Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 6, No. 2           February, 1998


Sorry about the delay. I have been crippled up with a broken back for some time, and this has interfered with my preferred activities. Progress is slow but steady.

I am sure you have all heard of the notion that elephants will sometimes eat marula fruit and become drunk when the material ferments in their stomachs. I have always doubted this story, but now I hear of an account from Sweden in which a similar phenomenon, involving apples, was observed in regard to the Scandinavian elch, which is the same animal (Alces alces) as the American moose. Strange, but possibly true.

It would appear that ex-President Bush will go down in history as "the man who lost the war." We had Saddam Hussein on his heels, and everything in position to chase him down and end his reign, so Mr. Bush let him go. Now we are contemplating doing the same thing again. Certainly we can punish this man (together with a lot of innocent people) with the forces we have ready to strike in the Gulf region, and that will accomplish nothing. Saddam is a fanatic, and cannot be expected to back down in this confrontation. We can smash his buildings and equipment at considerable length, but even if we could destroy his military potential entirely there would be nothing to prevent him building it up again as soon as we left. The only way to end this situation is by physical occupation of the ground. Whether we can do that or not is not clear, but whether we can or not, we won't. No matter how hard we slap his wrist, or even punch his face, we are not going to change his mind.

I guess we should regard this whole matter as a "live firing exercise." The technical and logistical skill necessary to mount an operation of this size on the other side of the world is mind boggling. We may take pleasure in that if nothing else.

Recent television releases from the White House deliver the message that it is all right to lie as long as one is not under oath. The Chief Executive made this very clear in an interview last week. "It doesn't matter what I said, I wasn't under oath." That is an interesting message to transmit to our youth. Teaching our young people to speak the truth is never easy, but it can be done. Dismissing the matter as essentially irrelevant is yet another example of the general decay of our culture.

We have been refreshed and delighted at recent photographs of colleague Finn Aagaard in his rifle shooting exercises. There is at least one "gun writer" around who knows how to handle a rifle.

The big item at this time of year is always the SHOT Show, held this time in Las Vegas again. There is also the Safari Club show at Reno, but I do not normally attend that one, regardless of the many friends I often meet there, because I am philosophically opposed to "tape measure hunting." In my view, big game hunting ought not to be a competitive activity. One does not hunt for the edification of other hunters, but rather for a semi-mystical experience, which is extremely personal. Whether my elk has a greater spread or more points than yours has nothing to do with my skill as a hunter, but is almost entirely a matter of chance. My own record bull elk, taken way back then, was simply happened upon, and I shot him because he was there, not because I thought he was going to break any records. There are exceptions to this thesis, of course, but I think it holds true in the main. One should not look at life through the window of his own soul, but I have hunted all my life for the experience of hunting, neither primarily for meat (though I enjoy venison), nor primarily for trophies (though I have some very nice ones). I hunt because I must, and I cannot explain that to anyone who does not already understand it.

I cannot say much about the SHOT Show because I was unable to get around except on an electric scooter, besides which I was heavily involved with the Steyr Mannlicher display put on by Gun South. The feature here was the brand new Steyr Scout, which I have been talking about now for some time. I regard the piece as not just a temporary success, but as a revolutionary leap forward. Because of its radical nature, it cannot well be slid into any existing slot since it does, as it is designed to do, almost everything a rifle may be called upon to do.

I have gone on at length about the virtues of the concept and the attraction of the resulting piece, but more interesting to me, at this point, are the negatives. Just what is wrong with the SS? Aside from its rather curious appearance, its conspicuous drawback is that it accomplishes what it set out to do - everything. There are a lot of shooters, and still more marketers, who are distressed by this idea. This type of shooter wants a piece for every purpose, and the marketer, naturally, wants to sell as many different kinds of pieces as he can. The notion of a piece that does everything is vaguely distressing to such people, and I can understand that. However, it does not change my vast satisfaction with the entire enterprise as it has turned out. If you want to shoot deer, or mountain sheep, or jack rabbits, or kangaroos, or kudu, or wildebeeste, or enemy agents, you simply cannot make a better choice than the brand new SS. (I was amused to learn from one English contact that the term "SS" still has repellent connotations to a lot of Englishmen who have not yet got over their fear of the Nazis. The notorious Schuetzstaffel has not been with us now for several lifetimes, yet its mention prickles the scalp of a lot of Englishmen. Coincidentally, the organization that protects the President of the United States may also be referred to as the SS (for secret service).)

But let us put these superficial considerations aside. The Steyr Scout is now with us, and you can order your own copy for delivery in May. Its unique features must be enjoyed to be appreciated in full, but they are there, and the first time you press that superb trigger you will be sold. (That actually happened. Our old friend and family member Chuck Miller mentioned that he was resisting placing his order up until he tried the trigger, and that settled his hash.)

The profusion of new pistols makes a detailed survey of the market too large a job for a newsletter. We may note, however, that the Europeans retain their preoccupation with the 9mm Parabellum cartridge. This is due primarily to the fact that the Europeans as a group are not interested in stopping power. As one Frenchman once told me, if in Europe you shoot a criminal, he sits down on the curb and bursts into tears. In America he will shoot back and kill you if he can. Different attitude.

There is also a worldwide preoccupation with fully automatic, handheld fire. The "spray-and-pray" concept may be held in contempt by sophisticated shooters throughout the world, but there are not many of those. Most people in the press and law enforcement seem to feel that a whole lot of shots, hit or miss, is preferable to one well-placed hit. We cognoscenti know better than that, but we are in the minority.

The Barret single-shot 50 BMG is now selling well in the United States, and the Germans have come up with their own version of the same sort of piece. The item is very attractive to the eye, but I have not had the chance to shoot it. I have reason to believe that it will shoot very well. Its price is high and it is forbidden in the United States as a "destructive device" by the BATmen. I cannot regard this as any more than the usual annoyance I feel with government regulation, but I really cannot see a purpose for this rifle. It is doubtless great fun to shoot at medium-and long-range, if you can afford the ammunition, but the only really appropriate target I can conceive for it is the 55 gallon oil drum, suitably decorated. (Of course, you can hit that drum just as well with a 30-caliber rifle such as an M1 - but to bring up that point would be to spoil the fun.)

We are constantly depressed when we hear of people who think they know about gunhandling, but do not. Just recently in Africa we heard of an incident in which the hunter had placed his wife in the rear of the hunting car with a round in the chamber and her finger on the trigger. When the car jolted, she fired the piece, and by the grace of God she did not kill anyone. Some talk was made at the time about the condition of the safety on the rifle. Let me say, for the thousandth time, that you never put your absolute faith in any safety device on the weapon. In the foregoing incident, whether the safety was on or not was irrelevant. The finger was on the trigger, which is the violation of the Golden Rule. Nobody died, but that was just luck.

The everlasting problem for the shooter remains gunhandling. Of the three elements of shooting skill - marksmanship, gunhandling, and mind-set - it is gunhandling which gives us the most trouble. The way people handled their weapons at the SHOT Show was enough to make one's blood run cold, and many of these people are presumably "experts" in the firearms field. It would seem that while a great many shooters understand the four basic rules of safe gunhandling, they seem to think that the rules only apply on the range when under supervision. I have tried for decades to impress upon people the fact that the four rules are immutable and ever present. They apply at all times and in all circumstances. Somebody asked me what they were the other day (somewhat to my dismay), so for the purposes of those who came in late let me put them forth again now.
The only exception to this occurs when one has a weapon in his hands and he has personally unloaded it for checking. As soon as he puts it down, Rule 1 applies again.
You may not wish to destroy it, but you must be clear in your mind that you are quite ready to if you let that muzzle cover the target. To allow a firearm to point at another human being is a deadly threat, and should always be treated as such.
This we call the Golden Rule because its violation is responsible for about 80 percent of the firearms disasters we read about.
You never shoot at anything until you have positively identified it. You never fire at a shadow, or a sound, or a suspected presence. You shoot only when you know absolutely what you are shooting at and what is beyond it.

At SHOT we stopped by the booth maintained by Ceska Zbrojovka (CZ-USA) to ask about progress of our suggestions of last summer. At the company's request, we made two suggestions. One was for an idealized service pistol made to my specs, and the other involved an idealized heavy rifle. I do not see much of a market for either product, but the company is very anxious to enter the Western scene, and feels that a couple of prestige items might help in that direction. At the booth I was told by the company representative that both projects were still under consideration, though, because of a bad economic year in 1997, progress was not rapid. The upshot is that we may look forward to the appearance of those weapons in due course, but not right at this minute.

1997 was the year of the "Great Exculpation" from the White House, to wit: "I didn't do it, and I'll never do it again." That is too marvelous a statement to go unrecognized, so we asked our Latinest granddaughter how to render that idea into the classical language for universal appreciation. Herewith the result.
Id non secit et numquam id faciam iterum.

In regard to all this foolishness about global warming, we notice the following:
"The irony of the information age is that it has given new respectability to uninformed opinion."

John Lawton, 1995
I suppose we cannot properly blame these developments on Bill Gates, but the temptation is there.

We all heard of that new Louisiana law which authorizes automobile drivers to defend themselves against robbery with deadly force, but I did not know that that rule, despite opposition, passed at a rate of 133 to 1.

A correspondent recently wrote to us regarding his Glock 45. He rather likes the piece, but insists that it shoots low and to the left in a sort of strung out oval. This is hardly unexpected. A conspicuous characteristic of the Glock pistol is a crummy trigger pull. Such trigger action encourages erratic let-offs. This does not matter at over-the-table ranges usually encountered in pistol fights, but it does show up on the target when the range is extended. The Glock is a good pistol, if not too much is asked from it, but it is hardly a piece for a sophisticated marksman.

The excellent line of Blaser firearms has heretofore been marketed in the United States by Autumn Sales, of Fort Worth, Texas. That situation has changed, and one now orders a Blaser through SIG Arms, of Corporate Park, Exeter, New Hampshire. Note that the Blaser R93 is the only other rifle I would put in the class with the Steyr Scout. It is by no means the same and offers its own advantages, but one of these is its radical ignition system which does not involve any sear engagement. Both the SS and the 93 are superior weapons, and, curiously enough, a primary feature of each is almost unbelievably good trigger-action. Note also that you can get the 93 in left-hand form by simply replacing the bolt. At this time we have no positive information about the appearance of a left-handed SS.

So, Lon Horiuchi is to be brought to trial in a federal court. Whether or not he will be brought to justice remains to be seen. The issue now is beset with legalisms, essentially obscuring the nature of the act itself. In no danger himself, this man shot and killed Vicki Weaver, who was unarmed and holding her child. The legal aspects of this matter - voluntary, involuntary, double-jeopardy, jurisdiction, etc. - are irrelevant. The act was probably criminal, but much worse than that it was indecent. There is no serious penalty for indecency. Perhaps there should be.

While enjoying all this Olympic hoopla, we might note that the original Olympic games were pointedly and specifically non-national. Winners were highly honored as individuals, but no notice was taken of their place of origin. Those old Greeks were touchy and irascible people, but they held that regionalism was inappropriate to athletic competition.

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