When covering the USPSA Nationals, it's easy to dismiss Revolver division. Only 2.5 percent of all USPSA activity happens with a revolver, and the number of people who compete for the Revolver title looks tiny when compared to the other divisions (22 in 2010, versus 225 for Limited division).
Those numbers hide the fact that USPSA's revolver division represents the tip of the revolver iceberg. Since most revolver competition lies outside the bounds of USPSA, we forget about the thousands of shooters in ICORE (the International Confederation of Revolver Enthusiasts), PPC, Bianchi Cup, IDPA, and the Steel Challenge who use revolvers. The ICORE championship alone drew 222 revolver competitors to the Hogue Range in June - that's fully equal to USPSA's Limited division, which drew 225 to the Nationals. Jerry Miculek led the wheelgunners at Steel Challenge this year and nearly won the match, finishing fourth overall.
Just to qualify for the USPSA revolver nationals takes a bit of doing. As Smith & Wesson's Julie Golob pointed out, slots to each handgun nationals are allocated based on participation in the listed divisions (Limited, Production, and Revolver in this case). Those hard-core revolver folks represent a tiny slice of that activity, so getting a section coordinator to give one of his precious few slots to a revolver shooter means a battle.
"They basically have to qualify in a different division and then switch," argued Golob, "or get one off the waiting list."
Perhaps because of that, the revolver shooters who made it to Vegas were a hardened crew. Fully half held ratings of Master or above, and 7 of those 11 were Grand Masters (1/3 of the competitors!). In comparison, just one-tenth of the Limited shooters held a GM rating.
When Front Sight caught up with the wheelgunners on Stage 5, the normally-calm Jerry Miculek was anything but. Typically Miculek is so relaxed he's almost detached. Instead he was watching every move his competitors made, intensely searching for the best approach to the stage.
In past years, Miculek has enjoyed a "walk-over" victory in Revolver. He's even been accused of throwing a stage just to make it look like a contest. The skill gap between Miculek and the rest of the field has narrowed steadily, to the point where Cliff Walsh was able to snatch the title away from Miculek last year — the first time that has happened in the entire history of revolver division. Perhaps Miculek felt he could easily recapture the title, because he and much of the Smith & Wesson team had opted to compete in the Australian Bianchi Cup championship a few days before. They flew in from Australia the day before the match, looking much the worse for wear. That fatigue would cost them.
Mid-morning of the last day of the match, Walsh was running roughly fifth, with Miculek struggling at third. David Olhasso, shooting for Smith & Wesson, was running second and both he and Miculek were desperately trying to catch up with the hot left-hander, Matt Griffin.
Griffin defies the stereotype of the GM. He wears no fancy uniform and has no obvious sponsorship; in fact that day on the range he looked like he just stepped out of the bush leagues. Goofy straw hat, tattered shorts, left-handed kydex holster, bondo-and-medical tape grips, quirky reload technique, and some funky sorta-checkering done with a file, this underdog shouldn't be beating Smith & Wesson's top three pros — but he was.
Up to Stage 5, Griffin was cruising smoothly along, building a steady foundation of points while Miculek and Olhasso struggled with equipment problems.
Miculek was smarting after a minor disaster on the previous stage. "This is my back-up gun," growled Miculek. "The other one the front sight came apart."
Miculek had just discovered (the hard way) that his back-up had seen better days — the extractor star was not coming straight back into position, leaving it askew enough to block the reload. "It's shot out," said Miculek, "but I don't think I can change it, because it's not actually broken."
(RM Troy McManus later said such a change would be allowed.)
He snapped out: "I had about a 40 point lead, but I've lost it."
As I watched, Griffin posted a solid run, followed by Miculek, who slapped home an even better performance.
"Good job! You beat me by a couple of seconds there," offered the good-natured Griffin.
That brought Miculek a little closer to Griffin, neck-and-neck with Olhasso.
Human Drama, in Revolver?
Olhasso blasted his way through the stage, posting an excellent time, but the score keepers found a single hole in the A-zone of a close target. After whipping out the overlays, they scored it as a double. (Two hits in one location.)
"There's no way that's a double," said other shooters as they looked on. "Could we get another opinion?"
Usually it's the shooter doing the protesting, trying to save himself from a penalty, but in this case, the rest of the squad was objecting to the call— something very rare indeed. CRO Debby Pankratz also called the hole a double, leading to even more protest.
"I'm not trying to be a ____ _____, but that's the difference between second and third right there," said Miculek.
The target was pulled, and Range Master John Amidon was summoned for a final opinion.
After much study while shooting continued, Amidon looked up and said "I don't see it. It's not there." Since Olhasso's scorecard had already been signed, and the score sheet cannot be changed after that, Amidon called for a reshoot.
Olhasso took this in stride, and made preparations to shoot.
The Re-Shoot Gods Strike
Halfway through an excellent repeat performance, Olhasso slapped the ejector rod, made his reload, fired two shots, and stopped. The cylinder wouldn't turn, and Olhasso fought it for several agonizing seconds, opening the cylinder and re-closing it.
"Oh no. . ." groaned Griffin, echoed by others on the squad.
Eventually Olhasso emptied the cylinder and did a standing reload in order to finish out.
After a few choice words, he stalked back uprange, and threw the offending moon clip to Miculek, saying, "Jerry, check it out."
A primer had fallen out of one of the live cartridges, jamming the works.
"I've never seen that," said Miculek.
"Me either," said an understandably emotional Olhasso. "The match is over. I'm out of it. I can't come back from that."
After a minute to calm down, he told me straight. "I was third, but losing 50-plus points, that's unrecoverable."
Almost on cue, rain began to fall.
The clouds didn't stay long, but more drama lay in store for the revolver group, with enough points changing hands that Olhasso would eventually regain his hold on third place, bumping Josh Lentz and his custom S&W 646 (in .40 S&W) to fourth. Griffin would stumble slightly, leaving enough of a window for Miculek to squeak ahead of him, winning the revolver title by a scant 9.5 points - a lead of just one half of one percent.
Revolver division suffers from being overshadowed by the hi-cap "race" division contests that it gets attached to. Open and Revolver aren't a natural pair, and neither is Revolver and Limited. There's a movement afoot (advocated by Julie Golob) to try to attach the USPSA Revolver title to the Single Stack Nationals. Given the low-cap nature of both divisions, that has a certain appeal, but Revolver and the Single Stack Society that created the Single Stack Classic/Single Stack Nationals don't exactly fit either.
No matter which way revolver turns, the professionalism within the ranks of its devotees shows no sign of lessening.
If you see Miculek, Olhasso, or that left-handed guy with the straw hat, tell them you read about them in Front Sight!