Recollections of a Combat Master

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  • Elden Carl

The Relative Draw Speeds of Pistols

As far as I know no one has written about the comparative draw and fire speeds attainable from a hip-mounted speed holster like the ones built by such folks as Arvo Ojala (the inventor of the metal lined speed rig), Andy Anderson, and Alfonso Pineda. Since I am the only person I am aware of who won major events with all three action types (single action, double action (D.A), and semi-auto), perhaps I can use my experience to address this subject.

The hip-mounted speed rigs all had similar drops and forward rakes of approximately 15 degrees. My holster makers were Don Hume and Triple K for my D.A., Andy Anderson for my Peacemaker, and Alfonso Pineda for the 1911. His first 1911 holster helped me win the 1961 Leatherslap. I won the 1962 Leatherslap and the 1962 Southwest Combat Pistol Championship with an improved Alfonso rig for the 1911.

Since the single action is the oldest action type of the three, let's begin with the iconic .45 Colt Peacemaker. The Peacemaker is the quickest but also the most dangerous while drawing and firing the first shot. It is also the most difficult to fire accurately due to its small odd-shaped stock and the need to disturb your grip when thumb cocking the hammer and firing successive shots. Most Peacemaker competitors, including me, entered blank and wax bullet events. Many of those who competed in “live ammo” (real lead bullet) shoots mounted steel deflector plates to the back of their holsters. The greatest Peacemaker practitioner of all time, Thell Reed, competed in and won many live ammo quick draw events without benefit of trick devices like a deflector plate. Maybe that's why Thell was the only single action shooter to ever win the world's premier quick draw event, the Big Bear Leatherslap (from one-handed point yet).


Thell Reed's Peacemakers

The blank shooter's single action draw technique is relatively simple when executed from an “Ojala” style metal lined forward rake quick draw holster. It goes as follows: With the gun hand clear of the holster and below the exposed part of the pistol, you start your upward and rearward movement with your thumb extended to facilitate cocking of the hammer, and the third, fourth and fifth fingers together and slightly curved. The trigger finger is kept basically straight following the line of the holster but ready to enter the trigger guard, hopefully at the correct moment when the pistol is out of the holster and pointed at the target, or in the case of “blank popping” competition, level to the ground as is required by the rules. The extreme coordination required to draw and fire a single action revolver is why very few want to risk the premature discharge in the holster with live ammunition, thus the deflector plate and lightly loaded cartridges which were common in single action live ammo competition.

A case in point happened during the 1962 Leatherslap which I ultimately won. I had already qualified on the 12 inch electronically timed impact plate at 21 feet and Ray Chapman qualified with the fastest time of the day, both of us from one-handed point with 1911's. I decided to watch the remaining few shooters attempting to make the five draw-and-hit timed qualifications. I was standing not far behind the contestant shooting area when Bob Munden stepped up for his attempt to qualify with his .45 Peacemaker from a metal lined speed holster equipped with a deflector plate.

Jeff Cooper went through his usual procedure of load, holster, and stand at the ready. When the gong sounded the electronic timer needle started moving but it would only stop when a bullet impacted the 12 inch steel plate 21 feet down range. In Munden's case, he drew and fired faster than any other contestant, but in all five attempts he failed to hit the 12 inch steel plate on the first, and sometimes successive, shots. As a result he failed to qualify for the man-against-man “balloon bust” finals. In comparison, Ray Chapman qualified with the fastest time of the day by locking on to, and hitting the plate 5 straight times from one- handed point. Did Ray draw and fire slower than Munden and some others? Of course, but he hit his target every time with the first bullet from his 1911, and his average was faster than any other qualifier.

Great live ammo quick draw/combat shooters like Thell Reed and Ray Chapman have the type of mental control that allows them to compute the size of, and distance to the target which in turn dictates their body, arm, and hand configurations as well as the time needed to make the hit.

For example, if you were face to face with Thell Reed at close range (say 10 feet) he could draw and place a .45 Long Colt bullet from his Peacemaker into your torso in approximately .18 of a second (reaction time not included). If Thell was 30 feet away, the time lapse from draw to torso hit would be more like .35 of a second (again, reaction time not included).

The reason I have written so much about the single action Peacemaker is that it is arguably the most iconic of the three action types, but at the same time the most dangerous to handle and the least efficient as a fighting weapon. I can assure you that even greats like Thell Reed and Ray Chapman would prefer to take a 1911 and some spare magazines into a real armed confrontation.


Elden Carl's two-tone 1911

The double action revolver is superior to the single action type principally because the hammer never needs to be thumb cocked. You simply operate the double action trigger rearward until the hammer falls, discharging the cartridge. Relaxing the trigger finger in turn allows the trigger return spring to push the trigger forward in order to pick up successive rounds. The best double action pistoleros I knew, masters like Jack Weaver and five time Southwest Pistol Champion Al Nichols, when armed with an S&W D.A., only used the single action mechanism for very long shots. In 1961 Jack Weaver became the only D.A. practitioner who ever won the Southwest Combat Pistol Championship.

Not only was Mr. Weaver a D.A. (deadly accurate) marksman with his 6” S&W K-38 but his reloading technique was fast and “oily smooth” as Jeff Cooper described the process. Jack had an ammo box fastened to his gun belt with cartridges in three round groups pointed to Terra firma. Come reload time, Jack would simply swing the cylinder out and eject the spent shell casings as he grabbed three loaded rounds in a semi-circle with the thumb and three fingers of his left hand. One three round loading movement followed by a second and Jack would close the cylinder, resume his famous “Weaver stance” and commence firing. I doubt that even speed loader equipped D.A. shooters were able to match Jack's reloading speed. I do know that Jack Weaver won the Southwest Combat Pistol Championship in 1961 against all comers including those armed with magazine fed 1911 semi-auto pistols.

The draw and fire technique for the D.A. is somewhat different from either the single action Peacemaker or the 1911 semi-auto pistol. Additionally the holster doesn't need to be tied down or completely metal lined. My 1960, Leatherslap winning, S&W Model 19 holster was made to my specifications by Don Hume. It had a 15 degree forward rake and on my request two leather covered laminated flat steel plates that ran from the bottom of the gun belt to the bottom of the cylinder on the back of the holster. The holster was further shaped by soaking it in water followed by installing the plastic covered Model 19 into the pocket until the leather dried.

The draw technique I developed for the D.A. revolver required that the bottom of the holster be able to move slightly forward during the execution of the drawing motion so unlike the single action and auto pistol holsters, there was no need to strap it to the thigh. Instead I used two strong leather belt loops that slipped on to the gun belt and which had tabs that fit under my heavy pant belt. The tabs kept the holster and gun belt from moving upward or laterally.

I developed and refined my D.A. draw technique with the help of the electronic timer I had won with my Peacemaker and lots of competitive practice with Gary Freymiller of El Cajon, who had won more blank ammo contests with his Peacemaker (mostly walk and draw) than anyone. Gary helped get my speed close to his level, which was about twice as fast as anyone else with a D.A. Once the draw technique was perfected with the model 19, I concentrated on combined live ammo draw speed and accuracy at my Barona practice range. It didn't take long for me to realize I was approaching potential Leatherslap winning skill level.


Elden Carl's Model 19 duty pistols

A description of my D.A draw technique goes as follows: come in from the side with the thumb high enough to clear the frame and hammer and the fingers slightly bent (3, 4, and 5 a little more than the trigger finger). A solid lateral blow against the pistol stock will aid in establishing an instant hard grip as you close your gun hand and begin to apply D.A trigger pressure, while simultaneously pulling the pistol upward and at the same time rocking it rearward in an effort to have the barrel level with the ground at the earliest possible moment. How soon you finish the firing stroke again depends on distance and size of target. The key is to never allow the barrel to be in line with your body. For example, a human torso target at point blank range of say ten feet could be struck from just clear of the holster and with the pistol not far from the body. A human torso twenty feet from the shooter might increase the time of a hit from the teens to the 30's (say 18/100 to 35/100). It's obvious that the closer you are to your target the closer your pistol is to your body when the hammer drops and the more danger there is to firing a premature round. It's all about speed, coordination and timing. Practice, practice, and practice some more. The D.A. is the safest pistol type for speed shooting from the leather as long as you never let the barrel line up with your thigh, followed by a handling or coordination “screw up”.

My first combat shoot in June 1961 had Jeff Cooper shooting his accurized “battle ready” 1911 one-handed from a shoulder holster with 230 grain hardball ammunition and he still managed to come in third behind Weaver's 140 grain K-38 and my H&G 200 grain #68 1911 bullets. Both Weaver and I were employing a two-handed hold, Jack using his Weaver stance and I used what later would be named the Isosceles stance. Despite the 50 yard stage and managing heavy recoil, Cooper held his own, finishing third overall. One of the advantages Jack and I had, finishing first and second a single point apart, was that we both employed hip holsters which eliminated the need to cross the body from left to right after yanking the tightly held pistol out of a spring loaded holster.

Since I had already perfected my from-the-hip draw and shoot techniques for the S.A. and D.A. revolvers, it seemed only natural that I would adapt the 1911 to a similar style. My previous holster development for the revolvers had made it clear to me that I would have master holster maker Alfonso Pineda produce what would become the world's first 1911 metal lined and forward canted speed holster. Mr. Pineda did not disappoint; he presented me with a beautiful metal lined leather masterpiece that fit me and the pistol perfectly. Now all I had to do was develop a fast and safe draw and fire technique.

After a considerable amount of dry firing at home, one trip to my Barona Indian Reservation practice range was all I needed. The system I developed that spring day in 1960 has been much copied and never changed by me. Assuming that you have a quality metal lined speed holster and combat 1911 set up properly with an easy to operate but safe built-up thumb safety and a fully operational grip safety, my 1911 draw and fire technique goes as follows.

Assuming you are right handed and you are starting with your gun hand hanging at your side, you must come up the line of the holster with fingers 3, 4, and 5 slightly bent and the trigger finger straight. The thumb should be basically straight so it can clear the grip safety and cocked hammer as you move in and down knocking off the thumb safety. The trigger finger “must” stay straight and away from the trigger (out of the trigger guard) until the hand is hard against the grip safety and a tight grip has been established between fingers 3. 4, and 5, the thumb and the palm of the shooting hand. Note: the thumb is extremely important; if your lateral grip of the frame is strong enough between the shooting thumb and last joint of the trigger finger, you should be able to fire the pistol with finger 3, 4, and 5 relaxed and pointed straight forward.

Unlike revolvers, the 1911 semi-auto requires an “up and over” draw movement because of the rearward protrusion of the slide, cocked hammer and grip safety. In combat competition in the 1960's LtCol Cooper allowed one to start with the gun hand located wherever the shooter wished as long as it was approximately 10 inches away from the pistol when the start signal sounded. I always started with the gun hand slightly rearward and out to the side 10 inches, which allowed for a hand jamming movement down, inward and forward followed by a strong grip and withdrawal of the pistol from the holster. Now the hard part; thrust the pistol forward, lock it into position and drop the hammer. I realize that some of the above information would not be helpful to a present day shooter with a modern pistol and holster, but it worked great for competition rigs of the day. I also hope these descriptions give our readers a glimpse into the early years dating from 1959, when combat pistol shooting began its developmental period under the leadership of Jeff Cooper.

© Created by Danielle Crawford