Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 9, No. 11          October, 2001

Hunting Season

Go! Stalk the red deer o'er the heather.
Ride! Follow the fox if you can.
But for pleasure and profit together
Allow me the hunting of man.


So now we have the great hunt of the 21st century. Possibly the great hunt of all time. We know this man's name and we know what he looks like (which is more than Hanneken had going for him). We know approximately where he is, but we are not really sure of that. What is clear is that you cannot hunt down a man by dropping things on him from above. You have to confront him in person and cut him down. We cannot but wonder who will take the prize.

And prize it is - because this fellow, whom we shall refer to henceforth as OBL, is said to stand 6' 5" and could properly be referred to as a "trophy rag-head." Any Arab this long should certainly go in the record book. It would make a better story if he were taken by a civilian, rather than a soldier, but we will accept whatever we can get. Let us now propose an "Osama bin Lottery" with the grand prize going to the one who predicts the exact date of the man's demise - secondary prizes going to prediction of the month and the week.

The pundits insist that we should not allow this major piece of history to lead us into a holy war, but somehow I do not think we can prevent that. The WTC atrocity had a purpose, and that purpose was religious, whether we like it or not. We did not start it. They did. And we cannot sensibly propose that they did not know what they were doing. OBL proclaims that the United States of America must be destroyed. I do not see how we can go along with that, so let slip the dogs of war! We did not choose this, but now we have no other choice.

It has always seemed obvious to us that the pilots of commercial airlines should not only be armed, but skilled. As we have often insisted, a man is not armed because he carries a weapon, but only if he has the skill to use it. This means that if we suddenly need several thousand moderately-skilled defensive pistoleros to man our airplanes, we must come up with some way of assuring them of the skill to use their sidearms. This is not something one can do by simply pushing a button. Weaponcraft is a medium-level art, of about the same difficulty as, say, playing the guitar. A guitarist must learn how to play his instrument, and he can achieve that either by being taught or on his own. Self-training, either with the guitar or with the handgun, is possible, but unnecessarily difficult. If we are going to produce several thousand, reasonably well-trained pilots in a hurry, we face a large administrative problem. To begin with, "Who will teach the teachers?" If the administration is serious about this, it is high time to address the problem and to address it seriously.

I must apologize profoundly for the delay in the offering of this communication, but the war caught me somewhat aslant, and the worldwide conflagration preempts our concerns with mechanics, dexterity, product development, and "business as usual." This war that has been forced upon us will probably not be heavily influenced by smallarms or smallarms techniques; however, every little bit helps, and the more we know about fighting the better off we will be.

We are off now to the annual TR Memorial and Gunsite Reunion. In preparation for this, we should all be reading and re-reading the published works of Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., whose gifts for communication possibly exceed the other outstanding facets of his personality. He was not only a communicator, but an appreciator, and such people, rare as they are, are assets to civilization. TR did everything, noticed everything, and then wrote it down so skillfully that he makes us partners in his splendidly adventurous life. He was alive when Hanneken got Peralte. I doubt if they ever met, but they certainly would have enjoyed each other's personalities. Sadly enough, we have no one today skillful enough to go in and fetch out OBL, but the story is not yet over. We breathlessly anticipate its conclusion.

At school here we notice certain minor functioning problems in the "miniature 45s." The Commander action works very well as a rule, but when you cut the piece down to cell phone size the various reciprocal operations do not always complement themselves satisfactorily.

We note that the distinguished Dave Tubb has released a book entitled "The One Mile Shot." If anyone knows about shooting at distances like that, Dave should be the man, but what we need to know about a one mile shot is somewhat problematical. The 30-06, and others cartridges of its class, will certainly kill at a range of one mile, but it is difficult to hypothesize a scenario in which that sort of thing might be an objective. Remember the rule of the rifleman, "If you can get closer, get closer. If you can get steadier, get steadier." Of course if all you are trying to do is prove that you can do something, you are involved in a different game.

"When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up your remains,
Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains,
And go to your God like a soldier."


We are amused by the continuous use of the adjective "innocent" when applied to "civilians." It is not clear to me that civilians are necessarily innocent. The term innocent signifies "not guilty," and by extension it might be proposed that putting on a uniform automatically makes the wearer guilty of something or other, such as fighting for his country. It seems that the term "non-combatant" is preferable to "innocent civilian."

It has been suggested that you can really upset a Moslem if you undertake to sew up his dead body in a skin of a pig. If we are going to play this game, we should explore all possibilities.

It may be just as well that this new war will probably not be affected much by the individual use of smallarms, since the mountaineers of Turkestan inherit a cultural tradition of marksmanship. These mountaineers tend to be shooters, and it is wise to avoid fighting against shooters, as the British discovered a hundred years ago in Africa. It would be an exaggeration to say that Afghans are shooters just because they are Afghans, but an Afghan is more likely to be a good shot than most people.

I find it pretty curious to reflect that it is a common belief in Washington that if we have a regulation forbidding clandestine assassination, we will thereby obviate clandestine assassination. I have a modest degree of acquaintance with the spook business and I can say that if an operation is clandestine, it is secret. You cannot very well forbid something that is secret from happening, since its very happening is secret. If our Chief Executive Officer wants somebody dead, and that person dies, there is obviously no place for anyone to establish responsibility. If we claim that it is forbidden for us to do such things, what effect does that have upon the fact that such things are already done? It might be said that in principle there can be no accountability for a secret act. One is put in mind of the Shakespearean conflict between Henry II and Thomas a'Beckett. In a rage the King cries out, "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest!" Then when Beckett is killed the King can whimper, "Oh, but I didn't mean that!" When you get to working with omerta you can sometimes lose track of events. It is difficult to kill somebody important on the quiet because his death acquires too much attention. On the other hand, pedestrian spooks, if we may call them that, drop out of sight quite frequently and not much is made of it. At this time, of course, while OBL is very important, his death will not give rise to any sort of hand-wringing.

But, of course, we should drop any talk of "bringing him to justice." He has already been brought to justice, in his own eyes, and if he is as good a Muslim as he claims to be, death has no terrors for him. As I see it, we do not seek "justice," partly because we cannot define it, but we do seek retribution, and that we shall achieve.

So let us be judgmental, for Heaven's sake! That equipment up between your ears, which was provided you by God, is there to make judgments. There are such things as good and evil. Think about them. There are such things as right and wrong. Think about them. If you do not make judgments about such matters, you are a moral blob, fit only for jobs which are better handled by robots.

During the confusion of the past few weeks, we caught one sequence on the tube of a Gurkha outfit exercising with kukris. This struck a spark. Perhaps we should organize a special Gurkha brigade with the mission of doing in OBL. The Gurkhas love to fight and they prize cold steel. They are mountaineers and not only inured to high altitude hardship, but superbly disciplined. I think we would all feel better if we knew that this pest control brigade had been set up and was now operational. Let us set up an ornamental presentation kukri to be handed to the man who does the job.

It is rather amusing in a way to note comments in the media to the effect that the purchase of personal firearms has gone up sharply since the day of The Attack. Out here in the American West we do not rush out and buy a gun when we perceive a threat. We do not need to - we've got our guns.

At this stage in the development of smallarms, we have almost abandoned the idea of metallic sights for rifles. That is to say, the gun trade has gone that route, but I personally do not follow it. I have long pointed out that I do not think a telescopic sight is the proper arrangement for dangerous game. No matter how dangerous a wild beast may be, he cannot hurt you unless he can touch you, which means that if you have to shoot to save your life, you will be working at very short range. A big, dangerous animal at short range does not present much of a sighting problem, but if you are going to set your rifle up for this situation, you should try to do it right. Specifically I think the proper iron sight for dangerous game is a ghost-ring, which is an aperture sight with a large diameter aperture and a thin rim.

Most people who think about this have arrived at the same conclusions, but just what sort of front sight is best is not so obvious. Personally I do not fancy a round bead, despite the verdict of years. A bead is quick enough, but its curved top surface is imprecise by comparison with a square post. It may be claimed that precision is not very important when shooting defensively at short range, but I do not think that means we should ignore the subject.

Traditionally, that exposed front sight out at the end of the rifle is fragile. If the shooter is not careful, he can bang it on things. Thus it is commonly protected by either ears or a hood. Those ears were originally vertical on the great M1 rifle, but some organizations reported that it was easy for a recruit to become excited and use one of the ears rather than the front sight when shooting. Thus those ears were bent outward, and this is one reasonably successful solution to the problem. Ears of any kind, however, are mud grabbers, and while one should certainly keep his rifle's muzzle out of the mud, circumstances sometimes get out of hand. Thus many military front sights are hooded by a metal shroud which passes clear over the top. This works fairly well, but it is still subject to bending and the acquisition of trash.

After many long years of study I have come up with what I think is the best solution to this matter. I like a broad, heavy, black ramp with a narrow median strip which projects about an 1/8" above the ramp and is by choice filled with flash orange pigment. The shoulders of the base ramp offer quite good protection against bumps and jars. The square inner post offers good vertical precision and the center "flash strip" offers practically instantaneous pick up. There are no ears and no hood to pick up trash. When combined with a proper rear ghost-ring, this is the best answer for "up close and personal" situations. Unfortunately it is not available for sale over-the-counter. If you want it you will have to do it yourself.

I do not own any of these terms that I have injected into shooting jargon, but sometimes I wish that I did. Take this matter of "scout." The term is meaningful to me, but not to enough people. Marketers tend to slap terms onto things, for obvious reasons, but there is nobody in authority to assure that they will use terms as originally intended. Today the only true Scout rifles are customized instruments built up here at Gunsite or the Steyr Scouts made at the factory in Austria. I have various times defined the Scout, including all of its necessary attributes, but nobody is legally bound to take my word for this. So I see a good deal of junk floating around under false pretenses. I suppose there is no harm in that, but in truth I wish it would go away.

I have been reading further into the history of the great safari days of British East Africa between the wars, and I am further astonished at the shattering ineptitude in rifle marksmanship displayed, not only by the clients, but equally by the guides and outfitters. At one time I was much impressed by the demonstrated marksmanship of people like John Hunter and W.D.M. Bell, but I have come to the conclusion at long last that while these people were very good, they were measured against very low standards. To begin with, really high quality marksmanship was never required in the African bush. Ranges were short and targets were large, but even so the amount of missing reported was quite shocking. I am not as surprised now as I once was. Shooting is a practical art, and as such, it is facilitated by systematic and purposeful educations and training. Now, who is going to provide that? The military establishments of the world have tried, but usually without much success. The private citizen can train himself, but this calls for dedication and enthusiasm that is not common. Why should the African sport hunter be any good with his rifle? How and where would he learn the art? Those individuals who acquired reputations as superior rifle shots did not have to do awfully well to impress people who were, in the main, very poor rifle shots. The man who can hit a tea cup without fail at 40 yards is a one-shot thunderbolt on dangerous game, providing he can hang onto his nerves.

Thus today I have trained a double handful of field riflemen who have gone to Africa and aced the show - to the intense satisfaction of the professionals who took them into the bush and showed them the game. This is gratifying but, upon reflection, it should not be surprising. Here at the school we have evolved several standard evaluation drills such as Rifle 10, the Rifle Bounce and the Golden Eye. A shooter who does well on any of those, or even better, on all three of them, is an absolutely deadly field shot. He may not win at Camp Perry (though he probably may do pretty well), but as either a hunter or a sniper he will astonish the unenlightened.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the curse of our age is cowardice. If you are afraid, you have already lost. There are those in position of authority who seem to think that a whole bus-load of aircraft passengers can be overawed into submission by the mere appearance of a plastic table knife. I find this hard to believe, but the very people who sing about "The Home of the Brave" seem to think that bravery is no longer an attribute of an American citizen. This is not the case, and we have any number of incidents to prove it. But there are those who feel that the fact that "somebody might get hurt" is enough to destroy the human spirit. This is not true. When offered violence, fight back! If some goon threatens you with force, smack him - hard. It is the very last thing he expects, and you will win.

This talk about "reparations" for slavery is pretty quaint when you think about it, unless you are disconnected from history. Slavery has always been a normal aspect of civilization. Since the beginning of recorded history, and probably before, human beings have enslaved one another and nobody thought much about that until quite recent times.

What do you do with the losers? You can either kill them on the spot or put them to work. Without the institution of slavery, civilization would never have been achieved, for no one could ever have done anything intellectual if he had to spend all his time hewing and digging and fighting. The Egyptians could not have developed geometry without slaves. The Phoenicians could not have conquered the waters without slaves. The Greeks could not have explored philosophy without slaves. The Romans could not have invented law without slaves. This is not, of course, to say that slavery is a good thing, but only that it is not unusual nor a particular sin of a particular people at a particular time. Those who speak of "reparations" for slavery betray a state of mind which might have been universal if it had not been for slavery. I find it odd that nobody has brought that up in these dim-witted discussions we hear about.

I guess we will never know what happened in the cabin of United Flight 93 before it went down southeast of Pittsburgh, but we do know that real men are not an extinct species. Let us honor four true heroes - Jeremy Glick, Todd Beamer, Tom Burnett and Mark Bingham - who showed us how to face up to peril. They died, and in doing so they saved the lives of hundreds of others.
"Death comes with a crawl
Or comes with a pounce,
And whether he's slow or spry,
It's not the fact that you're dead that counts,
But only - How did you die?"

Edmund Vance Cooke
As Payton Miller, Executive Editor of Guns & Ammo, put it, "There were too many cell phones on that airplane and not enough pistols."

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