Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 8, No. 3           March, 2000

Winterset 2000

We opened the new era at Gunsite with a general rifle class, which worked out very well, considering that the new facilities are not quite ready. It should be noted that the "Masters Series" of schools held here at Gunsite are so designated because of the quality of the instructors, rather than the qualifications of the students. Over the years we have become associated with men of truly outstanding caliber in the area of smallarms instruction. Here we have signed them up to provide our new students with the best available theory to accompany a week's intensive practice. Applicants for the Masters Series need not be experts in order to sign up. They do, however, need to be in reasonably good physical shape. I made this point before, but apparently it did not take, since there were a good half-dozen students in this initial rifle class who were not physically able to achieve a proper firing position. Rifle marksmanship is a moderately demanding physical exercise, calling for a certain amount of agility, as well as good muscle tone. We hate to turn students away, but for a man who cannot assume a quick sitting or prone position to enter a rifle class is only to embarrass him. I hope the word gets out.

In this first rifle class we broke one telescope sight and sheered the bipod axle pin on a Steyr Scout, otherwise, equipment stood up pretty well. We sometimes forget that a shooter will fire more out of his hunting rifle in a course of instruction here at school than he ordinarily will in several years of general duty. Breakages are not frequent, but they do occur.

Shooting Master and family member John Gannaway now has the dies as well as the components for the 376 Steyr cartridge, and will be building properly designed loads in time for our forthcoming African adventure. This does not include "solids," which will be necessary in due course. I do not believe that the 376 cartridge, or any medium, is properly used on elephant, rhino and hippo. It should be as good as the 375 Holland & Holland on buffalo, but I, for one, am not going to put that to a test. For buffalo you need 500 grains of bullet. You can do the job with less, but that does not make it a good idea.

Oddly enough we had one man show up with an AR10 battle rifle. It shot pretty well and did not break down, but it was much too cumbersome for the shooter, who simply could not fling it around with appropriate elan. The SS holds its ground as the preeminent general-purpose rifle of the day. It is the shooter, not the rifle, that gets the hits, but those hits are easier to get with the SS.

We do not seem to be having any winter this winter, but still there is the month of March with which to contend. March can be pretty nasty hereabouts, but we are always grateful for whatever water we receive. On the other hand we note the terrible floods ravaging the land in southeast Africa. The Zambezi and the Limpopo are busting out all over, and we pray they will not do too much damage to the game herds. Unfortunately, too much of this surplus water is running directly into the sea where it does not do the drought-stricken land much good. The human toll is already high, and we are told that more rain can be expected within the next weeks. We can but hope for the best.

We repeat that there are three interesting rifles which are new to this era: the "Co-pilot", the Blaser 93, and the Steyr Scout. Rich Wyatt, of "Gunsmoke" in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, has all three of those in stock at this time.

We have a friend here in Arizona who has a positive phobia about wolves. He has now gone so far as to promote an anti-wolf rally over in the White Mountains. Obviously predators can overdo it, but I think that they are as much a part of the natural scene as the fish in the streams, and while they should be kept under control, they ought not to be set upon by human collective effort. In the West we now have a good and growing supply of coyotes, bobcats, cougars, and a good supply of bears. Though we have lost several pets over the years to the coyotes, I certainly do not feel that coyotes should be wiped out. Likewise, I cannot work up any particular frenzy about the wolves which have been recently imported into both Arizona and Montana. I understand that wolves do a certain amount of natural damage, and this understandably annoys cattle ranchers. Cougars can be rough on house pets, and they frequently target joggers. And seals eat salmon. And the coyotes now make it practically impossible for us to raise ducks and guineas around the Sconce. So I cannot get upset about wolves. I dare say they do some damage, but they do make a marvelous sound. Anyone who has heard the call of a wild wolf will treasure the experience. Predators do some harm, but not nearly as much as people do. The world would be a much less interesting place without them. Besides, wolves are better looking than most people.

When I see the sort of firearms people spend money on, I reflect that the boom in our economy seems to generate a sort of spending madness. "I've got it, let's spend it" is the cry. Whether we need it or not, gadgetry seems to be acquiring a certain merit of its own, and the accumulation of gadgetry becomes equivalent to virtue. People buy junk the way Buddhists turn prayer wheels. "The man who dies with the most toys wins."

After watching far too many television commercials - in spite of myself - I wish to offer the Chevrolet slogan to Ferrari. Do you think Ferrari would sell more cars if they claimed that they handled "like a rock"?

It appears that this baseball player Rocker has stated publically that he dislikes having to ride public transportation in company with scruffies. On this he has been sent to Coventry, where presumably they regularly wash his mouth out with soap. Does anybody really like to ride with scruffies? Social censorship - miscalled "political correctness" - is reaching new lows all the time.

If you wish to become a really good shot you will learn to live with your gun. It should always be within reach, and you should handle it freely. Not every household is the same, but if you maintain your rifle within reach at your breakfast table you will get in the amount of dry practice necessary to become totally one with your weapon. With the pistol you should try five dry snaps before you put it on in the morning and five more before you take it off in the evening. This way you will eventually blend with the piece, and your skill will be something unconscious and undirected. Note that you cannot shoot "instinctively." The shooting stroke is a programmed reflex, and you program it only by familiarity. You cannot go to the range enough to program those reflexes, but you can instill them at home, and the master marksman does just that.

They had a big raffle recently in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia). To everyone's intense surprise, Comrade Mugabe was the winner of the grand prize. For all our putative rejection of "racism," it is sometimes hard to take these popinjays seriously.

In the recent rifle class a question was posed as to at what age should you introduce your son to his rifle. The Countess came up with the perfect answer (as she usually does), which was, "when his voice changes." The next question was, what do you mean by introduce? As I see it, the young man should be given his weapon, thoroughly instructed in it, and then made responsible for it. By choice he should keep it in his room and maintain it spotlessly clean and ready for inspection at all times. It should become his "Linus blanket" to provide him with moral support when skies are dark. This program, of course, implies properly raised children, which seems to be confusingly rare today. Joe Foss, the authentic hero, tells a tale upon himself. When he was given his first rifle he was allowed to take it out and use it by himself, though not in company. Tempted beyond resistance, he let go and fractured a ceramic insulator on a power line. For this sin he was grounded for a year - a truly awesome penalty. At age 14 a year is forever, and Joe had full time to ponder upon his precious rifle locked away in his father's closet. It is not necessary to use tranquilizers to "train up the child in the way he should go."

Family member and Gunsite coach Michel Röthlisberger did Mozambique last year, and it was the sort of experience that one is glad to have known, but would not do again. After hammering their way all day to a hunting camp way back in the boonies, Michel's wife, Annette, looked around the said, "You have two rifles, I want one."

I do not suppose that many of our readers are troubled by the presence of predators on their daily wanderings, but some are. Bob Young comes up with the correct solution to this. If you find a coyote or a cougar dogging your steps, just bounce a round off the ground six or eight feet in front of his nose. This will show him that his company is not wanted and get him out of your hair. (There are those who would ask how to do this, and our answer is derived from President Jefferson, to wit: "Let your gun be your companion on all your walks.")

In the last rifle class we had a couple of students show up with Model 700 Remingtons in caliber 308. This puzzles me. If you are going to buy a full-sized bolt-action sporting rifle, why would you choose 308 over 30-06? The 308 is now equivalent of yesterday's 30-06, but still it lacks the versatility of the larger round. Why pay the same price for something less?

We recently had a curious dust-up down in the Phoenix area in which this goblin kidnaped a girl on a parking lot, ran off with her, committed rape, then shot her several times and left her for dead. He then wandered into the house of a previous employer and announced he was going to kill everybody in sight. The householder, a woman as it happens, proceeded to shoot him very dead. To us this seems to be a great story, but not to the Phoenix press, which did its best to ignore the whole thing. Instead of pinning a medal on this woman, they dropped the subject. You see, it is not acceptable to fight back in this curious time. If you fight back and lose (which is unlikely), you may get some notice, but if you fight back and win, the media would rather not hear about it.

Family member Tom Russell reports discovering on the range a fellow shooter who was operating not one but two bull guns, one in 223 and one in 7 Magnum. Now hardly anyone really needs a bull gun, and, if he does, he hardly needs two. And if he does need two, what does he want with a 223? This all takes us back to this notion of the current imperative to get rid of your cash. Who asks why? Just buy something!

As it is now the fashion to make up lists of outstanding performers of the previous century, we note that National Review, a periodical for which we have the greatest respect, named Don Budge as "The Athlete of the 20th Century." By amazing coincidence, my father and I just happened to be at Wimbledon on the occasion when Budge defeated Baron Gottfried von Cramm of Germany in a spectacular cliffhanger resulting in the world championship. I remember being awed by the experience, and I was gratified to discover that the occasion has not been forgotten. Don Budge, American, tennis, Athlete of the Century. Yes, indeed!

It appears that many shooters do not understand about the evolution of the Modern Technique of Pistolcraft - nor, as to that, about the technique itself. Herewith a quick synopsis:

In the beginning the pistol was a cavalry weapon - an attempt to extend the reach of both saber and lance. Thus it was a tool to be used with one hand, the other being needed to control the horse. Quickly, however, it was discovered to be the equalizer, as effective afoot as ahorse. Despite this, its ancestry ruled for a couple of centuries, and armies continued to regard it as one-handed clear up into the late twentieth century.

Then came practical shooting, the revolution, and the one-hand gun evolved into the two-hand gun. The revolution was born in Southern California, at Big Bear Lake, and I know about it because I was intimately involved in it.

When recovering from a shattered radius at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico in 1947, I "audited" the FBI Academy and ran right into what the Bureau called its "Practical Pistol Course," which, while hardly practical, was a great step forward from conventional target shooting. In company with Howie Tatt (then captain, later colonel) I dreamed up a military course of fire for the pistol which was especially suited for infantrymen of all grades whose duties precluded the packing of a rifle - drivers, mechanics, tankers, artillerymen, staff officers, etc. Target shooting did not do this. We sought improvement.

But the war ended, and as a civilian (sort of) I wound up at Big Bear Lake in California, where I continued to play around with the practical pistol. Contests were organized, beginning with a straightforward quick-draw match called "The Leatherslap," which everyone enjoyed and became an annual event. Contestants wanted more, so a monthly program began which emphasized variety and realism. No two matches could be held in the same year, and the challenges should replicate actual gunfights - so far as practical.

The creative genius was Jack Weaver, a deputy sheriff and pistol hobbyist, who observed, thought it over, and concluded that two hands are better than one. He placed seventh the first year, then came back the second year and wiped us out. Some were using the cowboy hip-shot, some the Applegate "instinctive" method, and I was shooting one-handed long-point from the target range. Jack walloped us all - and decisively - using a six-inch Smith K-38. He was very quick and he did not miss. And, of course, he shot from the Weaver Stance, which was, and is, the way to go.

So when I began to teach pistolcraft, first at Big Bear, then at Gunsite, I emphasized variety, realism, and the Weaver Stance. I thought that I covered the subject, but I ran into a theoretical obstacle. I discovered that there is a basic divergence in purpose between the amateur and the professional. The amateur seeks excellence. The professional seeks adequacy. The hobbyist shooter wants to be better. The cop wants to be good enough.

When we remember that real gunfights take place at very short range - across the room - and that there is usually plenty of time, we see that the brilliant pistolcraft evident in competition is perhaps irrelevant. Far more important is attitude, the state of mind necessary to do what is needful when the time arises. The best shot in the world is helpless if he doesn't want to shoot. And thereby hangs the tale. We can teach you how to shoot. We cannot teach you how to react to a lethal emergency. Recently a young woman was ordered to stand by while an assailant proceeded to bind her escort, presumably preliminary to rape. She then pulled a pistol out of the attacker's belt and killed him with it. We don't know if she was a good shot. It doesn't matter.

In reviewing the ample array of new service pistols, we note that very few seem concerned with the configuration of the handle. The 1911 is too big for many hands. At school I have discovered it is too big for 50 percent of women's hands and about 25 percent of men's. This means that the purpose in improving the configuration of the 1911 should be reduction in the size of the butt, not in increasing it. A double-column magazine serves little purpose in a street fight, but a slim-line version of the pistol is much easier for a good many people to manage. It took me a while to discover this because I have a reasonably large hand and can manage the 1911 as it stands without trouble: but then I am right-handed, so the absence of a left-handed Steyr Scout does not trouble me until I think in the big picture. We are at work on the problem of slim-lining the 1911, and we will keep you posted on this development.

In the recent rifle class we ran across something that was rather shocking. It seems the dealer in question simply ordered a Remington 700, bolted a telescope topside and sold it without any sort of tuning or check up. The weapon rattled like a Toonerville trolley when shaken and gave the class to understand that the Remington 700 is a dog. This, of course, is not true, but you really should tighten the screws before you take it out on the range. Apparently, nobody told the customer that, and Master John Gannaway, who was in charge of that end of the line, coined the condemnation "AAR" (awful in all respects).

Family member Michel Röthlisberger of Switzerland suggests the following propaganda pronouncement: "Shooters do not commit crimes." That, of course, is obviously true, but think how it would shake up all those poor underprivileged types in Great Britain or New Jersey. The concept is beyond their comprehension, or so it would appear.

In the recent class we encountered a very peculiar item - a "municipal Scout." I noticed the piece on assembly and asked the presumed owner why he happened to get the item in black. His answer was, his department bought three of them and ordered them all in black for departmental purposes. A departmental Scout! Is that what we are doing with the city tax money? It is not easy to explain why a policeman needs a rifle of any kind, but it can be done. Why he needs an expensive rifle - a radical improvement - is somewhat harder. I did not ask, but I suspect that the squad cars in this friend's town are all Porsches.

"Better a dinosaur than a cockroach."

The Guru

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