Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 10, No. 4          April 2002


When I recently expressed some puzzlement about the semantic confusion in the differences between iron and steel, I did not realize that I would get such an enthusiastic response. A whole sock-full of correspondents has responded by telling me at some length the various terminological differences now in use in the steel industry. I am duly grateful. I must remark, however, that these people do not agree amongst themselves, even in the matter of text books. Apparently a metal is steel if you call it steel, and iron if you call it iron. The amount of carbon in the product, though relevant, may not be conclusive. Of the various courses which I did not take when I was in college (to my regret) one was the history of metallurgy. Metal is what defines mankind. The Greeks even had a god of the forge, expressing how important the working of metals was to them. In passing I have discovered that much of what we have called bronze is actually copper, and I found that some of the edged weapons of the Nahuatl was actually a form of bronze, though the Spaniards referred to it as copper (cobre). These things are very interesting, but not so much so to a scientist as to a historian. The matter of maintaining an edge on a sword was of the most vital importance for more than 2000 years. It is quite obvious that one cannot "break" a sword over his knee or by striking a hard blow if it is made of what we would call steel today. The "Spanish sword" of the Romans (gladius hispaniensis) seems to have been made of fairly primitive iron, but would be called steel today by some people. The sword of the Renaissance Spaniard, however, was made of excellent steel, in the utilitarian sense, which can be determined by its observed performance in action.

Thanks very much, friends. Clearly I need to go back to school. Perhaps you will join me.

Note that Hans Hambrusch, who was head of Steyr Mannlicher when we made the original plans for the Scout, has gone into business for himself and announced the creation of a bolt-action 700 Nitro Magnum rifle. Now there is something really to show your friends! You can be sure you will be the only kid on the block with one of those.

I notice a number of public departments advocating the use of what might be called a "shoulder-ready" position. In this, when a shooter with a long gun is ready to fire or thinks that something may come up, he places the butt into the shoulder, but drops the muzzle until it is pointing perhaps 45 degrees downward, still holding the weapon in both hands. When ready he simply raises the muzzle to cover the target and keeps the butt in the shoulder. I do not actually object to this system, but I do not push it. The Standard Ready position, with the butt on the belt, muzzle at eye level, is considerably more comfortable and less tiring. It is in no sense slower. That is why we use it in engaging the flying clay birds. The trouble with the butt shoulder-ready position is that it is tiresome over a long period. Our friend and family member Dalton Carr, who has had more experience with troublesome bears than almost anyone, mentions in his writings that a man can wear himself out or freeze himself stiff by holding a shoulder-ready position for any considerable length of time. Any system which works would seem to be okay, but my choice is for the Standard Ready position in most circumstances.

Semantic note: Violent criminals in New Guinea now referred to as "raskols." Guess where that word came from.

Family member Dick Weinig from Alaska informs us that there still exists a land where you can shoot a moose from your bunk, deck a ram with a pistol, and hike all day without seeing any work of man. Better go before it's too late.

I dare say that all shooters are familiar with Ruark's Dictum: "Use enough gun." If one has a choice, he certainly should select a piece with sufficient power to do the job he carries it for. However, it is a great mistake to assume that one can compensate for poor placement with increased power. Proper placement and adequate penetration are the essentials. Power is nice to have, but it is not the primary consideration, except that the weapon must dispose of sufficient power to secure adequate penetration. Karamojo Bell accounted for his hundreds of elephants with the 7x57 and the 6.5. Dalton Carr's favorite rifle cartridge is the 270, with which weapon Ian McFarlane fed his family for 28 years. The essence of this matter, however, is that these people were excellent marksmen who not only could shoot well but could control their nerves under conditions of extreme excitement. If a man cannot shoot well enough for the task at hand, and cannot control his nerves, selecting a more powerful weapon will not help - if fact it may hurt by giving him an unwarranted sense of confidence. As far as I am able to discern it, the consensus of African PHs is that the two greatest weaknesses of their inexperienced hunters are packing a rifle which scares them by its excessive blast and recoil, and the lack of the ability to assume a proper firing position quickly. By all means use enough gun, but do not assume that a bigger gun will get bigger results without a direct measure of assistance from the marksman.

We hear reports back from Turkestan to the effect that the 9mm Parabellum cartridge is simply not a satisfactory man-stopper. Surprise?

There are so many new major-caliber self-loaders being offered today that I have not been able to evaluate them properly, nor will I, considering the amount of time it will take to run a thorough test on each example. I can pick out specific flaws in specific designs, but that is only negative criticism and not the whole story. I will continue to insist, however, that for personal self-defense against two-legged varmints, a major-caliber pistol cartridge is the primary consideration. By "major-caliber" we can use the following rough formula: Multiply bore area (not caliber), times bullet weight in grains, times 1000. If your cartridge can deliver a 44 caliber bullet of 200 grains at 1000 feet per second, you have a passing cartridge, at least in theory. Here again, placement comes before power.

Before leaving the subject, we must remember that a 22 rimfire in the eye socket will stop the fight. The thing is to be able to insure that.

In the bear-defense class, we ran the group through on the Co-pilot for the purpose of determining whether, as some have reported, it kicks too much. The answer is that it does not. We had fifteen people, including, one petite guide girl, and nobody suggested that the weapon pushed as much as a 12-gauge shotgun.

It would seem that most people characterize rifles by cartridge nomenclature. They call a rifle a 30-30 or a 375 or such. This designation is a starter, but it does not go the whole way. If a man has two 30-06s, for example, it would not tell him which one to choose. I have long preached that a student coming to school here at Gunsite who has a choice of several rifles should pick the one with the best trigger action. People are not the same (thank God!), so I will not use my own experience as a guide for yours, except to say that I have always been able to hit better with a weapon with a good trigger action. By "trigger action" I stipulate a crisp, motionless release (after take up, if any) at 3½ lbs or less. If a trigger is made too light it may allow the striker to fall when the bolt is closed, resulting in either a failure to fire or an inadvertent discharge. It takes a good gunsmith to install and tune a really good trigger. Some gunsmiths are better than others.

Note that the foregoing is not true of the Blaser, in which the trigger action is more or less independent of the gunsmith's skill. When you press the trigger on a Blaser, it simply removes the piston which holds the striker back without any rubbing, scraping or creeping.

Therefore the features which distinguish one rifle from another are more numerous than simple cartridge selection. Stock fit, weight, sighting system, magazine capacity, barrel length, overall length - all these are factors to be considered. When your friend says that he will bring his "30-06," he has told you something but not very much.

That beret is a crummy headgear. A proper headpiece for a soldier is a helmet - steel for duty, plastic for liberty. Seems to me we had one like that.

Have you noticed that relatively few shooters are interested in what we may call utilitarian shooting - that is, shooting for a purpose? Most people I talk to do not think seriously about shooting to kill. Now I have nothing against shooting at targets, I have shot at more targets than most people, but target shooting is irrelevant to the purpose of the firearm, rifle, pistol or shotgun. I continually run across people who are very proud of a possession they want to show me. When I ask them, "What is it for?" they are nonplused. I suppose in the back of their minds is "What it is for is to show people." Well, that is all right. It does keep the shooting industry alive, and we do need the shooting industry, but we should not lose track of the objective. You may regard a firearm as a toy, but the next time you look at it consider it more seriously. Learn to use it well. You may never have to use it for any serious purpose, but you certainly should be able to.

We notice that Taurus has now introduced a 45-caliber service pistol. I will look into this and get back to you.

We asked about the reputed plague of AIDS in southern Africa. Accurate statistics are hard to get, but our best-educated guess places the rate of the disease at 1½ to 2 percent of white South Africans. As reported in the press, the rate is very high amongst the Bantu.

For those who are concerned about rifle power, family member Ted Ajax reports a clean, one-shot stop on moose with his Scout, using the 180-grain Barnes bullet.

In my continuing, but not successful, effort to preserve semantic purity, I suggest that the Arab attack on the World Trade Center was an atrocity, rather than a tragedy. Rhodesia is a tragedy.

We just finished a specialized course here at Gunsite intended for people who work (or play) in country where they run the chance of inadvertent contact with four-legged beasts which may prove hazardous to their health. A number of very interesting points were raised.

First, does this person require the use of both hands in his normal activities? The rifle and the shotgun are both more efficient than the pistol in a deadly confrontation, but if the weapon concerned is too cumbersome to be at hand when the flag flies, you have lost the discussion. Thus while we all admit that a rifle is your principal life-saver in any confrontation with a dangerous beast, it may be necessary under some circumstances for you to depend upon a handgun. Since animals strong enough to pose a threat to life and limb are big and strong, the handgun intended for defense against such beasts should be as powerful as can be comfortably managed, but range is not an important consideration. If you have to defend yourself against a bear or a lion that you just happened upon, the chances are that the beast will be within arm's length or less before you can fire. Of the several cases I know in which disaster was avoided with a pistol in an encounter with a dangerous beast, the muzzle was either touching the target or very nearly so.

If you carry a pistol for defense against dangerous animals, you want it to be handy in order to be sure that it is there when you need it. Drawing speed is of little consequence, but security is important. A man who is working under particularly sloppy conditions of rain, snow, mud, etc., will need a carrying system which protects his piece completely from unwarranted intrusion of foreign matter. In cool climates an open shoulder holster may suffice since the piece will be worn underneath outer clothing. In warmer climates, a covered holster may be the best choice.

In animal defense situations you are not likely to need a lot of ammunition. If you fail to brain your animal at spitting distance, reloading is probably going to be irrelevant.

We get a report from family member Eric Ching of 2300f/s in 19 inches with the 270-grain Swift bullet. Seems high. I will check that further.

We are amused to note an ad in a slick magazine saying, "Slim is in." Wal ah be dogged! What you should get is a firearm that is "in." If your pistol is not in, you will just have to go to the rear of the class. The man who wrote that ad, of course, is an ad man, only vaguely interested in the truth. The point that he is making is that the double-column magazine, introduced by the venerable P35, makes for a pretty broad butt if it is to be wrapped around a major caliber. A great many rounds in a service pistol is not really very important. The highest score I know of, and I have been studying this matter for a very long time, tallied five stops without reloading. It was executed with a 1911 pistol with eight rounds aboard. Four goblins were dead on the scene and the fifth was carted away on a stretcher. (I am pleased to say that in this case the shooter was a student of mine.)

But the point is that whether slim is in or out is not a consideration of consequence. A pistol is a close-range, antipersonnel device. The P35 was a notable weapon, but it did start us off on a false trail.

It is annoying to hear that they have us fighting amongst ourselves. IPSC people are fighting IDPA people, and so on. If you want to fight somebody, I can point out some people in Congress who are worthy of your attention, but fighting against ourselves is nothing but destructive.

It appears that we are now contemplating a "Ladies Only" class for November. The front office has not yet told me how they are going to decide who is and who isn't.

A short-barreled, 12-gauge shotgun with rugged metallic sights is doubtless a good bear choice, and is recommended by many people who work in Alaskan bear country. However, I would choose a rifle. If this rifle is to be used for defense against dangerous animals, it is necessary that it be handy. A weapon that is so clumsy that it is out of reach when you need it is no weapon at all. If a rifle is to be used at any distance, we are probably avoiding the defensive connotation, but if so, it should be equipped with a shooting sling, either a conventional loop or a speed sling. Many people argue against the use or presence of any kind of sling at all, since ranges in dangerous situations will be very short and straps can be hampered by thick brush. (Modern slings are instantly detachable and should be demounted and left aside in conditions of short-range hazard.)

Any beast which poses a serious danger to people is a big, strong beast and should not be pestered with minor-caliber rifles. It is true that you can brain almost any beast with a 223, under certain circumstances, but this certainly should not be your first choice. It that squirt gun is all you have, shoot for the brain and hope for the best, but remember to pray a lot.

Is our standard 308 (7.62 NATO) adequate for dangerous game defense? Certainly it is, provided proper bullets are used and the shooter is a cool hand. The proper bullet is one of ample weight and thick jacket. Long range exterior ballistics hardly matter. I remember when I was living in California that a friend of mine had a huge brown bear mounted in his place of business, practically rubbing its head on the ceiling. He loved to talk about how exciting that bear hunt was, but he was hard put to decide whether it was a matter of stark peril at arm's length or a case of masterful marksmanship way across the canyon. He could never decide which, so he alternated one story against the other.

Defense against bears, lions, tigers, and such is a short-range proposition. No matter how fierce he is, no wild animal can hurt you unless he can touch you. Clearly you will make do with what you have, and in many cases the defensive situation is improvised, but still you should not select a weapon suitable for long-range shooting if its principle purpose is self-defense.

Telescopic sights are so common today that it is practically impossible to sell a rifle without one, but a scope is not the right choice when you are trying to stop a beast from biting you. The glass sight is plenty fast enough - faster than metallic sights when thoroughly understood - but it is no help in stopping a charge, and regardless of what any salesman will tell you, it is fragile over the long haul. Besides which its lenses may easily become obscured by foreign matter under conditions of rough duty. (On the occasion of my one and only lion, taken head-on at eleven paces, the telescope was an encumbrance. All I could see through the tube was yellow fur, which offered no aiming point.) Experiences differ and we have room here for endless fireside conversations, but I do not recommend a telescope sight on a rifle intended for man-killing beasts.

In counting your blessings aren't you glad you were born on the right side of this Holy War?

At risk of sounding too much of a self promoter, I strongly urge prospective students for rifle classes to read "The Art of the Rifle" before signing up. And anybody contemplating either Safari Prep or Quadruped Defense Class should complete a 270 before showing up for those.

For another plug, I now suggest that it is time for us to re-issue the hardcover version of "Another Country." Paperbacks wear out on the shelf.

You might not believe this, but our man Dan Dennehy reports that our troops in Bosnia had to scrounge their beer off of peacekeepers from other nationalities. It is hard to think of people in positions of authority who do not understand about the conduct of war in its relationship to beer. We could give them several examples. We even had beer on some of those South Pacific atolls, during breaks.

Looking at the distressing world scene today, I must but conclude that possibly a war is good for the spirit. Not a trivial war with no effect upon the social or economic scene, but a real war in which everybody is a player. In such a war, young men get their priorities straight. They find out quickly what is important and what is not. They understand values, and they quite literally prepare to meet their maker. On D-Day morning the word goes out, "We're all going into this today and a lot of us are not coming out. Make sure you people understand that and act accordingly."

A war is a great thing for a marriage, as I can testify personally. When you realize that each parting may be the very last one, you prize what is truly valuable and you forget about what is not.

In a real war you undertake a real moral task and you understand about morality. Just recently a young man - an American, he claims - announced publically that if the United States instituted the draft he would pack up and slip for Canada. Well, shucks, that really upsets us. Without that bird, we're in bad trouble, or so it seems to him. He said that his plans did not include any fighting. It might be well to pick that kid up before it is too late and put him in the Plans Division, there he could make all sorts of plans involving scrubbing latrines and picking up cigarette butts.

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