Letter from Jeff Cooper to George Cretton
From the Archives
We found a fifty-four year old copy of a letter written in 1963 from Jeff Cooper to
George Cretton, an officer with the El Cajon Police Department. Mr. Cretton had
requested information about fellow officer Elden Carl and his pistol shooting
accomplishments. The following letter was Jeff's response.
Big Bear Lake, Calif.
December 10, 1963
Mr. George Cretton
1109 Concord Apt. #3
El Cajon, California
Dear Mr. Cretton:
Elden Carl is probably the best pistol shot in the history of the pistol. In the face of
the enormous clamor that this statement may produce, I can say that, as a careful
student of the theory and practice of handgunning over a period of more than a
quarter of a century, I am in a position to know. It is quite true that he has not won
the world title in the Olympics, or the U.S. National Title, or even competed at
Camp Perry, but the fact is that these formalized achievements are unfortunately so
restricted as to have little bearing on the matter.
Carl can hit an 18” gong 10 times straight, at 150 yards, from the standing position
with a .45 auto. He can fire a 21⁄2” group at 50 yards with a full-house .357 rapid fire
(5 shots in 10 seconds). He can place 5 shots from a .44 Magnum in a 3” circle at
100 yards. He can keep his shots in a 6” circle at 75 yards on a running target. He is
fast enough from the leather to have won the Big Bear Leatherslap – the country's
senior quick-draw contest – three times in a row. These things are not rumor. They
have been witnessed and attested by hundreds of people. I know of no one else who
can duplicate them all.
If I were to select one thing about Carl's shooting which accounts for his success, I
would pick neither speed nor accuracy. He is blindingly fast and he can shoot from
the Weaver stance about 99% as well as the pistol will shoot from a machine rest,
but there are others in this category. I would say that his greatest advantage is an
uncanny sense of timing which tells him exactly how much time he needs to achieve
a specific degree of accuracy. He never hurries a shot (my greatest weakness) and
neither does he ever take an extra split second. When we realize that we are talking
in terms of one tenth of a second or less, it may be seen that this is a unique degree
of nerve control.
Carl can be beaten. Once in a while those of us who do a great deal of combat
shooting can “raise his hair”. But like Jimmy Clark in road racing or Stirling Moss
before, he is the man to beat. A dedicated specialist in Olympic Slow Fire or another
in arm's length quick-draw might shade him, in that specialty, fairly regularly, but
not by much. In any generalized rating system, Carl is the best as of right now.
Naturally, nobody lasts forever.
Very truly yours,
From the editor:
As a side note, as late as at least 1988, Jeff Cooper was still referring to Elden as
“the best overall pistol shot I ever knew.” Ray Chapman told Tom Marx and others
the same thing.