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Countdown to IRC: Can Rich Wolfe Find That 5%?

Rich Wolfe is just looking for that 5%.

By day Rich Wolfe is a public school teacher, but come the weekend he's one of the top revolver shooters in the country. Photo courtesy of Rich Wolfe.

The 31-year-old central California public school teacher has been preparing for his fifth appearance at the International Revolver Championships (IRC) and two weeks out from the match he feels he’s at 95%.

“I feel very comfortable and think I’m running 95%. That last 5% is right at the near and far Standards and I’m changing a few things up in the way I shoot the courses of fire,” explained Wolfe.

The Standards, with targets out to 50 yards, are where accuracy is at its highest premium.

For shooters like Wolfe this is the make or break point of the match and his final two weeks of preparation were geared towards finding that last 5% and closing the gap between himself and perennial powerhouse Jerry Miculek – a man who’s never lost at the IRC.

Before stepping on the Hogue Action Pistol Range in San Luis Obispo, Calif. for the 19th Annual Smith & Wesson IRC as Miculek’s number one challenger, Wolfe had to first find his way into the International Confederation of Revolver Enthusiasts (ICORE) and revolver competition.

And that started back in 2005.

“I was watching the old TV show American Shooter and thought ‘that looks awesome’ and though I never shot a handgun before, I said to myself ‘you know what, I think I want to get into pistol shooting.’ So I went and bought a pistol and started shooting Bullseye matches,” Wolfe recalled.

It was at that club that Wolfe met the man who would lead him into ICORE and help him get to where he is today, one of the top Open division shooters in the sport.

“I’d been shooting Bullseye for 2 to 3 months and this gentleman came up to me and said ‘you know, there are other kinds of shooting you might want to try.’ That man was Richard Koester and he’s the reason I got so good so fast,” said Wolfe.

Koester, who has 30 years on Wolfe, took the younger shooter under his wing, buying him a holster, mag pouches and a belt so he could get started in those other shooting sports.

Come January of 2006 Koester announced he’d be entering the IRC later that year and Wolfe remembers thinking he might like to do that too.

As luck would have it Wolfe found himself assisting a local church with their junior high school firearms training program shortly after Koester’s announcement.

“They asked me to bring my gun to help instruct kids on how to safely unload and load a gun as well shoot. I didn’t have a revolver, but Rich had won a Ruger GP 100 at the previous IRC and let me borrow it for the demonstration,” said Wolfe.

After instructing students in the morning Wolfe turned to the three targets in front of him and shot the revolver as if he were in competition to see if he’d like it.

“I turned to the targets and quickly fired off six shots – pop-pop, pop-pop, pop-pop – and thought ‘I like that, I think I can do this’.”

Wolfe returned home from the range stopping at the local gun shop to buy a Smith & Wesson Model 627 in .38 Super and immediately started practicing for competition.

“That’s literally how I started in revolver competition. Through luck and the graciousness of Rich Koester I found my way into the sport,” said Wolfe.

By that June Wolfe was ready for his first major competition, the IRC. Through a combination of natural aptitude for the revolver and training with Koester, Wolfe finished the IRC in fifth place in the Open division and seventh overall.

Since then Wolfe has never placed outside the top 10 with his highest finish coming last year when he took second in both the Open division and overall.

With competition at the 2010 IRC underway today, Wolfe faces one of the most difficult obstacles in the shooting sports, defeating Smith & Wesson’s Jerry Miculek. But it’s an obstacle he nearly avoided.

John Bagakis is going for hsi 3rd straight Limited title at the IRC. Photo by Yamil Sued.

Wolfe, who has always shot in the Open division in ICORE, toyed with the idea of switching to the Limited division and facing his good friend and two-time IRC champion John Bagakis.

While Bagakis is certainly no pushover, Wolfe’s chances against his fellow Californian are considered far better than those against Miculek, yet he opted to remain in Open to face Miculek.

“I didn’t want to go up against John, not because I don’t think I can beat him, but because we shoot together a lot, travel to matches together and work out together in Modesto at The Movement gym. I look at us as teammates even though he shoots for Smith & Wesson and I shoot for Sierra Arms,” explained Wolfe.

“That’s probably the biggest reason for not going into Limited this year.”

Perhaps it’s due to the collegial nature in which Wolfe entered the sport that keeps him from taking on his close friend, or the challenge before him of knocking off IRC’s King of the Hill, but Wolfe’s decision to stay in Open puts him once again in a head-to-head battle with Miculek.

Miculek has shot the IRC 18 times and won the match 18 times. Photo by Yamil Sued.

“Everywhere I’ve gone this year he’s beat me by 10%. It is extremely hard to face Jerry knowing I’m going up against the world’s best shooter – and I truly believe that he is the best,” said Wolfe.

“Jerry is so seasoned on competition pressure and courses of fire. He knows what he’s going to do and it’s old to him, while I’m relatively new to the sport and I’m still kinda figuring things out every once in a while. So it’s tough. It’s really tough.”

Tough as it may be, Wolfe feels ready for the challenge.

After countless hours in the gym focusing on the fundamentals to that will help lower his times, and armed with a newly rebuilt 627, Wolfe is poised to take his shot at derailing Miculek and claim the title of world’s best revolver shooter.

Only when the final scores are posted Sunday evening, will we know whether or not Rich Wolfe found that last 5% and his way to the winner’s circle.

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