Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 8, No. 12          November, 2000


This is it! Within a couple of days we will know whether Alcibiades was right in his evaluation of the democratic process. The worldwide left insists that people are not bright enough to handle their own affairs. This may be so, but the Founding Fathers held otherwise. May God defend the right!

I find it wearisome to hear people describe the attack on the USS Cole as one of "terrorism." We are free to use whatever words we wish to describe whatever we wish, but the attack on the Cole was not a piece of terrorism, it was an act of war. Terrorism may be described as homicidal coercion - an attempt to change national or political behavior by threat of force. The men who attacked the Cole were not attempting to coerce the United States, they were attempting simply to kill Americans - for theological, rather than political, reasons. It may be true that no recognized nation has declared war upon the United States, but Islam has officially described us as The Great Satan, and thus made us military adversaries in a Jihad or Holy War.

It is childish to discuss any attempt to discover who is responsible for this act of war. If there were such a man it would be the Sultan of Islam. Osama bin Laden does not hold that title at present, but clearly he would like to.

You may recall a somewhat similar situation in which we found ourselves back in 1918. "The man responsible" was one Charlemagne Peralte operating in the backwoods of Haiti. Herman Hanneken, at that time a sergeant of US Marines and simultaneously a captain of Haitian Constabulary, was assigned the task of solving this problem. and he solved it - with a 1911 Colt. General Hanneken died two years ago, so we cannot very well re-assign him to active duty, but the Great Satan (read CIA) surely ought to be able to whistle up a worthy successor. The circumstances are not the same - circumstances never are - but the problem is the same. What is needed is simply a proper supply of viscera, but such is unlikely in The Age of the Wimp.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was not an act of terrorism. It was an act of war, and we responded appropriately. Admiral Nagumo said of that attack, "We have awakened a sleeping giant." How right he was!

So here we are. We cannot allow bands of murderous fanatics to direct the course of world history, but they will surely do so unless we take appropriate action.

Tennis, anyone?

Our resident cougar was still hanging around as of last week. We hope he can satisfy himself with the javelina, as there are very few deer hereabouts, and we would dislike for the big cat to develop a taste for domestic pets.

Those debates were essentially disgusting. Neither candidate was able to address anything important. What shall we do about the Holy War? What is our position on abortion? Where do we stand on immigration? And where do we stand on personal arms? Those were points worth debating, and neither candidate touched them. I guess our system simply does not invite good men to run for high office, but that does not mean that we should not vote for the lesser of two evils. The greater of the two evils is simply unthinkable. We have a poor choice, but we have to take it.

How did we get fouled up in this first name bit? As I sometimes feel called upon to point out: My first name is not "John," it is "Sir." People who know me well enough to call me by my first name use "Jeff." Those who use "John" are ill-mannered. I note that I share this feeling with no less than Bill Buckley, so I am in good company on the subject.

I am sometimes perplexed by people who refer to defensive rifles, or defensive rifle shooting. The defensive arm is the pistol, since you have it at hand to meet situations that you do not anticipate. If you have the luxury of anticipating a lethal encounter, you pick up a long arm, either a rifle or a shotgun, but in that case you go on to the attack. Thus rifle shooting is offensive, and pistol shooting is defensive. Of course, life does not always duplicate theory, and there are exceptions to everything, but nevertheless the rifle is not a defensive weapon in concept.

The Eighth Annual Gunsite Reunion and Theodore Roosevelt Memorial (GR&TRM) was great fun again for all. The weather was perfect. The shooting was (for the most part) exemplary, and the declamations were inspiring. It did seem that we had a startling number of participants who had never been to Gunsite, or if they had, the experience did not take. I have always felt that one can tell an Orange Gunsite graduate by the way he handles his weapons, and not all the gunhandling was up to standard. There was, of course, that seven-year hiatus, and I guess it shows. Jeff's Place, as the cabin at the rifle walk is now called, is neat, clean and comfortable. Zeroing facilities are handy, and the rifle walk is always challenging - assuming that proper gunhandling is insisted upon by the range personnel. On that sort of an exercise, you simply do not just stand there and decide upon a firing position when you see a target. Delayed assumption of position is the great failing we observe in the field on the part of untrained individuals. There should never be more than five seconds between first observation of the target and the shot. (Picky, picky, picky!)

The Robinson twins distinguished themselves with both rifle and pistol, and Shooting Master John Gannaway put the shotgunners through the sporting clays. Naturally the Steyr Scouts proved what a modern rifle should be like.

The brilliance of the declamations in several of the past meetings may have intimidated some of our clan, and we did not have as many volunteers as usual. However, Granddaughter Amy rendered a monolog from "Measure for Measure" with great polish, and Colonel Clint Ancker gave us both "Once More Into the Breach" and "We Happy Few" quite superbly. The great thing about Clint's presentations of Shakespeare's martial speech is that Clint is a blooded soldier who has been there in the fire - more than once and more than twice. Unlike the Bard, Colonel Ancker knows the face of battle first hand and thus is actually able to improve upon Shakespeare in the presentation. This is truly inspiring. It fairly maketh the blood to boil!

It has been said that people return to the Reunion year after year in order to recharge their spiritual batteries, and in this the Gunsite family owns a unique asset in the shooter's world.

We are sorry to hear that the Korth company in Germany has folded. This organization attempted to produce very high quality handguns regardless of cost, and this turned out to be an unsuccessful marketing ploy. I am sorry to hear this since I certainly admire the concept of excellence in weaponry; but only kings can disregard sales appeal.

Academics among you may be aware of Crum's Law of the Rejection of Quality, which reads: "Whenever a truly good product appears upon the market it is usually discontinued." This proposal, as the name implies, is the work of the Austrian economist Gottfried von Crum, and may be observed in all sorts of products from smallarms to automobiles to shoes to fishing tackle to patent medicines. It may probably be the origin of the adjective "crummy."

Granddaughter Amy recently asked us to give her a list of "good reads," suggesting perhaps ten titles. We found that to be impossible. I thought perhaps I could do something with twenty titles, but that was just as bad. Why does one read - what is the purpose of reading? Some may feel that the idea is to be able to pass a given test, but in my case I read for pleasure, and what gives one person pleasure may not provide it for another. Our family intellectual, Paul Kirchner, came up with what I think may be the best answer: "One reads in order to become better company for himself." And furthermore, "Reading a good book is like making love. Once is not enough." I am therefore at work on The List.

At the recent meeting of the Omega Group in Las Vegas, I was honored to be designated "Shottist of the Century" with suitable speech and plaque. One must never take himself too seriously, so I do not, but pats on the back like this are very nice, and I thank Bob Brown and his group profusely. (Incidently, the word is shottist, not shootist.)

The gnomes down in Ferlach are now offering a bolt-action 700. What is it for? What a rude question!

It is to agonize over the clumsy, shameful and unembarrassed degeneration of popular English. A particularly unfortunate example is the debasement of the term "hero." If a hero is some poor unfortunate who simply forgot to duck, how should we describe a real hero? As I see it, a true hero must not just suffer, he must accomplish something, at the imminent risk of his life. Audey Murphy was a hero. Sam Woodfill was a hero. Joe Foss is a hero. But these poor unfortunates who got caught on the wrong side of the bulkhead when the bomb went off were no more heroic than the deer that falls to my rifle.

And heroism is not confined to warfare. Gunsite family member and illustrator Paul Kirchner recently had occasion to interview Lance Thomas of Los Angeles, the jeweler who achieved a measure of fame a few years back by successfully repelling boarders in his store in Beverly Hills. Mr. Thomas now has a confirmed score of six kills in the simple course of business. Various people seemed to think that a man who sold watches would be easily intimidated. Not so. As Mr. Thomas said, "I am not a rabbit." Paul tells me he does not look like a rabbit either. In personal appearance and attitude he does not seem to be a good man to attack, and so it turned out. But violent criminals are seldom bright, and frequently assume that the presence of a gun in their hands renders any sort of resistance out of the question. Lance Thomas is a hero, and we may thank God that there are men like him left in our society. (Though not in Britain, of course.)

Whenever I see the phrase "Nothing could be further from the truth" I wish the perpetrator would think a bit. What is wrong with "wrong"? Obviously all sorts of things can be "further from the truth," depending upon what sort of truth we are talking about. Gnash, gnash, gnash!

As we have often taught, every hunt is a qualified triumph, whereas every election is a qualified disaster. There are exceptions, of course. I once read of a hunt for the Tibetan gazelle up on top of the world in which the disaster was pretty unqualified. And on the other side, there was election day 1980, "the day the map turned blue," according to Barrett Tillman. Certainly one grows tired of holding one's breath!

I suppose it is only natural, in view of the startling success of the Steyr Scout, for people to try to do their own job at home. It may be fun, but it is not a good idea. The Steyr Scout is about 88 percent of ideal. The lack of a left-handed version will not bother you if you are right-handed, and the Leupold glass, if not ideal, has given excellent service over the past five years. A perfected scoutscope and mount does not seem to be in the cards, though I must point out that a scope is not completely essential to the scout concept. When I took the prototype Scout 1 to the Central American boonies in 1968, I used ghost-ring only with complete satisfaction.

In that connection I should point out that while a glass sight may be essential to a general-purpose rifle, there are a couple of specialty rifles on which it is not only not necessary, but a positive drawback. These are the rifles designed for the most dangerous game at close quarters. I strongly advise against putting a telescope on a heavy rifle, nor on a "Co-pilot," or one of its clones.

A correspondent phoned us the other day asking about how to get into a shooting sling. This is a very subtle matter. Even when the student is sitting across the table from me, I find that it is not always easy to show him exactly how to get his arm into the loop with both speed and efficiency. I go into the matter in some detail in "The Art of the Rifle," but I cannot very well cover it over the telephone.

In mountain, prairie and desert hunting the shooting sling is a great asset. In my earlier hunting days before I got to the African bush, about two-thirds of my shots were taken with the aid of a properly installed shooting sling. In brush hunting it is less important, but generalized hunting is a mixture of techniques, and no serious rifleman should lack understanding of the shooting sling. Of course, in today's age of spray-and-pray, we do not see it much anymore. Illustrations in magazines constitute a continuous annoyance in this regard, where people are shown in situations where the shooting sling should be vital, but which they do not apparently understand. Those of you who have been to school do not have any problem here, but far too many people have not been to school.

The current spate of tiny 45 autos is interesting enough to require an investigation. I believe here at Gunsite we should canvas the manufacturers and dealers for an example of each one of these new instruments. Shooting a baby 45 is not everybody's choice, but the piece is definitely useful, combining adequate stopping power with convenience and compactness, and suitable for concealed carry. There are five, perhaps six, of these new items. We will run them by the staff here at school and come up with a consensus in due course.

Sorely missed at the Reunion was the company and counsel of the late, great Finn Aagaard, a "gun writer" who lent stature to that sometimes dubious occupation. Winston Churchill once described Clement Attlee as "a modest little man with a great deal to be modest about." Finn Aagaard was the reverse, a notably modest man with nothing whatever to be modest about.

He was a good man, and such is very hard to find.

Modern hunting with ancient weapons is a pretty fascinating subject. We have the black-powder people, the archers, the cross-bowmen, the lancers, and the list goes on. Theodore Roosevelt once opined that the only proper way to kill a pig is with a spear, though he did not specify whether afoot or ahorse. There is an astonishing painting of the Emperor Max I hunting chamois with a lance. I find this challenge quite unbelievable, but apparently it was not unheard of in Medieval Europe. Reichsjägermeister Hermann Göring is said to be the last man in Germany to have slain a wild boar with the pig spear, or "sports pike," while afoot. And we all know of the exploits of the mighty Sir Samuel Baker who regularly killed both red deer and wild hogs with a knife. At Las Vegas recently we ran into a lad who claims he took a buffalo with a spear last year in Africa, and the late Peter Capstick also claims this honor. Heady stuff!

If we carry this idea to extremes, we have the sperm whale pursuit as of "Moby Dick," mentioned in a previous issue, but possibly the ultimate effort of this sort is to take the lion, the king of beasts, with your knife a la Tarzan. I do not know of anyone who deliberately attacked a lion or a tiger armed with nothing but a knife, but there is one well known example of a man who was unintentionally involved in this operation and survived. This was Wohlhuter, an African game ranger. He was plucked off his horse at night by a lion which grabbed him by the shoulder and attempted to run off with him. Wohlhuter's right arm and shoulder were immobilized, but he was able to work his knife loose with his left hand and commenced stabbing the beast in the chest and throat. He apparently felt that he could not annoy the lion anymore than it was already, and that it would kill him instantly as soon as it changed its hold. After carrying him about 50 yards, the lion unaccountably lost interest in the action, dropped him and wandered off to bleed to death under a bush. Wohlhuter never completely regained the use of his right arm, but the lion skin and the knife are on display today at the Malelane Base in southern Kruger Park.

If I ever become fully operational again, I might like to try the pig on horseback with a lance, but that is about as far as I feel like going. You more sporting guys can take the matter from there.

This growing interest in 45 caliber lever-action carbines is very attractive, at least to me. The pioneer was Jim West's "Co-pilot," a modification of the Marlin 95, which I have sometimes mentioned as one of the three interesting rifle developments of today. The Marlin people immediately tried to jump into that concept with a couple of slightly inferior copies of Jim West's idea, and now there are several different cartridges suitable for the job, such as the 450 Marlin and the 450 Alaskan.

I insist again that these pieces should not be scoped. They are designed for close-range work on very big animals, and that job they do very well, especially with a 500-grain bullet, as opposed to the 400. They make up into superb "bear backers" and are unsurpassed equipment for the lion guide in Africa. It is well to remember that neither a bear nor a lion can hurt you unless he can touch you, and that means that your defensive rifle will take your target on at essentially indoor distances. At that range a telescope sight is not only no help, but can be a positive hindrance, as I discovered on my one and only lion. Also telescopes are fragile, as a well-designed ghost-ring is not. The Ashley people insist that the ghost-ring should be even larger than conventional, and with a narrower rim. Which is okay, but I do not think it is necessary. The conventional ghost-ring does just fine, and we must remember that any beast which is large enough to kill you is easy to see.

I do not have one of these little guns personally, but I think I may put in for one, if only to show proper respect for Jim West, the man who conceived the whole idea.

We deeply regret to report the passing of Per Høydahl of Oslo. Per was an old friend, a hunting companion, an Orange Gunsite graduate and a founding member of IPSC. He was my host on a five-day moose hunt in Norway on which everything went right - a rare occasion in the hunting field. We extend our profound sympathy to Brit, his wife, and his charming family.

Fiona Capstick, widow of the late, great Peter Capstick, is about to release a new book recounting the adventures of Adelino Serras Pires, a distinguished PH from Mozambique. The publisher has shown me the advanced proofs, and I found the book fascinating, as well as very disheartening. It recounts the degeneration of what was once a delightful part of the world into a disgusting black-African tyranny. Colonialism has a bad reputation in the modern context, but Colonial Africa was a far better place for both black and white before the colonists gave up.

I had personal contact with some of the people mentioned in Mrs. Capstick's book back during the Rhodesian War, and I am thus somewhat better able to criticize the narrative. We congratulate "Fifi," as she is known to her friends, on her excellent work, and I commend it to those interested in the African scene.

Some years ago I did a piece on the use of the 22 for riot control. Family member Colonel Brian Tonnacliff now notes that the Israelis seem to have read my piece and acted upon it, since they are doing in Jerusalem at this time approximately what I suggested. The tactic was reported with some dismay in an English newspaper, which apparently disapproves of the Israeli need to defend itself from rock-throwing mobs. The 22 is handy, precise, and it can be silenced. It is not devastating, but it takes the rock-thrower neatly out of action.

I do not know why some words are more difficult to spell than others. It is not a matter of their length or intricacy. For example, since I have been communicating with Steyr-Mannlicher, I have discovered about fifteen ways of misspelling the simple word "Steyr." Another problem is that of the portobello mushroom, which seems to be advertised a different way every time I see it in the market. Both these words are simple to spell, but they appear to have some kind of curse cast upon them.

It has been wisely noted that the best and first president of this nation was the only one who did not want the job.

We note that the new Ruger "Deerfield" carbine now comes out-of-the-box with a nifty ghost-ring sight installed. About time somebody did that!

"Thank you for helping me fall in love again. I am speaking, of course, of the Steyr scout rifle. I took your pistol class in August and, although I had considered buying the rifle but dismissed the idea as too costly, I was swayed by your high praise of it. Then, when I got the opportunity to handle it at the reception at your house, I was sold. I was not prepared, however, for the joy that overcame me when I actually unpacked, handled and fired my own scout. It was love at first sight, and I believe I walked around with a stupid grin on my face that day."

John Papanicolaou
Such praise is very pleasant to receive, and I take this occasion to point out yet again that I get not one cent in royalties from the Steyr Mannlicher corporation. I once proposed some sort of royalty arrangement to Herr Hambrusch, who at that time was head of the company. He was so upset at the idea that I quickly dropped it. I esteem the Steyr Scout because it is good, not because I get paid for it.

"Cynicism is usually an attempt to justify laziness."

The Guru

"I have yet to see more than half a dozen rifles that have been properly converted into Scouts. However, I have seen in excess of two dozen `wannabe but have no idea what a Scout really is' rifles. I call these "abortion-Scouts." The several I have seen were cobbled together by people who have no idea of what it is they are trying to emulate. The overall results were so deplorable I was horrified to think that people might actually believe them to be Scouts. Two pet examples are the "Savage Scout" and "Brockman's Scouts."

Thomas K. Graziano

To us it seems that the most disgusting thing about the forthcoming contest on the 7th of November is that there should be a contest. I have yet to find anyone who has any patience for the other side, let alone an inclination to vote for it. But according to the media, there are a lot of people out there who have never read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the "Federalist Papers," or "Democracy in America," yet every one of them has a vote that is just as good as yours.

Well, the suspense will soon be over.

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