Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 12, No. 6          6 May 2004

False Summer

Spring is still with us, which is nice for those who live in Arizona, where summer is hot. The grass is up and the fruit trees look promising. We shared our 84th birthday with the Pope, at least if not the same day the same week. At this age we have both run the course, but while his future is perfectly arranged, there is some doubt about mine, as the padre told me down on the Rio Ixcan. However that may be, it has been a wonderful ride and I have no complaints. The state of the world may be distressful, but I will just have to let that take care of itself.

We had a fine NRA meeting at Pittsburgh. The pep talks were extraordinarily inspiring, and daughter Lindy sold all copies of "C Stories" that she had brought with her. The book looks fine to me, but I am not the one to judge. Paul Kirchner's cover and illustrations set the stage in excellent fashion. The leather-bound collector's edition will not be available until late in June, but it has already 80 percent sold, which astonishes me. The idea for the production of this volume goes to Giles Stock, who clearly has a knack for marketing. The regular edition is available at Gunsite Pro-Shop, or you can order it directly from,
1840 East Warner Road,
Box 238, Tempe,
Arizona 85284,

When you get your copy of "C Stories" note that picture of Sergeant George Sparling, USMC, on page 38. When we were on duty at Quantico, the Countess was quite entranced with Marine sergeants. Paul Kirchner has showed us why. That picture could serve as a recruiting poster and should be featured at Marine Corps headquarters.

On the national scene it is difficult to run for office when the media are racked up solidly against you. For example, our people in Iraq are doing a fine job, but you never hear about that from the news. Those people wring their hands over our casualty list which, however sad, is nothing compared to the damage we have done to the enemy. During the various wars in which I have fought, I cannot remember a "butcher's bill" such as is now thrown at us daily. The enemy has declared war upon us for no reason except envy, which is the root of all evil. We did not start this thing, they did, and those strident types who would have us cut and run evidently want to hand victory to the enemy. The people on the other side think we are too soft for this cultural conflict, and maybe they are right, but this is certainly not the case according to what we hear from our friends who are doing the fighting in Mesopotamia. We have plenty of true heros, but the media will not give us their names since heroism is not politically correct. According to this curious view, it is better to lose than to win, because winning necessarily hurts the feelings of the loser. I think that the traditional American spirit of victory is not dead, it is only given a bad press - for reasons I cannot understand.

Our friends in the field tell us that a good amount of careful shooting is going on. Our "designated riflemen" are getting about five scores apiece daily, and when regular forces are joined we take out about 250 of the faithful per contact.

When your country is at war you shoulder your pack and go fight it. You do your best, and the least you can expect is that the people at home will be told about it. The citations for high honors should be front page news, and those who earn them should be given parades in their hometowns when they return.

Let's not let this situation fester. Everyone of us who knows of a heroic act should shout it from the house tops. I do not yet have access to the citations awarded, but when I get them you will hear about it.

Note that our colleague Craig Boddington has been selected for brigadier general of Marines, though not yet confirmed by the Senate as is required for a general officer commission. We had occasion to talk a bit with General Boddington at Pittsburgh, and he had several interesting observations about the effectiveness of mixed commands composed of the nationals from various countries of the coalition. Generally speaking, coalition forces fight well, though they are administratively handicapped by varying sets of national regulations.

At the shows we notice the appearance of the Remington 375 "Ultra Magnum." This is probably a saleable development, if not a sensible one. The 375 Holland & Holland does very well as it is, but if you want more power you need more bullet weight and probably impact area rather than more bullet velocity.

At Pittsburgh a gang of disorganized hoplophobes assembled outside the hotel to cast aspersions at the National Rifle Association. They thought they were aspersions, but I thought they were more like honors. I was particularly gratified by being singled out, personally and individually, by a five foot poster cataloging my evil thoughts as revealed in my writings. When I distress those people to that extent, I know that I am doing a good job.

One thing that seems to bother them excessively is my insistence that assimilation is better than diversification. I am in good company here, taking my clue from our icon, Roosevelt I. Theodore was very positive about his rejection of "hyphenated Americans." His point was that immigrants are welcome, only as long as they come here to become one hundred percent Americans and not cultural half-breeds. I find the diversified cultures of Europe to be interesting and worthy of study, but this country is not Europe and our ancestors came here specifically to establish that fact.

What this has to do with the ownership of personal weapons is not clear, but the hoplophobes are not fond of thinking clearly. As to that, hoplophobia is a mental aberration rather than a mere attitude, and as such it is not amenable to reasoned debate. Be that as it may, I am honored by their attention and am encouraged to keep on deserving it to the best of my ability.

It appears that the weapon of choice for the international hunting community is the Blaser R93. It is not as good as the Steyr Scout in my opinion, but it does have the advantage of the left-handed option, which I urged upon the Steyr people, but which they ignored. The R93 is a nifty item with many significant points to its credit, including the world's best trigger-action. Against it are a difficult thumb safety and an awkward loading system, but these are not major drawbacks. The R93 is the work of Gerhard Blenk, who unusually combines outstanding engineering skill with innovative imagination. He has now gone on to combination guns for Africa, and I expect they will prove equal to his previous efforts.

Reports that we get back from Africa continue to support our opinions of the Steyr Scout. The general reaction of the outfitter when the rifle comes out of the case is "What on earth is that," and then at the conclusion of the hunt his question is "Where can I get one?"

I conceived of the Scout as an all-purpose rifle, capable of taking ammunition readily available throughout the world. I have discovered no reason to change my view, but the market seems to insist upon variety. The company produced a version in 223, which is foolishness, and then in 243, which is not quite so bad. A positive variation, about which I was dubious at first, was the 376 Steyr, which turns out to be more widely useful than I had anticipated, despite its non-regulation cartridge. Shooting Master John Gannaway has been conducting experiments with this so-called "Dragoon," and has discovered much of interest. The combination is gratifyingly accurate, repeatedly producing three-shot one-holers at 100. It also takes the 300-grain solid without difficulty, and shows 2,450 feet per second, or somewhat better, without pressure symptoms. This makes the weapon pretty much the twin of the 375 Holland & Holland, and in the compact and friendly configuration of the Scout. The piece has been discontinued by the factory, apparently because it "kicked too hard." (You would think we were trying to sell it to ragheads.) Recoil effect is 80 percent psychological, and we have introduced the Dragoon to a number of women and adolescents here at Gunsite who had no complaints. This is a powerful cartridge, and in a 7lb rifle it does kick, but that is a personal matter. If it bothers you take some other route, but wait until it does before you condemn the concept. The piece is practically perfect for Canada and Alaska, as it is for the African bushveldt. If you have your copy be happy with it, but if you have not got one you can probably discover it at one of the gun shows at a nicely reduced price. It has always seemed to me that if something is hard to get its price would go up, but this does not seem to be the case here. The livelihood of a retailer depends upon turnover, and when a piece is discontinued he wants to get rid of it as soon as possible.

We have recently been asked about this matter of holding the pistol sideways - that is, rotating it to the left until the butt stock is horizontal. This does not help in shooting. Rather to the contrary, it is held by the Israelis to be an ease in presentation. Israelis shoot by the book, and their doctrine is to carry the pistol in Condition 3, with full magazine but with chamber empty. (The proper term for this is "half loaded," but precise usage is pretty much a thing of the past.) Since the Israelis intend their doctrines to be useful by all hands, they teach that the pistol should be presented with a fully extended arm and rotated to horizontal. This makes operation of the slide a bit easier for women, children and men with limp wrists. I feel that enthusiasts can get by without this system.

Inside the Jefferson Memorial in the nation's capital there is inscribed around the rotunda in gold lettering Jefferson's resounding statement that he stands four square and eternally opposed to every form of tyranny over the mind of man. Today we are afflicted with what is miscalled political correctness. It should be called social censorship, and it certainly constitutes a form of tyranny over the mind of man. This country was established to insure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity, but a good many people do not seem to understand about liberty. A free man must not be told how to think, either by the government or by social activists. He may certainly be shown the right way, but he must not accept being forced into it. The trouble is that people can get along very well without liberty, and have for most of history. As long as the nanny state provides bread and games a slave mentality is likely to support it. Is it possible that liberty is too good for the common people? Surely we hope not.

People go right on talking about shrapnel as if they knew what they were talking about. Shrapnel is the name of an English officer who devised a particular form of an artillery shell, which was not high explosive but rather a flying canister which was timed to disrupt toward the end of its trajectory and pelt the landscape with a large number of round steel balls after the manner of a giant shotgun. It worked pretty well against troops in the open, but was largely expended by the commencement of World War II. I know because I fired a lot of it in an ROTC battery in California.

Shell fragments are something else entirely, and they are blasted outward in all directions from the burst of a high explosive shell. The rupture of the shrapnel shell is visible as white smoke, whereas the burst of a high explosive shell is black. I suppose this does not matter, except there was such a thing as a "shrapnel shell," and we ought to be able to use that term correctly.

Would you believe a pistol taking the 50 BMG cartridge? Such a thing was on display at the recent gun show in N├╝rnberg. Its recoil control system must be one of the wonders of modern science. There is a picture of it on page 22 of the April edition of DWJ.

It appears that many people seem to think that a court-martial is a kind of punishment. This is not the case. A court-martial is a means of investigating circumstances and establishing justice, insofar as possible. A court-martial may inflict a punishment, but just as often it may award a commendation. Of the three "not guilty" decisions of the court, an acquittal means "we think you probably did it, but we can't prove that." A full acquittal means, "we think you didn't do it." A full and honorable acquittal means, "what you did is not only not culpable but worthy of commendation." The accused may frequently appeal for the court-martial in order to clear his name, but to say that someone is "threatened with a court-martial" by no means implies that he is destined to be punished. We wish that the press would take note of that.

This proliferation of various sorts of hot 9s is interesting. It seems to have its root in practical competition, which frequently, if dubiously, requires the largest possible number of shots without reloading. To the extent that practical competition is actually practical it should reward fight-stopping hits rather than a great many hits. Since we cannot accurately measure stopping power, we ought to pay as little attention as possible to rule-bending in cartridge selection. We attempted to address this problem in the earliest days of the handgun revolution, but without conspicuous success. We could not require major caliber sidearms if we needed to attract international competition, because the Europeans simply will not accept the idea. Since rule-bending is in the nature of any sort of competition, we have to accept it, but we certainly should not encourage it.

Awhile back I asked for an explanation of the term "digital." A cooperative correspondent responded by telling me various reasons why digital was better than something else, but he never told me what digital was, and I still do not know. I have five digits on my hand. What is the connection?

The matter of military awards and decorations is a complex one. A whole period was devoted to it at Command and Staff School at Quantico. On the one hand medals seek to reward achievement, but in another and larger sense, their purpose is to boost home front morale. These two objectives may coincide, but often they do not. Napoleon is said to have said that if he were given enough ribbon he could conquer the world, as he was profoundly concerned with the promotion of morale. But if this is the important reason for military decorations it has been less so in recent decades. Today we seem more concerned with suffering than with achievement, as demonstrated by the Purple Heart, our oldest decoration. If a man is wounded in action that should be acknowledged, but it cannot very well be encouraged. Achievement, on the other hand, regardless of the consequences to the achiever, is something we really should endeavor to promote. Achievement wins battles. Getting hurt does not. It seems to me that these two aspects of military recognition should be kept separate. If you get hurt you deserve a wound stripe, but you deserve a medal only if you hurt the enemy. In George Patton's renowned dictum: "I don't want you to die for your country, I want you to make that other guy die for his country."

We were pleased to learn that the 45 caliber 230-grain jacketed-truncated-cone bullet (JTC) continues to be manufactured and sold by Steve Hornady.

At Pittsburgh I got my foot in the door on The Project. Craig Sandler, Chief of General Operations for NRA, assured me that he will look into it, so I have some hope. All I really need is acknowledgment, and a bit of administrative support and/or money would be much appreciated. I sure would like to leave the scene responsible for the official recognition of the World's Greatest Marksman. The task is difficult, but not impossible.

It is amusing in a way to see people promote cartridges which shoot so flat that range hardly matters, and then offer range finders which can tell a shooter exactly how long his shot may be. The most frequent miss on longshots in the field is caused by the shooter's attempting to "help the cartridge" and thus boosting the impact over the target. Flattening the trajectory is no cure for this.

Another project which I would like to see fulfilled would be the creation of a sighting system which moves the tube rather than the reticle. As we have noted in the past, Bausch & Lomb produced such a combination a good many years ago, but it did not succeed on the market. That does not mean that it is not a good idea. Reticles and reticle adjustments continue to break with use, not often but enough to be devastating in the field. It is difficult to attack this problem since the optical people refuse to admit that it exists. They are very good about replacing failed equipment, but that hardly helps when your sight has gone ugly way out there back of the beyond. The exasperating thing about reticle failure is that it usually cannot be detected until you miss something, which is obviously too late for it to be corrected. This will not cost you your life since dangerous game is taken at such range that a zero hardly matters, but it can cost you a prize trophy, especially above timberline where shots can be long.

This is hardly the place to get personal, but I have now heard myself described as a "bon vivant and recreational killer." That's a pretty fancy job description, and I am much impressed. I would thank the author profusely if I knew who he was.

In considering this matter of arming pilots on commercial aircraft, we run into the problem of individual capacity. Only those who shoot well should be encouraged to be armed. Only a man who likes to shoot can be expected to shoot well, and no one should be armed unless he wishes to be armed. Thus it seems to me that airline pilots should not be armed by direction, but should be permitted to be armed if they voluntarily qualify for the job. People are not interchangeable - thank God - and it is high time that we recognize that.

Write to your Commander-in-Chief. These are tough times and he needs all the support that he can get. He probably will not read your letter, but notice will be taken of it, and your position will be appreciated.

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