Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 6, No. 11          October, 1998

Hunting Season

So here we are in October, the finest month of the year! Now is the time for all good men to take the field and put meat on the table. Despite the disgusting scene in Washington, and the two dozen vicious little wars now underway in various parts of the world, the joy of the hunt suffices to lift our spirits. May Artemis support you, and when you succeed be sure and tell me all about it!

Here at hunting season again, I am reminded that when I was in junior high school a teacher asked the class to name the four seasons. The first little boy to respond said, "Duck season, deer season, trout season, and Christmas."

The popular cliché "Been there, done that" does not ever apply to the African hunt. As it is said, "You cannot step into the same river twice."

We just polished off two week-long classes at Whittington, and as usual the teacher probably learned more than the students. I recall at the close of World War II when I was assigned to the G2 Section of Command and Staff School at Quantico, I observed dubiously to my superiors that I had never seen a G2 Section at work. Their response was, quite properly, "Never mind, Major. You will learn." And I did.

From the pistol class I learned again the need for a proper service pistol with a reduced butt circumference, and from the rifle class I learned about the "unfair advantage" granted to the student by the Steyr Scout. In the rifle class we had 24 students, of whom seven used Steyr Scouts. In overall performance scout shooters placed first, second and fourth.

(I repeat that I am not in any way financially hooked up with Steyr Mannlicher. I receive no royalty, and no other financial return.)

Despite the emotional convictions of the bambiists, the American whitetailed deer is gradually turning from a prize into a pest. I dislike culling, having been involved in it on one occasion, but in this case there may be no reasonable alternative.

It appears that the sharks are getting uppity as the century draws to a close. In addition to the increase of shark attacks reported from South Africa, we now learn of a 20-mile stretch of the Adriatic coast of Italy shut down due to the unlikely appearance of a great white shark, and just recently a young man was hit by a white off of Stinson Beach near San Francisco. Sharks are interesting creatures, and it is fun to hunt them. Carry on!

The Gunsite Reunion and TR Memorial promises to be more fun than ever this year. In addition to our other activities, we will all get a chance to visit the Sporting Rifle Walk, and its nifty little range house. Those of you who wish to bring furniture, wall decorations, or power tricycles will be most welcome.

In our recent pistol class we had a couple of Glocks, a revolver, and a crunchenticker. This made it necessary for me to introduce the entire class to the four firing strokes which may be used with the double-action self-loader.
  1. The Weaver System. In this method the weapon is fired by cocking it with the trigger finger on the way up. Pressure commences as the piece is raised from "smack" to "look." The pressure is even and so timed that the trigger stroke is completed exactly as the sights are picked up by the eye. This system was used by Jack Weaver in his prime with a revolver, and I can testify that it worked beautifully in the hands of the master. It is difficult, however, and calls for unusual talent and coordination.
  2. The Crunch-Through System. This system is most commonly used in law enforcement schools, and it is the least efficient way of using the weapon. No pressure is applied to the trigger until the sights are picked up, at which time the shooter presses straight back (crunch) completing the firing action while attempting to maintain the sights on the target. The second shot is fired with the piece cocked, hence "crunch - tick."
  3. Thumb-Cock System. In this system the shooter catches the hammer with the thumb of his support hand when the hands come together at "smack." Then as the piece is pressed up into line the hammer comes back, reaching full cock just at the top of the presentation. This is probably the best method for handling the double-action automatic. It is every bit as quick as the two foregoing systems, and it offers a shooter a cocked hammer for every shot.
  4. The Shot-Cock System. With this system the shooter simply flings his first shot down range, cocking the piece with his trigger finger as fast as he can without particular attention to sights or alignment. He then places his second shot from a cocked mode with the precision that affords. This may sound bizarre, but I have seen it work on the range and I have discovered it to work on the street. The interval between the first shot and the second is almost nil, and the first shot just may hit. The shooter, however, concentrates on the placement of his second shot. (I do not teach this system, but I do mention it. Whether it is "correct" or not is beside the point, since it works.)
Anyone who chooses a double-action auto-pistol as his service arm should experiment with all four strokes and find out which suits him best. It takes a master to master the Weaver System. The Crunch-Through System is unsatisfactory. Thumb cocking works just fine for most people. The Shot-Cock System is viewed askance by most instructors, but, as I say, it works and I will not condemn any system which works.

We thought everybody knew by now that barrel length has almost nothing to do with accuracy. I believe the myth of the superior accuracy of a long rifle dates from colonial days, when the only way to extend sight radius was to make the barrel as long as possible. It is interesting how long it takes a myth to die.

It should be understood that the student should be in reasonably good physical shape in order to undertake a rifle class. Rifle shooting as we teach it does not involve sitting at the bench or lying on one's stomach. You need not be in shape for competition tennis in order to shoot a rifle well, but you should be in at least as good shape as a serious golfer.

In case you did not catch it before, the dates for this year's GR and TRM are 16, 17, 18 October.

At the pistol class, staff member Tom Russell showed me his "Concealed Carry Officer's Model" Colt. Among the flurry of recent efforts in the service pistol line, this one stands out. If it were slimmed down to make it suitable for smaller hands, it would be just about perfect.

This one we get from family member Barrett Tillman, and we would not pass it on except in the mode of Herodotus. You will remember that the Father of History said, about fantastic tales, that he could not vouch for them personally, but that he was told by people who were there.

It seems that a new boy moved into a semi-rural area and after a couple of weeks he called upon the authorities to take down the sign designating the road in front of his house as "Deer Crossing." He said that too many deer were crossing there and getting hit by cars. (Honest to God!)

Doubtless you have heard about the Earth First activist who was fatally beaned by a falling tree while endeavoring to block logging activity. If one feels that logging should be blocked he has a right to his opinion, but his course of action lies through the courts. To bounce around and get in the way of legitimate activity is not the answer. Well, this bird won't try it again! I leave you to work out the moral of this story for yourself.

The outstanding performance of the Steyr Scouts in the last rifle class will be immediately challenged by target shooters on the grounds that "the weapon fit the test." This position cannot be substantiated, since the tests to which the students were subjected were totally diversified, ranging from short-to medium-range and requiring complete variety in firing position. It is my view that the Steyr Scout is the easiest rifle to hit with that I have ever seen, and this seems to be verified in the training exercises we have so far conducted. Some observers have opined that to use a SS is a form of cheating, and thus I have proposed an advertising slogan to the company:
Steyr Scout - The Unfair Advantage!

Note again that slow fire from off-hand is foolishness, regardless of what the silhouette shooters may say. If you can take your time, you can get a better position than off-hand, or for that matter, standing. And "rice paddy prone" is definitely better than kneeling, but it takes a certain amount of arm twisting to convince some people of that.

At Whittington we had no mechanical failures in the SS rifles. We had two failures to chamber a round due to badly sized ammunition, and we had two more reloads misfire, apparently due to badly seated primers. One enthusiast stripped the threads on his telescope mount, and one reticle collapsed on the last exercise of the last day.

I have long preached that internal adjustments in telescope sights are just not strong enough for serious work. I always advise any hunter taking off for foreign parts to bring two telescopes. His rifle is unlikely to break, but his telescope just may. When family member Dick Culver was head of the sniper school at Quantico he emphasized to me that the Marine Corps had simply not come up with a telescope that a Marine could not break. Unfortunately it does not require a Marine to break one. The scopesight of the future, which I will push as hard as I may as long as I can, will have no moving parts inside the tube. (Variable power is, as we have often pointed out, another answer in search of a question.) The tube itself will be rigid, and the reticle will be painted on the glass, probably in the form of an amber pyramid. Elevation and deflection adjustments will be achieved in the mounts, and thus we will achieve reliability.

The problems facing this concept are serious. In the first place, the market is used to what we have got, and simply ignores its drawbacks! Secondly, sight makers and rifle makers are separate entities, very difficult to bring into coincident endeavor. The glassmakers are not attracted by the idea of simplicity, since they regard complexity as a marketing asset. The telescope I propose could be manufactured for less, and the increased price of the mount would not be an advantage to the sight maker. Just who would manufacturer the mounts is unknown. Always when something new is proposed the question comes back from the fabricator, "How many items do you want?" Since no one can predict sales on an innovative design, we will have to find some ingenious fellow who is trying to make a name for himself in small volume production before going on to greater things. The riflemaker could undertake to make the mounts, but that would require the establishment of a new "division," with attendant expense. Thus the perfected scout sight lies in the future. May I live to see the day!

Some of the troops had occasion to use shooting sticks in Africa this year, where this sort of thing is becoming more common all the time. I dislike the concept of shooting sticks, but in a situation where you always have a couple of henchmen tagging along with you, as you must in Africa, shooting sticks do offer a certain advantage in high grass. I do not, however, intend to teach the use of shooting sticks in school. Those who find that they need them can easily figure out the technique.

Colleague Ross Seyfried tells of a good response he had for some sportsman who was talking about long shooting on pronghorns. Concerning long shooting Ross responded that his range on pronghorn was 655 yards - to which he added, after a short pause, "for nine bucks." If you divide nine into 655 you get a pretty good average range for antelope shooting.

Incidentally, the new medium scout cartridge may be designated the 376 JCS. This is to avoid confusion with the 375 on the dealer's shelf. This cartridge is being test fired by Hirtenberger of Austria right now. How long it will take Steyr Mannlicher to build a rifle for it I cannot say, but it should be as good or a little better than the improved 350 Remington Magnum with which I have had outstanding success. It is designed to start a 250-grain bullet of .375-inch caliber at 2600f/s from the 19-inch scout barrel. Its efficiency will depend to a large extent upon the actual structure of the bullet. Personally I admire the Swift, but the Hirtenberger people may have ideas of their own. One thing we will need is a very hard-jacketed, blunt-nosed solid for those who need maximum penetration.

During the pistol class as we got into dim light, we discovered that all sorts of dots and spots on the rear-sight are not necessarily a good thing. One of our young ladies was having much difficulty until the coach simply sprayed her sights black, and she came on from that point very well. This tells us that it is necessary to put theory to a test in actual practice. It is all very well to opine that such and such system should work, but until you try it, and with as many individuals as possible, you do not have a real basis for opinion.

It must be emphasized again that recoil effect is subjective - it depends upon the individual, rather than the weapon. Certainly the rearward impetus of the piece on firing can be measured in a laboratory, but how that affects the shooter depends entirely on that shooter. We have heard people complain about the recoil of a 7lb. 308, and when I was a boy the 1903 Springfield, in 30-06 at about 9lb., was considered to be a mankiller - at both ends. Having taught several thousand people to shoot rifles of various calibers, I am now convinced that the psychological approach is what works. This does not have to do with the bulk, strength, or gender of the shooter. It has to do with his or, in this case, her attitude. I have a feeling that the 376 Scout will bounce briskly on discharge. If this bothers you, change your attitude.

One of our customers showed up at the rifle class with what I can only describe as a "goof sight." This was an L-shaped glass arrangement mounted out there on the rear of the barrel. The physics involved in this gadget seemed unworkable to me, but I could not find out because the device broke off on the second day, and we replaced it with a more conventional telescope sight.

I was not too happy about the idea of bringing out a medium cartridge for the Scout Rifle, but the more I think about it, the more I think it may work. Certainly we have too many cartridges to choose from now, but a medium scout should handle certain problems very well. It should be practically perfect for moose and big bear, and likewise for lion. In view of the historic record of the 375 H&H on buffalo, I cannot push it for this beast, but certainly it will do with the solid bullet, if the shot is well placed. The eland is an unlikely target, but for those who pursue him, the medium scout should be ideal. And, of course, there is no great harm in being overgunned unless you are intimidated by the weapon, and that is an individual matter. A mule deer or a boar or a zebra will be no less dead for having been hit somewhat too hard. (And now that I think about it, I do not suppose you can hit a zebra too hard. That one is a tough customer!)

We all remember the happy day when the town of Kenesaw, Georgia, passed an ordinance requiring householders to maintain an appropriate firearm in every house. The hoplophobes, of course, were horrified. Being hoplophobes, they did not need to make sense. It is nonetheless gratifying to note that crime, which was very unusual in Kenesaw, Georgia, has decreased steadily since the passing of the ordinance. If you mention this to those other people, they have nothing to say, and simply change the subject. Actually that is the only valid position that these disarmers can take - change the subject!

Those of the faithful who are aware of the classic "Jock of The Bushveldt," by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, should know that that great book is now being issued in expurgated form - politically correct. As an author of sorts, I regard political expurgation of a completed classic as a deadly sin. I cannot visit punishment upon the sinner, but I can warn anyone who sees a copy of Jock or wishes to order one to make sure he gets it in the original version in which the relationship between the races in South Africa is portrayed as it was, and not as certain goof balls would like to think it was. Jock is a great book, but get it clean or do not get it at all!

The 19th century might properly be called the century of the rifle, but the successful employment of this artifact has continued on into the 20th. I am a man of the 20th century, and my rifle has lived with me as my intimate companion since I was old enough to carry it. It is interesting to note that in this age of the scientific revolution relatively little improvement (a part from the mighty Garand) has been brought forth in the rifle itself, this in opposition to the enormous changes which were seen in the 19th century. Now as the 20th century winds down and we look forward to the future, I consider that there are three noteworthy forward steps in the design and fabrication of the rifles themselves. These steps are embodied in three rifles: the Blaser R93, the "Co-pilot" of Jim West, and, of course, the Steyr Scout. Each of these three weapons has created its own niche, as opposed to those rifles which fill a niche already there. In a sense, you can do certain things with each of these three that could not have been done as well with any weapon previously existing. That is a broad claim, but I am confident that it can be supported.

It is a great bore to hear people claiming that "being judgmental" is some sort of sin. God gave you your brain so that you could make judgments, and it is only sinful when you make judgments without understanding the questions involved. We like to see things done right and we like to see good stuff. We cannot achieve either desire without making judgments, so let's!

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