Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 6, No. 6           June 1998

Out of Africa

You are correct in assuming that there will be a lot of Africa in this issue because that is where we have been for the last month. It was a marvelous month. Our African adventures have always been marvelous, though each has been different from the one before. It is true that we visited mainly places that we had seen before, but places change and circumstances differ, and it remains true that ex Africa semper aliquid novi. On this operation we had too many people. It was clear from the beginning that this might be a drawback, but we did not want to deny anyone the opportunity - while the opportunity still exists. The hunting world in South Africa remains pretty much the same, but certain aspect of the culture down there have taken a definite change for the worse following the revolution. Take, for example, the crime scene. The criminal violence is pretty nasty, but it tends to take place in categories. Street crime in the big towns is mainly a car-against-car, black-against-black proposition, and it can be avoided it one stays out of the wrong places and does not move around in congested areas after dark. On the other hand, raids on isolated rural dwellings are mainly black-on-white, and they are difficult to combat in a culture which has been used to staying in Condition White at all times. As you know, it is possible to be legally armed in South Africa and to fight back, unlike the situation in Britain where it is considered politically incorrect to resist violence. In most of the cases which have come to my attention, the farm house raids could be defeated by people who are prepared to fight back. It is, however, a truth that most people find it difficult to remain in a properly guarded mindset all the livelong day. The result of this is that most of the wonders of South Africa can be visited by the tourist or hunter without risk, provided, as always and everywhere, that the individual is armed, awake and aware.

One of our reasons for this adventure was the introduction of the new Steyr Scout rifle to the African scene. We had four such pieces along, and, as you might expect, they performed very well. Why shouldn't the? They were designed to perform very well. The issue of caliber does arise in certain circles because some people feel that the 308 cartridge is inadequate for medium-sized quadrupeds. This attitude is a myth - obviously so when we reflect that more moose have been taken with the 30-30 cartridge than any other, and that the 308 is decisively superior in power to the 30-30. The answer, as we all know, lies in proper bullet placement. If you use a proper non-frangible bullet, and put it where you should, the 308 does just fine for elk, moose, kudu, wildebeeste, and zebra. (Well, actually, nothing does a perfect job on zebra every time. On my first encounter with this beast, my partner struck his target twice through the boiler room with a 458 soft point, and it just ran off, though not very far.) On this hunt we had one rather messy occasion with a wildebeeste, which took eight shots before cashing in. This does not surprise. I know of another case where that same animal, the blue wildebeeste, took eight solid hits from a 300 Weatherby before loosing its footing. Both the wildebeeste and the zebra are remarkably tough animals, and the issue is not whether once in a while one has trouble putting them down, but rather the ease with which they do go down when they are hit properly. On this trip we used the 165-grain Trophy-bonded Bear Claw bullet in the four Scouts. We lost no animals wounded, and we have no quarrel with the 308 cartridge as used in the Steyr Scout.

The weapon itself caused the impression we expected. The standard first responses are: a) it's funny looking, b) it's too light, c) it can't be accurate, and d) it's too expensive. (This last item has some merit for those who are "economically disadvantaged," but this is a case in which you get what you pay for.

One of our comrades in this adventure was Colonel Clint Ancker, US Army, who treated us to his account of the big tank battle with the Republican Guards in the Gulf War. It is difficult to visualize what a major armed engagement must be like conducted with modern equipment in the dark. Regardless of modern radio communication and the latest type of night-vision equipment, the result when battle joins is total chaos. At one point Colonel Ancker told us that his vehicle was totally surrounded in all directions by blasting major caliber guns, burning vehicles, and unidentifiable dashings about in the dark. It was fascinating to learn that modern technology has not obscured the value of the foot soldier, no matter how he is delivered to the scene of action. In one rather desperate incident, a sergeant major of the old school fought brilliantly in the light of burning vehicles with assault carbine, hand grenade, and finally with his 1911 model 45 pistol. There were quite a number of the Model 92 Parabellum sidearms around, but those who understood combat invariably packed their 45s.

To get back to the hunt, we had ten shooters aboard and we took 41 animals. They were not all one-shot kills, but they were all quick kills. Having farmed out the SS rifles in all directions to other people, I used my venerable Lion Scout, and though I could not do much hunting due to my semi-crippled condition, I did lay out a herd boss zebra stallion with that 350/360 in a most satisfactory way. The 250-grain Swift bullet crashed through the shoulder bones on both sides of the beast and was caught by the skin on the far side. The zebra did not move out of his tracks, and now in due course I can expect a particularly fine rug for the Sconce.

Rich Wyatt used the heavy Gunsite Loaner on his buffalo and dropped it in its tracks with one shot. The 500-grain Hornady soft-point struck the mighty spine just where it joins the body and effectively scrambled it. As of this date, the 416 seems to be the popular cartridge in Africa for buffalo, but I see no reason for using a light-heavy when a true heavy is available. (Why use a 41 Magnum revolver when you can get a 44?)

I was impressed by the number of "skin stops" that we observed. This phenomenon takes place when the bullet penetrates the animal completely, but it is caught by the elastic hide on the far side and thus retained for examination. I first encountered this long decades ago on a Yukon moose, and I thought it was quite remarkable. I have discovered since that time that the "skin stop" is quite normal when using bullets of proper design.

We visited with our great good friend Danie van Graan, to whom I presented one of Jim West's "Co-pilot" carbines some years ago. This piece is the chopped and channeled version of the Model 95 Marlin 45-70, and was designed by Jim as a bear stopper for use in Alaska. It may do even better as a lion stopper in Africa. We noted that Danie has fitted a "John Wayne" finger lever to his weapon. He claims it makes this easier to operate the action, since the fingers have a running start before they crash into the lower strap of the lever. We note that the Marlin Company has taken Jim West's example and is now producing a sort of an approximation of the "Co-pilot," but without all of its good features. The 45-70 cartridge, properly loaded, is a truly fine short-range stopper, probably superior to the ubiquitous 375 in "close encounters of the horrendous kind." Among other things, you can get it in a lighter, quicker, more compact instrument.

Our grandson Tyler is now slugging his way through Marine Corps Basic School at Quantico. As we understand it, he was unable to conceal the fact that he knew a good deal more about pistolcraft than his instructors. They encourage the isosceles firing stance, but when Ty showed off the Weaver stance, a number of the new lieutenants requested that he show them how to do that - which he did. This may not be the most diplomatic way to undergo one's pistol instruction, but Marines are not supposed to be diplomats.

While abroad we learned that "Little Brute," the current Commandant of the Marine Corps, has now decreed small arms qualification twice a year, rather than annually. While I do not know how much killing may be done in years to come by infantry officers using M16s, I can only regard this development as a plus.

Perhaps you have noticed a new book by Jon Krakauer called "Into the Wild," in which he recounts the dismal demise of a young man of the alienated generation who decided he would wander off into the wilderness and live off the land by his own wit and ingenuity. The trouble was that, as with most of the alienated generation, his wit and ingenuity were insufficient, and he starved to death on the northern approaches of Mount McKinley during the summer. It is quite possible for a serious woodsman to survive on his own in the wilderness. The great Charles Sheldon did just that many years ago when he took off alone into the wilderness of Denali to spend the winter discovering what the mountain sheep did in the cold weather. He came out in the spring with the information that he had sought - but he knew what he was doing. Hippies as a rule do not know what they are doing, and, as in this case, they often fall victim to what may be characterized as arrogant incompetence.

I suppose it comes as no surprise to discover that while all airline passengers seem to be scruffier today than yesterday, the Americans are scruffier than the Europeans. People seem to have no embarrassment about entering an airplane in clothes better suited for yard work than for civilized travel.

In Africa we learned that the Abyssinian safari we mentioned previously in this publication came to an unsatisfactory conclusion, ruined mainly by the weather. The adventurer, however, has not given up and intends to try again next year. I understand that he does know what he is doing, and we wish him well.

We were saddened to discover that South African Airlines, which we used to think was second only to SwissAir, has come down several clicks in service and comfort following the revolution. A form of affirmative action seems to have equipped the cabins with too many people who are simply not up to the task. The job of airline stewardess ("flight attendant") demands an eminent degree of intelligence and sophistication. It is not a task for just anyone, and people who have spent a lot of time flying commercially over the past decades have discovered that times have a way of changing.

When we were down there in the Golden Land, a leopard incident occurred with a non-hunter. It appears this gent was out for a walk with his two dogs when they spooked the cat. The interesting thing about this is that the leopard had the wit to realize that the dogs were only the instruments of the man. He disbursed the dogs quickly and went right for their owner. Smart cat, no?

I am forever astonished by people who think that you can come hunting, at great trouble and expense, without troubling to learn how to hunt. Over the years I have run into hunters who know nothing about firearms, about shooting technique, or about the game they have set out to kill. It would not occur to me to enter a hydroplane race without learning first how to operate a hydroplane, but some of these people, who have the time and the money to undertake the great adventure of African big game hunting, do not seem to realize that they should know how to operate their firearms. There is a suspicion around that all such matters will be taken care of by the professional hunter. Sometimes he is capable of doing this, but by no means always. This depressing phenomenon is not new. I ran across it the first time just before World War II when I encountered two wealthy hunters in the Canadian Rockies whose beautiful customized Springfields had never been fired until they were fired for blood.

Our British cousins seem truly to have lost their viscera on the fields of Flanders in World War I. They enjoyed a conspicuous carryover in World War II, and there was a brief flash of inspiration in the Falklands, but as of today, they seem to have developed a psychopathic horror of violence, apparently unaware that violence comes with the package. The Colonial English of the 19th century were a splendid race and their exploits will ring forever in the minds of those few who continue to read history. As we enter the 21st century, however, it is possible that our ancestral traditions are a lost cause.

I was recently asked by a correspondent who has wide experience in hunting North America, Africa and Australia, how I would compare the Blaser R93 with the Steyr Scout. This is a most interesting question. Both pieces are finely made and quite expensive (in the $3,000 range). Each is superbly accurate and equipped with an outstanding trigger-action. They weigh about the same. In contrasting them, we may point out that the Blaser may be had in a great variety of calibers, but that the Steyr Scout offers the integral disappearing bipod. The Blaser is a bit long, both in barrel and stock, and is awkward to load. Its safety, while very positive, is cumbersome to use. The Steyr, with its detachable box magazine, offers instantaneous reloading, plus the advantage of a spare magazine in the butt. The Blaser offers ornamental wood, which, while attractive, is vulnerable, whereas the Scout features an almost indestructible composition stock, which is also adjustable in length. The Blaser offers no auxiliary sight system, while the Scout has one. The straight-pull action of the Blaser affords an almost instantaneous second shot. The Blaser is readily convertible for the left-handed shooter, while the Steyr is not. The Blaser employs a conventional telescope sight system, which is too close to the eye for most people. The Steyr uses the scoutscope by choice, though it may be fitted with almost any telescope and mount system desired on its extended receiver. The scoutscope is perfect for snap shooting - without giving anything away in slow fire. The Blaser has a 3-round magazine capacity, whereas the Scout has either 5- or 10-round capacity, plus the advantage of the spare magazine, in place. Both weapons are excellent examples of the new wave in rifle design. Perhaps you cannot afford one now, but save your pennies for a brighter day. If some kind soul offers to give you one, don't turn it down.

We note with interest the demise of the last surviving holder of the Ordre Pour le mérite - the Blue Max, at the ripe old age of 103. This gentleman was Hans Jönger, and evidently he just loved to fight. He quit school at 17 to join the Foreign Legion. His father extricated him from that, but just as soon as he could he signed up for the Prussian army as a private. It appears that he was a constitutional, card-carrying warrior, and he was wounded twelve times in action. "A hard man is good to find."

Cartridge options for the Steyr Scout are in the wind. It has always been intended to produce the weapon in caliber 7-08 for jurisdictions where 30 caliber weapons are forbidden. The Norsemen at the Nuremberg gun show emphasized that they wish to deal with the weapon available in 6.5x57 for use in Scandinavia. This does not make a lot of sense to me, but perhaps they have warehouses full of ammunition and nothing to shoot it in. The prospect of a heavier caliber in the Steyr Scout is being considered. Whether this is a good idea or not remains to be seen. Two elements of the Scout concept are light weight and instantly available ammunition. If a "375 JCS" version is a good idea, it will certainly be a bit overweight and mated to an oddball cartridge. This may not matter, but let us not forget that the Scout is a general-purpose weapon intended to be fully fitted (shudder!) for the anti-personnel mode. I have always found it difficult to take these tender types seriously, but many people do - especially marketers.

A reader of National Review recently took the magazine to task for a cover picture of Pat Buchanan, showing the command "Load and Lock!," maintaining that the proper command should be "Lock and Load!" A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. With the Springfield '03 one could not load with the safety locked, so we loaded first and then locked. With the M1 Garand we locked the safety first, and then loaded. These young people of 70 years or less are sometimes uppity.

So now we learn of the "Belgian Needle Gun" from Herstal. It handles a 22 caliber, 31-grain, needle pointed, hardmetal bullet at 2,150, which is supposed to penetrate any sort of body armor. (What it does after penetration is unclear.) It is a light, fairly compact, mainly plastic pistol with a 20-round magazine. Very hi-tech. Thing is, the bad guys very rarely wear body armor, and it they do you can always shoot for the head.

After careful consideration, Daughter Lindy has concluded that there are more hand-held cellular telephones in South Africa than in the rest of the world combined. We didn't see any baboons packing them, but we can expect this any time.

So now it appears that Horiuchi will walk free. The opinion of the judge was that he was "only following instructions." Several German generals were condemned to death at the Nuremburg Trials for advancing just that argument. Lon Horiuchi was either seriously incompetent in the handling of his weapon, in which case the FBI is to blame for putting him on that job; or he was callously indifferent to the deliberate taking of human life, in which case he is guilty of negligent homicide. This is, of course, assuming that what has appeared in the press is reasonably in accordance with the facts. (It may be that a great deal of material was presented at the trial which is not clear to the general public.) So here we have, in reasonably close succession, O.J. Simpson and Lon Horiuchi, reflections of a justice system which is catastrophically askew. It must be admitted in fairness that Simpson's act was committed with malice, whereas there is no evidence that Horiuchi entertained any particular hatred for Vicki Weaver. But both men walk free. The ancient Greeks had an answer to that. Its name was nemesis.

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