Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

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

The Ides Of March

Of all sorts of personal possessions, the personal firearm is the most nearly unique. This is because of its permanence. When you have acquired a good gun, there is no real need ever to acquire another - except possibly for replacement in case of loss. This makes the marketing of firearms a frustrating enterprise. Except when dealing with adolescents, the marketer must aim at making a prospective purchaser unhappy with what he already has. You wear out clothes and automobiles, you drink up wines, you shoot up ammunition, but your gun is still there, just as desirable and efficient as it ever was, assuming that you chose it wisely in the first place.

So the annual SHOT Show is pretty hard to take seriously. It is presumed to display what is new and superior in the way of guns. But trying to promote something new just because it is new is poor doin's, as we mountain men used to say. I saw a good many new guns at the SHOT Show, but none of them made me unhappy with what I've got. Some, of course, made for interesting discussion.

The Winchester Short Magnums are being enthusiastically pushed, though I cannot see why. A shortened bolt throw is indeed a minor advantage, but not sufficient to complicate production.

We were treated to a great display of 45 autos, most of which were very nice. Since the commencement of the Practical Shooting Revolution, we have opined that all the 1911 really needs are a trigger that you can manage, sights that you can see and a dehorning job. In addition, one might propose a deactivated grip safety (!), a lanyard loop, a bobbed hammer, and press-fitted stock screw sockets. One thing the original pistol does not need is a recoil spring guide, which is now a popular feature of new construction. (It is curious to see a certain amount of trouble undertaken to achieve a slight step backward.) Most of the new 45s feature an extrusion on the lower end of the grip safety, which does not work for me, though it may for you. (Fortunately the grip safety is easily pinned shut.)

As if to emphasize that pistols are for having, rather than for shooting, the Colt people are presenting a World War I replica, an exact duplication of the original 1911.

Leading candidate for the 2003 Waffenpösselhaft Award is the 45 Short cartridge, introduced by Glock. We need a short 45 the way we need a three-wheel Ferrari. But I have no doubt that people will buy this item, if for no other reason than that it is new.

I examined the Walther P22, which is indeed a nice little item. In some respects it is not quite as good as its ancestor the PPK, but for the rural household which needs a 22 at the ready and does not already have one, this is an attractive piece. (Let it not be said that I advocate the 22 LR cartridge for house defense. It is certainly not our first choice, but it will do when managed by a cool hand. I maintain that the best weapon for household defense is a self-loading 12-gauge shotgun, but such is obviously clumsy to pack around.)

Of all the weapons displayed at the SHOT Show, the only one featuring a perfect trigger out-of-the-box was, as usual, the Blaser 93. It seems to me that most shooters, buyers or sellers, are not much interested in triggers. I can only assume that most shooters do not shoot very much, at least not today. The trigger on the M1 Garand that I was issued at Basic School had a cleaner release than anything I saw at SHOT, excepting the Blaser and the 22 Match rifles. Jim West puts a pretty good trigger on his "Co-pilot," and the Steyr Scout trigger can be tuned to perfection by a skillful smith. Some of the Scouts came from the factory with superb triggers, but more recent examples did not.

The Remington people have seen fit to reintroduce their excellent 350 Remington Short Magnum cartridge in a new rifle called the 673. I fancied the 600/660 series carbines for my own use, but a surprising number of people seem to think that they "looked funny" - as if that matters. The action on the 600s was compressed to the rear, calling for a swept forward bolt handle which was ergonomically sound, if distressing to the esthete. The new gun is redesigned, making it slightly longer overall. If you have one of the old ones, keep it. The Model 673 retains the odd "Halloween" open-sight system with its pumpkin foresight, but this arrangement is readily scraped off.

All rifles of this series fit a squared-off thumb safety, which may be a bother unless it is rounded off. The proper place for the thumb is on the starboard side of the rifle, as anyone who has shot the short-stocked Garand can tell you. And the light-weight 350s do kick briskly.

I have fancied the Remington 350 Short Magnum since its inception, having now taken a deer, nilgai, wildebeeste, zebra, and my one and only lion with it. It is a superb cartridge for Alaska and for the African bushveldt, and now you can buy factory ammunition for it again. (It may not be quite up to the 376 Steyr, but the difference is slight, and the ammunition is easier to come by.)

Standing out amongst new handguns is the "Dino Pistol" of Smith & Wesson. This is a gigantic 5-shot wheel gun taking the 500 Smith & Wesson cartridge. It is so big and heavy that it reintroduces the job description of "gun bearer." It is to pistols what the 700 Nitro cartridge is to rifles - an exercise in the possible without any consideration of what might be desirable, needful or necessary. I bet it will sell like Big Macs.

We noticed no less than three manufacturers featuring replicas of the 1851 Colt Navy pistol. This, of course, was one of the arms that "won the West," but I think it did so largely because it was war surplus at a time when the need for a reliable, defensive handgun was particularly felt. So you can buy a new one now, as a training aid for a history class.

The Moors seem to be ahead in the Holy War at this time, at least they have succeeded in making domestic air travel inconvenient and ridiculous. It might make some sense to regard all Moors at airports with suspicion. At least it would avoid subjecting obviously upperclass ladies to random body search. It is clear that you can't make a fool of anyone unless he submits to it. And we, as a nation, are certainly submitting to it.

Not Ted Nugent, however. Whether you like his stagecraft or not, you must respect his spirit. When confronted with this foolishness at the airport, he just threw back his ticket and left the scene.

Sitting around at the SHOT Show, we were impressed again with the psychotic requirement to lie. Perhaps the name for this should be called "Munchausenism." Victims will come up to you and relate experiences which are not only impossible, but obviously impossible, and then expect you to accept what they say as truth. What would you say of a man who told you with a straight face that he was attacked by a rattlesnake which swallowed the monkey wrench with which he defended himself? That sort of thing. And, of course, the shooters get into marksmanship. I think I know a good deal about marksmanship, at least enough to understand long-range trajectory. But people afflicted with Munchausenism apparently do not care whether they are believed or not, as long as they make the outragous statement. I once had a correspondent tell me about how he had dropped a moose located on the other side of a lake. The lake could be measured, and this positively established the range. I asked this gent how far he held over the moose to achieve the hit, since at that range with his cartridge we could anticipate between 18 and 20 feet of bullet drop. Thus it would seem that if he held at dead on, as he claimed, he missed by about 18 feet. This made my correspondent mad. "I know what I know!" he said.

I have lived a long and an adventurous life, as I sometimes point out, and I find that the unvarnished truth is amazing enough for anybody.

Riding around in a wheelchair at airports, as I often do now, I overhear some pretty amazing comments. One of the best from an oblivious cell phone user: "I can't talk now, I'm on the phone."

At the Beretta display we were shown an item which might be termed a "pseudo thumper," designed and demonstrated by our good friend Ulrich Zedrosser, late of Steyr Mannlicher. It was a very neat, two-handed pistol, which could be developed into a general-purpose infantry arm if it were made to take a powerful cartridge such as the 44 Auto-Mag. As it is, the weapon will take only pistol cartridges, which severely limits its usefulness, in my opinion. Herr Zedrosser pointed out that the action would need to be reworked in order to take the pressure of a big cartridge, since now it is a pure blowback. That could be done. And if I were the boss, it would be done. Reports from Afghanistan reemphasize the desirability of the thumper concept.

As of this point, I know of no stopping failures on the part of a major-caliber rifle cartridge. I suppose there have been some, but if they exist, they are certainly rare. A 30-06, or a 308, or a 7.92x57 in the torso stops the fight. The fact that it kicks too hard for comfortable use by the Moor-in-the-street is good news for us.

The Steyr Scout, though it is clearly the best thing of its kind, is not selling well because it is not being promoted well; and also possibly because not enough shooters shoot enough to appreciate its excellence. The Blaser R93, on the other hand, is selling splendidly worldwide. This is probably because of a number of features which, while not critically attractive, are noteworthy to a non-shooter. The multi-caliber option is apparently saleable. If one goes far afield he is much more likely to need a spare telescope than a different cartridge. The left-hand option is attractive, though a proper scenario to appreciate this seems unlikely. The straight-pull feature is most attractive over-the-counter, though the need for it in the field is not easy to anticipate. The nifty takedown box is a very fine feature, but the important thing about the Blaser is its superb trigger action, which, as we have said, does not seem to interest many people.

As a specialty gun, Jim West's "Co-pilot" stands out. It has now done superior work three times in Africa on buffalo, and Shooting Master Rich Wyatt plans to take his to Alaska this summer for Grossbär. Of course the 45-70 cartridge of the "Co-pilot" is what does the killing. You can get more power if you ask for it, but the extraordinary handiness of the carbine is what makes it a gem.

At the SHOT Show, our friend Ashley Emerson reported that he had done a hog neatly with his kukri (pronounced cookery). There is something quite charming about that knife pattern. I guess it is ergonomics, though I really do not know what that word means.

I am bemused by the continuous attempt on the part of various commentators to establish "a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda." Somehow I do not see a problem there. When I was in school, there was no difficulty in establishing a link between the Stanford football team, the Stanford band, and the Stanford faculty. They were all "sons of the Stanford red." All these Moors are card-carrying Moors.

So the wise and the powerful are still looking for a connection between various sorts of Moors. When I was a lad I assumed there was a connection between Admiral Nagumo and General Yamashita. They did not wear the same uniform, but they fought for the same divine emperor. There was a link.

As we have mentioned before, the "accuracy" of a rifle combination is a synthesis of its maximum radial dispersion, its "shootability," its ammunition quality, its sighting system, and its trigger action. When I was working for a Philippine tycoon, he complained to me that his newly acquired Steyr SSG was "inaccurate." This amazed me because those rifles are all made one way and I did not see how one example could be radically different from another. But my boss complained that his rifle would not stay on a copy of Time magazine at 50 meters. I was taken flat aback. When I asked what ammunition he had been using, he said that it was Filipino GI 7.62, so we sent up to Manila for a couple of boxes of Hirtenberger 308 Match. The longest range we could reach at the hacienda was 279 long steps. At that range the rifle put its first five shots into a ring the size of a big hen's egg.

Reports from the field tell us that wildlife is gaining upon the eco-tourist in both Africa and America. The nitwits are increasingly wandering the wild. In my youth it was generally true that only people who could saddle a horse and load a rifle were likely to be found in the boondocks. Today too many people who should properly stay at home and watch television feel that they can wander around in the wild, much as they would at Disneyland. We ran across this as far back as our first trip to Okavango, where a family of European tourists pitched their camp right out where they should not. This country was well stocked with lions and leopards, to say nothing of a wounded buffalo that was being tracked after a mishap on the morning hunt. And here we had a man and his wife and three youngsters of ten years and younger romping around chasing butterflies. This drove our host and outfitter right up the wall, but these tourists were perfectly legal, and there was no way he could run them off.

So far this year there have been a couple of dozen gruesome mishaps in the southern African bush. They were not "accidents," since they were quite intentional on the part of the beasties. The bambiists multiply, and they are the natural prey of "the beasts beyond the fire." I guess this is simply an aspect of the Age of the Wimp. I am sorry about the victims, but I simply cannot view with much alarm.

I cannot accept the idea that the girls really want to be placed in harm's way. I think they want to have it both ways, which has always been difficult. Placing a woman deliberately in harm's way is gross, and cannot be countenanced by ladies or gentlemen. Ladies and gentlemen, however, are endangered species.

I have heard it rumored that the Color Code now being fostered by the security department originated here at Gunsite. Perhaps. But what we teach at Gunsite does not have to do with danger, but rather with readiness to take decisive, remedial action. These are not the same.

To the best of my knowledge and belief, the slowfire rifle record was established some ten years ago in Sweden. This was a 10-shot, 300-meter possible on the standard 100mm X-ring, fired from unsupported prone. This may have been equaled since in practice, but not in a recognized match.

With the handgun I once saw Elden Carl print a four-inch, five-shot group at 100 yards, with a 44 Magnum. This was duly witnessed and the target has been preserved.

The top quick-fire Magnum pistol effort was the only recorded possible on the Running Hog Course. Ten-inch bull, accelerated 15 to 30 yards, three strings of four shots each, starting holstered. This course is not often run, and it may have been equaled since, though as a possible it cannot have been surpassed.

The highest quick-fire rifle score was achieved by Marc Heim at Whittington - four out of five flying clay birds going straight away. Now there is something to shoot for!

I cannot set myself up as the official world scorekeeper in these matters, but we have to start somewhere. Let the ball begin!

Reports from the front say that our big logistical problem is battery compatibility. All our fancy gadgetry operates on batteries, and all the gadgets take different sizes. What works your gunsight does not fit your gasmask, and so on. Probably we need the new military rank of "Battery Specialist."

"Almost any plan at all, carried out today, beats the best plan in the world, carried out tomorrow."


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