Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 4, No. 10          September, 1996

Summer's End

While four seasons of the year are nice to have, summer - in the temperate zone - has always seemed the least pleasant of the four. Of course, school is out for most kids, and that is generally a pleasure. It may be nice for the kids, but it certainly does tend to clutter up the countryside as families take off for the open spaces. I once heard the state of Florida described as "hot, flat and crowded." That depends on where one may be at the time, but almost every place, with the possible exception of Lapland, is hot and crowded in the summer. Glad to see it go.

A perceptive graduate of Orange Gunsite decided to come back for more and has taken two Grey courses. He informs me that the new owner of the Gunsite Training Center is proceeding to alter the standard techniques as previously taught. I never felt that the systems I taught here were beyond improvement, but at least they had been proven in serious practical competition. The changes I see made by current practitioners seem based more on speculation than proof. However, as long as the client is willing to pay his tuition, the main objective of the enterprise seems to be fulfilled.

In this curious age in which we live, where money seems to be everything, it is interesting to note that the highest wage paid to anyone is paid to a member of an "oppressed minority." According to the English newspaper "Daily Star", Mike Tyson is paid 500 thousand pounds - that is about 800 thousand dollars - each week.

In rifles there have been a number of new toys for us. The Blaser R93 is new and it is fully tested and it works. It may not be a scout, but it is a nifty gun. The production scout from Steyr Mannlicher remains on hold, and will remain so for at least a year, despite my most earnest representations to the contrary. When that piece finally hits the market we will have accomplished something.

Casting back over the century just concluding, we can see a number of overlooked triumphs which were excellently conceived and executed, but did not catch the publics eye. One of the first of these would seem to be the Krag action. If I were to find myself in the big bucks, I would organize the design and production of a modernized high-proof version of the Krag, but no one can predict the market success of any sort of innovation. The Remington Short Magnum cartridges - 6.5 and 350 - were true advances in a field which is overrun with variety with very little true advancement. The flush sling-socket and the spring-loaded butt magazine, which are prominent features of both Sweetheart and the Lion Scout, are astonishing conveniences, but they are seen only rarely. The 7-08 cartridge, offering the compact case of the 308 for use in jurisdictions where the latter is forbidden by law (and there are various examples of this), is curiously neglected. And the fabricators are largely uninterested in the scoutscope - I think probably because they have never used nor seen one.

Lest we conclude that things are particularly rough in Bosnia, Belfast or Brooklyn, I may point out that in the vicinity of John Gannaway's metal works in Central Phoenix there have been 30 murders committed within a radius of one mile of his shop in the past year. Street crime has been getting much notice in South Africa recently, but they have a way to go before they catch up with us.

Let us not forget the forthcoming Gunsite Reunion and Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, to be held at Whittington Shooting Center near Raton, New Mexico, on 19, 20, 21 October. I hope you have noticed my various announcements of this affair, which is refreshing, inspiring, and great fun all at once. It is delightful to observe how much histrionic talent our Orange Gunsite family can display, and it is delightful to attend this gathering of The Family. Make your preparations now and we look forward to seeing you there.

The scoutscope is a luxury for those who understand it. Compact and unobtrusive, it rides snugly down on the barrel and just forward of the action. It facilitates loading and handling, and it eliminates "Kaibab eye." It is distinctly faster to use than the short-eye-relief telescope sights in general use, and it sacrifices nothing in the way of precision. ("If I can see it, I can hit it." It does not matter how big it seems.) Up til now only the Burris people have offered us a satisfactory scoutscope, and all credit is due them for their imagination and ingenuity in this matter. Now Leupold offers a scoutscope, and we thus have a bit of choice. I now have mounted the new and improved Burris on Sweetheart, and the Leupold on the Lion Scout. These two are full-duty rifles and will be going to the field regularly as long as they or I last. Sweetheart has distinguished herself on the range here, in North American game fields, and in Africa, in the hands of half a dozen riflemen. The Lion Scout, of course, took the lion, and it will be accompanying me to Montana for elk in November. These scout rifles (scout-type rifles) excite comment and pleasure wherever they appear, and the scoutscopes they mount are one of the distinguishing features of the breed. The Europeans will not trust to the market for the scoutscope as yet. When production scout rifles appear on the market, that circumstance may change.

"A hyphenated American is not an American at all. This is just as true of the man who puts 'Native' before the hyphen as of the man who puts German or Irish or English or French before the hyphen. Americanism is a matter of the spirit and of the soul. Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance."

Theodore Roosevelt, 12 October 1915
(via Bob Roscoe)

If we have not had much to say in recent months about developments in pistols, that is only because nothing much of consequence has been introduced. Probably the "Baby 10" from Glock is an important innovation, but it is difficult to put it to the test without the passage of considerable time. We shall see.

Perhaps you have noticed that the United States Armed Forces have pretty much given up on rifle marksmanship - at least that seems true of the Army. The Marines may be trying to hang in there, but under the circumstances they are fighting a losing battle. The word we get back from on high is that rifle marksmanship is too hard, it takes too long, it is too expensive, and most of all it "personalizes killing." (So help me!) To this we have come! When I was a boy I acquired the distinct impression that personalized killing was what war was about. Of course, that was a long time ago. I do remember we were given intensive training on the bayonet, which while not a useful weapon in war, certainly does its best to personalize killing. The Marine Corps went to considerable trouble to instill in us the idea that if each of us personally killed one of the enemy, the war would be over. All of that, of course, is out-of-step with modern times. In a unisex, multi-cultural armed force, one must above all be politically correct.

Bear contacts seem to be on the increase throughout the United States, which upsets some people very much. That state of mind which holds that any problem whatever may be solved by passing a law is hard put to think up any sort of law that can be passed about bears. Certainly we do not want to exterminate the beasties, but on the other hand, we do not want innocent non-combatants chomped up. A recent contact is reported from the Kluane district of the Yukon, a country I hunted extensively as a youth. It was then good grizzly country, and I took three prime trophies, as grizzlies were considered vermin at that time, much like the way lions were in Kenya. Apparently this is still a good region for bears, as in this recent case, a girl was backpacking alone when she ran into a half-grown cub which killed her. (The news account said 130lb. This is not full grown for a grizzly.) Clearly the only action that can be taken is in the mind of the tourist. If this poor woman had been familiar with the Gunsite bear rules, and had observed them, she would have been all right. Modernism, of course, has a lot to do with this. When I knew the Yukon, no woman would have been walking alone in it, nor any man without an adequate rifle. Times have changed.

It is interesting to note a revival in the popularity of the 35 Whelen cartridge, which may have been triggered by the appearance of the 350 Remington Short Magnum. The two cartridges deliver identical ballistics (depending upon the loading), but where the 35 Whelen requires a long action, the 350 fits into a short action. The length of a rifle action may not be conspicuously significant, but a rifle made up on a short action may be about an inch shorter and perhaps half a pound lighter than one made up on a long action. In addition, the short bolt throw is more convenient. The Lion scout previously mentioned takes the 350 Remington short (slightly long-loaded) and delivers its 250-grain bullet at an honest 2500f/s from its 19-inch barrel. This is a sharp little gun, and is fully worthy of replication.

The more we observe, the more we note a definite correlation between after-market custom work on a pistol and fragility. Put as simply as possible, "expensive pistols conk out." (Note the rage from the gallery.)

I have been informed that I have been "mentioned in dispatches." In Tom Clancy's new cloak and dagger opus, "Executive Orders," the hero sends his henchmen to Jeff Cooper's Gunsite Ranch in order to insure the future of civilization. It does seem a pity that he can't do that anymore.

Let us not let the matter drop. The murderers of Nicole Simpson, Vickie Weaver and Vince Foster are still walking free, and no one proposes doing anything about it. Let us by all means make an effort to lengthen our cultural memory.

Family member Mark Moritz points out that the custom of discounting the worst performance on a triple time series in a pistol match is unsound. I introduced this system some years ago in following a scoring system used in Grand Prix racing where a competitor's poorest three showings in the course of sixteen races were not counted. This was adopted mainly to discount mechanical breakdown, which really is no evidence of a driver's skill one way or another. In pistol matches, however, it is not a good plan, I now admit, since a sandbagger can shoot two reasonably good scores and then go crazy on his third, hoping that luck will bring him in. I never have been prepared for sandbaggers, but we do find them, and this must be acknowledged. A bad performance in a pistol contest may well be terminal, and this should be noted.

What follows may be the all time ultimate 45 anecdote. It was published in Air Force magazine for July 1996 and passed onto me by family member George Olmsted. Believe it or not as you wish. I, of course, prefer to believe it.

March, 1943. A flight of B24 based northwest of Calcutta was flying a long-range mission against a railway bridge about halfway between Rangoon and Mandalay. Before arrival at the target the bomber group was intercepted by Japanese fightercraft. An officer in one of the Liberators was co-pilot Second Lieutenant Owen Baggett. His ship was torn up by enemy fire and the crew was forced to bail out. Not everyone made it. Baggett saw four other parachutes open besides his own, at which time the B24 exploded.

The Japanese fighters, as was their custom, set about murdering the crew in the air. One round grazed Baggett's arm, and he thereupon decided to play dead, hanging limp in his shrouds. At this point one of the Nip pilots decided to close in for a good look. He throttled back to stalling speed and mushed up to the vicinity of Lieutenant Baggett as closely as he could. The lieutenant was understandably annoyed by Japanese behavior (which brings back memories to many of us), so he hauled out his 1911 and fired four shots in the direction of the open cockpit of the Japanese airplane on which the canopy had been raised. The airplane stalled and spun in.

Baggett and two others made it safely to the ground but were captured by the Burmese, who delivered them over to the Japs.

Not unexpectedly, Lieutenant Baggett nearly died of malnutrition and abuse, dropping from 180 to 90lbs, but he did survive and was able to glean some information. The story was that the pilot that Baggett had fired at had been thrown clear of his aircraft when it crashed and was found dead of a single bullet hole in his head. A certain amount of corroborative information seemed to have established that Lieutenant Baggett did indeed shoot a fighter plane out of the air with his pistol.

Today, Retired Colonel Baggett in San Antonio is disinclined to discuss the matter since he does not want to sound like a gun writer. One can understand that. Nonetheless, we have here a sea story of the first magnitude and one that should not be forgotten.

Just back from the Colorado Rockies, we discover that the plethora of white goats (Oreamnos americanus) has posed a minor and curious problem. Those people will eat your soccer ball if you don't watch out. I have this on the authority of grandson Tyler. More detailed information is available on demand.

To those of you who are contemplating the African adventure, I can say that my experience suggests that one rifle is the answer - unless you are going to hunt buffalo. My time in Africa is way short of the old pros, but I have studied them at length and have added my own impressions to theirs. "Dangerous game" - excluding the leopard - calls for heavy, and by a heavy I mean 45-caliber, 500 grains, 2400f/s and up. Apart from that, your 30-06 will do just fine. If you are going to specialize in eland you might want something more than your 06, though obviously it will do if you put your bullet in the right place. However, I do suggest you take a spare telescope. Your rifle is very unlikely to break. Your telescope sight just may. Remember that when you are hunting you can only use one gun at a time, and the question arises as to what you are going to do with the other one. There is also the complexity of carrying two separate rifles through various sorts of customs controls and airports. My personal choice for Africa is the Lion Scout, backed by Baby for buffalo and hippo, if such beasts are on the program.

From the Sunday Times of Kwazulu Natal, August, 1996, we get the following fascinating Q&A exchange.
Q: Why have the sound pips between radio news items? Why are those sound pips five now when they used to be six?

A: Previously all employees of the South African Broadcasting Company were able to count to six. This is no longer so.
So much for the progress of the revolution.

We discover that when Theodore Roosevelt was signing up his regiment of Rough Riders for the Spanish-American War he included very little, if any, rifle marksmanship. This would seem disquieting until we realize that TR signed up only "qualified" people for his regiment. We used to do that in the Great West for the police service. A man was not signed up until he had already established that he was fully competent with his weapons. The whole notion of training soldiers in weaponcraft after they have been enlisted is somewhat questionable, but, of course, in today's world it is customary.

Since you ask, "The Art of the Rifle" has now been photographed and put to bed. How soon we see it in publication form is now out of my control.

This "boss tuner" gadget now available on the front end of certain rifles has proved to be of a certain interest. It turns out that if the vibration nodes of a rifle barrel are tuned by rotating this weighted sleeve at the muzzle, absolute accuracy can be improved. I think this is pretty fascinating, since I have often wondered if that forward sleeve on Scout II is a factor in its astonishing accuracy. The gadget evidently works as advertised and can appreciably squeeze group size. When one considers, however, that without the gadget the rifle already shoots far better than the shooter can appreciate, except possibly from a bench, one wonders if the extra bulk accomplishes anything significant.

An Associated Press item mourns that the USMC has on hand 3 million rounds of 50-caliber BMG ammunition - and will not let it go. Despite the pressmen, this is not bad news. Reports we have back from the Gulf War indicate that the great 50-caliber machinegun continues to be the soldier's best friend. We pray that the Marines will take excellent care of that excellent stock of cartridges.

As the age of litigation continues, we run into continuing problems with innovation in weaponry. The liability agents hold that anything that is unfamiliar is automatically dangerous, and therefore, suable. We have been wrestling with that problem in connection with the Mitchell pistol, on which the safety system is different from that of the 1911. It is better and it is safer, but it is unfamiliar; therefore, it is a product liability. That is the way some people think.

Since I have long taught that long-range shots should be apologized for rather than bragged about, I went over my own record to see under what circumstances I was forced to fire a long shot - 300 meters or more. There were six such shots, three on mountain sheep, one on a pronghorn, one on a caribou, and one on a blue wildebeeste. My excuse in five of those six cases was that the terrain did not permit a closer approach under any circumstances. In each of those five cases the target was stationary, unsuspecting, and I was in a rock-solid firing position using a weapon in which I had complete confidence. In the other incident, the target had already been hit by my partner and was in the process of getting over a ridge beyond which we would have been hard put to pursue him. I am a little embarrassed about that excuse that I could not get any closer. As I recall it, I really could not, but that excuse is used too often by people who could indeed have closed the range if they had set their hearts on it. On one other case, I took what must be considered an excessively long shot - 175 paces - on a running buffalo. You do not shoot buffalo at that distance, but he had been hit twice by a 375, and here again it was necessary that I prevent his reaching an impenetrable patch of bush. The shot was taken from open-legged sitting using the CW sling on Baby, and while I certainly would not have attempted it on an unwounded beast, I feel I was justified in this case.

Many years ago when we were introduced to the "Practical Pistol Course" of the FBI at Quantico, one stage required the discharge of five shots, a reload, and a discharge of five more - all in one time interval. I bought that idea and when the practical shooting game became popular I introduced various courses in which reloading under fire was required. This was probably not a good idea, as extensive study has failed to turn up any instance in which a man ran his piece dry in a pistol fight, reloaded and continued the action successfully. This is not to say that such a circumstance could not happen, but rather that it should not be emphasized in training or competition. Today, reload speed is vital to IPSC competition, and I think we have expended a great deal of effort in pursuit of an unreasonable goal. Great volumes of fire were doubtless useful back in the days when "civilized" men found themselves obliged to repel hoards of screaming savages. That day seems to have passed, as today's screaming savages prefer the AK47. Thus I believe that no pistol course of fire should require the firing of more than six shots from any one firing position. Actually, there is no reason for that many; however, a great many revolvers which are still in use are limited to six rounds and they do very well as defensive instruments.

The British, as well as the Australians, have been so upset by the misuse of firearms by certain madmen that they are scurrying around endeavoring to pass laws in amelioration of this nasty phenomenon. If the situation gets much worse, they may eventually decide to pass a law against murder, but that is too bizarre a solution for the age of the wimp.

They are approaching a new election in England, too. Currently the legislative position of The Left is "no pistols at all," and that of The Right is "much tighter control than we have now." Well, that is where the Magna Carta was signed, but that was a long time ago. One obnoxious commentator recently observed that "If you have any desire to own a firearm, that is positive evidence that you should not be allowed to have one."

Those who think that legislation is the answer to firearms violence should consider Bogota, Colombia. As you know, Colombia is a fairly violent community at this time, where shootings are almost as prevalent as in South Phoenix. Note, however, that while everybody is armed and everybody is aware of the problem, there is a social taboo about shooting anybody in the bull ring. This is not a matter of statute, as I understand it, but rather of custom. On Sundays during the bull season there has to be a place where people can go and concentrate on things apart from watching their backs. You cannot concentrate on the matador or the bull if you are continually watching over your shoulder. Therefore, all hands - good and bad - have accepted the idea that you do not shoot people in the bull ring. It seems a viable consensus is what is needed.

Considered opinion is now that 12-gage shotgun slugs are completely practical to a range of about 100 meters on light game. This distance is not realistic, however, in bear defense situations. You can certainly hit a bear at a hundred yards, but our Alaskan friends tell us that you probably will not hurt him much with a slug. Remember that the bear cannot hurt you unless he can touch you, and that means that you should restrict bear defense shots to 25 paces or less. Well-made slugs will penetrate at that distance, and there is enough mass there to do the job.

"It never troubles the wolf how many the sheep may be."

Sir Francis Bacon

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