While the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) is dominated by 8-shot 9mm revolvers, the International Defensive Pistol Association’s (IDPA) revolver division is a bit different. Let’s break down the options for the best IDPA revolver.
IDPA Revolver Division: Six Shooters Rule
Owing to its roots as a defensive-oriented shooting sport, the IDPA rules for revolvers limit them to six rounds and approximately 4 inches of barrel length. The revolvers you see in IDPA matches typically look like what you’d have seen in a cop’s holster before the Wondering Era. There are some variations, as IDPA allows revolvers that are loaded with speed loaders to compete heads up against revolvers that utilize moon clips. For this reason, it’s the last real place that practical revolver shooters can really run these guns. Yes, there’s the International Confederation of Revolver Enthusiasts (ICORE), but ICORE matches are few and far between compared to IDPA. As a result, if you’re looking for some six shooter action in a match, you should look at IDPA.
Moon clips vs Speed Loaders
One of the key differences that you’ll see when people are running an IDPA revolver is how they load their gun. As mentioned, IDPA allows either moon clips or speed loaders. A moon clip revolver is usually chambered for a semi-automatic pistol round. Since those rounds lack a rim, the extractor star needs the clip to eject the spent rounds. In some designs the clip also properly headspaces the rounds. Speed loader revolvers are familiar to most people. The speed loader holds six rounds with rims. Those cartridges go in the cylinder, and are ejected by the star when the shooter hits the ejector rod. The general consensus among revolver shooters is that moon clip guns are certainly faster to reload than speed loader guns.
Reloads are critical in IDPA revolver, since any stage longer than six rounds will require a reload. Some simple match will make this clear. Let’s say a state championship match is 12 stages. Some stages require 1 reload, some 2, and maybe a bad stage will have 3 reloads. As a result, you perform an average of 1.5 reloads per stage, or a total of 18 reloads the entire match. With a moon clip gun using round nose ammo, figure your reload averages 2.5 seconds. With a speed loader gun, even if your average reload is only a quarter of a second slower at 2.75, you’ve given away 4.5 seconds to the competition. In IDPA, 4.5 seconds is a lifetime.
What the Shooters Choose
Despite the apparent advantage a moon clip revolver holds, many shooters opt for a revolvers that use speed loaders. This is because an IDPA revolver that uses speed loaders is also allowed to use factory/off the shelf .38 Special ammunition. .38 Special ammo isn’t exactly hard recoiling stuff. On the other hand, moon clip revolvers must use ammo that makes at least a 155 Power Factor. Power Factor is a math equation that equals bullet weight times velocity. For example, a 205 grain bullet going 800 feet per second has a power factor of 164.
Theoretically, this gives an advantage to speed loader revolvers firing .38 Special, because the round is easier to shoot, thus easier to control. Does that bear out in actual competition? Not really. It appears the advantages balance each other out. That means the fastest and most accurate shooter will win.
5 Great Choices for IDPA Revolver
Now that you’ve got an understanding of the different types of guns, let’s look at different guns you could use in the match. The two big dogs of revolver manufacturing both have guns designed specifically for IDPA competition.
First, we have the Ruger GP100 Match Champion in .357 Magnum. Its rival from Smith & Wesson is the 686 SSR, a special model from S&W’s Performance Center lineup. Both of these revolvers are chambered in .357 Magnum, and use speed loaders to hold spare rounds. Most top shooters use either Safariland Comp-III loaders like the one pictured or the harder to find Jet Loader for these guns.
Third we have the Ruger GP100 Match Champion…but this time in 10mm. Due to a quirk of IDPA rules, revolvers chambered for 10mm, such as the Match Champion can compete using .40 S&W. With this in mind, you could grab some moon clips and some factory loaded .40 S&W match ammo. Our 4th option is from S&W and is a bit of IDPA icon. It’s the S&W 625, another moon clip gun but this time an N-frame chambered in .45 ACP. Jerry Miculek used a modified 625 for his record setting six-reload-six in 2.99 seconds. That gun was the spiritual father of the S&W 625 JM model, which S&W offers new runs of from time to time.
Finally, we have our wildcard recommendation. We’ve covered the most popular and best suited models for an IDPA revolver. But what if you want to really stand out? You could bring a 4 inch Chiappa Rhino, available in either .357 Magnum or .40 S&W. A member of the Italian team brought a Chiappa to Nationals once. He didn’t win, but he looked cool.
In all seriousness, you can compete in IDPA revolver division with any modern six shot revolver chambered in .38 Special or larger. I’ve seen everything from well-loved Model 10s all the way to some maniac running a Manurhin MR73. No matter what though, if you want to run your six shooter, IDPA is a great place for it.