Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 11, No. 9          August 2003

High Summer

Summer has never been our favorite season, except during childhood when school was out, but it does have its points. Among other things, summer provides a good time in which to check zeros and loads, and also to keep in some sort of practice. The competition shooter, of course, needs to practice all the time, but for those of us who wish only to maintain a respectable level of practical competence, practice is still necessary. Most people, unfortunately, have to make a measured effort at marksmanship practice. A good place to shoot is hard to find, even in the "red counties," and public shooting ranges are usually depressingly restricted in method permitted. Still we practice, and for a good shot the problem is eased by dry firing at home. You do not have to fire a live round to practice quick acquisition of position, nor to smooth up your reloading speed.

We tend to lose pistol proficiency quicker than rifle skill. I discovered that I did not lose much during World War II, though I fired very little with the rifle. But for whatever reason, marksmanship is not a talent to be neglected, and summertime may present us with practice time. Besides which, it is fun.

The fifth of August is our own personal holiday for it is the anniversary of the head-on with our one and only lion, down on the Crocodile River below Engonyameni. We used the Lion Scout, the immediate parent of the 376 Steyr "Dragoon," and established it as the (almost) perfect tool for the task. So now 5 August is Lion Day, as inscribed upon the calendar.

We are informed that Gunsite is now offering freebies to returning warriors. Now there is an example to be observed by the good guys!

In the military sense, the 21st century does not look to be a promising era for the marksman. If these first years are indicative, infantry action seems to take place mainly at night and at very close range, circumstances which do not reward the expert marksman. The squirt gun and the handheld artillery are the current weapons of the foot soldier, and it appears that supporting fires do almost all of the damage on the battlefield. The venerable Marine Corps tradition that a Marine of any rank must first of all be a rifleman is at this time endangered. In law enforcement, the situation is less clear, but the pernicious philosophy of "spray-and-pray" continues to dominate police ranges. In the private sector, the need to hit the target precisely, hard and quickly (DVC) is less imperiled, though in formal competition the need for adequate power is still not fully understood.

Personal marksmanship still remains an essential attribute of any well organized man, as well as a desideratum for such ladies as are so inclined. (Besides, it is fun!)

We were annoyed to learn that the factory has discontinued production of the 376 Steyr rifles. We have never been much excited by the appearance of new cartridges, but the 376 Steyr in Scout configuration definitely filled a vacant niche. Both guns and ammunition are still available, of course, and we have a loaner here at Gunsite for the deserving poor.

Marketing remains a pretty arcane study in the firearms industry. The object of the marketer is to make the prospective customer dissatisfied with what he already has. With guns this is pretty hard to do, since we have had access to very superior products for most of a century. A good rifle will give good service for at least three generations, and unless it is abused it will not wear out. Even the youth may not constitute a valid market, since junior can do very well with dad's rifle - or granddad's. It is also true with pistols, since the great feats of pistolcraft date back to the Spanish-American War, and the greatest handgun of them all has been with us since 1911.

So the advertiser has a problem, and it is certainly more political than technical. We see, for example, that there is now a movement in the UN (where else?) to strip smallarms from all non-governmental individuals, because the possession of such weapons allows people to oppose the UN itself. Certainly we cannot have that sort of thing - now can we?

"C Stories," our new book, is now pretty well packaged up, and scouting for a publisher. It is decisively augmented by a splendid series of full-page illustrations from family member Paul Kirchner, with whose work you are all doubtless familiar. We cannot predict a release date, but the book should make a very nice Christmas present.

In Europe we noticed that major pistol contests are now starting in Condition 4, with the unloaded weapon lying on a table in front of the shooter, hands free. I am sure there is a good reason for this, but it does show that practical pistol competition need not be too specifically practical.

So what are we going to do with this ragheaded US trooper who took it upon himself to murder his brothers-at-arms? The act of killing the man who fights alongside you is so atrocious as to merit special attention. If our Constitution did not forbid "cruel and unusual punishment," we would resurrect the exemplary British act of "hanging in irons," in which the subject is hoisted aloft in a snug-fitting network of iron straps and permitted to perish of thirst or exposure, whatever comes first. Clearly we are not going to do that, but whatever we are going to do will be too good for this fellow.

As these unpleasant people in Iraq keep on potting American soldiers at the rate of about one a day, we have a suggestion for the local command. Let anyone caught in the possession of a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) be pigged on the spot. Not shot, just pigged. That is not even against any stipulation of the Geneva Conference, but I bet it would work. (Being "pigged" is being doused in pig viscera.)

Despite the squeaking of those who would have it otherwise, the United States of America remains the last free nation on earth. God made it so. The Bill of Rights keeps it so. And the National Rifle Association keeps that so.

When in England at a fairly large conference, Colin Powell was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury if our plans for Iraq were just an example of empire-building by George Bush. He answered by saying the following:
"Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those who did not return."

It became very quiet in the room.

via Dr. Leon Flancher

This foolish talk about reparations for slavery would be funny if it were not evidence of disastrous historical ignorance. Slavery is a natural course of human events from as far back as we have any record. If you are not going to kill all the losers on the spot, you put them to work. Somebody has got to chop the wood and draw the water, and that is generally what losers do. If we suggest that somebody today should pay somebody else for something that other people did in times long past, we might suggest that the Romans pay the Algerians, the Aztec pay the Maya, the Arabs pay the Berbers, the English pay the Irish, the Norwegians pay the Russians, the Russians pay the Cossacks, the Mohawks pay the Pequots, and so on and on and on. American Negro chattel slavery, which was just one form of the "peculiar institution," was abolished a century and a half ago, in case Al Sharpton has not heard. It would not be surprising to learn that some of Al Sharpton's ancestors did a bit of buying and selling on their own. Unfortunately there is no law against being ridiculous.

The new crop of pocket 45 pistols does seem to be a useful innovation. These little guns may kick pretty hard, as some suggest, but since they are intended primarily for arm's-length situations, this is not significant. In practicing with them, it is a good idea to keep the standard magazine fully extended to get some purchase for the little finger of the shooting hand. You can have it both ways.

"For men of understanding do not say that the sword is to blame for murder, nor wine for drunkenness, nor strength for outrage, nor courage for foolhardiness, but they lay the blame on those who make an improper use of the gifts which have been bestowed upon them by God, and punish them accordingly."

St. John Chrysostom (circa 341-410 AD), from "Treatise on the Priesthood,"
via B.T. Carlin, MD

Practical shooting in training and practice should always involve a certain amount of work from automobiles, both stationary and moving. A lot of pistol action (including one of my own) is of this sort, and it should not be overlooked in training. I have always taught it in Latin America, and I used to teach it here at Gunsite. It should not be ignored simply because it is difficult to conduct.

It may be that there is such a thing as racial memory, and it is supported by the undeniable observation that the goblins will get you if you don't watch out. It is just that today goblins may not look the part, no matter how they act. Neanderthalers (for lack of a better term) existed contemporaneously with the Cro-Magnons (for lack of a better term) for a very long time, and they did not vanish all at once. If brain size is an indication, they were the intellectual equals of their successors, but while the remaining groups hung out in deep woods and occasionally grabbed off a Cro-Magnon child for supper, they never mastered missilery. They never discovered the bow and arrow, and they never found out how to kill beyond arm's length. Thus they disappeared - but not all at once. You better watch out!

"Wrath is better than sorrow."

The Guru

Hydrurga, the leopard seal, is a large, active, carnivorous predator, inhabiting the oceans of Antarctica. There has been no case of Hydrurga's scarfing up anybody - until now. Last month Kirsty Brown, a British marine scientist working for British Antarctic Survey, was attacked and killed while snorkeling in the ice water off the Weddell Sea. Snorkeling in these waters strikes us as a questionable occupation, but there has never been a case up till now of Hydrurga's claiming a human victim, probably because people just do not go where he is. Some time ago we suggested that a Hydrurga hunt might be a spirited enterprise. and not without some scientific research value. Such a project does not seem likely, however, in today's climate of opinion. Maybe we should agitate the Safari Club in this direction. At 11 feet in length and weighing about a thousand pounds, he would make into a handsome centerpiece for the trophy room of "The man who has everything."

If there is a war on, and there often is, it behooves a young, unattached man to go get in it. Until he has been in a battle a man always wonders about whether he would measure up to really serious stress. A man who has never been in a major battle can never be really sure of himself.

We have always assumed that every household must contain a 22 - at least every rural household. What sort of 22 depends on circumstances, of course, but the rifle may be generally more useful than the pistol. The pistol is handier, but the rifle makes a better trainer for the young since it is easier to manage. If the piece is primarily a trainer, it should probably be a single-shot, but if it is to be taken afield, a large capacity magazine is a convenience. I do not think the piece should be semi-automatic, though this is not a critical consideration. The bolt-action is popular, for obvious reasons, but I have always thought that the best general-purpose 22 is the Marlin Model 39. Its lever-action is equally convenient for either hand. Its half-cock safety is convenient and reliable, and its trigger-action can be honed to complete satisfaction. In the 20-inch barrel, take-down version, it may be the best general-purpose 22. It should probably not be fitted with a telescope sight, since a good ghost-ring adapts well to the hard-top Marlin action and provides all the precision necessary to all but the optically handicapped.

We need not be exclusive, however. Good 22s of all types are widely available, and easily modified for shooters of small stature. High quality, compact 22 auto-pistols are not as common as they should be, but they fill a specific niche as a convenient household item. Naturally any household item should be available only to persons of responsibility - of any age. Children can be taught responsibility at an earlier age than widely supposed, and prior to achieving that responsibility they should be kept physically separated from both firearms and ammunition. Reasonably alert children may be taught to be responsible citizens at least by the age of ten, but usually they do not have enough length of bone to manage a rifle until about fourteen. This varies from case to case, but it depends basically upon the social responsibility of their parents. This is not a matter of numerical age, but rather of character.

Remember how Kipling put it?
"When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains, and the women come out to cut up your remains, just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains, and go to your god like a soldier."
Plus ça change, plus la même chose.

I suppose it is a losing battle, but I continue to insist that those who undertake to design courses of fire for smallarms competition should guide themselves by the principle of relevance. Any challenge posed in a contest should attempt to replicate a live action taking place in the field or on the street. If the challenge can not realistically be encountered in live action, there is no need to test it in a contest. Thus it is that many standard training courses used in the public sector are unsuitable for competition.

I repeat that I am dubious about shooting sticks. They seem to have appeared originally with the buffalo hunters of the Great Plains, who often had to engage in high grass, but today they are practically standard equipment in Africa. This is partly because a large number of African clients take to the field without any training or experience in marksmanship. It seems to me obvious that no one should take after big game until he is thoroughly grounded on small game. In the American West the ideal practice target is the jackrabbit. Until such time as the novice hunter is fifty percent effective on jackrabbits, he should not take after trophy game. Besides, contrary to widespread opinion, a jackrabbit is quite good provender when properly prepared. (This preparation must be long and slow, if one is to avoid meat the texture of truck tires.)

In any case, the use of shooting sticks as a crutch for the incompetent marksman is a dreary development. Among other things, they must be lugged about by a servitor, and dependence upon such is undignified.

License registration for last year disclosed that as of this time more girls than boys are putting in for hunting licenses.

Well I guess we did not get him with that big bomb. I have never been impressed with "assassination by bomb." Bombs are indiscriminate, clumsy and unreliable. What is needed is a Hanneken, as we may have mentioned before. Sergeant Hanneken got his man with his 1911 45 pistol, and then he lugged the body back over his shoulder to show off without photographs. I have always been powerfully impressed by having had the honor of shaking dice for drinks with Colonel Hanneken. What a distinction it is to play "buddies at the bar" with the truly great!

The consensus seems to be that he is still alive. If so, he is now in a position to strike a really shattering blow for The Faith. He can give himself up. There is nothing that could flummox the infidel as much as physical custody of the evil image. Fortunately he is not very bright, so we need not fear this development.

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