Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 12, No. 5          15 April 2004

The Greening of the Desert

Arizona is a dry country - an "arid zone" - and prizes water above all else. ("All Hell needs is water.") We were fortunate enough to receive a good supply of gentle spring rains in early April, and the grateful countryside now reveals a green luxury that may not last very long, but gives us new hope for each succeeding year. The flowers are up and the fruit trees are in blossom. We do not begrudge the three mile road to the highway. Mud is better than dust, or so it seems throughout the dry months. This is a nice part of the world. It may not be the Swiss Alps, nor the garden island of Kauai, but it has a definite charm for those of us who live here.

The proliferation of teaching facilities authorized to grant a concealed carry permit poses a problem of instructorship. Who shall teach the teachers? We recently got a report back from an Orange Gunsite graduate telling us that the official who granted his permit was not only mistaken as to facts but given to the use of gutter language. One woman in his class got up and walked out, preferring to lose her permit rather than be exposed to obscenity. We will touch upon this later.

"C Stories" was available at Pittsburgh and on order. Distribution is now being arranged by the publisher.

Any worthwhile experience should be studied before attempting it, if possible. Much of the great African hunt is lost upon people who decline to read into it before taking off. There exists a mountain of literary production on the African adventure, and some of it is very good indeed. However for a man to get off his airplane and state in effect, "Now then, tell me what I need to know," is getting less than half of his money's worth, no matter how successful his hunting may be. For those who do not know where to start, I suggest "Hunter" by James Hunter, "Wild Beasts and Their Ways" by Baker, "Green Hills of Africa" by Hemingway, and "Denatured Africa" by Streeter. None of these describes the current scene, but the atmosphere is well pictured. This is only a beginning. I read "Afrikana" for thirty years before I made my first trip, and it made the experience complete.

It is curious to observe that much of the press seems particularly fascinated by the idea of automatic fire. Many reports seem to think that spray-and-pray is not only more efficient but more powerful than aimed fire. I suppose a person who never thought about the matter may not realize that the power of a piece is a function of its cartridge, rather than its action.

We seem to be currently in The Age of Celebrity, but we do not know what to celebrate. Television has produced a culture in which getting one's face on the tube is the measure of his importance. Young people especially can put face to name respecting totally inconsequential individuals, but cannot name a true hero if called upon to do so. Private Jessica Lynch is evidently a very nice girl, but her only noteworthy act was being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and she did nothing whatever to win the war. At the same time there were hundreds and perhaps thousands of Americans who distinguished themselves in battle and were decorated therefore, and only their immediate families know anything about them. This is a catastrophe of values.

Note that Black is not part of the color code. The code does not describe either the immanence or the degree of lethal action, but rather the capacity of the individual to cross the psychological barrier that inhibits his ability to take deadly action. In Condition Red he has already crossed that barrier. There is no farther he can go. Anybody can say anything he wishes (except, of course, what may be "politically incorrect"), but I invented the color code and I know how it works.

Lest we be thought regressive in regards to innovation, we can think of several modernisms that await development. Consider the Savage 99. This was well-conceived and nicely executed. For a long time it was the only satisfactory answer for the left-hander. It could mount its sights low and was available in two excellent cartridges, the 250 Threethousand and the 300 Savage. The first was a very superior round for game of 300lbs or less. The second was in effect a precursor of the 308 cartridge, lacking only the long throat necessary for the violence of extended self-loading. I have set it up and used it at some length, and I find no fault with it, but somehow it just did not catch on. Its revival might be a good thing, but only if the piece featured some curious modern cartridge of promotable charm.

And then I would consider the Krag. This is the sweetest and most user-friendly bolt-action we have seen. It has been slighted because it includes only one locking lug, which resists recoil pressure asymmetrically. This could be corrected by skillful engineering, but it probably would not sell simply because it is "old," and we cannot have that. Again this might be changed by the introduction of some weird new cartridge, which need not do anything significant as long as it is a novelty.

The commercial problem is that we really do not need anything new. Weapons we have had for a hundred years do everything required of them, and they exceed the capacity of the user. I do not know any way around this, but "I got mine" and Semper Fi.

It would help our understanding of the problem if people would cease confusing liberty and freedom. These words are not interchangeable. Freedom is a condition, whereas liberty is a political ideal. Our constitution was designed to secure the blessings of liberty upon ourselves and our posterity. It says nothing about freedom. Patrick Henry did not exclaim, "Give me freedom or give me death." That statue in the harbor is not the Statue of Freedom. It would be nice if we learned how to say exactly what we mean.

Lord Clarke, an Englishman of some consequence, terms Islam "a Medieval basket case." That is well put.

In Europe they are now producing several different kinds of Kalashnikov clones in 308. Kalashnikov's original effort, generally known as the AK47, was a good enough gun for the peasantry, but hardly worth producing in a legacy version. Still, it has a name, and people will buy it. It is interesting to observe that in Europe, where private firearms are held strictly to the standard of "legitimate sporting purpose," a 308 Kalashnikov hardly answers that description, whereas in our industrial society what is excellent is what will sell, and saleability is largely the result of promotion. Those who pursue excellence for its own sake think along different lines.

We now discover that "tactical" has taken place along with "digital" as a synonym for "improved," "more efficient," or "better." I suppose this is because any suggestion that any article may have fighting as its purpose is unprintable, so we see tactical flashlights, tactical clothing, and, we can expect, tactical running shoes. Well, we keep up the struggle for clarity of expression. It is all uphill, but well worth it.

By the time you see this, "C Stories" will be available for sale. Two years ago I suggested that the work might be ready by Easter, but did not say Easter of what year. Well, this Easter it is, and it looks good to me. I am not the one to evaluate my own work, but I can certainly extol that of Kirchner, the illustrator, Wasserman, the printer, and Lindy Wisdom, the publisher. Curiously enough, the limited leather-bound luxury edition, which will not be available until June, was nearly sold out before the regular edition was available for sale. This is most gratifying. I hope the content is worthy of the package.

METALLURGY (with apologies to Mr. Kipling)

Gold for the mistress,
Silver for the maid,
Copper for the artisan clever at his trade.

Stock, said the financier, tallying his sheet.
Stock, said the cattleman, spurs upon his feet.

Fine, said the epicure, pondering his life.
But the best of all the destiny to find the perfect wife.

We learn of a cheerful incident in Bahrain prior to the running of the first Grand Prix motoring event in the Middle East. It appears that a group of Islamic nitwits resented the serving of booze to Westerners at a local restaurant. They burst in waving knives, whereupon one of the Westerners relieved one of the thugs and cut him down with it. The answer to aggression is, as always, counterattack.

Perhaps we should give the Osama bin Laden problem over to the Israelis. They seem to handle that sort of thing expertly.

Those of you who enjoy target shooting with a 9mm pistol will be interested in the appearance of a new version of the notable Czech 75, this time manufactured by SIG. It is a very pretty gun, beautifully fit and finished, but its special features are too refined for heavy-duty defensive use, and its cartridge is too small. I would think that target shooters would stick to 22s.

The Oath of Office, which those of us who have worn the uniform have taken, calls upon us to defend the Constitution of the US against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The Moslems are foreign, but we have a conspicuous example of the domestic variety in the figure of this George Soros. If you do not know about him, you should. He is a financier of enormous wealth, which he admittedly intends to use to achieve the destruction of American liberty. Money has great political power, as Alkibiades pointed out sometime ago, and this man is more of an enemy of the Constitution than anyone outside the borders of this country. We did not know about the Jihad until after they started it, but we now know about Soros, who is a greater threat. We adjure you to read up on the subject and act accordingly.

We have been asked by several serious people to set forth the desired characteristics of a superior pistol coach. We know something about this, having wrestled with the problem for more than thirty years. Nobody knows all the answers, but a good many shooting schools are not even aware of the questions. We submit our opinions as follows:

The Master of Arms

When I founded Gunsite here in Arizona (1975), I sought to establish the fountainhead of information and doctrine on the serious use of the service pistol. To do this I tried to enlist those competitive shooters who had distinguished themselves over the previous fifteen years in California. Not all were agreeable to the proposition, and some who were agreeable were unable to handle it. I did discover, however, over the opening period, the qualities which make for a proper Master of Arms. In the classic sense a Master is not a practitioner, but rather a teacher. Being an expert at any practice does not necessarily mean making a good teacher. Various champions who have attempted to set up schools have met with no success because, while they could certainly do what was necessary, they could not properly explain to others why they could. So in the course of time I have concluded that the essential characteristics of a pistol or rifle coach may be stated as follows.

To begin with, the instructor should know his subject thoroughly. That may seem obvious, but knowing how to shoot well is more important than being able to shoot well. Naturally the instructor must be able to demonstrate personally all elements of the techniques he teaches. He cannot expect his students to do what he cannot do. It is certainly not enough, however, to demonstrate an expert stroke and then simply tell his people "Now you do that." The physiology and geometry of the human body as it serves as a gun mount must not only be demonstrated, but clearly explained. The instructor must invite both question and criticism, and be able to answer articulately.

The qualified smallarms coach must possess, besides complete knowledge of his subject, a strong desire to impart. Not everyone who performs well with his weapon possesses this attribute. I have known people who were excellent shots who rather resisted teaching anyone else how to shoot, even professionally, because they evidently wanted to keep such skill to themselves. But a good instructor, above all, must seek his student's excellence. He must place more value on his ability to teach a man to shoot than on his own ability to shoot. His work gratifies his ego when his student becomes a good shot, and improvement is more satisfying than excellence. It is fine to raise a B shooter to the A category, but it is far better to raise a D to a B. Shooting excellence at all levels, however, is what makes his work worthwhile.

The shooting instructor must understand correct training procedures. He must know the order in which the essentials are presented and understand the need for time intervals in which to allow information imparted to sink in. He should know when students are more perceptive and why, and he must realize that matters which are quite obvious to him may be complete mysteries to a novice. This sort of knowledge is not inherent and must be acquired through experience. This is why a man should put in valuable time as coach before he may become qualified as Range Master.

A shooting coach must possess what may be called Command Presence, since he has no military authority over his class. Command Presence is demonstrated by carriage, voice, demeanor, and tact. Under no circumstances should the shooting coach conduct himself like a drill instructor with a recruit. I have had students from the law enforcement establishment regard me as a sort of military superior, and I had to explain clearly that I was there to help them improve, rather than to force them into a pattern. It is absolutely necessary for a shooting coach to avoid the use of gutter language. He may think that this makes him sound authoritative, when all it actually does is display boorishness and a limited vocabulary.

The successful instructor should be careful of his appearance. Slovenliness is proper cause for disrespect.

The staff instructors must not argue with each other in front of the class. If there are points of disagreement, they must be resolved privately, and preferably before they are discovered to be a problem.

The instructor should be friendly without being impertinent. You learn better from a friend than from a boss, but you do not learn well from a comedian.

It is particularly desirable that the pistol instructor "have seen the elephant." That is to say, he should have at one time engaged in a gunfight, been shot at and shot back. Only thus will he be able to explain to his students what it is like to engage in lethal combat.

Finally, the instructor must be articulate, able to convey his ideas clearly and concisely.

The search for properly qualified instructional staff in any shooting school is an unending task. When any training institution begins to hire its staff carelessly without quality in mind, it becomes a mere shooting gallery rather than an institute of higher learning.

All this thrashing about in Washington seems to be pointlessly misdirected. It is not what we may or may not have done prior to 9/11, but rather what are we going to do about it now. We would like to turn the mess over to the Arabs, but that seems to be an invitation to chaos, possibly, however, chaos is what they deserve, but defeat is not an option.

We have not fully realized until recently that personal firearms today are more toys than tools. People do not want to use them so much as play with them, and therein lies the essence of the firearms industry. Every periodical reveals pointless innovation for its own sake.

We came up with the 30-06 ninety-eight years ago, and we have not produced a better tool since. On my first time with it afield, it achieved four one-stop shots on caribou, sheep, goat and moose. Three of these animals did not move out of their tracks, and the caribou made less than ten paces. That load was Western Super X, starting a 180-grain spitzer hollow point boattail at 2700f/s. "Who could ask for anything more?"

But business demands turnover, and survives on its efforts to make people unhappy with what they already have. This puts the critic in an awkward position.


This preoccupation with equality is another symptom of the degeneracy of The Age of the Common Man. In the first place it is an illusion, since men are not created equal, except in the political sense. Everyone is better or worse than someone else in a particular example of his capacities, and pretending that this is not so is simply silly. Excellence, not mediocrity, should be everyone's goal, and it is hard to think of anything, from gardening to crossword puzzles, at which someone may not excel. In some cases, such as Benjamin Franklin or Theodore Roosevelt, excellence is quite obvious. But excellence need not be obvious in order to be worthy.

This dim-witted passion seems to be a product of the French Revolution, but it diminished in the 19th century, and did not reappear with full virulence until about the time of the Vietnamese War. It is the battle cry of the losers, who do not want anyone to appear good at anything, lest that make some other person feel bad. These people value "self-esteem" as anyone's individual prerogative, rather than "self-respect," which must be earned; and self-respect is by definition not something which may be granted by other people. Self-respect, like happiness, is a by-product of accomplishment, and accomplishment is available to all in some line of endeavor. But accomplishment does not come without effort, and the person who gives up because the struggle is hard deserves neither achievement nor happiness.

There are a couple of developments in the firearms line for which I can see a distinct demand. One is the Steyr Dragoon - a Steyr Scout in caliber 376 Steyr - which offers proven medium ballistics in Scout configuration. This weapon was not promoted properly and has been discontinued. You are lucky if you got yours while you could. Another item is the JTC bullet for the 45 ACP cartridge. This also was offered at one time, but it is hard to get now. The most desirable true innovation that I can think of is a sight-mount combination of medium eye relief, featuring an etched fixed reticle and making all sight adjustments in the mount. This is a difficult development to achieve since it requires the collaboration of the optics people with the people who make the mounting system. This was attempted some time ago by Bausch and Lomb, but it did not succeed on the market. Unfortunately, too few people who buy guns know very much about shooting guns.

We are informed by people returning from Iraq that while it is not overwhelmingly difficult to bring along your own personal weapon, it is intimidating to try to bring it back. I guess we can attack this out of pure generosity. Most of us have two 1911s, or we can arrange to have. Take one of them over and leave it there. This will delight the heart of the recipient and simultaneously help with the war effort.

This promises to be a brutal summer, during which the conflict at home cannot fail to be anything but a distraction from the prosecution of the Holy War. We do not need to adjure you to vote right, but you can vote often if you can persuade vacillators. I do not know any such, but perhaps you do. Preach to those people and save the Republic.

People keep asking about the proposed new 6.8 military cartridge. At this time I know nothing about it except its caliber, which is somewhat peculiar. We know a lot about the 7mm caliber, and we have amassed a great deal of information about it. I do not see how reducing it by one-fifth of a millimeter can improve it. We may assume that the new cartridge will not be full-length like the 7x57, but will rather be something like a 7x35 or 7x40. The information will be made available in due course, we presume.

Progress on The Project moves slowly but surely. Shooting Master John Pepper is willing to help with administration on the east coast, and thousand-yard facilities are available at Gunsite, Whittington, Camp Perry, and in the vicinity of Denver. We need a sponsor, and I intend to look into that at Pittsburgh. I see it as a worthy endeavor, and probably tax deductible if the sponsor has anything to do with the gun business. Whether the goal may be achieved is problematical, but that is the way with goals. At this point we have one aspirant, a man of wide experience in long-range target shooting who is bold enough to stand up and be counted. I think the entry fee will be one hundred dollars, but that depends upon the administrative squad yet to be established. Suggested first prize is $5,000. Let all those long-shooters we read about sign up.

Reports back from Iraq continue to emphasize the value of properly aimed fire, despite the tendency of the untrained to spray-and-pray. One case we have is that of a 50 caliber machinegun across the street, but set on single fire. One round of 50 is more than plenty.

Without struggle there is no success.

Without strife there is no victory.

The Guru

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.

"A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight; nothing he cares about more than his own personal safety; is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

John Stuart Mill

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