Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 9, No. 4           April, 2001

Equinox 01

Our venture to Rome proved to be very pleasant and we were able to enjoy the company of various old friends, senior shooters and members of the Gunsite African Rifles. We finally met our long-time correspondent and friend, Antonio Randaccio Lodi, who was our host in Rome.

The occasion was the feast day of Saint Gabriel Possenti, who is inscribed as "Patron Saint of Marksmen" on the handsome presentation medal I was awarded. There is some confusion about this, since marksmanship comes in various flavors and there are various other notables whose sainthood may be tied up at least indirectly with their shooting ability. The story has it that the young man achieved fame on an occasion when he ran a bunch of banditi off his town by demonstrating his unusual skill with a handgun. Just whose weapon it was, or what sort, are cloudy issues. The accepted date for the incident is 1865, which means he could have used a revolver, but there is no certainty about that. Here is an opportunity for a good fiction writer, since exact details of the event may probably never be discerned. The account has a nice ring to it, and can be offered as a good morality tale in which good triumphs over evil. There are many such stories in our heritage, and here is one that does deserve further attention. It was Hemingway's dictum that really good fiction was in a certain sense truer than fact. Young Saint Gabriel (he died at age 24) may also be considered as a patron of the triumph of youthful virtue over popular scruffiness.

However that may be, we met the people, we got the medal, and we thoroughly enjoyed the adventure. We went by Maranello (Ferrari), Modena (balsamic vinegar) and Parma (parmigiano). We checked out the wine legend at Montefiascone (Est! Est! Est!), and we marveled at Michelangelo's breathtaking imagery in the Sistine Chapel. There is far too much to see for a short week in Italy, but even so, we saw a lot and enjoyed it all.

For those contemplating an Italian holiday, we suggest that you order your Ferrari in advance and pick it up at Maranello. I understand that the management gives you a princely reception on such an occasion, and you may drive your new car around the test track to your heart's content.

We note with some amusement that various authors have been panned by various readers for confusing the accepted commands "lock and load" and "load and lock." The facts are these: the 03 rifle, which is a straight-forward Mauser with a wing safety on the cocking piece, cannot be loaded after it is locked since the safety blocks the action. For the 03, the command is "load and lock." The M1, however, could be effectively locked before inserting a clip, and this was the accepted procedure. So with the M1 the command was always "lock and load." Neither command is either right or wrong. It is simply a question of which weapon is being used.

Here at Gunsite, Spring has sprung, the forsythia is ablaze, and the new facilities are almost complete. I am a little out of practice, but I look forward to conducting the Masters' Series Rifle and Pistol Instruction, as well as the Safari Prep sessions, with much pleasure. I suggest you bring the weapons you intend to use in the field (and please do not bring a pistol that cannot be cocked).

From the National Review we learn that over half the undergraduates at Harvard University are given A's or A -'s on whatever work they choose to submit. So much for a Harvard degree. Just get aboard, put in your time, and you will be assured of a bright future down in DC. (But let us have no more talk about "education," which is another matter entirely.)

We learn from a family member down in Australia that the Aussie army has been effectively washed out by its unisex policies. When you start putting girls in the army, you have lost the war, and when you lose it, you can simply call "time out!" and all will be forgiven.

It has always seemed to me that this gender-equality foolishness has gone about the whole concept in reverse. When God created man in His image, He did so because that was the only image He had to work with, but when He sought to create a helpmate for man, He looked thoughtfully at Adam's rib and said, "I think I can do better this next time" - and created woman.

If we would just leave things in their proper slot, everybody would be a lot happier. The purpose of man is to cherish woman. The purpose of woman is to civilize man. Let us hold to that thought.

Of all the curious artifacts we have run across in the gun line over the last couple years, one of the most curious is an ornamental sub-caliber Gatling from Germany, complete with ring magazine and hand crank. A 22 Gatling can serve absolutely no purpose, but it is very expensive and very "cute," and I guess those two attributes may make it actually saleable in the Age of Trivia.

"Unfortunately, attacks on police stations in the 'New, Improved' South Africa are very common. There is one police station in Stellenbosch in the Western Cape province that was burgled so often that it employed a local security firm with armed response to protect them. We have also had a case locally where a husband and wife came across a break-in in progress. They phoned the police, who told them they did not have a vehicle to get to the crime scene. So her husband kept track of the thieves while she drove to the police station, picked up the police, and took them to the thieves, where the police arrested them."

T. J. Johnston

I call your attention to a new work by Lanford Kersten entitled "The Walther Book." It is a nifty coffee-table enterprise, and it is available from Ludo Wurfbain at Safari Press.

Among life's little irritations is the proliferation of this annoying phrase "Nothing could be further from the truth." Of course it could. Show me any statement at all and I will come up with something which is further from the truth than that. The same rejection can be lodged against "I couldn't agree more." I guess that people who write like that must go for "spray-and-pray" in a gunfight - sloppy thinking and sloppy marksmanship.

Note that if you are planning to take a rifle course here, you should be fairly spry. You should be able to execute deep knee bends, sit ups and other simple exercises. Our shooting classes are not athletic endeavors, but if you cannot move easily you will probably be wasting your money. In my present crippled condition (which I hope may improve), I could by no means be qualified to come here as a student. I can, however, do the talking, and I have a good squad of master coaches to do the running and jumping, as necessary.

In connection with granddaughter Amy's work with the History channel, we discover that history is not politically correct. If you tell it like it is (wie es eigentlich gewesen), you will be deemed sexist, racist, elitist, insensitive, and, worst of all, old-fashioned. Perhaps Amy can work around this. We will hope for the best.

As the Age of the Wimp continues, we discover more dreadful evidence all the time. In a recent class, for example, one student failed to show up for a whole day on the grounds that he needed to do his laundry. I would like to think he was joking, but the staff did not seem to think so.

As many people continue to derive their image of life from Hollywood, one gets the impression that the story of man is a story of the uninteresting doings of inconsequential people. As an amateur historian, I find this to be a bad situation. Of course, all of us are not necessarily stuck with the tube and its mainly dreary offerings. We still have Homer and Xenophon and Julius Caesar, and so on up through Shakespeare to Rider Haggard, Conan Doyle and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Clearly, Hollywood screen-writers and producers know nothing about these other people, but it does seem a shame that they are in no hurry to introduce our young people to good storytelling.

A while back we mentioned that the foolish and somewhat dangerous cross-bolt "safety" gadget now being offered on the late production lever-action rifles can be corrected by a simple spotweld. A correspondent wrote in to point out that this can be done by installation of a washer without any welding and without inciting the hysteria of the safety police.

I have always been fond of the excellent M99 Savage, now in its one-hundred-and-second year. This piece has gone through a hatful of modifications since its inception, some of which were good and some were not. The earlier versions generally show better workmanship and fitting, but the newer models can be had in more versatile calibers. Since the Steyr people refuse to produce a left-handed version of the Steyr Scout, the M99, which is ambidextrous in utility, comes to our attention. You cannot make a true Scout out of an M99, but you can make an excellent rifle. Furthermore, the M99 should take the 376 Steyr cartridge handily, and there is a combination of great promise.

Family member Laurie Tuttle is just back from Africa with more rave reviews about her Steyr Scout. She did not do a lot of hunting, but the weapon itself was a great sensation - "the envy of all concerned." It is truly a shame that the Scouts may not be provided to South Africa at this time, due to currency devaluation, plus new regulations which make it almost impossible to leave one's rifle behind as a tip. There must be a way around this. We shall investigate.

I am somewhat bothered to read colleague Craig Boddington on the subject of long shots. It is clear that modern rifles and ammunition are capable of astonishing accuracy at unreasonable ranges, but it is the shooter who does the work, not the weapon, and shots in the "way over yonder" range are not only improbable, they are grossly unsporting. No one who has ever seen a buck mule deer with its lower jaw shot off dying in misery will ever run the risk of bringing that about himself. We say it again loud and clear: Do not brag about how far away your shot was. Brag about how close you were able to get to your target.

We learn in our wanderings that the Poles are very big on deer hunting, and that they conduct their deer hunts at night. This reminds us that if you wish to use your Steyr Scout in the dark, that slotted top rail on the receiver allows you to install any sort of "moonscope" which takes your fancy. A true scoutscope is better for general use, but in the dark you may appreciate that great big lens out front. Those of you who wish to bait leopards may also find this option useful.

If you do not know history, at least superficially, you will have no idea of where you came from, where you are now, or where you are going. I think a satisfactory word for this condition is "disconnected." To the extent that you do not know history, you are disconnected, perhaps not technically, but socially and philosophically and emotionally. This may be a harsh view, but it seems to me that a person who is disconnected has no real right to his opinions on any subject of importance. You gain your grasp of history through reading - recreational reading. You certainly cannot get it through class-work. When I was teaching history at the high school level, I remember actually lighting a few intellectual fires. I suppose I did not get through to the majority of my students, but I remember several of them coming up after class and asking me where they could find out more about the subject we had just discussed. These occasions were small triumphs, and I recall them with great pleasure.

Legend has it that Dr. Einstein once asserted that he could think of only two things which were infinite: the universe and human stupidity - and that sometimes he had doubts about the first.

The Brute (Lieutenant General Victor H. Krulak, USMC) got heavily into computers on his retirement and derived much entertainment from investigating their abstruse capabilities. On one occasion he told me that according to his best predictions and prognostications, we were due to arrive at a point, somewhere in the Fall of the year 2016, at which nobody any longer would know anything about anything. Today we read the press and we watch some of the news broadcasts on television and it does appear that we as a race are well on the way to fulfilling the Brute's forecast. The people who founded this country and who gave us our constitution had no television, no radio and no public schools, but they were serious people, a far cry from the trivial people who seem to have the greatest influence over our affairs today. The US Constitution is a serious document, written by people who understood history, the classics and political philosophy. There may be such people around today, but they certainly do not stand out. Perhaps if we got the government out of the education business, we might do something to reverse this trend.

We entreat that all of you who plan to come to the Reunion in October (19 - 21), start making your plans now. Audience participation is extremely important on these occasions, and we have noticed a distressing tendency toward stage fright in the last couple of sessions. This is a time to show off, and even if you are not very good at histrionics, this is a time to put yourself to a test. Naturally we like original work and we like work committed to memory, but this is not necessary. A good recitation from a printed page is perfectly acceptable, if it is done well. Your own homemade verse may not be up to Rudyard Kipling, but you won't know if you don't try. And let us have some more music. Bring your own guitar, autoharp, or electric organ.

The theme, of course, is our hero Theodore Roosevelt - "The Great." Your work need not be by TR or about him directly, but it should be in step with the mood that he brought to the United States. He was a true hero, after whom, as the saying goes, "they broke the mold." He exemplifies Western civilization at its apex at the turn of the 20th century, and we should take this opportunity to encourage ourselves to follow his example in the 21st.

It has been suggested in Jane's Infantry Weapons that the general inadequacy of the "poodle shooter" is coming to be realized, but we must not expect any return to serious infantry cartridges anytime soon. We are faced with far too much "logistical inertia."

As times go on and "civilization" threatens to overwhelm us, it is increasingly difficult to find a proper place for a youngster to learn field marksmanship. In my experience, the ideal venue is the city dump, with its ample population of rats. City dumps are pretty hard to find nowadays, and if you can find one, you have to make arrangements with the city fathers to take after those rats with your 22. Rattus rattus is a nifty target, being small, agile and difficult to pinpoint amongst the debris. As first choice he should be taken with a single-shot 22 fitted with good aperture sights and a good trigger. Young people should grow up on iron sights and not go for the telescope until well into maturity. Ideally the adolescent should not fit his 22 with glass sights, but rather wait for his first center-fire piece, if then. In my teens I pioneered the telescopic sight and was properly viewed askance by my seniors in the hunting field. Before taking up the glass-sighted 30-06, however, I engaged with fair regularity in informal center-fire contests at the old Burbank Rifle and Revolver Club, using a long-barreled 30-30 Winchester 94 fitted with the Lyman tang aperture sight. These contests were always conducted from the offhand position, and that old muzzle-heavy 94 had an excellent trigger. My results were quite satisfying.

My first bull elk was taken with iron sights, since my partner was using my brand new scope-sighted 30-06. We both made out very well with the equipment we had in hand, though I have been using a telescope sight on game ever since - except for dangerous game, which is another story entirely.

Note that Woodleigh of Australia is now producing proper bullets for the 376 Steyr cartridge in both 250 and 300-grain weights. I have not tested these bullets myself, but they have a good reputation, and if you hand-load for the 376 Steyr cartridge, you will need a bullet that does not mash flat in the magazine on recoil.

One wonders how the traditional British umbrella is fairing in Britain in this period of personal disarmament. If an umbrella has a stout main shaft, a sound point and is skillfully used, it can be pretty discouraging to a punk on the street. You do not smite with it, you stab with it, and if you have a bit of fencing background, you can score on a bottle cap at maximum speed almost every time. Of course, if a British subject were to do such a thing in today's climate, he would be subject to serious penalties, since now in "the land of hope and glory" fighting back is unlawful.

On re-reading Sir Richard Burton on the military use of the sword, I note again that a man in motion should use the forward motion of his body to deliver the point, rather than trying to cut. It seems the natural tendency for anyone when picking up a sword to attempt the cut. The majority of early swords feature hilts which are almost useless for thrusting. This is true of both the Roman sword and the Viking sword. But I believe the ultimate in sword technology was the achievement of the Spaniards during the Reconquista. Those late Medieval and Renaissance caballeros used both the point and the edge, as circumstances demanded, and they did so very well.

In my endeavors to look into this subject in graduate school, I was able to find only one original source which described the actual technique of engagement using the Spanish sword. This was in the form of a personal letter written by a young man to his parents describing a contact he had during a skirmish on the Portugese border. It was written in Old Spanish, but with some help I was able to decipher it, and I discovered that in this one action our man delivered two thrusts and two cuts, from the saddle, neatly accounting for four of the enemy without injury to himself.

These things are hard to run down, because chroniclers are so seldom interested in technique. You can find out what and when and with what effect, but only rarely how. This is an exasperating problem for the military historian.

Here at the school we have learned to expect two telescope failures per rifle class. People find this surprising, but they forget that we fire about 400 rounds per class with the rifle, and that is a long, hard life for a sporting instrument. Back when Colonel Dick Culver had the sniper school at Quantico, he told us that the Marine Corps had not been able to find a telescope sight which was proof against the handling it got in the field in Vietnam. It was not so much normal field use that knocked the glasses out, it was the fact that they were subjected to continuous recoil shock over a large number of rounds. Most well-made commercial telescope sights will stand up to two or three hundred rounds of full-charge ammunition. Many will stand up to 500. Almost none will stand up to 2000. A sniper does not fire 2000 rounds for blood, but he may well fire that number or more in practice, and there is the problem.

I have long had a tendency to tie marksmanship to morality. The essence of good marksmanship is self-control, and self-control is the essence of good citizenship. It is too easy to say that a good shot is automatically a good man, but it would be equally incorrect to ignore the connection.

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