Who is Elden Carl?

By Jay Hohenhaus
Historian

In a more formal answer to this question, Elden is a retired career law enforcement and firearms training officer; a fast draw and early combat pistol champion (using three handgun types: single and double action revolvers and the 1911 semi-automatic pistol); one of the Original Five Masters of the Combat Pistol; a firearms equipment and technique innovator; and like Thell Reed, well known for his exhibition shooting.

What most people know about Elden is from the Benny Ramsey photograph of the “Original Five Founding Masters of the Southwest Pistol League,” taken at Herb Richard's ranch in Poway, California in 1964. It shows Ray Chapman, Elden Carl, Thell Reed, Jeff Cooper and Jack Weaver dressed for combat competition with the Pineda and Anderson fast draw holsters of the day, pointing their 45 ACP 1911's at the camera, except for Jack Weaver who uses a K-38 S&W 6” revolver. These gentlemen were coined the “Masters” because if one of them entered a combat competition he would win it. If all five entered the match they would place one through five. These were the men Jeff Cooper and physical education teacher John Plahn watched, photographed, diagrammed and shot motion pictures of in an attempt to determine the techniques that made them winners. Jeff Cooper later codified the results into a pistol fighting system, which he called the “Modern Technique of the Pistol.”

Elden decided on a law enforcement career while serving in the military during the Korean War. In 1955, six months before his discharge, he purchased a Ruger Single Six rimfire pistol and a copy of Ed McGivern's book “Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting” and began to teach himself. Over several years of diligent practice, he developed his own shooting techniques, including a two-handed hold and stance for the 1911 pistol which he developed in spring of 1960. As evidenced in photos from that time, Elden had developed and perfected a two-handed hold and stance that was identical to what became known later
as the isosceles stance. Throughout this period he rigorously maintained a physical development regimen of weight training and road work. He was hired by the El Cajon Police Department in 1959 and sent to the San Diego Police Academy where he was honor man and top shooter in the class, graduating in July of 1960.

In August of 1960 Elden entered his first Big Bear Leatherslap, becoming the third of the original combat masters to join in the competition, after Jeff Cooper and Jack Weaver. Ray Chapman and Thell Reed followed soon thereafter. In his first Leatherslap Elden employed his duty revolver, a 4 inch S&W M-19 Combat Magnum. He won the championship that year, shooting from a solid one-handed point position, defeating Jack Weaver and his two-handed Weaver stance.

Jeff Cooper, seeing Elden shoot for the first time later wrote, “Elden was a thunderbolt, a magnificently coordinated athlete. Anything physical, Elden could do better than anyone else.” He also wrote, “Well, Elden came along and his natural talents were so great that he began beating us all.” Natural talents? They must have appeared so to Jeff Cooper who did not know about the gym workouts, the roadwork and the thousands of rounds of ammunition, loaded and expended at his Barona Indian Reservation practice range. Nor was he aware of the analytic mind examining the problem of fast draw shooting and
ruthlessly modifying, or discarding and replacing any equipment or technique that inhibited performance. One of his equipment innovations was the first metal-lined combat holster for the 1911 pistol, custom built for him by Alfonso Pineda in early 1960. Ray Chapman and Thell Reed adopted similar Andy Anderson rigs soon after.

While competing with a double action revolver, Carl had seen the advantages of the 1911 semi-automatic pistol as used by Jeff Cooper and another competitor, Hugh Carpenter. Elden purchased a surplus 1911 A1 for $15 and decided to turn it into his competition pistol. In doing so, he started the trend of the “Custom Combat 1911.” Features such as the S&W K-frame revolver sight, the two-tone blue slide and hard chrome receiver, speed safety, trigger tuning, match barrel, tightened slide and receiver, and a radiused magazine well, all made combat competition appearances on Elden Carl's 1911, which he finished in the fall of 1961. He added his magazine bumper pad in early 1962. In fact gunsmith
Armand Swenson carefully examined Elden's modified 1911 after a combat match at Big Bear and used it as one of the inspirations for the pistols that he began building several years later.

Ever wonder how Hensley and Gibbs #68 200 grain semi wadcutter bullets became “the” bullet for combat competion? Most people starting out like to imitate the winners until they gain their own experience. Elden is believed to be the first to use the H&G #68, and all of his H&G bullets were cast from automotive wheel weights. His Star Machine Company bullet sizer, luber and progressive loading equipment did the rest.

Elden went on to win two more of the Big Bear Leatherslaps. In 1961 he became the first to win with a 1911 semi-auto pistol. In 1962 he repeated his win using his newly finished competition 1911 while again employing Thell Reed's one-handed point, lock and fire technique. Jeff Cooper asked Elden to sit out the 1963 Leatherslap and function as the assistant Match Director. Because an academic law enforcement study of the time had determined that most gunfights took place at 15 feet or less, for the 1963 match, Elden convinced Jeff Cooper to decrease the distance of the man against man finals from its
traditional 21 feet to 15 feet in an attempt to determine what technique worked best at that distance.

In 1961 Elden joined Jeff Cooper's Bear Valley Gunslingers, a group that put on monthly combat shooting events throughout southern California. The local clubs eventually affiliated becoming the Southwest Pistol League (SWPL) in the early 1960's. Combat pistol competition went national and international and the International Practical Shooting Confederation was formed in 1976. Due to his law enforcement duties and a heavy pistol demonstration schedule, Elden dropped out of competitive shooting after winning the Southwest Pistol Championship in 1962.

A little known fact about early practical (combat) competition was that the definition of “practical” included hunting. In a hunting themed 44 Magnum match on September 16, 1961, Elden, shooting a 6 1⁄2 inch S&W M-29 44 Magnum, set what Jeff Cooper called an unofficial world's record of 5 shots in a 3 inch group on a deer target at 100 yards.

By 1964 Elden was working in the training division of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. Because of his participation in the sport of Combat Shooting he was aware of advances in equipment and technique that could be of use to law enforcement. As Rangemaster for the Sheriff's Department he created a modern combat pistol training program that incorporated equipment, techniques, and lessons learned in open combat pistol competition. He also created a training program to address the increased interest in semi-automatic pistols among law enforcement officers, an interest generated by combat
pistol competition.

In addition to working with Alfonso Pineda on the development of fast draw rigs for 1911 pistols, Carl worked with a start-up holster maker by the name of John Bianchi, lending his “jump-up safety strap” to a holster, designed by Jeff Cooper, called the Cooper Combat. In addition to Pineda, Bianchi and Don Hume, Elden worked with holster manufacturer Triple K to add the 15 degree forward rake popularized by his competition holster to police duty holsters.

Exhibition shooting? Elden Carl was in demand for demonstrations of his championship shooting form. Audiences ranged from service clubs, national and local television audiences, like the Regis Philbin Show, to the officers and men of several Mexican police agencies. But most important were the demonstrations put on for law enforcement, which allowed those agencies to witness techniques that were being developed as part of “combat competition.” It's no wonder modern law enforcement uses semi-automatic pistols and a two-handed hold and stance.

Know a little more about “Who Elden Carl Is”? Good. We hope you've enjoyed what you've read so far. This website has been created to document more of the history of the early years of the great practical pistol revolution wrought by it's principal pioneer and founder LtCol John Dean “Jeff” Cooper USMC.