Recollections of a Combat Master

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Letter from Jeff Cooper to George Cretton

From the Archives


Jeff Cooper and Elden

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.


Box 27

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,

Jeff Cooper



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.