Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 4, No. 9           August, 1996

Hot, Ain't It!

It is now high time to make your preparations for the annual GR and TRM (Gunsite Reunion and Theodore Roosevelt Memorial) at the Whittington Shooting Center in New Mexico on 19, 20, 21 October. It would be most helpful if you would send in your proposed declamation title as soon as possible to avoid duplication. So far "Horatius at the Bridge," by Lord McCauley, and "The Truce of the Bear," by Kipling, are taken. Let's have more!

Appropriate musicianship is in order. If you care to bring your guitar, autoharp, or harmonica we will all cheer (I think). The songs, like the poetry, should be appropriate to the spirit of the great TR. We do not limit ourselves to presentations by the president or directly about him, but they should be in the mood of the strenuous life he extolled. I discover that he and Rudyard Kipling were close personal friends, and may explain why so much of Kipling is heard at the reunions.

There will be shooting of rifle, pistol and shotgun during the day, and recitations in the evening. Accommodations are not unlimited, and if you wish to be put up at the headquarters bunkhouse, take care to get your request in now to
Mike Ballew, NRA Whittington Shooting Center, PO Box 700, Raton, New Mexico 87740 (505-445-3615).

5 August is Lion Day in my book. That Low Veldt lion whistled up for me by Danie van Graan of Engonyameni stands as one of the countless, fantastic high points of my life. Nose-to-nose with a furious lion at 11 paces, I truly experienced the thrill of a lifetime. I could not arrange for instant replay on a video tape, but one can't have everything.

We note with amazement that New Zealand and Argentina are now showing budget surpluses. That is not the sort of thing you are likely to hear on your televisor or read in your local newspaper. More likely you may hear about the newest looming terror in our atmosphere - which is Dihydrous oxide. It is responsible for 4,100 deaths a year in the United States alone, and our lakes and streams are full of it. (For those who neglected their high school chemistry, Dihydrous oxide is H2O.)

Note that they are having a bitterly cold winter in South Africa, with up to 3 feet of snow in the Soutpansberg and the Drakensberg. A number of people died of exposure, and the troops had to be called out for rescue operations. That is hardly what most people expect of the African ambience.

At the behest of family member Tom Russell, I have now commenced work on a definitive manual on course design. Having studied this matter diligently for about thirty years, I have amassed a pretty good fund of knowledge on the subject, and it is easy to see that a great many people who presume to design competition courses for both rifle and pistol have no such background. This is a labor of love, and the introduction, which I have just completed, does indeed show promise.

"Gunmen have more fun - and less trouble - than other people."

The Guru

European designers, including Lapua and Heckler & Koch, among others, are hard at work producing what they call oberfliegeren. These are rifle cartridges which serve about the same purpose as hot rods, which is to gain attention. One of the most prominent is the 9x90mm, which uses a case somewhat similar at the head to the 50 BMG, but is necked down to a 36 caliber. But the manufacturers of these remarkable cartridges maintain that they are designed for police snipers, but it is pretty hard to see just what tactical niche they fill. Pushing a 280-grain missile out the muzzle at 4,400f/s may indeed accomplish something, but I can't imagine what that might be.

A family member recently returned from Bolivia informs us that Bolivian gun laws may be the best in the world. There are none, and Bolivia gets by with a serious law against murder. Funny that no one in Britain or America has thought of that so far!

The limits of human chutzpah remain to be fully explored. It seems that some copchick in New York is suing the Glock people because she shot herself in the leg. Her case is apparently that the Glock is too easy to shoot. My own opinion has always been somewhat to the contrary, but who cares about that?

The recent New Mexico practical rifle match held at Whittington last month was won by a "race gun," establishing once again that the gamesman is not an endangered species. No matter. The shooter in second place used the M1 Garand, which is the greatest personal fighting instrument ever devised by man. Third place overall, and earning the Guru's Gold, was Tom Russell's scout. The scout, above all, is a general purpose rifle. It is not designed to beat the course or to bend the rules, but to do everything well. I like to think of it as my legacy to the 21st century.

The Stoic philosophers of Ancient Rome featured the motto "Do good, for good is good to do." The point is that one should not do good things in hope of any reward, either here below or in the afterlife, but rather that good deeds are good in and of themselves. They are their own reward. One can get into serious trouble by doing good deeds at random, as I have found out to my bitter sorrow, but that does not invalidate the principle.

It is clear that many people do not know what is meant by the expression "To see the elephant." Let me elucidate:
In pioneer America a great many people grew up on a farm, which was too remote from a population center to provide what might be called worldly entertainment. During the summer season various traveling circuses toured the sticks, bringing diversion to households which were not too far afield to prevent attendance. These traveling circuses always included an elephant - an animal which is truly too remarkable to be believed, unless one has actually seen it.

When the father decided that the time had come for his adolescent son to learn about life, he would wait for the appearance of the circus and provide the boy with a couple of dollars with which to go and visit the entertainment. At the circus he visited all the sideshows, he got drunk, he rented himself a girl, and he saw the elephant. On his return to the farm, he may not have been any sadder, but he was certainly wiser than before.

Today we have borrowed that expression to relate to the combat experience. Personal combat is definitely a rite-of-passage, and a man who has not experienced it has not seen the elephant. When you have been shot at and shot back successfully, you have definitely grown up and now know things that less experienced men do not understand.

I was recently taken to task by an Israeli rangemaster for what he regarded as my casual attitude about "ploppies." The term is an Afrikaaner invention referring to a spent bullet, which floats in from elsewhere and goes plop in the dirt at your feet. This Israeli thinks that ploppies are extremely perilous, but I think he is confusing spent bullets with ricochets. A ricochet can be quite dangerous, but only if the deflection of its original trajectory is relatively slight. When a bullet bounces off the ground or other obstacle, flies high in the air and comes back propelled mainly by gravity, it is no big deal. In the eye or in the teeth it may indeed cause some damage, but I have been hit six times by ploppies, and no one of them ever drew any blood.

"Acquiring a fine gun is the easy part. Acquiring shooting skill is as difficult as ever."

John Zen

Excellence has never necessarily been a factor in popularity. In the matter of cartridge design, we have a number of very good examples which have never caught on with the public. Consider for example the two short Remington Magnums, 6.5 and 350. The 6.5 makes possible what may be called a "Pocket 270," and the 350 provides us with a very superior pocket medium, excellently suited for all heavy game, short of buffalo.

And then there is the 7-08. This does for the renowned 7x57 what the 308 does for the 30-06 - providing essentially similar power in a more compact package. The 7-08 provides sightly better exterior ballistics than the 308, and it has the advantage of being legal in many nations where the 308 is banned as a "military cartridge." The Steyr Mannlicher production scout (if we can ever get it actually on the market) will be offered initially in 308 and 7-08, for this reason. It appears that Australia has now banned all military ammunition, ruling out both 30-06 and 308. The 7-08 then should be a great success downunder, where the shooting situation in general is in dreadful disarray.

As we have mentioned before, piracy is coming back. It is usually conducted inshore by goblins who pray upon pleasure seekers who have more money - and booze - than brains. I have long maintained that one of the unusual circumstances in which handheld automatic fire is a good idea is repelling borders in small craft at night. Here, unfortunately, we run squarely into Big Brother. For a yachtsman or a fisherman to try to obtain legal authorization for an assault rifle aboard his vessel is a hopeless task, unless you are perhaps the Sultan of Brunei.

Our good friend and professional hunter, Ian McFarlane, informs us that his concession up in the Chobe area is beginning to show an alarming overage of elephants. If this trend continues and enough hunters are not found, it may actually become necessary to cull the elephant population in northern Botswana. Culling is a dismal business, since families must be taken out together.

Thus, Ian is in need of customers, and slots are open immediately. If there are any aspiring elephant hunters among the faithful, they should raise
Ian McFarlane of Vira Safaris (Fax: 011-26-7-660-593)
immediately, if not sooner.

Ordinarily it takes a year's advance notice to set up a proper African hunt, but here we have an exception.

It seems they have too many polar bears on Svalbard. Svalbard used to be Spitzbergen, and it is way, way up north. For reasons which are not clear to me, these islands have been attracting increasing numbers of European tourists on summer vacation, and the problem of bears has arisen. The bears and the tourists tend to get into each others way, and no bear is cuddly - despite the bambiists - but a polar bear is particularly not so, being an exclusive carnivore, and a very efficient one at that. So now it has been deemed advisable to rent powerful sporting rifles to tourists picnicking out on the tundra. This is not a good idea. One may rent out rifles, but there is no way he can rent out talent, and a hunting rifle in inexpert hands is hardly the solution to anyone's problem. So far three people have been killed this summer on Svalbard, two of them by a bear that they had shot with a rented rifle.

By now the British have fairly written into law the position that a personally owned firearm may only be acceptable for "sporting purposes." Teddy Kennedy used this idea in the 1968 gun law, despite the fact that we in America are protected, at least theoretically, by the Second Amendment, which has nothing whatever to do with sport. Various sorts of legislators are still at it, and the BATF takes the notion of "legitimate sporting purpose" seriously, even though this would appear to be obviated by the supreme law of the land. This is a fight in which we all must continue to participate. Self-defense has nearly come to be a misdemeanor on the face of it in Britain, where the subject is conditioned with the belief that whatever happens he (or she) must not fight back. If the wimps prevail in the next election, you may be sure that America will then gain on Great Britain on the road to serfdom.

Family member and Babamkulu veteran Alvin Hammer sends in the following observation on the concealed carry situation:
"Have taken the required course for Tennessee's new concealed carry law which takes effect in October. Made a perfect score on both the written and shooting tests. Only one in my class of 16 to score 100% on both sections. One other student made 100% on the written and another on the shooting. Our instructor disapproved of the Weaver stance I used and the speed with which I fired the required 48 shots at varying distances. I finished the shooting part, packed up equipment, paid my bill, and left the building before any other student finished shooting. Big targets at close range, my shooting has not really improved since you saw me last. It does feel good to be the best at something occasionally. In a land of blind men, a one-eyed man would be king. It is hard to imagine that among the general populace of shooters that I am that much better than average. Among Orange Gunsite folk, my ranking as a shooter is way down the list."

Since the revolution in South Africa, random violence has increased by leaps and bounds. One thing that adds to the problem is the ready availability of the AK47 (which is, of course, illegal). Vast numbers of these Kalashnikovs drifted in from Mozambique, and now they are all over the place, and, of course, only in the hands of the bad guys.

On the bright side of this scene is the readiness of the South African police to take remedial action when possible. Recently outside of Johannesburg two highway patrolmen spotted a stolen car, identified by its license plates. They gave chase, and when the thieves stopped to open fire a noisy scuffle ensued. Two of the three goblins were killed outright, and the third carted away to the hospital, while the cops sustained no casualties. Journalism being what it is, we are more likely to hear of the failures of the police than their successes, but this incident establishes again that it is the man, not the gun, that wins the fight. All three miscreants were armed with AK47s, but the police rolled them up with pistols.

It has long been a principle of mine that a man cannot have too many books, too many wines, or too much ammunition. It turns out that a number of governments in the world manifest considerable distress at the idea of large amounts of ammunition in private hands. They insist that any man who stockpiles thousands of rounds must have some sinister and ulterior purpose which should be investigated by the state. Here we have yet another example of the thought control characteristic of the Age of the Common Man. Many on the left seem to hold that one may be punished not for what he does, but for what he thinks - as with what have come to be called "hate crimes." In this age of thought-control, various sorts of busybodies, in and out of government, feel the need to arrange your thinking for you. In this matter of ammunition, I personally like to keep a large supply on hand, not for any specific purpose, but simply because it makes me feel good. To have a large supply - several thousand rounds - of 45 ACP or 30-06 or 308 is comforting in and of itself, and by no means necessarily because one has some conspiratorial notion about expending it. As you know, there are people such as Senator Moynihan who feel that the subtle way to disarm the people is to cut off the supply of ammunition. We hope that such people do not prevail, but it does not hurt to be prepared for unpleasant eventualities - thus we have seatbelts, crash helmets, life jackets, and pistols.

"When values are sufficient,
Laws are unnecessary.
When values are insufficient,
Laws are unenforceable."

Barry Asmus

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