Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 11, No. 4          April 2003

Springtime In The Boonies

Spring is trying to come on a little early this year, which is pleasant enough, but we hope it does not inhibit further necessary rainfall. The Southwest has been drying up now for several years, and it will take more than one wet winter to repair the damage. We hope for the best.

We have referred to the new giant 50 caliber revolver by Smith & Wesson as the "Dino pistol." The word dino in Greek means approximately "terrible," as with dinosaur (terrible lizard), dinopithecus (terrible ape), dinichthys (terrible fish), and so on. It appears that the 500 Smith & Wesson is quite terrible to a certain political journalist from Chicago who rushed to press with the idea that the new Smith should be just the weapon for street gangs. Just how this fellow got a job as a journalist is not clear, but he obviously does not know much about either pistols or street gangs. Whatever a street punk may have in mind for his "nefarious little plans," this Smith 500 is pretty close to the worst possible answer.

Well it was tiresome to stand there endlessly holding our sword over our head. Now I suppose we can use it, and that in itself is quite a relief. If it should come to pass that we erase both Saddam and Iraq in short order, I do not see that will conclude the Holy War. The actors of September 11 were Saudis, not Iraqis, and so far we have heard no evidence of remorse from the faithful.

It seems to me that a pistol should hit hard, or it should hit very precisely. Of course it can do both, but compromise is seldom the proper answer. Thus I have always favored a major caliber cartridge for a defensive handgun, and simultaneously suggested that if one is to go to reduced power, he should go right down to a 22, which will encourage precise placement.

The 9mm/38 family of pistol cartridges has never been really satisfactory in serious conflict. Of course any sidearm is more apt to be used as a threat than a weapon, but that is not always the case. Today we have a whole regiment of new 9mm Parabellum pistols being offered on the market, but the US Department of Defense has concluded, to no one's surprise, that if a new pistol is adopted for US service, it should be of major caliber. If I were stuck with a 9, I would be happy with a Luger, which is a lovely mechanical artifact and, incidentally, much prettier than anything available today. The Luger has its faults, but as a toy or collector's item, it stands well ahead of the competition.

The President tells us that we are going into Iraq not to occupy, but to liberate. This, of course, is very soothing. We recall from the Philippine affair, "Underneath the starry flag, civilize `em with a Krag, and let's get underway for home sweet home." I am sure it must be much nicer to be liberated by an M1A tank than occupied by it.

The whole subject of firearms seems a bit too arcane for the common man. In Ireland, for example, a politician recently rushed into the breech to forbid private ownership of all firearms except shotguns and 22s. This caused great enthusiasm for the 22-250 as a deer gun. One of the notable aspects of the democratic process is that one need not know anything about a subject in order to pass laws about it.

I have maintained from the beginning that gutter language reveals a paltry vocabulary. This continuous use of simple-minded, four-letter obscenities reduces the strength of the statement. This is obvious if you delete it.

Some have suggested that this idea is contradicted by the notoriously coarse language sometimes used by George Patton. I do not have specific evidence of the general's expressions, but I will take it as accepted that he did resort to vulgarity upon occasion. I do believe, however, that since General Patton was a very cultivated man, he thought that if he spoke in his customary fashion he might be considered to be insufficiently fierce for his position, and simply wanted to sound like "one of the boys."

The doomsdate predicted by Brute Krulak, at which point no one will know anything about anything, approaches. We now hear of a case in which a man, having misspelled a word, claimed that this is okay because his spell checker gave him the answer. In his mind his own responsibility can be released by pressing the right button. If the machine spelled it wrong, that makes it right.

We have had several queries from correspondents about the characteristics most attractive in a household 22, and I am preparing a magazine article on that very subject. No proper household should be without a 22 of some sort, but what sort encourages attractive cogitation. Of course some places may even have two 22s, and that does simplify the matter of selection.

A certain faction amongst the anti-gun people has now targeted the 50 caliber BMG cartridge as a menace to society. You just cannot get it across to some people that it is the man, not the instrument, that is the force for either good or ill. The 50 caliber Browning machinegun, either in its original form or as a repeating rifle is a most interesting artifact, but it is tremendously inconvenient to use, except under certain specific military or paramilitary situations. But the hoplophobes just see guns as bad in themselves, not in their capacity to achieve any particular objective. They do not hate crime, they hate guns, and there is no reasoning with them, because a phobia is just that, a mental aberration not subject to reasoned argument.

Whence all this whimpering? Having been involved in a couple of first class wars personally, I do not remember all this emphasis on suffering, rather than achievement. Suffering is easy. You learn it the first time, but achievement calls for talent, determination and courage. When the boys march off to war we used to cheer. Why do we whine now?

We hear of another hunting casualty from Africa due, as usual, to leaving the rifle elsewhere. In this case the hunter, having left his rifle in the car, ran across an irascible wildebeeste cow, who roughed him up considerably and failed to kill him only by chance, the cornada missing the femoral artery by a centimeter. You would think that people would not wander around the African bush unarmed - you would think. But then we are required to wander our city streets unarmed, which would seem the more dangerous course.

I made no mention of shooting sticks in "The Art of the Rifle." Perhaps this was a mistake, since it seems that shooting sticks are now practically universal in Africa. I fabricated a set when I was a schoolboy, and I found that they were a nuisance to carry around. They still are, but this matters only when one hunts alone, and in Africa today there is always at least one henchman within whistling distance. If you are making an approach through high grass carrying a rifle in one hand and shooting sticks in another, it is awkward. But if the sticks are there for the asking, the high grass is no longer a problem. Our daughter Lindy pulled off an outstanding longshot on a tsessebe in Okavango using the sticks. One cannot fault an instantaneous one-shot kill. So I guess there is a place for shooting sticks, at least for the younger generation. Somehow I cannot envision Bell or Selous or Stigand carrying shooting sticks, but then times have certainly changed.

Our British periodical, from which we try to keep track of things British, tells us that "huge numbers" of English recruits are quitting in training because they do not like being yelled at. Well fancy that! Being yelled at is a dreadful thing, I suppose, but somehow it never bothered me. Of course one must speak softly to a wimp lest you hurt his feelings - and that we could not have.

It is a long time now since Lon Horiuchi shot Vicky Weaver in the face while she was holding her child in her arms, but that is something most people would like to forget. Horiuchi still walks free with that on his conscience. The law cannot reach him, but there are many who do not forget.

I am informed by a couple of senior instructors that the quality of the student body here at Gunsite has conspicuously declined over the last couple of years. The people who are coming to school now, with exceptions, of course, do not seem to be up to the task, though both the doctrines and the instructing staff have remained constant. I do not know what to make of this, except possibly as evidence of the overwhelming encroachment of the television culture, which seems to produce a race of watchers rather than doers. I should have thought this would take longer than a matter of ten or fifteen years, but the evidence is there.

The dim-witted cross-bolt safety which is now being featured on current lever action rifles is not only unnecessary but actually slightly dangerous. It can be deactivated with a little work, but a better choice is to acquire an older rifle secondhand at a gun show. The fit and finish of the older gun may be superior as well.

The Safari Club International continues its praiseworthy efforts to encourage big game hunting and conserve wildlife throughout the world. I think that perhaps the club is overlooking a bet in the matter of Hydrurga, the leopard seal. Here is a large, fierce, active carnivore, twice as big as a lion, which is quite prolific and has no fear of man. His organized pursuit would call for a great deal of political organization and would entail great expense, but these things are not insupportable obstacles to "the rich, the well-born and the able" who make up the membership of SCI. There is no tradition here of hunting the Hydrurga, but times change, and perhaps we should develop one.

In this war of ideas we seem to have got into, our strongest weapon is ridicule. These fanatics cannot bear to be laughed at, and if their actions are often deadly, they are still ridiculous. I continue to read carefully into Islam, and if what I discover is not ridiculous, that must be because Arabic does not translate well into English. Neither, for that matter, does Hebrew. That is a powerful reason why we still have such a varying interpretation of our own scripture. These Wahabis are pretty silly. That is why they hate to have it pointed out to them.

We hear from the Balkans that the trade in contraband weapons flourishes apace. All sorts of rifles and machine pistols are used as trade goods, and also hand grenades. It is not clear how one defends himself with a hand grenade, but the various Balkan factions seem to enjoy blowing each other up simply on principle. The factionists hang out in designated bars, and the activists can always take pleasure in pitching a bomb through an opposition door.

It may be that as a professional marksman all my life I am overly concerned with trigger action. I know many shooters who do not seem to care much about this, and they make out pretty well - or so they say. But I need a good trigger in order to shoot well, and so do my students, who have all achieved outstanding records in the game fields.

What then is a good trigger? A good trigger is a mechanical paradox. It must release the hammer or the striker with no apparent motion. It must move in order to accomplish this purpose, but its motion should be imperceptible. You test this by sight, not by touch. You place your finger on the trigger and take up the slack, if any. At this point you press gently, watching your finger. If you can see it move before discharge, your trigger has "creep." This is not a matter of weight, although reasonably light weight in the 3 to 4 pound range is a help. What is called for is apparently motionless release - after take up. Such trigger action is achievable by a good gunsmith with a conventional trigger. With the radical Blaser trigger, gunsmithing is unnecessary. This trigger action is imperceptible as the weapon comes over-the-counter.

As I say, I may make too much of this, but it is important to me, and more in time shooting than on the bench. Over the decades I have seen a lot of hits and a couple of misses. Good trigger action has always been the key.

It is rumored abroad that the excellent 25mm machinegun round may be adopted as a sort of successor to the 50 caliber BMG in shoulder-mounted repeating rifles. That should be fun to shoot, but obviously not for the faint of heart.

This airport security business is unnecessarily obnoxious. All you have to do is profile your passenger, and this does not take a philosopher. These Jihadis look like Jihadis. I put in a good deal of air travel and I see a great deal of utter foolishness on the part of the these security people - who only have to look. Up till now no innocent patriot has jumped an aircrew. Nor anyone who looks like one. Profiling may be regarded with horror by some who are preoccupied with political correctness, but this matter is too serious to be toyed with. The bad guys simply look like bad guys, and they cannot change that by shaving off their beards. That is one positive advantage we have in the Holy War.

Clausewitz is always worth considering. He classifies officers as follows:

We were recently treated to a non-attributable photograph of a man who had been killed and partially eaten by a bear in Alaska. In this present age of irresponsible communication, it is very difficult to run things like this down. We would much like to know what these circumstances were - whereabouts, what sort of bear, how come? So far I have had no luck with this. If you find out any details, I would appreciate the information.

I continue to be bothered by misunderstandings of the Scout concept. The world is full of pseudo-scouts and, as you might suppose, they do not measure up. To people who complain about the price of the Steyr Scout, I suggest that they simply make do with the rifle they have until they can scrape up a little extra cash. Going half-way is unsatisfactory to begin with, and more expensive in the long run.

It remains true, however, that a great many shooters are simply not as interested in quality as in quantity. They just prefer several second-rate items to one really good one. This keeps the market open, however, and for that we can be grateful.

It has been suggested by one vociferous polypragmaton that all hunting should be forbidden as immoral. This man has a right to his opinion, of course, but not to enforce it upon me. It is the nature of the polypragmatoi, of course, to police the behavior of other people, regardless if that behavior has any destructive social effect. We have always had such people, and we should respect their views, but we should not let such views achieve the force of either law or custom.

We hoped by this time that the standard rules of safe gunhandling would have become universal throughout the world. They have been arrived at by careful consideration over the years, and they do not need modification or addition. We trust that all the family have them by heart in all languages, but for those who came in late here they are again:
  1. All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. (For those who insist that this particular gun is unloaded, see Rule 1.)
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target. This is the Golden Rule. Its violation is directly responsible for about 60 percent of inadvertent discharges.
  4. Identify your target, and what is behind it. Never shoot at anything that you have not positively identified.
Those will do. We need all four and we do not need five. It should not be necessary to belabor this issue, but life is not perfect.

It has been suggested that marksmanship is no longer a military attribute. Is it possible that no individual shoots at any other individual anymore? While this may be usually true, I think it would be a terrible mistake to regard it as a military axiom. Our men in Afghanistan tell us there has been some good shooting up there, and that it has made a difference. We certainly hope so.

This Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has now decided that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional. As I understand it they hold that the phrase "establishment of a religion" is the same as "establishment of religion." This is obviously fallacious, but the court has so ruled. The case is being appealed and the verdict will be overturned almost certainly. But I think it is high time we ruled the Ninth Circuit Court as unconstitutional in its own right.

Up till now the greatest hardship we hear from the battlefront involves overcooked Brussels sprouts. That will change, of course. I suppose there are plenty of troops who dislike Brussels sprouts even when they are properly cooked.

When our over-civilized European friends complain about capital punishment, we are reminded of the classic case of Big Harpe, the notorious goblin of the Natchez Trace. The Harpe brothers, big and little, were really atrocious sociopaths, preying mainly upon farm wives and children in the absence of the man of the house. Little Harpe was caught and duly hanged. But Big Harpe, his brother, met a more colorful end. He was tied in a chair and decapitated with a hunting knife in the hands of a bereaved father and husband. This tale appears pretty old fashioned now, but it does have a nice tone to it.

Family member Tom Russell, in observing some of the recent activity in Kuwait, points out that "it is against the rules to surrender before the war is started."

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