Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 9, No. 3           March, 2001


And by that we certainly do not mean "the winter of our discontent." The new regime in Washington may not be perfect in every respect, but when one is plucked out of the sea by a life boat he is not likely to complain that it leaks a little.

The mood at the NRA winter board meeting was notably cheerful. We started out by extending Charlton Heston's reign for one more year, and this is an occasion for great joy. There are those who claim that he was selected by somewhat irregular means, but he is such a tremendous asset to the Association that we are not likely to find fault with procedural technicalities. In his position as president, Mr. Heston supplies a persona of dignity and charisma unmatched by anyone in public life since Ronald Reagan.

We learn that NRA membership is now up to 4.3 million.

We learn that Dr. Ugo Beretta of Gardone has donated the sum of one million dollars (that is dollars, not lire) to the Association. He may not make the world's best service pistol, but he does run the world's best executive lunch room, as I can attest personally.

At the winter meeting I was elevated to the peerage, so to speak, by being elected to the Executive Council of the National Rifle Association. This is a life-time appointment during good behavior (I may be flung out if I would be discovered to have voted for a Democrat), which relieves me from the need to run for office again, unless I choose to do so. A council member does not have voting authority, but this is hardly a bother when we note that really close votes on policy matters are nearly unheard of. I intend to remain on the board until my present term runs out. At that time, circumstances will decide whether I should run again.

We all noted that the Attorney General of South Carolina has announced that the season is now open in that state on burglars. Now there is an example to follow!

After a preliminary but penetrating study, we have concluded that the best of the pocket 45s is the Kimber. Family member Clint Smith, however, deems that it is God's will that any pistol for the 45 ACP cartridge must have a 5-inch barrel. Customizers take note.

We learn that Saddam Hussein has announced (in Arabic) that he won the Gulf War. Well he did get away, a historical mistake for which we are inclined to hold George Bush, Sr., responsible. It would appear that that small, black cloud on the horizon is the specter of a general Moslem war against the West - something which should be put off as long as possible, but is probably going to be with us in due course.

Someone has observed that if you find yourself in San Francisco, be careful upon leaving not to look back, lest you be turned into a pillar of salt.

Let it be decreed that there may be no elections in the future during hunting season.

Apparently Hillary has suggested that we reform our electoral system by modifying or doing away with the Electoral College. If she is serious about this (or about anything), we suggest she consider restructuring the Electoral College on the basis of counties, rather than states. That should certainly take care of that argument.

Despite the factory's curious decision to discontinue production of the 376 Scout, which I like to call the Steyr Dragoon, the piece was a distinct sensation at the Safari Club meeting in Vegas. Family member and master instructor Rich Wyatt sold ten of them to people going to Africa. This piece is a great success in both Africa and Alaska, and why it should be taken off the market at a time when new products seem to be the rage is hard to explain. What it offers is solid, medium-class power in Scout configuration, and Scout configuration is the most significant forward step in the design of sporting rifles since World War II. There seems to be a mysterious sort of emotional block here, possibly do to lack of shooting experience on the part of gun salesmen as a class. There is also the "magnum myth," which has served to convince a couple of generations of hunters that excess power can make up for lack of marksmanship. One correspondent claimed, for example, that some people in his party opined that "the 308 simply would not suffice for open-country mule deer hunting." Those who are familiar with open-country mule deer hunting are well aware that the 308 will do everything that a 300 Ultra will, and with considerably less bother. When that mule deer gets so far away that you cannot deck him with your Scout, you are not going to be able to take him with your "super thunder-stick" either. Remember that a hunter's skill is measured not in how far away his target was, but how close he was able to get to it. Of course a good many hunters are not very skilled, but that does not excuse taking shots beyond one's useful range.

The trashing of the White House by the punk staff on departure is certainly an indication of the general character of "those other people." Is this a function of the failure of our schools, or simply evidence of lack of moral teaching in the home? Is this a matter of television, or of two working parents, or something else? Whatever it is, it is certainly novel and certainly unpleasant.

Being of the old school, I rather assumed that everybody knew the words to the old Steven Foster songs - such as "The Old Kentucky Home." The opening line runs:
"The sun shines bright on my Old Kentucky home
'Tis summer, the darkies are gay"
Clearly we had to restructure this because we cannot longer use the term "darky," and "gay" has been rerouted, so we put our revision into a previous Commentary, and various people wrote in about it in puzzlement. Sorry about that.

We had a recent case here in Prescott which showed again the inadequacy of the Parabellum cartridge. The creep in this case was shot once dead center and once again in the arm, but was able to recover and drive off at high speed resulting in a lethal crash some miles away. We cannot prove that a major caliber hit similarly placed would have stopped the fight on the spot, but the odds are certainly in favor of it.

Those of you who are diet conscious will take note of one Miss Lucy Walker who, in 1864, was the first woman to surmount the Matterhorn. She was also the first woman to reach the top of the Eiger, though she did not go up the infamous north wall. During her adventures in the alps, she subsisted entirely on a diet of sponge cake and champagne. When I read of the champagne consumption of those old Victorians, I sometimes regret that I never acquired a taste for it.

In discussing whether a sidearm should be comfortable to carry, Clint Smith observes that a handgun should be comforting, rather than comfortable. Well put.

Our granddaughter Amy Heath in New York has now gone aboard the staff of the History Channel as an assistant producer. We sincerely hope that she acquires enough influence there to reach some sort of policy-making level, since the History Channel, while being unusually good television, is as a rule badly in need of editing in matters involving firearms. Among other things, they do not seem to be able to tell the difference between a bullet and a cartridge. It is possible that nobody in New York knows the difference between a bullet and a cartridge, so we stand ready to help.

We note that the Marlin people keep right on trying to upstage Jim West of Anchorage by promoting slightly inferior versions of his "Co-pilot" concept. The Co-pilot, as we have said, is one of the three really interesting rifles now available. It is essentially a pocket-sized, takedown 45-70 Marlin with an efficient muzzle brake and excellent ghost-ring sights. It also is available in stainless, which makes it particularly choice along the Alaska coastline. The Co-pilot is quite perfect for the lion guide. (Of course there are not many lion guides, and firearms are not easy to acquire in Africa, now that the revolutionary government has made it practically impossible for you to leave your rifle with your guide on departure.)

It was once explained to us by Elden Carl (The Great) that the proper procedure when attacked by a savage dog is to ram your pistol right down his throat. You haven't got a pistol? Well, shucks! I guess you will just have to call 911.

While we frequently comment upon the bad performance of the law enforcement establishment in matters of weaponcraft, we must hang a gold star on the Secret Service and the National Park Service people at the White House on the occasion of that recent shooting incident. Whichever officer was in charge, he did exactly the right thing by shooting the goonie in the leg with one neat round, in total defiance of the spray-and-pray principle. One shot, one hit, hospitalization. Very well done indeed!

As I understand it, slavery was abolished in this country in 1865. The issue is closed. Buying those people from their friends in Africa and bringing them over here was a great mistake and we have suffered for it for a long time. Perhaps we should let the matter drop.

For those of you who choose to write in, I plead that you put your complete name and address on your copy. A half page of electronically-activated gibberish does not suffice.

I am very grateful for the kind words you sometimes wish to supply, and I do enjoy engaging in argument, but I cannot respond unless you tell me how.

It has been suggested that the NRA's voice in the election (EE2) was enough to bring victory to our side. Certainly we had an influence there, and a strong one, but it might be just as soundly stated that Ralph Nader did the trick, just as Perot put Clinton in the White House for his second tour.

However it was, in an election this close every possible influence was involved, so let us all thank everybody and now make sure that we do not let our success produce complacency. Those other people are really mad, and they have already demonstrated that no sort of disreputable act is beyond them. History is full of examples of disasters which resulted from the dropping of the guard. Let it not happen to us!

Mugging is up 28 percent in England since the British have been deprived of the right to defend themselves. So who is surprised?

"Dogs have masters, cats have staff."

Curt Rich

These two new short, fat magnum cartridges from Winchester have a certain charm in that they can be packed into a shorter action, if that is important to you. On the other hand, their dimensions make it necessary for them to reduce the cartridge capacity of the magazine. This may or may not be significant. I knew of a PH once who ran out of ammunition when chasing a kudu, but that was long ago, and one more round in his magazine would not have changed that situation. Right now the Steyr Scout carries five rounds in the first mag and five more in the second. In the 376 version, the numbers are four and four. It would seem if you attack the problem right from the original design, you do not need secondary solutions.

The "Gargantuan Gunsite Gossip, Vol. 2" has now been sent to the print shop. I do not know when it will be on sale and I do not know how much it will cost, but I will keep you informed.

And now we have the 480 Ruger, which appears to be a very slick item, though I have not personally fired one. I do not see what you can do with a 480 Ruger that you cannot do with a 44 Magnum, but then I tend to be old fashioned about such things. The aim of the industry, of course, is to sell stuff, which is fine, but in general what we need is to offer better launchers rather than better cartridges. The cartridges we have, and have had for a long time, will do just fine.

The goal of marketing is to induce in the customer the idea that he needs something new, rather than something better. Of course to a certain kind of mind, "new" and "better" are the same word, and to such people anything old fashioned is inferior. Thinking about the matter, however, is out of style.

Hard as it is to believe, the animal crackers in England have now designated fish & chip shops as legitimate targets for lethal vandalism. People who eat fish should be killed, according to this view. We suppose salmon fishermen should now go about their sport in gunboats. Sometimes one wonders if people should be allowed to run around loose!

At the SHOT Show we noted that the ineffable Perazzi quadruplet is still for sale. This is a set of four over/under double shotguns in 12, 16, 20 and 410. The asking price for the set is $316,000, and it has been around for several years without purchase. I find this a charming business, for here we have a manufacturer who is driven by a search for perfection, regardless of marketability. Some rich kid will eventually buy that set, and I will be sorry to see it go, because every time I go to the SHOT Show I am delighted to know that there are people who will make such things, and eventually people who will buy them. It is a wonderful life!

For those who came in late, a "ghost-ring" is that form of aperture sight which features a large aperture and a thin rim. The idea is that when the aperture is placed reasonably close to the eye and the shooter looks at the front sight, the rim disappears, as with a ghost. This does not impair aiming precision, but it vastly improves speed of acquisition. The older form of aperture sight, which featured a pinhole, presumably for increased precision, was terribly slow to use. The rear sight we had on the 03 Springfield was wrong in practically every respect, and while the A3 version of the rifle was proletarianized in some respects, its sight was much better.

The first man to extol the ghost-ring, as far as I can read, was Karamojo Bell of Africa, though Townsend Whelen acquired the idea about the same time. I certainly did not invent the idea, but I believe that I did invent the term, and I find it amazing that for 60 odd years no manufacturer sought to put a good metallic sight on his rifle, assuming evidently that no one would use iron sights anyway and telescopes would be the only thing of interest. It is true today that the optical or telescope sight is practically universal, but this is not entirely a good thing. In the first place, telescopic sights are not necessary for about 90 percent of sport shooting. I took Scout One with me to Central America in 1968 and used the ghost-ring exclusively on that occasion - with total success. The glass sight is inappropriate for use on rifles intended for dangerous game. One should not regard one incident as definitive, but I once got into a rather tricky situation on a lion, because all I had on that rifle at the time was a telescope and I could not pick out a proper aiming point at short range in a hurry, due to a limited field of view. My experience on buffalo, while not extensive in the classic sense, is enough to convince me that a good ghost-ring is what is needed, and a telescope is out of place. Regardless of how well made they may be, telescope sights break. Also they are vulnerable to dust, mud and snow in a way that the ghost-ring is not.

The ghost-ring is not quicker than the telescopic sight, when the latter is properly used, but it is distinctly quicker than any open sight, even the Express Sight from Africa. It is a Good Thing, and should be more widely appreciated, but considering the general nature of firearms design progress over the last half century, I do not expect much in this regard. We have awfully good firearms, cartridges and sights today, but we do not do any better with them in the field than our grandfathers did. It is always the shooter, not the weapon that makes a difference.

In my opinion, neither money nor greed (cupiditas) is the root of all evil. The root of all evil is envy. The non-coper hates the coper, and thus the non-shooter hates the shooter. I see no other explanation for the pointless and irrational activism of the gun grabbers on the political scene. They know that their machinations can have no effect upon crime. Guns have no effect upon crime, but they do make all men equal, as the saying goes. This puts the coper on top, and infuriates the non-coper.

We note that the polypragmatoi are not backing off. Turns out that in Massachusetts, sushi is now illegal. The socialists hate to think that any one of their subjects might risk himself by taking a small bite of raw fish. Well, we do not spend much time in Massachusetts, and it is a small state anyway with easily accessible borders.

In view of all these gadgets we see for sale in ads and at the shows, may we suggest that "invention is the mother of necessity?"

Does recoil bother you much? This clearly is a personal matter, and some people are affected far more than others. When I was a lad we used to think the 03 was a jaw breaker - but it was not. Then we started going to larger and larger cartridges, which kicked more and more, and this bothered some people far more than others. It has a lot to do with how much you shoot. Those of us who shoot a good deal hardly notice recoil, and yet a lot of people complained about the recoil of the 350 Short Magnum when it first appeared. For a long time the 375 Holland cartridge was generally held to be a bruiser, but it certainly is not today - note that we now even have an "Ultra 375." When the 458 Winchester came out, it scared a lot of people until they discovered that recoil effect upon a shooter is about 85 percent mental. If you convince yourself that recoil is nothing to worry about, it will not be. I have a lot of experience along this line, having taught people rifle marksmanship for most of my adult life. It is not a matter of how big or strong you are, it is a matter of what you think you should think about rifle kick. I have had great success with adolescents of both sexes in this regard, and while I certainly do not assert that recoil effect does not exist, I do insist that it is highly overrated. Any boy who plays touch football seriously will be beaten around far more in a quarter than he ever will be by the butt of his rifle. What is more, he will enjoy it.

Let us hear it for the counterattack! In Vermont the legislature has introduced a bill proposing a $500 annual tax on unarmed households. Way to go, Green Mountaineers!

It has been fashionable all my life to think highly of the principle of majority rule, and yet when this is analyzed, it becomes short of ideal. What are you going to do, for example, when a very large population is divided right down the middle on irreconcilable principles. In our last EE2, the margin for error was greater than the margin for victory. Democracy is all very well in its way, but it does not resolve today's political problems in the major powers. It works better in small populations wherein people are apt to know each other better and less likely to crystallize their political preferences. Plato pointed out, for example, that the largest political entity in which democracy is feasible should include no more than four thousand souls.

Certainly we have a massive political challenge today in the US, and given the viciousness of the left, it is hard to foresee a satisfactory solution. Surrender of moral principle will not suffice, but the country is more completely divided on moral principles than at anytime since its founding - not excepting the Civil War. This is a bad scene, and we pray that the new administration confronts it better than the old.

We are off now to Italy for festive doings in Rome. Thus there may be a hiatus in the issuance of this paper. I am grateful to San Gabriel Possenti for the medal, and I will endeavor to publish all relevant details upon return.

Meanwhile, stay cool. After all, it is February.

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