Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 9, No. 9           September, 2001

High Summer

So the heat is on, "temperature-wise." This is not our favorite time of year, but it does have its points, and we pay our annual tribute to garden - fresh tomatoes and corn minutes off the stalk. These may be commonplace luxuries, but such luxuries they are! Those of us who shoot, summer is always a good time to pop caps, partly because school is out, and this is a good time to take our young people out to the range. Despite the curious ravings of our adversaries, young people must be introduced to shooting as soon as they have enough muscle and bone to manage a firearm. Properly educated young folk do not have these disgusting accidents we read about in the press, and they grow up to be good citizens who value their liberties and stand ready to defend them. So hooray for summer!

As the after-action reports keep coming in, we notice that most defensive shooting situations take place under circumstances which do not call for expert marksmanship. Of course the shooter must know the fundamentals of hitting a target, and he must know correct gunhandling, but in a street fight he is almost never called upon to shoot with match-winning precision. What he needs in a gunfight is control of his nerves, or what we call the "combat mind-set." It seems clear that when faced by deadly threat the primary requirement is self-control. It is, however, important to note that such self-control is much more available to a combatant who knows that he can always hit what he aims at. Thus we teach elemental basic marksmanship for a couple of days before we introduce the student to combat simulation. When that red flag flies, all you really need to concern yourself with is a clear picture of your front sight and a compressed surprise break. That's all. It does not come naturally. It is never "instinctive." It is a programmed combat reflex, and that we can teach.

When I endeavored to put together the general-purpose rifle in scout configuration, I did not realize that a good many shooters have no interest in a general-purpose rifle. They take their shooting pleasure from the ownership of lots of rifles, and to the extent that they now can acquire one rifle that does almost anything, they tend to be disgruntled. Sorry about that!

We recently received by round about way a curious press release from Afghanistan. It reports that seven Taliban "authorities" attempted to arrest a lone woman. When she resisted they began pounding on her. She thereupon shot and killed all seven. The report says that "she reloaded the pistol and left the area before reenforcements arrived." It did not say what sort of reenforcements were involved, or whom they wished to reenforce. The local police chief was much upset by this and claimed that he expected that this girl would soon be "located." We have a language problem here, but apparently those seven "authorities" are all dead. We would welcome this pistolera here at Gunsite to teach combat mind-set.

Note that the 45 ACP cartridge is now okay in Guatemala. Of course you have to get proper papers for any firearms you wish to bring in, but the 45 ACP is no longer forbidden.

Much recent correspondence concerns the question of why we shoot. As a nerve exercise, shooting is no more complex than billiards or golf, but it does provide a satisfaction which the other activities cannot offer. Now why is that?

It has been suggested that recreational shooting affords a sensation of control over one's environment and that control grants a sense of power not otherwise obtainable. The lust for power may or may not be a good thing, but it exists in most men. It is better for us to understand it than to condemn it.

I began shooting at age eleven and thus I have enjoyed it for 70 years, which is long time in which to enjoy anything. I think this enjoyment has been a good thing and it has served to overcome the customary feelings of inadequacy and insecurity encountered while growing up. In the one case I know of (my own), competence in firearms served totally to eliminate nightmares. Even as a kid I was never concerned about "the thing under the bed" because I felt I could cope with it. I have no idea how widespread this psychic phenomenon may be, but I do know that it works. The shooting master copes, and he is thus heavily armored against those anxieties that come from membership in the human race.

The subject is well worth discussion, but the dominance of fear is only one aspect thereof. The other element is fun. Shooting is fun. To most of us it is more fun than tiddlywinks, hopscotch or frisbee. We shoot because we like to shoot. In one incident in Household's excellent novel "The Dance of the Dwarfs," the communist thugs of the Colombian cordillera have braced the operators of the agricultural lab for questioning. The chief interrogator asks the girl, Chucha, "What is your job here?" Answer: "I am servant." Question: "Do you sleep with the boss?" Answer: "Claro (of course)." Question: "Why claro?" Answer: "Because I like to."

That pretty well takes care of that. Why do we shoot? Because we like to.

Summertime appears to be bear season in the Great West. The increasing profusion of both bears and tourists in the boondocks has brought about the closing of at least one campground in Colorado. Bears are not stupid and they quite naturally understand a correlation between campers and food. They are omnivorous; they will eat anything from peanut butter sandwiches to environmentalists. (I understand they will even eat gringo tortillas.)

The long established Gunsite Bear Rules will take care of your bear problem. If you do not have a copy of those rules, the Gunsite Pro-Shop will furnish them to you on demand.

I guess this talk of global warming has been pretty much debunked by family member Dr. Art Robinson, among others, but there are plenty of people who feel that they must have something to worry about. In this case I suggest the odious proliferation of the gringo tortilla in the American Southwest. This unfortunate item is now being offered as (would you believe it!) first choice in some purely Mexican restaurants out this-a-way. There now, worry about that!

There are some people around who do not know what a J-ladder is. The J-ladder is a competition system devised back at Big Bear by the Countess and daughter Parry. It enables contestants to match each other as in a tennis tournament, but assures them of at least two bouts whether they win or lose the first round. It works accurately with groups of eight, sixteen, or thirty-two contestants. It can be used less efficiently with different numbers of contestants, but it has to be jiggled, and jiggling is not always mathematically correct.

On a J-ladder, if you win every bout you will win the match. If you lose your first bout you are still in the contest, and though you may not win it, you may come in second, provided you never lose again.

For groups of seven or less, a satisfactory shoot-off may be conducted by means of a "round robin" in which every contestant meets every other contestant. The number of bouts involved in a round robin may be calculated by the formula b=c(c-1)/2.

Thus, a round robin for six contestants will have fifteen bouts.

As the English language continues to "evolve," we note a curious tendency to use the term "professional," when what is meant is "expert." One is a professional when he is paid for what he does. That does not mean that he is particularly good at it. It is probably safe to say that people who do things really well do so because they love doing them. This makes them amateurs in the precise sense of the term, though "amateur" has come to mean clumsy in much common usage.

I guess the reason that cowboy action shooting is more popular than pinball is that it is essentially a fancy dress affair. People love to dress up and make believe, which is certainly okay if that is what gives you pleasure.

Randy Garrett of Washington state is now producing some very efficient ammunition for the 45-70 cartridge. He feels that there is little point in expanding a 500-grain 45 caliber bullet, since expansion automatically reduces penetration. Garrett bullets feature the broadest possible "meplate," which is the flat point forward of the ogive. This is combined with a very tough, but not brittle, lead body. In his "hammerhead" configuration the 45 caliber bullet weighs 540 grains. This combination, used in one of Jim West's "Co-pilot" rifles, should prove to be about perfect for the heaviest and most dangerous game. Randy maintains that it will shoot through a buffalo endwise and cause a more destructive wound channel than a 500-grain solid from a conventional heavy rifle. You may shoot this in a 7-pound, short-barrel, lever gun properly fitted with ghost-ring sights. This would seem to be the answer.

For those who decry the 45-70 as a short-range gun, I must point out that no wild creature can hurt you unless he can touch you (except possibly the ringhals). Range is not an important consideration in this matter.

From Johnny Shoemaker we hear of a 1911 pistol which had resided in Condition 1 since its owner's death in 1929 - all springs compressed. It functions perfectly today, together with all of its ammunition.

This does not surprise me since I had a similar experience with my old Super 38, though not over so long a time period.

Much as we try, we do not seem to be able to spread the word to the extent that we might wish. Consider the proper use of the telescope sight, which remains obscure, if we believe what we read in the sporting magazines. It is a common belief that the telescope sight is essentially slower than iron sights. The reverse is true, but this is not properly understood because rifle shooting as practiced today is essentially slow-fire, and unless one is properly educated in the matter he will have no way of finding out about quick shooting. Certainly the need to shoot quickly with a rifle is rare, but it does exist. I think one reason why we do not see more snapshooting in the woods is that most people do not know how to do it and therefore do not try.

We have been teaching the binocular snapshot here at Gunsite for many years, and the results in the field, demonstrated by Gunsite graduates, are incontrovertible. I treat this subject in some detail in "The Art of the Rifle," but astonishing as it may seem, there are riflemen who have not read that book. I was addressed by such a one just recently who offered to show me how to mount open sights on top of the telescope tube, thus permitting a quick shot under circumstances where the telescope was "too slow." By interesting coincidence, I was shown a similar setup about 35 years ago by a correspondent from Sweden. At that time I had not worked out the binocular snapshot technique on my own, so I investigated the Swedish suggestion and discovered its flaws, which result from the impossibility of focusing in and out at the same time. As all Gunsite grads know, you track with your left and shoot with your right. This does not come naturally, but it can be learned rather quickly once its principles are understood.

The scoutscope is now available. It is particularly well suited for the snapshot, yet it loses nothing that I can detect in slow-fire. I guess this answer is too easy.

We learn from Europe that the German police are acquiring Steyr Scouts, but fitting them with moonscopes. It has never been clear to me that a policeman needs a rifle. If he does need it, I suppose we can assume he will need it at night and there will be no particular hurry. Under these conditions a moonscope may be a good answer, and of course it may be easily fitted to the slotted top of the Steyr Scout.

Elmar further tells me that the German cops want their Scout rifles in black. There may be a reason for this, but I suspect that it is more emotional than realistic.

Family member Clifford Douglas has now taken off for Alaska with his 376 Dragoon. Before he left he asked me, "Now what do I do with my other rifles?" Good question.

Do you not find it odd that pistol makers still refuse to dehorn their products? I guess the people who make them do not shoot them.

There exists an old solecism to the effect that if a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody there to hear it, it will not make any noise. By this token, when people stop talking about an atrocity it ceases to have any existence. Somebody killed O.J. Simpson's wife, and according to O.J. this character is still wandering around out there free as a bird. Somebody killed Vince Foster, wrapped the body in a blanket and stashed it out there in the park. There are people who know who did that, but nobody suggests we try to find them. We know what Horiuchi did, but those concerned are tired of talking about it. If you let the matter drop, eventually it will have no existence, or so it seems. You know about Inspector Javert? Perhaps it is time we dug him up and put him on the case.

Now that machinery has taken over our literary efforts, we are conforted with what may be called "electric punctuation." I can dope it out, but I do not have to like it.

A Pearl Harbor Story Worth Telling

Someone at the table asked a Japanese admiral why, with the Pacific Fleet devastated at Pearl Harbor and the mainland US forces in what Japan had to know was a pathetic state of unreadiness, Japan had not simply invaded the West Coast. "You are right," he told the Americans. "We did indeed know much about your preparedness. We knew that probably every second home in your country contained firearms. We knew that your country actually had state championships for private citizens shooting military rifles. We were not fools to set foot in such quicksand."

Do you know what the term "point blank" means? At one time it meant target shooting. (See Tiro al Blanco.) What it means today is anybody's guess, and it is a good term to avoid.

Guru say: Only Outdoorsmen Should Walk the Wild.

Did you know that our cult hero Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. summited the Matterhorn? I learned that only recently and it points out still another feather in the cap of the Great Man. TR was one of those few presidents who would have been a great man even if he had never been a politician. Surely we do not see many of those.

Quote of the Week from Human Events, Vol. 57, No. 29. Rep. Bob Schaffer (R.-Colo.) explaining what he would do with his $600 tax rebate check, July 27, 2001.
"More gas for my SUV, renew my membership in the NRA. Oh, and I won't forget 10% for the church,"

Perhaps it is time to go over this again. There are four general methods of firing the double-action pistol (the crunchenticker).
  1. The Weaver system. In this the finger finds the trigger as the hands come together, and pressure commences as the pistol rises. The hammer starts backward on the way up, reaching full cock just as the sights line up, and it drops exactly at that instant. This is very fast and very precise, but it calls for talent, understanding, and much practice.
  2. The point-press system. This is most widely used by the police. The piece is pointed in, the sights are aligned, and the piece is "crunched off." This is somewhat slow and not very precise, but it will suffice for coarse shooting.
  3. The thumb-cock system. In this the weak-side thumb finds the hammer as the hands come together, and cocks the piece as it lines up. This is fastest and most precise.
  4. The shot-cock system. In this the first shot is flung down-range without reference to he sights, and the second shot follows with precision. Though this may waste a round (but not necessarily), it works-both on the range and in the street. I don't teach it, but it exists.
The drawback of the crunchenticker is that if the trigger finger is correctly placed for the crunch it is wrong for the tick, and vice versa. System c avoids this problem.

After a long lifetime of hunting, we conclude that the mountain sheep is the finest quarry. His pursuit demands stalking skill, physical stamina, keen eyesight, and superior marksmanship. He inhabits the grandest scenery, he provides a spectacular trophy, and his meat is the very best on the table.

As a youth I was privileged to hunt him in North America, but I dreamed of one day seeking him in Central Asia on the roof of the world. There dwells Ovis poli, with his sixty-inch curl, and Ovis ammon, the ram god. I planned that hunt, but I never made it, and now that the helicopter has made it a more reasonable enterprise I discover that even if I were in shape to undertake it I would not do so.

Having read into the problem more deeply, I find that the roof of the world is no fun. It is barren, cold, dry, and unpleasing to the eye. There is no vegetation and no oxygen. The beasts are there, and at best they are magnificent, but their pursuit is commercialized to an unpleasant degree and there is not enough time to adjust to a 15,000 foot base camp.

Sour grapes? Perhaps, but I will still champion the bighorn of the Canadian Rockies as a better deal.

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