Retro-Remembering: Competition

By Dave Anderson

An innovative development in practical shooting competition was the “Comstock” scoring system, designed by Walt Comstock. The total of all hits on-target, less penalties for misses, is divided by the time from start signal to last shot. The Comstock system encourages shooters to shoot as fast as possible while still hitting the target. If we want to get really nostalgic, what made Comstock scoring feasible was the pocket calculator. Most young, and even not so young readers, cannot imagine a world without electronic calculators. Around 1971 I bought a simple four-function calculator for $80, equivalent to about $475 today. Honest.

For the Comstock system to work, the shooter’s time must be accurately recorded. In the old days it was done with whistle and stopwatch. The range officer would simultaneously blow the whistle and start the stopwatch. When the last shot was fired he’d stop the watch.

Ah, you say, how does the RO know when it’s the last shot? What if the shooter engages the last target, the RO stops the watch, then the shooter sees he has a miss and makes it up with another shot? So, the stop plate was introduced, sometimes a steel plate, sometimes a clay pigeon. What fun it was to have a great run, then miss the plate with your last round and have to do another reload.


A 1985 Mike Plaxco training seminar arranged by Dave. From left, Doug Fyke, Mike Plaxco, Dick Leier,
Jamie Callin, Don Leier, Nick Alexakos and Dave himself. Doug, Dick, and Don are gone now. Doug Fyke
was a WWII veteran, who worked on construction of the Alcan highway. When a grizzly bear approached
workers in a threatening manner, Doug ran to a truck, grabbed a Thompson and used it to kill the bear.
Dave recalls it took a full 50-round drum to finally wear the bear down.


State of the art electronic gear about 1981. Interval shot timer, useful for fixed
time stages and my Oehler 12 chronograph.

Timer Magic

When electric shot timers appeared around 1982, they seemed little short of a miracle. The first I saw were designed by two brilliant electronic engineering guys who were also shooters; Ronin Colman (PACT) and Ron Bailey (Competition Electronics). Accurate shot timers did more than make the Comstock system work consistently and fairly, they also had a review function, so we could accurately measure individual skills. We could measure draws, reloads, “splits” (time between each shot in a string), and movement from one shooting position to another.

Today no serious practical shooter would consider training without a timer. You might as well train without a target. Those I see used most often include the PACT Club Timer III, the Pocket Pro II from Competition Products and the CED-7000.

Not all memories of the good old days are good. I remember casting bullets for my .45 using a two-cavity bullet mold. Each bullet then had to be sized and lubed. Reloading was done on a single-stage C-H loading tool, so each case had to be handled several times; sizing, de-capping, belling, priming, adding powder, seating bullet and adding taper crimp. A hundred rounds an hour was doing well, not including bullet-casting time.

Some said this was great as it made me appreciate the value of each shot and strive to make it perfect. Well, whatever works for you. Personally I learn best by lots of repetition. I wanted ammo, and lots of it, but a Star progressive reloading machine cost $900+ in 1980. I could have bought three new Colt Government Models then for $900.


Circa 1980, this was how we timed shooters through stages.

Game Changing

Mike Dillon began producing the Dillon RL-450 in the early 1980’s. Initially it was sold through a dealer network. An ad in the Nov/Dec 1983 Handgunner shows the 450 priced at $365. At less than half the price of a Star, it would still turn out 400+ rounds an hour.

Then Mike Dillon dropped his bombshell. He went to factory direct marketing. Full-page ads appeared in the gun press, such as the March/April 1984 Handgunner, offering the RL-450 for $185! Dillon later wrote he needed to sell 500 units the first month just to pay for the ads. He sold 5,000.

Progressive loading tools went quickly from “can’t afford it” to “can’t afford not to have it.” Later, I had faster progressives, including the magnificent Dillon Super 1050, but after 1984 I never again worried about being short of ammo.

Incidentally $185 in 1984 is equivalent to about $425 today. The Dillon 550B with improvements such as interchangeable tool head lists at $394 for the base machine today.
When the subject of who made the greatest contribution to the development of practical shooting arises I can think of dozens of worthy individuals. But my nominees would be Mike Dillon, with Ronin Colman and Ron Bailey right behind.

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