When I got my bonus last year, I decided that my “splurge” would be some quality revolvers. My only experience with revolvers before that was a Taurus 94, and let me say, the Taurus 94 is not a great revolver. I knew there was better stuff on the market, and I wanted to get some guns to scratch some various competitive (and tactical?) itches.
The problem with guns is that buying them does not give you proficiency. You’ve got to earn that through hard work. Given my lack of experience with the revolver platform, I really wanted some good hands-on mentoring. When I saw that FPF Training was offering a revolver class, I jumped on it. Did I like it? Read on.
Disclaimers of Sources of Bias: I didn’t receive any discounts, and I don’t think there’s any source of bias that might influence this review.
Class Title: Practical Revolver
Class Description: From the website:
“You could be forgiven for thinking that nobody uses revolvers anymore…but Smith & Wesson and Ruger are producing more than half a million revolvers every year. Colt has re-entered the revolver market. Even Kimber is making revolvers now. Revolvers are experiencing something of a renaissance at the moment, but unfortunately most modern buyers don’t know the practical realities of living with the revolver on a day to day basis.
Practical Revolver is a coaching-intensive class designed to help you learn the keys to shooting the revolver well, loading and manipulating it reliably, and how to care for the revolver so it will operate as expected when you call on it to protect yourself, hit a target, or harvest game.
Rangemaster Master Instructors Tim Chandler and Ashton Ray have been using and learning about revolvers for most of their lives…and they’ll pass along some of those lessons to you!”
Round Count: Listed round count was 150. I shot 142 9×19 and 26 .45 Auto rounds for a total for 168 rounds. I suspect I shot more than most people due to not running out as fast (less dry-firing).
Instructors: Tim Chandler and Ashton Ray. Ashton and Tim are the principal instructors at 360 Performance Shooting, and they are quite well-versed in their craft. Tim is one of the founder of pistol-forum and has quite a training career under his belt. Ashton is a veteran and law enforcement officer (amongst other things, apparently). Both of them are Rangemaster Master Instructors.
Tim and Ashton are funny, insightful guys, and they are not afraid to break from the orthodoxy on handgun shooting technique. They were able to effectively demonstrate the benefits of what they were preaching, and as they say, the results are what matter.
Location/Date: FPF’s private training range in Culpeper, VA on 10/23/2022. The range is semi-improved – no functional bathroom, but a pair of porta-potties and a classroom shed. It’s about par for course for this sort of class. I would recommend some benches as a future improvement.
Weather: The weather was quite nice for late October, and the temperature ranged from about 40-65f. The sky was clear and overcast at different times. There was a light wind once in a while, but it was short-sleeves weather by the afternoon.
Equipment Details: Since this is a revolver class, the whole equipment section is going to be much, much different than what you’re used to seeing in these AARs. I brought a bunch of guns to class, but the two I wound up shooting were my Ruger Super GP100 9mm and S&W 625JM.
The Ruger Super GP100 9mm is a bit of a unicorn (only 200 made to date, as far as I’m aware), and it is certainly an attractive revolver. It uses standard 8 round 9mm moonclips (ala the 929), and will fit in a DAA Alpha-X holster with the 929 insert (albeit slightly loosely). Mine was worked over by Dave Olhasso before I got it, so it was in probably the best shape it could be in (minus the springs, which were set strong for CCI primers).
The S&W 625JM is a lot less uncommon, but mine was fitted with VZ grips, a fiber optic front sight, and an LPA rear sight. I have to admit not being sold on the LPA rear sight before class, but it performed quite well for me. I still don’t love the VZs, but I couldn’t really complain. The other major change to it was the addition of a Revup Action Hammer. The Revup hammer is a game changer for the S&W N-frames, as it causes the trigger pull weight to constantly lighten as you pull through. This sounds weird, but it winds up giving you a naturally smooth trigger press which does wonders for accuracy.
My ammo was my own reloads on moonclips. The 9mm functioned great (Fed cases, Fed primers, 4.1gr Titegroup, and a 124gr FMJ bullet). The .45 Auto (mixed cases, Winchester primers, 5.7gr Unique, and a 230gr FMJ bullet), not as much. I had a few light strikes due to primers being ever so slightly high (which I could verify by feel after class) as well as being of the Winchester brand (which is “harder” than Federals). Reloading for revolvers is a tricky business!
Finally, to carry everything, I used a DAA double belt rig with an Alpha-X holster (with the revolver support) and eight DAA magnetic moonclip holders. I have almost nothing to complain about with this; it held everything perfectly. The only quibble is that the Super GP100 is a bit loose in the N-frame insert, and I’d prefer a bit more tightness. It also failed to reset the holster from time-to-time, and then I’d have to manually push the insert up. The 625 clicked in perfectly, though.
Preparation Drills: A bit of dry-fire. I shot less than usual over the past month or so due to Jewish high holidays.
Author’s Previous Experience: Civilian with no military or LEO background. Have shot some competition, but no accomplishments worth bragging about. Training junkie since April 2018, and have averaged a class a month since then. I am OK with a carbine, pretty good with a semi-auto pistol, and just average with a shotgun.
My experience with revolvers, however, is extremely limited, probably only a few hundred rounds over my lifetime.
Class Demographics: There were nine students in the class (including myself). They were all mostly-white guys, albeit a few younger folks in the mix. The experience level was mostly average, but we did have one entirely new shooter in the class (and good for him for starting out right).
The mix of guns in the class was all over the place. There were some J-frames, a few K/L frames, and then me with my N-frame and SGP100. I also saw at least one LCR22 and a Security Six. A few people described their gun as “bought used at the gunstore for $200”, so you knew this was going to be kind of an interesting mix. In a total shock surprise, I didn’t see anyone’s guns go down hard. A couple people swapped guns when they decided they didn’t want to be beat up by their J-frames anymore (more on that later), but I really expected some gun drama, and it didn’t happen.
Only one person shot magnum rounds, and, thankfully, they were not next to me. I believe the vast majority of the class was shooting 38 Specials.
Class kicked off with a general overview of the current situation with revolvers (it’s a 20 year cycle, so now revolvers and lever guns are cool again) and some general class goals. Those goals could be summarized as “learn to shoot revolvers better to defend your life”. This was followed by instructor introductions and a broader discussion of how we think about shooting handguns.
I found much of this discussion quite compelling. Tim and Ashton have given a lot of thought to how they approach the subject, and one thing that really stuck with me was the rejection of the concept that we fail to our level of training, but instead that we fail to our level of mastery. I also thought the focus on trigger control over grip was intriguing. I have definitely been spending a lot of time with the “grip harder daddy” crowd for controlling a handgun (Stoeger school of thought), and the idea that maybe that’s not the true driving force for performance is worth thinking about.
The safety brief was exceptional, which I think is kind of a hallmark of the classes I’ve taken with Tim. It was very polished, and Tim gave a lot of examples of how rules violations created tragedies that didn’t need to happen. Frankly, many other instructors could learn a few things from this safety brief in terms of how to deliver one that’s more than the usual pro forma (and, full disclosure, I’ve definitely delivered some pro forma ones).
After the safety brief, we geared up and got our revolvers to the line to get them into holsters. This part of the class was also well-managed, which I appreciated; while I understand that people would rather just pull their guns from cases in the car, the number of shooters who accidentally muzzle people while doing this is unfortunately high. Better to do it on the line when possible (and in a class, it’s always possible).
While we formed up on the line (the class was a single relay), Tim and Ashton discussed the mechanics of revolvers. In particular, the areas where mistreating those mechanics will land you in trouble. A lot of people have this idea that revolvers are magical machines that always work and are more reliable than semi-autos. This is, of course, a bit of an insane premise in this year of 2022. Revolvers have far more parts than your average striker-fired pistol, and anything that prevents the cylinder from moving basically dead-lines your gun. The description that was given was “imagine you’re shooting a Swiss watch”, and it’s not a bad analogy.
A few areas we were specifically told to keep an eye on:
- Not abusing the yoke and crane by flipping the cylinder open/closed (or just plan smashing it out).
- Being careful to hit the ejector rod firmly straight on, and not from an angle or with a pumping motion.
- Supporting the cylinder with our full hand when possible (which is also rather essential for reloading in some scenarios).
The topic of bullet crimp jump is a problem in lighter frames was also brought up. At the time, I ignored this because I was shooting heavy N-framed guns. But, wouldn’t you know it, I was demooning my clips after class and discovered my 9mm rounds had, indeed, had slight crimp jump. I load short, so this wouldn’t have locked up the gun, but it’s a reminder that your gun is a system, and that system does include ammo… keep an eye on it.
We went around the class and discussed our revolvers at this point. The Super GP100 is a bit of a looker, so everyone liked it. As mentioned in the class demographics, there were a wide variety of guns there, and Tim and Ashton did a good job of discussing various pros and cons of what people brought.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: J-frames suck to shoot in volume, doubly so if they’re using Scandium or aluminum (or plastic!) frames and have no weight to soak up recoil. I shot my big revolvers in moderate calibers and was really no worse for the wear at the end of the day. The guys with the small and light guns, on the other hand, definitely looked like they were ready for a break. One guy was shooting a 340PD (11oz!) and it was just beating him up badly. Great gun for ankle carry, but I guess you pay the price in accruing that mastery.
The instructors promoted what they called the “flipper grip” with your primary hand. This grip is not super tight (maybe a touch more than holding a hammer) and focuses the pressure on front-back (rather than “all around”). This engages your biceps rather than your forearms, and thus provides more real strength. You combine this with “the hinge” of your support hand.
Length of pull also got some discussion. Revolvers have long trigger pulls in double action mode, and that makes trigger reach a concern. Some revolver stocks (they’re not grips!) are set up for single action reach, which becomes a problem when all you’re doing is shooting double action. One student brought a revolver with an adapter, which showed how you can solve this problem in a pinch. In retrospect, I do wonder if the stocks on my Super GP100 (SGP100) were too thick and causing trigger reach issues for me; I found I had to reposition my strong hand to get a good “handle” on the trigger, which may not have been optimal.
With unloaded guns, we demonstrated our revolver grips for the instructors. I got some good feedback on mine, and spent a lot of the time just playing with how I could squeeze with my hand and what muscles were being engaged. It was really quite obvious when I was using my biceps, I think. Thankfully, the SGP100 is a full-sized gun, so my problems weren’t enhanced by super short stocks.
One thing that I really loved about this class was the individual attention that Ashton and Tim gave every shooter, even on dry drills. I worked quite a lot with Ashton (by dint of the side of the line I was on), and I was impressed by his demeanor and insight as he quickly noticed issues and advised on how to correct them. You did not leave a drill until one of the instructors had a chance to coach you on it – one of the huge advantages of a 1:5 instructor-to-student ratio. This isn’t to say Tim wasn’t doing a bang-up job of working with myself and other students, but this was my first time in a class with Ashton, and I see why people like him and Tim so much together.
Tim and Ashton then talked about kind of the mechanics of how we shoot, and it was definitely thought-provoking. Tim described the sights as the windshield of your car, and the trigger as the steering wheel. If you’re having trouble with maneuvering your car, you wouldn’t yell at someone to look at the front hood ornament harder, right? You’d tell them to take better control of the wheel. It’s the same with shooting – you really don’t have aiming problems so much as steering the gun off of what you’re aiming because you’re milking the trigger. While this is probably not as big a problem with semi-autos, it’s definitely a big problem with revolvers, which have a 12-14lb double action trigger. You have to “build power on the gun” by using the flipper, the hinge, and then locking your strong hand on the back of the weak hand by pushing together the meaty part of your palms. One indicator you’re doing all this correctly is that your thumb doesn’t try to curl down.
We then put the theory into practice by doing a few dry-fire reps, and then going to our first live-fire of the day. Like every single other drill that day, Tim demonstrated in live fire, and he did a fantastic job. Like every instructor, there were one or two “didn’t quite make it” demos, but I would argue that he got a lot of value out of them by discussing why he didn’t quite make them. The somewhat slower and more deliberate pace of revolver shooting makes it easier to analyze what’s going on than most semi-auto shooting, which is not something I had fully appreciated.
I would be lying if I said my first shots of the day were terribly good. We started off on a big 12″ circle target at five yards, and I definitely had some low-right issues at first. I kept them in the circle, but I would usually have touching holes with a semi-auto pistol, so this was very humbling. I imagine this was, in fact, the point of the exercise to a large extent.
The instructors reviewed what we saw happening, and reminded us that grip happens BEFORE you pull the trigger. If you’re forming your grip while you pull the trigger, you’re pulling the steering wheel in directions you don’t want it to go (so to speak). We did a little more dry-fire to see where our sights were heading, and I think that helped. We were also reminded that moving your head means you have to aim again. I don’t think I have such a big problem with that anymore, but others in the class were having more issues with it.
We finished up the morning by switching over to some 2″ circles. These were much more of a challenge to hit, and were good fodder for the discussion of throttle control. A very good point was made that when your revolver only has 5-6 rounds, trying to carve off .1s from your split and getting a sub-optimal hit (or even a miss) doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Before I forget to mention it: every single shot in this class was double-action. There was precisely zero single-action shooting, mostly because single-action shooting doesn’t make a lot of sense in a real-life defensive or competition context (this is a “practical” revolver class!). Trying to hit a small target with a 12lb trigger really focuses the mind!
At this point, we broke for lunch. It was a working lunch of sorts as the instructors answered student questions.
What better way to get back into things than shoot 1″ square targets, right? To be honest, I was terrible at it, even taking my time. My sights were maybe half an inch low, and I simply couldn’t do much better than nailing the corner of the box a few times. I didn’t feel terrible about my overall performance, and I was certainly improving, but the pinpoint accuracy that I might be able to get from another gun was eluding me.
At this point, things started getting exciting, and the round count began ratcheting up. We did some transition drills where we put two shots on each of the three types of targets (big circle, small circle, tiny square) we had been shooting earlier. It was interesting to see how the wheels began coming off for some people… I wasn’t perfect, either, but this was more of my element.
Since the round count per hour had increased, we went over reloads. As a moonclip user, they were so easy for me that it felt like cheating. For other people, it was less awesome as they managed individual rounds, speedloaders, and even speed strips. Tim demonstrated some great techniques for opening and controlling the cylinder (right handed and left handed), which is a necessity for certain kinds of speedloaders that require twisting (HKS), and how to use your hand to cup rounds for easier insertion into cylinder chambers. It was further reinforced that we had gravity-fed weapons and needed to point them straight up and straight down as required.
We then did some more transition drills, but this time reloading as required. I enjoyed this, and really felt that the moonclips proved themselves nicely as I did it. Of course, it probably didn’t hurt that I was also reloading less than other people on top of it.
Tim and Ashton demo’d speed strips at this point. Speed strips are essentially rubber strips that can hold some number of rounds (5-6) in a flat, vertical fashion. You put the rounds partially into your gun, and then tear off the rubber bit. If you are very lucky, the rounds then fall into the cylinder. Basically, they’re not great for reloading in a fight, and require a fair bit of practice to use. They’re OK for reloading after a fight.
We then broke out a B-8 target and shot six rounds at ten yards in six seconds a couple times (pasting between attempts). I dropped one shot, which wasn’t bad.
The last skill we learned in class was drawing a gun. Fascinatingly, the method taught here was a little different than I was used to. I am used to dropping my support hand close to my holster when the buzzer goes off and then trying to get my hands together from there. Tim and Ashton promoted putting the support hand higher up because, in a real fight, you’d want a hand higher, not lower (“no says ‘put down your dukes’!”). I see their point.
The draw drills were structured into dry and live portions. The live-fire drills had us firing one, two, or three shots at the target. The culmination of the drills was a timed cylinder dump. I didn’t do a great job of it (all 8s in a cluster due to a bad support hand grip), but I did do it reasonably fast for a new revolver user (7.5 seconds).
This was the last official drill of the day. Ashton and Tim wrapped up with a summary of what we had gone over during the day. When asked if there was anything else we wanted to do, the class was unanimous – more draws! A few of us swapped out our guns and we went back to work.
This was the time I brought out my S&W 625, and much to my surprise, it was a fantastic shooter. The X-ring on the B-8 started disappearing, and the sort of skill (“skill”) I used to have on irons back before I became a red dot guy suddenly reappeared.
We finished up by having me demo some draws for the class and the instructors using that to show the class exactly where inefficiencies are when you’re moving fast and have go-fast gear. My best time with a good hit was ~1.45s, which is slow, but at least I (and everyone else at the class?) know where my problems are.
(I don’t remember when – poor note-taking on my part – but we did have a demo of pocket carry and draws at one point in the class. This was presented as a reasonable option for limited circumstances, but not an optimal primary carry method. Tim did show some super fast draws and hits at 3yds, though.)
Class Debrief: We did a bit of brass policing (which was mercifully short – revolvers don’t throw brass), put away our guns and gear, and then had a sit-down with students giving their thoughts about the class. Everyone loved it, including myself! The instructors handed out certs, gave some final remarks, and we all departed for our homes.
Conclusions: I greatly enjoyed the class. I daresay I loved the class! Tim and Ashton are very talented instructors and shooters, and approaching the pistolcraft subject from a revolver perspective gave me a lot of new insights into what’s right and wrong with my own technique. One of the hallmarks of a good class is that you walk away with a definite idea of what you need to work on, and this class delivered on that, especially in the realm of grip formation (both coming out of the holster with my primary hand and giving myself a better “third step” grip formation and sight alignment).
Oddly, I did not walk away from the class with a new-found love and respect of revolvers. I enjoy shooting them, and I do think they’re a fantastic tool for polishing your pistol skills. But the unfortunate reality is that a modern semi-auto plastic fantastic is a much better choice for serious work outside of very limited contexts (ankle or pocket carry). I’ll continue to shoot my revolvers at matches once in a while, but I’m not going to run out and buy a bunch more of them.
As a sort of post-script to this entire AAR, I shot an IDPA match with my 625JM a couple days after the class. This was my first match using a revolver, and while I did still have some ammo issues, I was entirely pleased with my relative performance. I am not so sure I would have been up to shooting in such a circumstance without Ashton and Tim’s guidance, and that’s the sort of positive practical outcome this class promotes.