Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 6, No. 9           August, 1998

High Summer

" the livin is easy; fish is jumpin and the cotton is high." Yes, indeed. We have just returned from a circuit of a big chunk of the Southwest (Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico) and we report that the summer out this way is indeed bountiful. Corn, tomatoes, fresh fruit, and all manner of good things are all there waiting to be scooped up and enjoyed; besides which, autumn is approaching, and that, of course, is the finest time of the year. Get out and get into that practice with your rifle. The consensus is that 200 rounds (not from the bench rest!) are necessary for a proper level of understanding. Do not overlook the snapshot, the quick second shot, and rapid acquisition of position.

We stopped by at Whittington and can report that progress on the Sporting Rifle Trail is well underway. The range house has been constructed and bids fair to be a snug lounge for our students and participants. It has a concrete floor, and it is constructed solidly of logs with an interior 30x22 feet - cool in the summer, warm in the winter. The field course has been laid out and we have eight steel reactive targets on station. Eventually we intend to have two parallel trails separated by a ridge line, with 12 targets on each trail. A man cannot achieve satisfying revenge by repeating the same course, so we will offer the opportunity to run a similar but different course from the same starting point.

Mike Ballew, the Whittington honcho, informs me that he will be putting in both a bench and a chronograph at the range house for those who wish to sort things out before taking the field. Some of you have already donated targets, and this will be duly noted on the role of honor. Others may wish to donate furnishings such as tables, chairs, wall decorations, rugs, and racks.

It looks like we have a good thing going here. We hope to have it at least initially operable in time for the reunion.

When we reported on John Gannaway's approach on his desert ram, we were in error. He pulled that off on a pronghorn. The principle, of course, is the same.

A prospective student in one of next year's rifle classes has written asking us just what sort of rifle he should build for the occasion. Let me emphasize that we do not build the weapon for the course, we adjust the course to the weapon. If you are coming to school bring the rifle you enjoy shooting the most. We stipulate that it should be of 6mm bore-size or larger and be equipped with a shooting sling. Most students bring a glass sight, but this is not necessary. We all understand the advantages of the telescope sight, and we all use it, but if we review our field experiences carefully, we probably find that much of the time we really did not need it. In my own case I once ran upon a situation in which the telescope sight was a positive hindrance. In any event, do not bring a rifle mounting a telescope sight of 6 power or more. This is one situation in which more is not better.

When one thinks about it, it is obvious that the line of sight for iron sights must necessarily be lower than that for the telescope. When the telescope is mounted as low over the bore as possible, which is as it should be, the shadow image of the iron sights may intrude upon the field of vision unless the iron sights are foldable. It is possible to attack this problem by making the folding iron sights quite high over the bore so that they match the axis of the telescope. This makes them vulnerable to bumps and jars. On the other hand, if the iron sight line is kept low it makes it difficult to achieve when the face is properly mounted on the comb of the rifle. The answer is simply to scooch forward so the cheek bone rides down in front of the comb. This may be uncomfortable for some people, and certainly unusual, but reserve iron sights are just that, reserve, only to be put into use when an elephant has stepped on the telescope. (You always pack a spare telescope when you venture far afield.) A couple of people have complained that one must scooch in this fashion when using the iron sights on the Steyr Scout. So scooch!

From our man in Britain we now hear of what may be the ultimate turnabout. It appears that these people brought their delicate pet cat to a vet because it had been - get this - bitten by a mouse. I suppose this must be considered a triumph for the tactical mouse.

We have been considering this matter of the "medium" cartridge, which lies between the 30s and the heavies. One can get by without a medium, since the 30-caliber rifle, well used, will do what needs to be done, but the mediums are fun to shoot and they may in truth surpass the 30s for some particular uses.

By "medium," in this case, I mean a cartridge of 9mm or 38 bore-size propelling a 250-grain bullet at between 2400 and 2600f/s. The top of the mediums, of course, is the venerable 375 Holland and Holland, which has been around since before the wars. The 375 is a nice cartridge and it is more or less standard in Africa. It is, however, a long, cumbersome cartridge, which makes it basically unsuitable for compact rifles. The late lamented 350 Remington Magnum was apparently ahead of its time. Everyone I know who has used that was delighted with it, and especially so since it could be had in that nifty Remington 660 carbine.

The question arises as to what a medium is for. I suppose it is excellent for a man who lives in Alaska, who harvests his winter moose regularly, and must be ready for a close encounter with a big bear. A 30-06 will certainly satisfy such a man, but a handy medium might make him even happier. Overseas, the first reason for a medium is the lion - and the tiger too, if tigers are still huntable as they are by game rangers in India. The eland, giant of the antelopes, comes to mind. He is not a particularly tough animal, but he is huge, and the extra power of a good medium might prove comforting. And then there are the lesser oxen - the banteng, the takin - and the zebra, twice as tough as he should be.

And then there is that curious regulation found in parts of Africa requiring a weapon of at least .375 inches in bore if anything "dangerous" is to be assaulted. This is a silly rule, of course, since there are plenty of large-bore, low-capacity cartridges which qualify as light, rather than medium rifles. "Dangerous" even includes the leopard, which almost never reaches 200lbs in weight and is taken at short range.

So, while I do not really need a medium rifle, I confess that I am very fond of my Lion Scout.

The trouble is that there does not exist at this time a properly compact medium cartridge, since the effective demise of the 350 Remington Mag. We have discussed this with some cartridge people and have come to feel that the 404 Jeffery case, shortened enough to fit into a 308-length action and necked to 375, might be a good idea. Certainly our selection of cartridges at this time would seem to overflow, but as long as people like to play around with such things, this might be a good project to play around with.

"Crime and insecurity are both aspects of the crisis of Western society at the close of the millennium. This sense of helplessness, itself fueled by the government's monopolization of the means of force, is then used by the central state to justify suppressing still more personal liberties and the right to self-defense. The state presents this process as natural and logical, as the only solution to the problems that plague us. But it is nothing of the sort. It is simply government doing what government does best: monopolizing power."

Jeremy Black, in Chronicles, January 1998

The Great White Shark is now protected in South Africa, and just this season there have been six shark attacks off the southeast coast. Surfers sitting astride their boards outside the surf line with legs hanging down are pretty attractive targets. Of course, these attacks may not necessarily be attributed to the White Shark, as the Bull Shark is commonly found close inshore. Speculation is nonetheless interesting.

Here is a really wild one we ran across up in Colorado. It seems some newschick printed a piece about an event in which a police officer was shot "with a loaded gun." The aspects of ridicule deriving from this account are so numerous as to defy listing. Perhaps one of the readers of this paper would like to submit his offering about how terrible it is for a police officer to be shot with a loaded gun. The winner of the contest will be allowed to shoot his next pistol match with an unloaded gun and simply announce his winning score.

Several people have asked me if I have come up with a proper name for my own version of the Steyr Scout, currently referred to as "Old Number 6." The name I have almost settled on is Galatea. I think I will wait, however, until Steyr Mannlicher, in conjunction with Hirtenberger and Hornady, have actually produced a "heavy scout." A heavy scout will not be a true scout, of course, because it will be overweight and it will take an oddball cartridge in place of the universally available 308. Not a big problem. Some people may want two rifles.

Guru say: "When shooting from the kneeling position use your knee!"

Family member Hershel Davis is back from Africa with an account of a buff that had been solidly heart shot with a heavy rifle and who did not seem to notice it very much. Karamojo Bell would not have you take this sort of thing seriously, but we hear of it all too often. The consensus among my African friends is that a buffalo can keep his feet and keep attacking for 12 minutes after being shot through the heart. I can only wonder who was holding the stop watch, but the notion is nonetheless commonplace.

Since the United Nations organization is so fond of passing pointless resolutions, I suggest one banning the provision of high explosives to ragheads. (The State Department answer to this situation, on the other hand, is to turn tail and run. Those goonies want to scare us out, and they are doing a good job. Where is George Patton when we need him!)

On our recent African excursion we were privileged to chat for a while with the famous Harry Selby, one of the old time professional hunters who is still around to talk about the good old days. Harry was an old buddy of Robert Ruark, but his best known anecdote concerns the time when he was very nearly done in by a zebra, while the locals stood around and laughed up a storm.

Harry maintains that the magazine rifle is absolutely superior to the double, thus putting him on one side of an age old and continuing argument.

"What you've got to admire about Bill Clinton is his sincerity, especially when he doesn't mean it."

Mike Rosen in The Denver Post

I forget when I first dreamed up the color code, but it was a long time ago. I have been teaching it and preaching it, practically forever, but I never seem to have got it across! The color code is not a means of assessing danger or formulating a tactical solution. It is rather a psychological means of overcoming your innate reluctance to shoot a man down. Normal people have a natural and healthy mental block against delivering the irrevocable blow. This is good, but in a gunfight it may well get you killed. The color code enables you to change your state of mind by three steps, each of which enables you to overcome your mental block and take lifesaving action.

There, I have said it again, but I have no strong belief that it is going to catch on any more than previously.

It seems only reasonable for you to use only good ammunition in any firearm from which you expect important results. It is perfectly forgivable to use junk ammunition for play and plinking (provided you clean your piece thoroughly after each session), but do not put junk ammunition in the chamber if results are what you are after. Among other things, military ammunition is often fitted with insensitive primers which invite misfires. A misfire rate of about 1 in 10 is acceptable on the range, but not in the field.

Western history buffs realize that the opening of the American frontier was a function of firearms technology. As long as the backwoods farmer had only one shot available without reloading, any small group of Indians in a bad mood could fire up their courage to take him on, but when repeating firearms came into common use this situation changed permanently.

The Texas Rangers, fabled in song and story, found that by going knee-to-knee with the Comanches their six shooters were an insurmountable advantage.

Then, of course, the Spencer carbines appeared. They were not very much in the way of ballistics, but they kept on shooting, and the Indian raiding system, which depended upon greatly superior numbers at the point of contact, no longer worked.

Thus it is that before the Civil War the Comanches kept the Texas frontier pretty well closed, but when repeating firearms became commonplace the West was won.

I am sometimes accused of picking semantic nits, but the precise meaning of words is not a trivial matter. For example, just now we are up to our ears in problems deriving from the "Endangered Species Act" and these problems have their root in the fact that no one really knows how to define the word "species." As with the term "machinegun," the regulators can regulate anything by simply insisting that they know what they are talking about, when actually they do not.

In considering telescope reticles, bear in mind that the fine wire is for paper. The coarse wire is for the field. Personally I prefer the coarse wire. It does well enough on paper, and it does better on serious targets. The trouble here is that most people shoot mainly at paper and form their conclusions from what is actually an unrealistic set of conditions.

Our great good friend Danie van Graan is now afield up in the Zambezi Delta with the elegant little "Co-pilot" fabricated by Jim West, of Anchorage, Alaska. This piece, as you may know, is a "chopped and channeled" Marlin 45-70 fitted with a muzzle brake, a John Wayne lever, and ghost-ring sights - also featuring a quick takedown which reduces it to almost pocket size. The 45-70 is an elegant cartridge for heavy game at ranges of under 100 yards. Danie is after lion and buffalo, and his shots will almost certainly be under 50 yards. Jolly good show!

(We note that the Marlin Company followed in Jim West's footsteps in their production of the "Guide Gun." I have not used one but I note that it does not take down and it does not have ghost-ring sights. I suspect that the Marlin people feel that the customer will fit their Guide Gun with glass sights, which is a step backwards in this concept.)

We can debate at length about a boy's first gun. There are all sorts of opinions about this and many of them have merit, but in my view, the kid's first firearm should be a single-shot 22 fitted with aperture sights and a butt-cuff. If the boy is a respectable citizen, intelligent and well disciplined, he may be turned loose with a single-shot 22 (by himself) with perfect safety, as long as he has memorized The Four Rules. I do not think there is any reason to assume that all children are idiots. That many of them are is more of a reflection upon their parents than upon themselves.

In re-reading Karamojo Bell, we note again his predilection for the 7x57 cartridge. He did a lot of elephants with the delightful little 1903 6.5 carbine from Mannlicher, but he preferred the 7 when he could get it. He emphasized that what is needed for proper effect with this cartridge was a long, heavy bullet, straight-sided and with an almost hemispherical point and a very heavy jacket, either of cupro nickel or copper-washed steel. Note that the ballistic potential of the 7x57 and the 7-08 are practically identical. Bell, who was fond of light weight handy guns, would be delighted with an SS in 7x57.

Bell's doctrine, which like most such things can be carried to extremes, was "Hit him right and almost anything will put him down. Hit him wrong and nothing will put him down."

Those of you who are standing in line for your Steyr Scout should remember that those pieces are released in this country with triggers set too heavy. The trigger is adjustable for weight by the owner without recourse to a gunsmith, but only if he knows how. Instructions should be available with the weapon, but somehow they get lost. The over-the-counter trigger comes through in most cases nicely crisp, but too heavy. I suggest a release weight of 40oz for starters.

A considerable storm is brewing over the location of the national meeting of the NRA for 1999 in Denver. This decision was reached some time ago, but just recently the Denver City Council made permanent an ordinance which enables the arresting officer to confiscate your car if he finds that you have a gun in it. This is called "municipal carjacking," and it would certainly appear unsound for the National Rifle Association to gather in a city in which such a rule is in place. The "authorities" insist that this is only to be the function of "discretionary enforcement" - that is to say that the cop will only swipe your car if you look like a bad guy. This sort of thing is pretty much the rule in Latin America. I do not think we need it here.

A European customer recently asked me why the United States went back down to 9mm after some 80 years of successful employment of the 45 ACP. This is a good subject for a competitive essay contest. Those of you who supply the most pungent answer to this question may go to the head of the class.

The ideal mountain rifle at this time may be the Blaser Kiplaufbuchse. It is a beautifully made single-shot, top-break rifle that weighs about as much as a heavy dictionary. Hunters who scramble after the beasties which prefer to live way up there in the crags need not worry about volume of fire. One shot is what you get, so why weigh yourself down? The little gun was chosen "rifle of the year" in Germany. I have handled it, but not shot it. It is so light that it will probably kick in a full-sized cartridge, but in a 6 or a 6.5, it should be most pleasant. It is designed expressly for chamois, but it should do equally well for all sorts of mountain sheep.

The general-purpose rifle, of course, is the Steyr Scout, but the fact that it will indeed do everything appears to annoy some people. There are those who insist that the joy of rifle shooting consists in the ownership of a whole armory full of different rifles, not just one for every day of the week, but at least for every day of the month. I suppose the SS will disappoint such people, since it will do anything they need to do - with the exception of elephant and buffalo - and do it better than more specialized weapons. I guess this spoils the fun.

"You need only reflect that one of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating the very phrases which our founding fathers used in their struggle for independence."

C.A. Beard

We recently ran across another example of the unsatisfactory performance of the misbegotten US 30-caliber carbine used in the latter part of World War II and in Korea. In this case the Jap soldier attempted to run clear and was taken under fire by one of the Marines with a 30 carbine. The range was not specified (as is usually the case), but he managed to hit this Nip five times and his friends could see the dust flying from the back of the jacket. The Nip ran on away, to be found dead later.

I never did like that piece and I still do not.

When using either the bench rest or the bipod, the butt is tucked into the shoulder with the supporting hand rather than placed forward on the rifle. We thought everybody knew that, but from the pictures in the magazines I guess we were wrong.

In another recent account we heard of a "gun writer" who attempted to zero a 450-caliber British carbine and expended half his ammunition supply just getting on target. There are ways to get on target with no more than two rounds, but apparently you do not have to know your subject to be a technical writer.

From a correspondent in South Africa comes yet another case of faulty stopping power, but this time with a handgun. Our friend was dozing in front of the televisor when suddenly he opened one eye to behold an intruder standing in front of him, raised knife in hand. The pistol, a 380 self-loader, was within reach and our friend fired one shot, which took his assailant in the upper chest. No result. The two men then grappled, and while the knife was blocked the pistol was emptied into the torso of the attacker, who finally fell down.

Moral: If you choose to use a minor-caliber handgun remember that your only quick stop area is that of the eye sockets.

It has always seemed to me that when a test or trial system is designed it should be valid. That is, it should test what is being attempted in a serious fashion. Thus, with weaponcraft, a good course of pistol fire should emphasize and accentuate the solution of problems which a pistol may be realistically called upon to solve. When I was involved in IPSC I endeavored to do this, but I found that most of the competitors were more interested in trickery than they were in excellence, and they wound up designing courses of fire which were in no way related to actual weaponry. This is okay, I guess, since it turns out that most shooters are not serious practitioners of weaponry, but are likely to be primarily interested in winning games of one sort or another. However, this bothered me then and it bothers me now. If, when you are faced with a competitive course of fire, you can ask the designer what it is for and be answered with no more than a shake of the head, you have established that it does not really matter whether you do well on the course or not.

It was pointed out to me recently that various people setting up courses of rifle fire seem to feel that rifle courses should simply be pistol courses extended in range. We customarily shoot twice per target with a pistol because once is not certain to stop the fight, but this is clearly not true of rifle fire. One good hit with a rifle takes care of the problem. There is no point in shooting a man in the chest with a rifle and then shooting him again, assuming he is still standing up to permit you to do so. The difficulty here is that courses of fire which demand an instantaneous second shot make a certain sense with a pistol, but not with a rifle, and they reward the self-loading rifle out of proportion to its worth. Now that various parts of the world (England, Australia, South Africa) forbid the use of the self-loading rifle in public hands, this effectively divides rifle shooting into military and civilian categories, which is neither desirable politically nor reasonable technically. If you ever enter a rifle match and the managers tell you that you must hit a certain target twice in a row, you may well ask "Why should I?" and walk away.

As between the single-stage or shotgun trigger, and the two-stage or military trigger, I have always favored the latter, having grown up on it. It does take a little practice to be sure that one does not "go through" with a military trigger, but somehow I think this adds to precise control. The radical single-stage trigger release of the Blaser R93 is a wonderful thing to use and enjoy, but the two-stage trigger on Galatea is equally pleasant. They both break at about 26oz, and that takes some getting used to, but once you have got it, you have really got it.

Will somebody please tell the Vice President of the United States that carbon dioxide (CO2) is not a pollutant, but rather is absolutely necessary to carbon cycle life?

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