Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 8, No. 2           February, 2000

Mid-Winter 2000

The SHOT Show was interesting, as usual. As a display of new products it is a fine effort, but just what we need new products for is not always clear. The 1906 cartridge and the 1911 pistol have been with us for a great long time, but trying to improve on them is a daunting exercise. New guns at the SHOT Show were present, but not in the main overwhelming. One display I seek out early is that of the Perazzi shotgun, and this display has been around for a good many years. How to make this year's Perazzi better than last year's Perazzi is a problem for the philosopher, rather than the engineer. It always pleases me to realize that there are people who have built things like that, and, moreover, there are people who will buy them. I only pray that the purchasers and owners of these wonderful instruments really and truly appreciate them.

A contact we made up in Vegas who lives in Wyoming informs us that in that state everybody owns and uses personal weapons, "except for a few crackpots from California."

Somebody told me that the factory has come up with a rifle very much like the Scout, but in caliber 223. I cannot verify this, but I hope that it is not true. There is no possible reason for a scout-type rifle in that caliber, but then a year ago at the show I saw a muzzle brake on a 22. You can become very unpopular by asking people "why?".

We must caution prospective pistol students not to bring anything called "double-action only" to class. The term itself is a misnomer, since "double" implies two methods, and "only" negates that.

One thing that struck me forcefully at this SHOT Show was the discovery that a great many shooters - possibly a majority - do not understand shooting at all. They buy guns not because they are good, but because they are fashionable. This sort of thing must motivate the arms trade, because otherwise it could not survive economically. When you have a good gun, you just do not need another, except possibly as a source of spare parts. A good personal firearm will last you a lifetime, and that of your son, and of his son. It is hard to work quick turnovers when one is faced with that situation. As I have said several times before, the only steps forward in rifles of recent times are Jim West's "Co-pilot", Gerhard Blenk's Blaser 93, and the Steyr Scout. These three developments are important. The rest seem to be just window dressing.

Not to our surprise, we discover that gun crime in Britain is up 10.9 percent since the disarmament of the private citizen.

This new era into which we launch may be termed The Age of Hurt Feelings. I cannot but wonder where all these tender types have been during the nineteen hundreds. The rule of the school, when I was a tad, was "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me." Now in the age of social censorship various kinds of pressure may be brought to bear upon anyone who calls a spade a spade. Possibly we have not had enough wars in which to temper our sensitivity.

The current rage up in Vegas is dihydrous oxide (H2O). In the good restaurants it is pushed something like it is supposed to have been on the planet Dune. You are often offered three different brands in order to gratify any sort of acquired taste. Since I do not drink water myself, I find this whole thing pretty mysterious. What comes out of the tap at the Sconce seems quite good enough for us common folk.

And now that we have the Scout, after all these years, it appears necessary for some people to proceed to trash it up. The piece as originally issued was not perfect, but it was quite close. The fact that it is unavailable for left-handers is its principal drawback, and that is not a drawback if you happen to be right-handed. Apart from that, the action could stand improvement by relieving it for inspection with the little finger. It does not need sling sockets on the wrong side. And, of course, there is the matter of the perfected sight system, of which there is no promise at this time. I understand that manufacturers are peddlers first and artists second. With that in mind, I am still delighted with the way the Steyr Scout turned out. It will continue to dominate our training sessions here at Gunsite, and in due course people will understand that it is not "just another rifle," but rather a conceptual leap forward. This will only be understood by serious practical shooters, and there are not enough of those at this time.

A firsthand account suggests that the state of Connecticut is now totally overrun with whitetail deer. They will not let you shoot them so you have to kill them with cars.

It appears that Russia has now discovered the Parabellum cartridge, which has been around since 1908 or thereabouts. Their new line of service pistols and machine pistols is now made to take the 9mm pistol cartridge, which the US law enforcement establishment discovered about ten years ago.

We mentioned using the "nudge" in managing the trigger on the bison. This is the only time I have ever done that, and there were peculiar circumstances that made it necessary. The range was short (72 yards by laser), but off-hand was the only possible position and the animals were milling around like a subway crowd, offering only brief and intermittent "windows" into which to plant a shot. I do not teach the nudge, and I do not think I will start now, because it can lead to disaster in unskilled hands, but there it is, and we must face facts.

Note that SAAB Cars of USA is on an anti-hunting kick. I cannot see this as a good piece of propaganda for a car salesman.

A correspondent recently asked my opinion as to the utility of the "combination gun." This is generally a single instrument utilizing both a shot shell and a rifle cartridge in the same weapon. These pieces, in two, three, and four barrel guise, have been around for a very long time, but besides being expensive to make, they are of very specialized utility. There are not many estates upon which one may take game birds and full-sized quadrupeds on the same afternoon walk, and those that exist are nearly always private reserves where the owner or his guests hunt the same way in extended succession. Hermann Göring at one time sought to equip his combat pilots in the western desert with "Drillings" to be used for survival purposes in the event of forced landings. This was a pretty good idea, I suppose, but it did not seem to sweep the Luftwaffe.

We were interested to hear that Swaziland has misplaced its entire merchant navy. This consisted of one good-sized merchant vessel painted in bright colors to make it easy to find. Well, it has run off and has not been heard of since. A government spokesman has insisted loudly that this mishap has nothing whatever to do with the competence of the crew or any others involved. Okay, okay. I didn't say anything.

I am sure you noticed that Remington has now come up with a varmint rifle featuring electric ignition. I suppose the advantage of this system is its trigger action, but considering the trigger action you can get in conventional weapons (if you insist on it), it seems that carrying batteries around - even very long-lived batteries - is a bum trade.

In rifle work group size is of some interest, but it is by no means the critical consideration that some commentators seem to deem it. It is well to remember that a rifleman does not shoot groups, he shoots shots. A tight group is nice, but one must not fall into the error of PII (Preoccupation with Inconsequential Increments). I have shot a great deal in a long shooting life, and I have only once encountered a rifle that would not shoot better than I could shoot it. (That was a 32-20 lever gun which had been allowed to rust and then scraped out. In getting the rust out of the barrel, most of the rifling went along with it.)

Group size is unimportant, unless it is very bad. If you can hit a dinner plate, first shot, every time, under all conditions, at 100, that will do.

Somewhat to my astonishment, I was recently called obscenely to task (that's right, obscenely is the word) for the appearance of the 376 Steyr Scout. What this particular correspondent thinks is to be gained by committing his gutter language to print is not clear, but it does display a very curious state of mind. Well, he got my attention, if that is what he wanted, but I didn't think that is what he had in mind.

The leopard light feature on the Steyr Scout is not appreciated. Many owners do not even know it is there. This is largely because hunting by means of a light is forbidden in most sporting situations, but is certainly not a drawback in the paramilitary use of the arm.

Avoid "moonscopes." These are those huge, cumbersome tubes that make quick shooting almost impossible.

I recall an occasion in Okavango when Ronny, my PH, looked dubiously at my 350 Fireplug and asked, "How accurate is that little gun?" The shot coming up was a long one - nearer 300 than 200 - and I suppose he thought I should have had a great, long rifle in order to attempt a great, long shot. My response to his question was, "It's as accurate as I am." And so it was. It made a nice, clean, one-shot kill on a blue wildebeeste.

You know you have grown up when your children begin to retire. Our three sons-in-law are all doing that within the same twelve months. Wow!

We learn to our considerable sadness that Ollie and Susan Coltman have left Sable Ranch, which was one of the most delectable establishments in Southern Africa. Downsizing is given as the reason, but however it may be, we will no longer be able to show off Ollie's animals to our friends. Ollie, you may recall, is the man who was pounded by the buffalo and survived. I have always taken pride in my account of that occasion. Susan told me that of the various descriptions of that encounter mine was the only one that got it right.

We got a new and choice hunting anecdote from Hungary. It seems that a party of thirty Austrians went off pig hunting and harvested ten pigs, five of which were taken by the same man using (naturally) a Steyr Scout.

Since everything now appears to be "tactical," I am suggesting a new line of tactical paperclips for sale in the Gunsite Pro-Shop. For my part, I am going to try to stamp out the "t-word" until people start paying attention to what they are saying.

A major actuarial organization in South Africa has come up with the idea that within twenty years the white population of South Africa may exceed the black: this due to the explosive AIDS epidemic, which, at this time, affects only the black population. I suppose that that idea is one of those things "you can't say."

Doctor David Kahn, who is one of the faithful and who originated and promoted the Keneyathlon as a test of the practical rifleman's skill, has asked us for our opinion on a term to designate a truly dedicated rifleman. He feels that just "rifleman" is not elegant enough, and should give way to something in Latin or Greek. "Ekeibolon" is a Greek epithet for one who hits what he shoots at, and was upon occasion applied to Apollo. There is the venerable English word "sharpshooter," but that has fallen upon ill usage. There are some true rifle wizards around, and I am honored to hold five or six of them in my own personal acquaintance, but the correct term for such people remains undecided. We solicit audience participation in this matter.

Our friend and colleague Bob Shimizu tells us that he is studying to become a curmudgeon in his old age. This is doubtless a worthy aim when one considers the difficulty of reaching the age of 65 and still retaining one's sanity in the face of the universal tsunami of ignorance. As Napoleon put it, rascality has its limits, but stupidity has none.

I recently ran across an account of a Yukon hunt conducted in 1919 by a wealthy politician. I was fascinated to discover that this gentleman hunted exactly the same country that I did in 1940. Not only did he use the same camps that I did, but he enjoyed the services of the same superb camp cook - Gene Jacquot. (Gene was cook in 1919, and outfitter in 1940.)

However, it was the client's riflery that gave me the most pause. He, like many sportsmen before and since, seemed to think that expensive equipment was the equivalent of good marksmanship. He used a brand new 280 Ross, which might be considered the "super magnum" of its day, and he proceeded to miss with it with great consistency. Then on one occasion he attempted (foolishly, I believe) a great long shot way out past Fort Mudge, and lucked out. This established for him the idea that the 280 was a solution to every problem.

I ran across a similar mind-set in Alberta about the same time. The two hunters I met down there were using brand new Sedgley Springfields of exquisite craftsmanship. The day before I met them, they had taken 55 shots at a white goat, which simply ambled over the ridge with no evidence of alarm or discomfort.

Hitting in the field calls for skill. Fine equipment is nice to have, but it is no substitute for skill. I thought everybody knew that.

I recently ran across the expression "To hunt elephant takes legs. To hunt buffalo takes guts. To hunt lion takes heart." I do not quite know how to interpret that, but it is pretty interesting.

Colonel Bob Young is the new operations manager at Gunsite, which is great, good news in my view. He not only knows the business thoroughly, but as a field-grade Marine officer, he knows how to get things done.

Please let us know if you would be interested in a Safari Prep course. I would like to teach it, but we will not put it on unless we discern a market.

Observing all those hundreds of people at the SHOT Show who were totally unaware of their surroundings leads me to wonder again how such people survive. Remember that sign "Be Alert! Lerts have more fun!" Obviously a lot of people do not believe that.

The bison hunt down in Texas was a howling success. Everything went so well that it seemed pre-written. The 376, using Steve Hornady's 270-grain pointed soft-point, turned a prime herd bull off like a light with one round. Moreover, we got the whole thing on video tape as Heidi Smith, Clint's wife, manned the camcorder throughout the enterprise. There have been several incidences in my hunting career wherein a video recorder would have been deeply appreciated, but this is the only one actually to be logged for posterity. Cheers for modern technology!

Note that previous class numbers (250, 270, etc.) do not apply to the Masters Series. The Masters Series, now getting underway, does not have numbers. We are starting with General Rifle and General Pistol, and while we may extend that later to other titles, they will not have numbers.

We cannot but wonder if any of Hillary's proposed new constituents up there in New York will ask her about Vince Foster. There are people who know how he got his body out to the park after death, but she is the one who is most authoritative on the subject.

Incidentally, if you have not yet got your Scout, note that Rich Wyatt has it available in stock. Additionally, Rich Wyatt ("Gunsmoke," Custom Gunsmithing, Inc., 3650 Wadsworth Blvd., #A, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033, phone: 303-456-4545), can also put a Jeff Cooper trigger in your new gun, which is something the factory will not do.

We talked to Jim West at some length at the show, and were further impressed by his pioneer efforts in weapon design up there in Anchorage. As you know, he pioneered the "Co-pilot" concept, which was subsequently pirated to lesser standards by the Marlin people, who make the action. Jim's original cartridge for the "Co-pilot" was the illustrious 45-70, but he has worked on some additional heavy calibers, intending to make even better stoppers out of compact lever-guns. One line he is pursuing is the fabrication of heavy-caliber solid bronze "chopper" bullets by simply turning them on a lathe. These bullets feature a conspicuous flat point in conjunction with a bore-diameter cutting shoulder, which might do particularly well in 45 caliber on buffalo. I must pursue the design of such a bullet in caliber 376 for those who may insist upon using the Dragoon rifle on targets heavier than intended. We do need a line of upgraded bullets for the 376. (Which could also be used in caliber 375.) I would much like to take a sample of this sort of thing to Africa with me in April, but as circumstances stand I am not holding my breath waiting.

We learn from a federal sniper school that domestic standard barrels will wash out after two thousand rounds of 300WM, whereas the same wear factor is five to eight thousand rounds in caliber 308. No private citizen is apt to shoot his own weapon that much, but it does point out a little-known aspect of the "big bottle 30s."

I sort of wish that people would quit trying to handcraft their Scout Rifles. They spend a lot of time and money, and they never quite make it up to factory spec. Tinkering, of course, is fun, and must not be begrudged, but you are not going to get something just as good for less money.

Downsizing our military will continue until we "throw the rascals out." God speed the day!

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