Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 12, No. 4          April 2004

Rites of Spring

The first greening, the primavera, is a worldwide cause for optimism and good cheer. Our winter here at Gunsite was unimpressive and ended early, so our Spring is also early, and we do not complain. It is a great pleasure to observe the Countess, the cats and the dog reveling in the outer garden. The world scene may be grim, but springtime here at Gunsite is always a delight.

We have mentioned the possibility of a cell phone pistol before, and now we see that such a device is being produced for sale in Europe. We suggested one round of 41 rimfire, but the actual gadget features four rounds of 22 long rifle. Its existence is viewed with horror by the grass eaters as an adjunct to violent crime. We do not see it like that, but rather as a means of reducing street crime by making the mugger unsure of the nature of his victim. I do not think the gadget will catch on, but it is interesting to see how the idea has flourished.

It has been commonplace for the ill-informed to jeer at what they call military intelligence, but it is well to refrain from jeering if one does not know what one is talking about.

The Israelis have honed combat intelligence to near perfection, especially as it applies to the newly perfected tactic of aerial assassination. As an old G2 man myself, I am astonished and impressed by the precise execution of that Hamas leader in Gaza. The target acquisition displayed in that action is evidence of a G2 operation of marvelous efficiency. As with Hanneken's exploit so long ago, the principle problem is the identification of the target. Hitting the target is not too difficult, but knowing which target to hit and reaching a decision in seconds is a much more difficult problem. When those choppers appeared overhead of a teaming city, they had to "see - decide - select - fire" in a couple of heart beats. This was a truly outstanding feat of arms.

When we ask students about the nature of the curriculum here at Gunsite, one point suggested is the increase of emphasis on firing from a car. Much street crime occurs with the intended victim seated in his vehicle. The student should be prepared for this and shown how to employ his defensive weapon under those circumstances. This idea is worthy of consideration and may be included in forthcoming curricula.

I have always been interested in words but I cannot remain on top of the situation. Take, for example, this adjective "digital." I have asked around at length and I have yet to find anyone who knows what it means. In common usage it signifies "better" or "best," but for reasons unknown to the user. I have yet to see advertised a digital burgundy, or a digital laxative, or a digital South Sea island cruise, but I await the day. Possibly if Steyr Mannlicher had advertised the Scout as a digital Scout, they might have pushed the sales of the weapon into economic success.

We are constantly reminded by our African friends of the value of quick position assumption. A good rifleman should be able to assume a looped sitting position, starting from standing erect and slung, in five seconds. This may be a little too demanding for the dilettante, but it pays off in the field. Almost every report we get from Africa reinforces this idea.

The response to The Project has been interesting. I am pleased to see that a good many people think that the goal is achievable. It may be, but any marksman who can put 20 hits into a 20 inch circle in 20 seconds at a 1000 yards must certainly be regarded as extraordinary. I propose that his name be engraved grandly on the permanent cup, and I think there will be plenty of space there for followers, if any. John Pepper feels that the weight ceiling should be reduced from 20lbs to 15, which is alright with me. One correspondent speculated about the use of a match-conditioned M16, assuming that little 22 bullet may retain enough energy at a 1000 yards to cut the paper (joke?). Another asked if the task might be attempted with a BAR. Evidently this man has never fired a BAR. Certainly there is no need to make the task harder. It is plenty hard enough as it is. We played with similar problems back at Big Bear Lake, but the greatest range we could use there was 650 yards, and that is way short of 1000. The best instrument I have available for the task is a G3, which is accurate enough to achieve the goal if we can find a man who can do it.

There is no official sponsor for The Project as yet, but I intend to pursue the problem at the annual NRA meeting at Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, any sort of help is gratefully accepted.

"The trouble with democracy is that 50 percent of the voters are below average."

The Guru

Now we hear from the battlefront that the Army has rediscovered the cannister load for artillery pieces - in this case for the 120mm, smooth-bore weapon of the Abrams tank. The cannister principle changes an artillery piece into a large shotgun and it is obviously useful in short-range, unforeseen action. This is by no means a new idea, having been around at least since the Spanish-American War. Now we are again putting it to good use.

If you want government to intervene domestically, you are a liberal.
If you want government to intervene overseas, you are a conservative.
If you want government to intervene everywhere, you are a moderate.
If you do not want government to intervene anywhere, you are an extremist.

Joseph Sobran

The issue of "weapons of mass destruction" is a phony one. If Saddam Hussein had not had poison gas at his disposal, he would not have been able to use it on the Kurds - which he did. Whether he used it all up or hid it is not important. He had it, but he is in no position to use it now.

We hear from Switzerland that the Sig Sauer service pistol, which they use as official, is alarmingly prone to broken slides. I never did care for that piece much when I first met it, but I had no means of assessing its durability, which appears to be its weak point. Governments do not spend much time or thought on pistol selection, as they simply do not think that the service pistol is an important factor in modern combat. I suppose that statistically it is not, but a sound service pistol of proven worth and dependability is a great comfort to any man up front where it is hot. We have heard it said now more than once that in Iraq there are two kinds of troopers - those who have a 45 and those who wish they had.

Colleague J.B. Wood has treated us to a quick overview of the remarkable Mateba pistol from Italy. This is, in truth, an "automatic revolver," an idea constantly used by an earlier generation of English adventure writers. An automatic revolver is a wheel gun which uses a recoiling action of the weapon to rotate the cylinder and cock the piece. The British had one in the Webley-Fosberry a hundred years ago, but now the concept has been renewed. The Mateba pistol, which seems to be hand-built to order, is available in all sorts of cartridges. It appears to be a classic example of a solution in search of a problem. This weapon has no discernible tactical purpose, but if its purpose is to sell, it has distinct advantages, the main one being that it is so wonderfully "cute." It is a classic "fun gun" to own, handle and shoot. One of its curious characteristics is that it fires from the bottom chamber of its cylinder, thus lowering the recoil thrust and reducing muzzle whip. Why this should matter is unclear, but its curiosity appeal is undeniable.

J.B. confessed to being "tooken away," and ordered his own copy from Kessler's Wholesale, 3300 Industrial Parkway, Jeffersonville, IN 47130. It is going for about a thousand dollars retail. Steel yourself!

"Coaxial" flashlights mounted on the handgun have a certain appeal, but they should not be considered as an essential advantage. Under certain conditions they serve a useful purpose, but our experiments at the Ranch have indicated that if the shooter spends his time looking for a designated target he may lose essential speed. Above all it should be remembered that the coaxial light is not an aiming device, but rather a way of illuminating the target area so that normal aiming procedures may be employed.

A question now at issue is whether the 45-70 cartridge is satisfactory for buffalo. Reports from Africa indicate that when used at short range where buffalo are normally taken it will shoot cleanly through the vital zone of a buffalo without difficulty. And a 45-caliber 500-grain lead bullet delivered thus should certainly suffice. There are those who will decry this idea as a step backward ballistically, but though that may be true in a technical sense I am not sure that it affects the issue. The nice thing about the 45-70 is that it can be had in Jim West's excellent "Co-pilot" takedown carbine, the handiness of which is a distinct asset in this age of compressed vehicular transportation. Our good friend Danie van Graan has been using one now for several years at Engonyameni with continuous success. The fact that we have more modern cartridges, and cartridges with longer effective range, may not be significant. Buffalo are normally taken up close and a buffalo is unlikely to take a well-placed 45-70 round without distinct lose of efficiency. Of course, the African buffalo may not go down when hit with anything, as we so often learn, but that does not render the 45-70 cartridge unsatisfactory for the purpose.

Further reading into the nature of lethal combat suggests that the principle element in survival "in the air, on land or sea" is situational awareness. A man who knows what is going on and knows it quickly, has the decisive edge in any sort of combat. It is doubtful if this is an attribute which may be taught. You see people on the street who are totally unaware of their surroundings and thus are practically asking for a mugging. Contrarily the man who is constantly aware of all of his surroundings in all directions constitutes a very difficult target. We can teach you to shoot quickly and well. You can carry a sound and powerful sidearm, but if you are not alert to your surroundings, this will do you no good. We can preach but we cannot necessarily impart. As the man said, "I can explain it to you, but I cannot make you understand."

This is not a political paper, but it is a paper for shooters, and shooters should realize that the forthcoming election is critical to their future. As used to be said, "vote right, vote early and vote often."

Our grandson, Captain Tyler Heath, USMCR, is taking off shortly for his second African adventure. I have recommended that he pack the Steyr Dragoon using 300 grain solids loaded by Shooting Master John Gannaway. This is not a heavy rifle, but Tyler is a fine shot, an experienced hunter and a cool hand, and I do not consider him undergunned. The 376 Dragoon is a practically ideal cartridge for the low veldt, using the 250-grain Swift bullet on non-dangerous game. The Scout configuration of the Dragoon permits a magazine full of solids ready in the spare magazine for quick employment, should the occasion arise. The rifle may be sighted for the 250s, since the short-range buffalo action will not be affected thereby. There are the other advantages of the Scout configuration. We hope to give you an after-action assessment of this situation later on in the summer.

Those of you who are interested in anthropology know that the Neanderthals (the so-called Ancients) and the Cro-Magnon (the so-called Moderns) lived contemporaneously for many thousands of years in Europe, but the Ancients disappeared and the Moderns survived. Some scholars maintained this is because the Moderns could converse in articular fashion, whereas the larynx of the Ancients did not permit this. This is possible, of course, but I submit that the Moderns developed missilry in the form of bows and arrows, where the Ancients did not. The ability to kill beyond arm's length ought certainly to be decisive.

Striking evidence of changing of the times is the loss of viscera by the Spanish electorate. Throughout its history the Spanish geist has been one of valor. Now it seems to have been replaced by "Don't make them mad, Martha, or they may hurt us."

Surrendering to violence or the threat thereof inevitably provokes its repetition. Now that the bad guys have proved to themselves that they may harass Western powers into subjection, they may sensibly assume that they have hit upon the right means to their end - which is the conquest of the West. The Spanish episode has set us back more than anything else they have accomplished. They have in effect sacked our quarterback fifteen yards from the scrimmage line. We will recover, but not by kinder and gentler means. It is up to us now to attack. We have the power, but it remains to be seen whether or not we have the will.

We have new assortment of reports from the battlefront, which are first-hand and most enlightening. Our people are doing very well, as are the token detachments from other members of the Coalition. Generally speaking the Iraqi people are not hostile to us, but neither are they hostile to the minority of Moslem jihadists. Understandably they would rather the whole thing went away, and we are doing our best to bring that about.

Personal observations are always interesting. The subject of girl soldiers keeps coming up, and our observer just back tells us that the enlisted girls are doing very well, but the girl officers are a waste of time. He also comments upon the profusion of rank in the theater. A career officer can expect no advancement without some Iraqi time on his records, so the field grade and one-star people are shouldering their way in, whether or not there is any need for them. This does not help the command structure.

One girl machine-gunner caught the attention of our man because she was conspicuously attractive. She told him that she did not mind the duty, but she could not wait to get home and get feminine again. This is certainly understandable, but we wonder how she got into uniform in the first place. A female machine-gunner is something like a male nurse. The mechanics may be okay, but the attitude is all wrong.

Reports from both the front and Africa emphasize ghastly gunhandling. One must wonder if this has always been the case. In my wars it was not noticeable, and if there were mishaps they were never brought to my attention. It may be that the emasculate younger generation has simply not been introduced to proper gunhandling by its fathers, since the age of television has to a certain extent eliminated the father figure in the home. Gunsite does its level best to inculcate good gunhandling, but that is certainly a mere drop in the bucket.

We note that the buying public continues to push its rifles by the cartridge, rather than by the rifle. This seems backwards to us. All modern cartridges will do pretty well when used properly, but the rifles they are fired from vary quite considerably in their utility. The Steyr Scout and the "Co-pilot" are outstanding advances in private weaponry, but you cannot tell this by the efforts of the marketeers. The near perfect weapon is there for the asking, but far too few purchasers know what to ask for.

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