Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 5, No. 4           March, 1997

Peregrinations


So it came to pass that on very short notice the Countess and I took flight for Moravia, at the invitation of the Ceska Zbrojovka, which organization has pretty much preempted the Czech smallarms industry. The city of Brno is the cultural capital of Moravia (as Prague is the cultural capital of Bohemia), and most of the products offered by the Czechs have heretofore been referred to as "Brno" weapons (usually called "Bruno" by the Colonials). Now with free enterprise taking over in the Czech Republic, the newly organized factory is located in a place called Uhersky Brod, which is about the size of Chino Valley, Arizona, if you include the Ruger factory. Since Ceska Zbrojovka is practically impossible to pronounce, I have nicknamed the operation "Chessbro." I do not know if this nomenclature will catch on, but I do feel that referring to the corporation as "CZ" will prove clumsy, especially since the letter Z is pronounced Zee in America, but Zed throughout the Empire. So now we have a forthcoming line of "Chessbro" rifles and pistols, which will be distributed in the United States by CZ-USA, temporarily located in Oakhurst, California.

My business at the factory had to do with the design of an idealized service pistol - a 45-caliber, single-action, single-stack development of the renowned "Czech 75" 9mm service pistol. I preferred the single-stack configuration, since I believe only thus will it be possible to reduce the butt circumference of the weapon to make it suitable for small hands. The factory designer said he could shrink the butt and still retain a double-column magazine. I doubt that this is possible, but I am willing to be convinced. The outstanding thing about this whole arrangement is that it can be given a superb trigger "right out of the box." I know, because I have tested it. Your trigger is your contact with your target, and nearly all self-loading pistols today (with the exception of target 22s) are furnished with triggers which do not encourage good shooting. If this new Chessbro pistol can be offered with all the good features necessary, as it comes over the counter, a great leap forward will have been achieved.

As you might suppose, the "user-friendly" butt configuration of the Czech 75 has been retained.

I strongly recommended a spring-loaded thumb safety, but the idea was rejected.

Naturally, no one can promise any realistic production date.

Also on the agenda at Uhersky Brod was the replication of "Baby," my 460 heavy rifle, which has so distinguished itself in Africa, along with its five clones. While I felt that the 460 G&A Special cartridge, designed almost 30 years ago by Tom Siatos, would be awkward to provide, the consensus was that the weapon would have more glamour if it were offered in its original caliber, and that we could make up the ammunition on contract in both Europe and America. The 460 G&A Special seems to provide the best combination of features of any of the current heavy-caliber rifles for dangerous game. Starting a 500-grain, 45-caliber bullet at 2400f/s from a 22-inch barrel is a truly splendid confidence-builder. It has taken many elephant and a score of buffalo with complete consistency, and on two occasions it has killed two buffalo with one shot - inadvertently, of course. Riflemaster John Gannaway once used it to knock an elephant out cold with a head shot that missed the brain. The bullet went clear through the skull to exit into open air, but the concussion of its passage was sufficient to turn off the beast like a light.

The 460 G&A Special cartridge was deemed to be the best choice in a replication of Baby, and the rifle itself will be very nearly identical. It will not employ the 602 action of the original, but rather the Magnum version of the new action designed by Chessbro, and the great good news is that it will feature a modern version of the aperture rear sight previously furnished on ZKK bolt-actions. To my mind, this was the best feature of the whole enterprise, since that rigid, serviceable ghost-ring rear sight was one of the best features to come out of Europe in the post-war era. Insofar as I have any influence, these great new rifles will not be fitted with telescope sights, as such provide not only no advantage on dangerous game, but can in some cases become a positive hazard.

The wood stock on the original Baby will be replaced by very high-impact-resistant composition. (All wood stock rifles so far built for this cartridge have shown a tendency to crack at the tang after extended use.)

Whether one is sensitive or not, the big cartridge kicks, so the Baby replicas will be fitted with integral muzzle-brakes. Sling attachments will be flush, and overall finish on the pilot models will be matt black. (Fancy presentation versions may be obtained on order at a later date.)

So our visit to the land of Good King Wenceslaus, at the behest of Kerby Smith, president of CZ-USA, seems to have been an entire success. We will not know for sure until the guns are fabricated, tested and produced for sale. My experience with these matters in the past has not been successful, but I have high hopes for these two items.

The nation that used to be known as Czechoslovakia is know composed of the Czech Republic on the west and Slovakia on the east. The two cultural elements of what is now known as the Czech Republic are Bohemia and Moravia, wherein people speak the same language, with slight dialectic variations, and take cultural pride in the music of Smetana and Dvorzak. For the most part, the Bohemians drink beer and the Moravians drink wine. There is excellent hunting in both regions. Halfway between Prague and the German border lies Plzen - where the beer comes from. Naturally, we stopped in at the brewery and were not surprised to discover that the product was really excellent. For those who favor a cleanly-flavored blonde beer, Pilsner stands as the standard of the world.

Our next stop was at N├╝rnberg, where we attended IWA, the primary European arms trade fair. IWA resembles the American SHOT Show, in a rather slicked-up guise. Among other things, the food and beer available are outstanding.

We visited all sorts of the people at the show, including Steyr Mannlicher, Beretta, Sig Sauer and Blaser.

The latest information on the production scout rifle from Steyr Mannlicher is that a kick-off ceremony is scheduled for somewhere in the US along about September, probably at the Black Canyon Range just north of Phoenix. They have pared the "all up" weight, including the telescope, down to 3.1kgs. The new SBS action, basically designed by Ulrich Zedrosser, will be used in its short version taking the 308 cartridge. It has been about seven years that I have waited for the production of a true scout rifle, and in that time all sorts of glassy-eyed approximations have taken off in all directions. Nonetheless, I think this one is going to go. I just hope I live long enough to see it.

We were much pleased by our stop at the Blaser display, where we enjoyed the courtly hospitality of Gerhard Blenk (the High Blenk of Blaser). It is always a pleasure to deal with a Czar, because what he says goes. Gert does not have to get approval from a board of directors or from any stockholders' committee or marketing manager. The way he wants it to be is the way it is going to be - and right now.

He showed us one of his "cliffhangers," a feather-weight, top-break, single-shot rifle designed for people who hunt in vertical landscapes. A pretty thing it was, and I admired it so much that Gert immediately took down my specifications and sent them to the shop. I do not intend ever to hunt sheep or goats again, but I will have the perfect instrument for the task for those who wish to do so.

We learn from a correspondent in Milan that the Italian government has now "declassified" the 45 ACP cartridge. This means that Italian citizens may now buy, own and shoot 45s. Whether they will or not is another matter entirely.

We have received a flurry of exasperated comment from people all over the country complaining about the shooting at Laurel Canyon in California. The wrathful question is "Why can't these people shoot better?" I believe the answer is that they can but they don't. They certainly receive enough basic training to enable them to hit a man-sized target at short range. The point is, however, that winning a gunfight is not so much a matter of marksmanship as of mindset, a point we have been emphasizing for lo these many years. All that was necessary to stop that action as it started was concentration on the command "front sight, surprise." To maintain control under conditions of lethal stress calls for a warrior mentality, and that is something that cannot be simply inserted into a police officer in the course of a training session.

Of course, it is obvious that one rifle of even modest power in one of the police squad cars would have brought that action to a conclusion immediately, but the media keep insisting that what the cops need is more ammunition. Some of these journalistic types are even insisting that the cops should have 45s in place of 9s, even though a 45 normally has less penetration in body armor than a 9. It would be nice if people who do not understand the subject would stop popping off about it. That Laurel Canyon incident exemplifies a great many things about gunfighting, but caliber and action-type are not among them.

Remember the classic statement attributed to General Merritt Edson, US Marine Corps -
"One hundred rounds do not constitute fire power. One hit constitutes fire power."

While the production scout is due to be over-the-counter before the year's end, we must remember that the proper sight and mount system is still to be designed and produced. I am in communication with the Nickel Optic Company in Germany on the subject of building a compact, high quality scoutscope with no moving parts - adjustments to be obtained in the mounts. Dan Bechtel of B-Square now makes mounts which are adjustable both fore and aft, and could accommodate such an instrument. And if the production scout rifle picks up steam and begins to sell, we may be able to demonstrate enough of a market there to go ahead with the production of a proper telescope. Let us hope that that does not take another seven years!

I went over to the Czech Republic determined to find out why a Czech is not a Bohemian. After all, Prague has always been the ancient capital of Bohemia. As it turns out, all Bohemians are Czechs, but so are all Moravians. I attempted to straighten out the historical narrative of Central Europe some years ago when I was thinking of doing a job in Hungary. After several nights of intensive reading, I gave the whole subject up as a bad job. Questions revealed that these people do not know their own history any better than I do, and what I know is almost non-existent. Consider that the world famous title for the beer is Pilsner Urquell. I asked and asked at the brewery and nobody knew what Urquell means. The best answer I got was "It's just a name." Well, no matter what you call it, it is truly an excellent beer.

It was painfully apparent at Nurnberg that gunhandling is no better in Europe than in the United States. The customers and spectators fingering those excellent Czech pistols at the counter were enough to give one the horrors. I guess if nobody anywhere in the world teaches gunhandling, we cannot expect anybody to learn it.

These big gun shows are entertaining in many ways, but they are populated almost entirely by "business men." Clearly the world needs business men, who probably do improve the quality of life for most people, but the inclusive company of business men over a period of several days is enough to deaden one's spirit. Preoccupation with money, to the exclusion of the more elegant side of life, can develop a pretty poisonous personality (PPP). We gun lovers go to the gun shows because we love fine guns, and enjoy the chance to examine them in detail. These business men care nothing about fine guns - what they care about is money, and total preoccupation with bucks truly makes Jack a dull boy.

When discussing the desirable characteristics of the idealized buffalo rifle, I was hit with the question "What do you do with the buffalo after you have downed him?" After a short pause to organize my thoughts, I treated the assembly to the nature of protein deficiency, or kwashiorkor, amongst the Bantu. I bet that gentleman wished he had not asked me that question.

Some years back, when sociological rot had set in on the campus of Stanford University, our alma mater, the academic punks were given to chanting "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go." Well, it is on its way, and I hope they are satisfied. As of this year, Hong Kong, a lapidary outpost of Western civilization in the darkest Orient, will be given back to the natives. In our lifetime we have noted the lights going out all over the world, and in the gathering gloom the tidal wave of ignorance continues to advance. In a specialized society no one appears to be interested in anything but his own little specialty, and that is just not what civilization is about - Western or otherwise.

We mention it now again, and we do not feel like ceasing to do so, even if the news is old fashioned. It remains true that the murderers of Nicole Simpson, Vickie Weaver and Vince Foster are walking free, and as far as I know, bragging about it. Those are things we should not forget.

Our good friend Ulrich Zedrosser, who was the chief design engineer for Steyr Mannlicher for many years, has separated himself from the company, and is now maintaining an office as an independent design contractor in Steyr. His handiwork may be seen today in the new SM bolt-action (SBS), as well as in the production scout. He is the only "outsider" ever to use a true scout in the field, and his enthusiasm for the concept was principally responsible for its fruition. We hope to visit with him again later in this year in connection with the Matterhorn expedition being explored by son-in-law Bruce and grandson Tyler. We hope that he does not find his new working arrangement too exhausting. There is nothing like "retirement" to overload one's circuits.

In considering the recent biography of Butch O'Hare, just released by Naval Institute Press, we discover once again that the great aerial marksmen all got their shooting foundation while tramping farm and field with the family 22. O'Hare, and Joe Foss, and Chuck Yaeger, and Sailor Malan - not to mention Manfred von Richthofen, Eric Hartmann, and Ulrich Rudel - all got their start with a little 22 rimfire cartridge. Long may it crackle!

Please note that the weapon now being advertised as the CZ 97 is not our pistol. I want the idealized service pistol under design consideration to be termed the "CZ XXI," in hope that it may do for the 21st century what the 1911 Colt did for the 20th. I do not know if I can make that stick, but I am going to try.

The Czech language is simply awful! I have a modest amount of Spanish and I can knock around in German. I can order a meal or read headlines or watch movie subtitles in French, Italian and Portuguese. I can give range commands in Thai and military Mandarin, but this Czech speech is simply off the scale. It is of the Slavic family, but to the unpracticed ear it sounds even more unintelligible than Russian. (The Czech word for beer is pivo. Now, really!) Holding a design conference through interpreters, Czech to English and back again, is a weird experience. Several times we had to repeat the dialogue on the same topic at a later hour just to try to make sure that specific points were agreed upon. I will be pretty fascinated to see how the decisions I thought we reached will eventually turn out.

The hammerhead sling sockets, long featured by Pachmayr of Los Angeles, are so much better than any other system that I find it hard to believe that they are not universal. By sheerest coincidence we discovered that they were designed and built originally by Dan Bechtel of B-Square. Now that both Steyr Mannlicher and Chessbro are featuring them as a standard item, perhaps someone else will get the word.

It appears that the street punks are so fond of tucking away their pistols in the front waist band that the "castration shot" is ready for a code number in police reports. When they bring them in on a stretcher the call can simply be, "Oh sure, it's just another 609."

The general drift of our discussions with Chessbro established the dichotomy of principle that the manufacturer must face. Should he follow the trend of the times and produce instruments which are essentially the same as those already on the market, hoping to become economically successful through a program of low pricing; or, on the other hand, should he move radically in the direction of innovative design, seeking to corner the market regardless of price by offering the customer something he cannot get anywhere else? If you build a basic product reasonably well and undersell your competition, you may succeed, but inevitably there will be short-cuts in production, resulting in a generally inferior product. On the other hand, if you go for innovation you may frighten the market with features not previously understood. Naturally I endeavored to present my case for the second option. Since it is not my money that is involved, I will always push for excellence rather than economy. I am convinced that a better mouse trap should be its own reward - but then, I am not a "business man."

We found the food in Bohemia/Moravia to be hearty, bland and uninteresting. In Nurnberg, however, we were regaled again with the world-famous Nurnberger bratwurst. I have not been able to discover why Nurnberger bratwurst is so much tastier than what is passed off as bratwurst in this country. It is extravagant to say that Nurnberger bratwurst is worth a trip to Nurnberg, but it certainly is an encouragement in that direction.

Further experimentation with the ghost-ring principle on the pistol suggests that this arrangement fosters focus on the target rather than the front sight. I am not sure that this is true, but I have heard it from three independent sources, all of whom know a good bit about pistolcraft. I must look into this further.

You have doubtless heard about the founding of the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA). This organization is currently headed by Bill Wilson, of Berryville, Arkansas, and it is an attempt to correct the errors into which IPSC has fallen. I guess we all know that IPSC has long ago gone astray after strange gods, but whether IDPA can bring truth back to competitive pistol shooting remains to be seen. The motivation and dedication are certainly there - the execution is the tricky part.

Our April rifle class at Whittington is filled. Whether we will have space to run another rifle school later on in the summer is uncertain. On this first occasion, we will see what kind of progress has been made on the proposed field rifle course. A modest piece of change has been amassed by this time, so at least we can get started. A field reaction range is not something you find on everybody's back lot, and Whittington certainly should have one.

The enemies of liberty in this country have been vastly encouraged by the re-election of the Billary Administration. They are sleepless and they never let facts get in their way. The fight is always there, and it is up to us, the shooters of America, to keep the pressure on. The National Rifle Association of America remains liberty's teeth. The organization is not perfect, but it is still the most powerful and articulate champion of personal and political liberty left in the world. If you do not like the way it is conducting its affairs - and I must say that there is an unpleasant amount of internal bickering apparent at this time - get in there and move to change it, but whatever you do, do not give up the ship!

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