Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 4, No. 1           January, 1996

Happy New Year!

So here we go into 1996. I suppose 1995 could have been much worse than it was, but still it included fully as much that was scruffy as that which was elegant. Its very scruffiness leads to some hope at the polls, at least here in the US, but the democratic process has not proved to be a guarantee of either liberty or justice. As Churchill opined, it may be a very poor system, but remains better than any alternative we have thought up so far.

Be that as it may, we look forward to '96 with cautious optimism. Many excellent things may turn up, so here is to good cheer for the New Year!

Have you noticed the frequency with which journalists employ the term "a hail of bullets"? This is the wrong term, since hail comes down from above, not from the side. The proper term should be "blizzard," as anyone can attest to who has been out in one. However, I have never seen an author use the term "a blizzard of bullets," whereas I hear about "a hail of bullets" with every second copy of the newspaper.

One of the things that we look forward to in the New Year is the chance to confront an angry bull hippo on dry land. Arrangements have been made.

The question will arise as to why the hunter should choose a hippo, especially since over the great hunting days of Africa this beast was never considered to be a game animal. He does, however, offer some interesting possibilities. Shooting him in the water is not exciting. While he has been known to attack and destroy a boat, he usually simply sinks and dies under water. On the other hand, if you can insert yourself between a night-grazing hippo and his river, he may afford you as much excitement as you desire - perhaps more. His bulk is enormous and the problem of proper bullet placement is daunting. In his rush for water he is all but unstoppable, and his bite can easily cut a man in two. (We know of two outfitters who will not undertake this operation, believing it to be too dangerous.)

If and when you get your hippo down, various positive features appear. His hide is supposed to make the best leather in the world. His meat is highly prized by the local people, and his rendered fat is considered to be a sovereign remedy for everything from malaria to sprained ankles. His ivory is distinctly superior to that of the elephant for the manufacture of jewelry and accessories, being denser and finer in grain.

Among other things, this adventure will give us one more excuse to take Baby afield. We will use 500-grain solids, and when the opportunity presents itself we will shoot with extreme care.

Now we observe the ultimate gift for the man who has everything. This is a titanium-plated Anaconda. Here in the tail end of industrialization we come across the manufacture of items which are designed not for use, but only for ownership. Such things were made historically on a one-at-a-time basis for kings and princes, but now we make them up in quantity for anyone whose wife (mother, daughter, concubine, secretary) has more cash than good sense.

It is interesting to me that while one cannot yet purchase a production Scout rifle, which ought to be the most useful thing of its kind so far designed, one can now purchase a titanium-plated Anaconda. Food for thought.

(The "Anaconda" I refer to here is the long-barreled Colt revolver in caliber 44-Magnum.)

Considering the recent Christmas festivities we were reminded of an exchange that took place in lowland Scotland in the early 17th century. The English visitor looked around at smoking wreckage and disaster, ravished fields and slaughtered livestock, and exclaimed,
"Good heavens, are there no Christians here?"
The response was,
"Nay, Sir, we be mainly Armstrongs and Elliots."

Now that so many states are issuing licenses for concealed carry, and have had to come up with something regarded as "qualification" for the issuance, we are treated to the tiresome spectacle of the blind leading the blind. Legislatures do not know what sort of law to pass, and the qualifiers have no idea what it is they are trying to qualify. This is okay in the big picture since it puts more armed citizens on the streets, but I am receiving a flood of letters pointing out the inadequacy of the qualification process. You cannot "qualify" a shottist (or a pianist or an airplane pilot or a matador or a dancer) in "six easy lessons." The only sensible thing you can do is examine the applicant for his knowledge of the law as it applies to his jurisdiction. You may, of course, make sure he understands how to load and unload his weapon, but to try to turn him into a pistolero is absurd.

The legislative efforts in this line continue to be mysterious. According to the new Texas law, for example, a nurse may not carry her properly licensed pistol into a hospital. As we all know, a nurse is particularly vulnerable to violent attack, not in the corridors of the hospital, but on her way from the door to her car in the wee hours. If she really needs a sidearm, this is when she needs it, but current Texas law seems unconcerned.

In answer to those of you who have written in, the Whittington dates for 1996 appear as follows:
General Rifle Class: 28 April to 3 May
General Pistol Class: 14 to 19 July
Gunsite Reunion and Theodore Roosevelt Memorial: 18, 19, 20 October
Rich Wyatt (303) 232-0542
Keneyathlon: 17, 18 June
David Kahn (303) 697-9495

Reluctant as we may be to compliment a dictator who prefers to be addressed as "Comrade," we are compelled to do so in the case of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. He officially refers to homosexuals as "perverts who do not deserve civil rights." In his words,
"Let the Americans keep their sodomy, bestiality, stupid and foolish ways to themselves. Let the gays be - gay - in the United States and Europe, but they shall be sad people here."
How about that?

We have struck out on the Gunsite zeroing target. Our printer here in Prescott has decided that marketing it is not economically feasible. I think very highly of this design and I think the target should be stocked on every well-equipped rifle range. If anyone in the family is interested in grabbing onto this opportunity, I hope he will get in touch with me.

With the increased popularity of the "double-action" self-loading pistol we have come to instruct students in four different presentations. This does complicate matters, but we have seen all four systems work, under pressure, and no self-respecting instructor can justify his omitting any one of the four.
  1. The Weaver system. Here the trigger starts back as the weapon starts up, arriving at full-cock exactly as the eye picks up the sight system. This is the system that Jack Weaver used in his mastery of the double-action revolver, and it is the most elegant way of using the DA auto.
  2. The point-and-crunch system. This is the least efficient method and the most common. It is practically universal with the unenlightened. To use it the shooter simply points the uncocked weapon at his target and cranks on through. You can hit this way, but not quickly.
  3. The thumb-cock system. Here the shooter catches the lowered hammer of his piece with his left thumb as his hands come together in the ready position. He cocks the piece with his thumb as the weapon comes up on target and fires his shot from the fully cocked position. This works. It is as fast as the man can make his hands work, and it affords a precise first shot. Its drawback is that it needs both hands.
  4. The shot-cock system. This is not considered politically correct by many departments, but it does work. I have seen it used with startling efficiency on both the range and in the street. With this system the shooter simply flings his first shot down range with no regard for proper stance or sight picture. This cocks the piece and it just may hit the target by accident. However, the pistol is instantly readied for the second shot, which can be placed with precision. I know of no one who teaches this system, but it does work very well, and it is a mistake to pretend it does not exist.
Thumb-cocking is probably the way to go, unless you are a master, in which case you will use the Weaver system.

Department of Pretty Arcane Stuff

"As the supernatural world is eternally at work behind events in the natural world, so the world of man-in-nature continues to operate behind the synthetic, abstracted, and unreal world of man outside-of-nature. For that reason alone I shall always hunt elk. (Though, of course, I really don't need any reason.)"

Chilton Williamson, Jr. in Chronicles magazine

With abject apologies to Victor Herbert, we submit the following lyric, which evolved out of our joyful goings on at the Gunsite Reunion and Theodore Roosevelt Memorial at Whittington Center last October:
Give me a gun,
    That's a stout hearted gun,
That sounds off with a soul-stirring roar.

Give me just one,
    That's a stout hearted gun,
And I'll soon show you trophies galore, O!

(If it) has a good trigger,
    I'll need nothing bigger,
As I load up and step to the fore.

Then, I'll show you man's best friend,
    And I'll not ask for more.

One stout hearted gun
    Can serve its master evermore.

(Sorry about that!)

I regret to report that an E-ticket from Orange Gunsite does not necessarily mean that you can shoot. I hate to report this, but I have examples. Marksmanship is one thing, but crisis management is another, and gunhandling is still a third. We should all give this matter further thought.

In what I have longed considered to be an error, there are people who feel that the more shots they fire in an instruction course the better the course. Firing a lot of ammunition may only be an invitation to repeat original errors. A second error I see in watching the conduct of instruction throughout the world is a tendency on the part of the rangemaster to put people into advanced work before they are basically sound. I see people being exposed to fire-and-movement problems and priority of target problems before they are able to hit any target at all under simple conditions. All this does is convince the student of his weaknesses, and a conviction of weakness is a serious handicap in a serious confrontation.

As our native whitetail deer continue to proliferate, they can become a serious problem to people with gardens or orchards. A good many such people are forbidden by law from decking a prowler or two and processing carcasses for the freezer. For such people we recommend the "Wrist Rocket" or other advanced version of the old fashioned slingshot. This instrument is capable of astonishing efficiency in practiced hands, and should be enough to convince the marauder of the error of his ways. Of course, the householder may have to stay up all night now and again, and that disadvantage may prove enough to let the deer have the orchard.

Now we can all look forward to the SHOT Show in Dallas, where many marvelous things should be placed on display. I confess to a little confusion on the subject of the profusion provided us by the pistol manufacturers. Where there used to be about half-a-dozen good choices for the novice gunman, there now must be fifty. The problem, however, remains somewhat simpler than all this marketing effort would indicate.

The first requirement of a defensive sidearm is stopping power. The shooter must have the best possible chance of terminating the action with one well-directed shot. (It may be pointed out that even more important than stopping power is the need for the weapon to go off when the trigger is pulled. I will have to admit that, but I do not think that failure to fire on the first shot is a problem of any great consequence in current manufacture.)

The second requirement of the defensive pistol is reliability. It must continue to function after the first shot, even though this should not be given great importance.

The third requirement is handiness. If the piece is uncomfortable to wear and to use, it will not be present when needed.

Despite the foregoing, we see a great deal of emphasis placed upon "accuracy." Now certainly a shot which misses its target does no good, but nearly all defensive pistols available today are quite capable of placing all their shots in the center of a man's chest at defensive distances. Correspondents continually write me about systems they might use to increase the accuracy of their defensive pistols, as if they could appreciate the difference between a 3" group and a 5" group at 50 meters! Accuracy increments of this sort are absolutely irrelevant. But the majority of "gun writers" do not seem to see it this way.

And then there is a matter of magazine capacity. "If my piece holds twelve rounds, while yours hold only ten, I win." Here again we are dealing with irrelevance. The highest score I have ever heard of in a pistol fight was five, and that victory was achieved with a 7-round magazine, without reloading. Our late companion Bruce Nelson was once asked in the course of an interview at a police station if it was not a good idea to carry a P35 because of its high capacity magazine. Bruce's response was, "Well, sure, if you plan to miss a lot."

We will see a lot more, of course, at the SHOT Show than a profusion of pistol choices. I will pick out the things which seem most interesting and report back to you in further issues of this Commentary.

I do not know how many of you have ever heard of the Mobius Loop, which is a mathematical demonstration of the possibility of being in two places at once - in this case, on both sides of a plane surface. Back when I was in full charge of the Gunsite ranges I got to be pretty good at being in two places at once, but this year it appears that during the month of April I will have to be in three places at once. We will think upon it.

" - Sensitivity - makes cowards of us all!"

Florence King

News Item: In Fort Wayne, Indiana, Sutton bit most of the ear off of Wallace during a barroom brawl. When Sutton was arrested he swallowed the ear. He was charged with battery and criminal recklessness. It would hardly seem that biting is "battery," and we do not see how "recklessness" applies at all, but the police could not find any charge applicable to cannibalism.

It would seem that if a police agency relegates gunfights to 10 meters and under, and is limited to students who do not care about shooting, good technique and good equipment become pointless. If your technique is going to be spray-and-pray, neither good trigger action, nor correct stance, nor sights are really going to matter very much. Shooting skill, and, more important, fighting skill, seem unlikely to outlast the century.

A good friend and client of mine, who happens to be a hunting outfitter, has over the years developed a serious mistrust of what he refers to as "Magnum Shooters." They come to hunt with him with great big guns with which they cannot shoot well. They talk about group size, when what they really need is trigger control. They tend to be very taken with the 338, and jeer at anything smaller. My friend has kept records and has reached the conclusion that the standard range at which these people take game is 85 yards. Unless restrained, they will try long shots, but on these they will miss, or worse, wound. My friend makes his living off these people, and he would rather not be quoted in print, but he has no objection to my furnishing you with his name on request.

A year and a half after the revolution in South Africa, we are informed that one is well advised to go armed there - just as in the United States.

In the Age of the Wimp we are apt to forget that there really is such a thing as a hero. We call people heroes who simply do what they are told, or put out fires in garbage cans, or make statements which may risk their jobs. We hardly remember the real heroes, a few of whom are still alive. On June 4, 1943, for example, Dick Best flew two missions. He dropped two bombs, and he sank two carriers - in the teeth of enemy fire. If you will think for a moment of what it takes to blast your dive bomber vertically down onto the blazing guns of an enemy warship, hold your nerve, and plant your bomb squarely amidships, you may reflect upon what it takes to do that once. Dick Best did it twice on the same day. He is still alive and comparatively spry at 85. Let us have no more talk about "football heroes."

For those who like to reiterate the modern fantasy known as POT (post operational trauma), the example of George Patton is illuminating. You will recall that he got into a fire fight down in Mexico when Pershing was looking for Pancho Villa. When asked later how it felt to kill a man, Patton responded, "I felt exactly the way I felt when I landed my first swordfish."

There may be such a thing as POT, but I for one have never seen it.

Attorney William Burkett of the Oklahoma County Bar's education committee frequently speaks to school children about legal topics. When he addressed a class of fifth graders recently, he asked whether any of the students knew the punishment for stealing in some countries.
"Yes," one boy said. "They cut off your hands."

"Could that happen here?" Burkett asked, and the students replied with a chorus of "nos."

"Why not?" he said to a girl in the front row.

"Because," she said, "the Constitution gives us the right to keep our arms."

On the last day of 1995 our neighbors Bob and Allie Young conducted a notable invitational Sch├╝tzenfest out on their Ravengard estate, for quite a nice crowd. They feel that this is a superior way to celebrate New Year's Eve - and we entirely agree.

War cry of the 21st century, "I just wish I knew more about what we're doing."

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