Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 13, No. 10         October 2005

Right Rites

Autumn is the best time of year, and doubtless that is the reason it is so busy with group activity. President Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. arranged to be born in late October, and thus those of us who make a point annually of celebrating his birthday find our calendars crowded at this time. Many years ago we decided to hold a gathering of the Gunsite Family in connection with TR's birthday, but we discovered at once that there were far too many Americans of similar inclination. Thus what turned out as a reunion and gathering of the Gunsite Family became gradually impractical. This year our reunion was a great success, but it certainly came at a conflict with all sorts of other activities, and I believe that next year it would be wise to move it. So now we are considering the first weekend in October for our celebration.

This year at Whittington we had all sorts of interesting activities, varying from histrionic presentations by Colonel Clint Ancker to vocalizing by grandchild Amy Heath to shooting demonstrations of a variety of heavy rifles presented as before by John Gannaway. (I still do not have my hands on "Baby," my elephant gun, but I have reason to believe that it is now on its way from Africa and will soon be available for our proposed museum. This rifle is based upon a Czech Brno 602 in caliber 460 G&A Special. Today there is almost no need for an elephant gun, since the great elephant days are past, but this rifle is a joy to handle and to shoot, and I have used it on a couple of notable occasions which I have written up in memoirs, bearing in mind that it is placement rather than power that makes the difference in a lethal confrontation. Shooting Baby gives the shooter a very warm, authoritative feeling that is hard to duplicate. As a "rock buster" it remains a joy.)

There are not many places where aerial shooting with the sporting rifle is convenient, and while there are hardly any circumstances under which it is called for, quick target acquisition is one of the important talents of the rifleman which is obviously usable but seldom taught.

We hope to see you all again next year at Whittington, if not on TR's birthday. Try to keep the dates open on your calendar - 6, 7 October 2006.

This year the autumn directors' meeting of the board of the National Rifle Association was held at Anchorage, Alaska, in late September/early October, and to our astonishment it was not rained out. It always rains in Alaska, but on those dates we felt only a few sprinkles.

Alaska is rifle country where everyone operates his own float plane and packs his rifle. It also supports plenty of bears, which run in size from moderate to huge. The taxonomy of bears has undergone repeated reorganization during my lifetime, though the zoologists have not yet been able to sort them out. The Alaska brown bear and the grizzly bear do run to type, but they cross readily and are not mistaken for the American black bear, which, while found throughout northern North America, grows to its best size in Alaska. When I was a lad it was held that a grizzly bear was fierce but that a black bear was not. This idea is not supportable anymore. All bears, including the great white sea bear, are strong, dangerous animals - not to be taken as cuddly.

On his latest adventure Bob Brown of Soldier of Fortune collected a very nice browny with one shot taken from a shore-skirting skiff at very short range. In the same time frame, though not in the same excursion, daughter Lindy harvested a very nice barren ground caribou, also with one shot, from her Mannlicher Scout using the 168-grain Bronze X bullet. The trophy will not make the record book, but the meat is splendid in steaks, hamburger and sausage. Lindy's shot was taken from braced sitting, using the looped sling, at 125 yards - target angle 270, in one side and out the other.

We are told by people who are supposed to know about such things that the readership of this Commentary is much larger than I would have supposed. This may be because it is free, but I like to think that it is because it is not commercial. I write these items without any economic motive, and I do not advertise anything professionally. It may be suggested that I push the Steyr Scout rifle pretty hard, but I do not do so for cash or any other sort of economic reward. I push the Scout because to me it represents excellence, and I revere excellence. It is not perfect - nothing is - but it is close, and since it is my personal concept, I take parental pride in it.

I also push the "Co-pilot," the Blazer R93 and the 1911 Colt pistol without royalties. In that connection, I once proposed a royalty to the president of Steyr-Mannlicher, that is the man who was at that time president of the corporation. The prospect seemed to distress him to the extent that I quickly changed the subject. I would not have turned down a royalty on the Scout if it had been offered, but the issue did not seem important. The Steyr Scout is not any great commercial success. The market evidently does not prize any sort of general-purpose item to the extent that a special purpose product does anything well. This inhibits "turnover," which is the life of trade. Few men need a rifle. What rifle producers sell are toys, and the more different kinds of toys are available, the better it is for trade. If a man has a Steyr Scout, he does not need anything else in that line, except for specialties. The Steyr Scout is not a target rifle, nor an inner city riot suppresser, nor an elephant gun, but it will do for almost anything else, if we exclude the ubiquitous 22. A recent friend and disciple taking off next year for Africa acquired a 416 Remington, when what he needed was a Steyr Scout, as issued or in Dragoon (376) configuration. What the Steyr Scout offers above all is convenience and "friendliness." It is the most "shootable" instrument I know of.

You may note that I stick closely to "Steyr Scout" because of the misuse of the term "scout" by itself. Two domestic approximators are now producing what they evidently consider to be scout rifles, utilizing a term scout in the tradition of the old American West, which is not where I got it. My concept derived from the US military doctrine which defines a scout as a soldier working alone or in partnership with one other soldier. Frederick Russell Burnham was particularly proud of his title of "Chief of Scouts" under Lord Roberts in the Boer War. The scouts, of which Burnham was chief, were frontiersmen only coincidently. Basically they were reconnaissance troops sent out beyond lines to determine the location and operational conduct of the enemy. In one notable operation prior to his working for Lord Roberts, Burnham undertook the assassination of the enemy leader, which turned out to be a remarkable success - roughly paralleling Hanneken's assassination of Charlemagne Peralte in Haiti in 1918. Thus a scout can be a "hit man" if the occasion demands, but that is not his primary definition. According to a manual which I studied in high school, "A scout is a man trained in ground and cover, movement from cover to cover, map reading, rifle marksmanship, observation, and accurately reporting the results of his observation." Note the stipulation of rifle marksmanship. A scout must be a good shot - a good practical shot, a hunter. A "scout rifle" should be a rifle for such a man. As it turns out, the current Steyr Scout rifle is a good deal more than that, and what a happy development it turned out to be! What it is not, however, is a short, bolt-action rifle with the telescope mounted forward. The scout rifle does not need a telescope sight, and I used Scout I extensively in Central America mounting ghost-ring only. The features of the Steyr Scout now offered are primarily mine, except for the superb stock design, which is the result of Zedrosser and Bilgeri at Steyr. This stock is, in my opinion, a triumph - marvelously comfortable for almost everyone. I do not think it needs the optional length of pull. A short stock is no handicap to a man with long arms, whereas a long stock is uncomfortable for a shooter with short arms. I suggest simply abandoning the stock spacers on the Steyr Scout and leaving it at short option.

As now issued, the Steyr Scout has only a couple of minor drawbacks. Its magazine well should be cut forward about a quarter of an inch to facilitate breech inspection with the little finger. The bipod retaining pin should be made of metal rather than plastic, as it has been known to sheer with extensive use. It has no need for an intermediate sling socket on the starboard side, and it has no need to be offered in goofy calibers such as the 223.

I am clearly very proud of the Steyr Scout as it stands. I am mildly annoyed to see low-rate copies being offered by major producers. With firearms as with many other things in life, you get what you pay for.

Jim West of Anchorage was showing us around at this time, and he is off now visiting Danie and Karin van Graan at Engonyameni in South Africa. Jim's concept of the "Co-pilot" is an excellent one which the Marlin people attempted to copy from him in their so-called "Guide Gun." The Co-pilot is to the Guide Gun what a Cadillac is to a Chevrolet - they are related but they are not interchangeable. Jim is now building his basic parts at his shop in Anchorage, and they are stouter and better conceived than the original Marlin components.

Jim West insists upon mounting all of his Co-pilots with telescope sights, to my mild annoyance. The mission of the Co-pilot is short range defense against heavy, dangerous animals, which are not hard to see. Jim points out that as one gets on in years, he loses the ability to focus on his front sight and thus needs the assistance of a telescope. This is true enough, but one need not anticipate the onset of physical disability. I think it unsound to fit a Co-pilot with a glass sight until you definitely need to - meanwhile, it clumsifizes the weapon.

Note that the new run of Kimber 1911s is dehorned. Its sharp edges have been rounded off to avoid excessive wear on hands and clothing. This is a good step.

Among other presentations of John Gannaway we were shown the new Czech heavy rifle intended to supplant the 600 series. We hoped that this piece would be an improvement, and specifically we hoped that we would see the reintroduction of the outstanding rear-sight of that bolt-action series, which was the best thing of its kind. Sad to say, we did not see it. If you want that 602 rear-sight for your custom heavy, you will have to find an oldy or fabricate a new one on your own.

In addition, the fit and finish of the new rifle was not all it should be. Checkering was coarse and wood selection was mediocre.

At Whittington we missed Samson, who is an addition to any gathering of sportsmen.

Up in Alaska we cruised Prince William Sound aboard a nifty excursion catamaran, which zipped us along at up to 35 knots on the glassy fjord. The many glaciers drop off medium to massive ice chunks which crack like a rifle and serve to keep the water nice and cool. The catamaran ran a slalom course amongst the ice chunks at surprisingly high speed.

Lindy was able to do some fine game spotting in Alaska. She sighted a beluga, a wolverine, and a flaming red fox, which few people rarely have. The beluga is the white whale, and pure white he is, though not huge. This one popped out of the icy waters of Prince William Sound just in time for a quick sighting. Out in the boonies west of Anchorage Lindy ran onto the wolverine, which is a rare item. I had always thought that wolverines were pure black, but this one showed a good measure of white fur. The wolverine is a notorious camp wrecker, and is taken to tearing up hunting establishments with a will. He is certainly one of the fiercer animals, and though he is not large, he is known to intimidate both wolf packs and bears. We acquired a good picture, and intend to send it along to Paul Kirchner for enrichment.

You will recall that it has been suggested that the reason for the production of the 700 Nitro Express was the unavailability of anything bigger than a 600. For the same reason, we now have offered a 50 ACP pistol.

We note another buffalo fatality, this time from the great Rift Valley in Kenya where hunting is forbidden. Simon Combes was a noted wildlife artist who was hit by a bull which "just came from nowhere." A buffalo is very big and very black. He cannot very well "come from nowhere," despite the first-hand account. If you choose to frequent regions inhabited by dangerous game, it seems that you should keep your eyes open. We do not wish to speak ill of the unfortunate, but whether you are in Los Angeles or the African bush it is important to check six.

Larry Mudgett, distinguished paladin of the Los Angeles Police Department, has retired from law enforcement and has come to Gunsite as intermittent staff. Larry's record is too great to be touched upon in a note, but it has to be said that he understands pistolcraft, both in theory and in practice. Additionally he is an outstanding teacher. He will be a credit to the enterprise.

In a recent confrontation in Petaluma, California, the bad guy was hit 27 times with 10mm pistol bullets, whereupon he died. The 10 is a pretty satisfactory cop cartridge, but it is not the ultimate answer. Nothing is. I suppose that the 69 caliber, cap lock, front-feeder of the 1840s was about the best thing of its kind in stopping power, but men have been hit with heavier blows than that and still kept coming. The answer, of course, is placement. You have to put your bullet in the right place and this, of course, calls for a cool hand.

On his recent excursion to Alaska, Colonel Bob Brown socked a 9-foot plus coastal bear just behind the ear at rock throwing distance, and achieved an instant one-shot stop. Almost any bullet placed just there would probably have done the job as well - even a paltry 223 - but it is hard to know just what to expect. Robert Ruark cautioned us famously to "use enough gun." The late Dr. Albert Pauckner certainly had enough gun for his elephant, but he short-stroked the bolt and might well have come to grief if he had not been backed up by Ian McFarlane, using a double-heavy 465 #2. He had placed his first shot pretty well, but we will not know where his second shot might have gone had it been available. This is a tale now appropriate for the "Life at Riley's" series.

"He who goes unarmed in paradise had better be sure that is where he is."

James Thurber, via Joel Ebert

The barren ground grizzly has been acting up in uppity fashion this year. People who observe the Gunsite bear rules do not experience any trouble, but there are too many people who do not know the bear rules, and too many who simply will not accept the fact that a bear is a dangerous animal. From New Jersey to Point Barrow, bears not only kill people, but they eat people with gusto when the occasion affords. This is no cause for alarm if you are squared away for the boondocks, but if you refuse to pay attention (and many people do just that) life in the boonies can be distinctly hazardous. Take heed!

Chuck Lyford, the archetypical adventurer, is the classic speed demon. He is in love with high performance machinery, "On the ground, in the air and on the sea." Having tried his hand in the construction and employment of all sorts of esoteric machinery, has now taken up the productions of - of all things - racing lounge chairs. Having discovered my need for a personal vehicle at the time he showed us around up at Bruce McCaw's aviation museum, he decided that what was needed was something better. So he set forth to produce a high-tech lounge chair. It appears that there is a club up there in the far northwest conducting competitions in lounge chairs. It turns out that they go pretty fast, but they do not corner well, which is not exactly unexpected. What is now needed is one that I can pack around like a suitcase. Pretty strange goings on.

Since we no longer use bolt-action rifles in the military service, many people never learn how to use them. The curse of the bolt-gun is short-stroking. If you don't withdraw the bolt far enough, you will not pick up the next round, and will be rewarded with a click when you expect a bang. This is a bad development and may get you killed. Show that bolt no mercy. Slam it back!

Not being computer oriented, I find myself left behind in many phases of the current jargon. For example, I like Spam. I was introduced to Spam in World War II, and I considered myself lucky when we had it available. I take it to mean something else now - something to do with bloggerism - or something of the sort. Now there are those who complain about current military provender, but I am not one. From the beginning of time soldiers have been fortunate to get anything at all to eat, and we have certainly eaten well in the century just past. These MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) are a luxury with which I am unfamiliar. A large portion of the world's population has never eaten as well in what it considers to be normal times than when it is provided with MREs. In my youth we used largely C-rations and K-rations, which were monotonous but satisfying. There is no need to worry when the troops complain about the chow. I am told that it is time to worry when they do not complain about the chow, but that has never been my experience.

Does it not seem that far too much is being made of "a college education"? Just what is meant by that? A bachelor's degree from a major institution was at one time pretty significant, but now it seems to be solely a matter of money. We find that what used to be certification of a rounded personality is now sort of a remedial trade school. When I was a boy the major universities were distinguishable from the second rate. Perhaps they still are, but that is hard to verify. We find people majoring in some sort of tradecraft before they have learned to tell the Greek myths from the Old Testament. And in an increasingly technical culture, it is difficult to tell what matters in the way of background, and perhaps it does not, but still it is nice to know what is being paid for when one is paying for "a college education."

When I went aboard the USS Pennsylvania at the beginning of World War II, officers of experience dined in the "ward room," whereas ensigns and second lieutenants were assigned to the "junior officer's mess." In the JO mess we took pleasure in needling each other about the relative backgrounds of the naval academy boys and the graduates of civilian universities. The naval academy boys insisted that our shortcoming was that we had never suffered a "pleb year," whereas we maintained that they had not obtained a "college education" but rather a trade school certificate. In those days the academy did attempt to turn out "officers and gentlemen," insisting upon such things as French and ballroom dancing, which was more than Harvard or Stanford could do. On the other hand, the academy boys were a distinctly unworldly group and without social contact for the previous four years. There was room for endless discussion here. Snuffy Puller, brother of the distinguished Chesty Puller, was our company commander at Basic School and made no attempt to conceal his scorn for what he thought of as "college boys." Just what a young man is good for at age 21 is a good question, but more depends upon his family than his school. This, of course, is assuming that he has a family. In today's culture there seems to be less and less of that. Before a young man leaves home, there are certain things he should know and certain skills at which he should be adept. We used to kick this around on watch and we covered a lot of ground. What should a young male of 21 know and what should he be able to do? There are no conclusive answers to those questions, but they are certainly worth asking. We agreed upon "civics" or what was called American government. A young man should know how this country is run and how it got that way. He should know the Federalist Papers and de Tocqueville, and he should know recent world history. If he does not know what has been tried in the past, he cannot very well avoid those pitfalls as they come up in the future.

Superficialities, of course, are rife. A young man should be computer literate, and moreover should know Hemingway from James Joyce. He should know how to drive a car well - such as is not covered in "Driver Ed." He should know how to fly a light airplane. He should know how to shoot well. He should know elementary geography, both worldwide and local. He should have a cursory knowledge of both zoology and botany. He should know the fundamentals of agriculture and corporate economy. He should be well qualified in armed combat, boxing, wrestling, judo, or the equivalent. He should know how to manage a motorcycle. He should be comfortable in at least one foreign language, and more if appropriate to his background. He should be familiar with remedial medicine.

These things should be available before a son leaves his father's household. They do not constitute "a college education," which may or may not be a trade school. Some of the academy boys were fairly well qualified for life, and some were not. The civilians varied widely from superior to disastrous. We had a major war to fight and we did the best we could, which was not bad, considering the problem. I met some pretty good people in that war and I am pleased to have known them. My first tour at sea-going was not deadly, and only a couple of my friends were killed. Later on things changed. The hazards of war as they stand today vary as to time and place, but the risk is always there. When large numbers of people of opposing viewpoints are trying to kill you, they may sometimes succeed. We play this as it comes.

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