That Pesky Ray Chapman!

(Photo: Elden (firing) and the great Ray Chapman (observing) at a demonstration circa 1963.)

If you are an aficionado of modern combat pistol shooting, you may know that of the original five founding masters only Thell Reed and I are still alive. We have lost Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper, Jack Weaver and Ray Chapman.

I discussed previously the peak point shooting years at the Leatherslap which were 1958 through 1964. What I failed to mention was how very close both Thell and I came to losing to Ray Chapman. The point shooting record could easily have been (2) for Ray, (2) for Thell and (2) for me. In Thell’s case both he and Ray were competing with 1911 45’s, and Ray was 4 hits ahead with only one more to go for the win. As Thell missed the target for the fourth time, he saw a pine cone fall from a tree behind and just above the target, which made him realize that he was shooting too high. He immediately made two difficult point shooting adjustments at the same time; he corrected his elevation and increased his speed taking the match with five straight hits. You can imagine how Mr. Chapman must have felt. He had almost shot a perfect match with enough speed and consistent hits only to lose.

The most thrilling shootout I ever had or witnessed at a Leatherslap was also one of those early 60’s championships when Ray Chapman and I had to shoot it out for 1st place with 1911 45’s from the point.

There was a light rain falling when Ray and I were called to the line by Jeff Cooper, the match director. We were concerned about slippery pistols handled with wet hands, but Janelle Cooper solved the problem with a hand towel which I stuck in my gun belt. The last thing Ray and I would do after being loaded, locked, and ready on the line was to pass the towel back and forth. I can’t explain why, but that towel passing between Ray and me touched me emotionally both at the time and even more so after Ray’s passing.

The first two balloons of the match disappeared at the same instant. For seven straight shots Ray and I broke our balloons at the same time. Seven dead heats with less than five hundredths separation occurred before Ray missed a balloon and the match was over.

The crowd sitting under their ponchos there at Big Bear’s Snow Summit was going nuts, but all I felt was relief that the match was over. To this day, more than 50 years later, I have always considered that 1962 Leatherslap shootout a tie with the great Ray Chapman.