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Handgunners shoot for big buck$.

* In recent years there have been some exciting developments in competitive handgun shooting sports. Probably the most dramatic has been the rapid growth of the big money matches like the Bianchi Cup and more recently, the Steel Challenge World Speed Shooting Championships. What is even more significant is the influence these matches have had on the handguns and equipment used by competitors.

Actually, if one goes back in time to the beginnings of organized pistol competition it will become apparent that there is really nothing new to this trend. In the latter part of the 19th century, firearms manufacturers were already catering to the needs of target shooters.

Target shooting was the first organized pistol sport to generate interest, even in Europe and England, as far back as the 1880s. In Britain, regular pistol matches were being held in Bisley, the home of English and Commonwealth shooting, and these generated enough interest to cause Colt, Smith & Wesson, and Webley to offer specially made target revolvers.

Colt produced a target version of their Single Action Army, usually referred to as the "Flat Top," and followed this up with their famous Bisley Models, while Smith & Wesson and Webley made similar versions of their top-break revolvers. By the turn of the century the sport of target pistol shooting had become so popular that the two American companies were offering several target revolvers. At one time Colt had a target version of every one of their revolvers currently in production.

These revolvers differed from the stock models by having carefully fitted honed actions and adjustable sights. The latter were very crude by modern standards. Those of the Colt insisted of a rear sight dovetailed into the top of the frame, which allowed it to be adjusted for windage by drifting it sideways with a punch. Elevation corrections were made by installing interchangeable front sights of different heights.

The sport took on an international flavor when it was included as an event at the first Olympic Games. The two Olympic disciplines of 50-meter Free Pistol and Rapid Fire soon spawned a variety of exotic .22 single-shot and semi-automatic pistols specially made for these events.

For years the pistols made for these two Olympic matches have been the trend setters in sporting handguns. As competition has become more keen, the manufacturers have refined their products in an attempt to give shooters that edge needed to win. At first the sights were improved, becoming easier to adjust, then triggers and actions became lighter, often requiring mere fractions of an ounce to set them off. Grips too, became more exotic, and were designed to fit the hands of individual shooters almost like a glove. The pistols made for rapid fire competition had additional refinements in the form of compensators and adjustable barrel weights to help fight recoil.

Today these pistols bear little resemblance to the normal type of handguns. Outwardly, their appearance is often quite outlandish, looking like something out of a "Star Wars" movie. Those who maintain that handguns are intended solely for killing should take a look at one of these pistols. Only a complete lunatic would use one of these pistols for any purpose other than the sport it was intended for.

In America, the development of handguns for domestic competition was, until fairly recently, much more conservative. For years, revolvers were the top target guns and, like their predecessors, were simply stock models fitted with adjustable sights. These, of course, were greatly improved, being much easier to adjust. Later, other refinements were added, like target stocks, wide triggers and hammers with broad spurs. In reality, these changes were incorporated into standard production models and many of the revolvers used in law enforcement today were the target models of yesteryear.

Self-loading pistols began to emerge as target pistols in the 1920s. In matches where the .22 was used they soon began to dominate competitions. In the '30s, autos began to take control of the centerfire competitions when gunsmiths discovered ways to accurize pistols like the Colt Government .45 ACP.

After World War II, other shooting sports began to emerge in this country. Walk and Draw became very popular in the late '50s and early '60s, thanks to the influence of the western movies and television. Although most Walk and Draw competitors used blanks, rather than live ammunition, the prime objective being to produce the fastest draw from the holster, it was one of the first pistol activities that had considerable spectator appeal. In addition, attractive prizes of cash and guns were awarded, thanks to the fact that major events received considerable support from various sponsors. This too was an indication of things to come, from sponsorship plays an important role in today's big money matches.

Another indication of what lay in the future of handgun shooting sports was the way the guns and equipment changed. Originally, competitors used Colt or Ruger Single Action revolvers with western-style holsters and belts. Gradually, in the endless search for a faster draw, holsters changed to skimpy leather scabbards with a decided forward cant so that the butt of the gun pointed to the rear. The guns themselves became more and more modified with hammers drastically altered so that it could be fan-cocked with the free hand as the gun cleared leather.

It is interesting to see how guns and equipment were to change in the two combat handgun sports that quickly followed Fast Draw. Practical Pistol Competition (PPC) came into being as a result of new law enforcement handgun training methods. Based on the Practical Pistol Course developed by the FBI, it was strictly a match for double-action revolvers and was confined to law enforcement only.

Hot on the heels of PPC came the civilian sport of Combat Pistol Shooting. Developed largely as a result of the efforts of Jeff Cooper, this activity started in a small way in Southern California where a group of enthusiasts strived to find the most practical defensive shooting methods by resorting to a free-style type of competition.

Many of these shooters viewed the police PPC competitions as totally impractical, and to a large extent they were right. In the never-ending search for the winning edge, PPC had gone the way of the other shooting sports by allowing gamesmanship to prevail over practical considerations.

In the early matches, competitors used revolvers and holsters much like those they carried on duty, although, for improved accuracy, many chose models with six-inch barrels and target sights. Then, as in target shooting, guns became heavily customized with heavy bull barrels, large ribs with easy adjustable sights, and incredibly light double-action triggers. Holsters also went the same way as Fast Draw, becoming skimpier, with some even having a forward rake.

For accuracy and reduced recoil, .38 Special Wadcutter ammunition was used. The introduction of speed loaders had a dramatic effect by reducing reloading time. In the past, competitors had to reload each chamber by hand.

Even with these impractical innovations, PPC is an extremely demanding sport that requires dedication, superb trigger control and match nerves if one is to excel in competition. The sport has still retained some measure of practicality by offering other stages where only duty ammunition and unmodified guns can be used.

Ironically, even civilian combat shooting has gone the same way as the other sports. In its early development, shooters used large caliber service auto pistols and revolvers. However, with great stress being placed on the ability to reload quickly, the auto soon became the favorite with the Colt Government .45 being used almost exclusively by the majority of competitors.

To begin with, these guns were unmodified although some competitors used the Gold Cup instead of the G.I. .45 with its fixed sights. Then, gradually, modifications began to appear in the form of trigger jobs, adjustable sights, speed and ambidextrous safeties and extended slide stops. Most of these pistols were also accurized to such an extent that they could compete on equal terms with target pistols.

Holsters went the same way as in the other sports with many shooters preferring the cross-draw. By the time Combat Shooting, now called Practical Shooting, became truly international, further modifications in the form of long barrels and slides were becoming the vogue. Also, more and more competitors were now using the Pin Guns which were .45s made for the Second Chance Bowling Pin Match. These are usually equipped with heavy compensators to help control recoil.

Actually, the Second Chance Match was the first of the "big money" matches. Staged by Richard Davis of the Second Chance Body Armor Company, it offered big money in guns and equipment and was a match that favored neither the revolver nor the auto pistol. In the main event, competitors had to knock a series of bowling pins off a table, starting with the gun in hand and pointing 45 degrees to the ground. The winner was the shooter who cleared the table of pins in the fastest time.

The fact that the number of pins never exceeded six meant that either a revolver or an auto could be used and the secret was really using a bullet with enough energy to knock the pins clear off the table.

Basically a fun match with many other events catering to shotguns and rifles, the Bowling Pin Match has attracted shooters from both Practical Shooting and PPC. Over the years both revolvers and autos have taken top honors with many shooters using customized guns that allow them to use a powerful cartridge with a minimum amount of recoil. Many pistolsmiths who specialize in customizing the .45 Auto have come out with guns made for this match. Outwardly, these guns resemble a longslide Cold when in fact the front of the barrel is fitted with ta heavy compensator to help dampen the recoil of the heavy loads used in this match.

In 1979 John Bianchi, founder and president of Bianchi International, formerly Bianchi Gunleather, of Temecula, California, got together with Ray Chapman, former World IPSC Champion and director of the Chapman Shooting Academy in Columbia, Missouri, to stage a combat-style pistol competition. Between them they came up with what has become one of the most prestigious big money handgun matches in the world today.

In order to draw shooters from all sports it was essential that both auto pistols and revolvers could compete on an equal basis. This was accomplished by limiting the maximum number of shots fired in any stage to six and eliminating any fast reloads. Originally, the Bianchi Cup was made up of four matches, each requiring a total of 48 rounds. Three of the matches use a plain buff-colored oblong target with a rounded top. Dubbed the "Tombstone" target, it has two central scoring rings of eight and 12 inches, respectively. Hits in the smaller ring count for ten points, while anything outside the rings count as five and there is a four-inch X ring in the center to break ties.

The other match is a falling plate event, where shooters have to knock down six eight-inch diameter steel plates at distances of 10, 15, 20 and 25 yards. All the other matches are shot at the same distances except for the Practical event, which has a stage at 50 yards. The other two events involve shooting from behind barricades and at a moving target, respectively.

There are awards for winning each event, with the Bianchi Cup going to the shooter with the highest overall aggregate score. In addition there are a host of other prizes for teams, top lawmen, top lady shooter, etc. To date, all Bianchi Cups have been held at the Chapman Academy in Columbia, Missouri.

In 1982 an additional stage, called the "Speed Event," was added to the other four. Sponsored by Colt Firearms, it is a man-against-man event in which the top 20 shooters of the other four matches get to shoot against each other. Five falling plates, called "Pepper Poppers," have to be knocked down, the winner of each stage being the shooter who does it in the fastest time. The event has no bearing on the final outcome of the main competition, and is fired on the last day of the match.

Sponsorship plays an important role in the Bianchi Cup and is the main reason why there are so many cash, gun and equipment awards, not just for the top shooters, but virtually for everyone who reaches the final placings. To a large extent, this has been due to extremely good support from the shooting industry.

In 1983 Colt Firearms was the top contributor, donating $18,000. They were closely followed by Heckler & Koch with $16,000, with Tasco and Caswell Equipment each giving $10,000. In addition, most major companies in the industry gave generously to make up a grand total of $160,000 in cash and prizes. Apart from the awards, shooters are treated like VIPs with dinners and banquets put on for their entertainment every evening when the shooting is over.

With so much in cash prizes, it is not surprising that the Bianchi Cup has drawn top competitors, not only from this country but from other parts of the world. Both revolver and auto shooters have been equally represented from the sports of PPC and Practical Shooting.

By and large the same guns and equipment used in these two sports have appeared in the Bianchi Cup. Revolver shooters favor the bull barreled guns used in PPC. Generally speaking, these are built around Smith & Wesson K frames, and have changed little during the five years the Bianchi Cup has been in existence.

Most shooters favoring the auto have used the Colt Government Model, modified for PPC shooting. A few have used other makes like the Heckler & Koch P9 or Browning Hi-Power. One of the top competitors, Tom Campbell, has used a one-of-a-kind Smith & Wesson auto. Tom is employed in that company's R&D department and was given permission to build himself a competitive gun. His first model, called "Supergun 1," was a 9 mm built around the Model 59 series. His latest model, "Supergun 2," is an entirely new design in .45 caliber. Both guns have kept Tom in the running for top place, not only in the Bianchi Cup, but also in the Steel Challenge and the various IPSC matches. Unfortunately, both these guns are "one-off" models as Smith has no intention of producing them commerically.

There have been some changes in the auto pistols used in this competition. The first match, held in 1979, was won by Ron Lerch of California, using a Long Slide .45 built for him by Jim Hoag. The following year Mickey Fowler, who was to dominate the Bianchi Cup for the next few years, won with a similar gun. Mickey, who also hails from California, used different guns to capture top honors in 1981 and '82. In 1981 he used a .45 Colt with a heavy weight and compensator fitted to the barrel a .45 Pin Gun customized by Jim Clark.

Although it may appear tha the autos dominated the first four Bianchi Cups, this was due largely to the superb performance of Mickey Fowler. Revolver shooters have always placed high with the runner up of often being a wheelgunner. This was well-illustrated by the fact that Mickey beat revolver shooter Brian Enos into second place by only one point in 1982.

Brian Enos got his revenge in 1983 when he took the championship, beating another wheelgun shooter, John Pride of the Los Angeles Police Department, into second place by one point. In fact, more and more shooters will probably use the PPC revolver in future Bianchi Cups, including Mickey Fowler. As he says, "The surprise break of a good double-action trigger combined with its great potential for accuracy, make the revolver an ideal handgun for this type of shooting."

While the guns and holsters have changed little, the same cannot be said for the sighting equipment. As a result of the NRA allowing target shooters to use scope sights, a number of shooters fitted these to their guns in the 1982 Bianchi Cup.

Although Mickey Fowler still won that year with iron sights, the scoped system made enough of an impression for many competitors to adopt them the following year. One might ask what value such devices have in a combat match. The answer lies in the edge they give a shooter at the longer ranges.

This is especially so of the Aimpoint, which is a device that gives the shooter a red dot to place on the center of the target. In conventional target shooting you concentrate on aligning the sights to the exclusion of everything else. With an Aimpoint, you look through the device at the target and place the red dot on the exact spot you want to hit.

In the 1983 Cup the scope and Aimpoints proved that they were the way to go. Winner Brian Enos used an Aimpoint as did runner up John Pride. In fact seven out of the top ten shooters all used this sight. Provided the match rules continue to allow them, it is almost certain that the majority of shooters will use either a scope or an Aimpoint in future championships.

1983 also saw one competitor using a laser sighting system. James Anthony of Anthony Research Inc., Beverly Hills, California, competed with a huge helium-neon laser sight that he developed, mounted on top fo a PPC revolver. The device completely dwarfed the gun and required a specially designed holster to carry it and the revolver.

The sight has to be big in order to produce a laser beam of enough intensity so that it could be seen in daylight. Even so, Anthony had to wear dark goggles on very bright days. When the sight was activated, it placed a red dot on the target and this enabled Anthony to draw and fire from the hip. Anthony also used this sight at the 1983 Steel Challenge, this time mounted on a .45 auto. However, due to the cost, it is unlikely that many shooters will go this far in customizing their guns.

The one match where the Aimpoint and scopes were not used was in the Colt-sponsored Speed Event. Here, where competitors may use a different gun, most shooters stuck to that old faithful, the Colt .45 Auto. It does seem that this match is better suited to the auto although the way John Pride shot his revolver, things might eventually prove different. Although he did not win the event, he had some very fast times with his double-action revolver.

Aimpoints and scopes have little following in the other big money match, The Steel Challenge World Speed Shooting Championships. This match, which has only been in existence for three years at the time of writing, is sponsored by the South West Pistol League of California. The two men who must take most of the credit for getting these championships off the ground are Mike Fichman and Mike Dalton, two of America's to IPSC shooters.

To their credit, the match purse of prizes has swelled from a modest $30,000 to over $100,000, thanks, once again, to some generous support from the firearms industry. This has also proved to be a drawing card for the country's top shooters, many of whom also compete in the Bianchi Cup.

As its name suggests, all shooting is done on metal, with shooters having to start with the gun holstered. To cater to revolvers and autos, no fast reloads are required and the number of targets for each event never exceeds more than five. The plates used in the various events are a combination of steel 12- and 10-inch diameter discs and oblong 18x24-inch metal targets. Before the shooter starts, the plates are sprayed with white paint so that hits can be easily seen. This together with the metallic ring a bullet makes each time a plate is hit makes it quite a spectator sport.

The object, of course, is to draw and hit all of the plates in the fastest time. Each stage is repeated five times with the shooter being allowed to select the best four runs for score. Five events make up the main match with big prizes going to each winner. Top gun is the competitor who has the best aggregate time for all five events. On the last day, the top 32 shooters team up into two-man teams for a team-against-team knockout match.

In theory, at least, a revolver stands as good a chance at winning as the autoloader. However, to date it is the auto pistol that has reigned supreme. This is because with the auto pistol, shooters have more extra rounds to pick up on any plates they might have missed. Consequently, they can "go for broke" with more confidence than a revolver shooter who often has only one spare round to use if a plate is missed.

With the stress on speed, open sights appear to have more going for them than scopes or Aimpoints. Iron sights are easier to get on target fast and as most of the plates are at reasonably close distances, pinpoint accuracy is not essential An ability to control recoil is an important factor and, for this reason, many competitors use the .45 Pin Guns. In 1983, three-time Bianchi Cup winner Mickey Fowler took the title with his Clark customized .45 Pin Gun. To date, he is the only competitor to have won both the Bianchi Cup and the Steel Challenge. Leather gear is typically used in IPSC competition, with many shooters favoring cross-draw rigs.

The fact that the guns used in these big money matches have become so sophisticated can give a mistaken impression that one can excel if he has a quality Pin Gun or an Aimpoint mounted on a PPC revolver. Actually, nothing can be further from the truth. Such equipment only gives an edge to a seasoned shooter. To do well in either match requires a complete mastery of the basics of shooting followed by hours and hours of practice.

In fact, with the big prizes being offered, some of the shooters are almost professional. Many of those at the top have their own shooting schools or are in a line of work that permits them to put in the practice needed to remain at the top. The sport is also not just limited to the male shooters, for an increasing number of women are competing every year. Many are top shooters in their own right, like Edith Almeida from South Africa who is a former World IPSC ladies champion, a top ISU target shooter and a three-time winner of the Bianchi Cup Top Ladies award.

For those who win an event like the Bianchi Cup, the prizes can be extremely lucrative. Brian Enos, the 1983 Bianchi Cup Champion, walked away with some $22,000 in cash and merchandise. In addition, he placed high in the Speed Challenge of that same year. Does this mean we will soon be seeing a professional shooting circuit like golf, tennis and other sports? At the moment it is too early to say, for much depends on how the sport grows and how much public interest it generates.

Up until now, shooting sports have never had much spectator interest. However, this is changing, especially with matches like the Steel Challenge. it is also gratifying to see that some of these matches are getting some good media coverage. This was especially true of the 1983 Bianchi Cup which received congratulatory messages from the governor of Missouri and some good coverage by television in that state. All this can only help shooting in general for it is high time that more people are made aware that competitive shooting in any form is, like any other sporting activity, a healthy, worthwhile pastime.
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:shooting competitions
Author:Arnold, Dave
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Apr 1, 1984
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