Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 6, No. 1           January, 1998


Having survived the holidays in reasonably good shape, we now embark upon what promises to be a thunderous new year. The shooting community - if there is any such thing - seems to have fragmented like the Balkans. In this era of specialization no one seems to consider any topic "in the round," so to speak. We should endeavor to avoid this insofar as we can, for our enemies will seek every opportunity to divide and conquer. I will endeavor to clean up my own act to the best of my ability, but since I have never been a shotgunner nor a target shooter, this will take some effort. I will push the motto "If he shoots, he's on our side."

In my personal opinion, the great triumph of 1997 was John Gannaway's desert ram. John, as you know, is an authentic shooting master, achieving extraordinary prominence in both using and teaching rifle, pistol and shotgun.

In the opinion of many (including me), the bighorn sheep is the grandest of all trophies. The desert bighorn of the American Southwest is probably the most difficult to secure, and scoring on any respectable ram is a notable achievement. You draw for your ticket annually in Arizona, and John drew unsuccessfully for 36 years before his ticket turned up. Just being drawn for desert sheep is an unlikely luxury, but what does one do then? Well, John went down to the area and scouted the terrain, promising himself that he would pass up the shot unless he saw something really worthwhile. He saw it on the first day. But visibility was not good and the unusually large body size of the beast tended to diminish the apparent size of the horns in the fading light. So John kept up the pursuit for five days, and on the evening of the last day he scored (243/85, range 195 by laser, target angle 110, firing from a field rest, uphill at about 30 deg, in fading light).

Triumph! I do not yet have all the details, but this is a record book ram, indistinguishable at first glance from the world's number one on display at the Cody Museum in Wyoming. Thus do the gods of the chase reward nobility!

A lot of static was thrown our way when we mentioned that article by Karamojo Bell, which appeared in the American Rifleman many years ago pointing out that if he went back to Africa he, Bell, would take with him a 308. It turns out that the 308 had not appeared at the time Bell's article was published. About all I can assume here is that we have an editorial mishap. My best guess is that Bell stipulated 303, and that his copy was "corrected" by somebody in the composition room.

(I remember my dismay on one occasion when I specified the F4 Phantom as "gunless," since it went out to war without a gun. The composing room Johnnie altered my statement to "gutless," which the F4 certainly was not.)

Our African plans for this year are shaping up, but we have so many aspiring heros that administration is going to be difficult. Fortunately we have in Barry Miller, of Durban, a truly superb administrator. We simply could not put these adventures together without him, so we are now furiously faxing back and forth in the highest of high hopes.

Unfortunately the Batswana are proving difficult, as may be expected in a cash-hungry third world country. Our party will be severely limited on buffalo and (would you believe it!) crocodile. These people have discovered that there are sportsmen who are willing to pay good money for non-game animals, and they leap at the opportunity. As of now we are limited to two buffalo for the whole party, these to be allotted to two first-timers (against my best judgement). However I suppose it is always dangerous to count on a second time, and this is certainly true of the African scene. We intend to use the mighty 460 G&A Special and will not be undergunned.

At this period I am fully as much a spectator as a participant in the African hunting scene, but Ian McFarlane, our host, is bent on getting me a situtunga (to enhance his reputation rather than mine), so he did not have to twist my arm very hard.

(The ladies will be well represented on this excursion, and as they are all proven rifle chicks there will be no marksmanship problem.)

We will show off the Steyr Scout, utilizing Federal's new hopped-up ammunition, which essentially boosts the 308 to a 30-06. Still as yet there seems to be no opportunity to do a proper hippo. Ian says he has a whole pot full of elephants, but somehow I have never sought to bag that beast.

We regret to report that the Deluxe Edition of "Meditations on Hunting," by Jos√© Ortega y Gasset, has been sold out, and that there is no current intention of reprinting it. It is generally assumed that this book constitutes the old testament of hunting, and should be a treasured centerpiece of any sportsman's library. The regular edition ($60) is still available from Wilderness Adventures in Montana.

So now we have another hot 7mm, which is something we need about like, say, carbonated buttermilk. As I recall, the 270 Winchester was introduced in about 1925 and has been doing a superb job now for going on three quarters of a century. In the eyes of many, the 270/130 is the perfect deer cartridge, and in the opinions of a good many others of broad experience, the 270/150 comes on very strong as a general-purpose sporting caliber for non-dangerous game. The 7mm Winmag may be considered a sort of enhanced 270, which is okay, except that the 270 does not need enhancement. And now we have the 7mm STW, which is a pure and simple tribute to "the first kid in the blockism." Marketing is a strange and mysterious operation, but since it occupies the full attention of a great many people in commercial enterprises, we ought not to jeer at it overmuch. However, after reading colleague Finn Aagaard's treatment of the 7 STW, I do not find myself in any way interested in acquiring such a piece. I am sure it will do. So will a 270. So will a 30-06. So will a 308. Ho hum!

Colleague Wayne Van Zwoll brings us an interesting tale of buffalo in Rifle magazine. It is well told, but in essence it establishes once more that the 375 is simply not a proper buffalo gun. The 505 Gibbs, on the other hand, is. So, for that matter, are the 460 G&A, the 458 Lott, and the 470 Capstick.

Our colleague and family member, Per Hoydahl, reports that all game is on the increase in Norway, and that bears are becoming something of a problem. Bears are wonderful to have, and they certainly enhance the spirit of the wilderness wherever they can be found, but bears are not cuddly. Per points out that if the trend continues someone, probably a picnicking child, is going to be killed by a bear, and then all sorts of legislative hysteria will ensue. All that is needed, of course, is controlled bear hunting, but that fills the bambiists with horror, and these people can certainly kick up a fuss whether or not they make any sense.

A South African correspondent for Magnum magazine has recently given us a sparkling account of his pursuit of the giant ram (Ovis ammon poli) of the roof of the world. In the eyes of many deeply involved hunters, the great ammon ram of Central Asia is the ultimate trophy. It just may be, but there are several points to be considered. One of the reasons that I prize the American bighorn (Ovis canadensis) is the unearthly splendor of the land in which he must be sought. Ammon does not live in such country, but rather in high, windswept, gravel and snow slopes where there is not enough air to breathe and there is almost never enough cover for a proper stalk. He is certainly a magnificent challenge, but from what I read, he is not a challenge one would desire to repeat.

In the first place, our hunter had to commence his enterprise in Moscow, where, as you might suppose, his ammunition was "misplaced." Today's Moscow being what it is, our friend was able to locate a few rounds of 300 Winmag for $50 each.

Then he was involved in getting to the site for his hunt, which required passage in a rickety twin-prop job flown according to weather conditions by a pilot who had other things on his mind.

Upon reaching the site, our sportsman found that provisioning and accommodations were, to be as polite as possible, third-rate.

Then, of course, there was the hunt - a pure case of "Tell me again, George, how much fun I'm having." The two hunters subsisted on prison camp food washed down with a great deal of tea. Both were afflicted with what is called in the Andes "soroche," sometimes referred to as hypoxia. The first symptom was the continuous splitting headache, for which none of the pills they packed along seemed to be able to do anything.

As to the targets, it seems there were plenty of sheep, both rams and ewes, usually in separate bunches. As with all the mountain sheep, their eyesight is quite unbelievable. On the bare, gentle, open slopes they can spot any sort of possible hazard way out past Fort Mudge. The temperature only got up to -10 (in the heat of the day). Our hunter used an excellent weapon - a Blaser R93 in caliber 300 Winmag. He hunted mainly from a primitive Russian jeep which came equipped with springs but no shocks. They could cover the ground with this, but the only thing which eventually made it possible for them to score was the fact that the rams were not very wild. By pulling off a ridge crossing, our hunter finally got to within some 300 meters - and then missed.

Eventually both hunters secured respectable trophies, but not in what one would call a clean-cut fashion.

Well, I have hunted both bighorns and Dall sheep in my youth and I enjoyed the experience tremendously. Now at the tail end of my 70s, I will not attempt to hunt any sort of mountain sheep, but even were I in my prime I would go for the bighorn and the Stone before the Ammon. If that makes me chicken, I will just have to accept it.

Five new steel reactive targets have now been delivered to Whittington Shooting Center for use on the J&J Field Range. There appears to be a certain amount of foot dragging at that institution, mainly due to a difference of opinion in what exactly constitutes sport shooting. Nonetheless, with the help of God and a tail wind, we should have the field range or "game walk" ready for operation by late summer.

Comrade Mugabe has now made racist banditry the official policy of the adolescent state of Zimbabwe. He has simply confiscated the productive farms owned and operated by European settlers in order to give the land to the oppressed Bantu majority. This is not, of course, a total surprise, apart from the fact that we might have expected it earlier. In a curious flight of fancy, Mugabe has suggested that England provide compensation to the dispossessed farm community. Well, England, in large measure, gave him the country, so I guess he is justified in feeling that England can jolly well pay off the refugees.

This internet business is becoming something of a bore - a sort of high-tech kafee klatsch. It would seem that a great many people who have nothing to say insist upon saying it - at the top of their computers. The trouble with this is that a great many people take irresponsible chit chat seriously, and this means that I get a lot of rather annoying correspondence asking me if some point of particular nonsense is actually true. For example, someone told me that he saw a photograph in a magazine of a Steyr Scout mounting a Harris bipod!!! Is it possible that somebody picked up an SS somewhere and did not know that the bipod is already there? Is it possible that such a person did not realize that the Harris bipod is strictly a jury rig, whereas the integral bipod of the SS was conceived from the ground up? I guess an SS equipped with a Harris bipod must go down as this year's nomination for the Waffenp√∂sselhaft award.

In that connection, I have a correspondent who insists that the Steyr Scout should be equipped with a flash hider, pointing out that if people can detect your flash, they may shoot back at you. Well, in the first place, if you shoot carefully your target is not going to be able to shoot back at you. Secondly, the whole purpose of the Scout is reduction in bulk. You do not want to hang things up there on the front end.

Sometimes I think we should go back to the pony express.

We are not generally impressed by innovative handgun designs, but Smith & Wesson has come up now with a fairly compact 5-shot wheel-gun in caliber 44 Special. Toward the beginning of the handgun revolution, in which we bore a hand, we professed that the optimum personal defensive sidearm was a major caliber self-loading pistol. The second choice was a major caliber revolver; the third a minor caliber self-loader, and in last place the minor caliber revolver. This new Smith will fit nicely into certain marketing niches, if we bear in mind that one need not use only factory ammunition in 44 Special. This cartridge can be loaded up, without overstressing it, to very respectable stopping levels. A 240-grain Keith-form lead bullet at about 900f/s is both controllable and decisive. This can be put down as a Good Thing.

Now that hunting season is behind us your televisor comes into its own. Dry practice on the tube is a really excellent way to polish your marksmanship. Certainly we should try to get out to the range at least once a month, but that is impossible for a good many. On the other hand, a weekly tube session with your rifle will do wonders for your field marksmanship. Just remember that you cannot throw the snap away simply because you know it is not going to be recorded on paper. Every squeeze must be as perfect as you can make it. If you know how to shoot to begin with, that TV practice will keep you sharp all year long.

We find it curious that so many people worry about the price of rifles without ever worrying about the price of shotguns. We also find it curious that a great many shooters seem to think that the purpose of the exercise is the ownership of a great many cheap firearms. Well, to each his own, but I have been chastised by a good many correspondents who think that it would be a good idea to produce a cheap scout rifle. I wonder if such people inform Porsche AG that it would be a good idea to produce a cheap Porsche. My child, the Steyr Scout, is indeed expensive, though somewhat less so than the creation of a high quality custom scout. Riflemen who are really strapped (and truly I feel for them) need look no further than the Enfield No. 4, which is a far better gun than the SKS and which can be had for considerably less money.

Nobody needs a scout rifle. Nobody needs a Ferrari. Nobody needs a box at the opera. And nobody needs an Aerostar. The question is not what you need, but rather what you want - and how much do you want it. In my own view, it is better to own one really good rifle than six or eight approximations. But that is just my view, and people with other opinions are welcome to them.

Have you ever heard of a "gluteotomy"? Neither had we until the subject came up during a bull session with Tom Siatos, who used to be a major wheel with Petersen Publications until his recent retirement. It seems that the topic had to do with the lethality of the venom of the mamba, which is reputed to be very lethal indeed. In some circles it is held that if you are injected with a full dose of mamba venom, you do not recover. Whether this is absolutely true or not, the fact remains that one should carefully avoid being bitten by a mamba. The question, of course, is what do you do if you cannot avoid it, which is sometimes the case. One of the members of this campfire chat, seeing that there were no ladies present, undertook to demonstrate the means which may be used in certain sorts of mamba envenomation. He stood up, dropped his britches, and established that a large portion of his right buttock was missing. As it happened, he was struck exactly on the most prominent portion of his behind by a black mamba while making camp. The snake hung on for a bit, definitely establishing the location of the bite. To the narrator's (temporary) astonishment, he was belted full in the jaw by his tracker with sufficient force to knock him cold. The tracker proceeded to roll him over on his face, produce his panga and slice off some two and a half pounds of gluteus maximus. This dramatic essay in first aid treatment may well have saved the man's life; at least he thinks it did. At the time he told the story he was a bit lopsided, but he was alive and in good health.

(Now I can expect a handful of African friends to tell me that they were there when that happened. That is the norm with African stories.)

We stirred up much interest awhile back when we mentioned a sleeve-type mount base to be used on standard rifle barrels which permits proper placement of the telescope forward of the magazine well. I have not used this device myself, but I have looked at it and it looks good. It is the brainchild of Ashley Emerson, and it should be on display shortly at the SHOT Show in Vegas. Address:
Ashley Outdoors, Inc., 2401 Ludelle Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76105.

Family member Mark Terry tells us that his nephew was decisively shot up last October with a 32 auto. Range was very short and one of the hits was in the head, but he was conscious and pretty chipper when the paramedics arrived. At the hospital it was discovered that he had one of those little 32 pills inside his skull, and so, rather than mess with an operation, they left it there. As Mark says, that miniature bullet probably won't even set off metal detectors at airports.

Time magazine has now set up a discussion about what man or men should be designated "Person of the 20th Century." Barrett Tillman nominates the Wright Brothers, who got the human race off the ground. Another suggestion is Jacques Cousteau, who gave us the sea. Another might be Winston Churchill, who led Western Europe to world victory. This subject is certainly worth exploring.

Further nasty news from the nasty United Nations Organization:

One Eric Kibuka, who delights in the title of "Director of the United Nations African Institute for the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders," has gone on record to the effect that "The international community (sic) has decided that firearms regulation is at the core of democracy and good government." The connection between firearms regulation and democracy is about as obvious as the connection between traffic regulation and quail hunting, but that is not likely to trouble a UN official. As we have all noticed, the cry of the modern left seems to be "To hell with the facts. It's the gut reaction that matters."

Gunsite stalwart and family member Barrett Tillman has come up with a new term for "us good guys." He suggests Ravenvolk, but I must call a slight tilt. I do not like compound words deriving from two different languages. The word for raven in German is raben and volk is a German word. In English this would read Ravenfolk. Since the Gunsite raven is neither German nor entirely Scandinavian, I prefer the English construction. Henceforth let us regard ourselves as Ravenfolk.

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