Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 11, No. 15         December 9, 2003


In enjoying our traditional Thanksgiving holiday just past, we are reminded of an occasion some years back when Ray Chapman and I engaged in the pursuit and preparation of the holiday bird. We were hunting deer up in that northwest corner of Arizona known as the Strip, and we had not met with much success. On returning to camp on our second day out, empty handed, we were told that a fair bunch of turkeys had been seen crossing the road just a couple of hundred yards below our campfire. We were not set up for turkeys, but we decided that given the time of year, we should take after them. The bunch had crossed the road at right angles and headed along the shallow ridge leading to the south. We found the prints easily enough, and set forth on opposite sides of the ridge, Ray on the right and I on the left. We had not proceeded half a mile when I was rewarded by the sound of a rifle shot to my right front on the opposite side of the ridge. Now Ray Chapman is a truly outstanding field marksman. When he shoots he does not miss. I assumed, therefore, that he had found the birds and scored, so I set forth to return to the road. On the way I got to thinking up ways of preparing the bird once we had it. Wild birds, and turkeys especially, call for long, slow cooking, the means for which is seldom available in a hunting camp. However ingenuity may be employed. It seemed to me that we should dig a fire pit about two feet deep and line it with rocks as soon as the heat was well established. At camp we had apples and cornmeal, also a plentiful supply of bacon. I thought we might improvise a stuffing with these ingredients, and then to lard the bird lavishly with raw bacon. We could wrap it snugly in wet newspaper to avoid scorching and bury it in the rock pit, covering it well and waiting it out. I had thought of several spice additions to the stuffing and other flavor enhancers by the time I looked up and saw Ray approaching me from along the far side of the ridge.

"Where is the bird?" I shouted, thinking perhaps he had stashed it in a tree to be retrieved by the two of us. "What bird?" he shouted back. "The one you just shot." "I didn't shoot any bird."

It turns out there was a hunting party on the north side of the road and one of their shots sounded to me exactly diametric to Ray's location. I was furious. I almost commenced to read Ray off with a massive declamation until I realized how silly that was. I had that bird fully prepared, almost well-done and ready for the table before I realized that there was no bird at all.

There is an old saying about a bird in hand.

The new book "Human Accomplishment" by Charles Murray is required reading for the faithful. In this work the author categorizes the great things achieved by the human race throughout its history and locates them both in time and in geography. This Holy War, now declared upon us by Islam, seems based primarily on cultural envy, and a careful study of just what the human race has accomplished is a good way of looking at the situation. Among other things, the book is highly praised by Thomas Sowell, who does more thinking than most of our current crop of pundits. To read something totally free of political correctness is refreshing.

Unlike the Army, the Marine Corps in Mesopotamia fancies shooting to hit, and eschews the three-shot burst. "One - Two - Three" is better than "Brrp."

Daughter Lindy's Texas hunt was a gastronomic success, and she has no less than four prime whitetails processing for the freezer. It turns out that down Texas way one does not exactly hunt for those junior-sized whitetails, but rather he sits in a tree stand and waits for them to come by. Thus the weapon of choice is a great, long, wooden rifle attached to a moonscope. That is not my idea of a deer gun, but it does serve the purpose well. I have never taken any pleasure from hunting from a blind, although I have done so on several occasions. The all-day tramp in the woods, rifle in hand, is what makes the hunt. Sitting on one's posterior, rifle at rest, may be a good way to put meat on the table, but somehow it does not seem to be hunting. However, any hunting is better than no hunting, and since I am no longer on full duty status, I must be content with the vicarious adventures of other people and the meat they put on the table.

Note that the low mounted leg holster is most popular in Mesopotamia. The new standard rig for Special Forces seems particularly well designed and, of course, you can carry a 1911 in it, instead of an M92.

Our grandson, Captain Tyler Heath, USMC, is now back from the wars with many interesting things to tell us. His job was close air support coordinator with the Third Marines, so he did not exercise infantry command, but his weapon of choice was the combat shotgun, using double-0 buck. He reports that pistolcraft is more significant in Gulf War II than it has been previously.

Our people are unfortunately handicapped by generally inferior smallarms. Our support weapons have been performing splendidly, but the M92 pistol, besides being a small-caliber instrument, seems very reluctant to work in a sandy climate, and the M16 rifle, plus its clones, remains a pretty dismal effort. The Army seems to think that spray-and-pray is the answer to infantry action, and current doctrine recommends using a three-shot burst - for which there is no tactical excuse. The three-shot burst simply wastes two rounds, unless the action is at arm's length, and if you have achieved one solid hit you should not need two more. (Of course, with a 22 maybe you should.) Besides the M16 is a poor instrument with which to deliver a butt stroke. The butt stroke, with the 03 or the M1 rifle, was a very satisfactory blow, as I can attest from personal observation, and to diminish its ease of use is a mistake.

Those who can lay hands on a 1911 consider themselves very fortunate, but there is a great variety of 1911 clones floating about now, so that no one is sure of its quality. New production 1911s are plagued by conspicuously inferior quality, and our advice here at school at this time is to locate a good World War II example if you can and adjust it if necessary.

A senior Orange Gunsite staff instructor, now on special duty in Mesopotamia, seems to be doing more instruction in pistolcraft than in the job he was sent to do in the first place. There are people in combat today who are unaware of the existence of the Modern Technique, and once they see it in action they naturally crave to learn more about it. We can help this only in a limited sense, since there is none so blind as those who will not see.

We have become so accustomed to the idea that a mountain rifle should be bolt-action that we lose sight of the fact that it is possible that a mountain rifle should be a single-shot. A second shot at ram or buck way above timberline is most unlikely, and even if the case comes up, a single-loader can be recharged about as fast as the inexpert hunter can operate a bolt. Gerhard Blenk, the creator of the Blaser 93 rifle, introduced us to that point some time back, and the more I think about it the more sense it makes. The mountain hunter does a lot of hiking and rifle packing above timberline, and a feather-weight rifle has much to recommend it for that purpose. Of course, light weight increases recoil effect - but now we have muzzle-brakes.

We regret to report the passing of Walt Comstock, of Placerville, California, one of the old-time pioneers of practical pistol competition and the inventor of the "Comstock Count," by which we sought to balance speed against accuracy. Despite our best efforts, the clock continues to tick. God's will be done.

We hear too much complaint about the inconveniences of military services. True, donning that uniform may be hazardous to one's health, but, on the other hand, the warrior need not worry about what clothes to put on in the morning, and he has access to unlimited free ammunition. (Free ammunition for the rifle team in high school ROTC is what got me signed up in the first place.)

You probably will not believe this but I got it from a usually unimpeachable source. It seems that when a customer complained to Kimber about an unsatisfactory pistol, some chick on the phone explained to him that the design was a hundred years old and therefore could not be expected to give reliable service more than 45 percent of the time! Honest to God! This girl was not the doorman or an assistant packer. She was a front-office type, presumably in charge of customer relations. We have been told that it is extremely hard to get good help nowadays, but we could not believe it was that hard!

It appears that nobody cares, but the word guerra is Spanish for war. Guerrilla then means "little war," and one who engages in it is a guerrillero. A "gorilla" is something else entirely.

We find this hand wringing about capital punishment puzzling. If a criminal deserves death, the method of inflicting it hardly seems important, although such horrors as hanging in irons are both extravagant and degrading. We ran across a recent book concerning the involvement of Thomas Alva Edison in the history of electrocution. A hundred years ago there were some people who were much concerned about whether electrocution might be less unpleasant for the subject than hanging - though hanging is normally pretty painless.

I did a certain amount of research work on vigilantism in graduate school, and that sort of informal activism did not produce any obvious distress in either a criminal or the executioner. There are many things we can learn from the Greeks. The Athenians employed what may be called a "mercy death" by hemlock for those people they wished out of the way but whom they did not wish to torment. We have a clear cut description of the execution of Socrates as written by Plato. Apparently these 19th century hand wringers were short on history.

"To say that being non-judgmental is better than being judgmental is itself a judgment, and therefore a violation of principle."

Thomas Sowell

This preoccupation with "accuracy" is developing into a major bore. There is hardly a rifled firearm that can be purchased over the counter today that is not more accurate than the shooter can appreciate, except from bench rest, and the bench rest is no measure of anything except what it measures, and that is not useful accuracy. We have been barking up that tree ever since the revered Townsend Whelen held forth on the subject, and I conclude that perhaps the squirrel is in another tree. I have always shot very accurate rifles and I enjoy this, but never once did the rifle itself achieve anything in the field. When I qualified for a hunting license in Norway I was required to fire a five-shot group at 100 meters from any position that did not employ a rest. I shot from prone using a loop sling, and the sergeant-in-charge did not seem to think that the sling was a rest in the sense forbidden. The group elicited admiration, which leads me to believe that the general level of marksmanship in Norway is no better than elsewhere. I have not heard that the standing world's record of a ten-shot possible on a 100-millimeter bullseye at 300 meters has been surpassed. That, of course, was not fired from a bench rest. Any man who can place ten shots into a 4 inch circle at 300 yards from a field position is an outstanding shot. Whether he needs an accurate rifle to do that is questionable, if we use bench rest competition as an index.

It has always seemed to me that the measure of a rifleman is what he can do with one shot, first try, against the clock, on demand. We have always held that the master rifleman is one who can shoot up to his rifle. We do not meet him very often.

The family feast is the bastion of social order. The state and the church exert exterior discipline, but the family creates its own from within. Good people do right not for fear of punishment, but because they would feel degraded in their own eyes if they did not. The family is therefore the special fount of morality, and proper behavior is the understood product of the family feast.

"It is well to recall that the Moors
were stopped and sent backward at Tours.
Their hate for the West, is now put to the test
as their cause kills much more than it cures."

It is rumored that both H&K and SIG are ready to announce new major caliber service pistols at the forthcoming SHOT Show. We look forward to these items with eagerness, though one may wonder just how much better the pistols may be than the original 1911. We suspect that they may display more "safety" than improved utility. As the Russian translator once exclaimed, "Eez gon! Eez not safe!"

We have been pondering recently about the concept of the 22 rimfire pistol, since catalog items do not seem to offer the assets desirable in any but specialized instruments. We do have superb target 22s, and there is no objection to that, but few people are dedicated target shooters, and many of the very highly developed pieces made available present highly complex attributes hardly appreciable to any but the specialized customer. It seems to me that the primary purpose of the 22 pistol is plinking - that is informal, open-range shooting at miscellaneous improvised targets. Therefore a plinking pistol should be well made and offer excellent trigger-action and good sights. It should, of course, be reliable and accurate enough for the purpose. Preferably it should be rather small, suiting it for easy packing on hikes and camping trips.

There are still places where the hiker and camper is permitted to shoot for the pot at rodents and birds. This may seem an exotic pastime in The Age of the Wimp, but it should not be disregarded.

Apart from the target pistol and plinking pistol, a 22 may serve well as a trainer, and it may be quite useful for personal and home defense. When a handgun is used for defense, it is not usually shot, since its presentation suffices to turn off the argument. Nobody wants to get shot with anything, and both muggers and rapists are not anxious to pursue matters when faced by any sort of pistol.

A good plinking 22, either revolver or self-loader, really should be presented as an end in itself, not as a specialized competition instrument. First of all it should be well-made, with superior fit and finish, and as reliable as mechanics will permit. We do not see such pieces advertised for sale.

There is talk now in South Africa about changing the name of Pretoria, the capitol, to something more Bantuesque. Hardly a surprise. Andries Pretorius was a mighty hero, and the father of his country - comparable to George Washington. This proposed name change could be something like changing the name of the capitol of the US to "Nat Turner." We might go further and rename Rome "Nerotown" and Paris "Guillotine City."

As the Holy War proceeds we are somewhat surprised that no one has brought up the parallel afforded by "the Old Man of the Mountain," one Hassan ben Saba, who during the Crusades created a Muslim paradise into which he introduced recruits in order to prove to them that if they died carrying out his orders eternal paradise would be theirs. He made liberal use of the drug hashish and thus gave his name to the term "assassin." The suicidal assassin does indeed pose a special problem, but problems are made to be solved.

Florence King, who is a very sharp observer indeed, points out that what our current military effort lacks is dash. Dash may be said to be that element of personality that allows one to swagger, hence the "swagger stick." When I was a boy Marine sergeants and Marine officers of field grade and above were authorized to carry a swagger stick. Some did and some did not. When I made major I jumped at the chance, and I do think it contributed to dash, but that sort of thing began to decline as the Pacific War progressed. General Shoup, the hero of Tarawa, pushed it aside when he became Commandant, but I know that did not apply to Hanneken, who was not only one of the supreme heros of the Marine Corps tradition, but was about as dashing a figure as I ever saw. He was tall, straight and deeply tanned. The combination of his white toothbrush mustache, his Medal of Honor and his swagger stick were quite overwhelming. One came to attention just thinking about him, and the fact that I rolled dice for drinks with him at the Officer's Club bar at Pendleton is one of the great memories that I cherish.

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