Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 8, No. 7           July, 2000

The Big Bang

We were unable to get this issue to you in time for the Uproarious Fourth, but we trust you all celebrated the occasion appropriately with martial music, gunfire and patriotic exclamations. Here at Gunsite we featured barbecued buffalo, beans and beer, and toasted our friends from far and near. The republic has fallen upon evil days, but this must not discourage us. To the contrary, we must fire up our political awareness and set to work to re-institute the virtues of self-control, personal responsibility, chastity, decency, and good manners. The task is difficult, but not impossible.

Several people have remarked that the only place that one can find instruction in how to use a shooting sling is in "The Art of the Rifle." This is probably true, but the art of the rifle is becoming a lost art, and that is the reason I wrote the book.

Here at Gunsite we are making every effort to spruce up the place for the new era. Our Masters' program has started out well, and in the last class we achieved a triumph in the person of a young man of 18 who had never touched a firearm before coming to school, but who aced the class for an E ticket. This makes the trouble worth the trouble.

Family member Tom Flowers of Waco relays the report that somebody managed to drive a Bradley fighting vehicle off a cliff at Fort Hood. This is very difficult, there being no cliffs in the vicinity, but journalists keep writing about things they do not understand, which annoys us gunmen more than somewhat. It would be nice if writers of both commentary and fiction would lay off topics in which they have no competence, but that appears to be a futile hope.

For the man who has everything, we now report the offering in Germany of a museum piece version of the double 700 Nitro. This gorgeous item sells for 120,000 DM (plus or minus $80,000) and weighs eighteen and a half pounds. Important components are gold plated "to avoid corrosion." I guess this is evidence that in truth "the economy is on a roll."

Just last Sunday, the second of June, a new guided missile destroyer was commissioned and christened the USS McCampbell. This is a piece of good news, for at a time when we often name our ships after politicians rather than heros, Captain David McCampbell was a true example of the heroic breed.

Naturally we shooters prefer to extol heros who are conspicuously good marksmen - York, Woodfill, Hanneken for example. Captain David McCampbell is thus particularly gratifying to us, being probably the best shot in the naval air arm. He won his 34 victories by a lethal combination of outstanding flying skill and superb marksmanship. He won all sorts of prizes for aerial gunnery prior to World War II, and then put his skill to use as he rose in rank. It was as a four-stripe naval captain (the equivalent of a full colonel in the ground services) that he earned the Medal of Honor by shooting down nine Japanese aircraft on one mission. This was not a fluke, since on another occasion he splashed seven between takeoff and landing. Historian and family member Barrett Tillman computes that Captain McCampbell averaged out to one four-second burst per kill. Despite a fairly riotous personal life, he lived to the ripe old age of 86 and died just four years ago. I have frequently posed the question about how to define a really good shot. David McCampbell was a really good shot.

The psychological castration of little boys proceeds apace in the education establishment. We hope and believe that school cannot replace the home as a source of values, but this is true only of the better homes. Perhaps that is just as well.

We now learn that a series of courts has fully absolved Lon Horiuchi of the murder of Vicki Weaver, on the grounds that he was "only doing his job." A number of German war criminals offered that argument at the Nürnberg trials, but they were hanged anyway.

So now Horiuchi walks free under no legal cloud. One wonders how carefully he watches his back.

Gunsite is now featuring the Number 80 Party Pistol, which is a short-coupled 1911 mildly embellished and - get this - slim-lined. As far as I know, this is the only 1911 clone which is slim-lined out of the box. About time! Only 80 of these instruments will be produced, in cognizance of my 80th birthday just past. The piece is expensive, but so is a Porsche. You get what you pay for.

There seems to be a certain amount of debate about the velocities obtained with the 376 Steyr cartridge in factory form. Steve Hornady claims 2600 feet for the 270-grain bullet, but he does not specify barrel length. The barrel of the Dragoon is short, at nineteen inches, and we suspect that Steve ran his tests with something longer than that. Hearing rumors about under-loading, John Gannaway just re-tested the factory load with his carefully calibrated chronograph and came up with an average of 2581.

The people at Steyr continue to push the cartridge in the conventional SBS rifle, which puzzles me. The virtue of the 376 Steyr cartridge is that it can be had in Scout configuration. Anyone who wants a conventional rifle of this category may go to the 375 Holland & Holland, which is not only slightly more powerful than the 376 Steyr, but also widely available. Ammunition for that 376 is going to continue to be hard to get for some time.

For reasons unknown to me Steve has issued a 225-grain load for the 376 cartridge which is loaded back down to a tested 2430f/s. This is 30-06 performance (220 at 2400). I vastly admire the 30-06, but I can see no reason to construct an entirely new and potentially more powerful round and then load it back down again. Clearly there are things about marketing that I do not understand.

It has been suggested that a significant difference between Americans and other people is that Americans admire success, whereas others envy it. That, of course, is an outrageously broad generalization, but it does give one to think.

Over the portals of our service academies there are inscribed the three words: Duty, Honor, Country. Those words used to be more easily defined than today when we tend to elect conspicuously dishonorable people to the highest offices in the land.

I thought that we had reached the low point in our history of dishonor at Ruby Ridge, but then came Waco, and now we have decided to throw the Gonzales boy back over the wall which his mother died trying to climb. There are still plenty of honorable Americans, but the federal government is making it difficult for them to pay it proper respect.

We are now planning the Safari Prep course for next year, scheduled for late March in order to give prospects a chance to catch a rifle class before coming to Safari Prep. As now planned, people in this course should know how to shoot a rifle before they come, and the best way to do this is to catch a rifle class here at Gunsite. (Just saying that you already know how to shoot a rifle is not convincing.)

There will be shooting in this class, and it will be conducted with the rifle the student intends to take to Africa. We plan three days, split about evenly between class work and field work. I have long looked forward to this effort, the more so because of the tales I get from my African friends about the astonishing naïveté and incompetence of American hunters who wander afield with the notion that money is enough and competence is insignificant. You can do an African hunt at about any level you choose, varying from sleep-on-the-ground-and-wash-your-own-socks to Indian Maharaja-style, but the important thing is to get a proper amount of pleasure for your money. You will not get this if you enter the scene blind. We can help. Please let us know here at Gunsite as soon as possible so that we can plan for the size of the class.

"When death comes, as it must, the worthy man should be able to say that he left no drop in the bowl."

Alcibiades (pp)

I continue to read my share of history, both fictional and presumably factual, and I discover a sad decline in literary skill amongst current writers. Too often they not only get their facts wrong, but they raddle the language. For example, whoever invented the term "gunned down" should flunk the course, as should those who maintain that shell fragments constitute "shrapnel." Additionally, a man who has never been in a fight should not write about it, since he has no firsthand knowledge of how a man reacts to violence. Unfortunately this decline is equally true, or even more so, in film than in print.

Do we know for a fact that the Smith & Wesson sell-out was British-inspired? I have no spies on station in this league.

As the Brits continue their downward trend towards full realization of Orwell's "1984", they are now recommending that people overhearing "racist" remarks in pubs or restaurants make haste to report this transgression to the cops. Britain was once the "Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free," but that was in the 19th century.

As you doubtless know it is now assumed that the "Ancients" (Neanderthals) were displaced and/or exterminated by the "Moderns" (Cro-Magnons). Since the Ancients were stronger than the Moderns and had an equivalent or slightly larger brain capacity, the Moderns must have had an asset which gave them victory. In my opinion, this asset was missilery. As far as we can tell the Moderns had bows and javelins, where the Ancients did not, and that may have done it.

Incidentally, the two races lived side-by-side in Europe for quite some time, and this probably gave rise to the warning that "the goblins will get you if you don't watch out." Ancient middens have been found containing the bones of immature Moderns. Better stay out of the deep woods, kids.

Had you noticed that the new headman in Russia is pushing for a twelve percent flat tax? We have always been rather plus on the idea of a flat tax, and look where it turned up!

The pig (Sus scrofa) seems to be taking over as the world's prime game animal, at least the most popular and accessible. Wild pigs are all over the place, and they can turn into a very considerable nuisance if their numbers are not controlled. So pig hunting may well be the wave of the future, which is okay because pigs are plentiful, active, intelligent, tasty - and can be dangerous.

Prerequisite reading for the Safari Prep course stands as follows: "Meditations on Hunting" by José Ortega y Gasset, "The Perfect Shot" by Kevin Robertson, "The Art of the Rifle" by Jeff Cooper. These books are now available from the Gunsite Trading Post.

In enlarging the facility here we have named three new ranges after Alvin York, Sam Woodfill, and Herman Hanneken. We did not use Hathcock because his name has already appeared on half-a-dozen other installations.

In recent testing John Gannaway and a partner discovered that their 376 Dragoon printed to exactly the same place on paper regardless of how it was held, and it shot to the same point for both shooters. This is pretty unusual. It may be the result of mounting the sight on that extended receiver, which does not touch the barrel. However, whatever causes it, it works.

Feinstein, Lautenberg and Waxman - there is a choice crew - have now decided that "the 50 BMG cartridge presents a serious and substantial threat to national security." Er, howzat? Sometimes our adversaries are so silly that we forget how dangerous they are.

Leopards. Shortly before his death I was very pleased to learn that the late, great Finn Aagaard and I had the same view on the subject of leopard hunting. That is, the leopard is just too beautiful to shoot. Finn told me, "I have never pressed trigger on a leopard, and I never intend to." That does not mean that either of us sought to restrict or eliminate leopard hunting. Leopards are pretty fierce people and are quite partial to eating domestic pets and children. In some places they lean towards the dismal practice of snatching infants out of the mother's arms, and when they get into a goat pen they usually kill all the goats, over and above what they can eat. No, they are not nice people, but neither are they endangered. They blend well into civilization, both in India and Africa, under conditions where lions and tigers perish, but I do not want to shoot one. Let George do it!

A recent paper we saw discussed some training information from Alcatraz, and we discovered that the guards on that island were carrying their 1911s in Condition One long before that system was accepted by law enforcement in general. Of course, it is not now absolutely accepted, but we are getting there at last.

In a previous issue we reported how that girl from Kileen, Texas, laid into Bill Clinton in a television confrontation. What we did not realize was that Susan Howard, the charming chairman of the NRA Public Affairs Committee, was swinging the hatchet with her usual efficiency on that same occasion. It is easy to make Bill Clinton look silly in debate, but Susan does it with such style that it hardly hurts. (Of course, it is impossible to embarrass Clinton anyway, since he is without shame.)

Frankie Lou Nicholson, "our man in Nebraska," tells of a turkey hunter who used his turkey call so expertly that he called up a bobcat. The beasty was practically in spitting distance before he discovered the error in his target identification system. He was dreadfully surprised, but no harm was done. Cat, hunter and turkey all survived to wait for next season.

Possibly a really good product does not need to advertise. I do not recall ever seeing an ad for a Ferrari. However, as a great admirer of this Steyr Scout, I do not think it has been drawn adequately to the attention of the shooters. Part of the problem is that you have to shoot it on a series of extensive field courses to realize just how much better it is than anything else available. Most critics base their criticism on initial impression and possibly on the size of bench groups. Consider that the very superior Remington 600s and 660s were largely rejected because their bolt handle swept forward rather than rearward. This was an advanced idea and based upon the notion that the bolt handle should be quickly available to the trigger finger. The idea was right, but the result was funny looking in many people's eyes. It does not seem to us that looks have anything to do with riflery.

This proliferation of gutter language is not only bad taste, but also the confession of an inadequate vocabulary. It is coarse in a man, but any woman who uses it automatically places herself in Category 3.

Schumer maintains that a Hillary victory in New York will destroy the National Rifle Association. I fail to see any connection here, but then Schumer has never been noted for rational thought.

"Wisdom is knowing what to do next. Skill is knowing how to do it. Virtue is doing it."

David Starr Jordan

Speaking of language, where did this first-name business come from? In my own case I have an automatic termination system, since people who know me well enough to use my first name always use Jeff, whereas those who do not, address me as John. I like to respond to such people with, "My name is not John, it is Sir," but I rarely do that.

As you know, Pygmalion was a sculptor in Greek mythology who created a marble effigy of a woman so beautiful that he fell in love with the cold stone. Aphrodite took pity on him and brought the statue to life. She was named Galatea. That theme has reappeared often in world literature, and was the basis for the movie "My Fair Lady" in which Audrey Hepburn did the transformation, not from stone to flesh but from guttersnipe to lady.

Now that I have in my possession Steyr Scout number 08124, it spends much of the time beside me at the breakfast table. The Countess has referred to it as my "Linus blanket," but I call it Galatea.

In the African bush your outfitter may be expected to pack antivenom inoculations suitable for most snake-bite, but we recently heard of a PH who claimed that he carried no treatment for the bite of the Gaboon viper. His position was that if you get bitten by one of those, there will be no need for first aid.

Piracy has been prospering continuously in the waters of Southeast Asia, but now it has reappeared in the Caribbean on the coasts of Honduras and Nicaragua. It would seem that piracy, like most lethal transgression, is fairly easy to counter if you are equipped and prepared. The trouble is that most governments forbid you to be either equipped or prepared.

Our latest bear fatality comes from the Great Smokies. Remember the basic Gunsite bear rules:
  1. Be alert.
  2. Don't regard bears as cute, they are distinctly dangerous.
  3. Don't enter bear country without being properly armed and adept.
  4. Do not sleep out on bear runways.
  5. Be alert.

If one hunts a lot he may wind up with too many trophies, many of which are too big for his house. My suggestion at this point is that a fine set of hippo ivory taken on dry land is probably the premier trophy now available.

Note: Elián's father was divorced from his mother in May of '91. Elián was born in December of '93. So much for family values.

We reflect, in this period of racist agitation, that slavery has been the normal condition of mankind for most of history. What do you do with the losers? You either kill them outright or put them to work. If you pen them up you have to feed them, and you have enough trouble feeding yourself. Despite this a large number of semi-literate types in the States seem to think of slavery as a unique invention of the southern states of the US over a period of a few generations.

We learn that in Ulm, which is in Germany, an apartment dweller suffered a negligent discharge in his living room and the bullet went through the overhead to total a burglar in action on the floor above. This story may be too good to be true, but that is what it said in the paper. I guess you can say he really hit the ceiling.

In perusing the excellent new book "Blackhawk Down" about the war in Somalia, we are depressed at the level of military marksmanship that seems to be normal today. No one fires a round anymore, he fires a burst. Spray-and-pray is the rule of the day.

One Richard Cohen, writing in the Washington Post, declaims that Charlton Heston is "nuts. What a curious statement! I suppose those anti-libertarians, if that's the word, believe that anyone who disagrees with them is "nuts." Opinions are free but hysterical accusations really ought to provide examples. We might simply say that anyone who thinks Charlton Heston is nuts is nuts, but that is not a rational argument. If this Cohen does not value liberty he should admit it rather than calling people senseless names.

"If you're going to blow up, wait until after you have straightened the situation out."

Frankie Lou Nicholson

With all this current discussion about capital punishment, we must wonder again just what is wrong with hanging. This ancient and very standard method of execution is simple, un-complicated, cheap, and comparatively humane - if killing a prisoner is a subject for that adjective. I know it does not hurt, because I have been chocked out personally and I know what it feels like.

The Brazilian company Taurus now announces its "Raging Hornet" revolver, a large, eight-shot piece carrying the 22 Hornet cartridge. When hornets rage they do so in swarms, so I suppose the company feels that it can sell swarms of these pistols. I see no suitable niche for the item. It might do well on some kinds of small game, probably up to forty pounds in weight, but it is not adequate for feral domestic goats, as I have personally discovered on Catalina Island. As a trail gun, the Raging Hornet might serve to put various minor beasties in the pot, but is far to big and heavy to be convenient for a back packer or a trout fisherman. But there are always people who will want something simply because somebody else has one.

We are informed that shooting sticks are becoming practically universal in Africa. This may be because of the conspicuously inept marksmanship manifest by so many of the hunters heading out for "safaris." I am not taken with the idea, since it implies that the hunter will always have a slave following him around carrying the equipment. But if this system really does insure more systematic kills, I can hardly decry it. Daughter Lindy used shooting sticks on a rather distant tsessebe up in the Delta two years ago when she was confronted with chest-high grass. Okay, but I am not going to use shooting sticks myself.

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