Revolver Competition Gear – Competition Handgun I

Competition Handgun double action revolver

If you haven’t read my AAR of Mike Seeklander’s Competition Handgun I, go check it out. I decided to cover equipment separately so as not to distract from the review of the excellent course. This post will cover the revolver competition gear used during the course.

Gun: S&W 686-3

My 686 has quite a high round count and is 25 years old. I intend to take it out of the primary shooting rotation since parts (not to mention replacement guns) are becoming increasingly expensive and hard to find. Still, I wanted to give my favorite six-gun one last hurrah before she goes into semi-retirement. This course was it. Over the three days (two days of training and the competition) I fired just under 800 rounds.

I’m happy to report that (unsurprisingly) the gun fired everything fed through it. The only problem I had was a semi-recurring ejector rod malfunction. On every break I made sure to check the rod. Though some recommend against it, I will put some blue Loctite in there soon. Firing such a high round count in such a compressed period of time, I almost expected something else to go wrong, but nothing did.

I was also asked more than once at the course, “who did your revolver work?” Everyone seemed surprised that nothing has been done to this gun except replacement of the grip panels. That is a testament to the revolvers that S&W used to make. Statements like those make me remember why I love this revolver so much!

Revolver Competition Gear

The gun was wearing VZ Grips’ Tactical Diamonds.  I could not have been more pleased with these grips. They are very sharp, and even after sanding a trouble spot, it still raised a slight blister on the tip of my right ring finger (where the pad of my left hand pressed it hard into the grip). That was only after a full day of shooting, however, and this isn’t a problem for lighter range sessions or day-to-day use.

Holster: Desantis Speed Scabbard

I ran my 686 in a DeSantis Speed Scabbard and am incredibly impressed with this holster! First, it offers an excellent balance between speed and retention. There was never a second when I was concerned about losing control of the gun. I was also able to get the gun out quickly, and reholster safely. The holster also did well holding the heavy L-Frame up for long hours. I appreciate the tight fit to the body, and didn’t find myself pulling my pants up all day.

Revolver Competition Gear

Simply put, this is a phenomenal holster! It isn’t designed as revolver competition gear, but a course and match like this are a good proving ground for life-support equipment. I would feel comfortable with this holster on the trail, in the street, or anywhere else.

Reloading: Jox Pouches + S.L. Variants

This is a combination that can’t be beat: JOX Loader Pouches and S.L. Variant speedloaders! I took five of my seven S.L.s to the course. I wanted to leave two at home to stay in “indoor shape”. I am very happy to report that the S.L. Variant is as durable as it is fast. The course was held during two days of intermittent rain. Loaders got stepped on, dropped in the mud, and dropped on concrete and gravel – a lot. Even after getting wet, packed with mud, and battered, they still worked flawlessly.

Revolver Competition Gear 6

If you can track down some S.L. Variant loaders, do it! Worried about losing or breaking an S.L. Variant, I also threw in a few Safariland Comp IIs. Sadly I hardly used them and don’t have whole lot to report.

I carried my S.L.s in a pair of JOX Loader Pouches. The pouches held the loaders securely – and I didn’t drop one once. They also provided plenty fast reloads. Nick’s excellent pouches would do for hard field use, competition, or anywhere else you need a securely held, but quickly accessible speedloader.


I showed up at the course with a case of .357 Magnum, a 500-round case of .38 +P, and a stray 100-round box of .38 +P:

Fiocchi 142-grain FMJ-TC (.357 Mag) – 250 rounds fired
Winchester Ranger 130-grain Bonded JHP (.38 +P) – 450 rounds fired
Remington 125-grain SJHP (.38 +P) – 100 rounds fired

You may be wondering why I didn’t bring any standard pressure .38s. Simply put I was worried about making power factor for the match. My 686 shoots a little “slow” and I didn’t want to come in under minimum velocity for weight.

I have one major critique of the ammunition. The Winchester Ranger was not my preferred competition load. It is very high-quality ammo, but it is the ammo that gave me the most reloading issues. First, the contoured bullets had a hard time finding the chambers. Next, this ammo was the one most likely not to fully seat. On probably half of all cylinders fired with this ammo, one or more rounds would not completely seat. This was irrespective of whether the gun was clean or dirty, hot or cold, dry or wet.

Revolver Competition Gear

The Fiocchi, on the other hand, was a reloading rock star. The sharply pointed bullet found its home quickly, and the smooth brass fell into place easily. Unfortunately, this is full-house .357 Magnum ammo, and shooting it was not unpleasant, but was much slower than shooting .38s.

The Bottom Line

The last thing in the world I expected to have issues with was the premium Winchester Ranger ammunition. I wouldn’t have know about these issues if I hadn’t gotten out and done a bunch of reloads with this ammo. I’ve also gained a good deal of confidence in my S.L. Variants. I’ve babied them  because of the difficulty in replacement. Now I know they can stand up to quite a bit of abuse. They aren’t just pretty – they actually work, and work in all conditions.

The other thing I learned: you don’t need a bunch of purpose-built revolver competition gear to train or compete. My revolver competition gear is perfectly legit revolver carry gear. Shoot your carry or duty revolver, with the gear you carry with it. You’ll build a pretty strong familiarity in no time. You will get two other HUGE benefits from attending a training course. Your skill will improve, and you will learn what works time and time again, and what doesn’t. I’ve said it before and at the risk of beating a dead horse, find some damn training!

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Author: Justin

Justin Carroll is a former MARSOC Marine and veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan. Leaving service after eight years in the U.S. Marines, Justin continues his involvement with a variety of government agencies to this day. Justin began in late 2016 with an simple idea: provide an source of high-quality information for revolver enthusiasts.

7 thoughts on “Revolver Competition Gear – Competition Handgun I”

  1. Really enjoyed the report, especially about the
    endurance of the revolver. (But I’m one who
    believes Smith is still turning out fine revolvers
    and a buyer need not seek out a 1980s model.)

    However, time for criciticsm of the severest
    sort: Your gun was dirty and a genetleman
    should not go easy on his batman in keeping
    the equipment spiffy bright. Talk to your
    batman in the harshest terms.

    1. It’s debatable whether modern S&Ws are fine (I thought so until I shot a couple), but they are definitely not the same!
      And a batman? No sir! I, as they say, work for a living 😉

  2. I enjoyed your AAR of Mike Seeklander’s class. Same for your website in general, keep up the good work. A 686 with .357’s is an impressive combo to run in training like that. You said you were worried about making power factor for the match, but IDPA lowered theirs to 105 for speedloader fed revolvers, which most any factory 158 gr .38 should make. Years ago I used a S&W 625 shooting major power factor at many IDPA matches. They were long days and my hand is sore just thinking back on it. There’s no need to retire your 686 unless you just want a change, old stock parts are readily available online, though fitting them is its own art.

    1. Justin,
      You’ve got a fine blog yourself – I wish we’d known about it sooner!
      Re: shooting .357…I guess I’m just one of those oddballs that doesn’t mind (and, dare I say ‘enjoys’?) a little recoil? I’ve probably fired two dozen .357s for every round of .38 that’s gone through my trusty 686.

  3. I’m surprised to hear about the Winchester fodder issues, but that’s why we test things out. Thanks for letting us know. Sadly, that’s what I am authorized to use. Sure wish I could get my hands on some S L variants!

    1. I wish you could, too! What I actually wish is that someone like Magpul would manufacture a US-made model and we could stop worrying about the availability issue!

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