Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 6, No. 8           20 July, 1998

The Rains Came

And they came right on the dot! Traditionally the summer rains are to commence on the 5th of July so as not to spoil the 4th of July parade. So that is exactly what happened. Congratulations on excellent timing on everybody's part!

We were one and all dismayed at the murder of Marion Carl, one of the great aviators and a true hero. There is no need to recount his list of honors and achievements, but from our standpoint it is especially sad to note that General Carl, while unarmed, was shot dead by a goblin who broke into his house late at night and threatened his wife. General Carl attacked the intruder with his bare hands - and lost. As I understand it, he had a shotgun ready in the bedroom, but no gun is of any use if you cannot put your hand on it. This means, unfortunately, that you must wear your pistol, or at least have it ready to hand when anything unusual intrudes upon your home.

General Carl's murderer kicked in the door. Your door or doors should be very difficult to kick in. General Carl responded without his weapon. General Carl was a great man, and may God bless him, but, sad to say, he was an easy mark.

As Barrett Tillman put it, Valhalla is now nearly full.

Excerpt from The Prairie Traveler (the best-selling classic handbook for America's Pioneers) by Randolph B. Marcy, Captain, US Army, 1859.
"Every man who goes into the Indian country should be armed with a rifle and revolver, and he should never, either in camp or out of it, lose sight of them. When not on the march, they should be placed in such a position that they can be seized at an instant's warning; and when moving about outside the camp, the revolver should invariably be worn in the belt, as the person does not know at what moment he may have use for it."

The proliferation of "pocket 45s" has us somewhat bewildered. A pocket 45 is a good idea, but naturally it must be well-made and easy to use. We asked Jan Libourel, our colleague at Petersen's Handguns, for his recommendation and came to the conclusion that a straight forward Colt Commander still has much to recommend it, especially in the version with the shortened butt. All sorts of service nines are being offered, especially in Europe, but they are still nines. Using a 9mm pistol for self-defense is much like using a 375 on buffalo. Most of the time it will do - most of the time.

We have looked into this matter of coating rifle bullets with molybdenum disulfide, and we conclude that while it has certain proven advantages, such as a cleaner bore and a slight improvement in coefficient of friction, these advantages are minor. I will take it, if offered, with pleasure, but I will not go out of my way to seek it.

It is never safe to say that one has seen everything. Now, for example, we have seen somebody tack a butt-cuff on a Steyr Scout!

Police in Britain using a radar gun noted a reading of more than 300mph, just before their equipment fried. Seconds later a low-flying Harrier jet hurtled past. The police complained to the Royal Air Force about the damage to their equipment, but the police were told to consider themselves lucky. The Harrier's target-seeker had locked onto the radar and triggered an automatic retaliatory air-to-surface attack. Fortunately for the police, the Harrier was not armed with missiles."

Ken Pantling

We have all noted (all, that is, except those people on the other side) that in states where it is now possible to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon, street crime has declined. The connection would seem obvious, but not, of course, to the Brady Bunch.

This matter of terminology continues to perplex. In activities requiring dexterity, endurance, strategy, and skill it has become commonplace to refer to an expert as a "master." If one looks at the record, it becomes clear that a master is a teacher. He should be very good at what he does, but mainly he should be good at teaching what he knows. Consider, for example, the "headmaster" of a school. Thus a practitioner of weaponcraft should properly not be considered a master unless he regularly teaches his craft to others. In England in the Middle Ages masters of weaponry were licensed by the crown, and one of the interesting provisions was that once a master had attained that designation he was forbidden thereafter to compete in his activity.

Today almost anyone who has ever done well in a contest or been to school sees no shame in opening his own school, thus placing himself in the category of master, whether he knows it or not. The country today is awash in two-bit schools of pistolcraft. They will take your money and hand you a ticket, but whether you are any better with your weapon after graduation will depend entirely upon the competence of the master.

(Today I know of two proven and verifiable "shooting masters" - John Gannaway and Louis Awerbuck.)

Times are tough out West. The peasantry have been reduced to eating sharks, and the aristocracy to drinking water!

What does it take to be a master of weaponcraft?

First, it requires demonstrated expertise with the chosen weapon. A master need not be a world champion in competition, but he does need to be a dangerous competitor. He must be able to do everything that the weapon is capable of doing, and doing it on demand. He must be able to show his students exactly what is expected of them, while not, at the same time, intimidating them.

Second, the master must understand the theory of the technique of his instrument. He must know the geometry and physiology behind the shooting process. Generations of military and police instructors have got by without this by simply emphasizing "This is the way we do it!" While that may be good enough for government work, it is not the best way to success. I remember from long years ago an encounter with a great master of the saber. We youngsters depended almost entirely upon speed, but this gentleman showed us that speed was unimportant without timing. To demonstrate he would choose a pupil and than say exactly how and where he would hit him - and then do it. When your master can do that to you, you tend to believe what he says.

Third, the master must have a genuine desire to impart. Here is where the master differs from the mere expert. He must desire excellence in his students more than excellence in himself, and seek at all times to produce that. We have all known some very good shots who have failed as teachers because of a lack of this essential desire.

Fourth, the master demonstrates "command presence," which is a combination of articulation, vocal tone, posture, and attitude. The master must be able to command without rank.

Obviously, true masters of weaponcraft are not common. During the time I ran the school at Gunsite, I sought continually for people who displayed the necessary qualifications, but I did not find a lot of people who made the grade. That is doubtless one reason why really good marksmanship is so rare. Very few practitioners are truly qualified to teach it.

The classic Luger pistol, which introduced the now world-standard 9mm Parabellum cartridge, was given the year designation of 08, since it was adopted by the German army in 1908. Now, as we come onto its centennial, we see advertised in Germany the "Sport Luger 2008." It seems to be set up with all sorts of bells and whistles, including (for heaven's sake) a muzzle brake. It should certainly have a strong appeal for the "first kid on the block" pistolero.

Generally speaking, the rifle is a slow-fire instrument. Hardly anyone gives serious thought to the problem of getting into action quickly, although speed of the first shot is by no means an inconsiderable attribute of the expert marksman. This means that rifle stocks, in general, are too long. A rifle with a short stock can be handled easily by a man with long arms, but a long stock is a problem for a man with short arms. One of the first things we do when we open a rifle class is to saw an inch or two of wood off the butt. This often hurts the feelings of the pride-of-ownership-people, but when they get to snap shooting the pain is lessened.

The electronic disaster of Y2K approaches. You still have 17 months in which to throw away your computer.

In reading a new essay on Sergeant Alvin York, the hero of World War I, we discover that his most trying experience during the war was his trip home. He embarked at Bordeaux and headed out across the storm-tossed Atlantic. He was dreadfully seasick for five days. This is an awful thing to contemplate. I know a certain amount about hardship, and enough about pain, but I think that of all man's afflictions nausea may be the worst. Even for a couple of hours it is terrible, but for five days it would seem entirely too much.

Which brings us to considering another hero, Horatio Nelson, who spent almost his entire life at sea and who was invariably seasick whenever his ship got outside the breakwater. In his case, however, the affliction never lasted more than 12 hours. Still, for a man to devote his life to sea fighting with the ogre of seasickness sitting in his lap takes a particular sort of courage.

As you may know, the gaboon viper is a big, strong, beautifully marked, and long-toothed snake inhabiting the low country of east Africa. In a recent anecdote we learn of a client who asked his PH about first-aid kits. Among other things he asked if there was any first-aid equipment for the bite of the gaboon viper. The PH responded that if he got solidly socked by a gaboon viper there would be no need for first aid.

The Mauser people in Germany have brought out a brand new model which manifests no imagination at all. It may be advanced that the Mauser 98 is so good that it needs no modification. It is good all right, especially considering that it is exactly 100 years old, but it is not that good.

English note:

A split infinitive is not a crime, but it should not be used by accident, only to emphasize meaning where such emphasis is needed.

We are now informed, by a good authority from Texas, that you may not now enter the Alamo carrying your pistol, even if you have all the necessary permits. "If'n that don' beat all!" Here we have a memorial temple dedicated to American fighting men, into which American fighting men may not bring weapons. I know historical anecdotes are no longer taught in schools, but I did not think that things were that bad yet in Texas!

As you know, the British have no written constitution, and no Bill of Rights. Whatever the current majority in Parliament says is what goes, and the current leftist government in England makes no bones about its class hatred.

An English correspondent has told us the only man who entered Parliament with the right idea was Guy Fawkes. You will remember that he was the guy who tried to blow the whole place up.

On John Gannaway's triumphant desert sheep hunt last fall, he targeted his beast at something over 300 yards, and John does not exaggerate. The specialty journalist would have taken that shot, and later have expanded it to about 400. John, on the other hand, who is a master hunter, wormed his way up to 75. This can be done even with a mountain sheep by the right man.

We note that by mutual agreement the same man may be at the same time a citizen of both the United States and Mexico. This policy is called "dual citizenship." This would seem to be politically and philosophically unsound. A citizen must be prepared to risk his life for his country. Which country? If it comes to blows - and it might - on which side will the "Mexican-American" fight?

It seems the feds now are requiring an accuracy test for federally-purchased handguns which calls for a 2-inch group (or is it 2.5) at 25 yards. Just what this has to do with the subject is obscure. The service pistol intended for close combat is going to be used at indoor distances by people who cannot shoot for sour apples. Imposing an accuracy test on such arms suggests the proverbial definition of a fanatic as "one who redoubles his efforts after he has lost sight of his goals."

And this bench group obsession seems to have run away with a great number of rifleman who apparently think that a small group diameter fired from a bench at a fixed range, usually 100 yards, is the ultimate test of rifle quality.

Well now, small groups are fine, and we all like them, but bench groups are essentially irrelevant. If you wish to evaluate a rifle's quality, I suggest the MFR standard. MFR stands for Maximum Field Radius, and it is established thus:

The rifle is fired in two-shot pairs, standing-to-sitting, at 100 yards. Time is 10 seconds from standing looped to sitting (or kneeling) position, unsupported. The ten shots thus achieved will form a group, but its diameter is not its true measure - rather group radius, from group center to the worst shot of the ten, is the index of the combination. The lower the figure the better.

You cannot do a good MFR index without an accurate rifle, but this index tests more than that. An MFR of 3 inches is good. One of 2 inches is excellent. Bench group diameter does not count.

"If you look like a rabbit, and act like a rabbit, you will be treated like a rabbit - prey for all predators."

Stony Loft

Have you heard about the Communitarians? Neither had we, but they exist. They are organized, and they constitute something of a pain in the posterior. Their guru is one Amitaj Etzioni, and his in-house propagandist is Abd el Malik. These people have decided what is wrong with the United States, and one of the things they find wrong is the popular possession of personal firearms. Their idea of the way to go is Japan. (Japan?) I do not know where these people originated (Turkey? Yemen?), but their presumption in teaching political philosophy to Americans is insufferable. They are so far off the track I cannot consider them to be a menace, if it were not for the fact that they appear to have several followers in that menagerie at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue - not pointing. Turks have always been something of a problem, but let us see that these do not get over the wall.

The more expert gardeners in our neighborhood are already enjoying their off-the-vine tomatoes. The Arabs maintain that a beautiful woman is evidence of the existence of God - and one might also opine that a fresh garden tomato, like an ear of corn fresh off the stalk, is also evidence of God's benison. We have a short growing season here in the high country of Arizona, but possibly we enjoy it all the more because of that.

Continuing in our hopeless struggle for precise semantics we ask somebody to tell us just what exactly is a "terrorist." My own notion is that a terrorist is one who is ready to kill a third party, who is not involved in the discussion, in order to coerce a first party by appealing to his humanity. That, apparently, is not the generally accepted definition.

One of the most tiresome shibboleths floating around is the notion of "a constitutional separation of church and state." Anyone can read the Constitution, but in this age of television I suppose very few people read anything. If one reads the Constitution he will discover that "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or interfering with the free exercise thereof." That states very clearly that the federal government cannot pass a bill saying that the Catholic church, for example, is the established religion of the United States. That is what it says. It says nothing about any separation, which idea was the creation of Thomas Jefferson. Whether Mr. Jefferson is right or not is irrelevant. There is no constitutional separation of church and state. Read it!

I wish people would quit putting the leopard in the category of "the Big Five." Up until recently that was more properly "the Big Four." Certainly the leopard is fast and scratchy, but he is not big.

These newfangled pop range finders are very humbling. It was decided long ago in the American sporting world that every hunter is morally bound to exaggerate the range at which he took his animal. This has resulted in the idea that if you cannot deck your animal way out past Fort Mudge, you are a no-count. I have had students in rifle classes come up to me upon occasion troubled by the fact that they did not seem to be shooting as well as they ought to. As a matter of fact, they were usually shooting very well, it was just that they had been reading too many gun writers. The range finder might do something to correct this, but I doubt it. A man can lie about his range finder reading as easily as he can about the length of his pace.

A new passion in the firearms industry seems to be the construction of so-called "sniper rifles." Just what these are for is not easy to say, for successful sniping is far more a matter of marksmanship than of equipment, but these items are apparently easy to sell to various sorts of government agencies, and if they will sell, the industrialists will make them. A new entry into the field is a version of the elegant R93 from Blaser - but this time made up in black livery and all sorts of bells and whistles, including (for heaven's sake) a Harris bipod. I suppose every rifle aficionado feels he must have a specially made, long-range "bull" gun - not because he needs it, but because he wants it, and after all, wanting it is the main reason for the purchase of personal arms.

We have all sorts of candidates for the Waffenpƶsselhaft award for '98, but one which stands out is the exploit of the chief of police of Madison, Wisconsin, who opted to store his service pistol in the oven - with foreseeable results. There being no appropriate penalty for "terminal stupidity" in his department, the chief put himself under hack for "violation of department policy."

In reading continually into US history I discover to my surprise that personal firearms amongst the pioneers were not nearly as common as I had thought. For example, the majority of recruits volunteering for Stonewall Jackson's command in the Civil War showed up not only without shoes, but also without guns. Evidently the only gun within reach had to stay at home with pa and ma. In some cases, Jackson put unarmed men in his second and third waves, instructing them to pick up weapons dropped by casualties in the first rank.

We think of the American pioneer as invariably in possession of his ax and his rifle. That was obviously the way it should have been, but sometimes was not.

I have had such a response to my query about the purpose of education that we might even be advised to hold a true seminary on the point, preferably in Scottsdale while the summer rates are still in force. Scottsdale may be a furnace in August, but as long as you are indoors you do not suffer.

We hear overmuch about "self-esteem" as a goal in elementary education. The older term "self-respect" seems more to the point. The difference is that self-respect must be earned by conscientious endeavor, but self-esteem seems to be offered simply to any child who is alive and breathing. Teaching a young person that he is excellent simply because he is there is not the route to producing good citizens.

From family member Ken Pantling in England we get the following news item:
"During a bungled surveillance operation a policeman opened fire on two innocent suspects thinking that he had been shot by one of them. He later realized that he had, in fact, shot himself, in the leg."
The Brits may be ahead of us on the way to total insignificance, but not by much.

Now we have seen a brand new Walther 10mm service pistol in bright green. What will they think of next!

"The generation that emerged to lead the colonies into independence was one of the most remarkable group of men in history - sensible, broad-minded, courageous, usually well educated, gifted in a variety of ways, mature, and long-sighted, sometimes lit by flashes of genius. It is rare indeed for a nation to have at its summit a group so variously gifted as Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and Adams"

A History of the American People, by Paul Johnson

We note with some amusement that this Viagra business has produced more than one interesting spinoff. It has reduced the black market value of powdered rhino horn, and thus reduced rhino poaching in black Africa. (Note: There is little or no rhino poaching in the south.)

"Well, Bill [Bill Hickok] was a pretty good shot. But he could not shoot as quick as half a dozen men we all knew in those days, nor as straight either. But Bill was cool, and the men who he went up against were rattled, I guess. Bill beat them to it. He made up his mind to kill the other man before the other man had finished thinking."

Buffalo Bill (Bill Cody) in an interview conducted 10 January 1917 and written up in Outdoor Life via W.H. MacFarlane
That pretty well tells us what we need to know about mindset.

"If one does not fail at times, one has not challenged himself sufficiently."

Ferdinand Porsche

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