Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 4, No. 4           March, 1996

The Ides of March

Despite the snow and ice which had enveloped most of the country in recent weeks, we in the Southwest have enjoyed almost no winter at all. While this has had a good effect on most outdoor activity, it has not helped the skiing, and we do need all the precipitation we can get, as in any dry country. As to that, the rains have finally hit in South Africa, breaking a 10-year drought, and while one wet season will not bring everything into order, every little bit helps.

All hands should anticipate the Keneyathlon at Whittington Center coming up in June. This is, in my opinion, the most significant rifle contest in the world at this time, and while its rules and course of fire are still to be perfected, it is the best test of rifle skill I know of.

This year the "Guru's Gold" ring will go to the man placing in the first five who uses the lightest rifle, providing his rifle does not weigh more than 3 kilograms. (Last year the lightest rifle in contention was too heavy.)

We recently got a nifty situation report from family member Charlie Putman, just back from a successful family hunt in South Africa and Zimbabwe (late Rhodesia). While he was eminently successful, being both a marvelous marksman and an experienced hunter, he added corroboration to our long held view that the 375 is not properly a buffalo gun. Without going into details (which may be furnished upon request) we feel that his observations are most pungent in regarding the different atmospheres encountered between South Africa and Zimbabwe. The South African revolution of '94 has not yet been able to trash the countryside, but the independence of Zimbabwe from the British Commonwealth has been in force now for a couple of decades and the results are obvious to the eye. The hunting is fine, but the countryside is a mess. Well, what did we expect?

The press informs us that the Basuto people of Southern Africa have now renewed their traditional occupation of cattle raiding, in the manner of the Medieval Welsh. You may remember that Offa's Dyke (one of the two manmade structures visible on Earth from outerspace) was constructed to discomfit those Welsh cattle raiders. It was not hard to cross from west to east, but the barrier made it very difficult for the stolen kine to be driven back across. Perhaps the South African government could profit by this example.

We found it curious that Lamar Alexander should try to use the slogan "ABC" to mean "Alexander Beats Clinton," when actually what it really stands for is the war cry of the right at this time - "Anybody But Clinton."

Now we have in hand the "Co-pilot" from Wild West Guns in Anchorage, Alaska. This is a chopped and channeled Marlin 95 in caliber 45-70, intended for life insurance for the professional bear hunter and his client. It measures 35 inches in length assembled, and it takes down in the middle into two 18-inch parcels. It weights 7lbs, or a tad less, and it provides five short-range sledge-hammer blows in quick succession. It packs into a neat little briefcase-sized padded pouch, and it appears to be quite the ideal instrument for the professional guide who may need to protect his client against bear or lion. I have tentatively dubbed it the Arctocrat (Master of Bears), and I think it cute as a bug.

On the downside, it comes out of the box with a factory trigger that should not happen to a BATman. (Apparently the people in Anchorage feel that trigger action does not matter in arms-length confrontations. Every man to his own opinion, of course, but I disagree with this. For me a delicate trigger is the single most important feature in the precise placement of the snapshot.) Riflemaster John Gannaway is at work on this, and we may be able to fix it prior to delivery next month in Africa. Despite sandpaper surfaces between hammer and sear, which may be smoothed out, the angle of engagement is such that trigger pressure actually cams the hammer back a tad before releasing it, requiring the trigger finger to work against the mainspring. This arrangement is not unheard of on primitive-type weapons and may properly be termed "the hammercammer trigger." It can be corrected by a good gunsmith, but not all gunsmiths are good. We shall see.

Another negative, if minor feature, is the cross-bolt hammer-block now installed on most lever-guns by the liability agents. This gadget is referred to as a "safety," but on the contrary it could be lethal in a confrontation with anything dangerous. When it is pressed to the right it does not block the trigger nor interfere with hammer fall, it simply prevents the hammer from falling on the primer. In one of Peter Capstick's more memorable observations, "The most terrifying sound in nature is not the roar of a charging lion, nor the whistle of a descending bomb; rather it is a click when you expect a bang." The sort of mishap this invites is not serious in a deer gun, since all it will do is lose you your deer, but in a lion gun it might well get you killed. Fortunately it is easily de-activated.

The butt stock, at 13 inches, is a little too long for the instantaneous gun mount to the shoulder, and the square-cut heel of the butt tends to snag in this sort of action. Both these minor drawbacks are quickly correctable.

I have acquired a butt-cuff for this little piece, which seems to me particularly advisable in view of the side loading system of the lever gun which permits "topping off" without taking eyes off target.

A plus feature is a 6-port muzzle brake, which actually does seem to work. The recoil of a 7lb 45-70 might be expected to be brisk, but in our piece it was not more noticeable than that of a medium-weight 308. In theory a muzzle brake should not work, since by the time the gasses can work upon the baffles, the rearward impetus of the weapon has already been actuated. The fact is, however, that well-designed muzzle brakes do work, whether or not they should.

All together the Arctocrat strikes us as a nifty little item, and it should prove sensational when we introduce it to the South African Professional Hunters Association.

Our collaborater and good friend Paul Kirchner dwells in Darkest Connecticut - as he puts it, "In the belly of the bunny," a quaintly accurate locution.

I have always been a great one for cadging rides in military vehicles, and I have been very successful up til now. Never, however, have I got a ride in a first-line jet fighter. It now appears that our friends the Russians have discovered a market for this, and if you get to Moscow you can purchase a hot lap in a MiG 23 (two-seater version). Since my first visit to Moscow back in the Dark Ages, I have never thought of a good reason for returning - until now.

We learn with some dismay that the revered firm of Anheuser-Busch is now actively supporting Clinton's bid for re-election. This is not rumor. I have in hand an executive letter to this effect claiming that it is the company policy to support both sides of the political spectrum. The fact is that the Clinton administration opposed an increase on the beer tax leveled nationwide, which bill, if passed, would have hurt Budweiser in the pocketbook. I stand foursquare with Queen Victoria of revered memory, who stoutly opposed any British beer tax to the last, claiming that it constituted an onerous oppression of the working class.

Regardless of taxation, there are other and much more important issues at stake at the forthcoming presidential election, and I can do without Budweiser.

Note that gun lovers and gun shooters are not necessarily the same breed, fortunately for the manufacturers. Marksmanship is a demanding discipline, but affection is not. I know a good many people whose deep love for firearms amounts to an obsession, but who cannot shoot for sour apples. ("Why should they?" as Pogo asks.) Such men (and they are all men as far as I know) constitute a problem for their wives. "Why on earth do you want another gun?" - but they are the lifeblood of the firearms trade. They puzzle me but I wish them well.

We have regrouped and are now able to give you an address for the 200-meter zeroing target I have been pushing for a while. These targets are the best thing of the kind that I have seen, and they are suitable for either iron or glass sights at ranges from 50 to 300 meters. They run about a buck apiece. Address queries to:
Andrew Langlois, PO Box 141, Windsor, VT 05089.

When we opined recently in print that a soldier must absolutely obey orders, we were called out immediately to the effect that the Nuremburg trials had established a precedent that this is not so. According to Nuremburg precedent a soldier is bound to obey only lawful orders of his superiors, and apparently he is to decide on his own what is lawful and what is not. This was an unworkable decision when it was reached, and it remains so. If it is left up to the soldier to decide about the legality of his orders, his side has lost the war. Besotted as we appear to be with games, we seem to have lost track of the idea that war is a serious business, not a game. When a soldier refuses to obey a direct order, the historic consequence has been summary execution. I suppose we can all imagine certain cases in which we would refuse to obey orders, but we certainly must be prepared to take the consequences. The question of whether an order is lawful or not is certainly not for the soldier to decide.

Further into that previous subject, we discover that Spc New, who disobeyed and took the consequences, has a father who is now running for Congress. And more power to him. We have often heard of sons who have profited by their father's prominence in search of political success, but this is the first situation I can call to mind which goes the other way around.

Gabe Suarez, our man in Santa Monica, who is closing in on his ace rating for law enforcement shootings, very nearly tagged his fifth score recently. In pursuit of a very bad guy (VBG) he had mounted his shotgun and found the trigger when the goblin reached into his belt to seize his pistol. In doing so, he shot himself in the crotch, saving Gabe the expenditure of another round of 00-buck. The department is thinking of mentioning Gabe in dispatches for "admirable restraint." Hmmm!

We have recently received several queries about instruction in "police rifle" and "defensive rifle." I am not sure of the role of the rifle in police work, but I do believe that there is no such thing as a "defensive" rifle. The pistol is the defensive arm. You wear it with no specific action in mind, but when you pick up a rifle you intend to go after something - or someone. Thus the difference in purpose of the two arms is one of concept, and training with either must be carried out with that in mind. The purpose of the pistol is to stop a fight that somebody else started. The purpose of the rifle is to "reach out and touch someone." Thus the objective of the rifleman is to achieve a first-round hit, on an appropriate target, at unspecific range, from improvised positions, against the clock. This is what I endeavor to teach in riflecraft, and it is equally valuable to the hunter, the soldier, or, in some cases, the policeman.

Our family member Randy Umbs, who now lives top center in the cold country, informs us that there have been twenty-two snowmobile fatalities in his state (WI) so far this winter, most of which he feels were the result of the misuse of booze. Roaring off into the snowy night in a state of inebriation is a pretty good way to check yourself out. Perhaps it is a happy way to go - who knows?

In perusing a new account of the Lewis and Clark expedition we note again that the Pennsylvania squirrel rifles taken on the expedition were simply not powerful enough for the task. They killed their meat, but it was often a messy business, and they did not measure up to a grizzly bear. This fact is well-known and has left us with the notion that it is always important to "use enough gun" - to quote Robert Ruark. The matter of what is enough is the question.

In my opinion - which is clearly not unanimously held - the 308 or 30-06 will do everything that needs doing, short of buffalo and the pachyderms. Bullet placement, of course, is the key. We cleaned house on the Babamkulu adventure of 1994 using the 308/180. On our forthcoming hunt we expect to depend on the 30-06/180 and anticipate no trouble. (This does not include our projected hippopotamus, on which we intend to use Baby, with 500-grain solids.)

Earlier this year family member Bill O'Connor slew his nilgai in Texas with the 308/180, which apparently confounded a number of observers who insisted that the nilgai is too tough an animal for that.

The bell tolls again for another of the great. Adolf Galland, at one time the youngest two-star general in the Wehrmacht, passed away after heart surgery at the age of 83.

Galland was undoubtedly one of the dozen or so greatest aviators of all time, and his legendary exploits are too numerous to mention. Among other things, his "The First and the Last" stands as the definitive reference for those who would study World War II from the German side. But more than his outstanding capacities as a warrior, Adolf Galland was distinguished as a gentleman, which is an almost extinct species. In the Age of the Common Man, a gentleman is hard to find. The cause for which Galland fought was lost - fortunately for us - but he acquitted himself beyond reproach, and he well deserves his place in the Hall of Fame.

Marion Hammer, President of the NRA, exhorts us forcefully to participate in the education of the young. If we do not get the kids away from the tube and out on the range, we stand to lose our liberty in the 21st century.

These anti-gun people are still hard at it. They are now pushing a bill to prohibit what has come to be called "canned hunting," which is the hunting of non-native species on ranches stocked for the purpose. This sort of hunting may not be everybody's cup-of-tea, but it is legal, economically sound, and can be just as sportsmanlike as one may desire. These bambiists have no business butting in to the pastimes of other people, as long as those pastimes do not endanger the uninvolved and do no harm to the environment. These busybodies simply do not want other people to indulge in activities of which they disapprove, and enjoy doing so. As Mencken put it, they are dismayed by the idea that somewhere, somehow, somebody may be having a good time. May they go fly a kite!

Riflemaster John Pepper tells about an adventure he had in Korea in which he had no use for his front sight. In an unexpected meeting engagement in the snow and the dark, John's party slammed into a platoon of Chicoms. In a really close encounter John found the muzzle of his M1 rammed solidly into the midsection of his opponent, and he emptied his magazine - achieving a decisive, if messy, victory.

So here is a case in which the commandment "Front sight, surprise" does not apply.

The Chinese Norinco "Sportsman" seems to be an almost exact replica of the renowned Colt Woodsman 22 auto-pistol, on which a whole generation of American sportsmen grew up. A sound 22 self-loading pistol should be a feature of every respectable American household. Of course, "respectable" is the key word here.

As we now prepare for our forthcoming adventure in Africa, we must point out that there will be a hiatus in the issuance of this journal. I will not be able to put one out while I am off station; however, I am ahead for the year in the production of these commentaries and I will have much to talk about upon our return, so please stay tuned.

We note in the press that the army is hard at work in pursuit of an infantry weapon that does not call for any skill on the part of the user. The so-called "Objective Individual Combat Weapon" costs about $15,000 per unit, and is yet another example of the attempt to make up mechanically for human deficiency. This is probably not a good idea. Whatever enemies we may face in the future will almost certainly outnumber us, and we should think about making our individual weapons deadlier, but not easier to use. I still cling to the hope that it is possible to turn out good soldiers, rather than cannon fodder.

Did you catch that bit last Christmas about the elephant action in India? It seems that the villagers were brewing up a large batch of beer, and the scent was wafted out into the night and picked up by this herd of wild elephants, who got the message and followed their noses (or rather their trunks). When they got into the brewing vats the villagers sought to drive them off with burning brands. The elephants understandably took exception to this and trashed the place, squashing one Indian in the process.

Moral: "Do not get between an elephant and his booze."

The gunhandling we observed recently at the SHOT Show was customarily atrocious. The fact that all weapons displayed on the floor of the show are presumably de-activated cannot excuse total failure to comply with The Rules. Proper gunhandling habits should be trained into anyone who has any reason to handle a firearm. Unfortunately at this time too much instruction is being carried out by people who are not qualified to do so.

In reading further into Patton, I discover his interesting opinion that a good tactician is not necessarily a good strategist - and vice versa. To oversimplify, tactics is the art of winning battles, whereas strategy is the art of using battles to achieve a political objective. We may recall that Grant could not stand the sight of blood, whereas Bedford Forrest seems to have enjoyed it. I suppose a truly competent soldier should be good in both areas, but it is interesting to note that this is not always true.

The rumor mongers continue to insist that the National Rifle Association is in bad shape administratively. It was clearly established at the last board meeting that membership is up and the budget is balanced; but, of course, the facts of the matter are irrelevant to those who would discredit us.

In my youth it was assumed that the grizzly bear was dangerous to man, but that the black bear was not. As man-versus-bear encounters increase with the population explosion, we discover that this previously held opinion is not necessarily true. During the last hunting season in Canada, a she-bear (black) took on two hunters who where carrying out an elk carcass, and killed them both. I have no details apart from the conclusion, but any bear is a big, strong animal, and quite capable of homicide under the right conditions. Let us say that bears are only cute at a safe distance.

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