• Red Nichols, Holstorian

Post 70: Cooper on handguns

Updated: 3 days ago

Met a chap once, and he mentioned his Ruger 'Scout' rifle. "Oh, yes, Jeff Cooper's rifle", said I. "Who?", said he. How quickly they forget.

Cooper's column for 'Guns & Ammo' magazine was titled 'Cooper on Handguns' and thanks to friend Craig Smith I have 'em all in a subdirectory that also holds 20,000 gunleather images that I draw from. And in there, I have images of several of a little-known holster called Bianchi's Model 45 'Cooper Combat'.

"Practical" shooting was called 'combat shooting' then. These were all ex-WWII military especially U.S. Marines, of which the Corp counted Cooper, too, as an alum. Jeff was quite a crotchety chap, yet was able to muster the troops to create a movement that arguably exists still today ('arguably', because Jeff himself formally washed his hands of IPSC formed 1976, in 1997. After the War he was a school teacher, itself a noble profession generally, and beginning with his 'leatherslaps' on the 4th of July in 1956, the competitions that we know today evolved from Arvo's fast draw with the Colt SA and live ammo; and unlike fast draw, Cooper's stayed with live ammo and shifted by the end of the '60s to strictly the 1911.

Gunleather makers for this 'sport' were the usual suspects. Friend Bob Arganbright was a player with a line he called 'Jayhawker' for fast draw, and the names we know better from that genre, like Anderson and Ojala and Alfonso, were major presences in these new events. By the time I 'joined up' 1970 it was called the Southwest Pistol League, known to locals as the SWPL, that already had removed the word 'combat from its title. I showed up at West Thompson's range with Bud Watson as my local sponsor and when I saw the open fronts there I reckoned to Bud I should cut the welt out of my own rear fold holster a la Anderson, too. He talked me out of it but came up with his Snick open front by the next meet!

Where am I going with all this (I ask myself)? Oh yeah, the Cooper Combat. JB was early to the party with this design that he had worked out for the 1911 to be used in such events and Jeff Cooper lent his name to it. But by 1970 when I arrived at Bianchi the two men were 'not friends' and I'm left to deduce it was over their deal to market this holster: money. Like the short-lived Nelson M&P (1 year) it's my expectation, from knowing JB as I do, that he wearied of paying royalties for the use of the names (if indeed he ever did that).

The Cooper Combat, then, appeared by 1963 with the early Bianchi mark that was Protector Brand. No idea why JB ever used that name. I do know why he made a sudden shift to calling his company Safari Ltd: Neale Perkins' father's money :-). They formed a joint venture that lasted one year (1964) with the trouble-in-the-making being the company's formal incorporated name: 'Safari Land Limited'. See where this is going? Yup, JB was 'outta there' and Safari Ltd was rebranded as Safariland.

I have a pair of examples of the Cooper Combat in my image files with not only the Protector Brand mark but also both with serial numbers. And the name of the product writ large: Cooper Combat.

I also have one with the Safari mark (above) -- the mark that was used on Safari Ltd. products for '64 -- and then I personally made the No. 45 holsters for JB with the Bianchi Holster mark; so 1970-ish. None of these later models had the Cooper Combat name on them but it did continue to sport the moniker in JB's Bianchi Holster catalogs until it was discontinued as other, newer models were added.

The odd retainer strap is credited to Eldon Carl who was a 1960s competition shooter. He has his own blog that is operated by a fan and Mr. Google will show you where it is. The strap itself is known as a 'fly-off strap' and makes sense only for a pistol range; and then not a lot of sense there either. It works by raking the drawing hand upwards which releases the strap and allows it to 'fly away' -- hence the name -- and leaves the hand at the ideal position to grasp the pistol for the draw. Surely it was very fast because Carl was very fast. But . . . leaving the strap behind in the dirt, to be retrieved later? Not much of an idea when the events transcended to movement and holstering between stages. C'mon, like having to run back for your empty mags. Terrible notion. Literally not 'practical' for the street or for competition when one had to go back for the strap to keep the pistol secured for the next steps.

This one is said to be Cooper's own example. The strap is from a lefty; did Jeff really prefer it reversed, or does this right-handed holster simply have the 'wrong' strap on it? Doesn't really matter, does it? The finish is called 'roughout' and is the flesh side of the leather turned to the outside; in which case though, the liner should have been conventional with the grain out and against the pistol. That was the very large reason for rough out: to put the smooth grain against the steel and leave the rough backside outwards to ward off brush without fear. This one is diecut because I always noticed that the tip of the belt loop was not shaped with the end parallel with its fold or the screw placement!

So Jeff's contribution to the Scout Rifle is forgotten, but he is not forgotten to gunleather 'cause his name is all over the rare examples you'll encounter these days. The known serial numbers are quite low so we can expect that not many were made. Yes, that's a metal shank inside it; cut to shape in stacks with a bandsaw; so the edges themselves were as sharp as hacksaw blades!! And JB didn't pay to have them tumble deburred so not only did they have to be handled very carefully in the shop but these and other such shanks were well known for cutting their way back out of the leather, in much the same manner as a not-really-dead croc swallowed by a python.

This tale reminding me, that because I worked in the Specials area that was JB's own playground, too, his security camera that monitored the room was above my head on the wall behind. "Tick . . . . . . tick. Tick . . . . . . tick" as it shifted left and right. How'a guy to scratch his arse ever with that going on? Shift back up against the wall under it, that's how :-).


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