Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 9, No. 7           July, 2001

4th July graphic

The Glorious Fourth

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Here comes Independence Day! As Americans we treasure our independence, or so we say. Originally the 4th of July celebrated our independence from Britain, but today we depend upon things which are perhaps more sinister. The United Nations Organization (UNO) comes to mind. We have mentioned it before and we say it again - these people are opposed to the idea of national sovereignty, especially US sovereignty, since Americans believe in political liberty and the rest of the world does not. Our right to keep and bear arms - personally - is the essential element of political liberty, without which we would stand as mere slaves of any current administration, as do most of the people in the world today. We treasure our right to be armed, not only as defense against tyrants, but also as defense against evil men acting alone. Our right to defend ourselves against felons by force of arms protects not only our liberty but also - and this is often overlooked - our dignity. Dignity is a word not often used in the Age of the Wimp, for by definition a wimp has no dignity. But dignity remains not only desirable but essential to persons of consequence. This concept is rejected by the socialist, who feels that dignity resides solely in the state. But we Americans are not socialists (at least most of us are not) and we prize our unique status in world society. Thus on the glorious 4th, we may gather together to celebrate our true independence, the independence for which eight generations of Americans have risked and often lost their lives.


I note from the wings that the J Ladder is no longer being used in Gunsite shoot-offs. Apparently the nerve pressure involved is too great for these post-moderns who come to us now.

Various people inform me that they are unhappy with the "butter knife" bolt-handle on the Zedrosser action of the Steyr Scout. To each his own, of course, but I do not see that anyone needs a ping pong ball out there at the end of the bolt-handle in order to replace the round in the chamber. One can apparently become obsessed with the idea of the speed of his second shot, which is almost never important in the field. If it is important, the shape of a bolt-handle will hardly affect it. I like that bolt the way it is.

This cult of "Dial 911" seems to be lending support to the concept of the "Nanny State." We have two close family members who are in a position to notice this sort of thing that 911 promotes. We have a case where a woman called 911 because her dog was having pups! We had another where a man sought government assistance because he was drunk! We are waiting for one climactic case in which the subject calls upon the government because he, the subject, is just stupid. Any day now!

Increasingly we are flooded with "the Hapsburg Revenge," which is found on pistols which put the safety on the trigger. Putting the safety on the trigger, as we have sometimes remarked, is rather like stamping the combination on a safe door. You press the trigger and the gun goes Bang! You did not have to take the safety off because in effect there was no safety. But we see these pistols more and more all the time. It may be because they are cheaper than the competition, but probably more because they are marketed so well. It is well to remember that there are several items of personal use in which economy of acquisition is probably not a good idea. Prominent in this regard are parachutes, tires and personal weapons.

In the same general realm of endeavor, though on a different subject, we just now heard of a man who called upon his PH for help because he, the client, did not know how to load his rifle! Personally I cannot image such things, but they keep floating across my desk in a continuous flood. Such people could never have made it from the Appalachians to the Mississippi, nor from the Mississippi to the West Coast. Something must have happened to the gene pool.

We have been aware of the existence of laser range finders and we find them useful, but after the shot, not before. If you know how to shoot, you do not need to know the exact range. I have seen a very large number of riflemen at work and I have never seen one "drop his shot" into the target. Out where the drop of your projectile below the line of sight is significant, your group-size has opened to the point where dispersion, rather than drop, affects your shot.

After the shot, however, the situation is different. If your outfitter packs a good range finder, he can tell you exactly how far your shot was. And this is something you should always note for future reference. I have taken a couple of long shots in my time, but because I had no range finder available, I will never know just how long they were. Every guide and outfitter will do well to pack along a range finder. For the hunter himself, the item is less useful.

I get a certain amount of hate mail, which is not surprising, since anyone who sticks his head up above the water may expect to have a rock thrown at it. Most of it, however, is uninteresting and too much of it is directed at the magazine, rather than at me. I relish disputation, and if I am wrong, I want to be shown just how.

I certainly do not claim to own the term "Scout Rifle." I believe I did apply it originally to a certain type of general-purpose weapon that I have found remarkably successful in the field. It is annoying, however, to have people subvert the terminology to the extent that we cannot know what we are talking about. A Scout, for example, is a general-purpose rifle and thus it must take a general-purpose cartridge, most particularly not a 223. Another point, the Scout must be comfortable to carry and easy to shoot. Thus it cannot be heavy and it must boast an excellent trigger. It need not mount a telescope sight, though usually it does, and if so that sight should be a scoutscope of long eye relief and low magnification. (Field of view does not matter since the piece is properly used with both eyes open.)

Now it is obvious that one can construct a Scout Rifle at home from spare parts. The process may be enjoyable, but it will be necessarily expensive and it probably will not meet all requirements. (Why not just buy a Steyr Scout as it is and avoid all the complexities?)

One correspondent, who is into psychology, notes that in his experience people who are hoplophobes are nearly always nutty in other ways, too. Hoplophobia, of course, is not simply an attitude but rather an aberration in which the sufferer clings to an idea which he himself knows to be unsound, such as the idea that inanimate instruments have a will of their own or that lawbreakers abide by the law.

I had never thought of this before and I am grateful for the suggestion. If the subject is loopy in one way, let us see how reasonable he is in others.

Have you noticed how these enviros have become alarmed by the proliferation of large carnivores in the boonies? I saw one remark to the effect that bears, for example, do not seem to know their place on the "food chain." Why should they? Only man comes up with ideas like a food chain, and with man the idea only makes sense because man is armed. Without his weapons, man is by no means at the top of any food chain. On the contrary, he is down in fourth or fifth spot, depending upon the environment in which he lives. Primitive man was under no illusions about this, nor are the backwoods folk in India today. To a tiger, man is a morsel, as these unarmed joggers seem to be to a cougar, upon occasion. Man is man because he is always armed. That is something they do not teach in kindergarten, nor for that matter in high school. A youth becomes a man when he is first presented with his own personal weapon. That is his right of passage, and those who do not understand that are questionable members of a free society.

We recently had an interesting after-action report from Senior Instructor Ed Stock. It seems that the subject in this case terminated the action neatly with two shots, causing both amazement and consternation among his colleagues. Apparently in this department agents are told to empty the magazine (and then, I suppose, dial 911). We knew, of course, about the spray-and-pray heresy, but we did not know that it was actually being taught as doctrine in some police agencies.

Among the various things I find hard to believe is the case of a student here at Gunsite who felt that he should have been driven to the nearest doctor by the staff to avoid symptoms of dehydration. It did not occur to him to drink some water. (Perhaps he should have dialed 911.)

I have just taken delivery on one of Jim West's "Plus P" Co-pilots. It will take the 45-70 cartridge, but it has a long chamber suitable for a lengthened cartridge of Jim West's design known as the "475 WW." He points out that this cartridge bears the same resemblance to the 45-70 that the 357 Magnum pistol cartridge does to the 38 Special, offering the option of two different cartridges working from the same chamber. I do not think I need any more power than is available in the 45-70, when properly loaded. A "Co-pilot" by definition is that anomaly, "a defensive rifle," to be used as protection against large, dangerous animals, specifically the big bears. I have killed only three grizzly bears and all of those with the 30-06, which worked just fine. I cannot say from personal experience whether the 45-70 is just the ticket for big bears, but in theory at least, it should do fine. A "Co-pilot" is also an ideal instrument for the lion guide. Lions very rarely exceed 450lbs in weight and should prove easy meat for the 45-70 cartridge, which in "Co-pilot" configuration should be superbly suitable for the lion guide who, if he shoots at all, will need a lot of power quickly at short range. So for sportsmen who wish to go after African lion or the great bears, we extol Jim West's "Co-pilot." The example we have is beautifully made and finished, and should be just right for the job with either cartridge.

Daughter Christy was recently doing some "living history" instruction for school children in the Prescott area. While showing the youngsters how to split kindling, she was approached by a parent who said that he was "uncomfortable" with the idea of an 8-year-old using an ax (!). I suppose the proper response should have been, "Thank you for sharing your problems with me. There's a hammock over there in the shade."

What have we here! Splitting kindling is what 8-year-old boys are especially good for, then as now, but this sportsman has never taken our course in "Things As They Are 101."

The foundations of the modern technique of the pistol do not seem to be as pervasive as they should be. We recently saw a presumably authoritative "gun writer" claiming that one could never use the front sight in a pistol action because "there was not enough time." I heard that same argument several generations ago from a man who was at that time in charge of pistolcraft at the FBI Academy at Quantico. I was able to convince him of the error of that position on the range - or so he said - but perhaps his influence is no longer dogma. We should not, of course, class hobbyists with civil servants, but what the hobbyist can do, the civil servant can do also - if he is properly instructed. The really depressing viewpoint is "They're not going to do it right, so let's teach them to do it wrong." As was established long ago, speed comes from smoothness. Once a student learns to be smooth, he will be fast, and he will be plenty fast enough, assuming he has established the right mind-set.

To state that there is not enough time for the front sight is simply to be betray one's total ignorance of modern pistolcraft.

In a previous issue we said that treaties entered into by the United States government might override provisions of the Constitution. We have been informed by a Constitutional scholar that this consideration has been brought up and disposed of in the federal courts. It is rather a tricky subject, and apparently "circumstances alter cases," but we seem to be safe for the moment.

It is amusing how an anecdotist so often feels that he need not pay much attention to the facts in the matter. I am sure you all have heard stories about marksmanship which cause you to "take refuge in incredulity." In my own case, I seem to be a figure about whom it is safe to fantasize. Years ago, when I returned from my first hunt in Rhodesia, a published account stated that I (Jeff Cooper) had killed a running gorilla with one shot from my pistol at a hundred yards. I was there at the time, so I know what happened. It was thus: It was not a gorilla, it was a baboon. He was not running, but rather sitting in a tree. The range was not a hundred yards, but closer to ten. And it was not I who shot, it was Raul Walters.

I suppose, if you told stories exactly as they happened, your listeners would not be sufficiently impressed - or something.

Our great good friends the Red Chinese have now decided the trouble with us Americans is our proclivity to "hegemonism.' Now there is a good word! (It sounds better in Chinese.) Seems to me that the more hegemonistic the United States becomes, the better it will be for everybody, including the Chinese. I think our best course of action is to remain as hegemonistic as possible, at least until they learn how to fly their airplanes a little better.

I suppose you know that the proper rhythm for shooting the Presidenta is not one-two, pause, three-four, pause, five-six, but rather one, two, three, four, five, six. When I brought that drill home from Guatemala, I shot it in pairs until Ray Chapman showed me that I would get both better hits and better time if I shot it in one, smooth string. Nowadays I can sit up here in the Sconce and listen to the people down there on the range doing it wrong.

Guru say: "Getting shot is no achievement. Hitting your enemy is."

We are continually amazed by these disgusting shootings on the street in which the punk goes dry and reloads while spectators just watch him. Wouldn't you think the first response of a bystander in such instances would be to grab the punk when he is reloading? The basic question in teaching tactics is "What if?" You always keep asking the subject what he would do if such-and-such happened. What if this? What if that? Apparently these people on the street never get that far intellectually.

I enjoyed our first Safari Prep course very much, though the nature of the student body was somewhat surprising. The course is designed to show you how to get the most out of your good adventure and how to avoid the embarrassing mistakes to which the novice is prone, both as to his shooting and as to bush living in general. I would like to schedule another Safari Prep course, but I am not going to do it unless I discern a demand. So please let us know if you have an interest in this subject, especially if you have wives or daughters who may be coming along.

Do not skip the African hunt if there is any way you can make it. It is, or it can be, one of life's great experiences.

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