YOU CANNOT BUY SKILL…BUT YOU CAN BUY ERGONOMICS. FEATURING VZ REVOLVER GRIPS

The stainless 6 shooter versus the magic framed 8 shooter…

One of the fun things about weapons craft and martial arts is that since you’re constantly testing yourself under realistic conditions, you continuously refine your methods. It is really a beautiful direct application of the scientific method because constantly testing, analyzing results, and refinement of the experiment gives more and more usable results. Occasionally (and ideally) this would lead to mastery or perfection. But rarely does that happen…but constant experimentation CAN get you closer to the PATH of mastery.

The late, great firearms trainer Todd Louis Green used to say, “You can’t buy skill.” Meaning that there’s no piece of equipment you can buy that will instantly improve your skill at arms. Skill improvement will always require work on behalf of the user to get to a measurable increase in performance of said skill.

So if we accept the premise that we cannot buy skill, it goes without saying that we CAN buy improvements in ergonomics that allow us to improve our interface to the weapon’s grip. Especially with firearms, the grip on the gun plays a large role in determining the quality of trigger control. The best trigger management occurs when the trigger can be manipulated straight to the rear, without any upward (or downward) deflection of the trigger finger.

For years, decades in fact, one of the negative qualities of N-frame S&W revolvers have been the size of the revolvers grip. Conversely, the K frame grip has always been known as the, “every person’s grip,” since it can be adapted to fit nearly anyone. As modern combat revolver shooting techniques changed to be primarily/all double-action based, revolver grips that fill in the sinus behind the trigger guard were created to allow the index finger to depress the trigger straight to the rear. The problem arises when the rest of the grip grows…material is added to the sides of the grip as palm swells, or by adding material to the backstrap. This greatly increases the trigger reach…and that makes the gun feel bigger. So shortening this distance between the backstrap of the revolver to the trigger face is akin to shortening the length of pull on a shotgun. If you’ve ever used a shotgun that has too long of a stock, you know how uncomfortable a long length of pull is! You can’t really get comfortable behind the gun and the recoil forces aren’t directed straight perpendicular to the user’s body. A similar application of recoil force occurs when the grips are too big in girth or in the distance between the backstrap and the trigger face. It makes shooting uncomfortable and you lose control of the weapon. You become a passenger and are no longer a driver…you’re simply along for the ride.

Enter VZ Boot Grips. I have a set for both my N-frame round butt S&W 327PC and my K-frame round butt K-frame S&W 66. I took some measurements after an acquaintance on Instagram asked me some questions about the dimensions of the different guns with the grips attached.

He was curious if the round butt dimensions of the K frame could be replicated on the N frame. And with cursory measurements, the differences are slight! LOOK!

Trigger face to backstrap on the 327PC
Trigger face to backstrap on the 66
Grip girth on 327. Approximately 4 5/8”. Measured right above grip screw socket.
Grip girth on 66. Approximately 4 5/8”. Measured right above grip screw socket.

The VZ grips have the best fit of nearly any production grip I’ve ever seen. There is no space on the front strap and the rear of the grip from the bottom end up to the frame horns are tightly adapted with no space. They are held in place by either a black or stainless T15 Torx head screw. And since they’re made of synthetic materials, they’re moisture resistant which is vital for a concealed carry revolver. In my subjective opinion the grips transfer the recoil energy of the gun like synthetic grips do, which is to say it seems like the dense material absorbs some of the recoil. I mostly use wadcutters so the recoil with those out of a compact carry revolver is minimal anyway. They also allow a full firing grip for every finger…and most, “boot grips,” do not allow space for the pinkie finger. The shape of this grip is more reminiscent of the old OEM, “banana grips,” of yesteryear. I have a pair of Beez speedloaders for the 327 inbound so I can’t say if they will clear it, but I CAN say that Safariland Comp 1’s and HKS do clear the grips on the 66. I mostly use a speed strip for my revolver reloads though, which of course work great!

I’m really glad that forward thinking companies like VZ are making modern products for us old folks that like wheelguns. The melding of modern materials and design with 19th century based technology is an interesting juxtaposition, but it works. I bought these grips myself…I have no business relationship with VZ. But if you buy a set to try out, tell them you read about them here on CIVILIAN DEFENDER and that the Doctor sent you! Thanks for reading!

WHEELGUN WEDNESDAY…The Smith & Wesson Model 327 PC and the Fricke Archangel

I have been experimenting with the Smith 327PC as a viable carry piece for the wheelgun savvy shooter for a bit more than a year now. I finally got the stocks/grips situation solved with the VZ N-frame boot grips, and they’re fantastic. After I got all of that locked in, I needed a carry option.

Unfortunately, not every holster works for every gun out there. What I mean by that, is that first, not every maker supports every model of pistol and revolving pistol, and not every holster model works for every handgun. For example, I’m a big fan of the Tucker Gunleather CoverUp, and I have a few for both J and K frame revolvers. For those small and medium frame revolvers, that holster works great. But with the N frame 327, it just didn’t work. I’m a big guy and the footprint of the holster wouldn’t fit in the space between my hip bone and my belt buckle. So the search continued.

Tucker Cover Up…not what I had hoped. It’s an odd shaped gun.
Two Tucker Cover-Ups that I absolutely adore. I’ve used both extensively and have no complaints…
The Kramer #5

I next tried an old favorite I’ve had luck with in the past. Kramer holsters is an American classic builder, creating tough-as-iron Horsehide holsters. Although the rig was comfortable and well-made, the ride height and cant didn’t work for me. It’s a beautiful holster though. The search continued…

Dale Fricke Archangel AIWB with BTA (butt tuck adapter)

I loved the gun, but still hadn’t found a good way to carry it. I had a Simply Rugged Sourdough which is AWESOME for 3-4 o’clock carry on the hip. But unless I’m in uniform, I prefer to carry AIWB. It just works better for my build and how I shoot and fight. I should’ve thought of this earlier, but I emailed my friend Dale Fricke and asked if he could make a version of his Archangel for the 327. I have used a version of Dale’s Archangel going back to the early 2000’s. Dale makes some of the most rugged AIWB holsters around, and he supports a huge number of handguns INCLUDING every S&W revolver around.

The biggest objection most people have to using kydex with revolvers is that they’re hard on the finish. I think that’s probably true with any holster, regardless of material. I have seen high grade 1911’s that have never been in anything outside of a Milt Sparks Summer Special and have NO finish left on any edge of the gun. I haven’t really ever been one to concern myself so much with the esthetics of my tools, so I find the accelerated wear from kydex to be a non-issue for me.

I emailed Dale Fricke on a Monday…and had the holster in less than a week! That’s a tremendous turn-around time for a custom maker, and was a pleasant surprise. I immediately unwrapped the rig, affixed it to my belt, then did a series of unloaded dry practice runs to see how it rode and presented…all systems go! I loaded it up, and hit the trail with my Weimaraner to see how it wore in relatively vigorous waking/jogging/stepping over several miles. No hot spots, no shifting, no tipping, and no idiosyncrasies that cause a commonly overlooked holster issue…the unconscious, “holster check.” Lots of people do a great job of hiding big guns, but give it away with their incessant picking to see if their gun is, “still there.” I work to NOT do that and using sound gear that works as it should makes confident carry easy!

Dale’s holsters are made of thicker kydex than most makers use. This means that while his holsters appear to have less detail molding, they’re actually more rugged and have less edges and angles that create hot spots of pressure when worn. And they still have a positive seat on reholster (an audible, “click,”) There’s a distinct difference these days between the makers who design and build holsters made for actual wear and hard use, and those who design and make holsters that are intended for Instagram photos…know the difference. 😉

The Smith 327 PC is a great carry piece. Strange in appearance, but wonderful in performance, it combines modern technology with Victorian era appearance. An American iteration of the British Bulldog revolvers. And now my favorite dog-walking piece.

Speaking As A Child of the Crime Bill of 1994

What a buzz kill…it was 1993, I had just turned 18, had a job working as a full-service gas station attendant and as a police explorer cadet, and I had JUST enough money to scrape together to be able to start buying guns. And then all of the desirable semiautomatic long guns that any young person would be enamored with, were gone. Literally made unobtainable by some weak legislation in hopes it would curb violent crime (SPOILER ALERT…it didn’t). So what to do? I did what I could with manual action long guns (an 870 and a lever action/bolt action combo). But I was bummed.

A few years later, I got a job working full time at an armored truck company. I carried a pair of revolvers (one in my duty holster and another on my ankle). And when I was off-duty/street clothes I would sometimes carry 3 guns, working side gigs where I could mostly in the field of valuable/cash transport. It wasn’t optimal. It wasn’t ideal. But I pivoted to adapt to the market, the world and what I could afford at the time (a used K or L frame was in the $275 range, a J or N frame was closer to $400 at the LGS). And the x-factor here (that many overlook) is I used what I could afford AND still train with. I could get all of the .357 Magnum and .38 Special I could shoot, as long as I turned in the empties (on a 1:1 trade). Many of my coworkers gave me their ammo, and a few of them did that in return for me riding shotgun for them. Because why practice yourself when someone else can do the hard work for you???

This was the trio I carried in the 90’s. When I carried all 3, I wore a hoodie, and had a shoulder holster with the 681 under it, and I carried the 28 AIWB, and the Bodyguard on the ankle. Yes…it gave me the payload of a Glock 17, but those were hard to find. And, if you could find one, it had a 10 round mag. Again, it’s a multi factorial argument…and this does/did have its shortcomings. But if you free your ego from the equation, you can make most anything work. That is, if YOU are willing to do the work. I carried full house 125 grain semi-jacketed hollow points in all three, qualified with that load, and won the company, “Top Gun,” award every year I worked there.

I think that in the next couple years, due to the weirdness of the world, people’s relative apathy to said weirdness and government legislation, we will have an entire new batch of, “Crime Bill Kids,” who will also have limited defensive options. They’ll have to get what they can from the secondary market, feed it with ammunition they can reliably (and affordably) source, and still have the resources necessary to practice or train. The elders of the community can be self-righteous jerks and say, “Well you should’ve been stacking it up!” or, “I prepared for this? Why haven’t YOU?” But that’s not a solution…and the older I get the bigger my Dad her gets and the more I value people that are part of the solution, not accessories to the problem.

So no surprise from me, but the, “most useful,” gun for strange times can be wheelgun. Here’s a few reasons why: 1. Dry-practice with a trigger pull that EXACTLY replicates live fire. “First round hits,” are all the rage currently, but they’ve always been amongst those that know best. How do you get that skill? Dry practice helps TREMENDOUSLY. 2. Ammunition versatility…a .357 Magnum revolver can also fire .38 Special and some can even fire 9mm with a conversion cylinder. Also, you can fire whatever you can source. Light/fast ammunition that may not cycle the action on a semiautomatic pistol reliably, will work fine in a revolver. I’ve noticed a ton of weird, foreign, lightweight/high velocity Ammo in the store when everything else is gone. 3. Ammunition durability. All ammo is relatively fragile. Continually reloading the same cartridge into a self loader can and will decrease the ignition capability of that specific cartridge, or set the bullet back and create pressure issues. So not a big deal to build a zip-lock bag of, “discard,” carry ammo to shoot at the next qualification, or practice session, but in the middle of an ammo shortage, that one round is a valuable commodity. THAT could be the round you need to save your life. With a revolver, the trauma to the individual cartridges is minor or a complete non-issue. And since the state of readiness of a revolver can be ascertained by looking in the cylinder, there’s no need to remove the cartridges from the individual chambers or, “press check,” like many folks do with semi autos. You can open the cylinder, see the primers and close the cylinder. You’re ready. 4. Revolvers are adaptable. You can find OR MAKE (3D printing nerds…looking at you here) revolver grips that will fit any hand or esthetic. Finger grooves are optional, and in many cases, can be removed with patient, cautious abrasive application. And places like VZ grips can make stocks for revolvers that make the BIGGEST revolvers around feel and actually be, volumetrically smaller without compromising comfort or function. 5. Sights. You can DIY many revolver sight options. Some of the greatest revolver pistoleros did this, and with a little hobby paint from Michael’s Treasure House, you can too. Even blacking out the rear notch on a fixed sight stainless revolver can make your sight picture cleaner.

DIY is probably one of the revolver’s greatest adaptability strengths. The guts of the gun largely inhabit the middle of the revolver…the sights and the grips lay at either end. And you can manipulate the ends without affecting the function of the middle. Something to consider.

Concealability, adaptability and availability are just a few of the revolver’s strengths. Is it weird that someone would chose technology from the 19th century to defend themselves in the 21st century? No, but also yes! It isn’t going to be easy, but I don’t think the choice of weapon is the weakest link, nor the most significant in what the cognoscenti like Massad Ayoob, outlined in his, “Survival Priorities,” so many years ago. Utilization requires thought, but any cop who grew up and worked in the, “bridge generation,” between the nationwide switch from revolvers to semiautomatic pistols will tell you, they’d still hit the streets with a revolver and feel fine about it. But all the same, they’d also tell you to bring a spare or two. 😉

This might be the ideal carry piece for the next Generation. Light enough to carry in even gym shorts (an overlooked fact of living with guns) but carrying 8 rounds, it’s nothing to disregard. And the short tube? Roughly the same runway as a Shield or Glock 43 (Add the barrel to the cylinder length). And versatile grip options to fit every hand. A good thought experiment…does your trained adult child or spouse need a gun? Would you consider loaning or gifting (in compliance with the law, of course) THE gun which you are considering? I wouldn’t lose a wink of sleep about my wife or Son’s defensive capabilities with this particular gun. And with my Son’s grappling capabilities coupled with this gun? They won’t get it away from him…the mechanical advantage given to the shooter here is tremendous. But OOF…there’s the elephant in the room that many don’t like to mention; that is, the TRAINING part is the hard part. The gun part isn’t an afterthought but the training part takes preference, at least for me and my small tribe. The hard work is also the most fun (and most rewarding) than just ogling over hardware and rubbing it with a cloth diaper.

Recharging the Drive

I’ve been active in the, “tactical training community,” for nearly 30 years now. I started training back in the early 1990’s and I’ve never stopped. I’ve had some slow-downs due to school, residency training and life-issues, but I’ve never had a training lay-off in that time period longer than 3 months. The focus of my training lately has shifted towards the hands-on Brazilian JiuJitsu/grappling/combatives arena, and that opens an entirely new can of fun worms.

So the other areas of study from the CIVILIAN DEFENDER concept, tend to get pushed to the back burner, and while not entirely neglected, they just don’t get hit as readily. And honestly, much of the firearms training industry rotates about the gear issue…that is, trying out the latest and greatest in technology (which generally isn’t new, or even novel, and harkens back to something that is decades or even a century old). But when you don’t get ga-ga for gear, and have a great appreciation for the SOFTWARE behind the gear utilization, you still get areas of interest. A few of the more esoteric concepts I’ve been actively experimenting with currently include the S&W 327PC in-fight weapons access issues and 0-5 foot application as the ultimate, “gun grappling,” revolver. Another is exploring Colonel Jeff Cooper’s hypothesis on the, “Scout Rifle,” concept, which, while the technology of today has far surpassed What Col. Cooper had available in the 1980’s, the mission is interesting to me. And I’ve been doing more and more with edged weapon utilization, mostly in the BJJ-integrated training ideology. And although I haven’t gone full ham on the red dot sighted pistol, I have one, and I plan to do some work with it under the qualified guidance of several thought leaders in the industry.

S&W 327 PC

But like any of us, I get bored…I get bored with, “guns.” So I tend to hit the, “other,” areas more. I primarily teach medical subjects, both as my primary vocation as a college professor at a medical college, and in open-enrollment classes I teach on weekends to the general public. Dealing with bleeding is something I literally do everyday. I’m planning on adding some of the excellent material produced by Ed Monk on active shooter interdiction in my Hemorrhage Arrest Course. Thinking deeply about dealing with the problem of spree killers lately, which has heavily permeated the current news cycle, has renewed my interest in many areas of firearms training where my interest and enthusiasm has waned. Since I recently attended Tom Givens of RANGEMASTER Tactical Conference, I took several notes which gave rise to more questions that I need to pose to the respective teachers that inspired the thoughts, but also do more work on my own, through research and experimentation. There’s no time like the present, and while the public is busy largely believing in the mass hysteria that the media is heaping on everyday, there must be more done in terms of promoting facts, not hysteria. So now is the time to spread solid, fact-based information. I’ll add what value I can to the conversation and further try and cross-pollinate by disseminating good ideas from those who have them.

I don’t have a big presence in the industry. I have a small sphere of influence thanks to my friendship with a few of the big names. (As I’ve always joked, I occupy the rearmost table next to the restrooms in the corner of the swap meet…and most of the interest in my table is from people looking for the restroom). In my school, I have a larger influence since every student and resident has to come through my clinic to complete their educational program. And as a reserve police officer, I am part of a small department that I have the ability to lead through doing the right thing, being bold, and also demonstrating sound survival and rescue skills in real-life work. This brings me to a great quote:

The world is a strange place right now. The LAST thing that any of us need to be doing is taking a break. We can’t quit right now. Because in the face of mounting legislation, pandemic weirdness and the everyday hustle of life, it’s easy to get bored, distracted and fall into the groove of an apathetic routine. We CANNOT stop training and we CANNOT stop educating those who are receptive to our message (nobody is coming to help you, and it’s up to you to acquire and maintain the skills necessary to preserve your own life from existential threats). As Professor Paul Sharp of SHIVWORKS and SBG says, “EVERY DAY ON NO DAYS OFF.” Constant pressure, applied daily, leads to massive changes over time. So let’s keep on driving. And remember: