Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 10, No. 2          February 2002


Well, they certainly got our attention, and since that appears to have been their primary objective, they have won the first round of the Holy War. We now have to determine what it may take to win. In my distant youth, the main view in any conflict was, "Who started it?" Well, they started it. "All you gotta do is look," as the girl says in the song. Apparently in the eyes of the faithful, it is our fault for being evil-minded. I suppose a good many of us are, but that is hardly an occasion for the promulgation of mass homicide, though those of the opposite faith may hold otherwise. However that may be, this war does truly catch the attention, and when one starts to consider shooting matters, as in this paper, one's topic headings become difficult to sort out.

It seems to us that OBL has served his purpose and should be quietly dropped over the side, assuming that he is still alive. God knows a public trial is about the last thing the world should have to put up with at this time.

So now for the upcoming SHOT Show in Las Vegas, where we will be exposed to a vast trade fair at which to witness all sorts of novel items designed to entice the buyer. A special aspect of this is the fact that we already have our guns and they work just fine. Personal firearms should not be subject to the whims of fashion. If you have a good gun you hardly need another one. This, of course, is exasperating to the salesman, whose aim in life is to make you discontented with what you have. In my case - and I believe in that of most readers - I am not discontented with what I have. The weapons I own, and have owned for a very long time, do just fine, and while true perfection exists only in the mind of God, a really good gun approaches the ideal very closely. The grand hunting rifle I carried to take my first big game back before War II is practically flawless. Its only weakness is that it may be longer and heavier than necessary. By comparison with today's Steyr Scout, it may be a bit clumsy to pack around in the boondocks, but this is not a serious matter - except to a salesman.

Of course the overwhelming desire on the part of some people to collect gadgetry exists apart from considerations of excellence. The collector simply must collect new guns from time to time, not because they are necessarily better, but because he wants them. This is okay, but it makes the SHOT Show less exciting than a demonstration of high fashion.

"The world's most mutually incompatible religions - Christianity and Islam."

Edmund Morris in Theodore Rex

Let us bear in mind that a good trigger is not necessarily a light trigger. Crispness, which is the lack of apparent trigger motion on striker release, is the essential element of a good trigger. Personally I like them light, but crisp is more important than light. There are those who maintain that a light trigger is somehow unsafe, and so it is in the hands of a klutz, but any firearm is unsafe in the hands of a klutz. (I have heard it stated for insurance purposes that any of the upper-end Porsches is unsafe in the hands of a klutz. How true!)

Machinery is, of itself, neither safe nor unsafe. It is rather people who make the problem.

This matter of arming the pilots of commercial aircraft tends to miss the point, as is the case with many considerations involving groups rather than individuals. Certainly nobody should be armed unless he is properly qualified, both mechanically and temperamentally, in the use of his instrument. You cannot arm a man by simply handing him a gun, and we would not want to see airlines handing out pistols to aircrews. On the other hand, if these people show the desire and the capacity to handle this problem, they should not only be allowed, but encouraged, to protect both themselves and their passengers. This is by no means an abstruse problem. There are all sorts of ways of checking people out in all sorts of skills, from skindiving to skydiving. It is, of course, necessary to remember that people are more significant as individuals than as members of groups.

Of course there are the young. As new generations come up on the scene, they naturally constitute a market for personal firearms acquisition. A youngster can do very well with dad's gun, but there is a charm about personal ownership that a borrowed weapon cannot provide. I am often asked about the age at which one should acquire his own first weapon. The answer must depend upon both social responsibility and also physical structure. The age at which a young person may be considered socially responsible cannot be fixed by a number. Some kids are sound citizens at age ten. Others never become so. In a properly organized family, the parents control these matters, but in an age of ephemeral relationships and dual wage earners, moral standards are too seldom taught at the dinner table.

As to physical development, young people do not mature at the same rate. Parents can determine by observation the point at which the child is strong enough and long enough of limb to manage the manual of the rifle or shotgun. This will change from case to case, but I tend to think of it about the subject age of fourteen. Many of my friends have insisted that shooting be taught much earlier, and start by introducing the offspring to the 22 pistol way down around age eight. This is okay as long as it refers to usage rather than ownership, but shooting is one of the basic rights of passage, and a proper parent will make sure that his offspring is a fully responsible citizen by the time he is old enough and strong enough to handle a firearm.

Recently an anecdote was passed around involving the teaching of marksmanship at a summer camp. A critic suggested to the operator of this activity that the teaching of marksmanship might be considered "irresponsible." The proper answer here, in my opinion, is that not teaching marksmanship to an adolescent would be irresponsible.

We have received some excellent action reports from Orange Gunsite graduate and Marine Lieutenant Colonel Chris Bourne. It appears that the age of marksmanship is not totally past, in that Colonel Bourne's people had done some excellent work, one-on-one, while helicopter-born in Afghanistan. This work was done in semi-automatic mode using the M14 rifle.

Daughter Lindy is organizing a moose hunt in Maine for this coming Autumn. She is a fine field shot and an experienced huntress, but her outfitter feels called upon to enjoin her use of a 30-caliber rifle for this task. Apparently he has had some unsatisfactory experiences with military-sized cartridges up in his moose country, but he is not well enough informed to realize that placement is far more important than caliber when hunting big game. A moose is a big, stolid animal and not readily susceptible to shock, but I have taken three, with one shot each, and I will maintain that if you cannot take a moose with a 308 (using proper bullets) that you cannot take him with a 375 either. Lindy will probably resolve this question by using the Steyr (Dragoon) in caliber 376 Steyr, but whatever she does, she could do it just as well with her own personal Scout. (Note that Gunsite staff member Ted Ajax did exactly that last season in Montana.)

I find it strange that our media seems so upset about the nature of human conflict. From reading the paper or watching the tube, one would get the impression that nobody has ever gone to war before, and that nobody now alive has ever seen anybody shot. We did a lot of shooting on all sides in the 20th Century, and that is not going to stop in the 21st. Lethal conflict is not a pretty sight. Neither, of course, is it unthinkable or unspeakable. When people fight, people get hurt. Sometimes the results are pretty shocking. We should avoid fighting when we can, but there are many things worse than bloodshed, and cowardice is one of them.

It has been pointed out to me that I am in error in referring to all non-ragheads as "Christendom." A whole lot of people who profess Christianity are a long way from being Christians, but since we are going to have to choose up sides, I guess we better start buying the right uniforms.

We are mildly perplexed at the attention given to this Johnnie Walker kid, the Bay Region Taliban. Men have ratted on their own side now and again throughout history, and they have usually been dropped over the side without fanfare. It is not a big deal. If you are a rat, you are a rat. The thing is, it takes a king-sized rat to stand out, and a Bay Region hippy does not qualify. Usually it takes a general (Flavius Josefus, Benedict Arnold, Alkibiades). A friend of ours opined that at least this Johnnie Walker kid had "the courage of his convictions." The courage of one's convictions does not constitute grounds for treason. The parents of the principal in this case insist that he is not guilty as charged because he was not there at the time. That is a pretty good excuse, but it calls for proof. As our number one son-in-law, who was for 20 years a county prosecutor, puts it, "In the first place, I wasn't there. In the second place, if I was there, I didn't do it. In the third place, if I did it, I didn't mean to. And in the fourth place, I was insane at the time." These are the standard remarks made when a punk is seized by the scruff of the neck. He seldom makes his case.

We notice a tendency in the press, especially the British press, to regard "democratic" and "good" as equivalent words. This is not good thinking. A political institution may be good and not democratic, as with the Hapsburg Empire, or it can be democratic but not good, like the French Revolution. Democracy, which is simply majority rule, is a means to an end, but not an end in itself. Note that the word never appears in either the Declaration of Independence or the United States Constitution.

I guess that as a "gunners' guru" I should not mention it, but the wild pigs of the world are properly taken with cold steel. The weapon of choice is a lance from horseback or a pike from afoot. One of our most colorful hunters of recent times was Sir Samuel Baker, and he used a knife. I have not taken many pigs, and those with a rifle, which makes me a bad example. But pigs may be among our most outstanding "big game" of the 21st Century. So let us, by all means, sharpen our spears.

At this time of writing, the three most interesting rifles available remain the Wild West Co-Pilot, the Blaser R93 and the Steyr Scout. And amazingly enough the most interesting utility sidearm remains the 1911 Colt and its clones. Reports we get back from Afghanistan suggest that the two most useful smallarms in the Holy War remain the M14 and the 1911.

A sense of humor is what keeps the human psyche from total disaster, and if you cannot see the joke, your life is hardly worth living. It is true that in the large picture there is not a great deal to laugh about today, but that does not mean that one should spend his life under that rain cloud. A full-house war is a pretty grim thing, but my best memories of both World War II and Korea are examples of what might be called gallows humor. And there is no more cheerful sound than that of "boots and saddles" or "general quarters" played on a military bugle.

We have a considerable list now of applicants for the Osama bin Lottery. If your date has passed already, we will simply put you down for the same date next year.

The American pronghorn is, in our opinion, a nifty game animal, but he is frequently misunderstood. Living on the open plains and in country in which there is often very little cover, he often can be seen way out past Fort Mudge. That, however, is not an excuse for shooting beyond a reasonable distance. Charlie Putman, who is one of Gunsite's more distinguished graduates, proposes that a pronghorn hunter should limit himself to ranges of 100 yards and less. My own pronghorn was indeed a long shot, but that is not to my credit. If I had taken him at 50 yards, that would have been a much more sporting achievement.

Competition with smallarms should be above all else relevant. That is, it should relate to the purpose for which the instrument was designed. As a youth I studied the fencing foil seriously. Also the saber and epee, but I was frustrated by the fact that these efforts, while vigorous and artistic, were never really designed to accomplish anything. A touch with the point of a foil does not settle anybody's hash nor solve any argument. Likewise when we pose a shooting problem which does not represent the basic utility of the firearm, it loses its attraction for both competitor and spectator. Naturally we cannot make shooting contests truly realistic, since we cannot make them lethal, but that does not mean that we should not try to make each contest as close to reality as possible. The rules should be "If that could not happen on the street or in the field, it has no place in the contest."

We learn that the Mullah Omar has now called upon the faithful to gird up for "the extinction of America." The trouble is he does not know where it is.

We rather wish that our egg-headed social commentators would quit trying to prevent our annoying the ragheads. They are already annoyed as much as necessary, and there is no way that we as infidels can turn that around. Why they are sore at us hardly matters, since they are and for reasons which lie in the past. We as the warriors of the West will accomplish nothing by trying to analyze the causes of hostility. Our business now is to win the Holy War and clean up our act as necessary as we go along.

Any of the faithful who are interested in attending one of the "Masters Series" classes should note that these sessions are not designed to make the students into Masters - only the student himself can make himself a Master - but rather that they will be taught by Masters - faculty members who are not only master performers with the weapon of choice, but also master teachers of that weapon. In the classic sense, a Master of Weaponry is not necessarily a master practitioner with his weapon, though it is a good thing if he is, but that he be above all a superlative educator, who can understand and solve the problems of each student, rather than winning a maximum number of contests. A good coach should, of course, be a very fine shot, but above and beyond that, he should be a very fine teacher.

Unfortunately we cannot arrange for gunfights, but we do earnestly request any of the faithful to fill us in on the details of any shooting incidents in which they may participate, both on the street and in the field. Only by analyzing the past can we improve upon the future.

For those who wish to fiddle around with their sidearm, we suggest that one of your first operations should be that of "dehorning," which is the process of rounding all external sharp edges from the instrument. Those prismatic edges so long prized by reputable machinists wear out hands, clothing, holsters, and furniture. Every outward edge of your pistol should be smooth and round. Appropriate examples will occur to you.

Now that most reputable US citizens may become "permit holders" if they so choose, we must now become publicized as "the good guys." This may not be possible in the megalopolis, but the process is already underway in the rest of the country.

It has long been our dogma that stopping power is an essential element of the defensive triad, and this remains true as ever. However, the purpose of defensive combat is to stop one's adversary, and a 22 rimfire hit in the tear duct will stop any fight of which we have knowledge. Thus we do not push the 22 pistol as a defensive sidearm, but we do insist that perfect placement with the 22 is decisive. There is a place for the miniature 22 pistol, as long as it is well crafted and easy to use. It appears that most defensive confrontations are terminated solely by the display of a firearm. This cannot be proven, but the mass of street experience suggests that it is true. Nobody wants to get shot with any sort of pistol, which brings us around to the first principle of gun fighting, which is "Have a gun!"

We call your attention to a proposed special course tentatively called "Dangerous Game" to be held at Gunsite this year in March. It is intended for the edification of forest service people serving in the northern part of North America, specifically as it relates to the matter of "problem bears." A game animal, of course, is something one pursues on purpose, whereas people who wander the wild, either professionally or otherwise, are more concerned about running onto something which may prove dangerous, even if not purposefully sought. We intend to go into this matter in some detail and to feature instructors who have had personal encounters of the appropriate kind. When one thinks of dangerous game the first quarry to come to mind is the buffalo, but this course will not go into buffalo hunting unless the student body specifically asks about that. To most of the old-timers, the only really dangerous game animal was the elephant.

"If we are afraid to get hurt and they are not, they win."

Pat Buchanan
"Timidity is the curse of the age."

The Guru

I suppose everyone has now heard of the disgusting episode at the Phoenix airport where Governor General Joe Foss was shook down by the ineptizoids at the security check. Joe Foss may be the most distinguished American now living, but this means nothing to some yahoo at the bottom of the employment scale who never heard of Joe Foss, nor of the world war, nor of the Pacific Ocean, nor of the Congressional Medal of Honor. There are those who complain that we do not teach our young people enough "math" (though what they doubtless mean to indicate is arithmetic). That is certainly true, but we have other things that our young people are lacking in besides math, perhaps the most important of which is history. There must be some qualifications required of anyone who signs on to teach elementary school, but I do not know what they are. Joe Foss is an authentic American hero - but what is a hero? The way the world is going now even the professional ignoramus may have reason to learn about heroism in the immediate future.

From what we can tell from the tube, as it is shown to us out here in the sticks, the "bottom-feeders" in our society certainly look, act and dress the part. This is "profiling." It is not only acceptable, it is pretty much automatic.

A correspondent just asked us if we would devote a little attention to the problem of the left-handed rifleman, who is not being accommodated by Steyr Mannlicher. There is not much of a problem here, since almost all practical rifle shooting is slow-fire. A man who fires from the left shoulder has little difficulty in operating the bolt from the offside, since with a little practice he can work that bolt with either hand in the time it takes him to recover from the recoil of his first shot. It is nonetheless annoying that the manufacturers are unwilling to address this matter. Of course, not all of them are. Several current bolt-action weapons (conspicuously not including the Steyr Scout) are available in mirror-image, left-hand configuration. The best of these is the Blaser R93, which is longitudinally symmetrical and may be converted from right-to left-hand operation by simply installing a left-handed bolt. The R93 is a superb weapon, incorporating several conspicuous advantages, but it is not a Scout and it cannot be converted into one without expensive rebuilding.

So I must counsel my friend either to cultivate "cross-over" bolt work, or go to the Blaser. Left-handedness is a slight advantage to a swordsman and it need not discommode a rifleman enough to matter.

Our old friend Ted Taft killed his man on Guadalcanal with a knife, rather than a sword, and the technique involved did not inconvenience him at all.

When recently a noted British philosopher was asked if he would be prepared to die for his beliefs, he replied, "Certainly not! Who knows, I could be wrong."

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