Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 10, No. 6          15 May 2002

School's Out!

The annual meeting of the NRA at Reno this year was as inspirational as usual. The presentations by the senior officers left hardly a dry eye in the house, and the 45,000 faithful who gathered for the occasion were shown that the cause of liberty for which we fight remains in good hands. For indeed liberty is what we shooters preserve in this country. Often we talk about the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, which grants us no liberty, though it does indeed ratify liberty granted to us by God. Often we talk about "Liberty" and "Freedom" as if the two ideas were interchangeable. This is not quite true. Try it on yourself. Freedom is a physical condition. Liberty is a political condition. Your freedom can be denied you by chains and bars, but your liberty exists or does not exist apart from such considerations. When Governor Henry declaimed, "Give me liberty or give me death," he was speaking of something other than freedom - or so it seems to me.

We were privileged again to chat with Joe Foss, US Marine, fighter pilot, brigadier general, state governor, football commissioner, and so on. It has been my signal good fortune to meet personally and chat with three genuine heroes - Foss, Hanneken and Rudel. These are true heroes, rather than temporary journalistic conceits, and personal contact with such is an elevating experience for which we are duly thankful.

One can go on and on about the exploits of Joe Foss, but one that I learned about at Reno was new to me. On one occasion he brought his aircraft back to base bearing over 220 bullet holes. Any one of those hits might well have killed him, but he was aloft again the following day - in another airplane, of course. Try that on your computer sometime!

Reports back from Afghanistan inform us that while the mountaineers there truly love their guns, they rarely have any idea of how to use them. Kipling to the contrary, these birds cannot as a rule "shoot for sour owl jowls," which is pretty good news for us unbelievers.

Does a soldier need to shoot well? Good question. I know of three cases in which excellent field marksmanship decided the action. These were the Boers at Majuba Hill, the US Marines at Chateau Thierry, and the Volksturm reservists at the Arnhem bridgehead. There may be other such cases, but if so they are not widely documented. Chroniclers are rarely interested in battle techniques, so the fact that something is not reported certainly does not mean that it did not occur. Nonetheless, good field marksmanship is a rarity - in or out of uniform.

What then is a good field marksman? In my opinion, a man who can hit a tea cup at 100 meters with his first shot, from a field position, in a 5 second interval is a good shot. Try this test on yourself, but do not call for witnesses. People who talk about good shots are usually terrible liars.

This proliferation of reduced size 45 autos is an interesting development. There are those who insist that increased recoil, which must be an aspect of miniaturization, is a step backwards. I used to think so at one time, but no longer. The essential element of a defensive handgun (apart from reliability) is convenient portability. This is more evident in the case of the private citizen than with the soldier. Of course there are plenty of people in the eastern megalopolis, and in Europe, who feel that a private citizen has no business with any sort of handgun, but we need not talk to them.

Reduced weight increases recoil, and there are plenty of people who feel that the standard 1911, at 39 ounces, kicks too much as it is. Much of this idea is the result of "sea stories" brought back from World War I, and it is largely basura. The miniature 45s do kick more than the GI version, but I hardly think that matters. A defensive pistol situation is normally experienced at arm's length, or a little more. You do not have to shoot target groups if your adversary threatens you across the room, but you do have to hit him hard - hard enough to stop the fight immediately. We cannot expect 100 percent perfection in this regard, but with the 45 ACP cartridge in its military version, we will achieve what we want about nine times out of ten. By messing around with improved loads and better bullet shape, we can increase our probability to about nineteen stops out of twenty tries - provided we place our bullet on the right spot. A man who works at this can achieve what he wants with one of these "pocket punchers" about as well as he can with the full-sized gun. Thus the reduced bulk and weight of the "snubby" may be a definitely good thing, for certain lifestyles. These little pieces do not need sharp sights nor target triggers. They are not "fun guns," but rather strictly business, and should not be put down because we do not win matches with them.

John Gannaway, the Lion Man, tells us that he has now located a personally autographed copy of Theodore Roosevelt's "African Game Trails," first edition. As with certain cars, if you have to ask the price, you cannot afford it.

Correspondents sometimes take me to task for not confining my Commentaries to gun matters exclusively. In this age of specialization any commentator who strays from the narrow path may confuse his observers. I have a friend in Flanders whose interest in life embraces handguns and fast cars - and nothing else. He knows a good deal about both of those subjects, but he is totally uninterested in food, architecture, politics, sports - or anything else that I have been able to discover. To each his own, of course, but I think the world is fascinating in all of its aspects (except, possibly, baseball). I cannot confine myself to firearms when there is so much else to talk about. My suggestion is simply to turn the page; there is much to discuss coming up.

Who needs OBL now when he has got a hundred thousand United States citizens treated like inmates? He has made his point.

Our friend and colleague, Glenn Jacobs, of Eagar, Arizona, informs us that the Burris people have now for sale a completely adjustable mounting system for your rifle sight. This may not be the answer we have been searching for, however, since it is a beast to adjust, and moreover we do not know of a fixed glass to go with it. It is a step in the right direction.

We continue to complain wistfully about the depressing lack of precision in our communications. We talk about "terrorism" at tiresome length, but nobody can tell us what terrorism actually is. I can define it for you if you wish, but that is just one opinion, and a minority opinion at that. According to current journalistic practice, terrorism is anything dangerous that you do not like. It is pretty hard to fight it when we do not even know what it is. I am against the bad guys, and so are you, and so is President Bush, and so, of course, is Yasser Arafat. We are all against the bad guys, but who are they?

Similarly, we dispute angrily about "the Occupied West Bank." This refers, presumably, to the bank of the Jordan River, which is "occupied" or "unoccupied" according to the mood at the time. If you stand in the middle of the Jordan River, which is quite possible since the Jordan is a paltry river, and throw a rock westward, it will land on the west bank. That is an unsatisfactory geographic definition. What we need are some good maps, but I am sure you have noticed that the media are unwilling to show us any. The current state of Israel does have linear boundaries, which are satisfactory to neither the Israelis nor the Philistines. I understand some of our Chicano friends out here like to call California the "Occupied West Coast." I am not a Jew, but I do believe the Jews were there first, and that Israel should be bordered by the Jordan River on the east, and the Mediterranean on the west, and from Lebanon on the north to Egypt on the south. This view is not likely to be popular, but it does have the virtue of simplicity.

"It is better to have lived one day as a lion, than one thousand days as a sheep."

Charles G. Clinger, Arlington National Cemetery
via J.B. Wood, Corydon, Kentucky

One of my very favorite words is Stoff. This is the German counterpart of the English stuff, but it covers more ground. It not only means luggage or equipment, but also material of specific meaning or potential. For example, a warehouse loading platform in Germany is labeled Stoffladen. Hydrogen is Wasserstoff. Fuel is Krafstoff (kraft signifying strength). And explosive is Sprengstoff. See how well this simplifies the Decalog: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's stoff."

A lady is a rare specimen these days. We mourn the passing of the Queen Mother, who really was one. She may not have picked the right parents, but she definitely did do the right things. One of her favorite quotes: "Duty is the rent you pay for life."

We keep using the word "innocent" when that is not what we mean. Let us substitute the term "uninvolved" in place of "not guilty," or "not in uniform."

If you have not yet got your Steyr Scout (or its big brother the 376 Dragoon), do not give up the search. There are a good many of them around in gun shop inventories and we do not know when the pipeline will be reopened. The Steyr Scout will do everything your other rifles will do, with a few exceptions such as elephant or hippo, and do it better. If you have already got your Steyr Scout, I suggest you get a second. The pieces can be lost or injured in transit. Do not try to improvise - that will only waste your money.

I suppose there is nothing to be done about this long-range malarkey you encounter at gun shows. Daughter Lindy at Reno ran across some "hairy chested nut scratcher," who insisted that in his family all shots at game were taken at 400 to 500 yards. It is not seemly to spit right in a man's eye, but the temptation was strong.

A "bear defense" course was recently run at Gunsite and turned up a couple of interesting points. One is that sheer power will not do for a bear. If you are in real danger from a bear, he will be on top of you, and what you need is penetration. Once a bear has got you down, or a lion for that matter, you have to brain him, and you must do that at contact distance. A 357 snubby, using a very hard, sharp-pointed bullet, would seem to be the answer. I have a friend who went this route while attempting to photograph a lion. He used a Super 38 auto, and while he survived, he will never again have full use of his left hand.

We were confronted with one reader who said that while he liked my comments about hunting, he just could not enthuse about what he called "safari stuff." I am sorry about that, of course, but I should mention that I have never been on a safari. The term safari is a Swahili derivative from Arabic. It means simply "journey." On a true safari, such as was enjoyed in the great hunting days, one hiked from camp to camp with all of his gear carried on the heads and shoulders of bearers. He could not use trucks because there were no roads and no fuel supplies. He could not use horses because of the tsetse fly. But the important thing was that a safari was fed by the rifle. You had to have a lot of bearers, and while you paid them a daily wage, they only came along with you at the prospect of unlimited fresh meat. What a life! How I wish I could have enjoyed it! But it vanished before my time, so I may reassure my correspondent that I will not clutter up my pages with accounts of safaris, much as I would like to.

What my correspondent referred to, of course, was simply foreign hunting. He apparently feels that if you cannot hunt on an overnight from your house, the experience holds no charm. I think this is too bad, since hunting, the great classic pastime of the uncommitted, may be enjoyed in its various aspects on all continents except Antarctica. It is one of the four prime pastimes of man which may be indulged in all cultures and in all ages by those whom circumstances have freed from the lash of poverty. (The other three are racing, dancing and conversation.) A couple of years ago, in a semi-professional bull session, the Hunting Assistance Committee of the NRA made up a list of the world's greatest hunts, and while the catalog is certainly open to argument, it shows the astonishing span of the activity. Consider the list:
  1. The Deep South Quail Hunt, complete with mule wagon, hounds, bearers, grits and gravy, and premium bourbon.
  2. The Rocky Mountain Bighorn. This combines an unequaled quarry, a splendid trophy, sublime venison, and the most beautiful scenery on earth. (The great sheep of Central Asia are bigger, but their surroundings are bleak and uncomfortable.)
  3. The Royal Tiger Hunt from elephant-back in Colonial India. That is gone now, but we can dream about it.
  4. Pig Sticking. Taking Sus scrofa, the big boar, from horseback with a lance.
  5. The classic African safari, feeding the troops with your rifle.
  6. The Auerhahn. This is the great partridge of Europe, said to be the most challenging target in the world. Today the sportsman is limited to one per customer's lifetime. I do not fully understand the charm of this effort, but connoisseurs seem to agree.
There are others which are worthy of consideration. These include the "Infantry Boar" taken frontally at the charge with a heavy spear. The African buffalo can upon occasion provide a supreme adventure, but this must be because of some error or incompetence on the part of the hunter. The Marco Polo sheep provides the grandest trophy of them all, but its habitat at 16,000 feet in the Pamirs does not make for an attractive adventure. The Coues whitetail of the American Southwest is a charming quarry, challenging, beautiful, and tasty.

But hunting ought not to be competitive, because you cannot flaunt an experience.

I anticipate cries of protest here, calling my attention to all sorts of things which deserve pride of place. I look forward to them. Hunting is a grand pastime, which offers its grand rewards with no need for social competition. Waidmanns Heil!

We were delighted when Joe Foss, our national treasure, instructed a board member in conference to clean up his language. There are those who feel that gutter language is evidence of machismo. Not so. The Congressional Medal of Honor is irrefutable evidence of machismo.

At the gun shows it is interesting to note that few people seem interested in good trigger action. I have always felt that a good trigger release (2 to 2½ pounds crisp) is essential to really good bullet placement in the field, but we do not seem to find those on over-the-counter rifles or pistols. However it is not necessarily a good idea to tinker at home with your own gun. We ran across one of the old masters of the technique at the NRA show, who is now in the business of doing masterful custom work on all sorts of guns. This is Gene Shuey, onetime stalwart of the Bear Valley Gunslingers. He can put a real trigger in your 45. Address is 21 Cygnet Drive, #200, Carson City, NV 89706. Phone (775) 246-7662.

We write books now and again, and sometimes wonder why, in an age when no one reads. I submit the following reasons:
  1. As the means of making money (but not much).
  2. As the way of putting out the word. The word needs putting out, even if few people notice.
  3. As a collector's item. A surprising number of people buy and sell books without ever opening them.
  4. As a doorstop.
  5. As an art form. Some books are lovely to look at.
  6. As a cultural milestone to record traditions ere they be lost.
  7. As a training aid.
In the past books were written to constitute a conversation piece, a Christmas present, or a courtship gift, but that was in the past.

Among the many inspiring statements presented to the NRA membership at the national meeting at Reno, we note the following: "You cannot give up a right granted to you by God!" The rights originally enumerated in the Declaration of Independence were: life, liberty and property. There are others. (Clearly happiness may not be pursued as an end in itself, because happiness is the byproduct of accomplishment.)

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