Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 14, No. 4          April/May 2006

Wicked Weather

I used to assume that most practical rifle shooting was done from the sitting position, properly looped up. I am not sure of that now. I do agree that sitting is very useful, but over the last couple of decades I have discovered personally that I have shot more from a rest and from off-hand than from sitting. This, of course, depends upon the terrain in which hunting is conducted. If you are hunting in open mountains or prairie, you will probably use the same position more frequently than in the low veldt or in deer forest. In both the low veldt and most deer shooting you will use off-hand a great deal more and, of course, off-hand is the most challenging firing position. It takes more study and calls for more skill to bring off correctly. It should be noted that the shooting sling is of no use in unsupported positions. It only helps you when you have something to rest your elbow on. So the shooting sling is particularly useful in braced sitting and, if you must use it, in the kneeling position. Ordinarily you do not need it for prone because in prone you can usually get down onto the ground and use the Hawkins (a type of fist-rest) position. The rest position involves placing the left fist upon the ground or upon a rest and hanging on to the forward end of the sling strap. Usually there is a time problem in shooting from off-hand. There will be only a short time available in which to get off a good squeeze. You will have the chance to control your squeeze only if you are aware of the amount of time your target is going to wait around. Your target may not stand there forever, and often you will see that the time problem is going to be limited by the action of the target. For example, if the target is walking, he will walk between a clear space and cover, and you must be sure to get your squeeze off in the time available when he is still walking.

"Knowledge is power. Learning is fun." This gains something in translation.

Who is a good shot? That would have bothered me awhile back without a definitive answer. I know half a dozen practitioners I consider to be good shots (excluding those present, of course). Let us say a man who can do with his weapon what it was intended to do - always and every time - is a good shot. A man who spends much time in a target-rich environment with unvaried success may be called a good shot. This depends to a certain extent upon the nature of the challenge. If a shooter is never confronted with really hard problems, this standard may not apply. But if a number of challenges were reasonably difficult, I suppose he may be considered to be "a good man with a gun." I know half a dozen or more field marksmen who are really good, and I have seen them prove their point. If a man pulled off something really difficult three or four times, I guess that will establish him, but he has to be able to bring this sort of thing off on demand. It is not something that he once did under observation.

The Wright R-3350 "Cyclone" engine was certainly a terminal effort of piston-type power. It was a "double radial" with two rows of nine, supercharged, air-cooled displacement of 3,350 cubic inches and ranged in power around 2,500 horses. Since we are in the jet age now, it is probable that this Cyclone was the end of the line in piston engines.

It is curious to observe the clumsy nomenclature used by the press at this time. The terms 9mm, self-loading, semi-automatic and so on seem to confuse them. I have not seen "revolver" used now for many years in the public press, though it is often more descriptive than "9mm."

The proliferation of the bench rest has been a definite backward step in marksmanship. Properly used, the bench rest practically eliminates human error, and human error is the measure of marksmanship. The revered Townsend Whelen left us with the troublesome dictum that "only accurate rifles are interesting." This is simply not true - in my opinion. Most rifles are more accurate in the inherent sense than almost all shooters, and this gets us nowhere. I was distressed by the idea as a youth, unaware that a rifle's worth must be evaluated by the purpose for which it is intended. A rifle which is particularly suited to stopping a charging elephant need not print minute angle groups - or two minute angle groups. Printing tiny groups is only critical if the printing of tiny groups is the object of the exercise, and this is usually not the case. In my opinion, the most important single desideratum in a rifle is "shootability" - a combination of at least half a dozen different characteristics. This is certainly not to say that intrinsic accuracy in a rifle is not important, but it is to say that small increments of accuracy are too often over-emphasized. Group size in a rifle is rather like drag time in a sports car. It is interesting, but it is not the whole story.

If nothing else, we professors of the modern technique seem to have got across Rule 3. The photos we see back from the contact areas all seem to demonstrate the straight trigger finger outside the trigger-guard prior to the moment of truth. This is a good thing, and if we are responsible for it, we will accept appropriate pats on the back.

There is no use in trying to sort out journalistic atrocity, but there is such a thing as shrapnel, and shell splinters it is not. The shrapnel shell is a sort of giant flying shotgun, disposing of a large number of small round balls which can be sprayed with deadly effect upon troops caught in the open. A man could be hit by a shrapnel ball, or several, or he could be hit by a shrapnel base cap or its fuse, but being hit by a shell splinter is something else entirely. This would not matter if it did not mean the diffusion of positive error.

We are amused at being steadily taken to task by commentators who insist that my rake of cap angle in photographs is non-regulation and uncouth. My original commanding officer in the Marine Corps was Clifton B. Cates, a Marine of such distinction as to be beyond criticism about style, and General Cates raked his cap - like it or not. If some moderns do not approve of this I am sorry, but I am not going to change.

We hear rumors to the effect that the giant sable of southwest Africa may not be entirely extinct. It is furiously to hope.

Herbivorous quadrupeds tend to stop and turn 90 degrees when aware of pursuit. This is handy in offering the hunter a neat target picture, but, of course, it should not be counted upon. This sort of thing is offered more than half the time - let us say two-thirds.

Is a heavy rifle really necessary for buffalo? While it is not absolutely necessary, I think it is desirable. We do, however, want to avoid the problem of the hunter who is scared of his gun - and there are those. By a heavy rifle I mean 45 caliber and 500-grains, or about 40 caliber and 400-grains. The latter is a borderline case - a light heavy. People do just fine, of course, if the shot is properly placed, but that is true of a light rifle nearly all the time. If you have access to a heavy rifle and you enjoy shooting it, it is certainly your first choice for buffalo. You may do better, of course, with the 30-06/220, if you are happier with the gun.

Don't call it a Cape buffalo. Hasn't been one within a thousand kilometers of the Cape in one hundred years.

This is a gaucherie. Syncerus caffer is no Bison bison.

We recently ran across a gun camera revelation. The shooter showed again the fearful efficiency of the great 50 BMG cartridge. In this case our Hellcat pilot packing six 50s ran nearly head on into a Nip exiting from a cloud at a target angle of about 345 degrees. His quick burst ate into the enemy aircraft at about the port side windroot and the Zero simply flew apart. Our pilot had no time to evade, but flew through the wreckage without apparent damage to himself. However he was barely able to land his aircraft, which was then declared unserviceable and thrown over the side.

Now O.J. Simpson has surfaced again, and this leaves us with Lon Horiuchi. And the killer of Vince Foster. You can get away with it, if conditions are right - at least some of the time.

The Steyr Scout is now a production item available for sale over-the-counter, and Baby, the idealized heavy rifle, now rests securely at the sconce at Gunsite. These are artifacts of which I am consciously proud. They are good things to know about, and I am glad to have participated in their creation.

When early man first affixed an axillary point to a shaft, he created the first pole arm. But curiously he never told us how to use it. This weapon is called different things in different languages, but in English it is normally called a spear - or a pike if it is used on foot, a javelin if it is thrown, or a lance if it is used on horseback. It has been with us through the ages, but nobody ever told us how to use it. Hector and Achilles fought with spears outside the walls of Troy, but we do not have any description of what spears they used or how they used them. The Roman legions, contrary to Gibbon, overran the world with the "pilum," rather than the gladius, but we are not sure how they held it. The Swiss mercenaries of the enlightenment frustrated Medieval calvary with the pike, and we do have some idea of how it was used - as a horse stopper, if not in a man-against-man mode. Hermann Göring, who was "Reich Jagermeister" was known to be the last German hunter to kill a wild boar on foot with the boar spear. According to illustrations, he used the cross piece and held the weapon knuckles up forward and knuckles down aft.

Coming down to us ceremonially, the British infantry senior NCOs used what was called a sponton, which was a badge of office and used to dressing the lines, among other things. The Swiss guard at the Vatican today display the halberd, which is sort of a sponton to which is affixed a cutting edge back of a point, though they do not cut anybody with it anymore, as far as I can tell.

I have a small selection of pole arms on display at the sconce armory, but I am past the point of using them for any serious purpose - I hope.

Since the military no longer teaches marksmanship in any serious sense, they do not teach the use of the shooting sling. I was taught the loop sling of the 03 rifle in high school ROTC, and it served me extremely well. I killed my one and only bull elk, my record ram, my mountain caribou, and my white goat using the loop sling. Naturally I think it is a technique worth knowing, and I taught it assiduously(!) here at Gunsite for many years. Go thou and do likewise.

Range Master Giles Stock informs us that various troops are asking about our use of the term "Dragoon" in reference to the oversized Scout. Well, that's what it is - a big Scout. The factory dislikes the usage, but I have in possession a 376 Scout Dragoon - so labeled by Steyr. It is a nifty item, and you are welcome to label your own copy likewise. A true Scout comes in 308 or 7-08, but nobody owns the title.

I still favor the "butter-knife" bolt on the Mannlicher action. Ease of the second shot is not a critical factor and the true Scout is neater.

The best part of any periodical is the Letters Column. One can always make sure that the contributor is interested in his subject, otherwise he would not take the trouble to write.

In the May issue of Guns & Ammo, we see reproduced an illuminating message from a Friscan - that being a correspondent who signs himself from San Francisco. Friscans, as a group, may be addressed with some salinity, since the inhabitants of the Bay Region do indeed run to type. We see this as evident from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. This correspondent takes me to task with asperity as "having gone over the edge." He feels that my attitudes about the proper education of a young man are unreasonable and that I expect too much of youth. He feels that people today have no time to supervise the education of their young. Just what they do have time for is unclear. We note that Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, among others, somehow did find the time to do their homework, and they did a fine job in covering the generalized background. The writer feels that it is too much to expect of a young person to acquire basic skills and abilities such as geography, zoology, history, and literature. He goes on to say that today's parent should not devote unnecessary attention to the elementary education of his children. In my view, the supervision of one's child's education is what parents are for. Making money is nice, and I think everybody should have some, but what is more important is a properly grounded offspring.

The man goes on to ask what degree of competence I feel is necessary. When I say, "manage a motorcycle," I do not mean motorcross, but rather the ability to get from point A to point B with safety on a two-wheeler. When I say "comfortable in a foreign language," I mean the ability to make one's way on the street in an environment in which English is not the primary tongue. When I call for the ability to manage an airplane, I mean the ability to take off and land in a propellor-driven airplane with some degree of security.

The point is that a young man of 21 should be able to cope with the world around him in a general fashion. One of the measures of his ability to cope should be his ability to educate his son. What does that mean to a Friscan or the inhabitants of the Bay Region (and I suppose the megalopolis of the Eastern seaboard)? These march to a somewhat limited drum, or so it seems to me.

The Friscans are not necessarily confined to the Bay Region, but such a location may serve well as a starter. The correspondent feels strongly that I expect the impossible. My own experience and acquaintance indicates otherwise. High goals are not necessarily impossible, or even relatively so. I recall a high school student back in my teaching days asking if the goals set forth by Kipling in the mighty poem "If" were not impossible. The response was not whether they were impossible but whether they are striven for. To set one's goals high is not an unreasonable position. That is what parents are for. It seems to me that the important thing in life is the production of outstanding people - whether we can do it not. It is the attempt that makes the struggle worthwhile.

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