The Ed Head Modified Cooper Cup Gunsite Standards

One of my regular students, Randy W., is also a graduate of multiple classes from Gunsite, the legendary firearms training school in Arizona founded by Jeff Cooper. He took several private lessons from me to get tuned up for the Gunsite Alumni Shoot, being held on October 7, 2023.

One stage of the match is the Cooper Cup, a set of shooting standards originally developed by Cooper himself. Gunsite trainer Ed Head describes a modified version of the course of fire in detail in this NRA article.

The videos below show me shooting the drill “cold” at the start of our lesson, to familiarize myself with the course of fire. I used my Taurus G3 with the Swampfox green dot sight. The G3 is my go-to gun for class demos, because it’s a midpriced gun, with a stock barrel, stock trigger and a midpriced optic. I put 1200 rounds through it before I cleaned it, and I only cleaned it because I replaced the original slide (iron sights) with the TORO slide I bought from Taurus and the Swampfox optic. It’s had another 500+ rounds through it since then.

The Gunsite option target has a small triangular-ish head box and a gumdrop-shaped torso zone that’s smaller than the 8″ circle on the IDPA target, particularly at the top where it narrows. The way the Cooper Cup is scored is that hits outside those two zones are misses. Only hits inside the two zones count for score. The complete test is 45 rounds.

In talking with Erick Gelhaus, a Gunsite trainer that was going to be one of the range officers and match officials for the Gunsite Alumni Shoot (GAS), I learned that the Cooper Cup would be shot on turning targets that were precise on their timing. Randy observed that he had seen quite a few edge hits and tears on targets at a previous GAS, so we knocked 0.5 second off each par time in practice to ensure that we were working at a pace fast enough to guarantee a full target exposure.

As the video shows, I dropped one point (from the 25 yard string), basically by not being disciplined enough about where the dot was relative to the entire target. At 25 yards, the outline of the body torso, and even the shapes of the blobs on the target, are difficult to discern, so you really have to have a good feel for where the center of the torso zone is just using the target edges and head box.

Randy said that it was common for everyone in the match to shoot from open carry, so that’s how we practiced it – and historical pictures at Gunsite do tend to show people working from open carry most of the time.

Although Gunsite’s history is linked to the 1911 and .45 ACP caliber, Gunsite recently began selling their Gunsite Glock Service Pistol – a Glock 45 with a red dot, in 9mm.

Randy was going to shoot the match with a Glock 48 with Holosun optic. We started the lesson with him shooting 25 yard 10 shot groups, first from a rest, and then from two handed standing, making small corrections to the zero on his pistol with the ammo he was going to use for the match. Much like the standards at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference, a perfect or near-perfect score would be required to be competitive in the overall standings, and having a perfect 25 yard zero could make a difference on the 25 yard strings.

In the recent TCOLE firearms instructor class, trainer Eric Wise referenced articles written by Brian Litz about statistics related to group shooting and zeroing. Litz makes a strong case for 10 shot groups providing better statistical data for zeroing than 3 or 5 shot groups. I’ve typically been a 3-5 shot group shooter for rough zeroing, but we did 10 shot groups for the final grooming, and in many cases it did make a difference, as 1-3 shots of the 10 might be thrown out for “shooter error” reasons, leaving us with enough holes to still assess overall zero.

The other two areas we worked were the 3 yard head shots, and first shot after a reload, because it’s a commonly missed shot. That proved to be an area Randy could improve on. His reload speeds were plenty fast to make the par times, giving him more time than he realized to take that extra tenth of a second to guarantee that first post-reload shot was a good hit.

Match Report

The course of fire in the Ed Head NRA article is not the actual Cooper Cup. The actual course of fire is harder and is this:

  • 3 yards, one head shot, 1 second, 5x
  • 7 yards, one head shot, 1.5 second, 5x
  • 10 yards, two body shots, 2.0 second, 5x
  • 15 yards, two body shots to two different targets, 6.0 seconds, 3x
  • 25 yards, two body shots, 4.0 seconds, 4x

40 rounds, 200 points, scored 5 or 0, cuts must be inside the line (no line breaking edge hits counted).

How did Randy do? 22nd out of 267 shooters, which is top 10% – a very respectable finish against a bunch of excellent shooters and challenging courses of fire. He placed 30th (tie) out of 161 that shot the Cup.

I will give the “real” Cooper Cup course of fire a try in my next range session.