Curse Of The Wheelwolf

Don't Forget The Silver Bullet
; .

Even when a man loves autos at heart,
And carries a Glock by night,
May become a wheelwolf when
revolver season blooms,
And the summer moon is bright.

Ok, ok, so that’s not exactly what the old Gypsy lady said to Lon Chaney, Jr.’s character in The Wolfman when she told him about the curse of the werewolf. But it comes pretty close to explaining the quandary of certain shooters who try to be modern, but just keep going back to revolvers.

Some call them “wheel guns,” a term that drives brother John Taffin to distraction. John prefers “sixguns,” though of course there are fourguns, fiveguns, sevenguns, eightguns and even tenguns if you count the S&W Model 617 .22 so configured. On the Internet the term “revo” has come into use. Bob Hoelschen was the guy who first distinguished, as I recall, between “round guns and square guns.”

To be a revolver person is, these days, to be thought of as hopelessly quaint. The couple thousand old heads left on NYPD who carry .38 revolvers constantly get “old guy” jokes. The department began requiring 9mm autos as duty weapons for all new officers circa 1993, and the term for those there earlier who are allowed to keep their wheel guns is “grandfathered,” which somehow seems particularly appropriate.


Wheelguns just reek of tradition.

Having six big .45 Colt rounds in your cylinder is comforting.
Seeing them reflected in the gorgeous mirror blue of a Smith Model 25 is satisfying.

Hope Springs Eternal

Yet, there is hope for the revolver afflicted. “You are not alone!” Look at the resurgence in Indiana Jones-style old-fashioned S&W large-bore double actions in recent years. I’m told S&W sold more of its retro Thunder Ranch commemoratives in their first year of production than in 16 years of manufacturing the original Model 21 .44 Special.

SSR, Stock Service Revolver category in IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) was once the sports fastest growing segment. With traded-in service revolvers still something of a glut on the market long after most police have switched to the auto, they’re the cheapest high-quality guns to buy if you’re just getting started in hand gunning. Its also a smaller pond than the huge Stock Service Pistol (SSP) category, a smaller pond if you will, for those who want to feel like a big fish.

SASS, the Single Action Shooting Society, has made cowboy action wheelgunning perhaps the fastest growing of all shooting sports. Yes, the lever-action rifle and double-barrel shotgun or Winchester 1897 pump are in there too, but the brace of the SA revolvers is the core of the game.

In the last few years, NRA has gotten a groundswell of support from its hardcore bull’s-eye shooters for their reintroduction of revolver events. These began with the Harry Reeves Memorial Match at Camp Perry. The concept swept the country so vigorously the NRA added a Distinguished Revolver event to their list of optional bull’s-eye matches. And ICORE, the International Congress of Revolver Enthusiasts, is in no danger of drying up and blowing away any time soon.


The roller trigger effect in action: Ayoob at IDPA match in FL with the GP100 he used to win the stage discussed in article.

Support Group

If you’re hopelessly addicted to revolvers, you can even find a support group. Revolversmith Grant Cun-ningham founded the Revolver Liberation Alliance, whose motto is, “The world isn’t flat, so why should your gun be?” I’ve had the pleasure of shooting a state championship with a revolver while wearing a Revolver Lib-eration Alliance T-shirt. On the back was a picture of a 1911 choked open with a smoke-stack, and the logo, “The west wasn’t won with a jammed-up gun.” To answer your question, yes, it does tick off a certain type of 1911 fan. You know the kind. The ones with tattoos that read “WWJBD?” for “What Would John Browning Do?”

Or, you can just go shoot a revolver match. Yes, you’ll have to reload more than the guy who’s allowed to use an auto in the given discipline. But that may not matter. Bowling pin shooting or Steel Challenge?Ask Jerry Miculek: If only five or six marks need to be hit, the winner is only going to fire five or six shots anyway, and reloading speed won’t deter-mine the winner. In PPC, there is reloading on the clock, but the time allowed is generous and a revolver is in no way handicapped. Though autos have been allowed in PPC for some time, the overall high scores in a given match are more likely to be logged with a six-shooter than with a self-stuffer.

One reason for this is inherent accuracy. In true, dedicated target pistols, you can indeed find autos more accurate than their counterpart revolvers. However, in field — and service-grade guns, out of the box, the reverse is more likely to be true. In 1988, the small police depart-ment I was in charge of firearms training for became the fourth agency in the country to adopt the just-introduced Smith & Wesson Model 4506. These were splendid .45 autos, and the 20-something I was responsible for were uniformly tight shooting. They averaged about 2.5″ at 25 yards. However, the old S&W Model 13 Military & Police revolvers we traded in for them would do about the same at 50 yards.


he little Centennial “hammerless” revolvers are Smith & Wesson’s single best-selling product line,
their various high-tech autos notwithstanding. This is a well-worn Model 342 AirLite Ti,
in .38 Special, with Crimson Trace LaserGrips.

Deal With The Wheel

What a lot of people miss is the rela-tively long, rolling trigger pull of the DA revolver is conducive to that key ingre-dient of marksmanship — the surprise trigger break. This lesson was brought home to me in February ’06 at a 41-shooter IDPA match in Jacksonville, Florida. One key to this event was the standard exercise stage, where at dis-tances of five, seven, 10 and 20 yards the shooter had to get to the gun and put one shot on each of four targets as the timer ticked. Up close was weak-hand only, and at seven yards, it was strong-hand only headshots.

I won the stage, shooting it with zero points down in a bit over 17 seconds. Florida/Georgia Regional Stock Service Revolver Champion Chris Christian came in third. I was shooting a Ruger GP100, and Chris, a Model 686 S&W. Between us was Darrell Walker with a Stock Ser-vice Pistol. Now, of those 41 shooters, only seven of us were wheelgunning. Revolver shooters thus comprised only 17 percent of the shooters. However, in a stage where accuracy with speed was imperative, but reloading was not a factor, revolvers comprised 2/3 of the top tier.

The reason was stark: the smooth, surprise trigger break of the DA gun. The wise DA shooter keeps the trigger rolling the whole time during a string of fire. Our spiritual guide and role model, Jerry Miculek, the leader of the wheel-wolf pack, describes this as the “live trigger” concept. It allows you to time your shots better, and move the trigger more aggressively, as you sweep between multiple targets.

This is one reason Jerry ruled the Second Chance shoot for so many years when bowling pin shooting was popular, using his trademark Model 27 S&W .357 Magnum with 83⁄8″ barrel. It’s why, in 24 years of shooting Second Chance with everything including high-tech comped autos with 2-pound triggers, my two per-sonal bests were accomplished with a Smith & Wesson revolver. Specifically, a 4″ barrel Model 625, its DA honed by Al Greco. My best year I came in second in Master Class Stock Gun with that six-shooter, beating everyone but Ken Tapp, who set the all-time record that year with a blazing time firing a Springfield Armory 1911A1, a time I couldn’t have beaten unless they videotaped me shooting and ran it fast-forward.

What had done it for me partly was the awareness five pins had to be to cleaned off the table with only six rounds in the gun, so I had to hit with every shot. More than that, though, was that smooth, rolling trigger. With an auto, I was hesi-tant about prepping the trigger too soon, because if the shot broke as the sights were just coming onto the bowling pin, the bullet would knock it sideways instead of back off the table. That would mean more time wasted shooting it again (and sometimes still again) to “clear the deadwood.” With the longer, more for-giving, less-likely-to-be-anticipated trigger pull, the DA revolver had allowed me to be more aggressive with my trigger finger and rack up some decent times.


A traded-in police revolver like this Model 64 S&W .38 is the cheapest buy-in to IDPbuy-in to IDPA shooting.
Here author wins SSR title at MidwesterA shooting. Here author wins SSR title at Midwesternn Regional Championships
of ’05. Ammo is Speer Lawman 158 grain +PRegional Championships of ’05.
Ammo is Speer Lawman 158 grain +P..

A Revolverthrope’s Tale

Let’s look at one revolverthrope. The curse of the wheelwolf came upon him in the 1990s. He was shooting a state IDPA championship a week before going to Jackson, Mississippi, to com-pete in the National Police Revolver Championships, and he thought shooting a revolver at the state shoot would be a good warm-up. He chose a Model 625 for its fast reloads with full moon clips, and had the good fortune to win the State Champion revolver title.

Well, the next year he was defending champion in service revolver class, so naturally, he had to bring a revolver to the state shoot again. To do otherwise would look like a cowardly failure to defend a championship title and would cheapen the title for anyone else who won it. As it happened, he won again.

It kept on happening, the tale getting sadder each time. One year, he sighs, “Ernest Langdon came to our State Championship. He was national cham-pion at that time, shooting a DA SIG in CDP class against the cocked-and-locked Colt 1911s. He won, of course, and it was a joy to watch him shoot.”

So what could be sad? The wheelwolf continues, “I managed to beat Ernie on three out of 10 stages. With a revolver. You think anybody remembers that?Naw … all they remember is that there were only two of us shooting revolvers that year, and I only had to beat one guy to be state champion revolver shooter.”

Pitiful, you agree? “No,” whimpers the wheelwolf in question, “I’ll tell you what’s pitiful. One year, I had to be out of state during the championship, just couldn’t get out of it. I figured, ‘Well, that’s that. When I get home, somebody else will have the title to defend, and I can go back to shooting Glocks and 1911s, or maybe that SIG I had Langdon do for me.’

But, n-o-o-o! I get back, and call the state shoot director, and ask him who the current revolver champ is. And he says, ‘You are.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Did I drink that much on the trip? Was it maybe, astral projection?’ And he says, ‘Nobody entered revolver class. You’re still state champ by default.’” The wheelwolf appears to wipe a tear from his eye and says, with a crack in his voice, “It’s like being state-champion horse-and-buggy driver ….”

I let him wear my Revolver Libera-tion Alliance T-shirt for a while. It seemed to make him feel better. Maybe next year, some slick revolver shooter will come to that match, and bring the silver bullet this wheelwolf yearns for, that will free him from the curse.

As The Wheel Turns

There are, after all, worse curses to bear than a love of fine revolvers. Some put it in more perspective than others. There are those for whom auto pistols are tools, and revolvers are things of beauty, objets d’art. I am sure when John Taffin made it public he kept a plastic-framed Ruger .45 auto with an attached flashlight at bedside, somewhere in the universe Yoda shuddered and put a fork-fingered hand to his head and said, “There has been a terrible disturbance in The Force.”

Consider Dr. James Williams, the increasingly well-known Tactical Anatomy expert. His bedside and carry guns are high-speed, low-drag Glocks. But when he shoots for fun, it’s always revolvers. The Colt Single Action Army in cowboy action, where he loads black powder and competes as Doc Darkside. The Smith & Wesson 686 in IDPA, where more than once he has won the Wisconsin State Championship. Or, just for the joy of it, plinking with a pre-model numbers S&W five-screw 1955 Target.

Sadly, there is no known cure for the curse of the wheelwolf. The afflicted can gain temporary relief through judicious application of Glocks, 1911s and assorted other modern therapies, but in the end, these are only palliatives, not cures. The need for revolvers may be forced underground for a while, but it will only fester like anaerobic bacteria, later bursting forth as a full-blown infection. It is best to deal with it through a chronic care regimen.

Accept once you’ve been exposed to shooting fine revolvers, there is no way your mind and body can be purged of the remembered feel of it. Whether it’s the smooth roll of the trigger or the four signature clicks of the Peacemaker’s hammer as it spells C-O-L-T while you cock it to the satis-faction of the tight group on target, these are pernicious things, not easily banished from one’s system.

It is best to learn to live with it. What you’re looking for, in the end, is a 12-step program. Fire six, reload, fire six ….

You might be a wheelwolf if

Could you be afflicted with the Curse of the Wheelwolf? With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, we offer this simple test. — CLICK HERE to see …

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