Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 1, No. 6           2 September 1993

KAL 007 Memorial

The Cold War may be over, though there is reason to doubt this, but even so, evil has not disappeared from the world simply because of the demise of the evil empire. In some ways we live in even darker times than in the forties, for in those days we could identify the enemy, and during the Cold War he was pretty obvious even though we were not fighting him in major battles. Today, however, we are harassed by enemies of so many forms that it is difficult for us to unite in resistance to them. For example, a recent letter from the NRA staff to a member who was asking about the response of the Association to the Waco atrocity opined that the American people are more afraid of street crime then they are of rampant and irresponsible governmental tyranny.

I do not know who can speak for the "American People" - certainly not I - but street crime I can handle, whereas if I resist the ninja I will almost certainly perish. No reasonably competent man need be afraid of crumby little punks in big cities, but those people in black masks breaking down your doors in the small hours of the morning and backed up by armored vehicles and helicopters are too much for the householder, even if they do tend to be overweight and bad shots.

These are dark times indeed, and we bear up as best we may.

Among the things that help us bear up are the traditional delights of late summer - fresh garden tomatoes and corn only minutes off the stalk. This is indeed a bad time in the history of the United States of America but, however that may be, its old-time bounty is there for those who can appreciate it.

We are back from the NRA Whittington Center in New Mexico filled with enthusiasm and anticipation for the First Annual Gunsite Reunion and Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, now firmly set for the last weekend in October. The Center can accommodate us for all sorts of shooting exercises including a miniature version of David Kahn's Keneyathlon, and in addition we will have the Waco tape, various philosophical discussion groups, and as a climax, a whole evening of declamations in honor of our twenty-sixth president, the late, great Theodore Roosevelt, whose birthday falls on the 27th of the month. While we want as much action as possible, you need not recite if you do not so desire - though we wish you would. (Comfortable accommodations for NRA members are available at $16.00 per person per night - 2 for $28. You cannot very well beat that.) Ammunition is available for sale at the Center.

Such of my books as are now in print seem to be in the process of being discontinued by the new owner. Get them while they last!

We note with sadness the passing of Jack Lott, one of the more significant riflemen of the recent past. American shooters, especially those interested in the pursuit of big game, owe Jack a considerable debt for his pioneering engineering in cartridge design.

We can but hope that there are plenty of buffalo, and lion, and rhino, wherever he has gone.

"Do you know the advantage of a bolt-action rifle? You do not have to wait for gas to cycle the action."

Ric Wyckoff

Hearty congratulations to Mike Plumb of the Columbus, Ohio, SWAT Team! You may have seen the excellent photography that was taken of an action in which Mike shot the pistol out of the hand of a street goblin with his service rifle. No one mentioned the range, and I doubt that it was great, but the action was carried out expertly and we all admire the officer's performance. The Chief of Police of Columbus attributed this success to excellent training, but we should note that training does not make for excellence. Excellence in any activity is a product of talent and dedication. Training helps, but by itself it is not enough.

A roadside billboard in Central California now proclaims,
"Remember Weaver and Waco. You may be next!"
The ground swell builds up all the time.

This fashionable buzz word "sensitivity" is beginning to gall. I do not see sensitivity as the necessary attribute of a considerable man. We may search through history for manifestations of sensitivity in the great without particular success. Pericles, Xenophon, Socrates, Caesar, and so on down through Washington, Napoleon, Roosevelt, and Churchill were not distinguished for sensitivity. Thinness of the skin seems to be one of the paramount troubles of the age.

I am pleased to report the presence of a genuine trophy buck pronghorn residing these days somewhere between the Sconce and the highway. His horns are "three ears high" which makes him a genuine prize.

We read now of a new 338 Lapua Magnum. This very powerful cartridge was designed by the Finns especially for long-range sniping and puts out a 250-grain bullet at 3,000 feet per second (against about 2,700 for the similar Winchester Magnum). This is all very impressive, but one wonders if it is any particular improvement over the 375 Holland. In any case, it is now available as a hunting cartridge and should land neatly in the same box with the 375, which we have had around since 1912. These big medium cartridges are highly regarded by a great many men of deep experience, but I remain dubious. They are extravagant for ninety percent of your African shooting and inadequate for the other ten. That is just my subjective opinion, of course.

I expect to be in Europe during mid-September, so the next issue of this paper will be a little late.

In our rifle programs here at Gunsite we used to emphasize the snapshot to a degree that surprised some of our students. The question arose as to whether there was any real need for a rifleman ever to be able to place a single round almost instantaneously on a small target at short range. Clearly this is not a common requirement, but any completely qualified rifleman ought to be able to meet it. Our test here was the flying clay bird going straight away, with the shooter commencing at standard ready and abreast the trap. This problem is not likely to be encountered in field work, but if the shooter can mount that rifle instantly, tracking with his left eye and shooting with his right, so as to take the bird exactly at the top of its arc when it is for a split second effectively stationary, he has mastered a skill which can upon rare occasions serve him supremely well. I have now seen the snapshot executed four times in the field, to the immense delight of the onlookers, and I was much pleased the other day to be able to bring it off once again on my own. Ground squirrels are free-fire targets here at the ranch because of their agricultural destructiveness and their tendency to carry bubonic plague. The kill zone with a 22 is about the size of a 50 cent piece and in this instance the beasty scampered across the terrace and flashed up to the top of the wall where I was able to take him fairly through the shoulder in a time I would estimate as just over a second. I do not recount this to boast, but only to point out that training on the snapshot should not be overlooked. With practice it becomes quite natural.

We are all profoundly grieved by the brutal and hate-motivated murder of young Miss Amy Biehl in Guguletu township outside of Capetown. Here indeed was a classic "hate crime," since the perpetrators have boasted that she was killed just because she was white.

There are various sociological implications in this tragedy which I will not go into here, but I will only point out that if Miss Biehl had been graduated from Gunsite, she would be alive today. It should be understood that we taught more than just marksmanship in our programs here.

California has turned up yet another subspecies, properly termed the "mugger/hugger." At his trial, Reginald Denny, the truck driver who was pounded almost to death in the Los Angeles riots, was seen happily socializing with the perpetrators' family. This may be an act of truly Christian forgiveness, but under the circumstances, it seems more than a bit sickening to some people.

General Shalikashvili, the prospective head of the US Army, is, as his name denotes, of Georgian extraction. (Stalin's true name was Dzhugashavili.) Now it turns out that a group Nazi-hunters has discovered that the general's father was an SS officer in World War II. (He was described in the press as a major in the SS, but the SS did not have such rank. He was probably a sturmbahnfuhrer.) Those who follow such things know that the Germans gathered together ethnic divisions from all over Europe in which men of the same linguistic and cultural background could serve together. The Georgian SS division conducted itself with distinction in normal military action, but a good many people seem to think that anybody who was ever a member of the SS was automatically a war criminal, and they seek to tar the new American Chief of Staff with the Nazi brush. Apart from the fact that the general never knew his father, having split with his family for the United States early on, the notion that the military record of a father should be held against his son is a little too biblical for my taste.

Bumper sticker:
"Only criminals, dictators and democrats fear armed citizens."

Family member Alvin Hammer asks us if the 7x57 Mauser cartridge will do for general shooting in Africa. And the answer is, it certainly will. It was the cartridge of choice for Karamojo Bell, who shot most of his hundreds of elephants with it. That does not make it an elephant gun, but it does mean that in the hands of a good man the 7x57 is all that anyone could wish. For African shooting one should be careful to select a particularly hard bullet, since a high-velocity quick-expander may well blow up on the shoulder bones of a wildebeest or zebra.

Probably we play around too much with cartridge design. This is an acceptable hobby, but rather meaningless in regard to hunting efficiency. Americans are in general overgunned for deer, and thus become used to using extremely flat-shooting, almost explosive bullets which tend to achieve clean kills - and that is good. However, if you take pains to ensure bullet integrity, almost any light or medium caliber will give good service for general shooting in Africa. This is not, of course, to advocate undergunning for dangerous game.

Did you catch that Harris Poll which concluded that one out of ten American young men had fired at a human target? It has been observed that if that is true some 300,000 shots were fired to achieve about 360 hits. This is a level of marksmanship which would leave the United States helpless in the face of a determined invasion by Eskimos. So much for the Harris Poll.

On our way over to the NRA Whittington Center we had occasion to cross the northern sector of New Mexico, from left to right. In doing so we discovered New Mexico Route 64, which is one of the loveliest highways I have ever seen. The terrain is mountainous and varied and since there is hardly any reason for anyone to traverse that part of the country, there are very few cars on it. We strongly recommend it to those of you who operate good cars and like to drive.

I have often preached that the proper antidote to fear is anger, and I see no reason to change my opinion on this. However, there is another mental condition that serves as well or possibly better, and that is concentration. I have discussed this matter at great length with people who are in a position to know, and I am not without experience of my own, and I can state positively that when you find yourself facing deadly danger, your ability to concentrate every mental faculty upon doing what needs to be done to save yourself leaves no room for fear. If it happens that return fire is the best solution to your danger, you are fortunate, because if you have organized yourself properly your total preoccupation with your front sight and trigger control will have become automatic; and therefore you cannot fear your enemy's bullet since you are simply too busy concentrating on hitting him. I think this truth is incontrovertible, but we certainly see that large numbers of people who get involved in street fights, on either side of the law, have never heard of it.

We read of a bad scene in Assam with an elephant. As you know, elephants domesticate fairly well, but they are awfully big and strong, and when they lose their tempers there is hell to pay. This beasty, possibly because he had been reading newspapers, completely lost his cool and proceeded to kill seven people in his own village and then to swim up the river to another village where he smashed up thirty houses and killed fifteen more. (And he did not even have an "assault rifle.")

"You only live once, but if you work it right, once is enough."

Fred Allen, via Mark Moritz

In reading the trade papers I discover there are still people who do not realize that the effect of gravity upon bullet trajectory is the same whether the shot is taken uphill or downhill. When a bullet is fired horizontally the effect of gravity pulls it straight down toward the center of the earth as its velocity decreases. If it is fired upward or downward the time of flight to a given horizontal range is decreased slightly. Therefore the gravitational effect is decreased and the bullet prints a little high. The difference, however, is so slight as to be almost immeasurable until the direction of the shot varies at least 45 degrees from the horizontal. Such shots are demanded almost never.

As hunting season approaches, it is well to remember that it is not necessary to conduct all your rifle practice on the range. All sorts of things may be simulated at home, especially including the acquisition of position, bolt work, and the use of the sling. One particularly good drill is to sit before the televisor with the rifle across your lap and to use the commercials for dry practice. Anytime a zero or an o appears on the screen it is up to you to pick it up in your sights, squeeze off a perfectly delivered simulation, snap the bolt and hit it again before it leaves the screen. This is a very effective way to balance speed against precision, since you must not squeeze off a miss, but you do not know how long that zero is going to stay on the screen. I do not watch a lot of television, but I try to get in a couple of weeks of this every time before I go hunting.

We learn from family member Eric Ching, who visited the factory at Steyr, that very little progress has been made on the production Scout. A totally new action is being designed, and may be ready to test in `94, but no sighting system has been attempted at Swarovski and the years roll slowly on. If you want a Scout, best get it made up on your own action.

To straighten out a certain misapprehension, these commentaries are the primary property of "Guns & Ammo" magazine. They are then made available to Gunsite Press as well as to those few on the "select list." I am prevented from publishing them commercially myself, but anyone else is welcome to them - after G&A has had first crack. I want to put out the word without the interference of intermediaries.

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