Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 9, No. 13          Thanksgiving, 2001


Now involved in what may turn out to be a very long, holy war, we should all be very thankful that we were born on the right side of this conflict. We had nothing to do with this individually, but that does not prevent our being truly thankful for the circumstances. We did not choose this war, but we must now proceed to fight it with determination and will - and naturally to ultimate victory. That may take longer than we prefer to think, but we have no choice now. As President Bush put it, the alternative to victory is a world killing-zone in which every population center is a target for mass murder. This is a daunting prospect - the most daunting that this nation has ever faced, and probably the most daunting that Christendom has faced since its inception.

All hands, man your battle stations!

Our family stalwart, Chuck Lyford, just ran into a serious dog problem. It seems that his neighbor was set upon by two mastiffs outdoors on her property. Our friend (who is a Gunsite graduate) had left his pistol indoors and had to repel boarders with nothing but a knife. Mastiffs are big, strong dogs and hospitalization was required. You do not have to go to war in order to see the elephant. As someone once pointed out, you cannot make an appointment for an emergency.

A great time was had by all at the recent Gunsite Alumni Shoot. One is supposed to be a Gunsite graduate in order to be eligible to enter this event, but we saw a good many people on the line who evidently did not retain what they learned when they were students here. These were in the minority, however, and we must say that Gunsite alumni are, generally speaking, pretty good gun hands.

The special attraction was a demonstration of Japanese swordsmanship put on by family member Dan Bekins. One wonders if Nip swordcraft was at one time the standard of the world, as its advocates claim. As with the Japanese culture, it seems to be stylized to the point of unserviceability, but the outsider is in no position to criticize it until he has seen it in live combat. Our friend did not cut anybody up, but he sliced various sorts of inanimate targets nicely into bite-sized chunks.

It is good to see the Gunsite alumni pursuing their disciplines after graduation.

Colonel Clint Ancker has put in his name for the Osama bin Lottery and claimed the date of 24 October 2002. (I have claimed the 10 May.) Speak right up if you want to get into this. The entry fee is very low at this time, since we have not decided whether to charge one or not. As of now you win if you guess the right month for OBL's demise. As entries increase, we will slide that down to the choice of the correct week - and so on.

In a previous issue of this paper, we pointed out that nobody on the right side of the war had offered to help beyond verbiage. Various apostles point out that our British friends have contributed to the airborne operation. Herewith our profound apology. We will have to wait and see how soon the true believers will start hitting infidel targets apart from the United States. When that happens, the recipients may choose to take up arms in their own defense. For now, OBL has declared the United States of America to be the Great Satan. Perhaps as things develop he may discover just how satanic we can be.

Afghanistan is a pretty miserable target for the world's greatest power, but it is all we have got for the moment. One cannot but wonder how that situation will look next year at this time.

Much talk has been circulated recently about the motivation of the people who fought World War II. We hear these people praised because of the fighting they undertook "to make the world safe for democracy," or something of the sort. I sure do not remember fighting to defend anybody or anything. One man's experience is certainly not enough on which to generalize, but I do know that in my case I fought because: a) I liked the trade, and b) I was wrathfully annoyed with the Japanese. My life was certainly in danger, but never my country nor its political philosophy. We who fought those wars knew very well that we could be killed in them, but it never occurred to us that our country might be defeated, or our civilization destroyed.

In the long historic view men seldom fight for causes, but our historical publicists would like to have us think so. This conflagration in which we are now involved may be an exception to that, and certainly OBL and his boys would like us to think so. But I do not think it is going to make a lot of difference. When men go to war, they fight as hard as they can, mainly in order to survive the immediate action. Afterwards they may spend considerable effort dreaming up causes.

We have not seen much new in the way of pistolcraft, but we do discover that the attempt to reduce the mass and bulk of a 45 caliber self-loader sometimes introduces functioning problems. This is especially true of shooters who do not put enough strength into their wrists and thus do not provide a stout enough base for reliable cycling. The self-loader must have sufficiently rigid stability to insure that its cycle has enough to kick against. I have never had trouble with the conventional Commander configuration, but a couple of new offerings are quite a bit smaller and lighter than the Commander. Best check that out before you buy.

Our man in London informs us that the Steyr Scout is available in the UK at radically reduced cost. I have no idea why this is so, but if it is, it might be worth a quick trip across the Atlantic to acquire a reserve piece or two.

Caution please. If you wish to fight for the principles of the Second Amendment, for heaven's sake do not use a firearm. Screw drivers, fire pokers, baseball bats will all do. You do not need a gun, and especially, you do not need a handgun. Our adversaries in this debate, as you have doubtless noted, will even try to make the misuse of an airplane grounds for the abolishment of personal weapons.

As an evident result of the September attack, we see people rushing out to buy personal defense weapons, which may or may not be a good idea, since the possession of a weapon is of no value without the skill to use it well. Still such is the case and we would like to point out that a pistol is not the best instrument for house defense. This is the shotgun. If you are going to stay home and defend yourself, a shotgun, located where you can get at it easily, is more useful than a pistol. It is easier to use, it hits harder and it is more intimidating in a face-to-face confrontation.

As the second edition of the Gargantuan Gunsite Gossip (G2) becomes more widely circulated, we have received a number of comments noting how so much of the material included therein seems new. Obviously people forget what they read very easily, besides which a surprising number of people acquire books to have, rather than to read.

A pistol really does not need a mechanical safety in order to render it safe, because safe gunhandling resides between the ears rather than between the hands. However, those pistols we see nowadays with what is called a safety on the trigger do call for a higher order of intellect on the part of the user. It seems odd to me that I rode all the way through two full-sized wars and a number of "incidents" without encountering a safety problem on the venerable 1911. I knew of two "negligent discharges," but they both involved rifles.

My reading on the subject reveals that there has been a great deal of excellent mountain hunting in Afghanistan for a long time. This has given rise to a whole population of guides and outfitters who know all about the problems of getting around with a rifle up there among the crags, and - when the moment arrives - hitting one's target. This is not good news for people contemplating infantry action up there. I have no sea stories on the subject, but those people probably make into pretty good soldiers, and probably pretty good riflemen. The rifleman may have lost his place in the lineup for contemporary war, but I do recall that we were quite glad of the fact that, generally speaking, the Japanese could not shoot "for sour owl jowls," as Pogo used to say. These Afghans may be of a different sort.

This matter of the duration of the holy war keeps coming up for discussion. We should remember that it took the Goths 800 years to throw the True Believers out of Spain. This time, I suppose, we should be satisfied with pushing the Moors back east of Suez, but that is no sort of overnight job.

We have been getting marvelous feedback from overseas in connection with our training program here at Gunsite and the Steyr Scout, both of which seem to be sweeping the world in a quiet way. African professional hunters note the level of gunhandling and marksmanship displayed by clients who have been through school here. They ask with enthusiasm, "Where did you learn that?" And the answer, of course, is "At Gunsite, Arizona. Where else?" This indicates a strong need for increased programming of our Safari Prep course here at school. It is astonishing to discover that there are many people in the world who have both the money and the desire to do a big game hunt without any concept of any need to find out how to conduct themselves in the field. It seems apparent that the public at large does not realize that 1) gunhandling is an art which needs to be learned, and 2) there are places where gunhandling is being taught.

Further, the belief seems widespread that because a man is on the public payroll he is properly trained and motivated to use firearms well. Consider that high school students are exposed to driver education and then tested before receiving a driver's license. And then consider that to drive a car really well is not something that these young people demonstrate. Clearly there is more to this whole business than meets the eye. We stand ready to correct the matter here at Gunsite, but we first have to educate people to the fact that they need to be educated.

It is interesting to note that according to the Justice Department the rate of violent crime in the United States plunged 15 percent last year, the largest one-year drop in the history of the survey. I do not know where that leaves the hoplophobes, but I hope that makes them uneasy. They have never been amenable to reason, but every little bit helps.

We are endorsing an effort to circulate petitions addressed to Attorney General John Ashcroft, asking him to enforce the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. While the petition document specifically lists the grievances noted by the citizens of California, all Americans are encouraged to sign the petitions to take action against all infringements of Second Amendment rights. California gun owners have been increasingly oppressed by the executive and judicial authorities in their state, and the situation seems unsolvable by the usual procedures. Therefore a group of peaceable Californians has turned to the federal government - and Attorney General John Ashcroft in particular - for help. Contact David Codrea, PO Box 4152, Redondo Beach, CA 90277 (e-mail for more information.

It seems rather awkward that the press has taken to referring to the attack upon the United States as 9/11. This combination of digits sounds too much like the designation of our favorite pistol. We will continue to call the pistol "1911" and call the attack on the World Trade Center as "The Attack."

Do you know what "shrapnel" is? What it is not is a steel shard resulting from the explosion of a high explosive shell. Journalists and technical authors today do not seem to realize this. It is not important, I suppose, but there is a definite mechanical difference between a shrapnel shell and a high explosive shell. The former was the invention of a British artillery captain by the name of Shrapnel. It might be described as a sort of giant shotgun cartridge fired out of a cannon in such fashion that when it approaches target it ruptures and discharges a multitude of round, metal balls ranging in size from a bean to a ping pong ball. Its flight is timed by a fuse in the nose which is armed on discharge and which ignites a small charge of black powder in the base of the projectile. What then proceeds down into the target is a case full of round metal balls plus the fuse itself, the base cap and case. This arrangement was quite successful against troops in the open and was used extensively throughout World War I. Since the ballistic effect of these round balls was simply that of the velocity of the case at the moment of rupture, it did not serve to penetrate cover, nor could it fire backwards. If you could find a garden wall to get behind, or a stout tree, you were relatively safe from shrapnel.

The high explosive shell, on the other hand, carries a core which bursts the projectile with great violence, firing nasty hot splinters in all directions. These splinters vary in size from that of a fountain pen up to that of a hunting knife. I met a good many of these things "up close and personal" and I can report that they are unpleasant neighbors - being much too hot to touch. They are not, however, "shrapnel" - they are "shell splinters."

It is curious how journalists will grab onto a descriptive term simply because of its sound. Anthrax, for instance, is not a particularly deadly germ, but it sounds mean. Likewise, "shrapnel," sounds meaner than "splinter."

In attendance in the last class was Steve Moore - Orange Expert, Combat Helicopter Pilot and recently retired Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. Steve has put in many years on active duty in the hornets' nest of the Middle East, and he has some definite ideas about how things are going there - including a magnificent fund of sea stories. He tells us, among other things, that there is no way that Christendom can cozy up to Islam. There is no way we can pat those people on the head and expect them to accept us unbelievers as moral equals. No matter what they say, the Arabs are on the other side of this holy war, and when we see them wearing t-shirts celebrating the mass murder of 6,000 Americans, we must realize that to a devout Muslim a Christian is fouler than a pig (which in their eyes is pretty foul).

Shooting Master John Pepper was much taken with the last recorded voice of the counter attack on Flight 93, which was, of course, "Let's roll!" John says we should set that up as our battle cry for the duration of the current world war and use it as inspiration whenever we have a chance to carry the sword to the enemy. Okay, John, the word now is "Let's roll!"

I suppose one ought not to make too much of terminology when speaking of deadly weapons, but this is hard to avoid. To strike down with the sword, for example, may be brutal, but it also may be honorable. To strike down with the germ is simply disgusting.

Probably many of you know of Fred Wells, Master Gunsmith of Prescott, Arizona. Fred has been involved in the production of fancy and exotic rifles for a couple of lifetimes. He fancies very powerful rifles, and is thus more aware of recoil effect and recoil control than most people. He discovered the tiny stock split on Baby just abaft the tang and it did not surprise him, since Baby shoots a very powerful cartridge and shoots it from a wooden stock. In Fred's opinion, recoil effect, while it can be measured, is largely mental. He says it is 85 percent mental, though I am unable to figure out how he came up with that exact figure. I do know, after teaching these matters for many years, that recoil bothers some people and not others, and this apart from age, sex or experience. I do not know that 85 percent is the correct mathematical figure, but I do know that I have taught a great many people, including women and children, to rise above recoil effect and solve the problem in the mind.

Today I think of recoil effect in rifles principally as a source of broken telescopes. All powerful rifles kick, and some more than others, but the effect of that kick is physiologically negligible. Any boy who has played football - even touch football - has been socked a great deal harder than any rifle will kick him, and many times more often. Personally I rather enjoy that punch into the shoulder when I fire a stout gun. It brings on a nice sense of controlled power, which any head shrink can easily explain.

We found recently that if you shoot at steel targets with steel or partially steel projectiles, the fragments which bounce back may be hot enough to start fires. We discovered this by using a supply of Portugese ammunition which was otherwise very well made.

OBL now claims that he has nuclear explosives at his disposal, so I guess we must await his first shot. His mission is to destroy the infidel, and that's us. As we used to say in the Middle Ages, "May God defend the right!"

We recently got a great hunting yarn back from family member Art Hammer, who has been here to school and who has hunted with us in Africa. It seems his son is now of an age to take up the sport, and just this season gathered up his first elk. The first shot did not drop the bull in his tracks, so the young man shot again instantly, and then a third time, as the bull collapsed. The guide was astonished at the fact that the young man had not taken the butt out of his shoulder as he worked the bolt. Question: "Where did you learn that?" "Well at Gunsite, naturally. Where else?" (Clearly you cannot learn that from an M16.)

We still hear our share of long-shot mendacity, even on the part of people who not only should know better, but know that they should know better. There is something curiously neurotic about this long shooting horseradish. Possibly we inherit it from the mountain men. The thing is that those old boys were ostentatiously bragging for the effect, and did not expect the audience to take their stories as fact. You know, of course, about Jim Bridger's rifle that would shoot so far that he had to use salt bullets to keep the meat from spoiling before he got to it. That sort of thing.

Today, however, these silly tales are put forth as fact, which would be understandable if the author knew that his audience knew nothing about shooting. But I know something about shooting, and I am perplexed when a shooter will tell me a tale of marksmanship which he knows is not only beyond his capacity, but beyond the capacity of the instrument he is using.

"Oh, but I'm a sniper." Yeah, right! We know about snipers. We also know about rifles and we know about shooting. The Decalog does not include an injunction forbidding lies about marksmanship. Evidently there is something about marksmanship which places it beyond the rules of ordinary communication.

I would not mind if my friends would lie to me about their golf scores or their surfing or "the one that got away," but I am surprised when they lie to me about their shooting, especially when I have seen them shoot.

We were recently shown an issue of the New Yorker magazine and we were totally flummoxed thereby. We used to read that magazine regularly when we lived on the West Coast, but we have not been aware of how far the two species of Americans have diversified in the years that we have been living in Arizona. The inhabitants of the megalopolis are clearly of a different species, which I should have realized before the last election. Innocent as I was, I thought that last one would be a pushover for our side; whereas in actuality it was so close as to be politically indecisive. We did not see that until we saw the famous red-versus-blue map of US counties, which demonstrated clearly how decisively polarized the nation is. Other than the taste for automobiles (both the reds and the blues fancy cars built by BMW and Mercedes Benz), there seems to be nothing on which we can agree. I come to conclude that these people are truly a different species. If they were to crossbreed, the offspring would be infertile. I suppose that is just one reason why this political liberty argument continues. There is no question whatever, for example, about what the Second Amendment of the Constitution says. The English usage of the founding fathers was of the highest order, but apparently not to a modern "liberal."

Among other things, these people seem to possess no discernable sense of humor, which is a tragic thing indeed.

Now that telescope sights are practically universal on sporting rifles, the proper design of iron sights has become an abandoned topic. The "ghost-ring" (which I did not invent but which I did name) may be had in several forms, but it is a rear sight, and not much has been thought about the front. The front sight blade is vulnerable. Hanging out there on the front end as it does, it is subject to various sorts of abuse. For this reason, the military services of the world have long issued protective devices, either additional blades or hoods over the top of the front sight. Some of these are better than others. In pioneer America, the rear sight was usually a simple, semi-circular notch, well forward on the barrel for ease of focus, and the front sight was a round bead (customarily of contrasting color), usually white, gold or silver. This arrangement will do, of course, but it calls for sharp eyes, and the old timers often ran out of eyesight before they ran out of gun.

This can be changed, however. There are two sorts of rifle which I think are better off without telescope sights. One is the inner city police rifle and the other is the dangerous game rifle. Over the past couple of years we have devised what I think is a pretty good answer for these. It consists of a broad ramp with shoulder wide enough to afford protection, but providing additional precision by means of a narrow front blade centered on the ramp and projecting about an eighth of an inch above it. This blade may be kept black, but at this stage in life I prefer to fill it with flash red or orange. This form of front sight is quite strong, reducing the need for a hood, and it is reasonably precise both because of its sharp edges and quick pick-up. It is not available commercially, unfortunately. If you want to build your own, I can furnish you with photos.

We erroneously said that the 50 caliber BMG rifle which showed up at the reunion was contributed by John Gannaway. Actually that piece belongs to Rich Wyatt. No matter who owns those things, they certainly are fun to shoot.

"Terrorism" is an awkward word. Its meaning seems to shift while you watch it. For example, it was always my belief that terrorism implied violence, or the threat of violence, to an uninvolved party with the object of coercing a third party. "I will do this horrible thing to this uninvolved party unless you change your ways." Thus terrorism may be properly defined as coercive homicide, which is hardly the same thing as spite murder.

I have great respect for President Bush, but I do not see how we can make war on terrorism, any more than we can make war on dishonesty. OBL evidently perceives himself as a spokesman for Islam. There are Muslims who may dispute that, but they are stuck with him. Whether they agree with him or not, somebody - probably OBL, but perhaps not - has decided to murder the infidel in the greatest possible numbers. The situation is only going to get worse before it gets better. What are we going to do if those people hit Times Square on New Year's Eve? Weep? It would be neat if we could feed OBL to the pigs before this happens, but if we cannot do exactly that, some sort of decisive retribution must be undertaken. Mr. President, Let's Roll!


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