Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 9, No. 8           August, 2001

The Rains Came

And right on time, too! Out here in the West, our towns and villages have parades and rodeos on the 4th of July. It is, therefore, necessary for the summer rains to hold off until after the 4th so as not to rain on our parades. So the rains came very neatly on the 5th and did not dampen either our parades or our traditional Independence Day celebration at Gunsite. This last was much fun, and a good time was had by all, including a couple of our local coyotes who dropped by to see what was going on.

We are told by the wise that we should always refer to our national holiday as "Independence Day," rather than the 4th of July, properly to draw attention to the occasion for celebration, which many of the disconnected seem to have forgotten.

According to Justice Clarence Thomas, the term "non-judgmental" is simply a matter of moral cowardice.

We are often asked about this "flat shooting" pistol technique employed by the Israelis, who teach that one should rotate the pistol 90 degrees counterclockwise when shooting. The reason for this is that the Israelis teach that the pistol should be carried in Condition 3, with no round in the chamber, and that the action should be racked when the piece is presented. The theory is that it is easier to rack the action when the pistol is turned flat on the side this way. This may be true for people with limp hands, but we have never noticed it here at the school. It certainly does not enable you to shoot better, for various geometrical reasons which will occur to you if you think about them. The Mossad people seem to do rather well in street fights, but this is far more due to attitude than to technique. As we have often pointed out, man fights with his mind; his weapons are incidental.

I have always felt that summer is best used as preparation for autumn. Now is a good time to get out to the range and check the rifle you intend to use come hunting season. Be sure to check all telescope mounts. Those screws can back off, and often do. We just now read of a renowned international hunter whose effort was ruined (in front of witnesses, no less) when he discovered that his rifle was "shooting elsewhere."

In that connection, we remind those who are coming to the Reunion that we earnestly invite your participation. We beseech your poetry, your songs and your skits - all in the spirit of Roosevelt the Great. If you intend duets, these call for a little practice. We have always been amazed and delighted at the histrionic ability of the Gunsite family members. We expect even more from you at this year's reunion, so pitch on in! (And bring music. Players, guitars and horns of all sorts improve the enterprise.)

I confess some disappointment at the relative lack of interest in our rifle program. We started Gunsite as a pistol school, and I suppose more people know about us because of that. But in a sense the general level of rifle skill, as presented in the shooting press, is worse than that of the pistol. We see pictures of people who do not know what to do with their left hand or arm, who do not know how to operate the action, and seem to have no idea about the value of the shooting sling. We can change that, but not unless you come to school. Possibly our prospective students feel that they have no need to learn riflecraft, but I think it is more probable that the general public has no idea how much fun practical rifle shooting is. The bench rest is not a good place to learn this, and we offer the options. I enjoy teaching both pistol and rifle classes, but I guess the additional power of the rifle lends an extra zest to its use. (Certainly it makes more noise!)

The current rage for body building suggests the use of both your rifle and your pistol, rather than "dumbbells." All sorts of quick flourishes with your rifle may serve to improve your muscle tone and enjoy yourself more at the time.

I am sure you have noted how often even very experienced outdoorsmen are totally unaware of the effect of gravity on bullet trajectory when the piece is fired either uphill or downhill. It must be that somebody long ago decided that since you are working against gravity when you shoot uphill, you must compensate by holding high. This has a certain superficial merit, until you study it with proper care. When shooting either uphill or downhill, the effect of gravity on trajectory is the same and needs be allowed for only under the most extreme conditions. To check this you will have to find some remote western canyon where you can arrange to address a target at least 300 meters away and with an angle of departure of at least 45 degrees. This may not be easy to find, but it hardly matters, since before you notice any gravitational effect on your shot, you will find that your natural dispersion is greater than your bullet drop. Most shots in the field are taken within a few degrees of horizontal and, if you are using a cartridge of moderate velocity, your marksmanship skill is far more significant than any geometric precalculation.

Please note that these Commentaries are not a commercial venture. We do appreciate the help that you provide us sometimes in the form of stamps and such, but I do not wish to go into the periodical business. That sort of thing can get you unpleasantly involved with the government.

Shooting Master Clint Smith, who knows a lot about it, tells us that it is God's will that all 45 caliber pistols have five-inch barrels. Hear the word!

We regret to report that shooting master John Pepper has shut down his east coast marksmanship operations for reasons of family health. This is a great loss.

John Pepper, whom you know as the designer of the Pepper Popper target, has worked for many years to promote practical rifle shooting on the East Coast. He had a very satisfactory war in Korea and learned much about the use of the rifle under combat conditions, and he introduced his experiences into practical competition. We wish him and his family all the best, and sincerely hope that it will not be too long before he can get back into the shooting game.

As the decades pass and my studies pile up, I find that the old sin of PII (Preoccupation with Inconsequential Increments) is a besetting fault of most field marksmen. The hunter has a duty to himself to secure a clean, one-shot kill every time he fires. This will not always be possible, but it can certainly be his goal. If you are not sure of a clean hit, best pass up the shot. By practicing on a field range (not off a shooting bench), you will establish what your hitting capacity is - particularly under conditions of stress. Shooting for blood is always a stressful act, whether in hunting, self-defense or war. It is far more important for you to dominate your nerves than to carry the ultimate in mechanical perfection. This is why I have always sought to sell skill, rather than equipment. This is the more difficult task, but clearly the most rewarding.

I am sure you know by now that the Steyr Mannlicher company in Austria has changed hands. I hear from my friends at the factory that the new owner is a hunter, which has some promise. The important thing, however, is that the new management be primarily interested in excellence, rather than sales. This is probably too much to expect, but we hope for the best.

What we mean by the words we use is always a matter of debate. We are free to speak as we wish, and precision in communication is not required by law. It does, however, make life easier for everyone. Take this matter of "instinctive" shooting. Instincts are what we are born with, and they cannot be taught, nor do they need to be. We do not need to be taught to drink when we are thirsty, nor to come in out of the cold. We can, of course, train our muscles and nerves into certain patterns which are generally referred to as "reflexive." Thus it is mildly annoying when an adventurer says that he snapped off an instinctive shot in the gloom. Unsighted fire - which is what is usually meant in this regard - may indeed be learned, and with enough time and effort it may become astonishingly precise. But it is not instinctive. Reflexive unsighted fire may be more rapid than sighted fire, but not necessarily so. I ran into these discussions solidly many years ago at the FBI Academy at Quantico. I had seen the efforts of the aspiring hotshots of the Southwest Pistol League in California and I knew that controlled fire, as delivered by a real expert, was every bit as fast as the proverbial hip shot, as well as being more precise. I could not convince the man in charge, of course, because he was committed to an idea that would have been painful for him to abandon. Reflexive shooting, miscalled instinctive, can be very effective indeed, but it calls for talent, determination and an enormous amount of practice. In matters of killing power, it is simply not worth the effort.

Kofi Annan of Ghana has been re-nominated for head man at the United Nations Organization. This is not good news, but we hardly expect that from the UN Annan is on record as being opposed to the private ownership of smallarms anywhere in the world. In this he has the emotional support of most of the member nations of the UN His views on this matter are far too extreme for Americans - well, most Americans - but he will push them to the best of his ability and make the most of your money to do away with your guns. The UN by its very nature does not approve of national sovereignty. The international sovereignty of the super state is the unavoidable goal of these people. We are gratified that Undersecretary of State Bolton has made our position clear to the UN on the matter of personal ownership of firearms. His presentation was not received happily. You can do much worse than to address a communication to Undersecretary Bolton, and to President Bush, stating your views on this matter. We are assured that a properly expressed political view will indeed be read, and possibly even noted, in Washington. (Undersecretary John R. Bolton, US Department of State, 2201 "C" Street NW, Washington, DC 20520.)

As if we did not have enough problems as it is, the American Medical Association has in effect declared war on us American shooters. According to their views, they see gadgets, rather than bad guys, as the main threat to our national security. They are against us. Okay, we know.

Family member Olga Graziano recently had a collision with a javelina near Benson, Arizona. She hit the pig hard enough to fire the air bag in her car, which caused more damage than I would have believed, blowing out the windshield, as well as part of the dash. I had the impression that it would take more of an impact than a pig can supply to fire off that gadget, but there was the pig, and there was the car, and no other parties were involved. In our opinion, air bags should be optional.

From correspondence it appears that a good many people do not know exactly what a "snapshot" is. A snapshot with the rifle is achieved by pointing the weapon at the target with both eyes open, achieving a reflexive alignment as the butt hits the shoulder. With both eyes open this alignment is verified and the shot follows instantly. The point is that with the snapshot, the sights are not used to align the rifle but rather to verify an alignment already achieved. It is not often necessary, but it does work.

Family member Jim Haas' son Michael has just returned from Africa, and on this trip four out of nine kills were obtained by means of a snapshot. I had not heard of that many even being attempted before, but we do have a beautiful example on tape. This was brought off by Joshua Robinson on a bushbuck at 35 yards. It clocks at 1½ seconds from ready to bang. Great stuff!

I am thinking of founding a society for The Proper Employment of Pronouns. "Each to their own selves be true" used to be a ridiculous barbarism, but it is becoming almost commonplace as time passes.

Note the rebirth of the 45-70 cartridge. It was introduced in the so-called "Trapdoor" Springfield not long after the Civil War. It was a good cartridge then and it remains so now. Winchester brought it out in their Model 1886 lever-action rifle, but while that was a good idea, it never seemed to catch on with the general public. Oddly enough by modern standards, it seemed to "kick too much." Well, it indeed comes back smartly, but we have the answer to that today in the ubiquitous muzzle brake. The cartridge does very well right over the counter, as long as you keep your shots under 150 meters. But technical developments in the ammunition line, as well as in the rifle to take it, give us new opportunities. Jim West of Anchorage some years ago introduced the "Co-pilot," a takedown little gem used as protection against huge bears for the pilots of float planes. And then Randy Garrett of Washington began improving the ammunition with his extremely hard-cast, flat-point ammunition.

The "Co-pilot" is based upon the Marlin action, and the Marlin people tried to get into the act by down-staging Jim West's nifty product. Following this, Jim West pioneered a new cartridge, which is a long-case version of the 45-70. He calls this cartridge the 457, saying that it bears the same relation to the 45-70 as the 357 does to the 38 Special.

Loaded with the Randy Garrett "Plus P" ammunition, the Co-pilot should probably now be renamed "Little David" - an extremely effective and marvelously handy weapon for use against heavy, dangerous game at moderate ranges. The piece may be had in full stainless steel with ghost-ring sights and a composition stock, which has much to recommend it in soggy climates like that of Alaska. This is the perfect combination for moose and the giant bears. It is also perfect for the African lion guide. Of course, if you are only going to shoot deer or pigs, it will do that job well, too. And in its neat little padded case, it is no more obtrusive than an overnight kit. This, I think, is progress.
Jim West
Wild West Guns
7521 Old Seward Hwy, Unit A
Anchorage, Alaska 99518
(907) 344-4500
Randy Garrett
Garrett Cartridges, Inc.
PO Box 178
Chehalis, Washington 98532

As the years pass we note an unmistakable softening of what might be called the national character. This is not only apparent in the press, but even in our clients here at school. Perhaps - horrible thought - we need a full sized war to stiffen our collective spine. Hardness of spirit, hardness of muscle, hardness of heart are essential elements of cultural survival, and they don't seem to be what they were - even twenty years ago. Our athletes do wonderful things, but they are encouraged to cry "Time out!" when pressed. I am told by "new soldiers," even Marines, that what once was considered normal disciplinary procedure is today held to be legally reprehensible. During my own tour as company commander I never once sent a man before a court. I didn't need to. I had sergeants. How today's captains proceed without sergeants is beyond me. But how to proceed with perverts and girl warriors is also beyond me. However I am told that there exists a "warrior underground," surreptitious but pervasive, that may save us, despite the advertised spirit of the times. It may be swimming against the tide, but it is said that you can't keep a good man down. It is to hope!

Firearm related crime in England has grown 40 percent in the two years since the imposition of Prohibition. This surprises nobody, of course, except the British Home Office. ("An armed society is a polite society," as everybody should be aware.)

'Tis said that one can prove anything by statistics, but some statistics are more interesting than others. Consider the following, contributed by family member Shep Kelly:
Counties won by Gore: 677
Counties won by Bush: 2,434

Population of counties won by Gore: 127 million
Population of counties won by Bush: 143 million

Square miles of country won by Gore: 580,000
Square miles of country won by Bush: 2,427,000

States won by Gore: 19
States won by Bush: 29

Average Murder per 100,000 residents in counties won by Gore: 13.2
Average Murder per 100,000 residents in counties won by Bush: 2.1

It does seem evident that hunters make better combat troops than others. I think that this is simply because hunters are accustomed to shooting for blood. This is not a matter of homicide, but of concentration. The hunter must absolutely concentrate on his marksmanship, to the exclusion of other considerations - under intense time pressure. The non-hunter tends to rely on volume of fire.

Classical note: Do you know about Procrustes? That was the legendary Greek bandit who fit his guests to his bed by stretching them out or chopping them off, as circumstances demanded. Thus "Procrustean research" is that sort which starts with a conclusion and then does its best to find material to justify it, ignoring that which does not. We are weary of reading the work of a couple of military historians whose conclusions are definitely Procrustean. These people insist that soldiers do not want to fight and are repelled by the necessity of doing so. These people do a lot of statistical analysis, but somehow I find it hard to believe. I know something about war, and I have associated for years with a great many people who know more than I do, and I simply do not identify this "reluctant warrior" character. Personal combat is not exactly fun, but its successful conclusion is exhilarating. Victorious combat is an enormous psychological lift for all those with whom I have come in contact. I only know of two cases which might be called remorse, and they are both involved in aerial combat. On the ground (and usually in the air) you rejoice when you win.

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