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I found one of those manufacturers by accident in the back of a health food store. I was buying something tasty and heard heavy machinery noises coming from a nearby room. I was informed that there was a gun factory in the basement. I went down and discovered the Caspian Arms Company of Hardwick, Vt.
Caspian was making very high quality automatic pistols on contract for some high-line American arms companies. It was also making a super-accurate M1911 .45 pistol under its own name. The owner showed me targets shot offhand (without support) at 25 yards. All the shots were in one hole. This is both remarkable shooting and a very accurate pistol.
Next to the target was taped a schedule for the Vermont Handgunners Association (the existence of which I had not been aware of). The schedule listed a PPC meet coming up in one week in a town near me. I remarked that that sounded like fun, and Cal Foster, the owner of Caspian Arms, said, "Why don't you go?" I told him I couldn't since I didn't have a .45 automatic, and he suggested that I just borrow his, which is just what I did.
Mr. Foster loaned me his pistol and two magazines so that I could compete. The pistol is fairly representative of what one does to transform a stock-as-a-stove firearm into a competitive one. The barrel is lengthened by one inch. The barrel is ported (i.e., ventilated) on the top of the protruding portion. Recoil tends to make the muzzle of a pistol rise after each shot. Gases escaping through the porting tend to counteract this rise and keep the muzzle down, thus making for faster on-target follow-up shots. The safety is ambidextrous, in order that it can be safely manipulated when shooting either with the right or left hand. The trigger is tuned for a crisp, fairly light let-off. The pistol has high-grade adjustable sights.
A serious competitor, in addition to spending sums possibly in excess of $1,000 on his competition pistol, will invest in special belts and holsters, and will, most probably, load his own ammunition. (The last, in addition to offering the ability to tailor the cartridge to the competition, affords a great savings. Factory .45 ammunition costs around $20 for 50. Home-loaded ammunition can be one-third that. It makes a difference if you're going to practice as a truly serious competitor would—with 50,000 rounds a year.)
I took Cal Foster's competition pistol over to my backyard range and, after a very educational week, was able to keep most of my shots on a shoebox at 25 yards. The .45 is a bit more difficult to shoot well than a .22 target pistol; it is heavier; it is heavy over the hand, rather than at the muzzle end, and it is, generally, not very forgiving. You have to learn to shoot it.
I practiced reloading, shooting with the weak (in my case, the left) hand, drawing from the "surrender" position. I blithely went down to the PPC meet at Benson, Vt.
The Benson meet was divided into three parts: assault, international rapid fire and shotgun. This was the order of the assault course: The shooter starts with his pistol holstered and both hands shoulder high in a surrender position. On command, the shooter draws and fires two shots at a target 20 yards out. He then runs 10 yards and, leaning out from behind a barricade, fires two shots at a target 10 yards out. Continuing, he must fire two shots on each of two targets 15 yards out. He then runs 10 yards, kneels behind a barricade and shoots twice at a target at 25 yards. He runs another 10 yards, again kneels, puts two shots on a 10-yard target and fires at a metal plate suspended five yards from him. The sound of the plate being struck stops the clock.
The shooter's total score is based on his time over the course and his point score. The target, similar to a bull's-eye target, is made up of ever-widening concentric circles, and hits closest to the center score are highest. Unlike those on the bull's-eye target, however, the scoring circles cannot be seen by the shooter, who must determine his point of aim and shoot without external signs. The targets are torso-sized cardboard cutouts. They are flanked and partially obscured by similar torsos covered with an X. Hits on these "hostages" accrue penalties to the shooter.
The man ahead of me ran the course in 43 seconds and scored 121. He would have stopped the clock quicker, but his first shot at the metal stop plate went high. I thought, "How untutored of you—don't you know that when shooting at targets beneath you, you must hold low?" My lack of charity was soon to be rewarded. I ran the course in 1:43 and scored 89.1 couldn't find my spare magazine in my belt; I reloaded at the wrong time; I couldn't hit the stop plate at all; I couldn't hit the target, and I finished shaking like a leaf.