a better FAST time. I think that my biggest deficiency in the FAST, other than the reload, is the time it takes me draw the gun and get by first two shots off. So some concerted effort to get those times down will probably payoff quite a bit. Current best FAST time is 7.62.

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Going FASTer with the Wheelgun

One of my goals this year is to run a sub 7 second FAST with the revolver. A sub 5 would be better, but it takes me nearly that long just to reload the gun. My fastest clean FAST so far has been 7.62 seconds, running a Comp II from the pocket. I am toying with running a reload from a speedloader pouch, but so far I am not convinced it is any faster. At least not yet. Other than nailing the reload, I think the other place I can improve my time is the first two shots to the 3×5. I need to speed up my 1st shot time and cut my split to the second shot at least a couple tenths. Time to hit the dry fire and then try this again in about a month. 

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“The Really Real World” and Protective Pistol One

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Kicking back in the hotel with some pizza and dirty revolver after the class.

When most people think of training, they probably think about the guys working on the national circuit who charge upward of $400 for a class and require a minimum of 1,000 rounds for the two days. The guys who pay their bills providing training are certainly good instructors, or they won’t be paying their bills for very long, but can sometimes be cost prohibitive. This is especially true for the student who is just getting into shooting and only wants to dip their feet in the water to try it out and is not ready to jump in the deep end just yet. The other option is the local gun guy down at the shooting range that has his NRA Pistol Instructor certification, but really doesn’t know much that isn’t in the NRA handbook. The problem here is that while this instructor will probably be more affordable, he or she isn’t really that good at teaching, and doesn’t know as much as he or she thinks he does about shooting. In my opinion, the guys who fall in the middle of that range are the real sweet spot of firearms training. The guy who takes firearms training serious enough to both understand what it means to shoot well, and what it means to teach well, and who has put in the work to develop a quality training course, or menu of courses.

One of those guys who lands between the gun dude down at the local range and the traveling road show instructors, is Jay Cunningham and Protective Shooting Concepts. Jay’s shooting pedigree is pretty impeccable. The list of courses he has taken and guys he has trained with would make a pretty good training wish list for guys like me. Jay knows what he is talking about, and has both the skill and knowledge that goes with being a serious student of the gun, or as calls it, a “training junkie”. Jay’s protective pistol courses are designed around the concept of addressing what is most probable in Protective Pistol 1, what is a little less likely but still pretty common in Protective Pistol 2, and the outliers in Protective Pistol 3. What he is really saying is the skill demands will increase significantly as the courses progress. Protective Pistol 1 is the only course Jay offers that does not have some sort of skill prerequisite that must be successfully demonstrated at the beginning of the class. I can appreciate this approach to filtering who can participate in higher level courses because it allows people who have already established a certain level of skill to skip over the courses that cover topics they may already be familiar with. It also eliminates the problem of having people who have completed lower level classes but have not put in the work outside of the class to really anchor the skills from attended classes that are still above their skill level.

The class I was able to attend was Protective Pistol 1, hosted at the Washington County Tactical Range in West Alexander, PA. In the interest of full disclosure, I did not pay for my slot in the class, I won it as part of a Facebook contest. I did however drive the 15 hours to be there, paid for hotels, and paid for my wife to attend also, so I have some significant resource investment in the class. So the next obvious question (and one that was asked frequently by other students in the class) is why did I come that far for a 1 day basic level class? I know about Protective Shooting Concepts and Jay Cunningham because of pistol-forum.com, where he is one of the admin for the forum. I know the type of shooters and instructors he tends to associate with, plus already had exposure to some of his thoughts on shooting from the forum. I was not at all going into this blind. I pretty much knew ahead of time that Jay was a squared away shooter, and likely a squared away instructor too. A quick aside, if you shoot handguns and do not at least browse through pistol-forum.com, you are doing yourself a disservice. The amount of experience and knowledge on that forum is incredible.

Jay describes Protective Pistol 1 as dealing with the very top of the bell curve of what is most probable for someone to deal with in a defensive gun use and is built around a standard of being able to draw from concealment while moving offline and place 3 rounds into a USPSA A-zone in 3 seconds, a very basic, but still useful standard. The class is 10 hours, crammed into a single day. We were on the range from 8:30am-6:30pm just as promised. Some people might find that to be a long day on the range, I however enjoyed it. Even though the course is relatively long for a one day class, the round count is not very high. The reason for this is that a large part of the class is lecture based, with some live demos mixed in. Since this course is intended for the new shooter, a considerable amount of time is spent on topics like gear selection, understanding different aspects of shooting, etc. Essentially, the course is intended to give both the knowledge base and basic skill necessary to successfully carry and use a firearm. Quite literally, they cover almost everything a person needs to know in order to start carrying a pistol.

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Running the final drill of the class on the timer, and under the watchful eye of the instructor.

After the lecture, answering questions, and getting student’s gear squared away, it came to shooting guns just after a short break for lunch. The class was split into 2 relays, but each relay was encouraged to watch the other and pay attention to corrections being made by the instructors. After some quick dry fire to make sure everyone had the draw stroke basically down, live fire started. The first drill was a trigger control-ish sort of drill designed to demonstrate how quickly and decisively the trigger can be pressed at the ranges where most defensive gun uses occur without pushing the gun off target. Students were given a 0.30 PAR time, instructed to grip the gun, aim at the target (which was a USPSA A-zone), place the trigger finger on the face of the trigger but do not apply any pressure. On the beep, the student presses the trigger all the way through the trigger stroke within the PAR at 3-4 yards. The idea here was to teach a trigger press that could be executed quickly, and to get the students to understand that at the distances where most defensive encounters occur, the trigger press does not have to be really precise, especially with a fundamentally sound grip. Personal confession time, coming from Glocks, I have always been a “prep and press” kind of guy with a striker fired gun. Obviously, with a true DA gun like my S&W 66 it isn’t quite the same, but with only one or two exceptions, pretty much everyone in the class was shooting some sort of SFA handgun. I was skeptical of what the results might be for some of the new shooters in the class. There was one person in the class who had basically zero firearms experience. It quickly became apparent that my skepticism was misplaced. The largest group I noted was approximately 4″, right in the sweet spot on the top half of the A-zone. The smallest groups were just an inch or two. It was an eye opening drill for me, not because of what I accomplished, but because of what the new shooters accomplished with this drill.

Each instructional point or drill built onto the previous instructional point or drill, adding layer after layer until by the end, students were moving offline while simultaneously drawing from concealment, and firing multiple rounds at a USPSA A-zone in about 3 seconds. I won’t recount every drill or instructional point, but the process was incredibly efficient for the amount of ground that was covered. Even though the round count and rep count for the class was what I would consider pretty low, the end result, both in terms of shooter skill, and perhaps just as important, shooter confidence was impressive. The course design, coupled with the quality of the instructors, and the favorable student to instructor ratio (4 instructors for 15 students split into 2 relays), did an excellent job establishing a base level of skill.

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The end of class debrief, breaking down lessons learned and offering feedback to the instructors.

My personal highlight from the class was having my revolver reload complimented on by Ashton, one of Jay’s other instructors. Ashton had recently coached an IDPA shooter that was going for their master classification in IDPA on revolver and understood how much work has to go into a revolver reload. It was validating to hear someone acknowledge the work, and that it had been worthwhile. I also learned that speed loaders dropped in mud still work pretty well, but that Comp II’s and Comp III’s are not the same diameter and Comp II’s work best in my 66 (more on that later). I need to make a small modification to my stance, and I need to increase the speed of the last portion of my draw. Essentially, I need to drive the gun to the target quicker once I have drawn it up into my eye line. It is important to train with a good instructor every now and then, they will keep you honest. Even though I use video to self-diagnose in some instances, it is still not as good as having an adept instructor watch how you run the gun.

Protective Pistol 1 is the class people who are new to training (notice I didn’t say new to shooting), about to get their concealed carry permit, or who have just gotten their concealed carry permit should take. It covers all the nuts and bolts associated with carrying a handgun, and establishes a sufficient level of skill to serve as a good starting point. The instructors take their task very seriously, and are good at what they do, getting students from zero to a passable level of performance in a single day. I was impressed with where some of the students started in terms of skill level, and where they ended up by the end of the class. If you are close to western Pennsylvania, you owe it to yourself to look up Protective Shooting Concepts and Jay Cunningham. If a level 1 class is below you, then check out his level 2 and 3 courses, just make sure you can complete the prerequisite skill requirements before showing up for the class, the very first drill will be to confirm everyone meets the prerequisite. Probably the best endorsement I can give for the quality of the instruction is that I am already thinking about making the 15 hour drive back to western PA next year sometime.

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Twosies and Threesies, a Speedloader Comparison

One of the things I have learned lately is that Comp III’s and Comp II’s
have some minor but significant differences. As it turns out, a Comp III is approximately 1/16th of an inch wider than a Comp II. This causes the edge of the Comp III to

The cylinder release latch impeding the use of a Comp III loader.

hang on the cylinder release latch. Also contributing to this is that the leading edge of the Comp III is further back because the body of the speedloader is not as deep. This means that as the rounds align with and enter the charge holes the speedloader has not yet passed the latch, which means the speedloader cannot easily be leaned around the latch. With a Comp II, by the time the rounds align with and begin to enter the charge holes, the leading edge of the speedloader has already passed the latch, mitigating the problem.

Even though initially I had a preference for the Comp III because of the larger size and being easier to index the grip out of the pocket, but after struggling with reloads with the Comp III to try and figure it out with little success, I am now committing to the Comp II. I have had significantly more success running the Comp II’s, it just took me a while to figure out why.

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Wheel Gun Wednesday

Ballistic testing of defensive rounds is a big thing these days. People want to see what their favorite flavor of JHP is supposed to do. Lucky Gunner has compiled probably the most expansive data set available online, and they just branched out into the .38 Special and .357 Magnum world with their most recently published data. Keeping in mind that clear ballistics gel is not a perfect stand in for actual FBI specification ballistics gel (not all ballistic gels are created equal), it is interesting to see how the rounds compared to each other. Most interesting to me is the differencein performance from .38 Special to .357 Magnum. I think just looking at the two data sets in general, it becomes abundantly clear why .357 Magnum was the prefered round back when revolvers ruled the roost in law enforcement. Even the old tech loads like the Remington 158gr SJHP, or the notiously underexpanding XTP loads were good performers in .357 Magnum. Normally, finding a load that expands well and penetrates the minimum distance in gel is harder to find than one that doesn’t. In the case of .357 Magnum, at least with this data, the opposite is true. Only a few of the loads tested didn’t live up to the task, and most worked decently well regardless of barrel length. 

You can check out the data at the link below. While there, also check out the other tests in different calibers. 

Lucky Gunner .38 Special/.357 Magnum Ammo Test

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Breaking Down the Speed Strip Reload

In my previous speed strip post I talked about different techniques used to reload with a speed strip, and the concept of partial loads. Unlock its semi auto cousin, it is possible to only load one or two rounds on a revolver, as opposed to stuff a whole magazine in the gun. This post will focus on partial loads and breakdown some of the numbers.

First, let us set a baseline. A reload with a speedloader out of a pocket takes about 5 seconds on average. A little faster if everything goes right, a little longer if it doesn’t. I mentioned before that the reason for speed strips is that they are easier to carry, so part of this analysis is understanding what is given up by opting for the easier to carry speed strip.

To have an apples to apples comparison, or at least close to it, we will start by loading six rounds off a speed strip and seeing how long it takes.

On average, it took me 8.94 seconds to load 6 rounds and then fire four rounds. My average time to the first shot fired was 8.25 seconds, with my fastest at 7.89 and my slowest at 8.87. We are looking at about a 3-4 second increase in time.

Changing Perspective

This is where I have to change my thought process a little. I come from a semi-auto world. I learned how to shoot on a Glock, still shoot a Glock, and even though I have dabbled with revolvers in the past, my thought process has often been that reloading is an all or nothing affair. After all, that is the mag fed pistol world. The gun is either loaded, or it isn’t. There is not really a middle ground. When I break away from the mag fed world to the revolver, where I can load one round, or up to eight or nine depending on the revolver, that equation changes. The gun is technically loaded with a single round in the cylinder, or completely full. If there is a need to short cut a reload, it can be done. Hat tip to Michael de Bethencourt for making that point in a blog post. 

So let us take a step back and see where my break even point is on the revolver reload with speed strips vs. the revolver reload with a speedloader. The common practice with a revolver is to load two rounds off the speed strip simultaneously, so that is where I will start, load two and fire one, while retaining the speed strip because it will still have live ammunition on it that can be used later. 

On average this technique took 5.10 seconds to get a single round on target. The fasted was a 4.49, and the slowest was a 5.52.  Getting back to our comparison, on average, this technique is only five hundreths of a second slower than a speedloader reload. I was impressed, at least with the time to a single shot.

I bumped it up to a load two fire two next. The average turned out to be 6.45 seconds to load two rounds and get those two rounds off. This was in large part due to having to advance through several chambers to get both rounds fired. Claude Werner teaches on his reloads to close the gun onto the cylinder, and not to close the cylinder into the gun like I have a habit of doing. Closing the gun the way Claude teaches is supposed to put the loaded chambers in the correct location to be fired with the first one or two trigger presses. I have not mastered this, I tend to get one round on the first trigger press and then have to rotate the cylinder all the way back around to get the second one. All that to say, I think the load two, fire two, could be done quicker if I were a little better.

What happens though if I load two rounds and end up needing more than that. Pretty simple actually, just load more rounds after firing the first two. The question becomes, how long does that take? To load two, fire those two, and then load and fire two more, on average took me 11.72 seconds. That is a substantial amount of time for just four rounds.


Heeding the Wisemen and the Four Round Reload

So what are the other options other than the two round reload? Michael de Bethencourt came up with the four round reload for snubnose revolvers, and Claude Werner is a fan of the technique and teaches it as well. This makes me think there is some viability there, even for a six round gun, so it is where I went next. On average, when loading four rounds it took 6.70 seconds to get the first round off, and 7.07 seconds for two rounds. So for about a half second difference, I can have an additional two rounds in the gun if needed vs. the load two, fire two method. If I needed to fire all four rounds, it took on average 7.63 seconds to load four rounds and fire four rounds. Only one second longer than loading two and firing two, and just a hair over four seconds faster if only loading and firing two at a time. That to me, seems to be a significant gain for not much cost in time.

When using the load four method I also used a strip only loaded with four rounds. I noted that handling of the strip was more positive and less fumble prone, just as  Claude Werner suggests it is in his training DVD. Go figure, it is as if the guy knows what he is talking about. Knowing that I was only going to put four rounds in the gun it also made it easier to load the second set of two rounds off the strip because I did not have to worry as much about getting two rounds in the charge holes immediately adjacent to the first two that were loaded. After loading the first two rounds, I still had four charge holes available to load, and it didn’t really matter which two ended up being loaded.

I also toyed with having a six round strip, but only loading four of the six and retaining the strip for the additional two rounds if needed.

It worked well enough, but retaining the strip for the extra two rounds costs a little time and having all six rounds loaded on the strip makes it a little less of a sure proposition than with only four loaded on it. 

Conclusions

After a couple hours and a couple hundred rounds of ammo, I feel like I have a much better handle on the speed strip reload. Loading just two rounds and getting off one round, a speed strip is pretty much just as fast as a speedloader, which I guess might be expected. Where the speed strip falls off is when we need more then just one round. 

The balance point seems to be defaulting to the four round reload. It puts enough live rounds in the gun to get some good work done, and while it takes longer than just loading two rounds, only marginally. I was also able to see first hand some of the handling benefits to just having four rounds on the speed strip. 

At the end of it all, if loading more than two rounds, the speed strip will be slower than a speedloader, probably at least about a second. Is that second a fair trade off to have a loading method that is easier to conceal? I guess that depends on you. 

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