When I first heard about the International Confederation of Revolver Enthusiasts (I.C.O.R.E.), I thought ‘Wow, an international competition format just for wheel guns? It’s a revolver lover’s paradise!’ Well, I was mostly right. Allow me to explain…
ICORE: The International Confederation of Revolver Enthusiasts
The International Confederation of Revolver Enthusiasts, or ICORE as I (mostly out of laziness) shall refer to it throughout the remainder of this article, was created by a married couple way back in 1991. Its roots are firmly planted in IPSC, but today it has a healthy heaping of USPSA and Steel Challenge blended in, with a little sprinkle of Bianchi Cup for good measure. What does that mean?
Well, the stage designs are taken from all of those shooting sports. In a single ICORE match, there may be a stage consisting of speed shooting non-falling steel plates of various sizes at various distances and heights from a ‘box’, which is taken right out of the Steel Challenge format. Another stage might involve props such as a 2” wide plank which must be shot from while on the move. At the end of the plank there may be a wall with 2 or 3 port holes, through which the shooter must engage multiple falling steel targets, perhaps even a Texas Star, all of which comes from USPSA stage design.
Yet another stage may have primarily paper targets which must be engaged from under, over, and either side of various barriers, kind of like one encounters at the Bianchi Cup. (If you are not familiar with the Bianchi Cup don’t despair, for I will be covering my schadenfreude-laden participation in the revolver division of that amazing event in a future article). Finally, there may be an IPSC style stage which starts while sitting in a chair with the gun and ammo on a table; at the buzzer they are picked up and targets are engaged while on the move through a shoot house. The variety of stage design and shooting styles involved in ICORE definitely keeps things interesting, and most certainly will challenge most shooters of any level.
Origins of ICORE
The couple who conceived ICORE, Sharon and Michael Higashi, did so out of their discontent with the equipment escalation that was becoming so prevalent in other shooting sports. In order to remain competitive in platforms like IPSIC and Steel Challenge in the early 90’s, shooters needed very deep pockets and access to a really good custom shop, since 1911 platform .38 Super and .45 caliber “race guns” with Aimpoint red dot sights and every other custom thingamajig imaginable ruled the day at the time.
I discovered IPSC at my local range back in 1994, and I got bit rather badly by the handgun competition bug. I had grown up shooting skeet and rimfire rifle competitively, but had never shot pistols before then. However, my bank account kept the fever in check since I wasn’t ever going to be able to afford the $3000 and up pistols which were being used by most of the competitors, so I shot purely against myself. I also found good outlets in the form of rimfire pistol bullseye and bowling pin matches, which I was able to be competitive in with my bull barrel Ruger Mark II.
My Entry into ICORE
So, fast forward about 25 years and I happened across an ICORE match at my local gun club one weekend. I jumped right in, and it was love at first bang. The revolver I had at the time was a Smith and Wesson Model 15 which was my carry and glovebox gun. As far as equipment, I had a pretty beat up open-top leather OWB holster and a few HKS twist-knob speed loaders with nylon, Velcro tab holders. In other words, my equipment was state of the art – in the early 1970’s. Unfortunately, it was now the 21st Century. It became apparent rather quickly that if I wanted to compete in ICORE, even at the most basic level, I was going to need to upgrade.
Previous to my sojourn into competitive revolver shooting I had always looked at revolvers from a defensive, utilitarian perspective. To me they were simply reliable, moderately priced, go-to tools that were perfectly suited for the majority of my protection needs. Therefore, I was definitely not prepared for how expensive competitive revolver shooting could become.
Divisions & Guns
Like most shooting sports these days, ICORE has divisions. There are only 4, and the restrictions for each division are pretty simple. The most basic division, and the one I chose to compete in, is the Classic division. With the exception of the grips, sights, and cylinder release, guns in the Classic Division must be absolutely stock. No electronic sights, no porting, no heavy barrels etc. However, the gun is allowed to have an aftermarket front and rear sight as long as they are the ‘iron’ type, an extended/oversized cylinder release, virtually any kind of aftermarket grips, including Hogue ‘Big Butt’, and the hammer is allowed to be bobbed. Internally, the revolver may only have a six shot cylinder and may not use moon clips. However, the trigger is allowed to be customized, and can be converted to double-action only.
The next division is Limited 6, which has the exact same rules as Classic but moon clips are allowed to be used. The third division is Limited, which has the same restrictions as Classic but allows moon clips and revolvers of any capacity or caliber.
Finally, there is the open division where anything goes. Literally. Anything. Got an 8 shot 9mm with a 35 ounce 8″ ported heavy barrel, Aimpoint or other red dot sight, gigantic butt grips, wings for barrier stabilization, has a total weight of 76 ounces, has a 4-pound short-reset trigger, and a price tag North of ten grand? It’s good to go. Believe it or not, I’ve seen dozens of revolvers like that at ICORE matches.
Barrels are allowed to be any length, and that applies to all 4 divisions. Virtually every person in every division is typically going to use a revolver with at least a 5-inch barrel. Since there are no restrictions on barrel length from one division to another, why would anyone handicap themselves by using a revolver with a 4 inch or shorter barrel?
To that end I really wish ICORE would consider a 5th division called ‘Classic Concealed Carry’ or something along those lines. It’d use the same restrictions as Classic, but with a barrel length limitation of 3″ or shorter and no extended cylinder releases. Additionally, instead of Major and Minor power factor there could be a 5 shot and 6 shot capacity handicap that works in the same way. If such a division existed, I believe the overall participant numbers would greatly increase. I myself would probably still be competing in ICORE matches from time to time if there were a division like that.
POwer Factor, Classifications, & Equipment
Now, just like in most other shooting sports there are minimum power factors, and ICORE has Minor and Major power factors. So, if you happen to be shooting 9mm rounds then you will be placed in the Minor power factor category, and your targets will be scored slightly differently than another shooter who is using .45s and is therefore at Major power factor.
The targets used in ICORE are NRA D-1 targets, which are shaped like a tombstone. They have 3 rings and a big empty space outside of the rings. There is an illustration of one HERE. If a person is shooting Minor power factor, then the center of the target is the only space that is down zero, meaning only hits in the center don’t result in penalties. For Major power factor, the center plus the first ring is down zero. This helps to level the playing field between shooters using different calibers in the same division.
Classifications further level the playing field between shooters in the same division. Competitors are given a classification which is based on their performance over several matches, and/or a Classifier Match. The classifications in ICORE are, from lowest to highest D, C, B, A, M (Master) and GM (Grand Master). The basic idea is that regardless of the division a person is competing in, they are shooting against the other folks of the same classification.
As far as equipment goes, speed holsters are allowed, and there are no restrictions on the type or number of speed loaders/moon clips a person can carry, or where on the belt they are placed. Therefore, most competitors put all their speed loaders/moon clips front and center on their belt, and the standard amount of speed loaders/moon clips carried is 6. For more details on this and other specifics, I recommend consulting the ICORE rulebook.
ICORE STartup Cost
Which brings me to my personal experience with ICORE. On a recommendation from a trusted consigliere, I purchased a lightly used Smith and Wesson 686 Classic to the tune of about $700. Then I had it customized so I could be on par with all the other folks shooting the Classic Division. After a serious trigger job, double-action only conversion, hammer bob, cylinder chamfering, oversized cylinder release, and a fiber optic front sight, my lightly used $700 686 Classic now had an actual cost of around $970… and I hadn’t bought grips yet.
After trying about four for five different grips I over the course of about eight weeks I finally found a pair that really and truly worked for me. By that time, I was into the gun for about $1200. Another expense I wasn’t prepared for was the gear. I used a Safariland competition speed holster that cost around $80, a competition nylon inner and outer belt which was about $60, and six Safariland Comp III speed loaders with two holders. Each speed loader was around $20, so $120 for the loaders themselves. Then came the holders which held 3 speed loaders, and cost about $25 bucks a piece. That’s a grand total of about $310 for the gear and $1200 for the revolver. So I spent just over $1500 to get started in the most basic division of ICORE.
Then there was the ammo. The associated expense of the ammunition was exasperated by my unfortunate situation of not having the appropriate space for reloading equipment. There is no question that if a person endeavors to compete with revolvers it is basically a necessity that they reload their own ammo. Factory .38 special target ammo is expensive, can be unreliable as far as accuracy and velocity, and the primers will most likely cause a tuned competition revolver to have ‘light strikes’.
For anyone who might not be aware, revolvers that have had competition trigger jobs will often not strike the primer hard enough to cause ignition. Federal primers are known to have the ‘softest’ commercially made primers, therefore competitive revolver shooters use Federal primers pretty much exclusively. This can make Federal primers hard to find because they are in great demand. I cannot adequately describe the frustration I felt the first time I realized that my revolver would not reliably fire rounds with any other primers.
Since I didn’t have the option of reloading myself, I typically purchased ammo (and still do) from trusted and well-known commercial reloaders. Unfortunately, they don’t always have Federal primers on hand so I often had to hunt down and purchase the primers myself, then provide them to the re-loader. The other option was to shoot Federal factory target ammo. So taking into account the start-up costs for gun and gear, and then the ongoing costs for ammo, I guess the primary question that I might ask is ‘As time has passed, has the vision of the founders of ICORE played out the way they conceived it?’
My Experience Shooting in ICORE
Once I got past the growing pains of an ICORE newbie, I found shooting in local matches to be great fun. It just so happens around the time I became involved in ICORE there were two clubs within 40 minutes of where I live that supported the format. That meant that I could shoot a match twice a month, which is pretty amazing considering there are many places in the U.S. where a person would have to travel a long way to find a club that supports ICORE.
I met a lot of great people at the matches, some of which I am still friendly with today. The other shooters were amazingly helpful right from the start, always willing to offer advice and sometimes even equipment if there was someone in need. They were extremely eager to introduce new people to the sport. The majority of ICORE participants in my area were 10 to 15 years my senior, and I am no spring chicken. It makes sense in the greater scheme of things, since it’s the older generations that typically gravitate toward revolver shooting. Unfortunately it’s also a reflection of the times as ‘bottom feeders’ are exponentially more popular than revolvers these days, especially among younger shooters.
While I found the variety of stages in ICORE fun, I also frequently experienced frustration along the way. It seemed that no matter how much I practiced and how matches I participated in, I just couldn’t seem to break through my personal performance wall. I was a high ‘D’ level shooter for most of the first year, then I began scoring in the ‘C’ range, and my expectation was that by the end of the second of year I would be a high ‘B’. That never happened though.
When I stopped shooting ICORE, mostly due to financial reasons, I was still a high D/low C shooter after several years of participation. While my performance levels rose in other formats like IDPA, I just couldn’t seem to improve in ICORE. Most of the matches I shot, (including a state championship, and the International Revolver Championship which took place in my home state two years in a row), consisted of very good scores on a few stages, then mediocre to poor scores on most of the others.
In the end, I simply lacked the consistency which is required to be competitive. Another factor which led to my giving up ICORE was that the local match turnouts were typically fairly small, often with less than 20 competitors showing up, and most of the people who did come out shot in the Open and Limited divisions. Classic was just not that popular in my area, so I frequently wound up shooting against just myself (sound familiar?). Sadly, within a year of my entry into ICORE one of the two clubs stopped having matches all together. Fortunately, the support at the one club is very strong, so I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon.
The Bottom Line
In closing, I think of my walking away from ICORE as a hiatus. I absolutely will return to the sport one day, when circumstances in my life are more favorable. It is a fun and very challenging platform, with a lot of truly great people participating in and supporting it. If you haven’t tried an ICORE match, you should definitely check it out. For more information visit ICORE’s homepage.