Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 8, No. 5           May, 2000

Hooray For May!

So, by the grace of God and a great deal of luck, I made it to my 80th birthday. Certainly I never thought I'd live to see the day. Whether being 80 years old is a good thing or not remains to be seen. Certainly the world is full of marvelous things, and if human civilization is not one of them, there is truly a great deal left over to enjoy. Our African trip was, as always, a wonderful adventure from which we learned many things. We had no less than seven hunters in camp, which is too many, but everybody scored and the novices especially were treated to the full blast of the bushveldt. Everybody scored and everybody shot well. It is a great satisfaction for me as a teacher to see my students deliver under pressure, and I must reflect that the life of a professional hunter is a hard one - almost impossibly hard if his client cannot cope. I have never brought along clients who could not cope, and that is my good deed for the era.

We had two southpaws along who were thus somewhat inhibited from the use of the Scout rifle. And they were impressed further by the short-sightedness of a manufacturer who does not understand that about one shooter in six is left-handed. To abandon 17 percent of the market does not seem a good business practice to me.

The "Dragoon" in caliber 376 Steyr was much admired, but not put to much of a test in my hands, since I encountered nothing heavy enough to show it off. The 376 is not a deer gun, and it shows off best against targets in the thousand pound range. It will certainly kill a deer, or an impala, or a man, but it is unnecessarily muscular for that task, and I suppose it is going to be hard to feed for some time to come. The only available factory ammunition at this time is Steve Hornady's, and while it will certainly do the job, I can think of several ways in which its bullet performance might be improved. Among other things, there is no "solid" available for it now, and the solid bullet does have its usefulness. We can, of course, use RNFJ 300s now available for the 375 Holland Magnum, but a properly designed 270-grain JTC bullet would be an improvement if the cartridge is to be used on buffalo.

We have learned by diffuse channels that the people at Leupold are investigating the possible recoil problem inherent in the Dragoon, which they discover recoils half as much again as the 308, in weapons of similar weight. This is a worthy enterprise and we wish it all success.

We ran across a charming salutation amongst the NGuni on our last adventure. "May all your wives grow fat." Try that the next time you are introduced to the CEO.

At Columbia, South Carolina, we had the pleasure of shooting the "mini-gun," the 308 power-driven Gatling used by the "Magic Dragon" in Vietnam. It cyclic rate is quite unbelievable, something like six thousand rounds per minute, and when it is fired you cannot tell the reports apart with your ear. There is just this bright orange spindle out in front of the barrels and a great ripping noise like tearing a sheet. This is great fun, as long as someone else is providing the ammunition.

Our current vice president and contender for the presidency this year has observed for the record that "a zebra cannot change its spots." In Africa, we checked this out and found the statement to be quite true. It takes a far left politician, however, to make a public statement like that and not be ashamed of it at all.

Now having been elected for yet another term as a director of the National Rifle Association, I would like to thank those members of the Association who voted for me for their support. As just one member of a very large board of directors, I have very little personal influence on the policies of the Association, but I do promise to keep up the effort, successful or not. We on the Board are continually beset by complaints from the membership, saying that, a) we are too hard-nosed, and b) we are not hard-nosed enough. The NRA may not be perfect, but it is certainly the best game in town in terms of clout, and if I have anything to say about it, we will increase the clout to whatever extent we may. At around 3-plus million members our influence is great, but not great enough. The NRA should have 10 million members, since there are 50 million gun owners in this country and they would all be disarmed but for the efforts of the Association. These people, sad to say, are content to let others do their work for them. Since it is political liberty, over and above gun ownership, that we are fighting for, I disdain pleas to "compromise." The remarkable people who gave us this country were quite ready to sacrifice their lives for the principle of political liberty. God grant that we may be worthy of them!

The birthday occasion in South Africa was orchestrated by Danie and Karen van Graan with great ceremony, including an enormous cake with eighty candles. Engonyameni shirts, supplied by Rich Wyatt, were worn by the hunters, and there was singing, bugle-blowing, declamations, and nyama for the troops. Now that I have heard "Amazing Grace" sung at my own funeral, I may not have to die.

We tend to think highly of the Swiss, especially as to their policies toward firearms, but we were much annoyed last month when the Swiss customs officers at the Zurich airport snutch our pistol. It was rather a special pistol, having been presented to me by the Mid-Carolina Rifle Club with suitable engraving. I was to take it to Africa, shoot a warthog or an impala, and return it to the donor that it might be auctioned off. We have passed through Switzerland many times in the past with no difficulty with customs, but somebody seems to have come up with a new rule in the meantime and had not told us about it. I have about a 40-60 chance of seeing that pistol again, but meanwhile I must caution all of the faithful to check out the Swiss regs very carefully immediately before any attempt to cross Swiss boundaries. Our temporary pit stops in Zurich in the past have always been very pleasant, but we must henceforth forego them unless we find, as has been suggested, that the whole thing was a bureaucratic glitch.

I make a determined effort to keep my mind open, especially in matters of weaponcraft. If there is a better way to do something with a firearm, or a better firearm, I wish to know about it, but I must be convinced that the asserted improvement is actually real, and not merely a passing fad. Thus to some people the doctrine developed in past years by practical pistol competition is not quick to change. The move to adopt the isosceles position in place of the Weaver stance is the result of mechanical attempts to reduce recoil at the expense of stopping power. The object of practical pistol skill is not to win trophies, but rather to stop fights. Muzzle brakes and reduced loads are backward steps and not to be regarded as progress. When we see the terms "race gun" and "carry gun" as representing two different instruments, we learn that some people at least have lost sight of the object of the exercise. It is important not to become dogmatic about this. If there is a better way or a better weapon, let's have it. But I have not seen this developing in pistolcraft, at least not recently. Those of us who have studied the matter deeply understood this a good many years ago. We will change when we are shown why we should, but not until then. In riflecraft, on the other hand, we have discovered a couple of new things which seem to be truly worthwhile, one of which is the "fist rest," sometimes referred as the "Hawkins" rest. A good number of my students have taken this technique afield with uniformly excellent results. I suppose there is nothing new under the sun, but illustrations indicate that the fist rest has not been widely used until quite recently. So now we teach it, where we did not as recently as five years ago.

Two of the really lousy ideas we have seen recently are the "tactical" Blaser R93 and the Steyr Scout in 223. We have seen pictures of the former, but only rumors of the later. May it not come to pass!

With all the flying we have been doing recently, we have been treated to perhaps a dozen new movies. The Countess and I used to like movies very much and regarded them as our principle entertainment during our early married years. But those were, in some measure, good movies, which are evidently not being made anymore. It is possible that I am just another old curmudgeon, but it seems to me that a good movie is a very scarce item these days. When we lived in California I knew of a very rich friend who, after he had given up driving Ferraris in competition, took his principle pleasure in sitting up late in his palace in Palm Springs, drinking vodka and watching old movies. I do not know whether the vodka helped, but the old movies were certainly better. Now living as we do in the sticks, it is more difficult for us to "take in a movie" on impulse. So we attempt to read the reviews in the hopes of finding an exceptionally satisfactory entertainment. Our luck has not been good, and now that we see what is being done in this line on these long airplane rides, the situation seems to be degenerating.

One of Danie's Swazi trackers wandered into town sometime ago and observed a party of health faddists working out in a gymnasium. Watching them sweat and strain, he asked Danie just how much they were paid to do that. When Danie told him that rather than being paid, they were paying for the privilege, our friend was appropriately amazed. "With that much effort you could build a house very quickly," was his comment.

We thought that the US federal government had reached a new low at Ruby Ridge. Then came Waco, and now we have the disgusting story of Elián Gonzales. This boy's mother risked her life and, as it turned out, lost it in order to spring herself and her child from the enemy prison. She died, he lived, and now, contrary to the elementary principles of humanity and the will of the majority of those concerned, we threw the kid back over the wall in order to make propaganda for a communist dictator. There is no way that we, as a nation, can ever make amends for that act.

I am pleased to report that "Another Country," which I regard as my best book, is now back in print, and is available at the Gunsite Pro Shop.

When people ask us how are things in South Africa, we are inclined to quote our great, good friend Barry Miller of Durban. "People get the government they deserve, and we got it." When I first went to Africa over 20 years go, the unit of currency was the Rand, which was worth at that time $1.50. Today it is worth 14 cents. Before the revolution South African Airways was an outstanding airline in terms of cabin service. Today it would appear that the new management is taking its pointers from Aeroflot. When you effectively "give the country back to the Indians" you may find that the Indians do not know how to run the store.

The current situation in South Africa is oppressive in some ways, but by no means all. Country touring on the highway offers the best accommodations to be found anywhere in the world. I have not been everywhere in the world, of course, but my experience is not narrow. I can say that the good luxury hotels of rural South Africa are unequaled anywhere else. A really good hotel offers a fireplace in every bedroom. It offers a sitting room adjoining the dining room wherein guests may gather for a complimentary sherry while they place their orders. A really good hotel offers practically instant laundry service, including pressing. (In Spain, by contrast, it is easier and cheaper to buy new underwear.) Needless to say, a really good hotel offers a varied and imaginative cuisine. In South Africa this includes a broad selection of really excellent wines. As a final touch a really good hotel offers a complimentary car wash every morning. Apart from the scenery, the hunting, the history, and the wine, motor touring in South Africa is alone worth the trip.

The anti-hunting mood is unpleasantly manifest by the polypragmatoi throughout the world. We who hunt have no desire to reverse the emotional attitudes of those who do not, but we do wish they would quit telling us how to change our ways. The hunters of the world are the conservationists, without whom there would be no game animals anywhere for the bunny-huggers to hug. We prize the game, and we treat it with more respect than the bambiists do. Man is a carnivorous predator, and hunting, not horse racing, is "the sport of kings." We hunters rarely preach, but we are justified in resenting being preached at by people who do not understand. As our great, good friend Danie Van Graan of Engonyameni puts it, "You can make a wild one tame, but you can't make a tame one wild."

Many years ago we made the mistake of introducing the wrong client to our hunting friends down there. He has returned three times. The PH who told us the story said that the first time this client appeared to be strange. The second time he was unpleasant. The third time he was obnoxious. And the fourth time he was intolerable. Now we hear he intends to come back again, but our PH friend told us that he will under no circumstances hunt with him.

The only "close encounter" on this last expedition involved a ringhals, which is frequently referred to as a "spitting cobra," though it is not actually related to the cobras. Regardless of its relations, it spat upon one of the trackers and got him right in the eye as intended (by the snake, not the tracker). The pain is agonizing, but the venom is not life-threatening unless it enters an open lesion. He showed no residual ill-effects the next day.

To me the high point of the last adventure was the performance of Joshua Robinson, son of Dr. Art Robinson the scientist/philosopher. Joshua has been to school with both pistol and rifle, and when he had a fleeting chance at a handsome bushbuck he decked him with one shot from offhand at 50 yards so quickly that Alf, his professional hunter, said it was the quickest shot he had ever seen. Joshua has done the bit on the flying clays at Whittington and he was using his own personal scout rifle with its angelic trigger.

As a crowning touch, Joshua borrowed Rich Wyatt's Dragoon and killed a running zebra with another snapshot at fifty meters. A zebra is a very tough beast, so this was a nifty case study of the 376 cartridge. Target angle was 090, and penetration was complete - in one side and out the other. This is a very satisfactory new round.

Incidentally, the bushveldt at Engonyameni this year was so lush that most shots were taken from offhand. I preach that when one can get steadier, he should always do so, but when only a brief second is afforded through the underbrush, the snapshot from offhand is often your only choice.

In Africa this time we heard of what was reported to be an unprovoked buffalo attack, though, under the circumstances, that might not be the right word. This buff had wandered into the wrong reservation and an attempt was made to herd him back where he belonged without gunfire. The man who was hit survived by grabbing the bull by the horns, which system has been known to work several times. There is a group in South Africa known as the "Survivors Club." It includes nine people who have been hit by buffalo and survived. Pretty exclusive!

On our way to Africa we were invited by Ed Kelleher, president of the Mid-Carolina Rifle Club, to participate in some local activities which included a pig hunt down in Hampton County, South Carolina. Pig hunting in those parts is generally conducted from tree stands, and cannot be really called hunting when it consists mainly of sitting and waiting - sometimes successfully, sometimes not. In my case, my usual good luck obtained and right there into the clearing below trotted this black pig (or Russian boar, as is the local term). I was packing the Dragoon - unnecessarily, but that is what I had in hand. That pig was killed as suddenly and decisively as anything I have ever shot - dead in its tracks with nary a muscle twitch.

Nobody called on Lindy's tree stand in the morning, but that changed on the afternoon watch and she put her animal away neatly at about a hundred yards with the 308/180 from her Steyr Scout.

On the morning watch from my tree stand I heard a certain amount of shooting hither and yon. In one instance, I heard three evenly spaced shots some 15 seconds apart. Later in the day I asked about that from the gentleman who had done the shooting. "Too far," he said, which called up an interesting picture. I could see him shooting vainly at his beast as the first shot fell short in the dirt. He raised his sights, dropped another one short. And then tried still a third with the weapon elevated at some 30 degrees, only to find it strike at the feet of his pig, which had been standing there all this time. He was shooting a 30-30, which is the weapon of choice in those parts. The most popular version is a lever-action carbine fitted with what might be called a "moonscope," which is fully as long and three times as expensive as the rifle itself. This is popular because much of the shooting is done in very reduced light, either before dawn or after dark. It didn't help, of course, since his target beast was standing out there beyond the range of his weapon.

Some of the good old boys, hunting from the same base, did the job with dogs, which would run the beast to bay, whereupon they charged up and slew him with pistols. This is somewhat more exciting than a tree stand, provided you are in good running condition. Still better would be the use of a spear, though nobody I met there seemed to want to try it. Theodore Roosevelt, among others, insisted that the proper way to hunt a pig is with a spear. I think there is much to be said for that.

Since the revolution six years ago, things have steadily got worse in South Africa, but despite the political and civil degeneration, the Golden Joys are still there, glimmering through the murk of the "post modern" age. Go while there is still time!

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