Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 1, No. 3           1 July 1993

Independence, 1993

July is not one of the better months - too hot in the northern hemisphere and too cold in the southern. It also is the month when the wilderness areas are at their worst clutter, with city people scampering around throwing pop cans in all directions.

Nonetheless, it is the month in which we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, in which it was set forth unmistakably for posterity that human rights are not granted by man but rather by God, and that when any government or institution threatens those rights it is the duty of the people to abolish it. That is an idea especially pungent at this stage of America's political devolution.

On a recent and delightful visit to Finn and Berit Aagaard in Texas I discovered that the Clifton bipod showed up well at the recent Keneyathlon at the Whittington Center. I have never had occasion to use a bipod on a live target, there being nearly always too much grass or intervening vegetation to permit firing from a position that low; however, I have taken several field shots from the prone position, and if you can use prone you can use a bipod, especially one that vanishes when not in use.

In that connection, I notice a rebirth of shooting sticks in both Africa and Europe. I have a pair I whittled out when in junior high school, but never found to be of much use in the woods. Carrying a rifle has always been enough of a chore in itself without carrying awkward accessories.

In unforested, high grass country, the portable rest may have some use. I have never hunted such terrain, but the high grass of what is now called Namibia did call for the repeated use of the tree rest when I was there last.

All these matters will be fully considered in "The Art of the Rifle" at such time as I get around to writing it.

"The society of the late 20th century America is perhaps the first in human history where most grown men do not routinely bear arms on their persons, and boys are not regularly raised from childhood to learn skill in the use of some kind of weapon, either for community or personal defense. Ours also happens to be one of the rudest and crudest societies in history, having jubilantly swept most of the etiquette of speech, table, dress, hospitality, regard for fairness, deference to authority, and the relations of male and female and child and elder under the fraying and filthy carpet of politically convenient illusions. With little fear of physical reprisal, Americans can be as loud, gross, disrespectful, pushy, and negligent as they please. If more people carried rapiers at their belts or revolvers on their hips it is a fair bet that you would be able to go to a movie and enjoy the dialogue from the screen without having to endure the small talk, family gossip, and assorted bodily noises that many theater audiences these days regularly emit."

Samuel Francis, in "Chronicles"

The recent marketing attempts to sell laser pointers for pistols should be viewed askance. We tested such devices here at the Ranch some years ago when they were much more expensive than they are now, and we discovered that the principle disadvantage of the laser is that it is slow. When you present a pistol properly and pick up the flash sight-picture, you do it in one smooth stroke. When, on the other hand, you present a laser-equipped pistol you must hunt around for that orange dot on the target, which takes more time than the acquisition of the flash sight picture. The time increment between the two systems is admittedly slight, but one wonders why one should install an expensive gadget in order to create a slight disadvantage.

Please feel free to paraphrase and disseminate anything that you may read in this paper. I am a teacher, not a salesman, and it is my pleasure to see my teachings spread far and wide. "Die Gedanken sind frei!"

When they were first introduced twenty odd years ago, I was particularly impressed by the Remington Short Magnums - the 6.5 and the 350. These two cartridges were achieved by shortening the Holland Magnum case up until it would fit easily into a short bolt action, such as designed for the 308. At the time I thought this was an excellent idea and I still do, but the two cartridges failed to attract any attention with the general public. (An exception may have been in Alaska, where the 350 Short Mag was an immediate success and is now a valued collectors item.)

The 6.5 started its 120-grain bullet at around three thousand foot-seconds from its abbreviated 18.5" barrel, providing what might be termed "a Pocket 270." One might ask wherein a Pocket 270 is superior to a Regular 270? And the answer would be handiness. The Remington 600 carbine was the immediate ancestor of the modern Scout, and it was the weapon upon which the weight criterion was established at 3 kilograms (6.7 lbs, sights and all). It seems to me that anyone who has climbed after sheep or goats or chamois or ibex would find a Pocket 270 to be the piece ideally suited to his task.

The 350 likewise, with its 250-grain bullet, formed the base for the Super Scout, a medium-bore instrument capable of taking on all heavy game short of buffalo and the pachyderms.

I immediately began experimenting with the 350 and my success was most gratifying. I took a number of large animals with it, including kudu and moose, and while no one man's experience is ever broad enough to establish empirical conclusions, I made contact with enough people who had used the same weapon afield with equal success on elk, bear, and zebra. These conversations, of course, formed the basis for the foundation of the "Fireplug Club," which is still going strong throughout the world. I never cared much for the Remington actions, due to both extraction and ignition problems, so I shifted over to the ZKK 601, which was designed for the 308 cartridge but will take a slightly longer round when desired. John Gannaway thereupon loaded the 250-grain Swift Partition bullet about an eighth of an inch farther forward into the Remington case and this was encouraged to feed into the ZKK action. This combination was the base for the Lion Scout which distinguished itself in Africa just last year.

If the 6.5 Remington Short Magnum may be made up into a "Pocket 270," the 350 Remington Short Magnum may be made up into a Pocket 375, starting its 250-grain bullet at the same velocity as its big brother's 300, but in Scout configuration.

Unfortunately the Pocket Magnums never really caught on, and today they are in effect obsolete. This seems too bad as they really did occupy a tactical niche that is not filled now.

Please note the following extract from the "Gunsite Gossip" in its very first issue, which was August of 1981:
"The essential difference between the American Pistol Institute and its numerous imitators is that we are primarily interested in advancing the art, whereas they are primarily interested in turning a dollar. We are in no sense against the profit motive, but we wish to assure all of our friends and associates that our primary motive is not in their money, but in their peace of mind. Our recorded corporate purpose is now: To conduct research and experiment into the techniques and design of smallarms and to impart our conclusions in training programs and publications."

When money becomes the objective, truth is abandoned.

The Guru

Family member Dennis Tueller has suggested that we hold our next declamation session up at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming. Certainly this is a lovely place and it would lend an excellent atmosphere to the occasion. However, it is a long way off for most people and we are not certain about the location of a convenient place to shoot. (I assume that there will have to be some shooting in connection with the event.) Another venue which has suggested itself is the Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico. I am looking into this at the moment.


In studying into the background material for the forthcoming Babamkulu Enterprise in Africa next year, I have gone rather deeply into the two startling British reverses in 1881 at Laing's Nek and Majuba Hill. (We plan to visit the sites next May.) These two incidents took place on adjoining terrain within three days of each other and point to lessons which should have been learned a century ago, but still have not got across to many people who should know about them.

Consider the "butcher's bill." At Laing's Nek the British attacked a Boer defensive position at a crest of a saddle (nek is what we would call a saddle in the American West) with about 450 men, following a small but violent artillery preparation. They were repulsed with a loss of 150 dead - against 14 for the Boers. On the occasion immediately following, the British seized Majuba Hill by means of a night march involving something over 500 soldiers. In the morning, they were thrown off the hill by a Boer force of about the same size. In this action the British lost 280 dead, including their commanding general. The Boers lost one man, plus another who died some days later of his wounds.

Now, just what was going on here? This was a rifleman's war, and the people on both sides used personal weapons of about the same character - breech loading single-shots using large-caliber black-powder cartridges rather similar to the American 45-70. In the first instance, the British were attacking and they were smashed. In the second instance, the British were defending and they were also smashed. Wherein lay the advantage? Odd as it may seem, it is my opinion that this tremendous disparity in efficiency derived from the fact that the British were soldiers and the Boers were civilians.

The British troupers were "soldiers of the Queen" from the Kipling period in India. They dressed well, marched well and did not lack for courage. What they did not do was shoot well. They were given pretty good guns and they were taught to load them, shoot them, and maintain them, more or less by the numbers, but being taught to shoot on the range in the military is not the same as being brought up with a rifle.

The Boers were by no means soldiers. They were pioneer farmers and the sons of farmers. They were reluctant to slaughter their own livestock when the countryside provided them with unlimited game. Their ammunition was always scarce and hard to come by. They had learned from childhood to hit what they shot at - every time. They shot to put meat on the table, and they shot on Sunday afternoons for prizes. Across the board, they may have been the finest body of marksmen ever fielded by any nation at any time. Their marksmanship was practical marksmanship, such as I have been endeavoring to teach throughout the latter half of my life. They seemed to have understood fully the basic rule of the rifleman, which is only hits count. (Funny how that principle was brought back to us from Grenada and Panama.)

The British had organization, discipline, resupply, signals and some artillery support. The Boers had their rifles, their horses, their biltong and their skill. They had no uniforms and they had only the vaguest sense of organization. The British regarded them as a bunch of uncouth, ignorant, illiterate peasants who could never stand up to the might of the British Empire.

And see the results! Using approximately equal weapons, the civilians shot the soldiers to pieces - on both offense and defense.

The lessons that ought to be learned here, I think, are three. First, men fight their very best when they fight to defend their homelands against a foreign invader. Second, when it comes to imparting of skill the public sector can never equal the private. Third, marksmanship is an art to be cultivated rather than a commodity to be issued.

And, just think of it, the British never complained to the media about being outgunned!

In discussing Scout construction with Brent Clifton I discover that great attention must be given to the precise alignment of front and rear telescope rings. If these are not exactly coaxial, unwarranted stress will be exerted upon the tube when the weapon is fired and the barrel and action flex in relation to each other. Special care and special instruments are necessary to assure that these matters are taken care of, and lack of such care may be the reason that we have had as much failure in Scout scopes as we have. Ideally, there should be no moving parts within a telescope sight, but until we get both the sight manufacturer and the mount manufacturer to work together on this with the manufacturer of the weapon itself, prospects for the ideal Scout sighting system are not good.

We are creeping up on the Scout, and we have some excellent individual examples in the field right now. Nonetheless, the search for the "platonic ideal" of Scout Rifle will continue as long as I have anything to say about it.

"Most of our harmless and genuine joys in this life are those which find their source in primitive instincts. A man who follows his natural inclinations, with due deference to common sense and moderation, is usually on the right track. Thus the sport of hunting is one of the most honorable of the primeval instincts of man."

Archibald Rutledge

I have had a chance now to look at the Auto Ordnance double-column slimliner, and it looks good. The bulk is surprisingly low for a double-column pistol, and if this piece stands up to hard usage it may actually be the preferred personal defense weapon of the future.

Things do not promise well in the land of the Magna Carta. The new policy in British jurisprudence is to assess fines on the basis of the wealth or income of the offender. Thus a reasonably successful man may be punished severely for an offense which would draw no more than a token fine from a proletarian. Truly the class system is alive and well in Socialist Britain.

In that connection, let us turn back the clock a bit. In the year 1369, Edward III, one of England's truly great monarchs, issued the following order:
"Cause public proclamation to be made, that everyone strong in body at leisure time on holidays use in his recreation the bow and arrow and learn and exercise the art of shooting - forbidding all and singular on our behalf that they do not after any manner apply themselves to the throwing of stones, wood, iron, handball, football, bandyball, cambuck, or cock fighting; nor to other such like vain plays which have no profit in them, under pain of imprisonment."

Edward Rex, Westminster, 12th day of June
After observing the public hysteria which seized the media here in Arizona in connection with the recent basketball season, I can't but think we have been going backwards for quite a long time.

It was interesting to observe the Attorney General coming forth to "accept full responsibility" for the atrocity at Waco. One wonders what that means. When one accepts responsibility, one accepts appropriate punishment for one's transgression. The Japanese have a long tradition of the proper means of accepting responsibility. It is conducted by means of a short, sharp knife. I have such a piece in my armory and I would be glad to part with it in a good cause, such as appropriate use by the Attorney General.

We talked recently with Karin van Graan at Engonyameni in the Eastern Transvaal. She told us she couldn't put Danie on the phone at the time because he was out with a party of pistol hunters. They had tagged a blue wildebeest (which is a very hard animal) four days previously with a 44 Magnum and they were still on his trail. Pistol hunting is certainly a worthy pastime, but obviously not for everyone. The fact that you can row across the Atlantic (with a certain amount of luck) doesn't make rowing across the Atlantic a good idea.

"Fear of death will not prevent dying - but it may prevent living."


In a recent paper, we listed a number of reasons for which men fight. One reader took exception to us in that we did not list liberty as a primary motive. As in all philosophic discussion, much depends upon semantics, so I suppose the first thing to do here is to define "liberty" so that we can examine our position. In my view, liberty is that condition which exists when men make their own laws, either directly or indirectly, and are protected from bureaucracy or despotism by unbreakable rules.

Now then, I have fought through a couple wars and a larger number of fighting situations and I have never yet encountered a man who felt that he was fighting for liberty. That doesn't mean that this cannot be a motive, but I did not list it because it seemed so very unlikely to me. I think we could say that the colonists at Bunker Hill were indeed fighting for liberty. I think the Boers in South Africa were fighting for liberty, but I don't see anyone doing it now. Singhalese are not fighting for liberty. The Iranians are not fighting for liberty. The Somalis are not fighting for liberty. The Serbians are not fighting for liberty. Moreover, no American I ran across in the Pacific war nor in Korea felt he was fighting for liberty, and I don't think that anybody on either side in the Vietnamese affair thought that he was.

Thus it is that I do not regard the idea of liberty as a primary motivating force in man's history of combat.

I did leave out one major consideration and I will hasten to insert it now. That motive is hatred. Hatred is a big one, and it appears more often than the rabbit people would like to admit. In my own limited experience in the Pacific war, hatred was the primary motivating emotion of the American forces.

"I have over the past thirty years been one hundred percent in favor of Gun Control - achieved through proper stance, controlled breathing, and smooth trigger squeeze; applied repeatedly until the threat is neutralized."

Fred D. Haggard, Kansas City

It appears that the Finns have come up with a new upper-level medium cartridge to be know as the Lapua 338. This cartridge launches a 250 grain bullet at 3000 feet, in the same power bracket as the 375. We are unclear about the tactical niche of this cartridge, which is claimed by the factory to be a good sniping device. Doubtless it is, but then so is a 30-06 or a 375. An interesting feature of the 338 Lapua, however, is that it does not feature a belt. The case is smooth.

I recently received, with profound pleasure, a letter from Susan Coltman, the wife of Ollie Coltman who survived the buffalo pounding which I wrote up in "Another Country." When you recount another man's adventure you are almost certain to get it wrong. The important thing is to avoid getting it wrong in important ways, and I was delighted to learn that the Coltmans approved of the way I set it down. I quote:
"We have had Ollie's adventures written up before and opened your book with trepidation. To say we were delighted is an understatement indeed. You captured the right amount of spirit and horror. It was as genuine a piece of writing as we could have hoped for and we thank you sincerely. Because of this, we enjoyed the rest of the book immensely, knowing that you would have treated the other stories with respect and truth."
That really made my day!

Susan goes on to give us an account of her visit with Ollie up to Zambia, which country, of course, has been "beyond the pale" ever since the collapse of the British Empire. The following extracts of Susan's letter will give you a picture of liberated Africa in 1993.
"We have had a week in Zambia again. A week of being sucked into the very juices of Zambia, chewed up and spat out. The very greenness of Zambia was a surprise. The intertropical convergence had whipped up great clouds and hurled them down onto the plains of Zambia, saturating everything. The rivers were distended and spread out into huge wetlands and marshes. The vegetation had responded to some primordial clock and had grown like prehistoric forests. The grass stems were as thick as fingers and stretched up to the telephone poles. They were like fields of bamboo. Everywhere the people have planted mielies, sweet potatoes, yams, pumpkins and summer vegetables. Even on street corners and the road verges. Vines threaded their way through the tree tops like demented serpents. The air was heavy with the scent of vibrantly growing and composting vegetation."

"But what havoc this bumper rainy season has played on the rotting and debilitated fragments of infrastructure left over from the colonial era!"

"The moldering old buildings, windows broken and paint peeling, are strung together like beads by a series of potholes of varying depth. There are no rules of the road as there are almost no roads. The main road, called Cairo Road (by some hugely optimistically minded government expatriate official who refused to believe that he was wasting his time in Africa), is still quite good. Someone is even trying to plant grass under the trees in the middle island. As for the rest, the cars go singly, weaving their way from one side of the road to the other in a futile effort to save the springs and shock absorbers. Sometimes there is nowhere to go but slowly through the potholes. If your car gets too dirty, you can always get it washed at the road side car wash where some blithe spirit has punched a hole in the main water supply and is gaily using up the water free of charge!"

"let your imagination run riot and still you will not imagine Lusaka. It is beyond the scope of the western brain living in order and prosperity. Imagine life in a country where the majority of people do not earn enough in a day to buy a loaf of bread. The country ticks on overseas aid, which is taken grudgingly and then squandered."

"The people, as usual, were friendly but ineffectual, worn out and shabby, with the senior Government Officials as shiny and brilliant as their new Mercedes and Toyota G Wagons bought with donor money given for social welfare or other worthy programs."

"We stayed with friends that have tourist concerns on the Zambezi River. White water rafting on the Zambezi below the Victoria Falls and canoe safaris on the Zambezi river downstream from Kariba. These people are storybook characters, yarns picked out of the books of Hemingway. Lew Games, a reluctant American who has lived in Africa nearly all his life, at 63, is a hunter from the Africa of old, wrapped up in old towel and sweat stained shirt of weeks of wearing. Dale, his wife, forty something, looks like an old leather saddle, well used and comfortable. In ancient shorts and too tight shirts, she is sizzling with energy, barking out orders in colorful language, chain smoking and swilling tea. A marvelous cook, directing the four staff in the kitchen through a haze of sundowner brandy and water. Lew sits in the house at night wrapped up in his whisky and memories. The horizon swells from the house to the Zambezi Valley, miles away, brooding under the heavy clouds, wondering why the clock stopped - why progress and order slipped away? And in our bedroom some Zambian citizen, deprived by the system that he voted for, surreptitiously helps himself to our dirty clothes and takes them away to augment his own wardrobe. We only find this out when we get home and feel cheated by the whole Zambian experience."

"19 April 1993 was the first time since the Spanish Inquisition that people have been burned alive for their religious beliefs."

Alec McCol, in Soldier of Fortune

We all flew down and visited Clint and Debbie Smith at the opening of their splendid new academy at Thunder Ranch in Texas. If this is an example of the culmination of my life work, I can rest easy about the future of the art.

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