Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 13, No. 2          February 2005


Despite a couple of bumps and jars, the situation of American shooters is rather good at this time. Our political adversaries will continue to try to make things uncomfortable, but they do not seem to have that degree of forensic hysteria necessary to advance their cause. We do, of course, wonder about that cause. We have never been able to link gun ownership with crime, so we must wonder just what is the basis for this unending political negativism. Our personal view is that the motivation of those who would disarm us remains upon analysis to be sheer envy. The individual who owns his own personal firearms, and commands the skill necessary to use them well, owns a peace of mind that his adversaries cannot match. That is essentially what we have always taught at Gunsite. I used to open each class session by asking the members to ask themselves privately just what they expected to achieve by a week's expenditure of time, money and effort, and then to repeat that to themselves on Saturday to see if they had achieved that objective. And that objective was essentially peace of mind: that was our product, and to a very large extent, we produced it.

The non-coper has reason to feel inferior to a successful Gunsite graduate, and this annoys him enough to supply him with an indefensible political position.

That may be a reason why we have this struggle continuously on our hands. We shooters constitute no hazard to the decent people of our community, but this does not prevent some from seeking to reduce that peace of mind which makes them uncomfortable. So we keep up the struggle, and by keeping track of political winds as they blow, we maintain our rights as well as our guns.

It is good to know that Steyr Mannlicher has now organized its own import agency for the United States. Finding a really good importer has never been easy, and the cause of much grief over the past couple of decades. We may hope that this step will be the proper answer to a hereto annoying situation.

Few people really have a problem of personal defense against dangerous animals, but if such a problem exists, we may wonder whether a giant pistol (44 Magnum on up), or a Jim West "Co-pilot" carbine is the better answer. In most cases I think the carbine is the better choice, but if you are occupied with tasks that call for the continuous use of both hands, the pistol has its points. We may recall the case of that surveyor in Alaska who lost both arms to a black bear which stalked her as prey. Her job called for the continuous use of both hands, so the pistol might have been better for her. However, I suggest that the carbine is a better choice in most cases.

While attending SHOT it is necessary to avoid the question, "What is it for?" If you take this line of interrogation, you may lose a lot of friends.

We are informed by correspondent Dale Wilson that the 45 caliber, 230 grain JTC bullet is currently available from the Star Ammunition company in Indianapolis. This is only true when back orders build up enough to justify a run. If you are interested in a large lot, the address is: Star Ammunition, Inc., 5520 Rock Hampton Court, Indianapolis, IN 46268, 317-872-5840

We are glad to learn that Jim West of Anchorage is now manufacturing his excellent "Co-pilot" from the ground up, without buying parts from Marlin. This gives him better control over action quality and calls for less retrofitting of the assembled item.

I have admired the Co-pilot from its first appearance, and I still do. Unlike many other offerings, it does have an operational niche, which is personal short-range defense against heavy, dangerous animals in the most convenient package possible. For the Alaskan bush pilot and for the African PH it presents a well thought out answer to a specific problem. (I do wish they would stop trying to mount telescopes on it. Stopping an angry lion at rock-throwing distance is a task that does not call for a telescope sight - rather to the contrary.)

Our distinguished family member J.P. Denis of Belgium reports that he discovered an abandoned MP40, together with several magazines, in a building that was being torn down. This piece had been left unattended for 50 years with all magazines in full compression, and they all worked perfectly. I think this is marvelous. When you think of the degree to which our culture depends upon springs, it is good to know that spring construction is so well understood.

As the bell tolls, we learn of the demise of Mike Ryan, Major General USMC. Mike and his family were old friends from Quantico, but he distinguished himself before we knew him. He was the bearer of two Navy Crosses, which is probably more remarkable than one Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor may be awarded for an act of almost hysterical excitement, and a Navy Cross may be similar in the case of one issue. Doubling on it would indicate a continuous demonstration of unusual valor.

Mike pointed out to us how different the circumstances may be. He noted that while he went ashore at Tulagi (across from Guadalcanal), spent the night in the sand, and came back aboard the next day, he does not recall doing anything special at the time. On the other hand, when he earned his second award at Tarawa, he really and truly earned it. Very few people live to make comparisons like that.

We spent a rewarding four days at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas. As usual it was a massive sales effort directed at making as many people as possible unhappy with what they have and anxious to obtain something new. Since what we already have is very fine indeed, the effort to make us feel the need for something better is considerable. In the sense that more is better, the sub-caliber, hypervelocity varmint cartridges are interesting, but it is unfortunately not easy to pose a question for which we are the answer. This also may be true, if to a lesser extent, of the plethora of miniature, big bore pocket pistols which was offered up. When you reduce the veteran 1911 pistol beyond a certain point, you do not have enough left to hang on to. If you assume that your pocket pistol is essentially a threat rather than a shootable weapon, this may not matter, and these miniaturized 45s are indeed attractive, in a cute sort of way.

The Socom 6 seems to offer promise as a military instrument, which matters if you are in the habit of outfitting armies. The 6.8 Special Purpose military rifle cartridge may have its signals crossed. The special purpose designation implies that there is such a thing as a general-purpose cartridge, for which there might be a need if we did not already have one in the 308.

The Smith & Wesson people were a big presence at the show, offering both their giant 50 caliber, 5-shot revolver and their attempts at improving the 1911. Time will tell whether these are in truth improvements. Replacing the original Browning extractor with an outboard version is advanced as a good idea, though I have never noticed extractor breakage as a problem without a great deal of serious practice. I did break a couple of extractor hooks towards the end of World War II when we were issued steel-cased pistol ammunition. We beat this problem by simply squirting a drop of lubricant whenever we loaded a fresh magazine. Whether the outboard extractor would handle steel-cased cartridges is irrelevant now that those are no longer offered in serious supply.

This growing use of the adjective "digital" for "good," "better" or "best," has reached ridiculous proportions. I suppose it may apply in some cases, but when it comes to digital sweat socks or digital orange juice, I think we have run off the edge.

I am sure that there is an important difference between "electric" and "electronic," but I am equally sure that most people do not know what it is.

We are at present playing with a Broomhandle Mauser on loan from Shooting Master John Gannaway. This is a most curious arm, occuping as it does a special niche between the primary and secondary military sidearm. This niche is not broad, and as a result the "Mauser System 96" was never adopted or issued by a military or paramilitary force. It appeared just as the transition from repeating to semi-automatic military arms took place. Though usually considered to be a pistol, it is more efficiently employed as a carbine for use by junior officers, who at that period were expected to provide their own arms. It is a startlingly ingenious artifact, and while of German origin it spread across the world to great popularity in the Far East in a variety of pistol cartridges. As a pistol it is a dog, as unhandy an instrument as can be imagined, but with its butt stock holster attached it shoots rather well at short range. I expect to go into more detail in a forthcoming issue.

We had a curious confrontation recently here in Arizona between a cougar and a mule. We do not know who started it, but this mule won decisively. Of course this was a very scrawny cat, but the grass eater in this case was too much for him. Pictures show that the mule picked up the cat by the neck and shook it to death.

At SHOT, both Ruger and Winchester displayed what might be called a variation on the scout concept - this being a light, short, comfortable sporting rifle taking a variety of middle powered, center-fire cartridges. They are both nice guns, though they fall quite a way short of the Steyr Scout. The various superior features of the SS such as the integral bipod, the detachable butt magazine and the composition stock, are not part of these packages, and no provision is made for any receiver-mounted, intermediate power telescope. We should note that a telescope sight is not an essential feature of a scout rifle, original or approximation. Scout 1, which is based upon the excellent Remington 600 carbine, accomplished its first mission in Central America with complete satisfaction - without a scope. Telescope sights on rifles are nice to have, and I effected a good deal of pioneering in this direction before World War II, but they are not essential, and in some cases they may be a bit of a handicap. I had a short-range incident with a lion in which the telescope, on what might be called a prototype scout, was distinctly in the way. At eleven steps range, it is difficult to pick up a proper aiming point in a hurry.

These recent attempts at the Scout concept suggest that the basic idea, while not clearly understood, has definite merit. A good many years ago I ran across a deer hunter over in southeastern Arizona who was displaying a sort of cut-down 1903 Springfield which got me thinking. Perhaps the point here is that bench rest accuracy, while interesting to people who compete in that league, is not something which can be appreciated in a general-purpose rifle. Shedding slivers off of group size is a matter of no concern when you are trying to kill something most expeditiously. Scout VI, which is our current "Ready Rifle," prints one-holers at 100 meters, but this has never been an essential attribute during its long and variegated life in the field. Half-minute accuracy, while pleasant to observe, is in no way superior to one-minute accuracy in any serious rifle. Once I saw a sportsman, who bragged up a storm about the fantastic accuracy of his brand new 264, miss a stationary mule deer by a couple of feet at football-field range.

We need not belabor the issue. We have many excellent hunting rifles to choose from. It would be remarkable if we could find a shooter good enough to take full advantage of them.

It was pointed out at the SHOT show that these various mega-velocity, subminiature varmint rifles are nothing more than toys, but this is certainly unimportant criticism. In essence, all of our sporting guns are toys, but then most of the things we covet beyond our means are toys - and this applies to everything from Ferrari to ex-wives. We live in an opulent culture, and perhaps it is better to revel in it than to condemn it as frivolous. Those other people in the unfree world who pretend to view us with moral disdain, might do well to remember that we have achieved this level of luxury by way of political liberty. The free world may be gross, vulgar and immoral, but that is not something that the slave society can fix.

Muzzle brakes do work, but since there is no such thing as a free lunch, increased blast effect varies with the luncher. A shooter who is overly sensitive to recoil may be more disturbed by the racket than by the push, so a muzzle brake should be no help to him. Within limits the recoil effect of rifle cartridges is pretty negligible. I have noted this to my satisfaction over decades of observation of all sorts of shooters. The renowned gun maker Fred Wells of Prescott, Arizona, specializes in great big rifles, and he states flatly that recoil effect on the shooter is 85 percent mental. I cannot quote an exact percentage, but I do agree with the idea. Recoil effect is something you can rise above if you go about it right. Painting your butt plate green, together with proper mystic incantation, will probably do as much to beat the bump as any other device or system.

Stopping power debate continues as ever. Those who wish to continue the argument should note that there are no such things as black and white conclusions to this matter. The effect of bullet impact on living tissue must be discussed as a matter of tendency rather than absolute. We can truly say that a certain combination of impact area, projectile design and material, impact velocity, and bullet mass tends to produce more positive response than otherwise. But this is not a matter of absolutes. Certainly it should be expected that a brain shot with a 38 Special revolver cartridge should result in instant incapacitation. But in the course of a priceless discussion I once held with Dr. Lipschitz at Soweto, he told of a case where a subject was hit on the temple by a bullet which transited the forward portion of the brain and came to rest against the skull on the other side, and in which the subject showed almost no immediate reaction - she thought that she had been hit by a rolled up newspaper, that being the normal instrument of discipline in that household. So it is pointless to say that we saw such and such happen once and therefore that is what happens when those circumstances are repeated. There is a tendency to predict stopping power effect, but we must remember that it is never certain. A correspondent recently asked me if a 44 Magnum ought to have greater stopping effect on a human target than a 30-30 hunting cartridge. I responded that any comparison would be useless. Both rounds should be quite adequate if properly placed, whereas neither would work if improperly placed.

As daughter Lindy saddles up for her forthcoming African hunt, we have little advice to offer. She is a very fine shot. She has demonstrated coolness under pressure, and her equipment is fully up to any task which may be offered it. For practice I suggest quick acquisition of position, proper study of the loop sling and conscientious offhand simulation. It is not necessary to go to the range to practice these things once a basic level of marksmanship has been obtained. Furthermore, it is not necessary to place any particular trophy goal as an essential. The African hunt is sufficiently rewarding in itself and should not be measured in inches. You cannot tell a 60-inch kudu from a 56-inch kudu from across the trophy room. On Shooting Master John Gannaway's last excursion he happened upon an unsuspecting leopard, which is remarkable indeed, and he was able to watch the beast at its leisure for perhaps 10 minutes. That experience was better in itself than a 40-inch buff.

The elections on both sides of the world give us much cause for satisfaction. The Iraqis may not be "ready for democracy," but they have certainly demonstrated their intention to seek it, and with our help they just may succeed. Here at home we note that various groups seem to think that it was the National Rifle Association that brought us home safe. In any election as narrow as this one it is possible to quibble about who or what made the difference, but it is interesting to see the Left blame its loss upon the NRA. The executive vice president of the association calls upon us all to seek and enroll new members, but this is hard to do when we do not know any non-members. We repeat the call, however, to go forth and proselyte where possible. If the US Constitution is the last best hope of Earth, as many consider it to be, the NRA is the sea anchor of American liberty. Congratulations to all!

Our information sources from Iraq are particularly good since they are family members on duty on the spot. Our contacts are mostly through Colonel Bob Young, and they lead us to conclude more than ever that our domestic news services are definitely not interested in our achievements, but only on our discomfiture. They seem almost joyful to report our own losses, but they almost never tell us how much damage we did to the enemy. In terms of blows given and received, this war is going very well for us, and it is vital to remember that our warriors are warriors by choice rather than conscription. When you put on that uniform, you knowingly and willingly accept the fact that enemies of the United States are going to do their very best to kill you whenever they get the chance. Any man's death is a tragedy for his near and dear; whether it is so for him personally depends upon his religious faith. However that may be, death suffered in combat while in the service of one's country is an excellent way to go. "To every man upon this earth death cometh soon or late," as the poet says. The question is not whether but rather how.

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