First in a series about ‘Running the Snub.’
In a discussion of revolver reloading techniques on my 1000 Days of Dryfire Facebook group, I posted a video of myself shooting the Alabama State IDPA Championship with a snub revolver.
The video generated the following question, which I think is worth some discussion and explanation.
Claude, I watched your video, and to me, you display amazing recoil management – the gun hardly moves. I was under the impression that snubbies are especially hard to shoot and control, particularly in this skill area. Can you share what you are doing to control recoil so well? Maybe details on how you grip the gun, and what kind of load you are firing?
Let’s deal with the simple questions first. I was shooting a two inch K frame at the Championship, which weighs almost twice what an Airweight J Frame does. That has some effect on the recoil management. The load I was using was my IDPA handload, which is ballistically equivalent to 158 grain Round Nose Lead standard pressure. I prefer not to use lead bullets so my load used a plated bullet.
The next issue to deal with is “snubbies are especially hard to shoot and control.” That’s been ‘common knowledge’ among the shooting community for as long as I can remember but how true is it? Like many other aspects of ‘common knowledge’ among gun industry common taters, I’m skeptical about that. So, I decided to do a little more Comparative Testing.
The test I chose was 5^4 (5 rounds in no more than 5 seconds at 5 yards into a 5 inch or less group). The 5^4 protocol was originally developed by Gila Hayes of the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network for her book, Effective Defense: The Woman, the Plan, the Gun and subsequent later editions. .
The Editor of a publication I occasionally write for asked me to participate in a project about comparing different handguns. Being the revolver guy I am, he asked me for some input about how wheelguns fared. His concept is:
[R]each an objective: identifying a short (20-rounds) base of standards for defense handguns to (1) compare similar format guns, one to another, (2) compare formats of handguns (small, single stack or subcompact), (3) “shoot out” duty/defense ammo for replacement while evaluating personal skills, (4) yet another “cold course” of fire to identify skills areas that need attention.
This is the Course of Fire he developed.
- Basis: 3-second strings
- Lots of draws
- Few reloads (on the clock)
- Limited Vickers: use a target, feature .5 second added for 1-down; shortest time “wins.”
- 25 yards – singles from holster – 5x – 5 rounds
- 15 yards – single from holster – 1x
- single from guard – 2 x — 3 rounds
- 10 yards – Pair from holster – 1x 2 – rounds
- 7 yards – Failure from holster – 1x – 3 rounds
- 5 yards – Pair SHO from holster – 1 x – 2 rounds
- Pair WHO from guard – 1x — 2 rounds
- from holster, 1-Reload-1 – 1 x – 2 rounds
- from holster, 1 head – 1 x – 1 round
Total: 20 rounds
- Draws – 7
- From ‘ready’ (guard) – 3
- Singles – 6, one to ‘brain housing group’
- Weak Hand Only – 2, Strong Hand Only – 2
- Shots to smaller target – 2; one is transition from larger target.
- Pairs – 4
- Reload – 1 (under time)
All in a 20 round box of ammo.
It’s an interesting concept, so I shot it with four different revolvers and two autoloaders.
- Smith & Wesson Model 65 – one of my favorite wheelguns and what I shot at the 2018 Rangemaster Tactical Conference
- Smith & Wesson Model 642– perhaps the most ubiquitous revolver encountered today
- Ruger LCR – another commonly carried wheelgun
- Smith & Wesson SD9VE
- Beretta PX4 Storm Compact, modified to G configuration
- Smith & Wesson 43C – a nice little .22 snub revolver
All were shot from Appendix Inside the Waistband carry except the SD9VE. The centerfire revolvers were reloaded using a speedloader carried in a centerline carrier. The 43C was reloaded using a QuikStrip carried in the watch pocket of my jeans. I used Remington Golden Bullet bulk ammo in the 525 round box for the 43C. Despite it having a 9 pound mainspring, which I have been told will get me ‘kilt in da streetz,’ there were no Failures to Fire.
We were free to use any target we wanted, so I used the printable target from my ebook Concealed Carry Skills and Drills. Per his instructions, the scoring was Vickers Count with ½ second added per point down. I used the Circle as the -0, the paper target as -1, and the balance of an IDPA target backer as -3.
An interesting aspect of the Course is that every shot or two is scored individually. This involves a lot of walking, especially for the five shots at 25 yards but gives a lot of feedback about the efficacy of one’s shooting. In the spirit of the analysis, I marked the target at every distance change to keep track of where the bullets were hitting.
Here’s how the results came out.
It’s a demanding benchmark analysis. I’m looking forward to seeing the results of the other testers.
If you would like to purchase Concealed Carry Skills and Drills, the link to the downloadable ebook is here. http://concealedcarryskillsanddrills.com
A recent discussion about a man unintentionally shooting his stepson https://www.panews.com/2018/08/14/man-accidentally-shoots-stepson-12-after-meteor-watching/ got me to wondering “How fast is too fast?” A little research was in order, so I did two experiments. One was a decisional drill that’s an evolution of the Thinking Drills in my Concealed Carry Skills and Drills ebook. The other was a comparison of the times between Cooper’s original Five Count drawstroke and the Four Count drawstroke it has evolved into.
Having acquired a Ruger LCR, I decided to put it to the test. Once again the timer and the target tell an interesting story. To make the day a good #wheelgunwednesday, I took four revolvers out; Ruger LCR, S&W 642-2 Airweight J Frame, S&W Model 36-1 (3 inch), and my EDC S&W 43C. The LCR had a Rogers Enhanced LCR stock, the 642-2 wore Sile rubber stocks, the 36-1 had Pachmayr Compac stocks, and the 43C used the standard factory boot grip. Ammunition for the .38s was Tula steel case and for the 43C, CCI Stingers just as I load it for carry.
The test I used for the comparison was my 5^5 drill; five shots in five seconds at five yards into a five inch circle five times in a row. I made up a target for the test so that I could record the times and results on one sheet. The circle is a CD, so it is actually 4.75 inches in diameter, not 5 inches. The markers bleed through and I shoot the back to reduce visual confusion. After shooting each run, I wrote the time on the target.
The very first shots confirmed something I’ve said for a long time; ‘feel’ is utterly irrelevant until the shooting starts. Even then, it needs to be tempered by measurement. The Rogers stock feels really good to handle but during the first string my immediate thought was “Whoa, this thing kicks!” I shot a second string with the 642-2 with the Sile rubber stocks as a comparison and found the recoil much less unpleasant.
For a long time, I’ve wanted to do a comparison of two very popular pocket pistols; the Airweight J Frame and the Ruger LCP. This #wheelgunwednesday, I made it happen. In this case, I used a S&W 642-2 for the Airweight.
The test I used for the comparison was the Nevada Concealed Firearms Permit Qualification Course. I used this as the graduation exercise in my Snub Nose Revolver Classes many times. It’s still one of my favorite CCW qualification courses. The course goes as follows:
The humanoid target, B27 or B21 or equivalent as determined by the firearm instructor shall be utilized.
For 6 shot or higher capacity:
3 yards 6 rounds No time limit Freestyle
5 yards 12 rounds No time limit Freestyle
7 yards 12 rounds No time limit Freestyle
For 5 shot or lower capacity:
3 yards 5 rounds No time limit Freestyle
5 yards 10 rounds No time limit Freestyle
7 yards 10 rounds No time limit Freestyle
A total of 30 rounds for 6 shot or larger capacity, 25 rounds for 5 shot capacity must be fired. A 70% minimum (18/25, 21/30) must be scored to pass.
Notice that as with the majority of State Qualification Courses for Private Citizens, drawing from the holster is not required. Nevada is not one of the States that forbid drawing from the holster, so I include a little holster work.
The way I did the test was to:
- Use the -1 zone of the IDPA target. Then, I fold the bottom tapered part up behind the target. This gives an area approximating the FBI QIT target, which I like.
- Shoot 25 rounds with both guns, even though the LCP would fall into the ‘6 shot of higher capacity’ category. This gives an apples to applies comparison of the two guns.
- Conduct the first Stage as five individual one shot draws.
- Do the second and third stages as two individual strings of five shots each.
- Carry the 642-2 in an AIWB holster, concealed under a polo shirt.
- Carry the LCP in a pocket holster.
- Start the draws with hand on gun.
- Start the Five shot strings with the gun at Low Ready, aimed below the base of the target.
In the end, I was able to achieve slightly better results with the 642-2 (19.87 seconds) than with the LCP (20.71 seconds). I’m not sure a 4% difference is worth writing home to Mom about, though.
Both guns were mostly stock. The front sights on both are painted with Fluorescent Orange paint. The LCP has a Hogue Hybrid Handall installed. This makes the gun much more pleasant to shoot and I highly recommend it. The 642-2 wears Sile rubber stocks, which are no longer made, unfortunately. No special trigger work has been done on either, other than a fair amount of dry practice.
In the end, either of these in your pocket will provide more personal protection than some big honking clunky autoloader that gets left home. What’s the best concealed carry handgun? The one you have on you.
The timer and the target sometimes tell interesting and unexpected tales. A long held opinion is that a longer barrel is easier to shoot, both in terms of accuracy and shot to shot recovery, than a shorter barrel. For #wheelgunwednesday, I decided to put this theory to the test. Several different revolvers of varying frame sizes, weights, and barrel lengths were used to shoot a standard drill and compare results.
Justin Dyal wrote an article for SWAT Magazine about a drill he created called Five-Yard Roundup. It was used as the semi-final test at the Rangemaster 2018 Tactical Conference. Especially in the context of snub revolvers, it’s a good test of skills that may be required for personal protection.
This past weekend, Friday through Sunday, was the 20th Anniversary Rangemaster Tactical Conference. I have a long history of wheelgunning at the Conference, having shot it with a revolver in 1999 through 2001.
This year was no exception. I’ve also taught for many years at the Conference. This year I decided to re-visit teaching my Intro to Snubby Skills block of instruction. One of the other trainers had to cancel due to a family emergency. This gave me the opportunity to conduct my class on both Friday and Saturday. A total of 37 shooters took the two classes. I kept it to two hours and less than 50 rounds. Shooters sometimes lose their focus if the class is longer or the round count is higher and I want to set them up for success.
The topics I focused on were:
- Grip the snub firmly
- See the sights
- Press the trigger smoothly
We did all the drills dry first and then live. For the live practice, most included spinning the cylinder after a few shots to create a ball and dummy drill. Revolvers do this much more efficiently than autoloaders. I also emphasize loading with loose rounds because speedloaders are not as secure an ammunition holding device as an autoloader’s magazine.
As the final exercise, the shooters fired all five shots into an eight inch circle, reloaded with two loose rounds and then fired both shots at a facial target 3 inches by 4 inches. This is a good exercise for practicing shooting quickly and then accurately.
After the second class, I then shot the Pistol Match with a Model 65 S&W revolver. Out of 186 people who chose to shoot the Match, two of us used revolvers. The Match featured turning targets, which made it both challenging and fun. The entire match is shot with the shooter’s equipment concealed.
I’ve been using a Galco Walkabout holster for my J Frame so I used a homemade Kydex centerline speedloader carrier. I’m finding that a speedloader carrier at the centerline is extremely fast. One observer noted that on the Stage that required a mandatory reload, I finished first among my squad.
For each string, we had to shoot a given number of rounds in a fixed amount of time while the target faced. Those who fired a perfect score made it into the Semi-Finals.
The Semi-Finals were held on Sunday morning. Turning targets were used again but this time the Course of Fire was only 10 rounds and was shot on a B-8 25-Yard Timed and Rapid Fire Target. The Course of Fire is revolver neutral but I threw two shots into the 7 ring and that put me out of the running for the Final Shootoff.
The Final Shootoff was a single elimination contest shot on reactive falling targets. Two mannequins with a concealed steel hit area had to be knocked down first. Then a mini Pepper Popper had to be knocked down. Whichever shooter knocked down the Popper first was the winner. The competition was fierce and Mr. Gabe White was the winner.
The Ladies did not have a Semi-Final and the top eight Lady shooters of the Match went straight to the Shootoff. It followed the same format as the Men’s Shootoff. Once again, the competition was fierce. Ms. Melody Lauer was the Winner.
Three days of good training was a true pleasure. There were more blocks of instruction, both live fire and lecture, than can be attended. It was a great time and I’m glad I was able to attend and present again.
Next year’s Conference will be held just north of New Orleans on March 15-17, 2019. It is open to all those interested in personal protection.
If you would like to purchase my eBook Concealed Carry Skills and Drills, the link to the downloadable ebook is here. http://concealedcarryskillsanddrills.com
If you would like to purchase my eBook Indoor Range Practice Sessions, the link to the downloadable ebook is here. https://store.payloadz.com/details/2501143-ebooks-education-indoor-range-practice-sessions.html
For some reason, #wheelgunwednesday had never crossed my radar before yesterday. Viewing this as a serious deficiency on my part, I decided to shoot the IDPA 5×5 Classifier with some revolvers. It’s a 25 round Course of Fire shot entirely at 10 yards.
I like the 5×5 because it’s five shot friendly and is a demanding skill drill. As some shooters have observed, the IDPA 5×5 is not as easy as it looks. It shares this in common with the 5^5 drill that I designed.
Whenever a Course of Fire is shot repeatedly, there’s a ‘training effect.’ This means that simply understanding the sequence helps the shooter do better. Since I was shooting service revolvers down to Airweight J Frames, I chose to bias the training effect in favor of the J Frames, which are inherently harder to shoot. The order I chose to shoot the wheelies was:
- Model 66, four inch (.38 Special)
- Model 65, three inch (.38 Special)
- M&P 5 screw, 2 inch (.38 Special)
- Model 640-1, 2 ¼ inch (.38 Special)
- Model 36-1, 3 inch (.38 Special)
- Model 642-2, 2 inch (.38 Special)
- Model 30, 3 inch (.32 S&W Long)
- Model 432PD, 2 inch (.32 S&W Long)
Shooting the guns from heavy to light also helped keep me from getting beaten up by recoil early in the process. I’m glad I approached it that way.
For the K Frames, I used the KIS “Keepin’ It Sippel” holster from Leather Creek holsters. It’s a very comfortable holster that distributes the weight of a service pistol well on the belt and allows a quick presentation. For the reload on String 3, I used a Safariland Comp II speedloader and pouch. When I bought the M&P 5 screw, it had the half moon front sight that was commonly used in the pre-1950s era. This is not an easy sight to see, so I flattened the rear with a file, serrated it, and painted it fluorescent orange with a white undercoat. All of the K frames also have had the rear sight blackened with a Sharpie to provide more contrast and reduce glare.
For the J Frame .38s, I used a Galco ‘Concealable’ holster. The forward molded design makes it very comfortable because it doesn’t press on my hip bone at the four o’clock position. Reloading was done with a Safariland Comp I speedloader and pouch.
For the J Frame .32s, I used a Bianchi Model 57 ‘Remedy’ holster. This is also a comfortable forward molded design. Reloading was done with an HKS 32-J speedloader and Bianchi pouch.
The ammo used was mostly Tula 130 grain FMJ .38 Special. I can’t recommend this ammo. Probably because of the steel case, it’s very difficult to extract. Most of the time, I have to use a rubber mallet to give the extractor rod a whack to eject the cases. I bought a case of it and when it’s used up, that’s the last I will ever buy. When the stage required a reload, I started with Federal American Eagle 130 grain FMJ, which extracts easily.
In the .32s, I used Georgia Arms .32 S & W Long 85 grain Jacketed Hollow Point and Fiocchi 97 grain FMJ. They both shoot to similar point of impact and proved reliable in the .32s.
#wheelgunwednesday, it’s going to be more of a habit from now on.
Note that the holsters were provided to me at no cost by the manufacturers but I receive no compensation for my evaluation.
The two loudest sounds when shooting are:
- A bang when expect a click
- A click when you expect a bang
A click when you expect a bang with centerfire revolvers often means that tools will be involved in fixing the problem. An example is a broken hammer nose on older Smith & Wesson revolvers. Until the 1990s, these revolvers had the ‘firing pin’ integral with the hammer. S&W refers to this part as the ‘hammer nose.’ If it breaks, nothing short of replacing it will make the revolver fire.
Two steel J Frame revolvers are compared in this picture. The tip of the hammer nose circled in red has broken off. It will require replacement before the snub will be functional again.
S&W changed the design of its revolvers before the Turn of the Century. The firing pin was moved to the frame from the hammer. But there are millions of older S&W revolvers that have the hammer nose design. Issues have arisen in the past because S&W has not manufactured the part in many years. They were available on the used part market but the supply was spotty. There are now two sources for newly manufactured J Frame hammer noses.
This part is best installed by a qualified gunsmith. It may require minor fitting. The hammer nose rivet that holds it in place may also need to be replaced.
The Model 36 with the broken hammer nose was manufactured sometime before 1975. It has been through considerable live fire and dry practice. When using an older gun, it’s a good idea to inspect them on a regular basis to see if any parts have broken. The hammer nose in particular will not cause an obvious change in function if it breaks but the gun will not fire.