Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 13, No. 3          March 2005

Winterset `05

Here at Gunsite we have duly noted what appears to be the local drought. Weather people insist that this excessive rain we have had in the last couple of months should not be taken seriously, since more than that is necessary to bring moisture around to "normal." Nevertheless, the countryside has greened up in amazing fashion and we hear of unprecedented bounty in wildflowers. Wildlife is now less dependent upon meager waterholes and we look forward to a great crop of pronghorns, elk and deer, not to mention javelina and coyotes. The whole scene must be positively digital, which seems to be a new adjective for better or excellent.

Daughter Lindy is off in Africa showing the Steyr Scout. Despite the worsening political situation in South Africa, the back country will probably remain undefiled for some time. The current regime has made it tiresome to wrestle your personal rifle through customs, which is a dismal business, remembering how comfortable and friendly the hunting situation used to be. Despite these political complications, the African hunt remains one of the outstanding experiences for an outdoorsman. Those of us who have enjoyed the effort in the past are fortunate in our memories, and we hope it will remain possible to rack up a continued series of great hunting experiences - at least for the present.

It gives us some satisfaction to note that Rule 3 (keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target) is at this time carefully observed by our troops in the field. We have been preaching the basic rules for safe employment of firearms now for some 30 years, and while it is not universal, Rule 3 shows up well in photography from the front. Safe gunhandling is not as universally observed as we might wish today, but progress has been made. It is bothersome to try to amplify the basic safety rules by people who apparently did not know that this matter has been successfully understood.

We wrung out a series of parallel light sight systems many years ago here at Gunsite, but they have not appeared as popular offerings until quite recently. Our conclusion as to the usefulness of this gadgetry is that while it may be of some use to a novice, it tends to slow down an expert, who can place his weapon on target a bit more quickly than he can find that red spot on the target. Additionally, this incorrectly named "co-ax" sighting system is somewhat uncalled for on a pistol, since a pistol is an emergency device and, as it is said, you cannot make an appointment for an emergency.

Shooting Master John Gannaway introduced us to the 700 Nitro Express cartridge just last week. This cartridge, newly presented by Holland & Holland of England, is said to be the brain child of the factory staff in response to the opinion of a customer who once said that the reason he packed a 600 when hunting elephant was simply that "They don't make a 700." Well now they do. The purpose behind its production is no clearer than before. The 700 Nitro starts a 70 caliber, 1000 grain bullet at 2000f/s. Ammunition is available at one dollar US per shot, so we did not shoot it much. (Actually we did not shoot it at all.) But it is gratifying to know that the material is there if you wish to spend the money. The custom-made single-shot piece has a falling-block action, and at 16lbs per unit it is presumably best used in pairs since a double rifle for this round would be too cumbersome to pack afield. When we raise the ubiquitous query about what is it for, we do not get a convincing answer. "To have and to hold," is probably the best attempt, but that is true of a whole regiment of smallarm offerings at this time. We are grateful to John for the chance to examine his specimen.

As time passes, some of you may have forgotten the cases of O.J. Simpson, Lon Horiuchi and Vince Foster. In the cases of Simpson and Horiuchi, we know "who-done-it." With Vince Foster we do not know, but we know that there are people in very high places who do know. I guess it is nice to have a short memory, but not in every case.

The recent shooting in the Atlanta courtroom raises a couple of points which the press seems inclined to ignore. The notion that one should arm the judge seems quaint when one observes that the bailiffs are now armed and closer to the subject than the judge was. The idea of placing a presumed felon in the physical custody of a middle-aged cop-chick is indefensible. Escorting bad guys around is a task that should not be given to a guard who is not up to it physically. But that is too obvious to merit consideration. The one thing that is clear about this whole sorry business is that you cannot pass laws or regulations in response to a problem which is best met by common sense.

As the Holy War continues in Iraq, it remains clear that minor caliber smallarms cartridges are not working. The consensus we get back from the war zone is that while the 223 cartridge is a reasonably reliable stopper when hits are delivered to the upper torso region, they are not a really good answer to a fight. The Parabellum cartridge of 1908 is simply not a good idea, except possibly in the full-automatic mode - as with the machine pistol. As a sidearm cartridge it does not measure up - or have I mentioned that before?

While it is possible to scrounge a good pistol out there in Mesopotamia, ammunition is difficult to obtain. Of course a pistol is not fired very much in military combat. My studies of the matter suggest that 50 rounds of pistol ammunition should suffice for an entire war. It is unusual for an infantryman to fire more than a couple of magazines in a whole battle.

As to that, I once dropped in the suggestion box the idea that some sort of kill-badge should be issued to wear on the uniform, indicating that the wearer has accounted for at least one enemy soldier personally. If each one of our soldiers drops just one of the enemy, the war will be over. As Patton is said to have said, "I don't want you to go out there and die for your country. I want you to make the other guy die for his country."

For many years we at Gunsite have operated what is known as a "hot range." On a hot range all weapons involved in live firing are kept loaded at all times. When a relay finishes an exercise, it is enough to say or command, "Guard, holster, leave the line." The weapons are kept in the holster and not touched, except under supervision, until that relay comes back on the line again. Then the first command is "Pick your target. Check your piece down range. Unload." This procedure not only saves an appreciable amount of training time, but it makes sure that all hands know that Rule 1 (all guns are always loaded) always applies. There are some people who regard a hot range as inherently dangerous, but it has not proven so to me - rather the contrary. I understand in some reports from the forward area that a good many marines are now operating with a hot range, which is definitely to their advantage. Some of those marines may have learned that at Gunsite, and if so we are pleased to hear it.

In a recent blurb from one of the participants in the SHOT Show, we ran across a really horrible example of the misuse of the language. This was the verb "to accessorize." Presumably you acquire any sort of instrument and then you proceed to accessorize it. I can see how that would be a proper motive for the merchandiser, but it is still difficult to swallow. Surely a military man should not be expected to accessorize his equipment or his costume. That is one thing I enjoyed about the military life. You never had to decide what to wear.

Perhaps I am overlooking the swagger stick, which "accessory" was a debatable item of uniform for various services at various periods. Family member Shep Kelly recently ran across a military publication dealing with the manual of the swagger stick, which is pretty amazing in The Age of the Common Man. Several distinguished marines I encountered on my active duty days seemed to think highly of the stick, and I rather liked it myself. I never saw a regulation to the effect, but in my day only staff NCOs and field grade officers were properly equipped with a stick. From my personal observation, I can list Cliff Cates, Herman Hanneken, Lem Sheppard, Fred Wise, and John LeJeune. Dave Shoup, the hero of Tarawa, was against it, and his attitude was enough almost to eliminate it in recent years. At the very beginning of World War II I had a buck sergeant who handled a swagger stick very well, and perhaps I profited by his example.

If we can find that document on the subject, I will observe and report back.

Correspondents sometimes wonder about how my partner came to be referred to as "the Countess." It so happens that I have come to be referred to as a Guru, which is a word for teacher, master or instructor, in one of the numerous Indian languages. As I understand it, the word pundit signifies a dispenser of knowledge, whereas a guru imparts wisdom. As the saying goes, "Better an ounce of wisdom than a ton of knowledge." In the British scheme of things, the consort of a duke is a duchess. The consort of a baron is a baroness. But when we come to an earl, a word like earless is too awkward for common use, therefore, the consort of an earl is a countess. Thus we suppose that a consort of a guru may properly be called countess. Not that this has any sort of official sanction.

On this matter of semantics, tactical does not equate to combat, but the faint of heart seem afraid to use "combat." Now everything from shoe laces to haversacks have come to be referred to as "tactical."

We note that the noteworthy periodical "National Review" opines that the NRA won the election. In a hair-thin victory such as the last one, various sorts of minor increments may be held decisive, but the Leftists tend to feel that organized shooters are largely responsible for their discomfiture. May it indeed be so!

Don't run a roadblock! I thought everybody knew that. But maybe that applied only to World War II. It remains true, however, that if you are flagged down at a control point in a military area, you should not be surprised if you get shot if you attempt to proceed. A friend of ours lost his father in the opening days of World War II in California. The father was a doctor on his way to an emergency and he felt that the roadblock did not apply to him. This was very sad, but no one involved was held to blame.

As a case in point, we recall the tale of Sunday morning in Honolulu December 7th. A senior officer was being driven back to duty station in a great hurry while the shooting was still going on. When his limousine, bearing stars and insignia, was flagged down, the door was opened. Whereupon the general ordered the driver to drive on. The sentry leaned through the open door and said, "Excuse me, sir. I'm new at this. Whom do I shoot, you or the driver?"

You certainly have noticed how distressing it is for citizens simply to surrender in the face of any sort of threat. In these awful examples you read about, victims commonly submit to being tied up and await their turn. It is impossible to tie anybody up with one hand, so the presence of a firearm in such cases is irrelevant. It may be that it is illegal to fight back in Britain, but we in this country have not reached that stage yet. (I would like to think.)

Those of you who are contemplating the African adventure should remember that while your professional hunter (PH) can provide you with much of what you need, it is up to you to make the adventure adventurous. Actually being there in the African wilderness, rifle in hand, can be a great emotional kick, but only if you tune yourself up to the enterprise. Most of this can be done by reading into the subject, but remember that you must supply the excitement if you want to get the most out of the experience.

Among several advantages of the 1903 Springfield action was the readily demountable firing pin. This made it possible to replace a broken firing pin in the field without recourse to a specialist; but firing pins seldom break, and there are other advantages. For example, it was possible to issue firearms to individuals or units in an absolutely safe condition with no worries about pilferage of operational firearms. When I was in high school we were fully equipped with 1903 service rifles - in totally safe condition.

The `03 offered the additional advantage of a magazine disconnector which permitted the piece to be used as a single-shot with five rounds instantly available in the magazine. In those days, of course, soldiers were expected to be able to hit what they shot at with one round, which made for more careful marksmanship. The most serious drawback of the 1903, in my opinion, was its fussy and imprecise rear-sight - a feature which was eliminated in the A3 version. The `03 was, and still is, an excellent service rifle - utilizing a seriously serviceable battle cartridge.

We note that there are people who prefer the pingpong-ball bolt handle option on the Mannlicher action. We don't. The traditional slim-line handle of the Mannlicher action suits us better. It may be a hair slower than the knob, but the speed of the second shot is a matter given too much importance. By the time the shooter has bounced back from recoil and blinked, he has time enough to work any sort of bolt handle.

As the years pass it becomes ever more difficult to remember the feeling of national patriotism that characterized the inter-war period in America. The high school I attended boasted a battalion of ROTC cadets, plus a marching band. Cadets were in uniform Monday through Thursday, much as that may horrify current academic types. Every school morning we hoisted the colors on the front lawn to the accompaniment of two snare drums and two trumpets. The color guard, which handled the colors, was directed by the cadet battalion commander or his adjutant. At exactly 0800, the colors would sound attention and everyone then within ear-shot was expected to come to a standstill and face the colors, while the two cadet officers executed the saber salute.

This is how it was, hard as it may be to believe. Indeed, "The past is another country. They do things differently there."

As we observe the decline of the language, we do what we can to stem the tide. Note that professional does not mean expert, and decimate does not mean devastate. Other examples will occur to you.

We are interested to learn that the Islamic Commission of Spain, claiming to represent Spain's one-million-member Muslim community, has issued a "fatwa," or edict of death, against - guess who - Osama bin Laden! "The fatwa said that according to the Quran `the terrorist acts of Osama bin Laden and his organization al-Qaida ... are totally banned and must be roundly condemned as part of Islam'." Osama's position at this time is not enviable. May the will of Allah catch up with him!

Anyone who has earned the Congressional Medal of Honor has paid his debt to his country, and should be free from all further federal income tax. This is an idea whose time has come. Write your representative!

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