Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 11, No. 7          June 2003

Summer Time

Now the sea stories from Mesopotamia come sliding in. Almost all of our contacts come from Marines, so it is possible that what we hear does not represent the opinion of the entire military establishment. That was a pretty good little war, it seems, and there was much to be learned by all those who participated.

At the close-contact level we find that since most modern fighting is done at night, combat ranges are short. The enemy shoots at us with rocket propelled grenades (RPG) and we shoot back with squirt guns (223). Marksmanship is not much of an issue. Neither side has much need for skill-at-arms as electrical gadgetry takes over the battlefield. The cell phone and the global positioning indicator are the primary tactical instruments of both sides, and personalized shooting seems to be rare, though it does exist. The poodle shooter seems to do quite well at short ranges, as most targets offered are in the upper torso and head. We have heard of some sniping incidents, however, and the snipers appear to have done very well when the occasion offered, though this is not very often.

The Marines are hunting around for a new service pistol, and one pilot model we have seen differs from the piece I am carrying on my belt primarily in the presence of a frame rail forward on which to mount a night light. John Browning's wonderful design has lasted almost a full century without serious competition. The great 1911 45 was a very nearly perfect artifact from the day of its birth, and this may be unique in the entire history of technology.

I have been preaching the Color Code now for a very long time with remarkable lack of success. Simón Bolívar, the "Liberator" of Latin America, declaimed in his age, "I have plowed the sea!" Neither of us achieved what he set out to do, but both of us achieved something, and that is about all anyone can ask of history.

On another line of conviction it seems impossible to make it known on this side of the barricades that what we have here is indeed a Holy War. Islam constitutes a faith, rather than a nation. Endeavoring to analyze national confrontations in this struggle is futile. The Chechens and the Pakistanis and the Palestinians who streamed down to Iraq to fight "The Great Satan" were Moslems, not nationals. We wiped out a minor nation-state in Iraq with relatively little difficulty, but that does not serve to impress the faithful. We can hardly set forth to subdue Islam in a military or geographical sense, but what we can do is to identify Islam as the enemy and to convince them that the East can no more defeat the West than the West can defeat the East. We have here the greatest standoff in history. It is up to us to convince the raghead on the camel that simply killing kafirs, as the prophet (may peace be upon him) exhorts him to do, will not raise his standard of living, even if it may assure his passport to paradise.

We wish President Bush all success in his delineation of a "road map to peace," but it must be clear that until the enemy understands the problem, he is unlikely to stop fighting. The outcome of the struggle in Mesopotamia ought to serve as a convincing object lesson. I guess it is pretty hard to put that point across in Arabic.

Offering democracy to an Arab is like bringing a horse to a steakhouse.

The Guru

As to "plowing the sea," I was recently dismayed to observe a current Grey Gunsite coach in total disregard of Rule 2. I have tried to point out that the Four Basic Safety Rules apply at all times, not just on the range, but the more I talk, the less people listen. I hope that is just some people.

As we continue to play around with the Dragoon - which the factory prefers to call the 376 Steyr - we become more impressed with it. This is partly due to its superb stock design. A feather-weight 375 Magnum should, theoretically, kick your teeth out, but the Dragoon just does not do this. We have tried it with all sorts of students here at the school, especially to find out if the piece kicks hard enough to upset the average shooter. Reports we get back suggest that the basically friendly nature of the Scout configuration is sufficient to minimize apparent recoil affect. You really should not take the Dragoon out after deer or impala or pigs, but if you have it, you will find that it works just fine. For many years we enjoyed the killing efficiency of the excellent, but unappreciated, 350 Remington Short Magnum, on both moose and lion, and while we were told by various observers that this piece kicked too hard, we just declined to notice it. Recoil effect is pretty subjective, of course, and what bothers A may not bother B, but to denigrate a cartridge because it supposedly kicks too hard is poor doings. Now Remington has reintroduced the excellent 350 in a new carbine, which is also offered in 300 WSM. It seems to me that if a piece kicks too hard in 350, it will kick even harder in 300 Magnum, but perhaps it does not really kick too hard in either cartridge. The whole thing is pretty mysterious.

The 376 Steyr, while a click short of the 375 Holland, is distinctly upscale in killing power over the 350 or the 300 WSM. I have not much field experience with it, but I have recorded two nice one-shot kills on bison and zebra, and the zebra is a particularly bullet-resistant beastie. Our friend Ron Anger from South Africa has described a 376 Steyr as simply a 375 Holland in a smaller case. We know what the 375 will do, and we can expect the same behavior from the 376. We should, however, be careful not to use the light bullet available in some factory loadings. The proper bullet for the Dragoon is 270 or 275. With these it works just fine. If you need more power than the 308 - and few of us do - the 376 is an excellent choice. If its recoil bothers you (and so far this has not been a problem) bear in mind Harry Truman's dictum. "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."

Various publicity photographs indicate that today's Marines are carefully observing Rule 3 - at least when a camera is pointed at them. Perhaps all has not been lost after all.

Any of the faithful who are fortunate enough to be party to the design of a new shooting range should remember that it is extremely important to keep the classroom as close as possible to the firing points. When you have to saddle up to move the class to the range you cannot help but lose continuity. We make do with what we have, of course, but those who have freedom to do things right should take advantage of it.

We hear of an interesting case from Africa in which the entire safari camp packed up and moved because a mamba had been observed in the immediate vicinity. That is the first strategic victory of a snake of which I have heard.

I have long been amused at the official policy of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) ducking out from behind the bureau. They refer to themselves as ATF rather than BATF. I began calling these people the "BATmen" in various writings, and this seems to have hurt their feelings. I am giving myself too much importance if I feel that my writings are responsible for the change, but it does seem sort of quaint to change the title on that account. Now that we have the whole structure lumped together as a Department of Homeland Security the issue is simplified. I never liked the idea of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms being lumped together as with, for example, apples, oranges and gasoline. The concerns involved are not similar enough to be grouped under one heading.

Progress on "C Stories" is not rapid. The format does not appear to be marketable, but this is okay. We will put the book to bed before year end and we like the way it looks. The excellent line illustrations by Paul Kirchner should serve to make up into a truly attractive package.

"If you have fully made up your mind to shoot if you have to, the chances are that you will not have to."

Julian Hatcher, 1935

Action reports tell us that the combat shotgun and the 50 BMG achieved very high marks in Mesopotamia. The shotgun seems particularly suitable for breaking down doors in urban warfare, and the great 50 delivers splendidly, both from the machinegun and in sniper configuration. These devices seem to have been "right the first time" and continue to do great work. Of course no firearm works by itself - there is always a shooter involved.

The new "Smith & Wesson Colts" have been getting good reviews, although I have not yet actually handled one. The 1911 truly rates extended life, and Smith & Wesson deserve full praise for keeping the tradition of excellence alive.

In a time when the shooting industry continues to toy around with unnecessary cartridge innovation, we note that the 6.5 Remington Magnum was a good idea which did not catch on with the public. This cartridge was a sort of pocket 270, ideal for mountain hunters left over from a time when sheep hunters did their own climbing with no help from jeeps or helicopters. The 600 carbine in caliber 6.5 Remington would be the ideal alpine companion, but in the age of specialization hardly anybody is both an alpinist and a hunter at the same time.

"There is no thrill to compare with battle, even when sudden death is momentarily expected."

Commander Paul Talbot, USN Commander Destroyer Division 59

Despite the painful wishes of the suffering Left, there really is such a thing as sheer motiveless malice - Father Flanagan to the contrary notwithstanding. There are bad people in the world, and their evil propensities stem as much from inheritance as from environment. You have only to look around to realize that you cannot make a scoundrel decent by patting him on the head. What you can do about him is a deep subject, but pretending that he is basically a nice guy does not properly address the problem.

I suppose that all of us in the Family are well aware of the proper conditions of readiness to be used with the service pistol. We have not, however, described the proper conditions of readiness for the rifle. The rifle is essentially an offensive instrument which is made ready for action when action is expected. In mountain and desert hunting there is no need to carry a rifle with a shell in the chamber, and there is never any need to carry a rifle in Condition One when one is riding in a car. The action can be operated in a split second when necessary, and speed of the first shot is rarely an issue in any form of hunting. There are exceptions, of course, and the deer hunter in thick brush, or the man crowding a buffalo in the low veldt may need a loaded chamber. In that case when the rifle is carried with a round up the spout and the safety on, it is properly carried in a field-ready condition with finger straight, safety on and muzzle anticipating target appearance. (An exception may be made here with the lever-action rifle or the Blaser straight-pull, in which the weapon should be carried in Condition Three and the round chambered as the butt is shouldered. It is almost impossible to work the Blaser safety in a hurry, though much can be achieved through intensive practice.)

As we have often stated, marksmanship could be improved if we could simply persuade shooters to get away from the bench rest. The bench rest is a useful device for identifying and isolating mechanical shortcomings, but it helps a marksman no more than a dynamometer helps a race driver. The sooner a marksman can get away from the bench rest, the better shot he will become.

We have recently run into a curious discourse with a firearms collector who is more interested in serial numbers than he is in shooting. I happen to own a distinguished Smith & Wesson 44 Magnum revolver, which has achieved several outstanding results in the field and on the range. My correspondent is not interested in that, however, but only in the number of screws in the frame. It never occurred to me to count the number of screws, but apparently this is a matter of grave importance to a collector. How nice it is that people's tastes are so varied! If this were not true all men would be doomed to pursue the same woman.

As we face off in cultural conflict (by their choice, not ours), we may point out that we have walked on the moon, we have motored on Mars, we have landed before we took off, we have conquered small pox, and we wield the B2. They offer only institutionalized malice. Certainly the West is imperfect, and there are many ways in which we can improve, but the Holy War they offer is a poor answer.

Note that liberty and freedom are not the same. Liberty is a political philosophy, whereas freedom is a physical condition. Governor Henry shouted, "Give me liberty or give me death!" He said nothing about freedom. The Preamble seeks to ensure the blessings of liberty upon American posterity, but can say nothing about freedom, since Americans were already free. I suppose one should not be picky about these things, but imprecise communication has been responsible for much disaster throughout history.

In these weeks succeeding Memorial Day, we have been impressed by reports from the various outstanding war memorials of the 20th century. There is an Arc de Triomphe in Paris, which reminds us that the French as a nation can win as well as lose. There is Stone Mountain in Georgia, which emphasizes that victory is not essential to glory. There is the Voortrekker Monument between Johannesburg and Pretoria, which still stands in grandeur despite racism to the contrary. There is the Santa Cruz del Valle de Los Caidos in Castile which is arguably the grandest piece of architecture of modern times. And there is the battle monument to Operation Overlord in Bedford, Virginia, which though quite recent deserves a place up near the top. Even in The Age of the Common Man we continue to honor our great men, though great men are never common. We should think about that on Memorial Day.

There will be a break now while we wander off to the Dolomites to visit the Ice Man of Bolzano. He lived at the crossing point between the Stone and Bronze Ages and he packed a copper chopper that I would like to investigate. Pure copper does not take nor hold a good cutting edge, so we may discover that his weapon's point was fabricated of some sort of accidentally impure copper, such as the Aztecs seemed to have used thousands of years later in Mexico. This makes our journey a business trip of sorts, since I qualify myself as a hoplologist. We will report back in due course. Meanwhile be of stout heart and good cheer!

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