Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 12, No. 7          May 2004


Well, summer is now officially upon us, and summer in Arizona is hot. That rendered Arizona before air conditioning a pretty difficult place to live for most people, but now that we have the option of spending a lot of time indoors where it is cool, the scene can be quite pleasant. The water scarcity for the state is only now beginning to become apparent, but 50 years or so hence it may well become disastrous unless we can figure out a way to tow ice from Antarctica. That is a problem which I will not have to face, but we do have great grandchildren now and about all we can do for them is pray.

The word from the war front is very interesting, especially since we get our primary material directly from Marine sources on the spot without depending upon the general media who are clearly on the other side in this world conflict.

At ground level, our people are doing very well indeed. It is curious to fight a war without a geographically or politically defined objective, but down at the man-against-man level, the Marines in particular are coping splendidly. Since the enemy has begun resorting to sniping, the Marine sniper teams have retaliated with much success. In ruined cities ranges are not always short, and when the other people set up a post in a damaged building way down in the next block, our people have been able to pinpoint them, in daylight or darkness, with precision. All Marines in that specialty are using the Remington bolt rifle and 308 Match ammunition of increasingly high quality. Using all modern conveniences and shooting mainly from a rest, they have been achieving a nearly perfect one-shot, one-kill record.

Another aspect of this sniper war is the appearance on the enemy side of some pretty good marksmen. These are Chechens from the Caucasus, where these Euro-Moslem mountaineers have established an old culture of hunter-marksmen. These people seem to be long-haired scruffy-looking white men and, unfortunately, they shoot well. One small group of them did well enough against a Marine position to provoke specialized retaliation, which cost them a dozen or so dead - men who will not be easy to replace.

From Texas east it is now the standard practice to hunt from a stand in the dark. Whether you like this or not, it is the way it is done. It does work on both deer and pigs, and we have plenty of pigs so the pig rifle is now pretty standard. It is grandpappy's old 30-30 attached to a spectacularly high tech "moonscope" of 10 power or more. Shots are taken from a rest at around 50 yards, in any sort of light approaching full dark. The light-gathering power of the moonscope puts the shot in your pocket. To each his own. My problem is that I tend to go to sleep on watch, but still, thanks to daughter Lindy, we keep the freezer full of meat.

Our colleague Andy Tillman has been doing some exemplary work in the area of bullet construction for heavy rifle calibers. His work is meticulous and its range is wide, but it is possible that he places more emphasis on bullet design than on bullet placement. A good bullet badly placed will not perform as well as almost any bullet put exactly in the right spot. This is certainly not to suggest that we ought to downplay bullet design, since we like to think that our equipment will do everything asked of it, but we should not forget that the man places the shot, and the badly placed shot is useless with any cartridge combination.

We have said it before but it is worth repeating. "It may be necessary to kill a man, but to incarcerate him destroys both his dignity and yours." That is from Robert Heinlein, one of the unappreciated philosophers of the 20th century.

With the proliferation of the trigger-cocking self-loading pistol - often called double-action - its correct technique should be examined and promulgated with care. There are several systems for obtaining quick hits with this system, but one procedure which I have taught for many years is not widely understood. Since I have never been fond of the DA auto anyway, I have not spread this word, but perhaps I ought to have. What I am talking about is the shot cock system, in which the first shot is used to cock the piece for the second. Most officialdom calls for the DA auto to be carried hammer-down on a live round with full magazine in place. If there is no hurry, the educated shooter will probably cock the piece with his left thumb and fire his first shot with proper care. If there is a rush, a simple answer is to throw that first shot trigger-cocked down range without thought for sights or trigger control. This prepares the shooter for the second shot which may be taken with proper attention to front sight and surprise. With this system the first shot is not "thrown away." It may hit, especially if the range is short, but proper care is only devoted to the second.

This procedure may be dismissed by the traditionalist as weird, but it works. I have seen it work on the range, and I know of two cases in which it succeeded beautifully on the street.

Note again that this system does not waste the first round. The first round may well land solidly, especially at across-the-table distances. The time between the first and second shots may be very short. I have seen that second shot delivered in contests here on the range before an adversary could deliver his first.

The principle drawback of the shot cock system is that it will only work for shooters who are prepared to think about what they are doing. Such people are the rule here at school, but they may not be in large public departments. When you are working with "the man in the street" who may not be interested in shooting anyway, it may be what might be called "intellectually challenging." We sometimes forget that at any private school we may be working with a mind-set quite different from that of a departmental student.

The Man on the Ten Dollar Bill - and others

Ordinarily the term bastard is taken to be an insult, but circumstances alter cases, and an overview of the situation certainly alters the sense of this term. In the first place it is meaningless, since it is a rare child indeed who exerts much influence over his parentage. But apart from that, we should take note of various distinguished historical bastards.

Consider William the Conqueror, usually regarded as a man who established the English nation. He was the acknowledged son of Robert the Devil, Duke of Normandy, and the daughter of the tanner of Falaise. The young man grew up into an adventurous disposition, and on maturity he gathered up like-minded adventurers and set forth across the channel to defeat the Saxons at Senlac. In 1066 he parceled out the land to selected followers and became recognized as the first legitimate King of England, though his legitimacy was not that of birth. Various people who disliked him referred to him as William the Bastard, but the term did not appear to distress him much.

In 1574 the Battle of Lepanto was won by Don John of Austria, the illegitimate but acknowledged son of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Don John should not be confused with Don Juan Tenorio, the renowned lecher of fiction. At age 24 he was a broth of a lad, handsome, vigorous, intelligent, and courageous, and he commanded the forces of the Holy League in the battle which was held to be the decisive victory of Christendom over the Turkish threat from the East. This may be disputed by those who think that the Turks were turned back long before, but people evidently did not think so at the time. This was a monumental battle in the Gulf of Patras, the inlet which separates Greece proper from the Peloponnesus. The statistics are staggering, but the victory was indisputable. When Don John's flagship put into Naples after his sensational triumph, it is said that unattached ladies of high birth practically lined up outside his door waiting their turn. He was glad to oblige. Pretty rough duty for a bastard!

Coming across the ocean sometime later, we encounter the figure of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father principally responsible for the financial solvency of the nascent United States of America. Hamilton's ancestry is pretty confused, but he took his name from his stepfather and did not suffer by his illegitimate status.

Then we have John Paul (Jones) who apparently did not have any last name until he reached maturity, and in modern times we have Lawrence of Arabia to sport the title.

When I was on duty in Washington, DC, a popular desk sign bore the phrase "Nul Bastardi Carborundum," supposedly translated as "Don't let the bastards grind you down." In this case the term was no compliment, but that does not establish it very much as an objurgation. If you wish to insult somebody, there are better terms.

Just how "innocent" is a civilian? If a citizen is innocent until found guilty, is a soldier guilty until found innocent? I suggest that the proper term is "non-combatant."

In my wars we studied the bayonet and trained with it, but I never saw it put into action and I only heard of its being used once. But it should not be forgotten. Our friends the British seem to be its principle exponents today, having used it on one occasion in the Falklands with great success. Now we learn of a recent case in Iraq by the Argyle and Southerland Highlanders, a Scottish regiment of renown. It seems these people were attacked while on the move in three vehicles, but they decided to dismount and go after their assailants with cold steel. The timing here is difficult to assess, but the results are not. It is not clear how many ragheads were involved, but the Scots killed 45 of them and captured nine. Morale is clearly the answer here. These Arabs could not have had their hearts in the fight if they allowed their assailants to run into them with bayonets. They apparently did not expect any sort of resistance to their ambush. When their proposed victims simply ran at them with rifles, they must have chickened out completely. Let's hope they all do that. To quote from our source: "An instant explosive and violent counterattack is the very last thing most predators expect or plan for. Predators mostly dither and ultimately deal with it poorly as the Iraqis did. Fearless men with cold steel still frighten the low life of this world. God bless the British."

We deem it necessary once in a while to remind people that O.J. Simpson and Lon Horiuchi are still wandering around loose and that we do not know now who killed Vince Foster, nor will we ever.

That full-length stock on the renowned 1903 6.5 Mannlicher carbine is often referred to as a "Mannlicher stock." It is distinctive in appearance, but one wonders about its purpose. I believe it can be traced back to the Austrian/Bavarian custom of hiking with a walking stick. If a man chooses to hike with a rife, as one must if he chases the Gams in the Alps, he may well choose to utilize his rifle as a walking stick. A full-length stock tends to facilitate this, and this may have been the contribution of the last Hapsburgs, all of whom were enthusiastic mountain hunters.

I did quite bit of mountain hunting as a youth, but it never occurred to me to use my rifle as a stick. I thought the rifle was too noble an instrument to be put to so pedestrian a purpose.

This matter of waiting your turn to be drawn for a hunting permit can get pretty far out. Shooting Master John Gannaway, who may be correctly called Gannaway the Great, waited 38 years for an Arizona desert sheep permit. That's right, 38 years! This beats the patience of a cat at a mouse hole. But John lives in Arizona, he loves Arizona, and he did not ever expect be gone when his name was called. Well he wasn't, and he went down to the rather unpleasant country around Quartzite and scored (after 38 years!) on a truly excellent specimen, larger in both horn and in body than we can reasonably expect of the desert sheep. I guess this must teach us a lesson, but I am not sure how to interpret it. In any case, we offer our heartiest congratulations, after a long time waiting to write up this story in greater length.

Following Memorial Day, we got to thinking about the Jefferson Memorial in Washington. It is of ionic Greek design and circular in plan. Inside the rotunda, inscribed in prominent gold letters, you may read the following inscription:
"I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
So much for political correctness (and so much for Islam).

We have never been very much impressed by the inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty. "Wretched refuse" does not seem exactly what the Founding Fathers had in mind. Herewith we suggest an improvement:
Send me your brightest and your best
Those who choose to stand out from the rest;
Those for whom security holds no charm
If liberty thereby may suffer harm.
Send those who thrust achievement to the fore
For them my lamp
reveals the golden door.

Some years ago the Brute - that is Lieutenant General Victor H. Krulak, USMC - organized his computers and concluded that by sometime in the autumn of 2016 we will have reached the point where nobody knows anything about anything. According to a recent contact in Phoenix, we are pretty much on the way. This young man accidentally fell upon a copy of "C Stories" and was quite fascinated. He claimed that he had never thought about anything discussed on any page of the book. I certainly make no claim to omniscience, but I think the content of "C Stories" is diversified enough to touch base at some point with almost anyone who has had his head above water for the past 50 years. This young man was amazed and delighted, and I am wondering what he has been thinking about all this time. "The world is so full of such wonderful things, I swear we should all be as happy as kings." But it seems to be possible for some people to be almost willfully unaware of those wonderful things. Not much can be done about that, but we try.

I have nothing further to report about The Project, but I do not intend to let the matter drop. If I can get those long shooters to come forth and reveal themselves, we may eventually be able to determine who indeed is the world's greatest rifle shot.

Cougars seem to have developed into a problem here in the Southwest. For much of my life I have sought contact whenever possible with this attractive beast. Now, according to the press, some of our city slickers seem to be afraid of him. The cougar (Felis concolor) is an attractive addition to the scene. The press insists upon calling him a mountain lion, but anyone who has ever looked at a lion (Panthera leo) knows that this is the wrong term. The cougar is not a fearsome beast, though there have been a couple of unfortunate contacts over the last couple of years. He will run after anything that runs away, including joggers, but he should not be considered a danger in the woods. On horseback I ran after him with hounds on several occasions in my youth, with indifferent success, and I can attest that this is a stimulating sport. Its principle hazard is to the knee caps when moving at a canter through stands of aspen. But our cougar should be considered a distinct environmental asset, and cultivated rather than feared.

I thank all you good people who elected to inform me about this digital business. I now know all about the derivation of the term, but I am still unclear about how it equates with superiority. My hearing-aid people assured me that a replacement would be much better because it would be digital, but it did not turn out that way. My previous analog device was no way inferior to the digital gadget. My hearing is aided with one fully as well as with the other. This perplexed the hearing-aid people, so I began asking around. When I finally saw Swarovski binoculars extolled as digital, I assumed that they would enable me to see better, but they do not. This whole thing turns out to be a matter of "stored information," which is significant in production engineering, but of no concern to the consumer. In an age where people pay little attention to what they say, this hardly matters, so I am prepared to let the matter drop. If you wish to pursue it, however, you may spray your tomatoes with digitalis and see if that improves the crop.

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