Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 9, No. 12          November, 2001

Such Goings On!


The 9th Annual Theodore Roosevelt Memorial and Gunsite Reunion just held at Whittington was a very pleasant occasion. The weather was good (which is not guaranteed at this time of year), the deer and the turkeys were plentiful, the shooting was amusing, and the company was predictably congenial. As we approach the 10th event next year, we must plan for suitable recognition of the regulars who have seen fit to attend all ten of these inspiring occasions. The recitations this time around were up to standard, which is very high, but we need a couple more Shakespearean regulars next time and an increase in part singing, which is always essential to gem├╝tlichkeit.

The high point of the event was the display of Shooting Master John Gannaway's presentation shotgun, just arrived from Italy after a 26-month waiting period. This piece was made by Pioti of Gardone, and serves as a definition of "the fine Italian hand." It is a side-by-side double-12 with straight stock and exposed hammers. Its fit and finish are all you might expect of an Italian masterpiece, and one does not ask its price. As with the Victorian yachtsmen, "If you have to know what it costs you can't afford it." It is nice to know that such things exist in our largely drab culture. John actually shoots it, but I find this a bit disrespectful. He announces that he has now become a patron of the arts. Congratulations to all concerned!

The intercontinental culture war continues, with or without our permission. Much as I would like to get my hand in this one, I am at this point "over age in grade," as I was for Vietnam. It is not easy to time one's wars with appropriate finesse.

Family member Roy Berkeley notes that he cannot in conscience regard OBL as a proper trophy, since it is his policy always to eat whatever he shoots, and he is disinclined to dress out the game in this case.

Just what to do with this specimen when we lay hands on him is indeed a difficult question. Killing him out of hand is what most of the troops favor, but there are complications in that. Certainly we do not want to bring him to any sort of criminal trial, which could produce nothing but endless legalisms and end in no form of satisfying retribution. If he just gets found dead in the wreckage that might simplify matters, but fails to clean up the cultural mess. It appears likely that he will live out 2001, but it certainly would be nice if we could put him away in 2002. When I say "we," I must mean the United States, since the other "pillars of Western civilization" are disinclined to take appropriate action. He chooses to regard this as a war between Islam and the United States, as far as I can judge. We prefer it to be a war between Western civilization - specifically Christendom - and an extremist cult rooted in the Middle Ages. Neither estimate is likely to prove definitive, but there it is, and let us get on with it. As we said in World War II, "We're in it, let's win it.!"

In shooting matters we have nothing striking to report. Hunting season progresses and most members of the family are out gathering venison. We did startlingly well at Whittington, when some of the group discovered a juvenile bull elk that had been clobbered by a car after dark. One must respect the rules under those circumstances, but when a lawman was flagged down and introduced to the case, it turned out that he had no firearm available. (That's right. This was a New Mexico cop wandering around after dark without a gun.) Naturally the family members concerned were able to terminate the wounded beast as mercifully as possible on the spot, and it turned out to be remarkably toothsome. I will not say that this was the best venison I ever tasted, but it was certainly right up there near the top of the list. Roadkill Royale is something I never expected to enjoy, but this was certainly a high point of the Reunion.

It has long been presented in the schools and other places that the United States of America is a "middle class nation". We are not sure what that means, but we are pretty sure that it does not involve wealth. Most people in this country have all they need. They can invent wants to suit any occasion; therefore, in order to live the good life, simply pretend that you are not middle class.

The faithful continue to ask us about the design and construction of the Apitir, which was originated here at Gunsite but turned down by the interim management. This is a good device and should be more generally appreciated. It consists of a double running steel target, which is actuated by the shooter and releases two 10-inch steel disks running in opposite directions from the centerline, powered by gravity. The shooter releases the two disks simultaneously with his shooting hand and tries to knock each off its runner before the end of the passage, which is a matter of 10 meters each way. He starts the exercise at the 5 meter line, and each time he cleans the exercise he replaces the steels at the centerline and starts over again at a greater distance. This is a nifty exercise but, of course, it involves only one shooter at a time and is limited in operations involving a great many shooters. It is easy to build, however, and should be set up on a semi-permanent basis at any major shooting facility.

As we read the ads, we notice a proliferation of newly variable cartridge types. We do not need new cartridge types. We have had excellent cartridge types for practically all of the 20th century, and there is nothing that the brand new "4.27 Super Hydra Short" will do that a 30-06 (dated 1906) or a 270 (dated 1924) will not do every bit as well. We do not need new cartridges, but we have needed new weapons in which to shoot them, and that need has only been fitfully met. A striking example of this situation is the venerable 45-70 cartridge, which was an excellent innovation back in the 1880s and is well worth revival today, as we see within the excellent Wild West Co-Pilot.

The other striking example is, of course, the Steyr Scout, which has turned out to be such a good idea that it is commercially too far ahead of its time. Delivered in caliber 308 (7.62 NATO), it will do anything the shooter can do, which fact dismays the marketer who would like the customer to be dissatisfied with whatever cartridge his current rifle shoots. But the production of toys is a function of sales rather than excellence, so the aim of the salesman is to offer something which is different, rather than better. Of course, salescraft suggests that the new product must be better, and it is up to the customer to solve this issue on his own.

At Whittington I raised a discussion of the Steyr Scout in order to find out what sort of faults the piece has, if any. We came up with quite a list.
  1. It is not available in left-hand form. Everybody knows this, but the factory is not going to do anything about it.
  2. While its current sighting system is satisfactory, it is not ideal. The idea of a fixed-power glass with no moving parts, in which the tube is moved rather than the reticle, is just not something that the manufacturers are going to address. This is okay because the SS is fine just as it is, but it is a way in which the weapon could be better.
  3. The piece is too expensive. Well, you get what you pay for.
  4. There has been some breakage of the bipod axle. I believe this has been remedied in new construction, but I cannot be sure of that. This flaw is very rarely encountered, but it should not be there at all. New production uses metal in place of plastic.
  5. There has been some firing-pin breakage reported. I am told that there has been some metallurgical improvement at the factory.
  6. The ejection port should be relieved forward to allow the little finger to check the chamber for any loaded round.
  7. Now that various new calibers are offered, they should be presented in different colored stocks so that the weapons can be identified in the rack. This is a cinch on any composition stock, and one wonders why it is not a universal offering.
  8. The trigger should be factory-tuned. This is quite obvious, but it is also obvious that distributors, salesmen and shooters are frequently simply uninterested in trigger action. The pieces in my possession all have practically perfect triggers, breaking clean without motion at 26 to 28 ounces. This matters to me, but clearly not to everyone.
  9. There have been reports of inadequate striker impulse, resulting in unreliable ignition with some marks of military surplus ammunition. Since I do not have this problem myself, I do not quite know what to do about it, but I state it because it does exist.
  10. In some weapons, with some brands of ammunition, the butt magazine may be ejected on recoil. This results usually when the piece is badly mounted into the shoulder so that the recoil thrust is taken with the toe of the butt rather than the center or the heel. Proper mounting of the weapon will obviate this problem, but the manufacturer or designer is in no position to educate the shooter. I am told at the factory that the butt magazine well has been strengthened to avoid this problem. I hope so.
There are other matters to consider. Several people have told me that they dislike the coarse reticle option and would like something finer. It does not seem to occur to them that all they have to do is order the fine wire if that is what they want. Personally, after using the weapon for five years, I find that the coarse wire option is superior for field work, while the fine option is somewhat better for paper shooting. Any difference is very slight.

Some people have told me that the traditional "butter-knife" bolt handle is harder to operate than the ping-pong ball option. I cannot sympathize. (Strengthen your finger muscles and kill with the first shot.)

It is amazing how picky some customers can get. Naturally they are spending money and they want to be satisfied, but many of these points are too trivial to be taken seriously. The SS is pretty close to perfect as it is. It could be better, but so could a Ferrari - I think. The weapon is selling as fast as it can be produced, and I do not know if there are any plans to speed up production. If you do not already have your Scout, grit your teeth and stand by - Santa Claus is coming to town.

We do not know how many of you noticed it, but Paragraph One of our work "To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth," called "Hold! Enough!," precisely predicts the disastrous evolution of air piracy so viciously demonstrated on 11 September. I read this piece over and was struck with an eerie sense of prophesy. I have been called many things throughout my career as guru, but up til now I have not been called a prophet. Go ahead and read that piece again and tell me what you think. I stand by to be amazed.

"The best remedy for the disposition of a scoundrel is hanging."

Andrew Jackson

Every time we leave the ranch for any period of time, we come back to face a stack of unopened mail, which we would choose to refer to our "Executive Secretary," if we had one. On this last occasion, daughter Lindy went quickly through the list and said those people could use a form letter stating, in only slightly different wordings, "We love you and we want your money." I guess we will now make up a form answer which states approximately "We love you, too, and we don't have any money."

It was the people at Steyr who suggested producing the piece in a stout, medium cartridge specifically for Africa. I was not enthusiastic about this idea, since I consider the African market to be pretty limited, but I find now that the new cartridge - the 376 Steyr - is doing a sensational job on the African game trails. I suggested that the piece should be called the "Dragoon," which is the traditional name for a heavy Scout, but the factory did not buy this idea. My own version has "Steyr Dragoon" stamped artistically on the receiver, but all others are engraved "376 Steyr." Additionally my own weapon, the Dragoon, has a "forest floor" stock finish, as opposed to the standard grey, all of which is to my liking - but apart from details I have discovered now that whatever you call it this new gun has been an enormous success on African game. Our great good friend Danie van Graan of Engonyameni completed one very satisfactory hunt with the piece and maintains that it is THE WEAPON for the bushveldt. I guess we should not be surprised at this, since the 376 cartridge, with the heavier bullet, is just a click or two down from the renowned 375 Holland, and now available in Scout configuration, with all the attendant advantages that implies. Hurray for our side! Incidentally, the Dragoon is the perfect combination for moose and bear, in case you live in Alaska.

The difficulty is one of availability. The weapon is hard to get, and when you get it it is hard to feed. On the other hand, the African hunt is not usually a spur-of-the-moment proposition. You make your plans a year in advance, during which time you can probably gather up your own piece, together with a satisfactory supply of ammunition. Incidentally, the boys at Engonyameni are using the Barnes X bullet of solid bronze and it works just fine on everything. Clearly the standard loading is putting out enough velocity in the 19-inch barrel to open up that point on all animals at all ranges. This is doubtless too good to be true, but that is the way the action report reads.

Our man in Lebanon tells us that everyone is waiting anxiously for the decisive stroke promised by our Commander in Chief. It may take a long time to locate, and then to fix, our target. We quoted to our friend, "Hear, brave comrades - it will come!"

Shooting Master John Gannaway brought an assortment of giant pistols to the reunion, running from 44 Magnum on up, just to see how shooters who had not tried these weapons would find their "shootability." Nobody reported anything unusual. They all shoot well. They all hit hard. And they all kick. If you have need for a big pistol, just trot down to your local, friendly gun store and order one.

John also brought his 50-caliber laudenboomer for the edification of those who had not shot this type of weapon. These guns are great fun, "as long as somebody else is buying the ammunition."

Our great good friend and European Shooting Master Marc Heim attended the reunion and informed us that in his opinion Berlusconi, the new Italian prime minister, is the best thing that has happened to Italy in a long time. I rather suspected this, since Signor Berlusconi is universally excoriated by the European press, which is a good thing in anybody's favor. Incidentally, Marc's four hits on four clays was duplicated, but not exceeded, at the shooting. Anyone who can break five clays out of ten tries with his duty rifle can go to the head of the class.

On the approach of the TR Memorial, one of our shooting compadres asked us if we did not think that TR was the greatest American president. We thought about that for a time and considered it an excellent subject for discussion, as long as we admit that comparisons are invidious. In our opinion, George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt stand out on the list, so we set apart an evening period at Whittington devoted to the relative greatness of TR and Washington.

As Socrates put it, the first thing to do is to define our terms. So what do we mean by "great"? That point alone will hold you for quite a while. When I was teaching US history, I used to suggest that one index of greatness is the stature of the man apart from his service as president. Politics do not, generally speaking, bring out the best in people. What makes a good politician does not necessarily make a good man, but with both Washington and Roosevelt I, we have men who would have been outstanding if they had never held public office. By that standard few American presidents measure up - certainly not more than a dozen. After considerable discussion our consensus was that George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. cannot properly be compared, except possibly idiosyncratically. Washington was tall. Roosevelt was short. TR was an intellectual. Washington was not. Each was an athlete and each was a competent, if not distinguished soldier. Each in his own fashion was a scientist and each was a recreational marksman. Each was honest to the point of fanaticism and each was quite incorruptible. And each was absolutely fearless in the face of death.

Not much can be made of all this. However the talk was good and we all enjoyed it. These were two great men. It is futile to be comparative.

Note that 22 states now have provisions for concealed carry. This does not include New Jersey, where one of our family members was sternly told by a cop that he had better not display his CC license in that state.

We are informed from South Africa that the crime situation there continues to deteriorate. This is not something you will hear in what is normally called "the Western media," since it indicates what happens when you give the country back to the Indians. We knew South Africa reasonably well back in the old days, which we think of as the good old days, despite current political rectitude. Naturally, new rules are being promulgated all the time, each further restricting the rights of the citizen to keep and bear arms. Anyone who has thought about these matters can sound off with our venerable cry, "Well, what did you expect?" There is not much point in arguing with the organized Left of the world. These people do not even want to make sense.

In proper hands, the Glock serves just as well as the 1911 - at conversational distances. And such distances are the rule in defensive combat.

Back when I was at Command and Staff School at Quantico, we had a whole week devoted to the subject of biological warfare. The matter was highly classified so no publicity was allowed out, but one thing that sticks in my mind was the fact that anthrax was denigrated as a successful instrument of biological warfare. It was considered too hard to distribute and insufficiently lethal. What we did not realize was that large numbers of deaths are not necessary to upset or intimidate a timid population. From the media it appears that the attempt by the bad guys to cow the American people by the threat of a biological epidemic is moderately successful. We have now all heard stories verging from the pitiful to the ridiculous about our so-called airport security. The biological assassins have killed only three people - yet - but that does not mean that we are not all shook up. So now we can expect them to hit with something else. What we did not learn at school was that biological warfare may or may not be deadly, but it is definitely intimidating. The bad guys claim that they are brave while we are cowards. I do not think that is true, but we cannot deny that we are off to a shaky start.

"I have lived, sir, a long time. And the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth - that God governs in the affairs of men."

Benjamin Franklin, 1787
So today, as Linda Bowles puts it in her column, "Our children sit captive in government school classrooms where prayer is forbidden, God is ostracized, and religion is held in open contempt." When Jefferson spoke of the separation of church and state, I do not think he meant separation from God.

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