Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 10, No. 5          Springtime 2002


Well, Spring is upon us without doubt. But this is a tough year for the human race, and "The flowers that bloom in the Spring, tra la" are rather hard put to cheer us up. It is vital, of course, to keep one's sense of humor, but at this time there does not seem much to be humorous about - racially, culturally, nationally, nor geographically. Be that as it may, we must not let the deterioration of advancing years nor the foolishness of the ragheads dismay us.

And it is foolishness. It is hard to accept the fact that something may be laughable and deadly at the same time, but that is the way things are.

Reports we get from Afghanistan and surroundings suggest that our lads are shooting pretty well. But field reports must always be taken with a certain amount of suspicion. We are told that current marksmanship training in the services makes no use of the shooting sling and is necessarily confined to the M16 rifle. We must offer our bemused congratulations.

We did not discover much at the Safari Club meeting which was of general interest to the shooter. But there was at least one item which fairly well took us aback. This is a double-barreled, bolt-action rifle, made in Austria at great trouble and expense. You can get it in any standard caliber if you have sufficient money and lots of time. What do you do with it? I guess you astonish your friends with it. How does it work? Well, you load both barrels and when you work the action you extract the cartridges in both barrels, whether or not they have been fired, and when you close the bolt you feed a new round into a fired barrel, if any. There are two triggers, one behind the other as with a conventional double-shotgun. When you press the first trigger, you fire the right barrel. When you press the rear trigger, you fire the left barrel. When you work the bolt, you have two empties on the ground and two fresh rounds in the chambers. (There are two or three rounds in each side of the double magazine, depending upon the cartridge chosen.)

This is truly an astonishing development. It goes to the head of the list for the Waffenpƶsselhaft award for the first decade of the 21st century. I can get you the brochure on this piece if you want to order one. I guess all orders will be placed by Arabian oil sheiks who have most of the money in the world and not much to do with their time.

Let us remember that the term "double-action" implies double action - that is to say, two different means of causing ignition. A double-action piece may be fired either by cocking it first or by pressing the trigger through without cocking. If the weapon cannot be cocked without employing the trigger-cocking system, that is a single-action piece, rather than a "double-action only" example. Not that it matters very much.

Somehow it has always seemed difficult for us to take a bearded man seriously unless he is riding a horse.

It is necessary to recall when the new era began back following World War II, we sought to devise new and superior means of obtaining hits with a handgun under diversified pressure. Prior to that time, marksmanship was evaluated primarily by slow-fire efforts on ring targets. This taught people to shoot in a certain way, but it did not teach them much about fighting which, after all, is the mission of the sidearm. In trying to remedy this situation, we devised a new set of criteria as an attempt to make marksmanship realistic. We did this as amateurs - for love of the sport, and sport it was. Techniques became standardized and challenging, but what we developed were systems suitable for enthusiasts rather than for "the masses."

So competition, first national then international, produced a very high level of skill for those who enjoyed this sort thing. But the skill so developed became increasingly unrealistic as we lost sight of the fact that the "service pistol," the "duty pistol," the "combat pistol" is an instrument intended to stop unexpected fights at distances rarely greater than across the table.

It was thereby discovered that to stay alive in a lethal encounter, the shooter did not need to be a virtuoso, but rather a coarse, short-range practitioner. Thus we have developed a new series of sidearms, plus a technique for their use which solved a mass problem in a practical way.

We are unlikely to make marksmen out of employees, drafted or conscripted, since a good marksman must be essentially a hobbyist. We can, however, turn a peasant into a pretty rough customer in a fairly short time, if only we get him to think straight. This sets forth the question of "mind-set," which in lethal combat is more important than marksmanship.

Thus we have come the full circle. I have been fortunate enough to ride it through from its inception in Southern California to its present condition. At this date a trainee on the public payroll is not likely to impress an old-fashioned target shooter, nor a 1960s combat master. He does not need to. What he needs is to stay alive, and reports back from "the rock pile" suggest that he is doing pretty well at that.

Due to cancellations there are still spaces in the Masters Series Rifle Classes. Perhaps you do not need such practice. On the other hand...

In an age when we produce more and more college degrees and less and less education it is not surprising to learn that there are many folks out there who think that the US Constitution includes some sort of guaranteed "wall of separation" between church and state. That phrase came from Thomas Jefferson and nowhere appears in the Constitution. The Constitution insures that the United States may not "establish a religion" such as the Church of England or Islam. It certainly does not rule any form of religion out of public life.

"A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user."

Theodore Roosevelt

The Founding Fathers set forth to establish a government of laws, not men, and they did a fine job. There is a problem here, however. Laws only have force as long as men obey them, and if you read the US Constitution carefully you will find that in its Bill of Rights there are several laws which are conspicuously violated today by the government. Right now both the President and the Congress seem intent upon ignoring the First Amendment, and hardly anybody in Washington has paid any attention to the Tenth since the reign of Roosevelt II. So what then? Apparently we can indeed get by by heeding some of the constitution but not all of it. We recently saw a sign in a restaurant which declaimed, "Public apathy is an increasing problem, but who cares?"

We adopted the 223 cartridge, I am told, because a soldier can carry a lot more 223 ammunition than he could 308. Somebody pointed out that if you are stuck with a 223 cartridge, you need a lot more ammunition.

Reports from "up front" tell us that there is a large demand for a 45-caliber pistol for use in what amounts to guerilla warfare. It appears, however, that there is no stock of 45 caliber pistol ammunition available for issue. I think this situation might be remedied if we could just bring ourselves to let the boys buy their own.

And let us bear in mind that they are not boys. If they are not men, God help us!

The home is the fount of both morality and ethics.
It is thus the essential element of civilization.
Romantic love is the basis of the home.
"The date" is the foundation stone of romantic love.
Possibly I am wrong here, but it seems the present degenerative state of civilization may be attributed at least in part to the demise of the date.

We saw in the press that recently a suicide bomber was blown up by an Israeli rifleman who shot him in his bursting charge. Perhaps. But perhaps not. I do not know what explosive these ragheads are using, but I do know that it is very difficult to fire C4 by hitting it with gunfire. I had occasion to mess with this matter back in my irregular warfare days, and I eventually abandoned the idea of firing TNT, dynamite or C4 with a rifle bullet. In the case reported, I assume that the bomber discovered himself to be detected, and when the troops aimed in on him, he touched himself off.

It is said that not even God can change the past. Apparently this idea has not been fully accepted in the cinema business.

I have been happy with the Safari Prep course, but it simply does not draw with the shooting public. The safari customers assume either that they know enough already or that their professional hunter will arrange for things. Both of these assumptions are dubious. From Africa we are deluged with accounts of idiocy committed by customers in the field. I guess such people are simply unaware that they could profit by learning something about what they are going to do before they do it.

Films from the Land of Canaan suggest that the spray-and-pray technique is commonplace on both sides of the Holy War. Well, that is one way of taking advantage of the 223 cartridge.

The Scout situation is not everything I would desire. The Scout rifle is a very good idea, but like most ideas, its worth depends upon its execution. "Sweetheart," which rides on the wall in my armory, was once entitled by a knowledgeable visitor as "the best rifle in the world." Sweetheart is a prototype scout, and a very fine instrument indeed. It may be regarded as a progenitor of the Steyr Scout, as finally manufactured some five years ago. "Galatea," which is one of the early factory Scout rifles from Steyr, rides within reach as I write, but you cannot buy its exact duplicate at this time. You cannot get that trigger over the counter. What they may sell you as a Steyr Scout may come in the wrong finish, with the wrong bolt-handle, in the wrong caliber and featuring a strictly pedestrian trigger. However, in view of the problems of the importer at this time, you may not be able to get anything at all. The last I heard the pipeline for 308s was empty. You may be able to find a "376 Scout," which is what the factory calls the Dragoon, and this is a nifty instrument, but it is not Galatea. Domestic Scouts will not feature such nice little items as the double detente, the trigger adapter, or even the scoutscope. Well I got mine. "Pull up the ladder, Charlie, I'm aboard."

I used to think that a good shot was automatically a good man, because the essence of good marksmanship is self-control, and self-control is the keystone of good character. It is difficult to prove a proposition like this, but I am going to hold onto it until convinced otherwise.

When I used to teach irregular warfare at Quantico, I borrowed a doctrine from Lord Dunsany in his book "Guerilla." The guerillero does not fight - he kills.

Guerilla warfare is usually conducted with what we might call "spare parts," over- and underage types, wounded, and disabled. Such people cannot be organized into combat units with which to confront regular forces. If a guerilla actually gets into a fight he will almost certainly be wiped out, so he by choice takes the initiative, strikes and vanishes. This sort of thing enrages regular armies, as it did those of the French in the Peninsular War. It usually results in savagery on both sides. It is an ugly thing, but it will not go away just because it's ugly.

Our British source tells us that people using cellular phones at the wheel are 30 percent more dangerous than drunk drivers. It is curious the way people throw statistics around when they have no method of verification.

The kneeling position, both illustrated and taught over the years, is a pretty poor show with either rifle or pistol. There is almost no field circumstance in which the shooter gains anything by "dropping to one knee," as our great patron TR was want to do. I have killed only once from kneeling and that was because I was clinging to a 45 degree slope and shooting around the contour. In almost every other case, we have the sitting position, which is almost as fast and considerably more precise, and now from Vietnam we have the "Rice-Paddy-Prone" or Military Squat, which is both faster and more precise than any form of kneeling.

Yet I have now met a firing line in which more than half the students were shooting with one knee on the ground, and no support to the left arm. This achieves exactly nothing except to lower the sight line, which is rarely important. But we see it in the magazines. We see it in the films, and now, by God, I have seen on the range! Let's call that a 21st Century development and change the subject.

"If I were King," we would now hang Robert Hanssen, with all due ceremony, on the monument grounds. But we would simply drop Johnnie Walker over the side without further conversation.

We have seen with sadness that the nifty Remington 600s and 660s were simply too far ahead of their time. It has been suggested that people didn't like the way they looked. Now what difference does it make how a rifle looks? The fact that something looks funny does not mean you will not become accustomed to it if it works better. Witness the Porsche. Those 600s did feature a really poor sighting system involving a pointless plastic rib. That was the basis of Scout 1, and the sights came off almost at once. The 600/660s introduced two excellent new cartridges, the 6.5 Remington Magnum and the 350 Remington Magnum, both of which were real advances. A 660 in caliber 6.5 gave you a Pocket 270, ideal for mountaineers, and the 350 Remington Magnum proved out to be a nearly perfect cartridge for Alaska. Of course Alaska is pretty remote and the word does not get back from there to the hardware stores of the US.

Well you can get ahead of yourself! The Porsche might have but did not, for which we give thanks. I sincerely hope that the Steyr Scout holds up on the market. It certainly will hold up with shooters. We have a good lot of cases of astonished delight from Africa, but whether it holds up in the hardware stores remains to be seen.

One family member has suggested that these Israelis have acquired their use of the 22 rimfire in riot control from my writings. This is possible. I never intended to keep my teachings secret, but I hardly take credit for inventing the idea for a 22 in such work. Its advantages are self-evident and quite apparent to anyone who thinks about it.

It is essentially illegal to fight back in Britain, so street crime seems to be over the top - mostly committed by half-grown children.

Just how does one go about fighting a nuclear war? If you haul off and erase City A, your adversary will most likely retaliate by erasing City B on your side, and then what? Who wins? Who loses? Who decides? I have yet to see any serious work on the strategic use of weapons of mass destruction. I have asked a couple of experts about this, so far without any satisfying response.

One correspondent has raised the question of Raven terminology in connection with the establishment here at Gunsite. I have spoken to family members in the past, meaning those people who had come here to school when I was in charge of it, and who were philosophically my children in matters of marksmanship. In those days the school colors were orange and chocolate brown, but that color scheme was abandoned by the first purchaser and replaced with gray, giving rise to the terms "Orange Gunsite" and "Gray Gunsite." My friend suggests that since it has become so complicated we use the term Raven to include all those who have been educated here at Gunsite or who have been deeply influenced by others who have had their teaching here at Gunsite at any period - in other words, people who have derived their attitudes about marksmanship from the fountainhead here in Arizona. He proposes that we call all these people "Ravenfolk." Good idea?

What drives our adversaries? I do not think it is race, though race certainly is an element in some cases. I do not think it is religion, though religion is obviously a part of the story. I think it is more simply the root of all evil, which is envy. Envy is indeed the root of all evil. It should be trained out of people of good character, but good character is not overwhelming us, at least not at this time.

Should airline pilots be armed? Group-thinking leads to trouble here. Certainly no one should be armed against his will, but with equal certainty no one should be forbidden to arm himself if he so desires. Personally I would be much happier in a commercial airliner in which both the pilot and the attendants were qualified pistoleros. That situation cannot be achieved by legislation, but neither should it be forbidden - by legislation.

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