Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 8, No. 11          October, 2000

Hunter's Moon

If we can set aside thoughts of politics and liberty for a short time, we may do so now. That is not to say we should stop the fight which faces us in November, but that hunting season is a good time in which to think happier thoughts. The hunter is the happier man, and he may be grateful to divest himself during this season of the year from the crass, dull and insipid chores of the non-hunter. Note that 3 November is the day of St. Hubert, who is the patron of the hunter. Celebrate it as you wish, but please do not let it go unnoticed.

I am delighted to have been granted a new honor by John Pepper's group at Fort Mead. I may now call myself "Pathfinder." Though it may seem presumptuous to tread upon the illustrious heels of John C. Fremont, I may point out that we operate in such different fields of endeavor that confusion is unlikely. Be that as it may, I am honored by the attentions of the Fort Mead group, and I do hope that my endeavors over the past decades have been worthy of the title. Thank you very much!

On this matter of technical pioneering, I note with amusement that some gun writer has gone on record claiming that the modern technique is outdated and obsolete. He specifically points out that current IPSC champions are now using an isosceles stance, rather than the Weaver. We may note that since IPSC competition has gone astray after strange gods for over ten years, IPSC techniques may not be relevant to defensive pistolcraft. As most people know, the virtue of the stance developed by Jack Weaver is recoil control. When competitive shooters do their utmost to eliminate recoil, control thereof hardly matters. Recently it was pointed out to me by NRA board member Ted Nugent that the 9mm Parabellum cartridge "is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but not much." When you choose a minor caliber pistol cartridge over a major, you establish that you really do not understand what the pistol is for. The purpose of the pistol is to stop a fight that somebody else has started. Competition which is not based upon this premise is striving for the wrong goals.

Our outstanding Senator Feinstein, who has long set herself up as an expert on firearms, has now decided that she is an expert on automobiles, too. She favors legislation requiring that sport utility vehicles achieve the same fuel consumption ratings as family sedans. Clearly the senator feels that if the laws of physics are inconvenient all that is necessary is legislation to straighten them out.

At one time the state of Arkansas passed a bill making the value of pi 31/7, since 3.14159+ is too inconvenient. We do have certain requirements for the holding of office, but having any brains is not among them.

We are informed - indirectly, of course - that the people at Steyr have decided to discontinue rifles in the 376 Steyr cartridge. This cartridge was not my idea in the first place, but now that I have used it for a year or so I have become quite attached to it, especially since the new 270-grain Swift partition bullet is now available. It is better than the 375 Holland in that it is smaller and can be made up into a more compact rifle. I hear continuously of the need for handiness in a hunting rifle, and this need is often expressed by men who do not understand that such a weapon is available. We are talking, of course, about the Steyr Scout. There are those who feel that the 308 cartridge is simply uninteresting, but I have yet to be shown a situation in which a cartridge was inadequate because it was uninteresting. If you really feel that the 308 is not strong enough for you, you have the 376, at least for a while. I suggest that you step in and buy the piece now while it is still available, together with all the Hornady ammunition you can get hold of. Now the Dragoon, as I call my 376 Steyr Scout, is going to Alaska for moose and bear, and I hope to put it to use again on bison in January. In times to come, those who fail to take advantage of the opportunity may be even more envious than they are at present.

And we just now have a new report of a hunting incident up in Namibia. It seems these people left their Landrover on a narrow road to go forward and observe a bunch of elephants. A bull from another group came up behind the parked car and, being somewhat annoyed, attempted to move it. Its anti-theft device screamed at him, and this upset him to the point that he smashed the car completely. I do not wish these innocent people misfortune, but I am not terribly upset when they discover that the wilderness is still the wilderness.

I have often preached that one's personal firearms are the last thing on which one should practice economy. A good gun is a permanent asset. It does not go out of style or wear out. To submit such a thing to what is sometimes referred to as a "budget" is to manifest confused priorities. To state that you will not buy a superior rifle because you must wait until you can afford it because at this point you can afford a cheap rifle, makes no sense. When people say they cannot afford a Steyr Scout, for example, I can point out that they should go right on using the rifle they have and not worry.

I suppose there is such a thing as extravagance in the purchase of guns, but it is not common. For instance, a $50,000 Perazzi shotgun might well be considered an extravagance, but such pieces do not constitute large portions of the market. People have complained to me about the price of a first rate service pistol, and these same people do not balk at a steak dinner. If you ever see fit to invite four people to a steak dinner at a really good restaurant, you will not find it sensible to complain about the price of a good gun. The principle is this: If you haven't the money to buy a good piece, don't buy it. Make do with what you have now, but don't buy an inferior product which will only cause you discontent and require its replacement, at increased expense, later on. A Porsche or a Ferrari will outlive its usefulness in a few years. A first rate rifle will not.

I suppose you have now seen the pictures of what may be the best candidate for the Waffenpƶsselhaft award for the year 2000. This is a double-barrel, bolt-action sporting rifle built for the 416 cartridge. That's right, it is a double-barrel rifle, but it is a bolt-action rifle. It is made in Innsbruck, but I do not think that explains it. We are rather fond of Innsbruck and we cannot remember meeting any loonies there.

In that connection, is it not curious that we seem to hold up "education" as a commodity which can be bought and sold? What has happened, of course, is that we have sought to quantify education by the issuance of diplomas and degrees, and have thus inflated our intellectual standards along with our currency. It has been suggested that we are now stratifying society into two levels: Those with a college degree and those without. The notion that a college degree signifies some sort of absolute is obviously ridiculous. Today a bachelor's degree from a prominent university is not nearly as significant as a high school diploma was 50 years ago. We have millions of degrees today, while the onrush of ignorance threatens to engulf us. The notion that education is trade craft will lead us to a race of tradesmen, only a few of whom may be educated - and those will be mainly self-educated.

When I took my examinations for my humble little master's degree in history, those examinations were oral. One sat in confrontation with a committee of professors who engaged him in conversation. By this means it was possible to determine just how much the applicant knew about his subject.

"True-or-false" was not an issue. The directive was to expound. This, in my opinion, was a much better system than we encounter today.

As we move on into the 21st century (which will commence in a couple of months), we discover a major difference between war and peace. In war, men stab each other from the front. In peace, they stab each other in the back.

Since it is now acceptable to follow the example of our senior elected officials, it is not necessary to confine ourselves to the truth. Some "gun writer" recently stated that 9 out of 10 1911 pistols were proving unreliable here at Gunsite. This, of course, is a ridiculous untruth, but this fellow had no reluctance in stating it as a fact. According to Herodotus, the ancient Persians felt that what was necessary in the background of a young man entering adulthood was his ability to ride, shoot straight, and speak the truth. Perhaps we should now grant our college degrees to young men who measure up to that standard.

Rumor now has it that I am dead. This is wishful thinking on the part of some people. As far as I can tell, I am not dead - yet. But as with all of us, me and thee included, it is only a matter of time.

We have long taught that the most important attribute of a gunfighter is mind-set. This is certainly true of defensive pistolcraft, but we run across cases now and again which point out parallel considerations in the hunting of big game. Orange Gunsite graduate Dalton Carr has just released a book recounting his experiences with bears and bear hunting, and one of his anecdotes struck a cord with us. Hunter is armed. Bear is there. Guide says, "Shoot!" The hunter responds, "Now?" The guide repeats, "Shoot now." The hunter responds again, "Now?"

People certainly do respond to the moment of truth in different ways, but I would not have believed this sort of episode if I had not seen it myself - and more than once. It takes a properly prepared mind to send that signal down the arm and cause the finger to press the trigger. Such preparation is obviously not automatic.

The Steyr Scout continues to walk away with all the honors at the rifle schools. This piece was designed primarily to be easier for the shooter to use, and it is - so equally talented marksmen will shoot it better. That about covers the subject.

At what age should we introduce a youngster to the shooting sports? I do not have a good answer to this, though the question arises here at the school all the time. Without going into the philosophy of physical education, my quick answer is "fourteen," but I will be the first to admit that no such fixed figure means very much. First, the youngster must want to shoot. He must prove to his parents that the matter is really important to him. He must never be pushed into it from behind. Secondly, he must have the proper bone and muscle structure to support the firearm. Some people feel that this means that we should start the student off with a BB gun, and then move to a 22, and only after that to a small-bore center-fire. I did not follow this exactly. The ROTC program of my youth started us out with a 22 rifle at age fourteen or fifteen, and it worked pretty well. Many parents, however, feel that the passion should be nurtured much earlier. Most kids of both sexes love to shoot, and if that desire is there, it is a proper parent's responsibility to indulge it. Personal marksmanship is not a trivial enterprise. It cannot be forced upon a child, but it certainly should not be denied once the desire is there. "The barefoot boy with cheeks of tan" is a cultural ideal, and it still sounds good. That young man out there in the field with his 22 rifle (properly introduced) is both a psychological and a political asset. The youngster should not go afield in groups for at least a year after having been properly qualified in gunhandling and safety. He should shoot by himself. Peer pressure is something to avoid here.

I do not have a complete answer, but I can say that the systems I have used have worked perfectly in all cases in which they were applied. Our three daughters are all first rate shots, as are four of our five grandchildren. The exception did not fail any system for qualification, but she was simply not interested. So be it.

It seems clear that failure to familiarize your dependants with the characteristics and proper use of firearms is socially irresponsible. Beyond that it may be deadly dangerous.

It is not clear to me that we need a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. I note that they now do not wish to be called a bureau, and refer to themselves as "the ATF." This is like referring to the FBI as "the Federal Investigation." I rather like to think that these people became sensitive about being called the BATmen ten or twelve years ago. That is okay. They have a good deal to be sensitive about.

Actually, the function of the BATF could do well without the F, and confine itself to alcohol and tobacco. Firearms should come under the control of the Office of Civilian Marksmanship, for which there is indeed a definite need. If the federal government has any real responsibility in this matter (and I believe it has) it is in imparting to all law abiding American citizens the basic principles of firearms and firearms marksmanship. That does, indeed, fall under those provisions of the preamble of the Constitution which validate federal action. We are not holding our breath waiting for this to come about, but that does not alter the validity of the position. Note that the Office of Civilian Marksmanship now has available a large number of M1 Garand rifles, artifacts which should be found in every household. The M1 is probably the best individual personal arm ever devised by man, and moreover it is dirt cheap at this time.

In the great hunting days of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, the greatest game animal that the hunter could pursue was held to be the elephant. "Big game" was elephant, and everything else was small potatoes. This is easy to understand, since the elephant is, after all, the greatest beast that walks the earth. Furthermore, in the great days he was quite plentiful, he was distinctly dangerous, and his ivory was valuable enough to defray all expenses. However, in the course of some recent reading I have reached another conclusion. Thus: the greatest of all big game animals is not the elephant, but the sperm whale. This beast is not only many times the size of the largest elephant, but he is a carnivore carrying a magnificent set of teeth with which he can easily bite a whale boat in half. He is ordinarily of a peaceable disposition, but when harassed he can become very much otherwise. In the great whaling days, you had to latch onto him with one or more harpoons, which must have been a painful procedure for him. Then after you fetched him alongside you had to kill him, not with a rifle, but with a spear. A puny man standing in a flimsy rowboat undertook to stab this monster in the vitals with a long, steel lance, hoping to avoid attracting his attention in the process. Now there is big game hunting carried off the scale!

School children used to be exposed to this sort of thing in Melville's "Moby Dick," though I doubt if they are today. (I have no idea what they are exposed to today.) And Melville's story, while declared as fiction, had its basis in fact. A sperm whale could not only bite a whale boat to splinters, he could and did ram and sink the whaling vessel from which it came.

I never heard of anyone's attempting to "harvest" a sperm whale for sport, but as a sporting proposition, attacking and killing that beast single-handed with an edged weapon certainly overshadows any form of dangerous game hunting of which I have ever heard.

(Of course, there is a problem about where to hang the trophy on the wall once you get a taxidermist to mount it for you. I somehow doubt the Safari Club is much interested.)

We hope to meet with the faithful again at Whittington, for the Eighth Annual Gunsite Reunion and Theodore Roosevelt Memorial. The dates are 20, 21, 22 October. See you there!

If you have not yet read Thomas Sowell's "The Quest for Cosmic Justice," do not delay. This is probably the best philosophical work of recent years, and Professor Sowell's clarity of expression makes his book a pleasure to read. This work was drawn to my attention by Orange family member Colonel Clint Ancker, and I have been making it required reading for any of my friends who read.

We are always interested in stories of unprovoked buffalo attacks in Africa. In the last such incident we heard of, the buff was hardly unprovoked, having been hit in the knee with a 223 some time previous to the contact. Apparently some Irishman got loose with his M16.

We learn of the passing of Saburo Sakai, the distinguished Nip fighter pilot. He was scheduled for a meeting with Joe Foss this month, but apparently he waited too long. The great aviators are all but extinct. No more than a dozen survive.

The crisis is now at hand. Our shooting and hunting activities are desperately endangered in this coming election, and more than that (if there is anything more than that), the liberties which we established this country to protect are now derided by our opposition. A victory for these people is unthinkable. That is the word, UNTHINKABLE. This country is the last, best hope of earth, and there is no place left to run. The recent debates have been praised for their "lack of rancor." I cannot buy that. A large dose of rancor may be just what we need. God save the Republic!

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