Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 12, No. 3          March 2004

False Winter

At this time of year people always ask if there was anything outstanding to be seen at the SHOT Show. There is always something, of course, but what impresses some people is not the same as what impresses others. For our part, we always make a straight line for the Perazzi display. Looking at their top-of-the-line offering is delightful. It shows that people are still ready to do things like that, both to make them and to buy them. The four-piece special now on display at Perazzi goes for four hundred thousand dollars - four over/under shotguns in four different gauges. They are absolutely beautiful, and while one would hardly want to own them, they are indeed a joy to behold. Why one shotgun is better than another is not an easy question. A commonplace sort of Perazzi, at about $20,000, is beautifully made and perfectly suited for its task - feathers or clay. What makes the magnificent Perazzis magnificent is the combination of unequaled engraving and unequaled wood. It is said that there are specialists in Anatolia who spend the year searching the forests for walnut trees suitable for this sort of production. Certainly the engraving and the walnut are wondrous to behold, and it gives us great pleasure to behold them.

On a much more practical level, we noted a profusion of what may be called "1911 clones" manufactured by various sorts of gunmakers in response to the understanding that a properly designed, major caliber service pistol answers an ongoing need. Most of you who read this now own one or more serviceable pistols of this type, so reproduction has little appeal for you. However it is interesting to see how the handgun revolution of the 20th century evolved. In 1920 no one had any use for the "Yankee Fist." Today it is obvious that the need is there. I am often asked which manufacturer I favor, and I have no clear answer to this. Quality control changes from time to time, and I do not have sufficient statistical base for an opinion. We have long maintained that the only accessories that a 1911 needs are a trigger you can manage, sights that you can see, and a dehorning job. That still goes.

Let us remind ourselves again that the Second Amendment of the US Constitution should be referred to as the Statute of Liberty. That practice has not caught on, as we wish it had, so let us keep up the fight.

Preliminary response to the "Apollo Challenge" (20 shots in a 20-inch circle in 20 seconds at 1,000 yards) seems to me is that the exploit is achievable - barely.

As you might suppose, such commentators as we have heard concentrate on the mechanical aspect of the challenge. Naturally right equipment would be a help, but success will be attributed to the shooter rather than his rifle. If this project takes shape, its administration will be complicated, but I would like to be granted the right to appoint the committee. As with so many things, success will depend upon money. The permanent trophy must be magnificent - not cheap. The administrative work will involve considerable operational expense, and the suggested first prize of $5,000 will be necessary to get the right people interested. If the project succeeds it will establish for all time the world's greatest marksmen - as a matter of record rather than legend. The task is barely possible, which is just as it should be. If it were out of reach, no one would try for it, and if it were easy, it would not mean anything. Marksmen are a dying breed at this time. It would be nice to recognize them before they become extinct.

Jim West, of Anchorage, Alaska, tells us he is no longer going to buy his base parts from Marlin, but rather to make them himself. I think this is good news. Marlin has contributed greatly to shooting engineering over the past century, but it has been plagued by quality control problems in recent years. The Wild West "Co-pilot" is one of the few steps forward in recent rifle design, and it should be encouraged.

We have recently had in attendance here at Gunsite a group of outdoorsmen from the Geological Survey Department. It appears they spend a lot of time out in the bush with bears, and they would like to be properly prepared in case of hostile contact. Bears are not normally a hazard, but they certainly can be, and people who encroach upon bears in their own country should be aware of that. One of our students recently had occasion to spend some survey time in the vicinity of Lake Baikal in Siberia, and he informs us that the situation there is somewhat fraught. There are plenty of bears and there are a good many people, but people under Russian control have no access to firearms. (Russia may no longer be a military hazard to the free world, but that certainly does not mean that it is a free country. No guns. Lots of bears. Check 6.)

For bear defense the "Co-pilot" stands by itself, but though it is very handy, it is still a rifle and must be managed with two hands. Various outdoor jobs call for the use of both hands, and the big pistols - 44 Magnum and up - may be worn on the person with both hands free. A 12 gauge shotgun with proper slugs may deal with this job, if that is all you can lay your hands on, but you should not count on it.

Remember then the Gunsite Bear Rules:
  1. Be alert.
  2. Remember that bears are not cuddly.
  3. Never enter bear country without a powerful firearm and the skill to use it well.
  4. Never camp on a bear thoroughfare.
  5. Be alert.

Rich Lucibella has been picking away at the chance to organize a hunt for Hydrurga (the leopard seal) in Antarctica. While this beast should definitely be included in the category of dangerous game, the various authorities controlling the South Pole are violently opposed to any sort of sporting proposition. Various sorts of scientific societies may be enlisted in this project, but so far nothing much promises.

Reports from the field, both here and in Africa, continue to emphasize distressing gunhandling, especially in Africa. The rich kids continue to take the field without any preparation at all. People show up to go hunting who have never handled a gun, amazing as that may seem. Just because you can afford it does not mean you can do it, but the professional hunters need all the business they can get. It is obvious that attendance at rifle school should be a prerequisite for the big hunt, but many of the people who undertake the adventure are not even aware that preparatory education is available. The life of a professional hunter is distinctly hazardous, not from dangerous game, but from dangerous clients. It must be a great relief for our good friends in the African hunting trade to discover that they have signed up people who know what they are doing.

The continued use of shooting sticks by big game hunters is most annoying. They are encouraged in Africa because of the total lack of marksmanship skills displayed by clients. This is understandable, but it does not make sticks a good idea. For a hunter always to be accompanied by a henchman of some sort who can carry things for him is wimpish.

I understand that in the great days of bison hunting in the American West the professionals used sticks because they often found themselves in high grass. Because of this I whittled out a set for myself when I was an adolescent, but after taking them afield I discovered them to be a nuisance. Now we hear of a client in Africa who protested vigorously when he heard he was expected to shoot without a rest. Just what he was doing there remains obscure.

We note that there are those who object to our referring to Japanese as Nips. However, the Nips have no reticence about referring to me as a gaijin. I do not know why we have all suddenly become almost hysterically touchy. The Krauts refer to us as Amis, and I do not mind. Nor do I object when Jews refer to me as a goy. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me."

We note that Gunsite has stopped serving up "Safari Prep." Certainly this is not because it is not needed, but rather because the people who need it never seem to realize that they do need it. Your African trip will be vastly more enjoyable if you understand a few things about how to make it so. It is continually reported from Africa that quick assumption of position is absolutely vital in the bush. We used to emphasize that here, but it is not taught anywhere else, as far as I know - certainly not in the military.

Thus it is that we are especially delighted with a recent action report in which the African PH particularly noticed this skill on the part of his customer - who had been exposed to it here.

At the SHOT Show we did not see anything resembling a cell phone Derringer, for which it seems to me there is a particular need. Today everybody walks around with a cell phone at the ready. If that meant that he might be armed with a single-shot 41 rimfire, this might be a positive discouragement to street crime.

Quality control in personal firearms seems to be on the decline. Up to 50 percent of students here at Gunsite must be sent immediately to the gunsmith to tidy up their personal weapons, insofar as this is possible. First-rate fit and finish are qualities you must pay for, and too many customers do not understand this. They still go for pseudo-scouts and the "guide gun" because they cost less than the Steyr Scout and the "Co-pilot." This error is usually rectified in time, but it costs more money than acquiring the right piece in the first place.

We were pleased to be singled out by some members of the New York City Council as one of the sort of evil person who sits on the board of directors of the National Rifle Association. I did not know any of those other people were listening, but I certainly enjoy following the lead of Theodore Roosevelt in disdaining hyphenated Americans, and thus preferring assimilation to diversity. I do wish these people would stand up and fight, as I relish this sort of thing, but I cannot swing at a target if I cannot see it.

We are amused (to some extent) by the concern expressed by some commentators about the exposure of children to violence on the tube. All kids, but especially little boys, are much tougher-minded than their parents. (I was a little kid once and I know.) We did not go to the Saturday afternoon movie to watch what we called scornfully "love stuff." We went to see the fighting, and I do not think it hurt us. The Tolkien epic has been decried by one of these people because it frightened his little boy. This must have been a pretty faint-hearted little boy, and his father should have set about correcting that rather than complaining. This increasing emasculation of our youth may be due to television, not so much because of the content of the programs, but because it has been used to take the place of the father in the household. Of course, many of our modern young people have no fathers, but that cannot be the whole story, since a properly oriented mother can step in and take over the role if she realizes that she must. We cannot raise heros if we let our children be scared by images. Fear was not allowed in my block when I was a little kid. The worst insult you could employ was to suggest that your playmate was a coward.

There is nothing especially heroic about suffering. It is not that you are hurt that matters, but rather what did you do about it. People frequently get hurt in war, but that is hardly the object of the exercise. The object is to inflict rather than to receive, and medals should be awarded on that basis. Purple Hearts are all very well, but Bronze Stars are better.

"C Stories" is now at the printers and should be ready for distribution by the time of the NRA meeting at Pittsburgh in mid-April. I really like the way it looks, enhanced as it is by the splendid artwork of Paul Kirchner. I had not thought of what might be called a prefabricated collector's item, but Lindy has put it together in the form of the special leather-bound edition, and to our considerable gratification half of those high-priced items have already been sold. Fancy that! If you are interested, order direct from,
Wisdom Publishing, Inc.,
1840 East Warner Road,
Box 238, Tempe,
Arizona 85284,

Shooting Master John Pepper showed us an interesting report from the war zone suggesting that the ragheads are pretty inferior soldiers, being sloppy, lazy and disinclined to run risks. Fifteen hundred years ago the Arabs fought well, but times have changed.

Reports from the war zone suggest that few of our people are engaging one-on-one with enemy troops. Those who have personally struck blows have done so mainly with crew-served weapons.

Back during World War II, it occurred to me that if each one of our soldiers could account personally for one enemy, the war would be over. I proposed a black-and-gold fouragere worn to denote this achievement. I dropped that in the suggestion box, but nothing came of it.

Clearly most casualties in today's wars are inflicted by crew-served weapons, but if the weapon accounts for more of the enemy than the number of its crew, the object would still be achieved. I served for 30 months on what may be considered a crew-served weapon, our crew numbering 2,200. We certainly accounted for more than 2,200 of the enemy, but nobody kept score. At the other end of the line, a young friend of mine flying a Corsair got in at the end of the line over Japan and shot down one Japanese aircraft, thus we both slew enough for the proposed but nonexistent recognition.

We are gratified at the response that has come into our Project. We prefer to call it "The Project," rather than to attach my name to it. We need sponsors to put up the money, so if any individual or group wishes to prime the pump (lavishly), we can use that name to define the test.

I think there is a need for this Project. Sporting literature is full of lore about remarkable accomplishments, from William Tell on down. I was recently reading about Billy Dixon at Adobe Walls again and discover that while some sort of long shot was indeed achieved on that occasion, details are impossible to verify. We do not really know who did it or what he did. If The Project takes form, we will then know who and how, and so will posterity.

I hold no command authority over this enterprise, of course, but I do have suggestions for the committee, such as: The idea seems to have attracted interest, and I hope that more will come of it than Internet chitchat. With this effort we could establish beyond any doubt the identity of the World's Greatest Rifleman, or Riflemen, if successors can make the grade. The reward shall be permanent official recognition, inscription on the world cup, a reduced replica for personal ownership, and a fairly large money prize, amount to be determined.

For the moment, you may address any questions you have to me; thereafter, we will have a committee for you in Washington, I hope.

This is not the place to get personal, but I must admit to great pleasure at being singled out personally by some anonymous group of anti-gun activists as a bad guy. A man's worth is often determined by the stature of his enemies, and while these people do not seem to have much stature, they did go to a lot of trouble in fabricating a printed flier denouncing me and all my works. I am flattered. According to my old comrade Colonel Paul McNicol, USMC, "If you're not making anybody mad you're not getting anything done." If these people would come out from behind anonymity, I would be pleased to go to the mat with them. For the moment I must be content to reflect, though I have now "arrived" - according to my granddaughter.

Our outstanding ground attack aircraft, the A10, has been rendering excellent service in Mesopotamia. It has been nicknamed the "Warthog" because it is pretty ugly. I guess handsome is as handsome does, and that A10 is pretty handsome to people on the ground who need it in support.

I know something about swords, having studied them for most of my life and fenced in competition for a good many years. It is interesting that the depiction of swordsmanship on the screen poses almost insuperable obstacles to the cinema director. When one man faces another under controlled conditions, his problem and its solution are totally different from group actions in combat. The fencer or duelist drives his scoring stroke off his left leg, whereas the brawler fights with his right arm and, insofar as possible, helping with his left hand. Each attack is intended to land, and if it does so it stops the fight. Each attack is delivered with absolute maximum effort on the part of the swordsman and he cannot keep this up without rest for more than a few seconds, anymore than a tennis player can keep serving as fast as he can get the balls. The relative utility of the point versus the edge suggests that the point will kill but deliver no shock, whereas the edge may knock a man down or out without necessarily delivering a serious wound. Thus the celebrated duel in the terminal scenes of "Rob Roy" is emotionally satisfying but technically unrealistic. I congratulate the director, but I cannot use his demonstration as an example of how it was.

Does anybody have any use for the three-shot burst? It seems to me that is simply a good way of wasting two shots, but somebody, or some committee got it attached to various handheld weapons. If anyone has a good use for this arrangement, I would like to hear about it.

We emphasize again that freedom and liberty are not interchangeable ideas. Freedom basically denotes the elimination of restraint - the breaking of shackles. It was used as a conspicuously successful morale builder for galley slaves, among others. It was promised to the slaves on the Christian side at the critical battle of Lapanto, 1574. They were told they would be freed if their side won. Since the existence of a galley slave is about the closest approximation of hell that humanity can devise, freedom from it was an unequaled objective. Liberty, on the other hand, is a political idea denoting the right of an individual to do whatever does not interfere with the activities of his neighbor. Men also fight very well for liberty, but that objective is less well understood and may not even be prized by persons lacking the spirit for it. Most of today's governments are socialist in which liberty is mostly lacking, and the people in those states do not seem to mind. Thus it is somewhat annoying to hear exhortations which do not differentiate between those two words.

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