Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 12, No. 10         September 2004

Turning Leaves

As we had very little winter last winter, we seem to have had very little summer this summer. Apart from a few weeks of triple digits down in Phoenix, we have not been scorched as usual in this part of the world - which is fine with us. We have always enjoyed the traditional change of seasons, but this need not be overdone.

The Rifle Project (20x20x20 at 1000) has aroused only a modicum of interest. This may be because shooters as a group are more interested in equipment than in performance. Various correspondents have come up with suggestions about what sort of rifle to use, which is understandable but avoids the element of skill. I think the winning weapon for the Project will have to be a self-loader of moderate caliber, but beyond that no one rifle should prove much better than any other. A weight ceiling of 15lbs or thereabouts should be established to avoid giantism, but essentially the project is going to be won by the man, rather than by his gear.

We happen upon two somewhat different conclusions from our friends down there in Iraq. On the one hand, our selected riflemen are scoring very well, sometimes at long range but mainly at inner city distances. On the other, we are bedeviled by reports that the people we send over there are basically unfamiliar with rifle shooting. This may be so, and if so it may be attributed to the increasing urbanization of our culture, in which there are large numbers of young men who have never touched a weapon of any kind (possibly excepting a baseball bat) prior to putting on a soldier suit. This may be a reflection of the "Nanny state," in which a large proportion of young men have no fathers. Even if there is a man around the house, he is usually not a father figure. If he does not know anything about firearms, he is unlikely to have anything useful to hand on to his sons. This need not always be the case, of course, since my own father, who was expert in many things from viticulture to epic poetry, never owned a gun of his own and had to be educated by his sons.

Be that as it may, a great many old-fashioned American fathers have come to us for schooling at Gunsite. When we salute the flag, as we do here at Gunsite, we reflect that this country remains the last great hope of liberty, and that there is still enough personal dignity to leave an impression upon the youth. As a group Americans fight well, as the jihadis will learn as they pursue the jihad.

We invite all members of the family to note the retirement of Larry Mudgett, one of the distinguished pistoleros of the age. Larry's outstanding service was with the Los Angeles Police Department, and he not only shot expertly in competition, but also in various street fights. Among other things, Larry was the first man to employ the Harries firing stance in action in full dark, achieving a one-shot stop in a restricted sector. He was also awarded the Medal of Valor for rescuing a wounded comrade under fire. We need more like him, but I fear we will not find many.

Family member Frederick Astaire contributes this selection from the Tonopah Miner of 22 April 1905 concerning the "Wild West."
"A remarkable feature of the new town of Rhyolite is that there is no constable. None is apparently needed. This state of affairs is explained by the fact that every citizen believes that every other citizen carries a gun and as a result a perfect order prevails."

We hear that bison are readily available in Alberta. As we attempted it, the bison is not an especially demanding trophy, but the meat is outstanding and the robe is the ideal sofa cover for cold climates.

In our adolescence we discovered the telescope sight as used on hunting rifles. It was not the norm then as it is now, and we were often jeered at when we showed up for deer or elk hunting. After some experience we concluded that the optical sight, as it is now termed, has various important advantages over iron. Today glass sights are pretty standard worldwide, though they are not the best solution to all of our problems - specifically including dangerous game. I do think, even today, that the novice should be introduced to rifle shooting by way of the aperture sight, in "ghost-ring" form. In recent years I have seen many situations in which the ghost-ring was preferable to any glass sight, but the market commands. It is unsound to draw conclusions from the limited experience available to one man, but in my own case I have killed as often with iron sights as with the telescope. (And I have logged one rather extravagant experience in which the telescopic sight was a distinct disadvantage.)

Today Jim West's example of a "Co-pilot" illustrates the virtue of the ghost-ring carbine over other systems.

We note that Gerhard Blenk is now offering African-style double rifles from his base location at Ifni in Germany. Herr Blaser is the designer of the ultimate trigger action, as demonstrated in his R93. We have confidence in his ingenuity.

Family members returning from Mugabestan tell us that meat is now the most convenient medium of exchange. Things have gone from bad to worse, as was only to be expected. There we have had the spectacle of a thoroughly immoral man dictating affairs to his own liking with no regard for the welfare of his country. This is one of several tragedies of our time. Comrade Mugabe has so wrecked the economy of the country that a hunter can bribe his way through to almost anything in return for venison. The proverbial meat hunger of the local people emphasizes its value to visiting sportsmen.

Proper rifle handling is covered in "The Art of the Rifle," but not everybody has a copy of that and I see violations of good technique all the time. For example, how is a rifle to be carried in a situation anticipating violence? I have taught this material consistently over the years, but I see that some like it better than others. Rifle readiness is not complicated, but it should be understood. When standing erect, anticipating immediate contact, the rifle should be carried at "ready" - magazine full, cartridge in the chamber, index finger straight along side of the trigger-guard, and safety on. If the configuration of the weapon affords it, the thumb should be placed on the safety ready to acuate it, but with the index finger still outside the trigger-guard. In this condition the shooter checks the environment by searching it with his eye on his surroundings but interrupted by the front sight. The call is: eyes, muzzle, target, but the safety is on and the finger is off the trigger. Generally speaking, fiction writers do not understand this.

When contact is imminent but the shooter is moving by vehicle, the rifle should be carried with the magazine full but no shell in the chamber. When he dismounts to fire, he has time to rack the action and loop up the sling.

In all cases, the weapon is not in firing mode until the shooter's eye has picked up the target and a proper firing stance is assumed.

I do not think that we can condemn shooting from a blind as unsportsmanlike, however productive it may be. I have indulged it on a couple of occasions, but only because it was the only system available.

Those of you who plan to fill the larder in the weeks to come will doubtless make the necessary effort to verify your zeros without any prodding from here. Nonetheless we wish to drop the hint. The more practice you get, the better off you will be. Shooting bench groups is not enough. As Shooting Master Louis Awerbuck points out, "If you want a really tight group, fire just one shot."

To say that the root of all evil is money is to read the matter incorrectly. The word in scripture is not money but rather cupidity (in Latin). If you say cupidity is the root of all evil you are closer to the answer. It may be envy is the root of all evil, though that is certainly worthy of a seminar topic. The sophisticated personality will be readily aware of envy as the prime evil. He will see, however, as he matures that wanting something that you have not but that somebody else has is a basic moral corruption. Some very old sage (whose name I forget) is said to have opined that the two most distressing discomforts are wanting what you cannot have and having what you no longer want. The innocent may say that he would like to try the second option, but experience will disabuse him insofar as he can discover it.

Now that Lindy Wisdom, our daughter, is doing her own publishing, we are wondering about some reprints. I am pleased with the number of my book titles which are now rather difficult to obtain, and it may be that we should print up hard copies of publications previously only attainable in paper. For example, the volume called "Fighting Handguns" includes original material which was topical when that book was introduced, but now presents a good piece of the history of the handgun not available elsewhere.

We note that rifle technique is not as well understood as it should be. It is interesting to observe that Gunsite Rule 3 is now observed carefully by the Marine Corps. It was never taught nor followed when I was a fresh-caught Marine, but photography declares that it is now. This is a matter of great satisfaction. It is nice to be "self-taught," but it is better to be exposed to authoritative doctrine in one's most receptive experience.

We do not wish to be political in this paper, but we must emphasize that liberty and freedom are not the same. The great majority of people seem to be able to get along without liberty, but liberty is what our Founding Fathers fought and died for. Freedom is something else again.

People seem to be spending a lot of time on uniform patterns for combat troops, such as are usually referred to as camouflage. Anyone who has spent any time in the field must realize that cloth patterns, apart from snow clothes, are almost pointless. If you are close enough to a man to discern the pattern of his shirt, it is his outline rather than his pattern that matters. In the Bush War up in Rhodesia, we experimented with this and our conclusion was that the things most readily discerned about a trooper in the field were the backs of his hands and the black line of his firearm. We conducted a number of tests along this line and decided that if an adversary is close enough for his cloth pattern to be important, he is most readily "camouflaged" by blackening the backs of his hands with shoe polish or mud or something of the sort and breaking up the outline of his weapon with irregular bands of masking tape. Oddly enough the face did not stand out anywhere as prominently as the hands, and facial make up seemed more theatrical than effective.

It is interesting to note that the new Mateba automatic revolver is something of a hit in Europe. Just what anyone might want with an automatic revolver is open to discussion, but there it is and it is a very exotic little artifact. I am admittedly curious about how this piece feels to shoot, but I am not going to spend any money on the attempt.

John Hancock may have been one of the most conspicuous of our Founding Fathers, but he was hardly an egalitarian. When throwing a society ball at his residence in Boston he provided champagne for his guests within, but was careful to set up a cask of Madeira outside on the sidewalk "for the benefit of the common people."

Grand Master John Gannaway is just back from Africa with wonderful stories to relate. He has been looking for a head-on with a hippopotamus for a long time now, and while things did not work out exactly as intended, he did flatten the hippo with one round from his 376 Scout (using the 300-grain solid).

On the same adventure our personal clergyman Tom Russell scored on both buffalo and lion, and must now be presented with the official gold lion badge of the Gunsite African Rifles.

On this adventure John used the Steyr "Dragoon" as mentioned, while Tom, who is left-handed, used his Blaser R93 in caliber 416 for everything from impala on up. This is evidence that the Scout should have been made available in left hand option, as originally agreed.

The behavior of the press at this phase of the jihad is infuriating. They give us the butcher's bill every day, while they absolutely refuse to report upon the exploits of many of our young men whose successful fighting deserves all praise. It takes no skill whatever to become a war casualty, but it calls for grandeur of spirit to attack successfully in the face of lethal enemy fire. Our men are doing this every day, but you do not see it in the papers or on the tube.

Did you know that the girl who won the gold for shotgunnery in the Olympics did her early training by working on frisbees with a BB gun? The more you think about that, the more clever it becomes.

The subject of military awards is a big one, and I was exposed to a whole period on the subject in Command and Staff School. There are policies governing these matters, but they seem to be administered with wide subjective latitude. I have spoken at some length to officers who can display a colorful chestful of fruit salad, as we used to call it, and I am impressed by the variety shown by their opinions of their own decorations. Our good friend Mike Ryan received two Navy Crosses in the Pacific War, and he insists that while Number One was inconsequential, he really earned Number Two. The same medal, the same war, the same service.

Only the recipient himself knows what he truly deserves.

I find it interesting that the Olympic games were originally conducted totally without political distinction. Participants traveling from state to state were free from national designation. It was always the man who won the event, with total disregard for his point of origin.

We recently picked up notice in a domestic newspaper of a professional hunter's fatal mishap in East Africa. The man was apparently of Canadian origin and was killed by a buffalo. I will try to run this down further.

Continuing experience with various Steyr Scout rifles in Africa shows that the distinct advantages of this piece may only be understood in the field. Such minor features as the double detente, the adapted trigger-guard, the integral bipod, and the twin magazine option do not impress the observer over-the-counter or at the writer's desk, but they show up in striking fashion when the piece is taken afield. We hear back from Africa the query from the professional "Where can I get one of these?"

People keep asking about the proper age at which to introduce children to firearms. Since people are as different as they are, there is no conclusive answer to this. There is first of all the matter of bone structure. Most young people do not achieve enough length of bone until about age 14 to handle a rifle. With the pistol this is less important, but since the pistol is a more demanding instrument, generally speaking, I cannot really approve of starting under age ten, as some friends of ours have done. This is not to say it cannot be done, and I congratulate the parent who brings it off successfully, but there are other considerations apart from body size. Judgment is the most important of these. Mature judgment is probably the most significant element of the subject, and both children and their parents vary enormously in this department. There are truly precocious children who think like adults at age 14, and conversely there are people who never grow up at all and should not be allowed to vote, still less handle lethal weapons. I do not know the best age at which a youngster should start shooting, so I must beg the question. This matter of judgment must be left up to you.

I do not think it is a matter of gauge or caliber. It is generally accepted that one should start with a 22, and while I have no objection to this, I know of some very excellent practitioners who began with full caliber weapons and suffered no damage therefrom. This bothers some people more than others, but recoil should not be given too much concern here. Recoil varies, of course, but the blow delivered by the butt of full caliber rifle or shotgun is not greater than that received in any backyard contact sport.

Some recommend that the novice be introduced carefully under supervision to the old man's guns and observed to see just what sort of judgment he displays. The ownership of personal weapons is a very proper right-of-passage for a boy. With girls it is optional. Any man must know how to manage firearms if he pretends to be a man. A girl may be allowed to find her own speed here, and only commence the exercise when she really wants to. With either boy or girl the novice must not be pushed, but must display genuine and sincere desire before taking up arms.

I had some doubts about the 376 Steyr cartridge when it was first introduced, but I have since become much impressed by the "Dragoon." It is as near perfection as may be for the African bushveldt, as well as for northern North America. It is a convincing medium caliber, and in Scout configuration it offers the best of two worlds. The factory did not choose to advance it and so it is now a custom proposition, except for those who were clever enough to get aboard early.

It kicks. Delivery of full power in less than 8lbs is bound to, but that is a subjective matter. Some people are bothered by recoil and others are not. I find the Dragoon distinctly pleasurable to shoot, but I am not a proper judge of this subject.

All wars are peculiar in themselves, but this one seems more peculiar than most. Both weapons and tactics which are suitable for inner city conflict with an enemy devoid of air power will not suffice for more "conventional" conflicts. These things will be hard to discover, but we will discover them.

One of the pleasures about living here at Gunsite is the steady crackle of gunfire in the middle distance. There are some people who might find that bothersome, but to a shottist it is distinctly soothing. As the Countess put it, "That's the sound of the good guys learning how to kill the bad guys." It is not that the lady tends to be bloodthirsty, but that she has been accustomed to troubled times. I have always enjoyed the sound of gunfire, if it is not overdone. Life on that battleship was indeed a bit much, but smallarms are something else again.

The proliferation of shooting sticks in Africa is mildly annoying. The professional hunter always has successful shooting as his primary requirement, and some of the people who show up in the game country need all the help they can get. Nevertheless, a competent rifleman should not depend upon gadgetry carried along by a henchman. It would certainly be nice if the people who undertake the African adventure would perfect their marksmanship before taking off by practicing on small game near home. When you are completely successful on jack rabbits or ground hogs you will not have any trouble with hitting big game - unless your nerve gives out, and that is a problem which must be faced in another chapter.

Bob Young now sets up the Gunsite facility for military organizations who want to play war. This is a far cry from the aim of the API, but it makes much sense. Our current policy makers in the Department of Defense face the need to show large numbers of non-combatants how to "camp out" in the peculiar ambience of the jihad, and weaponcraft is not really a large element in this. Gunsite can play its small but not unimportant part here.

Clinton's egregious gunban subsided, as we hoped it would. It was a dismal example of a weakness of democracy - acting frivolity into law. Banning instruments rather than acts indicate a belief that man is not worthy of his own free will. Well, some men are not, but that is no justification for whimsical legislation. The Founding Fathers struggled for the principle that man could and should be trusted with his own destiny. Our current domestic enemies, against whom those Americans in uniform are sworn to defend, do not believe in this principle, but we have again won a round in the endless fight against them.

One hopes that when this election is behind us we can get about the serious business of winning this war. They have declared war on us and it is up to us to win it. This will not be as easy as many seem to think, but it must be done. Only when shortages, hardships and serious sacrifice on the home front are made apparent will we get down to the necessary labor. Only when we define our objectives can victory be pursued. So let's do it.

Please Note. These "Commentaries" are for personal use only. Not for publication.