Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 4, No. 14          December, 1996


Yes, we do have something to be thankful for! We hung onto Congress, and it is Congress, not the White House, that makes the laws. Things could be worse; we could be living in Britain, where, as you know, Parliament has chosen to turn the streets over to the bad guys. Henceforth in Britain, handguns are totally outlawed, so only the outlaws will have handguns. It is heartbreaking to learn of my English friends who now have to trot down to the nearest police station and turn over their family heirlooms and faithful comrades to Big Brother. Well, it is not that way here - not yet - but there are plenty of quasi-Americans who really wish that it were so. We keep up the fight. We are beset, but we are not defeated, and we will maintain the struggle as long as there is breath in our bodies.

I was recently enchanted to learn of mounted pistol competition, which is being conducted on a fairly regular basis down along the border in southern Arizona. If you wish to enter, you must provide your own horse and two 45 caliber Peacemakers. I found this stipulation pretty advanced, since it is something of a problem to get your horse to behave when you are shooting only one pistol off his back and controlling him at a gallop, while shooting with a pistol in each hand is a difficult exercise. Upon investigation I found the contestant only shoots one pistol at a time, but he must have the other ready at hand in the event he runs dry. I also discovered that only blank ammunition is used, the targets being rubber balloons which can be burst by a blank.

Not having a properly organized horse available to me at this time, I am excluded from this competition, but I think the idea is just great. The possibilities open to a horse-oriented society are limitless. Sword and lance may add to the excitement. We must examine this whole business in depth.

To my considerable disgust I note a press release sent out by the Internal Revenue Service to the effect that they got one George C. Brant of Snowflake, Arizona, a 3-year sentence for not declaring his sale of woodshavings from his carpentry shop on his tax return. Now obviously we have to have tax collectors, and we have to have prison guards, along with several other sorts of shoddy public servants, but I think these people would have better taste than to brag about their activities.

"Statistics can never determine excellence."

The Guru

Our friends in Africa tell us that now that the Bantu peoples feel that they are in full control, their underclass have taken to the unpleasant habit of trying to drive white farmers off the land by breaking their fences, burning their crops, and killing their cattle. Fortunately, there is good answer to this, and that is witchcraft. The farmer hires the local witch doctor to do this stuff, and the harassment stops. This is plain old extortion, well known and practiced in such exotic places as New York, Chicago, and Sicily, but it works. We are told it is not nearly as expensive as one might suspect.

Certainly we have enough different kinds of cartridges, but while I have never been able to take much interest in the 9mm family of pistol cartridges, 9mm rifle cartridges have much to recommend them. The selection is very broad, ranging from the obsolete 35 Winchester all the way up through the 358 Norma. The better examples of this family are properly categorized as "medium-powered." They will work well enough on deer, of course, but they are somewhat excessive for that purpose. They appear at their best when they are used to take good sized four-footed game - anything short of buffalo. The most efficient bullet mass seems to be about 250 grains, and when a 36 calibre, 250-grain bullet of proper design is launched upon its way at about 2500f/s its killing power is most authoritative.

One of the most venerable of the breed is the 35 Whelen, which is simply a 30-06 blown out to 9mm. This round has been with us since well before World War II, and I find it surprising that it never achieved the popularity that it deserves, having been overshadowed from its inception by the 375 H&H Magnum. The 35 Whelen is not quite up to a 375 ballistically, but the difference between the two is not great.

The 9mm rifle cartridges have long been thought limited to short-range; a viewpoint I consider to be erroneous. The widespread belief that a rifle cartridge is of no use at long distance unless its projectile starts at 3,000 feet or better is simply not corroborated by field experience. In my opinion, Colonel Whelen's dictum that 300 yards was an effective working maximum for sportsmanlike use in the field still holds, despite an enormous amount of trash writing to the contrary. I am not inclined to be falsely modest about my personal experience with field shooting - I have a lot of my own, and I have studied the experience of others at great length and over a long period. While I am satisfied to extend the practical maximum from 300 yards to 300 meters, I am convinced that shots taken beyond that distance are evidence of bad sportsmanship. We need not go into details about animals improperly hit. It is enough to say that anyone who has ever seen a deer wandering in the woods with its lower jaw shot off may be impressed enough to give up the whole idea of big game hunting for the rest of his life.

So we are talking about hitting well, and that means hitting solidly into the boiler room of the target beast under field conditions, including excitement, hurry, wind, bad light, and unstable shooting positions. Before you take the shot you should be sure of your ability to hit a dinner plate - every time - under the circumstances applying at the time. It takes a very good man - a very unusual marksman - to handle that problem beyond 300 meters, and the better members of the 9mm rifle family may be counted on to do better than the shooter can.

My own personal pet in this category at this time is the excellent "350 Remington Magnum," which is essentially the Holland magnum case shortened to 308 length and necked to 9mm. I have discussed this nifty little round previously at some length and I must say that its lack of general appreciation puzzles me. Using the excellent Swift A-frame bullet of 250 grains, this load will shoot right through both shoulders of a moose from side-to-side, and right through a lion from end to end. Packed into a compact, short (20-inch barrelled) handy scout-type piece weighing just over 8 pounds, it will group better than I can (6 centimeters center-to-center at 200 meters) and it facilitates the aerial snapshot fully as well as the bench rest.

It has its drawbacks. It is not a deer gun, since it is over-powerful and over-penetrative for 200-pound targets. It is hard to feed. Proper factory ammunition for it is practically impossible to find, and handloading that short case can be tricky. It kicks. When it first appeared the 350 Remington Magnum was castigated throughout the industry as a tooth-rattler. I do not know how this fancy got started. The little gun does kick, but no harder than any other cartridge of similar power. For any shooter who is up to a 338 or a 375 to be bothered by the kick of the little "350 Short" is inexplicable - at least to me.

While the ballistic performance of the 35 Whelen and the 350 Remington (short) Magnum are practically indistinguishable, I prefer the Remington cartridge to the Whelen simply because it is short. There are certain advantages to a short bolt throw.

Obviously I like the 35s. I particularly like the 350 Short Magnum. Its only trouble is that you cannot get one, at least not easily, but then I have mine (Semper Fi!).

Have you noticed that even some fairly well informed people may still be found referring to Vince Foster's death as a suicide? So blood runs up hill?

To our considerable amazement we learn of a formal sporting competition recently held in Germany in which the weapon employed was the atlatl. The people concerned referred to their instrument as a "spear thrower," but I prefer the Najuatl term as being more exotic and mysterious. I tried fabricating devices of this type when I was in junior high school. My efforts were frustrating, but clearly this gadget did work, and over a long period, because it has been found amongst the artifacts of primitive men all over the world. I cannot quite see the future of an atlatl association seeking entry into the Olympics, but the Germans have always been ready to form in groups to play around and drink beer, which is, of course, a cheerful national characteristic.

We have mentioned the painful story of the high school cheerleader who was set upon by a bear in the White Mountains of Arizona and very badly hurt, though not fatally. Much as we sympathize with this girl, we find our sympathy sorely tried when we discover that now she has fallen into the hands of the ambulance chasers, and is proposing to sue everybody in sight because of the bad behavior of this bear. She cannot sue the bear because it is dead - and besides it did not have any money when it was alive - but she can sue the Forest Service and the Department of Fish and Game, and, for all I know, the CIA, KGB, and the National Zoological Society. Here we are in the Age of Litigation!

The antics of the sleazemaster reached a new peak just before the election. And yet the people went right out and elected him. As Harry Hopkins, FDR's sidekick and exec, put it: "The people are too damn dumb to understand."

Suddenly we hear of a new form of misconduct known as "stalking," which apparently is the custom of following people around without any apparent purpose. This brings a story to mind of a school chum of mine who got into the diplomatic service and found himself on the Moscow station for one tour of duty. Naturally if he went out at night his hosts put a tail on him on the assumption that he must be some sort of spy. My friend and a buddy came up with the answer. They turned down a side street and quickly into an alley. When the stalker showed up, they jumped him, took away his pistol, and threw it down the main drain. They never saw him again. That is not the sort of thing you report to your superiors in Moscow.

I have always been given to understand from childhood that the best defense is counterattack. The principle still holds.

During our Marine Corps time we were privileged to serve directly under General Merrill Twining, who was Vandegrift's G3 on Guadalcanal. Just this year General Twining, who is getting on, finally got out his account of the Guadalcanal operation. Among the many excellent first-hand battle accounts that have come out of the war, this one stands out because it is very difficult to understand a battle if you are just fighting in it rather than operating it. As G3 of the division (referred to as D3 in those days), Merrill Twining was exactly in the center of the entire Marine Corps operation on "Death Island." The book fascinated me personally because it speaks of many people whom I know. (Or knew. Time marches on.). But to the general student of weaponcraft a couple of things stand out vividly.

When the Japanese sent their elite "Sendai" division into the sector held by the battalions of Chesty Puller and Herman Hanneken, they attacked at 2 o'clock in the morning in a driving downpour. They outnumbered the defenders about six to one, but they were so roughly handled that the division was never reconstituted. At that time the Marines were armed with the 1903 rifle, the 1911 pistol, and the Model 1917 water-cooled heavy machinegun. You cannot see anything much in the middle of a dark and stormy night, so contact was largely at arm's length. That grand old Browning machinegun, in caliber 30-06, was the mainstay of the defense, and even without any observation to speak of it was used to pour into the flanks of the attacking Japanese waves. An interesting supply problem showed up in the lack of water for the water jackets. If you do not keep a water-cooled machinegun water cooled it will freeze up and crack. Water simply could not be provided forward to the machinegun positions in sufficient quantity. The Marines solved this problem in the time-honored fashion renowned in song and story.

Garands would have been better for the defenders than the 03s, but here is where the historically venerated 1911 came into its own. In the dark and in the rain the sword and the bayonet were no match for the Colt 45.

(Our old buddy Mason Williams has been holding forth recently to the effect that the 1911 will not hold up under prolonged use, but Mason was not there at Lunga Point.)

All this talk we hear about the need for self-esteem in our children seems beside the point. These badly behaved kids seem to have plenty of self-esteem, when what they need is self-control.

When you analyze it, it becomes evident that the combat marksman, whether his antagonists are human or bestial, possesses a psychological antidote to fear. When he must shoot to save his life, he is so completely preoccupied with the need to place his shot well that there is simply no room between his ears for fear. He feels no fear as he shoots because his concentration precludes it. This is true, of course, only of the marksman who understands marksmanship. This man knows, because he has proved it to himself, that correct behavior on his part produces the results he needs to save his life.

The inferior marksman, however, has no such protection. He does not understand what he must do and therefore he does not do it. In the famous case in which one of the Tsavo maneaters was trapped inside a boxcar with three armed coolies from which he was separated by an iron grill work, the men expended about twenty rounds apiece at arm's length or less without achieving even one hit on the beast.

It may be asserted that they were "terrified," and this is doubtless true, but they were terrified because they did not know how to shoot.

The skilled marksman has no room for fear when he is shooting, thus his mind constitutes his shield.

Esteemed family member Chuck Lyford is now heavily involved with Craig Breedlove's efforts to exceed Mach 1 on the ground. Chuck has always been a dedicated, hard-core, card-carrying adventurer, and this new operation appears to be fully as perilous as anything he has heretofore undertaken. Getting up to 600 or 700 miles an hour on the deck is not so much a matter of power as of aerodynamics. The vehicle, named "The Spirit of America," is just too close to the ground, and all sorts of exotic design techniques are necessary to keep it from getting adrift at hitherto unexplored speeds. There is also the very considerable problem of keeping it point-on, since you cannot very well spin it like a rifle bullet.

All honor to these vehicular pioneers, but I much prefer flesh and blood adversaries to unpredictable aerodynamic hazards.

High Point!

My good friend is a lifelong hunter. Now well into middle age, he has led a complicated life, with a full share of trials and tribulations, but his joy in the hunt has brought significant compensations.

He has mainly pursued quadrupeds, but some years ago he took up the serious study of the shotgun, and has now devoted much time, effort and money to the arts of wing shooting. He has sought mastery, and he has attained it.

On opening day of the current dove season I had occasion to telephone him on matters ballistic, and he pleasured me intensely with his account of the dawn just passed. He was out in the fields well before sunup and the birds were plentiful. Just as the red sun cleared the horizon he downed his sixth dove with his sixth shot! A speeding dove is very hard to hit. I speak from a deal of experience in Central America, where I have been treated to much dove shooting by various hosts and clients. In my opinion, "six-for-six" is a triumph! Luck is not involved here, but rather the reward of talent perfected by extensive and assiduous practice.

Oakeshot has wisely written that happiness may never be pursued as an end in itself, because happiness is the by-product of achievement.

My friend was a happy man that day - and thanks to his own efforts rather than good fortune. I am deeply grateful for having been able to share in his experience by proxy. That phone call made my whole day.

We learn from Keith Dyer, one of the editors of South Africa's Magnum magazine that the shot-cock system, as used with the crunchenticker, is by no means new - having been used in Europe almost since the appearance of that sort of weapon back before World War II.

(In case you missed it, the shot-cock system employs the round in the chamber primarily to cock the piece for the second shot. The shooter flings his first shot in the general direction of his adversary and then concentrates on a proper sight picture and squeeze for his second shot, which follows almost immediately.)

It is funny to consider how bitterly I have been excoriated by certain police trainers for even mentioning the shot-cock system. I have never taught it, as I consider it to be a sloppy technique, but I know it exists and I have seen it work. I do not like flour tortillas either, but there they are.

Our old buddy Gene Harshbarger from Guatemala reports a recent episode with the 25 ACP pistol cartridge. It seems that Gene's cousin was set upon by a trio of car thieves who shot him once almost dead center with that dinky little pistol. The bullet entered at a very flat angle, however, proceeded laterally just inside the pectoral muscle, and exited after about 5 inches of traverse, continuing on into the target's left arm.

The cousin hit the deck and started shooting back, whereupon the assailants split. When he stood up the bullet slid out of his left sleeve and bounced on the pavement. It penetrated the jacket, but not the skin of his left arm.

As we used to teach in the spook business, carry a 25 if it makes you feel good, but do not ever load it. If you load it you may shoot it. If you shoot it you may hit somebody, and if you hit somebody - and he finds out about it - he may be very angry with you.

Family member Norm Vroman recently went down to a cop gathering in Mesa attended by about 400 lawmen. Norm's 1911 was one of only two in evidence on the range, and was the object of considerable wonder, as many of these young people did not know what it was. Norm entered the shooting, and, not surprisingly, won his class. Then they knew.

Dick Davis, proprietor of Second Chance, tells of a case when one of his customers, wearing Second Chance Level 2 vest, accidently drove into the middle of an impending gang war. The customer was hit 11 times with 9mm pistols. Four hits were on the front of the vest, one on the back, six were outside the vest area, the most serious one being a leg wound. I wonder if you will be astonished to hear that an ambulance chaser contacted by the victim called up Dick to ask about "compensation." Apparently the attorney concerned felt that even though Dick's vest saved this boy's life at least five times, Dick was expected to pay off simply because the guy got into a fight. Again, we are living in the Age of Litigation!

Well, we took a heavy hit on 5 November, but though we lost a battle we did not lose the war, nor will we if we keep up the fight. "These are the times that try men's souls," but such times have occurred before and will occur again. Enjoy the turkey feast, and Nil desperandum!

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