Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 11, No. 10         September 2003

Hot Spell

This has been the hottest summer on record, and when we remember that even an average summer in Arizona is hot, we can thank God that this one is nearly over. Here at Gunsite it is not bad, but the people down on the desert are frying their eggs on the kitchen sink, or so they say. The British Colonials have always suffered much from colonial heat, but I have never been much impressed by it in Africa. I can attest that it does get hot in Mesopotamia, but when I was there it was not necessary to wear a spacesuit on duty. Today's warriors are bothered more by protective clothing than by enemy gunfire, and we have at least one complaint back from Baghdad to the effect that the water in Saddam's swimming pools is too hot to be refreshing. Indeed, war is hell!

"Times may change, but standards must be maintained."

Victoria R.I.

Being of the old school - the very old school - I wish to warn youthful readers against putting their faith in "gun writers." These people have a right to their opinions, but these opinions should not be taken as incontrovertible. As a youth I was led astray on a number of subjects and had to learn of my errors by personal field experience. The fact that a man "has been there and done that" does not necessarily mean that he knows what he is talking about. Read as much as you wish, but read critically, and then submit your conclusions to the test. This is not always possible, so read carefully, read critically, and then reserve judgment.

You probably have as many 45 automatics as you need. However, if you are thinking of getting a new one, bear in mind that Kimber offers one with a light rail, and a light rail is a good idea.

Street crime appears to be rising steadily in England. It is hard to say why. An Englishman is not permitted to resist physical indignity on the streets of his cities, of course, but one wonders if he would fight back if he were allowed to by his "nanny government." It has long been claimed that the English lost their emotional viscera in Flanders in 1914. This is possibly true, but just how that relates to the man-in-the-street in the 21st century is difficult to establish. No one seems to care.

We are somewhat saddened by this anti-French propaganda which seems popular at the time. It is certainly possible to dislike a head-of-state without letting that influence our social judgments. This Chirac is nobody's favorite person, but let us not forget that the United States has had presidents over preceding decades of whom we have no cause to be proud. My father was something of a Francophile, and spoke the language to a useful extent. He insisted on one occasion that the French must be a truly great people when you consider they can cook a carp and make it taste good.

"Tolerance, like moderation, is a virtue best observed in moderation." (In essence, tolerance means that you don't really give a damn.)

And we now have a correspondent who maintains that some sort of physical handicap must have led Jack Weaver to devise the Weaver Stance. The reasoning here is obscure, but seems to be based upon the observation that much modern competition is won by other techniques. We must note that today's so-called practical pistol competition has almost completely lost track of the element of practicality. Modern contests do not attempt to replicate street encounters. Besides we should point out that in many endeavors it is quite possible for some experts to succeed by doing it the hard way. For three years I tried to catch Jack in diversified competition, but it was not until I adopted his system that I was able to catch him. Both Jack and I might be considered exceptions, but I think not. Jack had the better mouse trap, and John Plähn showed us how to use it.

I have a feature piece on this very subject forthcoming shortly in G&A

It would appear that at this time the revolver is largely obsolete for military and law enforcement duty, having been replaced almost universally by the minor caliber, semi-automatic pistol. The caliber issue, however, is still open, and we understand that the US military establishment has been convinced by its Middle Eastern operations that a service pistol should not only be reliable, but powerful. It is not news that pistol action occurs largely in nearly full dark and at a little over arm's length. The pistol bullet must hit reliably and hit hard. (And also it must hit before the enemy does.) As I recall, that point was made quite some time ago.

But that refers to the public sector. There are several circumstances in the private sector wherein the revolver is still very much with us. For personal defense the wheel-gun retains an advantage of simplicity of operation which may be significant in the hands of a private citizen. The auto-pistol should be checked out and tested every month or so, but the wheel-gun may be put away and left untended for long periods. As a house-gun the revolver may be placed under the control of persons who are not recreational shooters, nor particularly interested in firearms, without elaborate education or notable motivation. A recreational shottist will prize and treasure his personal weapon, and he will learn to love it as a friend. The otherwise preoccupied housewife may be shown how to use a wheel-gun in a couple of easy lessons, which need not be renewed with annoying frequency.

I know a couple of cultivated ladies who are definitely not warrior types, but who are quite secure living cozily with compact, powerful, light-weight revolvers, quite suitable for travel in purse, fanny-pack or glove box - and in regular storage within the night table. One such is carried loaded with Plus P ammunition featuring jeweled implants in the hollow point. Any goblin shot with that sort of thing should consider himself distinguished - and be welcome to keep the jewel.

There are places where wildlife may be considered a hazard to life and limb, despite what the bambiists may say. Bears of all sorts have been known to open hostilities without provocation, and wild swine constitute excellent pistol targets throughout most of the temperate zones of the world.

It may be claimed that a light rifle or carbine in major caliber constitutes a better defensive device against wildlife than any sort of pistol, but there are many circumstances which take technicians afield, and these people frequently need both hands free in order to do their jobs.

By curious historical happenstance Hydrurga, the leopard seal, has recently attracted attention in Antarctica. This is an active, one-thousand pound carnivore with no fear of anything except the killer whale. Anyone who has any plans to toy around in the Antarctic shelf ice should realize that to Hydrurga he is just another item on the menu. He attacks openly, without cover, in broad daylight, and a heavy-caliber hunting revolver - 44 Mag and up - would seem a useful accessory for such people. (I am not sure that I would include the new 500 Smith & Wesson here. It is so huge and heavy that a Wild West "Co-pilot" would be easier to pack around.)

Having been an auto-pistol enthusiast for most of my life, I still take pleasure in the management of a rather curious and attractive offering from Taurus. This is their titanium snubby in caliber 45 Colt. I have latched onto the only example they made in this combination, featuring its pleasant "off-gold" finish. It is not a recreational firearm, since as anyone might suppose it kicks - hard. One box of full-house 45 Colt will probably last you a lifetime, but the piece feels snug and comfortable in the hand, and it needs no attention year after year. It does not pretend to proclaim the return of the revolver, but I am glad it is there.

Before leaving the subject, I must point out an aspect of the revolver culture which I had not suspected. It seems that there are people who study modern handguns of various types with no interest in their usefulness, but only in their manufacturing history. I have two old Smith & Wesson Magnum revolvers made before the company issued model numbers. I have been told by an expert that one of these guns, the 44, simply does not exist. A piece of that exact configuration was never manufactured, according to company records. This makes the pistol a delicious conversation piece - with certain people. It has a great competitive record, having performed some remarkable feats of practical marksmanship, but the collector cares nothing about that. What he is concerned about in order to attract attention is its ghostly existence. I can hold it in my hand, but it is not there according to the books.

This matter of selective aerial assassination is pretty fascinating, and it is historically unprecedented. To identify a selected enemy by his publicity, and then to identify him from the air and kill him with a perfectly placed shot which hazards no innocent bystanders, is a neat trick. Regrettably it can only be carried out by a modern military power, which employs modern military technology. This does take something of the glamor off it, but we suppose that is just as well.

The 19th century Boers of South Africa were, as close as may be asserted, a "nation of riflemen." They shot for food, they shot to fight, and they shot for competition. They did not, however, shoot very much, ammunition being too expensive to expend frivolously. Livestock was their wealth, and they were reluctant to slaughter beef for sustenance. As soon as he was big enough to handle a task, the young man was dispatched by his father to harvest game for the family. He was allowed one round, and he was cautioned not to wander far. He sought a one-shot kill close to the house, and if he did not achieve it, he wished he had. Oupa, the head of the household, was a formidable pater familias, and he made his wishes clear by the means of a stout leather strap. Sights were open and primitive, and trajectories were curved. A young man brought up this way may not have been a medal winner on the target range, but he was a good shot - in the sense that he achieved what he set out to do with outstanding consistency.

On Sundays, Boer families went to church wherever possible. When no church was within reach, Oupa conducted the service himself - for four hours or more. That used up the morning. In the afternoons they played in various ways. A regular event was the rifle shoot, using a hen's egg as a target, on an anthill at 100 paces - firing from standing position. This year at Whittington we intend to set up this contest, though I do not know how to score it. We will figure something out.

Reports from the front indicate that the Arabs cut down all their power lines in order to steal the copper, and then complain bitterly that power is out. Nation building, indeed, has its problems.

A correspondent informs me that one reason for the sudden promotion of short-case magnum rifle cartridges is the belief that this sort of thing produces a measurable increase in accuracy. "Wal ah be dogged," as we used to say in the Wild West. I never missed what I did not have. My venerable Remington 30-06 has always shot better than I can shoot it, and my prized Model 70 375 shot a three-shot one-holer at 100 yards the first time I tried it. So if we shorten the case, permitting the charge to burn more quickly, we can have a more accurate cartridge? In the first place accuracy is not solely a function of cartridge design. Propellant type and amount, breach locking system, bullet design, barrel consistency, stock bedding, and, for all I know, sunspots are also involved - and to what end? All my rifles, stock and custom, have always placed their bullets exactly where I told them to, out to a distance where I could not really see what I was shooting at, and that is with "old-fashioned" long-case cartridges. Townsend Whelen, of revered memory, declaimed, "Only accurate rifles are interesting," and for the better part of a century American shooters have quoted this dictum as scripture. God bless Townsend Whelen! But let us be sensible about this and start by defining our terms. A good shot may shoot up to the limits of his rifle, but a poor shot will not get hits by giving him a "more accurate" rifle. I realize what we are talking about here is marketing, and that is okay, but do not ask for a 300-mile-an-hour car when the rubber will fly off the rims at 250. I have not yet met anyone who was able to shoot better than a good rifle, using good ammunition.

We hear curious accounts from the front concerning the disarming of our own troops. Some people in authority seem to have got the idea that we must not let our people appear hostile to the local Arabs. This has caught on more with the Army than with the Marines. We hear from a couple of sources that the locals have discovered that while they may shoot safely at American soldiers, it is very dangerous to shoot at American Marines, who are inclined to shoot back, and they cannot tell the uniforms apart.

It appears that we may have to start culling elephants in Africa's Kruger Park, to the utter horror of the bambiists. Elephants are wonderful creatures, but they must be managed with care lest they eat themselves out of house and home. Game management usually involves killing in controlled fashion, and the very idea horrifies certain kinds of people. This was vividly impressed upon me as a youth on Catalina Island. When we acquired a summer home there the place was lavishly populated with mule deer. Mrs. Wrigley, who owned the island, would not think of allowing hunting. So the beasts did themselves in. I remember distinctly that one year there were so many deer back in those hills that you almost had to shoo them out of the way on a hike - and next year there were none.

Game management is best understood in Africa today, where controlled hunting has kept things in balance for all to see. Once the wrong people get into the legislative act, however, disaster follows. Most of the anti-hunting people are uninterested in wildlife, but they are terribly concerned lest somebody enjoys shooting it. These are the polypragmatoi, the busybodies, one of the curses of popular government. It has been said that war is too important a subject to be left up to soldiers. To follow that point we may say that legislation is too important a matter to be left up to legislators.

There may be valid reasons for taking running shots on game, but they always must be carefully considered. There is just too much chance of wounding, and about the only real excuse to try a running shot is to secure a beast which already has been hit and is likely to get away wounded. You can dream up other examples, but remember that you are doing a bad thing and must justify it to yourself.

If you have not yet got your copy of Ann Coulter's new book "Treason," step right up! Every household should have two copies, one for the bookshelf and the other as a loaner. I have long felt that the English language, properly employed, is the most powerful weapon in the world, and here is an author who employs it properly. Ann Coulter uses English the way Scaramouche used his rapier, and for the right cause. "Razor wit" is the proper term. We just cannot have too much of it!

Will handheld artillery supplant marksmanship?

When I was adventuring around in Southeast Asia during the Korean War, I became acquainted with the 2.36 Bazooka, and then later with the 3.5. Irregular or paramilitary forces seldom boast artillery, but it seemed to me that they might well find rocket-propelled high explosive projectiles very useful. Both Bazookas launched anti-armor bombs, patterned after the German Panzerfaust, which did not prove especially useful in the anti-personnel role. So I put in for a supply of fragmentation warheads for the 3.5. To no avail. My operations were too low-key to warrant the attention of the ordnance people.

But times have changed. While "modern" armies disdain it, the "primitives" are now going in enthusiastically for the ubiquitous Rocket Propelled Grenade, familiarly featured in the press as the RPG. This is only reasonable. The RPG is eminently suitable for low-level armies. It is cheap, easily distributed, effective against vehicular troops, and it calls for almost no skill on the part of the user. Its short range limitation is no handicap at night and in street fighting.

I'm sorry I mentioned it.

On the other side of the world, it has just been made possible in Alaska for the private citizen to go armed without a license. Alaska and the state of Vermont are today sparkling bastions of liberty remaining in the world. God Bless America - regardless of what they say in Alabama!

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