Big Bear Leatherslap – The Peak Years

Photo: LtCol (then Capt) William McMillan, Elden, Ray Chapman circa 1966

Jeff Cooper’s Big Bear Leatherslap is arguably modern combat pistol shooting’s most famous event. It certainly was the most sought after championship of its time.

Unfortunately the historical details concerning the early years of the Leatherslap are sometimes hazy. Take, for example, the impression that once Jack Weaver won the match in 1959 while employing his two-hand speed hold, the event was thereafter dominated by two-handers. Not so.

In 1958 L.A. police detective Don Nowka defeated Jack Weaver with his double action service revolver from one-handed point. This caused Jack to try a two-handed hold which would yield him slightly less speed, but more consistent hits. And so was born the “Weaver Stance.”

In August 1959 Jack Weaver made history by becoming the first competitor to enter a combat pistol match employing a two-hand speed hold. More importantly, his system worked as he had envisioned and he became the 1959 Leatherslap champion.

But the 1959 competition would be the only Leatherslap that Jack Weaver would win. This was the beginning and the end of two-hand dominance of the Leatherslap for six years.

Here is a list of the 1960 through 1965 Leatherslap winners, all shooting from one-hand point:

  • 1960 Elden Carl – S&W Model 19 double action at 21 feet
  • 1961 Elden Carl – Colt 1911A1 45 auto at 21 feet
  • 1962 Elden Carl – Colt 1911A1 45 auto at 21 feet
  • 1963 Thell Reed – 45 Colt Peacemaker single action at 15 feet
  • 1964 Thell Reed – Colt 1911A1 45 auto at 21 feet
  • 1965 Thell Reed – Colt 1911A1 45 auto at 21 feet

I competed in 4 Leatherslaps winning three with two types of pistols from one-hand point. Thell Reed is the only other competitor to win three with two types of pistols from one-hand point. Once Thell and I retired from the Leatherslaps, me in 1964 and Thell in 1965, all Leatherslaps were won by shooters using the two-hand hold.

There are a couple of fascinating stories behind the 1962 and 1963 Leatherslaps which I will write about in upcoming articles. The 1962 story involves Ray Chapman and me in the most dramatic Leatherslap shootout I ever participated in or witnessed. The 1963 true tale involves Thell Reed, who proved once and for all why he should be considered the greatest competitive live-ammo quick draw shooter of all time.