Preview – Zeroed In – Rob Leatham
Photography by Henry Z. De Kuyper
Up to Speed
Despite Being a 24-Time USPSA National Shooting Champion, Springfield Armory Team Captain Rob Leatham Stays Humble as He Chases His Most Elusive Mark — Getting Better
At age 52, Rob Leatham should be coasting. He has seen and done it all in the past three-and-a-half decades within the sport of competitive shooting, and his accomplishments are nothing less than legendary. They have to be if people call you “The Great One.” His rise to becoming “TGO” among the shooting elite would appear to be by design, but Leatham insists that couldn’t be less true.
“Success, for me, was about stripping down the theology of technique,” he explains. “There is no ‘have to do.’ All you have to do is control the gun as well as you can. Now, there will be mechanical attributes that a good shooter will generally have, but the overall concept is to keep the gun stable, keep it aligned at the target, and the guy who does that the fastest is the guy who is going to win.” Rob should know. He’s been that guy for the better part of his career, claiming 24 USPSA national titles, five IPSC world titles, and sundry other top honors. He’s the only shooter in the history of the sport to become a Triple Crown Winner in 1985, claiming top honors in the Bianchi Cup, Steel Challenge, and the IPSC/USPSA Nationals. Simply put, he’s definitely a guy any aspiring shooter can learn a thing or two from — although he was once chided for eschewing traditional convention within the realm of shooting technique.
A part of shooting’s “new guard” in the 1980s, Leatham was a student of the greats who came before him, mimicking their every move in his relentless pursuit of improving as a shooter. A chance meeting with a fellow shooter named Brian Enos would forever change the way Leatham approached his fundamentals. “The two of us couldn’t have been more different,” Leatham says. “He was the best practice shooter I’d ever seen, and he could shoot a whole steel match without using an extra shot.” What Leatham lacked in traditional ethos and training regimen, he more than made up for in competitions, and the differences between the two actually led to them becoming fast friends. Witnessing each other’s different approaches and various successes made them realize that there was more than one way to skin a cat, and caused the duo to explore every aspect of shooting technique — paving the way for techniques still used today that were more than frowned upon at the time by the shooting world’s old guard.
RECOIL: When did you first become interested in shooting?
Rob Leatham: I was into guns pretty heavy at a very young age, to the point that in my life, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t into it. We did a lot of it as a family, and it was pretty informal, but it was something I got really interested in. I remember reading about it in the gun magazines in the mid ’70s, and we were kind of doing what we thought was combat shooting out in the desert with some old steel plates my grandfather had set up. [Laughs.] I was 15 at the time. I was a pretty good shot by the time I was big enough to hold a gun up, and that’s all I was interested in other than basketball.
Do you remember your very first match? Did it motivate you to want to compete in others?
RL: I first shot in a competition in 1978, in my senior year in high school. I shot a revolver in it and I placed third in my class; there were two guys with autos and two with revolvers who beat me, but at the time, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was a pretty good shot, but none of my equipment was really good. I was just starting out. After shooting that first match, I was hooked and it was all I ever wanted to do. I didn’t really get to shoot many matches after that for about a year because a Saturday match was rare, and Sundays my mom was not gonna let me go shooting instead of going to church. I moved out after graduating high school, got a job, and spent every cent I had on shooting because it was all I ever wanted to do.
How were you able to make the transition to becoming a full-time shooter?
RL: I started getting some interest in people wanting me to train them in shooting, and I was doing some classes, which paid me a little bit in my leave of absence. I was just able to get by as my expenses were extremely modest at the time, and then everything fell together in a way you couldn’t have planned for.
At that period of time, shooting was just getting popular, and the magazines were pushing it, so it was getting a lot of press. Bullseye and PPC were the competitions most handgun shooters were doing, so these new competitions were completely different and that coincided with when I was becoming dominant. On top of that, Springfield Armory had just introduced their 1911 pistols. It was such a series of lucky circumstances for me, like a perfect storm. So many pieces came together it’s hard to even believe it all happened like it did. I was shooting well at the right time, and Springfield wanted someone to help their push. They liked me and made me practically a part of their family. I basically had to quit my job to shoot. I took another leave of absence and never went back, and since then I’ve been able to make a living doing what I love.
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