Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 6, No. 3           March, 1998


With all this tooth gnashing about Saddam Hussein, it is odd that no one seems to remember the axiom that it is the man, not his weapons, which causes the trouble. One of the first principles of war is The Principle of the Objective. The objective, in this case, it certainly seems to me, is Saddam Hussein himself. We would, indeed, feel better if he were not so preoccupied with nuclear and biological weapons, but as in a defensive pistol, someone has to decide to press the trigger.

It seems to us that Saddam here is holding Israel hostage. He cannot reach us with any of his fancy weapons, but he can reach and devastate Israel. This point alone endears him to the Moslem nations, but nobody seems to want to bring that up.

Way back when I was a student at Command and Staff School, the class was treated to an all day session by a group of white-coated biology professors who told us all about the limitations and capabilities of "biological warfare." This session was very secret - evidently to the point where no one learned anything from it.

The professors in this case informed us that if biological weapons were to be used, no existing affliction would be involved - not anthrax or bubonic plague or typhus or anything else that anyone had seen before. The agent used would be a synthetic disease created in a laboratory and given a code name, such as "Q27." All members of the attacking population could be immunized against it, but the defenders would have no way of combating it since they would not know what it was.

The professors further pointed out that the symptoms of the disease could be manufactured to order and need not be permanently serious. The affliction would have to last only long enough to allow ground victory by the attacking force. These professors pointed out to the class how humane that was. Well, maybe, but anybody who chooses to use anthrax as a weapon does not understand biological warfare.

And now how about this new 440 Corbon cartridge? It is supposed to be available in a new pistol by Magnum Research Incorporated, and it is said to start a 260-grain bullet at 1700f/s. This is just the ticket for the power hungry pistolero always troubled with aggressive polar bears in Svalbard. I suspect that anyone who can fire a 308 rifle, one hand, unsupported, at arm's length, will have no trouble managing this new item.

We ran into a pleasant interlude up in Vermont which emphasized the wisdom and social utility of the Vermont firearms laws. It seems that some foreigner from down below was in a supermarket when he observed one of the customers wearing a pistol openly. He got all flustered and immediately called 911. In due course a cop showed up and located the complainer, who pointed out the "culprit." The cop agreed that the man really was carrying a pistol, and then he asked what the problem was. I suppose the poor fellow rushed off out the door and went back where he came from. Obviously the state of Vermont was too dangerous for him.

A while back we were discussing the subject of hunting trophies as displayed upon the wall. People acquire trophies for various reasons, but we decided to dismiss size, rarity, danger, or just the collector's instinct and address the subject of beauty. After some discussion we settled upon six species, each specimen to be not necessarily a record head, but simply a prime example of the breed. Thus the following list - in no order of precedence: Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, as it is said, and we cannot be objective about it. Still, those six would truly make up into a magnificent collection.

We wish that people would stop referring to any rifle with an intermediate mounted scope on it as a "scout rifle," but we have no control over the whimsies of the unenlightened. It is, however, time to discuss the ideal characteristics of a true scoutscope. I have nothing against the current Leupold instrument now available on the Steyr Scout, but I would change it if I could.

By choice, I would have no moving parts inside the tube. I have long held that variable power is sheer foolishness, but beyond that I would not like to see any movement of the reticle inside the tube. If the reticle is painted on the glass it cannot very well come adrift unless the whole device is smashed. Putting adjustments in the mount raises some irritating engineering problems, if the tube is to be mounted low enough on the rifle to be comfortable. However, the wonders of modern engineering are amazing, and I feel sure that given sufficient incentive a strong mounting system could be created which would adjust for deflection in one mount and elevation in the other. As to the idealized reticle, I would favor that transparent triangle that turned up at the tail end of World War I. Possibly it did not work, since I have seen nothing of it in recent times. In theory, however, it possesses great advantages, being simultaneously extremely fast and absolutely precise. It could be offered in any mildly contrasting color such as amber or grey, and it absolutely could not get out of adjustment.

I labored for many years to see the scout rifle finally available over-the-counter. Now I will try to get after that scoutscope concept.

You have all heard about the Japanese harassment of the biathlon shooters in the Olympics. Here is a perfect example of an organization that has redoubled its efforts after it has lost sight of its goals. The competitors were treated as potential assassins and required to surrender both weapons and ammunition at all times when not actually firing. There was a practice session, but dry firing was forbidden.

These people have a great capacity for being obnoxious. I discovered it many years ago in the Pacific, and I have since not seen any reason to change my mind.

In an age when senior academicians are preaching that there is no such thing as objective truth, and that history is better understood as a collection of attitudes rather than facts, we discover to our horror that there are educators currently using popular movies as historical source material! As a history student myself, I am well aware that "getting it right" is difficult, and in many cases impossible, but that does not mean we should deliberately falsify things about which we can be reasonably certain. James MacDonald Fraser pointed out in a recent essay that the movie "Braveheart" was the worst travesty of history he had seen in recent times. "Rob Roy"; and "Amistad" were not far behind. The cinematographers maintain, with some justification, that their purpose is to entertain, not to educate. Nonetheless, they should remember that we have several generations of spectators who will not read, and who, therefore, take what they see on the screen as fact. When a producer maintains that he should never let the facts stand in the way of a good story, he really should examine that story and make sure of his ground. Only too frequently what actually happened, insofar as we can make out, was more glamorous and more exciting than the imagination of the script writer could dream up. Of course, history is not usually "politically correct," but that is all to the good.

At long last I have discovered that most shooters are not interested in firearms as tools, but rather as toys. Such people do not acquire their weapons because of what they will do, but rather to gratify the "Christmas morning joy" that we largely left behind in our childhood.

For many decades I have striven to design firearms that were primarily useful, but now I discover that only a few people care about that. Well, so be it. Let each one enjoy himself according to his tastes.

I guess we should not be picky about terminology. People have a right to call things anything they wish, but it does become annoying when they use a term which is demonstrably wrong just because they like to. Take "shrapnel" for instance. The shrapnel shell was the invention of a British artilleryman of the 19th century and it differs totally in concept from the high explosive shell which became standard in World War II. A shrapnel shell may be likened to a flying shotgun cartridge containing a large number of round steel balls. It does not detonate like a high explosive shell, but it ruptures on signal and sprays the ground in front of it with these round balls. It was quite useful against troops in the open, but not against anybody behind cover.

Many hundreds of thousands of men, including not a few of my own personal friends, have been cut up by the flying shards of a high explosive shell, but nobody has been hit by "shrapnel" since World War I - as far as I can discover.

Another ongoing annoyance is the continual reference to the African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) as the "Cape buffalo." Our old friend and distinguished quarry has no need to wear a cape in the warm climate of Africa. The term derives from the fact that during colonial days anything south of the Congo Basin was preceded by the adjective "cape" by the colonials, since the bottom end of Africa was known as the "Cape Colony," referring to the Cape of Good Hope. So we have a Cape Hunting Dog, Cape Wines, Cape Smoke, Cape Coloreds, and perniciously enough, Cape Buffalo. Let us drop this foolishness. A bison is a bison, and a buffalo is a buffalo, and the one is by no means a variety of the other.

We see now that the Russians are pushing for police pistols of very small caliber and very high velocity, presumably to defeat the body armor they assume will be worn by their criminals. There are a couple of things wrong with this approach, but I am quite content to let these people pursue their own strange gods.

We were somewhat confused in a previous issue by a correspondent who insisted that Karamojo Bell died before the appearance of the 308 cartridge, which he wrote that he would take with him on his next African trip at such time as it occurred. The timing is wrong here. Bell, who did not die in time for this problem to occur, opined that the 308, with a properly hard bullet, would be his choice over the 30-06 because of the shortness of the cartridge. He claimed that he had run across a couple of near disasters which could be attributed to short-stroking a bolt-action rifle. I know a couple of these myself, and I guess the point is worth considering.

We learn with some pleasure that our family member Bill O'Connor now has a valid CCW permit in 21 states. That's our boy!

In this "non-judgmental age" in which possibly the worst sin seems to be having an opinion about anything, "tolerance" is frequently held up as the supreme virtue. While tolerance is all very well up to a point (we might remember the statement that moderation is an excellent principle as long as you don't overdue it), I remember being somewhat perplexed in my youth when I read Hemingway's best short story "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber." In describing his protagonist, Hemingway pointed out his various good and bad qualities, and finally capped the list by saying that this man was characterized by a notable degree of tolerance, "which seemed to be his nicest characteristic, unless it was his most sinister." Tolerance. Sinister. Yes, I see.

Our fish and game people now propose to bring the grizzly bear back into Arizona. I am definitely in favor of grizzly bears, but I do not think extending their range into the mobile-home-and-cookout regions is a really good idea. Grizzlies and people do not get along well. One might say that if anybody is fool enough to take liberties with a wild bear, he deserves anything he gets, but that is not the way society is set up now, where nobody is held to be responsible for his own foolishness. If we were to establish a healthy population of grizzly bears in the White Mountains (which they might indeed find most congenial), we would soon have a number of "incidents" to wail about. If we are going to put bears in, we ought to take steps to get people out. This might indeed be a good idea, but it seems unlikely to take place.

We recently ran across an observation from the Great Duke (Wellington, that is) to the effect that his officers were sadly deficient in swordsmanship. All of his officers were required to wear swords as part of their uniform, but Wellington discovered that, in the main, they could not use them with any efficiency. He instituted a program of swordcraft, which did not get very far because circumstances terminated his peninsular campaign, but it does not surprise us too much to learn that we should not assume that a man really knows how to fight just because he is wearing a uniform.

To paraphrase Bill O'Connor again, "The more you learn, the more you can appreciate." Absolutely! Appreciation of the wonders of life make life worth living, and learning is the road to joy.

A correspondent recently wrote in to us and offered his idea that the purpose of education is to produce educated citizens. Well, yes, but we have not said anything here. Plato once opined that the object of justice was to see that each man got what he deserved. Both of these statements are reflexive. They simply fall back on themselves.

We now hear from Africa of a gent who is contemplating a real honest-to-God safari - in the old sense. He is making it in Abyssinia - on foot with bearers. His object is big elephant. He will take one heavy double rifle and use it only for his elephant and for camp meat. He plans three months duration. I do not know if he can put himself a hundred years back in history, but we are delighted to hear that he is going to try.

We are given to understand that firearms laws in Poland at this time are among the best in the world, in direct contrast to those of England, Australia and Canada. I used to think very highly of The Empire, and I still do, but look what has happened to its fragments!

"I believe that the shooting sports (unlike such stylishly sanitized designer pursuits as fly fishing for the 90s) serve as the politically incorrect metaphor for that most unpopular of citizens - the Classical Man (as opposed to the Modern Man). As such, when I am asked by one who fears and loathes firearms, why anyone would find fascination in weapons, my answer is, 'For the same reason that makes you afraid of such things'."

Jack Chleva

On particular examination, we see that most rifles are strictly slow-fire instruments. The idea of a quick initial shot is not given the time of day. I will admit that the quick first shot from the rifle is not normally required, but that does not mean that its study should be ignored. In this connection, the Steyr Scout is no more useful off the bench than a conventional weapon, but it is far superior on the snapshot - without losing anything on the bench. The snapshot in truth is not often required, but when you need it, you really need it.

Herewith note the Foundation of the International Society for the Elimination of Glass and Batteries from Pistol Sights.

You doubtless noticed colleague Finn Aagaard's recent work on killing power, which appeared in Rifle magazine. His concluding attitude was "Better put 'em in right, Bwana." Fact: No cartridge will suffice for a humane kill if the bullet is improperly placed. Conversely, almost any cartridge with sufficient penetration will suffice if it is properly placed. The lethal zone for the larger cartridge may be somewhat larger than that for the small one, but the difference is not great. Essentially, if you shoot an elk, or a kudu, or a moose, or a big old whitetail squarely through the boiler room, he will run off a short distance and collapse - let us say, 35 paces for a 30-06, 25 paces for a 375, and 15 paces for a 600 Nitro. If, on the other hand, you place your bullet badly - with anything - you are in for a long and dispiriting follow-up.

We are assembling our forces for our forthcoming birthday bash in Africa. As it stands now, the most popular cartridge is the 308/180. In addition there will be one 30-06/180, and my trusty old Lion Scout. We will be packing at least two Steyr Scouts. Everyone who signed up is a very good shot, and most are experienced hunters. I foresee no difficulties in the shooting department.

A thought for this month:
Never sneeze with a broken back.

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