Recollections of a Combat Master

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  • Elden Carl

Did Elden Carl's 1911 Fail Jeff Cooper in 1962?

An interesting story about LtCol Cooper and me was the time in 1962 when Jeff had a problem with his 1911 and asked if he could borrow mine. Since I had completed the final stage of the match I handed him my cleared and slide locked back pistol. I did not however, give him any of my magazines or ammunition.

During the time he was shooting my pistol in the match, Jeff had a “failure to feed.” I didn't see it occur but I heard about it after the match when Jeff approached me to return my pistol. “I thought your 1911 never malfunctioned,” he said as he handed it to me. “It never has while I'm operating it,” was my factual but slightly smart a-- reply. I thought the conversation might continue, but it didn't. Looking back now, half a century later, I should have said something like: “It is true that I have never had a malfunction in a match or pistol demonstration. It all has to do with ammunition, magazine improvement, and hand gripping technique.”

Since I know Jeff Cooper would not have wanted to sit through a lecture from me at that time nor would I have been inclined to give one, let's fast forward to 2018, when I've had time to think things out and organize the details.


First of all, let's look at ammunition. I'm convinced that my Hensley and Gibbs bullets, which were cast from “wheel weights” and loaded on my STAR progressive reloader, were by far the most accurate projectiles that ever passed through the barrels of my pistols. I believe the H&G #68 200 grain semi-wadcutter which I've used exclusively since early 1960 is the most accurate and “sure feeding” bullet ever designed for the 1911 semi-auto pistol (better than the hardball rounds I think Jeff was using.) Not only is the H&G #68 the correct length but it doesn't have that “hardball” fat tip that can bounce off the feeding ramp, especially if it's coming out of a poorly adjusted magazine.

This brings up the second potential problem: magazine adjustment. One of the first things Charlie Frazier of S.A.T.U. taught me was how to disassemble a 1911 magazine and adjust the follower and spring. Since Jeff used his own magazines that day 50 plus years ago, I know nothing about how they were adjusted. I also don't know if he loaded more than six rounds in the magazine, something which should not be done if you want to avoid a “fail to feed” situation.

The third potential problem relates to how tightly one holds the pistol. It's simple; the tighter you grip the pistol the greater the impact as the slide slams against the receiver. Not only is there more energy for the ejection process, but also less disturbance to the sight picture from shot to shot, resulting in better scores during rapid fire strings. I'll never know what caused my pistol to fail Jeff Cooper over 50 years ago, but thanks to the great Charlie Frazier, the Hensley and Gibbs #68 bullet, my STAR progressive reloader, and a very effective physical training program, I have yet to suffer the same fate.