Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 11, No. 12         October, 2003

Hunting Season

Here we are in the best time of the year, when the campfire twinkles, the rifle cracks and Kaibab breakfast sizzles in the pan. Hunting season rewards us for putting up with the rest of the year, even though Spring, Winter and even Summer have their good aspects. A year without hunting is like a dinner without wine. You can put up with it, but you should not have to. Now your equipment is all in proper shape, and your expectations are high. It is only needful, however, to remember that it is the hunt, rather than the trophy, which is your proper objective. (Please take time to tell me how it came out when you get the opportunity - and Waidmanns Heil to all.)

The hunting is pretty fair these days in the Middle East, but only as long as we permit our troops to go armed. Details we hear from the war zone about unarmed soldiers are beyond belief. It is only to be hoped that most of these accounts are exaggerations. But it remains true that when only the bad guys have guns, the good guys are at their mercy.

We continue to be pleased with how friendly the Scout rifle is in the field. Much of this should be attributed to stock design, which was the work of Elmar Bilgeri and Ulrich Zedrosser at Steyr. Certainly that feature of the Scout rifle is outstanding, but there are other matters that make up the package. A good trigger-action is the single most critical requirement of a good field rifle, and it is possible to get a very elegant trigger-action on the Scout as it comes out of the box. Weight is not vital, but crispness is. Three pounds, with an imperceptible release, provide the shooter with his most friendly asset. These things, combined with proper stock design, combine to authenticate that clean first round X.

The Steyr Scout comes over the counter with a stock which is adjustable for length by means of detachable spacers. I suggest that those spacers be removed before taking the rifle afield, since it is easy for a long-armed man to shoot a rifle with a short stock, while the reverse is difficult. The only advantage I can think of for a long stock is obviation of "Kaibab eye," a problem which does not exist with the forward mounted telescope. There is also the possibility of a thumb in the nose if one carries his thumb on the wrong side of the weapon. Originally introduced to the 03 rifle and later to the M1, I have always simply carried my thumb over on the starboard side of the action, where it is also handier to most thumb safeties, for those who use such things. Personally I do not have much use for a thumb safety since I normally carry the weapon in Condition 3 until I am within rock-throwing distance, at which time I just keep my index finger outside the trigger-guard.

We have been quoted as saying that a man cannot have too many books, too many wines, or too much ammunition. This is okay, but when people do not pay proper attention it comes out wrong. A man can certainly have too much wine, as is obvious, but that is not the same thing as having too many wines. It is flattering to be quoted, but it is nice to be quoted correctly.

In a recent tale from Africa our correspondent achieved four clean one-shot stops in a row with his Scout. Whereupon his tracker noted pointedly that "That is a very dangerous rifle." Indeed it is! Let us not let Chuck Schumer find out about that.

In practicing the off-hand position, remember to spend some time on the "eyes-off" drill. In this you start from a standard ready and on signal you mount the piece as quickly as possible with your eyes shut. Let the striker fall, and only then open your eyes to see where your shot would have gone. When your eyes-off technique is good, center hits will come naturally.

You must have noticed the recent murder of the Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh. She was stabbed to death in a department store while the crowd looked on in quiet detachment. Sweden has been a nanny state for a long time now - the socialist ideal. When a bystander complained that the minister should have had a bodyguard on station, one might ask what a bodyguard would have done under the circumstances, since fighting is presumably as distasteful to one Swede as another. It is not to jeer at this disaster, of course, only to view with alarm the nature of the non-combat mind-set.

We recall a very illustrative episode from the other side of the world in the Phillippines, when a goblin hitting a bank threatened to burn up a pregnant young woman in a cash line if he were not given all the available money. The customers in that bank not only killed him, but they dismembered him and scattered the parts around the lobby.

The state cannot protect you, regardless of what the grass-eaters say. Your personal defense, and that of your near and dear, is your own business.

As our society urbanizes we encounter more often the full-grown young man who has never touched a firearm in his life. In our view, gun training should begin at home, not later than about age 14. By the time the young man puts on that uniform, he should already know how to hit his target. This is his father's business, but then a lot of modern young men do not seem to have fathers, regardless of their legal documentation.

We are still troubled by people who presume to mess around with the Color Code. I do not own it, though I did stipulate it in the first instance, but I have failed to make clear that it does not involve the presumed degree of hazard facing the shooter, but rather his readiness to surmount a difficult psychological barrier. You do not shift upscale because you are suddenly aware of hostilities. You make that shift in order to be able to press trigger on a live target. Most people quite properly find this a difficult step, but the difficulty may be eased if it is anticipated. Thus you cannot shift any farther upscale than Red, because in Red in have already surmounted the barrier. Adding categories merely complicates the problem without achieving any useful objective.

Reports keep coming back from the front to the effect that our people in greater Arabia may be classified into those who have a 1911 and those who wish they had - or have we already said that?

Under the new executive structure, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) has been removed from Treasury and placed under Justice. The effect here has been to reduce the assignment load for the BATmen and to free up people to invent new missions by which to harass the shooter. Work must be found for these people in order to justify the budget, so they devote themselves to making up work. This means that law abiding gun owners may expect more, rather than less, harassment from the Feds under the new system.

The world situation does not improve. A report from the British publication "The Week" tells us that British rookies to the military service are quitting because they do not like being yelled at. Well fancy that! Somehow that never bothered me much, but then I have never been British.

Those of you who are fortunate enough to have obtained a 376 Scout ("Dragoon") before it was discontinued should remember that the 225-grain loading was not offered for ballistic efficiency, but rather to reduce recoil. I think this was a bad move. The 270-grain load has not broken anymore telescopes than the 30-06 180, as far as I know, and no experienced marksman will discover that the Dragoon belts him anymore than any other serious rifle. With either load, the shooter must remember to mount his piece with the heel set solidly into the shoulder. If recoil is taken only with the toe of the stock it may flex the magazine well in the butt and drop the spare magazine out. With either loading take care to seat the butt solidly into the shoulder with the right elbow high. This is what practice is for.

Accounts from Africa continue to reveal a curious obsession with the mechanical safety on hunting rifles. I find this unsound. It must be emphasized that no mechanical safety lever or device should be trusted on any weapon. In proper hands any firearm is probably safer without any sort of safety catch, since it will be treated with due respect. The hunter - or more likely the guide - who feels that a weapon is made safe by actuating the safety catch is riding for disaster. In mountain or plains hunting there is no need to put a shell in the chamber until you have selected a target. From horse, motor vehicle, canoe, or aircraft there is always plenty of time to snap the action as you address the target. One advantage of the lever-action rifle over the bolt is the ease with which one may carry it with an unloaded chamber and load it as the butt hits the shoulder. In thick cover, when the rifle is carried at standard ready - "eyes, muzzle, target" - the shooter may then load the chamber and put the safety on if he chooses. (Except with the Blaser R93 on which the thumb safety is particularly difficult to actuate.)

Be that as it may, many African professional hunters are obsessed about thumb safeties. A negligent discharge on an African hunt may lose the hunter his license, but the thumb safety will not help this. Guru say: "Forget the safety and use your head."

Since we have been asked, those of you who are contemplating laying out a shooting range should attempt to keep the classroom as close as possible to the firing line. If this distance can be kept down to a hundred yards or less, you will save 20 minutes on the hour in the daily exercises.

We have recently been queried about proper ammunition for the 45 ACP cartridge. In our opinion standard military hardball does quite well, its main weakness being a propensity to ricochet off a hard surface, such as auto window glass. If it gets into the torso it generally stops the fight. However, the round nose may be improved by going to the various forms of truncated cone projectiles - frangible or otherwise. The squared-off point avoids ricochets to a certain extent and increases penetration in wet pack - for reasons which are unclear to me.

Could it be that the essence of liberalism is fear? It occurs to us that those who are considered "conservative" tend to be people who can cope with circumstances, while those who cannot cope tend to be of the "liberal" persuasion. The pious man properly fears God, but on the political scene the winner fears only the state. It may be that the loser looks to the state for protection against the winner, and only eventually discovers that he has identified the wrong enemy.

It does seem to me that coming home is no proper sort of objective for a warrior. Clearly coming home is always something to be enjoyed when possible, but only after the job is done. We remember the refrain from the Phillippines:
"Underneath the starry flag
Civilize him with a Krag
And then get underway for home sweet home."
But you have to civilize him first, and how you do that with the ragheads is the problem.

And therein lies the difficulty with this "war on terrorism." Terrorism is an idea or an attitude, not a physical target. We can no way make war on terrorism than we can make war on extravagance or bad taste. A political condition such as democracy is far too vague an objective on which to risk one's life. Democracy is a means to an end, not an end in itself, which should be the optimum balance of liberty and order. In a proper government the citizen should be free to do whatever does not trample upon the well-being of his neighbor, and this condition can be obtained in various ways. Democracy is a good way, when it works, but it does not work just because it is there. Unfortunately good government must depend upon good manners, and the inculcation of good manners throughout large groups has always been a thorny problem.

Since we have not recovered the body of Osama bin Laden, we have no winner in the Osama bin Lottery. Chances are still open.

Target pistol shooters have long felt that a right-eyed shooter should shoot with his right hand and a left-eyed shooter with his left. This may be true on bullseyes, but it is not true in practical shooting. The difference in head and hand position in the Weaver Stance is negligible, and I shot right-handed and left-eyed all the way through my competitive career. I shifted over to right-eye shooting when I became a professional teacher for ease of instruction, and it made no difference in my performance.

As to eyes, we may remember that Phillip of Macedon, Horatius, Hannibal, Nelson, Moshe Dayan, Saburo Sakai, and Millan Astray all did their good things with only one eye (though I am not sure which).

This nasty form of social censorship which has come to be called "political correctness" tramples firmly upon the doctrines of the Founding Fathers. Inside the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC, his injunction in gold letters swears eternal hostility over every form of tyranny over the mind of man. Political correctness is exactly that. You may be told how to act by the state, but never how to think. Die Gedanken sind frei!

I am gratified with the commercial success of "The Art of the Rifle," not because I wrote it, but because it needed to be written. As far as I know it is the only book of its kind. For those who wish to learn how to shoot a rifle the theory is here. One cannot learn any form of dexterity without knowledge. Practice, of course, is essential. However, practice without theory may be unproductive, and in some cases even counter-productive. "The Art of the Rifle" has the information. It is good to know that there are a lot of people who seem to want it.

At a time when most people feel that only a telescope sight is useful on a rifle, not much attention is paid to metallic sights, but in reality almost all of what you need to do with a rifle can be done with metallic sights. This is particularly true of the pursuit of dangerous game, where the target is huge and the range is short.

The open iron sight is the least efficient, requiring as it does almost simultaneous focus on three different objects - rear-sight, front-sight and target. But this does not mean that it will not work on a charging elephant, or a broadside buffalo at 25 paces. The aperture sight is a much better device, but only if it is properly fabricated and fully understood. Many decades ago such notables as E.C. Crossman and Townsend Whelen taught us that a rear aperture sight of a large diameter and thin rim was the best form since it eliminated the need to see the rear-sight at all, as long as the shooter was looking through it rather than at it. When this is done properly the rear-sight fades out of focus and disappears, letting the shooter focus solely on the front-sight and placing it wherever upon the target he wishes his projectile to strike. Since it disappears in action, I began calling it "the ghost-ring" way back then, and I find that at last the term has become broadly accepted - mostly notably in Africa. African publications and correspondents now refer to a ghost-ring, assuming any reader will know what they mean. When placed properly close to the eye, the ghost-ring is the quickest form of rifle sight in use (with the possible exception of a properly designed Scout scope) and it is as precise a sighting system as the shooter's eyes will permit.

I find this preoccupation with the cheap on the part of shooters to be somewhat odd. This is the case more with riflemen and pistoleros than with shotgunners. Shotgunners seem to have all the money, where riflemen are conspicuously broke. But this notion that the product does not matter as long as the deal is good is pretty funny when applied to shooters. ("No, I don't know what it's for, but I got it at 50% off!") In a recent periodical one commentator eventually dismissed the products of Steyr Mannlicher simply because they were expensive. Naturally we all must consider price, but we are wiser to stint on steaks than on weapons. In this time of inflation everything is too expensive, but a good gun will last a lifetime, which cannot be said of either a pick-up truck or a Caribbean cruise.

If you have need for a rifle and cannot afford a new one, just borrow your father's - or your grandfather's. It is probably just as good and may even be better than what you can get over the counter today.

An academic committee was recently convened with members from Stanford, Berkeley and Maryland to explore the matter of what is wrong with conservatives. The committee decided that we bad guys are basically nuts and characterized by, of all things, resistance to change and disinclination to press for equality - in all matters and at all costs. This was financed by a government grant. If they had asked me I could have given them the same answer for a lot less money.

During the great wars the rifle butt stroke was frequently put to decisive effect. We worked on it extensively as cadets and as junior officers, and I once saw it delivered very impressively, practically in my lap. It worked nicely for the 03 and M1 rifles, but I have serious doubts about its utility with the squirt gun we issue today.

We still run across people who do not seem to realize that there is no legal separation between church and state in this country. Mr. Jefferson once wrote that we should not tax a Methodist in order to pay the salary of a Baptist. Where there is an established religion, that might be the practice. It has absolutely nothing to do with displaying the Decalog in a public building. All this may seem to be belaboring the obvious, if it were not for the fact that a good many of our legislators do not appear to have read the rules which govern this country. When I was in high school an excellent course in what was called Civics was required of 11th graders, and if they failed to pass it in the 11th grade they were required to take it again, for no credit, in the 12th grade. This meant that a high school graduate in those far off days had to prove that he knew how America was governed. Apparently today such knowledge is not required of an elected legislator. We cannot very well control this dismal situation, but we can keep on preaching and hoping for the best.

A recent student here at school happens to be a member of the US Olympic Archery Team, and he informed us that the shoot-off in the next Olympics may be conducted on a J-ladder, invented by the Countess many years ago at Big Bear Lake. This, of course, is gratifying news.

So now we come upon the great TR Memorial Reunion. We look forward to much good conversation, fine reminiscence, and, of course, a bit of shooting. We have several exotic events on the list, for any sort of weapon, and if you bring something we are not prepared for we will invent something for it. The junior event for small-caliber heroes will be a new thing, and if you are not equipped for it we will provide both weapon and ammunition.

And we emphasize the histrionic element of the affair. Bring your own original creations, recite from the book, or memorize your Shakespeare. Do not be intimidated by the proven artistry of some of our members. You do not have to be Charlton Heston or Meryl Streep. Gary Cooper could not act either, but that never held him back. The dates are 17,18,19 October. We hope to see you there.

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