Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 5, No. 3           March, 1997


As the bulk of the cold weather drifts behind us, we are off to Bohemia to consult with the Ceska Sbrojovka about new designs. If my advice is worth the seeking, we should be able to promote a superior successor to the excellent Czech 75, in major caliber, and to launch a series of heavy, bolt-action, hunting rifles. The choice of calibers will be interesting. At present the 416s are all the rage, but I think of a 400-grain, 40-caliber bullet as something of a half-measure - rather like the 41 Magnum revolver.

My old favorite is the 460 G&A Special, which has served me with distinction for twenty years, but this remains a wildcat for which the shooter must fabricate his own ammunition. Therefore my present choice leans toward the 505 Gibbs, famed in song and story.

We expect to go from Czechia to the IWA at Nurnberg, a presentation I have long been told that I must not miss.

We will have interesting information for you upon our return.

You may have noted that Lyman is now re-issuing their folding aperture tang sight, which is great good news. By removing the target disk, this setup affords an instant ghost-ring at the flick of a screw driver. I believe the company decided upon this product because of the popularity of black power weapons, but it has found its best employment on the tang of a "Brooklyn Special" 30-30.

"The only things I regret in life are the things I did not do."

Hemingway's attribution to his grandmother

We are told that a literary poll taken in Britain has established "The Lord of the Rings," by J.R.R. Tolkien, as the greatest book of the 20th century. We are great admirers of Tolkien, but we must mention that school of readers which holds that "Meditations on Hunting," by José Ortega y Gasset, is the title to take the prize. Fortunately this need not be an either/or proposition. I re-read Tolkien and Ortega with equal pleasure, and quite regularly.

We have an interesting after-action report from Darkest Kentucky, in which a bank manager totaled a would-be robber with his 1911. This in itself is not surprising, but it does bring out a couple of points. The shooter planted only one shot in the upper chest area of the intruder. When asked why he did not shoot twice he said that by the time he hauled the barrel down out of recoil, the target was not there anymore. Now as we all know, the 45 auto does not recoil very much if you hold onto it - only if you shoot it one-handed with a limp wrist. The IPSC people have long sought to reduce recoil by gadgetry, when the answer, as Jack Weaver showed us, is in muzzle control. In a proper Weaver Stance, the muzzle of a 45 rises less than half an inch. This is why we see people shooting in competition from the isosceles position in which recoil is evident. If you insist on shooting with a straight left arm, you may indeed need a reduced charge and a muzzle-brake. That, however, is not the way to go.

This "kinder and gentler" age we live in has produced a crop of overcivilized urbanites of an innocence one can hardly believe. The state of Montana has been a mecca for timid and wealthy Californians who like the idea of a wilderness environment but lack all awareness of what a wilderness is about. It turns out that one such immigrant had her pet dog scarfed up by a bobcat. This is very sad, of course, but her response was quite unbelievable. She complained to the Department of Fish and Game about the incident, and requested that an armed patrol be placed around her ranch to shoo off bobcats. (Hard as that may be to believe, that is the way we heard it.)

"Power is nothing without control."

Pirelli (tires)

I did not put anything about buffalo sticks into the forthcoming "The Art of the Rifle," even though I see them advertised for sale in all the magazines. I whittled out a set of those for myself when I was a mere tad, and found out after some attempts in the field that they were much more trouble than they were worth. If you know how to shoot a rifle, you do not need any help in holding it up. A proper shooting sling takes care of the weight problem as long as there is support for the elbow, as in prone, sitting, kneeling or squatting. Any portable support for a rifle useful in the standing position would hardly be portable.

The buffalo hunters of the Great Plains actually did use buffalo sticks to a certain extent, but the conditions involved in that shooting were rather specialized. In the first place, the grass was too high to allow a prone position to be taken. Secondly, the buffalo men hunted from horseback, and portability was not an issue. Thirdly, the shooting sling had not been invented at that time. And fourth, the slaughter of the buffalo was a slow-fire proposition at medium to long range.

Buffalo sticks may indeed be an answer to a certain kind of problem, but that problem simply does not come up anymore.

"What we can say with confidence is that Rome fell gradually, and that Romans for many decades scarcely noticed what was happening."

Thomas Cahill
Does that not suggest a parallel?

After attending a recent training course for the machine pistol, family member Bob Shimizu declared his MP5 as "handy as a football bat." (So I have long held.)

When in a previous issue I listed some "Good Things To Do," I had no intention of speaking of heroics, I was speaking of pleasures. The heroic act may be pleasant, but usually it is not. Most people who have pulled off heroic acts have not enjoyed them. I must hasten to add that I have not personally enjoyed the 30 odd pleasures I listed, for among other things, I do not enjoy playing golf, or spending extravagantly in London's best hotel. Tastes differ, fortunately, and I was trying to cover the field.

We note a feature in the current American Rifleman about the Krag-Jorgensen rifle once issued to our armed forces. The article is historically interesting, but does little justice to the virtues of this excellent arm. I have been a Krag fancier since early childhood, when I used one to shoot goats on Catalina Island and sharks in the Catalina Channel. When fitted with a really good trigger, such as can be had on order from the Kongsberg Factory near Oslo, this is a really nifty gun. It has the smoothest bolt-action ever manufactured, and its charging system is so neat it can be operated eyes-off at a dead run in the dark. When you flip that gate open to the right, you have only to drop a cartridge in. You do not have to seat it or place it accurately - as long as you do not throw it in backwards, it will feed. This allows the shooter to top off his magazine without opening the bolt and taking the weapon out of action. The piece is generally found in caliber 30-40, at one time referred to as "30 Army," which is quite a respectable cartridge, though not quite up to the 30-06.

The principle drawback of the Krag action is that it is designed for a low pressure cartridge and uses only one locking lug. This single lug is quite strong enough, but it stresses the bolt asymmetrically, sometimes giving rise to a hairline crack at the rear of the extrusion.

If I were up in the bucks, I would engage a designer and manufacturer to produce a modern high-pressure version of the Krag. It would be necessarily expensive, since that feeding system calls for precise and delicate machining; however, when I see the prices charged for essentially obsolete double-express rifles, I can hardly view expense as a serious drawback.

(In case you are interested, the name is pronounced "crock," but do not tell anybody I said so.)

Riflemaster Larry Larsen plans to show us his new Christensen action at the April conclave at Whittington. As you know, the Christensen rifle features a paper-thin barrel wrapped in plastic thread, granting stiffness and bulk without weight. This may be a good idea, but Larry has got to be content with a model 700 action, which is one I would never choose for myself.

"Day-by-day, case-by-case, the Supreme Court is busy designing a Constitution for a country I do not recognize."

Justice Antonio Scalia

Did you happen to hear of that Chinese fire drill that took place in the mountains of southern Colombia? It appears that a private pilot made an emergency landing in the forest. Since his radio was working, he called for help, and a search-and-rescue team was sent to find him. This team did not find him, but after a short stay on the ground it called for additional help, claiming that they could not get back into their helicopter since they were beset by wild pigs. A second search-and-rescue team was sent to rescue the first, presumably armed with peccary repellant. This effort was successful and both choppers got into the air, eventually finding the downed pilot, who was injured.

But that does not end the tale. When sliding the rescued pilot into the helicopter, things were not managed very well and he slid overboard when the aircraft was well underway. At last report, the poor fellow was still unaccounted for.

The people who made that film called "The Gods Must Be Crazy" certainly ought look into this matter as a basis for a new movie.

Family member Tom Russell informs us that he was told by someone at the Gunsite Training Center that I am "absolutely retired." I find this pretty amusing in view of the fact that the only thing that I ever retired from was the Marine Corps, and that was a long time ago. Come to think of it, if working for wages is the antonym for "retired," I have been retired for most of my life.

It has been discovered by some safety committee or other that driving while phoning constitutes a distinct road hazard. If they had asked us, we could have told them that.

"The scoutscope doth not a scout rifle make." The first time I used what has been referred to as Scout I down in Central America, it had only the ghost-ring setup, and no telescope at all. The current notion that no rifle is of any consequence unless it has a glass sight on top probably does well for optical companies, but it ain't necessarily so. I started using telescope sights in my teens, way back in the Middle Ages. These caused considerable comment and astonishment when I showed up in the Rocky Mountains with that doodad on my Remington 30S. I have used telescope sights ever since, and they do make shooting a little easier, but they are only really necessary under specialized circumstances; and in some cases they are a positive hazard.

The scoutscope is indeed handy on a scout rifle, but the scout rifle is a conglomeration of characteristics of which its sighting system is just one. The principle virtues of the scout are compactness, light weight and handiness. The scoutscope is faster than a conventional glass in snapshooting, but I discover that a good many hunters go their entire career without ever having to attempt a snapshot.

The fact is that a properly designed and mounted scoutscope is handy, but tying one onto a conventional rifle does not give you a scout rifle. I wish people who do not understand the concept would quit trying to fabricate and sell pieces they do not understand - but that, of course, is too much to expect.

I spend a considerable amount of time scanning the reports of gunfights taking place all over the world, and I have come to the conclusion that if we speak generally, geezers are more deadly than young studs. I think this is because old geezers derive their sense of dignity from a different culture and are much less likely to submit to being pushed around by street punks. Young moderns are all too frequently apt to heed the advice of the social worker to give up so nobody will get hurt. (This despite the statistics which tend to indicate that one is more likely to get hurt if he gives up than if he fights back.) We seem to be living in an age of indignity - but not all of us.

In that connection let us rephrase the identity of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to bring them into step with the times. In my view the four horsemen of the modern apocalypse are:

With all this news about China on the front page, we must not overlook the ancient Chinese saying to the effect that "a bowl of rice is the noblest wok of God." (Sorry about that.)

It has been suggested to me that we are very fortunate that our adversaries have not discovered the combat efficiency of the scout rifle. I do not think we have a problem here, because a hoplophobe can never discover the good qualities of any firearm since he does not want to think about firearms at all. The hoplophobe worries about buzz words like "assault-rifle" and "automatic-weapon," and can never accept the fact that the weapon is the man and the firearm is just the instrument in his hands. With this in mind it is pertinent to observe that several recent army recruits have been told that the enemy they are preparing to fight is not the English, or the Spanish, or the Germans, or the Vietnamese, or the Chinese - but rather the good old boys in rural America who constitute an armed militia. The question arises, of course, as to how the unorganized militia, no matter what their politics or determination, can stand up for an instant against the United States Army. Well, let us hope it never comes to that, but if the army is teaching it, we had better realize that they are. The atrocities of the ninja are certainly beating us into an unpleasantly confrontational society, but if worse comes to worse, I think that we can assume that the private citizen who owns, cleans, loads and shoots his own personal weapon is a considerably more serious antagonist than the trooper who has to turn his weapon back in every time he uses it. This is probably the principle reason why socialists never cease their attempts to disarm the private citizen.

"Consumerism is a virulent form of materialism developed in the United States in which advertising ensures that demand is created for products for which there is no real need."

Michael Gardner

Hartmann had the highest air-to-air score, as anyone who follows aviation knows, but when he was asked by his Russian captors if he were not the greatest German flier, he denied it. They asked him if he did not in truth have the highest kill score. And he said, "Yes, but that does not make me the top gun. The best is Marseille." And they said, "But, you shot down twice as many aircraft as Marseille," and he answered, "I shot down Russians. Marseille shot down Englishmen. In the Luftwaffe we held that one English pilot was worth three Russian pilots."

This did not endear him to his Russian captors.

But about Marseille, there was a marksman. On one occasion in the western desert he shot down seven aircraft with less than twenty rounds of 20mm ammunition.

Marksmanship such as this must be coupled with that of Rudel, and it is obviously not something a man can be taught. Neither Marseille nor Rudel could teach anyone to fly and shoot the way they did. A man can be taught to use his weapons very well, but genius is in the genes.

We learn that Riflemaster John Pepper has been awarded a Swiss decoration for his help in qualifying Swiss citizens on their rifles when they are resident in Washington. Good show!

In thinking about heroic airmen, my mind turns to the pilots of the observation aircraft on America's war ships in World War II. These people flew the OS2U, which stands for Observation Scout Second Model from Chance-Vought. This aircraft was both low and slow, and was almost unarmed. It could carry a small bomb or depth charge if occasions demanded, and the rearseat man handled a pair of 30 caliber Brownings, but this certainly did not make it up into a formidable air-to-air vehicle. But the flying characteristics of the OS2U were only the beginning of the problem. The lads in those aircraft had to be fired off the ship whenever we cleared for action, and that was regardless of weather or time of day. On a full dark night in a spanking gale, those boys were shot off the quarter deck into the dark, whether they could perform their observation mission or not, and getting airborne was only part of the problem. They had to be plucked out of the ocean while taxiing alongside on their single float. This is about as hair-raising an operation as I can call to mind, but I regret to say that it did not arouse any particular adulation amongst the other members of the ship's crew. In a major war heroism is almost irrelevant in the mind of the hero. In a long war with a major power, the question is not whether you are going to get it, but when. "And he that dies this day is quit for the next."

I saw those observation pilots in operation quite a lot, and I can fully understand why one of them sought refuge with his violin in his cabin when he could. It would take something like violin virtuosity to get his mind off his truly awful predicament.

Any man who flew an observation plane off of a cruiser or battleship during World War II does not have to tell his tale, his job tells it for him. Putting a full cruise in on that duty in the Aleutians may not be worthy of a Medal of Honor on the face of it, but I cannot help thinking of it as "above and beyond the call of duty."

"The government is mainly an expensive organization to regulate evil doers, and tax those who behave. Government does little for fairly respectable people, except annoy them."

E.V. Howe, via Bill O'Connor

This from Russ Orchard in Essex, England.
"I hope America is watching and learning from what is happening here. We were not strong enough nor united enough when the man came knocking. I must not bore you with our troubles any longer, so I wish you the best that life can bring and hang on to your guns."

We learn from our friends in law enforcement that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), which we frequently refer to as the "BATmen," is now commonly termed "F Troop," by other members of the federal service - presumably because of their astonishing predilection to foul things up. Could be.

That noisy shooting at Laurel Canyon in North Hollywood brings to mind the punchline from one of daughter Lindy's recent poems: "Ain't many troubles that a man can't fix, with seven-hundred dollars and a 30-06." Two shots from a 30-06 should have been enough to terminate that confrontation, and, of course, the $700 might serve to buy an extra rifle for the squad car.

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