Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 10, No. 9          August 2002

Fire and Water

We have been getting a bit more than our share of both hereabouts recently. And while the fire is truly distressing, we can always use all the water that is available. I guess we live in a pretty vigorous climate.

With the passing of Bill Ruger, we have taken yet another hit in what has been so far a very rough year. Bill Ruger is worthy of all the eulogies that he has so far worthily received. There is little point in listing the accomplishments of this impressive man. They have already been spread widely across both the general and the sporting press. Ruger is a name to stand with Colt, Browning and Garand in the annals of American weaponcraft, and his contributions and example will last long after his death. He made a difference, and that is the greatest thing that any man can ask of life.

Ruger's great asset was his understanding of the niche. More than almost any other, he devised the real need for a new product, rather than coming alongside existing examples. The star of his line, in my view, was his little 22 semi-automatic pistol, brought out just after World War II to fill the place of the classic Colt Woodsman. In my youth the Woodsman was everybody's friend, both in its six- and four-inch versions, and there was hardly a house of any outdoorsman that did not hold at least one example. But this excellent instrument vanished with World War II, and as soon as possible thereafter Bill Ruger came up with its successor - a neat, handy, reliable utility 22 pistol. Bill's version was also simpler, and thus less expensive to manufacture, than the renowned Woodsman, and it was an immediate success, both on the market and in the field. It was a great start for a distinguished career, and while true excellence is only occasionally successful at the marketplace, it certainly was in this case. It was a triumph, and Bill took the banner forward from there.

We did not know Bill Ruger intimately, but we have been each other's house guests on a couple of occasions, and we shared interests in automobiles and dining, as well as in firearms.

He lived to a ripe old age and his death was not unexpected. It is good to know that it came peacefully in his sleep. Truly a good man is hard to find. May he rest in peace.

"Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."

Theodore Roosevelt, via John Schaefer

We claim no skill in money matters but we have always understood the first rule of commerce to be "Buy low! Sell high!" This is often attributed to Heinlein but it is so obvious that it is not likely that he invented it. The stock market people seem not to hold with it, however, but those are very mysterious people.

Pistolcraft has been attracting a great deal of attention over there in the Afghan War. We have much information in these matters from people on the ground, and it seems that most of the material that we have assembled and analyzed during the twentieth century still holds true. Specifically a puny cartridge is a second rate choice, and our combat people up front are scrambling for the old faithful 1911 as best they can.

According to Peckworth, who should know, the M9 pistol is not only underpowered but unreliable in heavy service, especially vulnerable to sand in the action. One special forces sergeant reports that it always takes two or more hits from the Parabellum cartridge to incapacitate a man. His report states, "Hitting with a 9 is like firing paint balls. I had to hit one al Qaeda who was coming at me four times before he dropped."

Nor is the M16 doing well, either in stopping power or in functional reliability - to no one's surprise. We fought World War I with the 03, and we fought World War II with the Garand - whether that was wisdom and forethought, or simply chance, is a matter for history to decide - but the M16 is a step backward.

Considering the generally sloppy use of English and its attendant sloppy terminology, it must be pretty obvious, even to news commentators and politicians, that you cannot make war on "terrorism," since terrorism does not provide a target. Frankie Lou Nicholson (our man in Nebraska) sends us this:
"The war on terror is not a war on terror at all. Terror isn't an enemy, it's a feeling. Your terror is what the enemy wants you to feel. Describing our efforts in terms of an emotional abstraction not only obscures the face of our adversary, but the nature of our mission. The enemy in this is the radical Islamist who argues that all non-believers in their faith must be killed."
Religious wars have been with us for a very long time, and they certainly are more complex than the wars of nations or dynasties. I do not see that we as a nation are properly instructed in the nature of this one. The aim of the Palestinians is to erase Israel, as they have often said in both Arabic and English. That aspect of the current conflict is clear enough, but once a bunch of crazy Saudis blows up major office buildings on the other side of the world from their specific interests, killing thousands of people who did not even know that they were at risk, it becomes our principle and immediate problem to locate and identify the physical enemy. Those people we can kill. Their notion - that we are "kaffirs" and thus worthy of death under all circumstances - is, of course, a psychological problem rather than a military one.

Those people on the other side seem to do a great deal of praying. Let us pray that their god will show them the error of their ways so that, pending that time, we can get them out in the open where they may serve as proper targets.

This profusion of pocket pistols is very interesting. At one time it was held that a full-size 1911, at 39 ounces, kicked the shooter so hard that it was unmanageable. That was a myth, but it has taken a long time for it to be dismissed. However it is true that as you reduce the size and overall bulk of a handgun, its felt recoil will increase if its power is maintained. If you reduce bulk and reduce power, you end up with a 25 auto, or something similar. But if you reduce bulk and do not reduce power, the pistol is probably going to bounce pretty hard.

At present I rather fancy the Baby Kimber (Ultra Carry II). We have one here at Gunsite, and it seems to work well, but of course we are talking about how it works in practiced hands. It may be a bit much for the novice. Fortunately this little gun accepts a full-size magazine if desired, and this extends the butt to provide more accommodation for the little finger of the shooting hand. We like the pistol at this stage of testing. We will report back.

We hear via the "Garand Stand Report" that when Michael Kalashnikov was told that he had invented far more individual weapon types than John Garand, he is said to have responded as follows: "When you get it right the first time you don't spend your time designing weapons for a museum."

We look forward with pleasure to the appearance of the new book by family member and colleague Barrett Tillman, entitled "Above and Beyond." This is a study of recipients of the American Congressional Medal of Honor who are formally accredited with the performance of hazardous duty "above and beyond the call of duty." It is not to deprecate this distinguished honor by pointing out that it is difficult to describe any sort of act which is above and beyond the call of duty. If you can do it, it is your duty to do it, or so it seems to me. It has been the custom over the past century to award the Medal of Honor primarily in recognition for the degree of danger involved in an act, or a series of acts, and also the degree of suffering or discomfort incurred by the recipient. I once served for a distinguished Marine general who pointed out that you do not have to be taught how to be uncomfortable - you learn the first time. Personally I have never felt that how much it hurts is any measure of heroism. More significant is the degree of accomplishment - how much damage was inflicted upon the enemy. Probably the best answer is a combination of both considerations, but I think it is unfortunate to have arrived at a point where throwing oneself upon a grenade and accepting the blast, which is nearly always fatal, rates an automatic Medal of Honor. A man who was once involved in such a situation (indirectly) pointed out that if you have time to throw yourself on a grenade, you have time to kick it away. This may or may not be true, but what is involved here is the principle of sacrifice. The man who throws himself on a grenade deliberately gives his life for his comrades. This is without doubt an act of great courage and should be so recognized, but it does not accomplish much. When you put on that uniform you agree to sacrifice your life for your country if that becomes necessary. If sacrifice is the issue, then every man who signs up may be considered a hero.

The matter of awards and decorations for military service is a complex one, and it changes from age to age, but I still think the question should not be how much did you hurt, but rather, how much did you do. In a sense Wade McClusky, who led the attack at Midway which broke the back of Japanese air power, should have been recognized by the highest military decoration available, but he was not considered for the Medal of Honor. Tom Jeffords, who rode single and unarmed right into the camp of Cochise and talked him into scaling back his ravages against the pioneers, pulled off the scariest feat that I know of. If he had not made his point convincingly to the chief, it would have taken him about three days to die. But Jeffords was not a soldier and he was not on duty. He just did his job as he saw it, and by the grace of God he escaped with his life.

Be that as it may, Barrett's book will be available to us in September, and I look forward to reading it with great pleasure. Heroism is a word we cast around too lightly today. We should give it more serious thought.

When we recently opined that a man could get by quite well with no more than a 30-06/308, a 22 and a 12-gauge shotgun, we were correctly called to task by family member Larry Berry for our neglect of the defensive pistol. We are duly chastened. Though a 12-gauge shotgun is probably the best weapon for house defense, a proper defensive pistol is a lot handier. Of course anything defensive in nature, including a screwdriver, is forbidden in England, but fortunately we need not live in such a place.

Our granddaughter Amy, who lives in New York, recently organized a familiarization session for fifty ladies who responded to an invitation to shoot 22 rifles on an indoor range in that city. As expected, these people greeted the occasion with unexpected pleasure and called for repeat exercises as possible.

The 22 rifle is considered to be socially acceptable in New York City where, for example, a 22 pistol is not. This is presumably because it is difficult to consider a 22 rifle as a defensive weapon with any sort of combat potential. Legislators are not called upon to think things through, generally speaking, but I know of one case personally in which an innocent and "socially acceptable" 22 rifle brought about desirable defensive results - in the long run. It so happened that when I was boy of about thirteen I ran across an incident in the "American Rifleman" in which a young woman alone in her apartment in New York City used her husband's 22 single-shot rifle to good effect. It can get hot in New York and this was before the age of air conditioning, and this girl found that a goblin could easily make it through her bedroom window by way of the fire escape. With admirable presence of mind, she gathered up her husband's plinker and held the intruder at bay until the police could be summoned. When in due course they arrived, both parties were arrested and taken down to the station, where the goblin was released before his intended victim. This report filled me with indignation, and I immediately rushed out and joined the National Rifle Association (which turns out to be a pretty round-about way of increasing membership).

At last count, the distributor CDNN in Abilene, Texas, had in stock a pretty good supply of Scouts in both 308 and 376. In view of the dim market response to these weapons in the United States, I suggest you get yours as soon as possible (CDNN phone: 1-800-588-9500).

It appears that marketing has little to do with excellence, per se, since to a marketer the measure of excellence is simply sales. People who buy guns are only occasionally qualified to pass upon the quality of their arms. Consider the market behavior of the splendid Remington carbines 600 and 660 of 30 years ago. These pieces were true steps forward, offering important advantages immediately apparent to all experienced field shooters.

But they looked funny.

The generally uninformed shooter is distressed by anything that looks funny. The Remington carbines were so designed as to shove the action rearward in the interest of reducing overall length, which is a Good Thing. In doing so, however, the bolt had to be so constructed as to ride rearward over the trigger for ease of operation, and the bolt handle was bent forward in a way unfamiliar to people used to Springfield's and Model 70s. The carbine was a very sensible and practical instrument, but it looked funny. Why anybody should care about that is beyond me, but apparently it queered the sales of the 660 - 660 series and these excellent arms were commercial failures. Certainly the Porsche was and is a funny-looking automobile, but eventually its manifest excellence on the road triumphed. I should hope that this would be true of the Steyr Scout, but this may be a faint hope.

One wonders if the 223 cartridge will detonate a suicide bomber. I think it probably will not unless it hits the detonating mechanism directly, but time will tell.

You better get your copy of the "Gargantuan Gunsite Gossip" (either first or second edition) properly hardbound. Those plastic wrappers wear out quickly as both volumes are frequently scanned for reference.

"Happiness is the company of well-mannered children."

The Guru

This item is a couple of years old but it is so good that we cannot let it rest. It appears that in the northern Indian state of Haryana, a leopard dropped in on an unattended household, but became so bored watching the televisor which had been left on that it went to sleep. The police when notified did not have a regulation policy for this situation and had to wait some four hours for a game ranger with a tranquilizer.

"Skill without imagination is craftsmanship. Imagination without skill is modern art."


It is clear that neither gunnery nor aerobatics are masculine enclaves, but motoring apparently is. It is true that some ladies (in the biological sense) have attempted motor racing on a couple of occasions, but so far as I know the only conspicuous success was Michelle Mouton, who has now retired. Regardless of a good many opinions to the contrary, the girls just do not seem to want to drive fast.

This year we are more than usually beset by bears. Not here at Gunsite exactly, but from sea to shining sea - even in places like New Jersey and Phoenix. Bears are good fun, of course, but it is possible to have too many bears, and there are even people who dislike bears (who should confine themselves to Atlantic City and San Francisco). But here is our most recent bear encounter relayed to us from our Colorado family. It seems that right there in downtown Lake City a gentleman had gone only a few blocks on foot for groceries. During his absence his mother, hearing a disturbance on the back porch from inside the house, called out to see if her son had brought back all the necessary items. Hearing no answer, she repaired to the kitchen where she found a half-grown black bear lying flat on his back with his face totally engulfed by a half-gallon carton of ice cream. This was for the bear truly the good life, even though he could not see out. He had not exactly been invited, but bears are extremely strong and screen doors and refrigerators do not slow them down.

We recently encountered an amazing war story about an aviator who surrendered his parachute to a wounded comrade after his B17 had been decimated by antiaircraft fire. Decimating a B17 is really tricky. I must take the next opportunity to ask some of my aviation friends how you set about reducing an airplane by one-tenth.

It turns out that the late, great Jack O'Connor was an advocate of the variable telescope - not because it did anything useful, but because people wanted it. I have always admired Jack's written contributions, but I am depressed to discover that he gave so little thought to "the object of the enterprise." Yet again I beseech somebody to tell me just what good a variable power telescope may be - apart from its saleability, of course.

We have read and continue to read a good deal of Africana, and we conclude that marksmanship was never a major element in the activities of the great hunting days. Targets were profuse, ranges were short, and, for the most part, hunters had no training, no theory and not very much practice. Consequently one must be careful about drawing conclusions concerning that time and place - now so sadly lost in the past. I have taught many people to shoot, and those whom I have taught well have succeeded totally beyond narrative accounts from the past. You really do not need a lot of ammunition if you know how to make that rifle behave.

In Hamlet, Polonius counsels Laertes "Neither a borrower nor a lender be!" If more people heeded this advice, much of our current financial chaos might be avoided.

I do not know how you feel about it but this first-name business gravels me considerably when used by people I do not know. It has got to where various sorts of attendants and servitors, upon whom I have never set eyes before, ask me for my first name. My preferred response is to address such people as Wally or Mabel, but somehow this seems to hurt their feelings. Still I cannot even imagine what would happen if I presumed to respond to Colonel Cates, my first CO, as "Cliff." I suppose my high school teachers and my father's friends had first names, but I certainly never learned what they were. Bill Buckley's classic response is, "Do I know you?"

The news is not good, in either the large or small picture. I would like to think that it can only get better, but we can hardly be certain of that. Our principle peril at this time is neither the Holy War nor the stock market, but rather a general loss of character evident in public life at all levels. "A nation without God does not have a prayer." That may be our problem.

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