Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 11, No. 11         September 3, 2003

Summer's End

It certainly has been a long, hot summer, and it may not be over yet. However, as with all summers, it gave us some free time in which to practice our marksmanship and check our loads and zeros. We must remember to avoid the tendency to spend too much time on the bench. The bench rest may be likened to a fever thermometer; it serves as a technical test, but it has little to do with marksmanship. The proper selection of the firing position and the quick assumption thereof are the aspects to be polished. We note with interest that the various qualification systems currently in use in Africa pay little or no attention to time. The field marksman may have unlimited time upon rare occasions, but he certainly should not count on this. The field rifleman should be able to hold his piece out at arm's length, one-handed, for sixty seconds, without misery, and he should be able to get off a precisely aimed shot, from a field carry, in five seconds from a supported position - two and a half seconds from offhand. These are things to work on.

Recently I got to thinking about professional terminology in regard to shooting, and I am now making up a list of those men who truly qualify as "shooting masters." I will not print the list, since to do so would be unnecessarily to hurt the feelings of those not listed. Besides which, such an endeavor must be entirely subjective. Still, it is interesting to consider the factors involved.

The shooting master must be an extraordinarily good shot, by whatever measure you choose to employ, but that is by no means enough. The master must understand more than just how to be a good shot. He must know why. The master is more than a practitioner, he is fundamentally a dispenser of doctrine, and he must understand fully the basis of his doctrine. The theory of shooting doctrine is not readily available, and must be studied with more care than is usually given to it. Certain elements of shooting skill are inherent, such as eye-to-finger coordination, but even a clumsy man may improve his skill if he knows how to go about it, and the shooting master must be able to explain this clearly. At one time all masters were self-taught, there being nothing but field experience on which to understand the art. This is no longer true, but still the physiological basis for the study of marksmanship is known to comparatively few people. Too many instructors feel that simple repetition will teach what is necessary, and gauge the worth of any training system by the number of rounds fired. It would seem obvious that error repeated does not make for proficiency, and yet it is amazing how many people who profess to teach marksmanship watch the target rather than the shooter.

It may be that marksmanship is going out of style, as fewer people all the time take to the woods and mass armies engage mainly in the dark. Be that as it may, the list of shooting masters has always been short and will continue to be so. I suppose that no one really needs to be a good shot, anymore than he needs to be a pianist or a philosopher. The study is interesting, however, and I continue to pursue it at some length - with a little help from my friends.

I ran across one pretty bizarre specialty down in the Carolina piney woods. The boys down there shoot hogs from tree stands, usually in conditions verging upon full dark, and at ranges of 40 yards or less. The specialty rifle in those parts is a modest and often aged lever-action 30-30, fitted with a moonscope - the sight being worth three times as much as the rifle. The combination is perfect for the task, and if it does not gratify the lusts of the pride-of-ownership people, it sure puts down the pig. If it looks pretty funny with that big bore telescope riding atop that proletarian rifle, nobody minds.

We note with pleasure that Ruger is now promoting what they call a "John Wayne Coach Gun," which is a short-barreled, exposed hammer, double-twelve shotgun. (I have in the past referred to this sort of piece as a lupara, a term of Sicilian extraction, but by whatever name it is a highly utilitarian object.) The shotgun is probably the ideal instrument for home defense, and it should be neither complex nor clumsy. Eighteen- or twenty-inch barrels contribute to handy manipulation indoors, and exposed hammers permit the weapon to be maintained fully loaded indefinitely without mainspring fatigue. It may be true that the large bore-size of a shotgun invites small beasties to take up residence in your lupara, but that can be avoided by inserting a small cotton ball in each muzzle. We must accept the fact that the "John Wayne Coach Gun" will be promoted more as an accessory to "cowboy action shooting" than as an instrument of home defense. No matter. Whether you play cowboy or not, home-defense remains a serious matter.

Certainly it would be nice if those who venture into print would watch their language. The Greek term hero has a definite meaning, but today it seems to be easily applied to anybody who brushes his teeth and buttons his fly. Consider the following:
"I am Pallas Athene, and I know the thoughts of all men's hearts and discern their manhood or their baseness. From the souls of clay I turn away, and they are blessed but not by me. They fatten at ease like sheep in the pasture and eat what they did not sow like oxen in the stall. They grow and spread like the gourd along the ground, but like the gourd they give no shade to the traveler. When they are ripe death gathers them and they go down unloved into Hell and their name vanishes out of the land.

"But to the souls of fire I give more fire, and to those who are manful I give a might more than man. These are the heros, the sons of the immortals who are blessed, but not like the souls of clay, for I drive them forth by strange paths that they may fight the titans and the monsters and the enemies of Gods and men.

"Through doubt and need and danger in battle I drive them; and some of them are slain in the flower of youth, no man knows when or where; and some of them when noble named and live to a fair and green old age; but what will be their end I know not. Tell me now, Perseus, which of these two sorts of men seem to you more blessed?"

Charles Kingsley, Canon of Westminster and Chaplain to Queen Victoria
We have some heros - in fact we have a good many, but their stature is grossly eroded by the misuse of the term.

There is no rule in journalism which demands that a writer must know anything about what he writes, but still we wish that editors would make some sort of effort to tidy up what their contributors set down. For example, consider this, "With a good .30 caliber Weatherby magnum, even a mediocre shot can pick a small bird off a limb at 1200 yards." Now that is really something! This is the work of a syndicated columnist whose name I will not reveal for fear of embarrassment. But really, this sort of thing is ridiculous. The author writes, ".30 caliber Weatherby magnum," is an artifact which does not exist, yet he assumes that his readers will take him seriously. This guy pretends to be a knowledgeable shooter - which gives all of us a bad name.

We note that Norinco in Red China is now producing replicas of the Broomhandle Mauser. Also they are announcing production of Bill Ruger's splendid 22 auto pistol, for which there should be a market. Before World War II this niche was filled by the distinguished Colt Woodsman, which was pretty standard equipment in any country home or pack train in my school days. Colt ceased production with the war, and at its conclusion Bill Ruger leaped neatly into the breach, and his nifty offering became the standard of the day. The "plinking pistol" was as essentially part of the sporting scene as the tennis racket or the fly rod for many decades, and while plinking is not as commonplace a picnic sport as it once was, it should still be encouraged. As our culture changes (degenerates?) certain artifacts come and go, as any marketer can tell you, but I would like to think that our manpower reserve still contains a large portion of young men who are accustomed to plink for pleasure.

Note that plinking should not be confused with target shooting, which is a much more stylized and restricted pastime. Only target shooters enjoy target shooting, but everybody enjoys plinking. It makes us uneasy to learn that the Communists may understand that better than we do.

We rather wish that the press would get rid of this term "innocent civilians." What is evidently meant is "non-combatant civilians," since innocence is at best problematical. The implication, of course, is that anybody wearing a uniform is somehow guilty. That is not an assumption we wish to convey in this time of troubles.

Anyone who has read the Constitution of the United States knows that it makes no mention of any separation of church and state. That fanciful wall was the affectation of Mr. Thomas Jefferson, and it has no force of law, nor any particular force of custom. The Founding Fathers sought to forbid the establishment of a state church, but they were positively not advocates of irreligion. It seems odd that today's noisier elements on the Left seem to fear the establishment of a state church, which has not been a threat for a couple of hundred years. Some people can lead moral lives without any sort of church, but they are the minority. Most people need sanction in order to lead moral lives. The state describes what is a crime. The church describes what is a sin, and a given act may be either or both, with or without fear of punishment, here or hereafter. See what happens to the post-moderns who attempt to set up a society without rules, either civic or religious! A man's behavior is more effectively controlled by his conscience than by the law, because while he may be able to avoid legal punishment he can never escape his conscience. Of course, he must have a conscience, as the current counter-culture creeps apparently do not.

So let us remember that while there is no legal wall of separation between church and state, that does not mean that the moral authority of the church is to be disregarded.

The three rifles on the cover of my current work, "The Art of the Rifle," remain the three rifles of maximum interest at this time. You would never suspect this from perusal of the specialty press, but the manufacturers of those three weapons - the "Co-pilot," the Blaser 93, and the Steyr Scout - are not noticeably interested in promotion.

One correspondent writes to the effect that the shooting periodicals should devote primary attention to cheap guns. I have had occasion to confront this attitude for a long time, and while I do not condemn it as sinful, I do disagree with it. Cheap guns are okay, and we must make due with what we can afford, but I do not think that being broke is a circumstance to be sought. Here in the opening years of the 21st century, Americans can buy serviceable personal firearms over-the-counter, and for that we are immensely grateful. But it is a fact of life that nobody needs a rifle. He wants a rifle, and he is happier wanting a good example than a poor one. And certainly nobody needs an armory full of rifles. With a good 22 and a Steyr Scout, a serious rifleman may handle almost any circumstance which may call for a rifle. Specialities, of course, have an appeal. The elephant hunter needs an elephant gun, and the competition rifleman needs a competition rifle. If we disregard these specialized demands, however, we are better advised to save our money and wait for the best possible instrument.

Norinco is also now offering a replica of the excellent M39 22 lever-gun, which I have always thought was the best thing of its kind. Somebody connected with Norinco is gifted with a degree of imagination not common in the marketplace.

The century-old 45-70 cartridge is attracting much attention at this time, as well it should. Within its limitations it is an excellent round, and its limitations are not as narrow as some would have you believe. It is not a long-range cartridge (unless you look at some of the target scores achieved in ancient times by the trapdoor Springfield), but the need for a long-range cartridge is specialized, today confined mainly to those who shoot whitetail deer from trucks across cultivated fields in the East. I do not think people who hunt from trucks are doing justice to Artemis, but age catches up with us all eventually, and I guess we should not give up the joys of the hunt completely simply because we can no longer hike as we would like.

The 45-70 does just fine on almost anything up to 150 yards, and well enough at 200 if the target is large. Its impact effect is about perfect for moose and the big bears, and it is a superb lion-stopper for those lucky enough to face a charge.

It does trouble me to see people treating the 45-70 today as if it were a general-purpose round, choosing light bullets for increased velocity and fitting telescopic sights. I see no reason for a scope on a 45-70, nor bullets of 400-grains or less. That 500-grain soft lead slug is just right at emergency ranges, and picking up a couple of hundred feet per second by going to a short bullet will not give you a 30-06.

Back in the old days it was thought that any sporting rifle taking the 45-70 cartridge would need to be huge and heavy to soften the presumably disturbing recoil. The Winchester lever-gun, Model 86, proved cumbersome for the pedestrian, and hardly more efficient than a 30-30 for a deer hunter. So the 45-70, retired for over a century, now enjoys a rebirth in "The Age of the Magnum." It is perfectly married to Jim West's "Co-pilot," which is now available in caliber 457 West, a sort of a "Plus P" version of the original cartridge. Personally I think the plain 45-70 will do all that is necessary as a bear stopper. Remember he cannot hurt you if he cannot reach you.

The Age of Communication has evidently convinced people that punctuation is meaningless. We get these marvelous missives over the air, and then we must sit down in council and attempt to render them into intelligible English. This can be done, of course, and it is up to us to match the bad with the good.

Does it not seem to you that the principal emotional drive of the liberal establishment is fear? These people seem terribly afraid that somebody might get hurt. Well, somebody might, but that is true totally apart from political considerations and need not be given prominence in our discussions. Fear is not a dignified emotion, and while we must admit that it exists, we must not dignify it as a prime causative agent. Everybody knows fear - what is important is not to let that bother you. This continued journalistic wringing of hands is beneath our dignity. Nothing significant has ever been achieved by men who let apprehension corrode their principles.

Some of our pundits choose to make a political virtue of diversity. The point is not necessarily well taken. The goal of good government is the optimum balance of liberty and order. Social diversity does not pull in that direction. Liberty is what we seek over the centuries, but if we grant it to too diverse a population, order disappears. It is said that in Switzerland nobody knows the name of the sitting president, and Switzerland seems to offer a nice balance. Social discipline is not best enforced by regulation, but rather by custom. The Swiss are diverse linguistically, but not socially, and they seem to make out pretty well without recourse to the police state. Regarding the United States, which is an entirely different political organism, it would seem that we ought to choose assimilation over diversity. We have unsegregated schools in which the children segregate themselves by choice. Our military establishment does surprisingly well in this regard, but of course, the military is and must be a tightly disciplined organization. It seems to me that diversity, rather than being a goal to be sought, should be an obstacle to be circumvented.

We know of a family in which the gentleman, proud owner of a Steyr Scout, saved up and bought a pseudo-scout to give to his lady. Quite properly she took the piece to school, and after learning a few things about weapons in the process, she snapped up his Steyr Scout with which to finish the course. Everything changed, and the difficulties she had been having disappeared. Now I have a solution. This couple should swap guns. That would solve everything happily.

In this time of more or less institutionalized timidity, I am reminded of a slogan attributed to the Marine Corps during the inter-war period, to wit:
"If you want to learn a trade, join the Army.
If you want a clean bunk every night, join the Navy.
If you want to fly, join the Air Force.
If you want to fight, join the Marines."
And Marines' feelings about the Corps do not automatically include disdain for all other corps. We know that other people fight well, and we admire them for it, but the Marine Corps still constitutes the emotional home of the traditionalized warrior. This annoys a lot of people, but that does not distress us. There is a place for the warrior, even in the 21st century, and it is fortunate for the cause of liberty that this is so.

Walter Nowotny was a distinguished fighter pilot of World War II, killed in action just before its close. Born and raised in Vienna, Major Nowotny's remains were buried at Vienna's Central Cemetery. Now it appears that there is a movement afoot to disinter Nowotny's remains and toss them on the municipal ash heap - because he fought for the wrong side. This sort of thing is hard to grasp without evidence of a specific racial historical outlook. The perpetrator of this proposition is one David Ellensohn, currently a city councillor. You might recall that the original David (at whose tomb I paid respects some years ago in Jerusalem) was definitely not a nice guy. I do not think that we can castigate Nowotny for fighting for the Germans when we recall that David was, according to Scripture, a thoroughgoing scoundrel. You do not have to be a nice guy to be a hero - it is not even much of a help - but you cannot dishonor a hero by spurning his mortal remains. Herr Ellensohn's effrontery does no damage to the memory of Walter Nowotny. It gives rise to certain better-forgotten doubts about racial stereotypes. To quote family member Paul Kirchner: "One cannot dishonor a hero - one can only disgrace himself by the attempt."

Herewith yet another reminder of the 2003 Reunion, which promises to be the best ever. We look forward with much pleasure to socializing, shooting, and speechifying in honor of our special patron Theodore Roosevelt, one of the two greatest American presidents - who would have been great quite apart from the presidency. Reserve now at Whittington Center and sharpen up the edges of your wit.

After all these years we have been thinking about going commercial with this paper. It costs both effort and money to put it out, somewhat more than we are currently recompensed therefore. But as of now we resist the temptation. The restrictions, regulations and obligations surrounding the distribution of a periodical are intimidating. We get the impression that the paper itself is enjoyable, though, of course, we only hear that from people who like it - and we do enjoy writing it. But a business is a business and exists to make money, and I have no assurance that the publication of these commentaries could be turned into a financially rewarding exercise.

So we will let the situation ride as is and hope you like it. I do think it helps the magazine and that may justify the effort.

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