Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 13, No. 6          June 2005

Summertime - An' The Livin' Is Easy

As of this point in time The Project has not picked up much momentum - not that much was expected. It is nearly impossible to secure experimental images of 1000 yard ranges. The Europeans, most notably the Swiss, have been working at modified distances, but as we all know the fire cone does not have straight sides but is actually somewhat bell-shaped. A 1-inch group at a 100 is not the equivalent of a 10-inch group at 1000. Working toward a 3-inch group at 500 is more representative. The fact is that The Project is a very tough challenge. Jim Land, Secretary of the NRA and a distinguished target shot, states flatly that 20/20/20 is impossible, and certainly the first man to bring this off will have achieved the first "4 minute mile" in rifle shooting.

We have the weapons and we have the ammunition. If we can just find the place to set up the test, we may be able to find the man. The challenge is there to be overcome.

Here at the turn of the 21st century, it is apparent that recreational rifle shooting has taken on several different aspects. The formal target shot tends to scorn the field shot, and neither of those individuals is much interested in snap shooting, which is certainly a game of its own. I do not have a good understanding of the problems of the Pennsylvania deer hunter, but I gather that they are not the same as those of the Rocky Mountain sheep hunter, and neither of those has much to do with the military carbine shooter.

All these activities are entertaining and may be pursued for their own sakes, but nobody should look down on Game 1 simply because he prefers Game 4 or Game 2. Personally I have spent the last couple of years skimming the African bushveldt, and this is a good game, but old age has pretty much caught up with me by now and I must derive what pleasure I can from spectating.

All great fun, and the more people we can introduce to the various rifle games, the better off we all will be. Demand for rifle instruction seems to have diminished to some extent here in the Lower 48, but there is much activity in Alaska and plenty of action in Texas.

I rather wish we had not accepted this term "insurgent" for the bad guys in Iraq. Insurgency has taken on a rather heroic meaning in many parts of the world, specially including Mexico, and we should not give our murderous adversaries in the Middle East the honor of that title.

As far as we can tell, the military has given up on teaching the shooting sling. Certainly we should emphasize the off-hand position more than we do, but not at the expense of hitting efficiency. In my earlier days, I drew the conclusion that my hitting efficiency was increased by about a third when using the loop sling in the Western prairies and mountains. Trigger control may be the heart of the matter for any firing position, but the more stability the shooter can provide his rifle, the better off he will be.

Field reports indicate that the fist rest should be used more often than it is. It is complicated to teach the fist rest to large groups of people on known distance ranges, but that should not mean that we should forget the matter entirely. Whenever broken terrain or immediate conditions permit, the improvised additional stability available by making a pistol grip out of the forward bight of the sling should be sought. I should have used the fist rest several times in recent years when I did not realize how handy it was. This is especially true of the use of the ubiquitous termite mounds of the African bushveldt.

Now it appears that some curious group in England has decided that too many people are getting stabbed, and that therefore long, pointy kitchen knives should be banned. Apparently they think that kitchen knives with blunt points would lessen the incidents of stabbing. Hoplophobes being what they are, it does not occur to them that they might reduce their problems by making armed assault illegal. Of course if they did that, they would find it necessary to do something about unarmed assault, and presently we would be called upon to eradicate boxing, wrestling and kendo.

Shooting Master John Gannaway has now experimented at some length with both the 50 BMG cartridge and the 700 Nitro. John tells us that the 700 is much more offensive to the shooter than the 50. Of course most 50s incorporate muzzle brakes, whereas the one 700 available does not. And there is the important matter of stock design. A well-designed stock does wonders to reduce apparent recoil effect, a point made very obvious with the Steyr Scout.

Here again we run to the question of "What is it for?" There is a reason for the 50 BMG in a handheld weapon, and that is the breaking up of mechanical equipment at middle ranges. It is a great truck wrecker, using the military round, but this does not apply to the big game hunter. And it is pretty hard to come up with a mission for the 700 Nitro (or the 600 Nitro, for that matter). The elephant is a comparatively soft animal in terms of resistance to bullet wounds, and usually goes down quite readily to well-placed hits from cartridges of the 470 Nitro class. A widely experienced professional African hunter once told me that if an elephant were as tough a target as a buffalo, pound for pound, he would not even get off the airplane. In my opinion the primary target in the dangerous game category is the buffalo. This beast needs to be well hit anatomically with the cartridge of decisive power in order to be safely secured. The 50 BMG and the 700 Nitro are interesting experimental developments, but that is as far as it goes. The serious big game hunter has scant use for either of these rounds.

Tax remission for Medal of Honor winners is such a marvelous idea that I cannot understand why I have not been able to scrape up much response from my various legislative representatives. Certainly any man who has been awarded the Medal of Honor should no longer be pestered by the tax man, and the drain upon the budget would be almost inconsiderable. If you agree with me that this is a good idea, please drop a line to your man in Washington.

In long arms we are so used to the bolt-action and the self-loader that we sometimes forget the merits of the lever-action. Speed of the second shot is often overemphasized, as we have suggested, but there are certain safety considerations which should not be overlooked. Specifically the lever-gun may be properly carried in Condition 3 when action is imminent. In this condition there is no shell in the chamber, but the weapon is loaded and cocked as it is mounted into the shoulder. If you have a lever-gun, it is a good idea to practice this. Stand ready with butt on the hip, eyes on the target, trigger finger straight, and shooting fingers (less the trigger finger) inside the lever. When taking the shot, the shooting hand is snapped downward until the action is open. Then as the butt is mounted into the shoulder the action is closed, the eye finds the target, and the finger finds the trigger. When I was teaching we used to try this on flying clays starting with chamber empty. It is surprising how simple and easy this drill can be when it is practiced properly. Among other things, it obviates the use of the mechanical safety, which I think is probably a good thing. I read far too much material from Africa which places an almost religious confidence in the manual safety. The manual safety device may serve a useful purpose, but it does not make the gun safe. Only the trigger finger can make the gun safe, and then only by what goes on between the ears.

Having relished the stories about "The Man Eaters of Tsavo" in our youth, we are distressed to learn that a certain amount of hogwash seems to have been spread about in that connection. Hemingway gave us a couple of excellent stories about this business, which never pretended to be more than fiction, but two lions were indeed there. People have been killed and eaten by man-eating lions under various circumstances in Africa. It seems too bad to dim the luster of the legend. Perhaps we should borrow from Winston Churchill and insist that "It is all true, or it ought to be, and more and better besides."

Considered carefully, the great marksmanship masters are now spread rather widely across the country, and no particular group of teachers is currently confined to any one school. There are several noteworthy shooting masters whom I have not personally taught, so I cannot speak for the entire group, but among the greats I would list John Gannaway, Louis Awerbuck, John Pepper, Pat Rogers, Clint Smith, the Stock brothers, Larry Mudgett, Tom Russell, Marc Heim, and Michel Röthlisberger. There may be others, as I have suggested, but the foregoing names may be listed now as "Doctors of Practical Marksmanship." I guess I should get up a program of certification attesting to this.

Probably all Gunsite family members are now aware that our granddaughter Amy Heath, of New York City, is standing for membership on the Board of Directors of The National Rifle Association. Petitions are being circulated by several friends and supporters. If you do not have access to one, and if you are a voting member of NRA and wish to circulate and/or sign a petition, let us know (PO Box 401, Paulden, AZ 86334).

Amy has qualifications so broadly diversified that I cannot squeeze a proper résumé into the stipulated space, but among her other talents which are not so widely known are her remarkable rifle marksmanship (she is the best field marksman in the immediate family), her certification as a high speed driver from Bondurant, her fluency in the Spanish language, and her winning performance in biathlons. She is the founder/director of New York City's Women's Shooting Sports League, and the director of Women in the Shooting Sports for the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association.

We are steadily asked about the age at which to teach young people to shoot. The answer to this obviously depends upon the particular individual; not only his physical maturity but his desire. Apart from these considerations, however, I think it important to understand that it is the duty of the father to teach the son to shoot. Before the young man leaves home, there are certain things he should know and certain skills he should acquire, apart from any state-sponsored activity. Certainly the youngster should be taught to swim, strongly and safely, at distance. And young people of either sex should be taught to drive a motor vehicle, and if at all possible, how to fly a light airplane. I believe a youngster should be taught the rudiments of hand-to-hand combat, unarmed, together with basic survival skills. The list is long, but it is a parent's duty to make sure that the child does not go forth into the world helpless in the face of its perils. Shooting, of course, is our business, and shooting should not be left up to the state.

Marc Heim tells us that the novice should be started using telescope and bipod, so as to allow concentration on one thing at a time. I never thought of the matter quite this way, but the idea certainly seems to have merit. Once the apprentice learns about sight picture and trigger control, he can then study shooting position and successive matters. Shotgunning, of course, is so different as possibly to call for another approach.

Since we are involved in a major war in the Middle East, it would be nice if we conducted our affairs with a little more style. It is not necessary to go to battle in slobs' clothes. A soldier should be proud of his profession, and it is quite possible to dress for the occasion of battle with appropriate elegance. Our media are no help in this matter, insisting as they do on our mishaps rather than on our achievements. The daily news seem to take positive pleasure in telling us that we got hurt without telling us what hurt we have inflicted upon our adversaries. To quote Bedford Forrest, "War means fighting and fighting means killing." Let us emphasize how much of a mistake it was for them to start this fight. In our previous wars we seem to have taken more pride in the punch we packed than the tears we shed. The press at this time seem determined to diminish rather than to increase our morale. If that is intentional, something should be done about it.

We continue to search for details about the 2004 buffalo fatality which took place up in Tanzania. One of the reports insists that the bull "appeared suddenly out of nowhere." Well obviously a buffalo cannot appear out of nowhere. He weighs over a 1000lbs, he is jet black, and he is impossible to overlook. My experience is by no means as extensive of that of the professionals, but it is broad enough to eliminate the possibility of being surprised by a buffalo. I have met this beast often enough to treat him with proper respect, and even if I were still hunting, I cannot envision any situation in which I could be surprised by him. A hunter may possibly be surprised by a leopard, or even by a lion, but not by a buffalo - there is just too much of him. If you are properly alert, awake, adequately armed, checked out in bovine anatomy, a reasonably well-trained snapshot and in command of your nerves, there is no reason to be slammed by a buffalo. I may be wrong about this ("Once I thought I was wrong, but it turns out I was mistaken."), but I do need a more detailed explanation about the possibilities.

How many of the faithful have actually handled the new Italian Mateba automatic revolver? This curious piece seems to be pretty good fun to shoot, though what niche it fills is open to question. Among other things, its ready chamber rides at the bottom of the cylinder when in shooting mode, and it is built to order in almost any cartridge you may desire. I guess its appeal lies in the fact that no other kid in the block has one. I would appreciate details on this matter, at your convenience.

The term "hot range" signifies a pistol shooting program in which weapons are kept holstered and safe between relays. Using this system, there is no need to clear guns or unload between relays. It not only saves a good deal of training time, but it is actually a bit safer than previously standard routines. On a hot range, there is no need ever to check the condition of the weapons. When the first relay is called upon the line, the commands are Pick Your Target, Check Your Piece Downrange and Unload. This pays due reference to Rule 1, which is, of course, "All Guns Are Always Loaded." Between relays shooters are not permitted to remove the weapon from the holster. Magazines may be changed with the piece in a holstered and safe condition. When a shooting drill for all hands is completed, the commands are Ready on the Line, Check Your Piece in the Condition You Wish to Maintain It During the Break, and Holster. If desired, all weapons on the line may be unloaded at this point, though this contravenes basic safety rules to some extent.

We began using the hot range here at Gunsite when we first moved aboard, and while there have been three firing mishaps on the range in just over thirty years, those three have not been due to range procedure.

It is interesting to note the dismay with which the hot range procedure is greeted by various old-fashioned drill instructors. I have been informed both here and abroad that the hot range is inherently unsafe and that its adoption would call for drastic increases in first aid and medical personnel. The fact is, however, that it does not do this. The hot range is distinctly safer than its predecessors, and it saves up to 25 percent or more in training time. It is definitely one of the elements of the modern technique now becoming world standard.

Range safety results directly from range discipline, and range discipline is a distinct element of military discipline. It is glaringly evident to those who conduct firearms training on both sides of the military/civilian training effort, to observe how much faster and easier it is to get things done with a properly disciplined group. Civilians simply stand around too much, and they are continuously caught unready for whatever it is they are expected to do. I have heard it said that recruits in the UK are abjectly opposed to "being yelled at." Well it is not always necessary to yell at recruits, but sometimes it helps. Young people who are exposed to no discipline at home, involving chores such as housework, yard work and motor maintenance, are all too frequently incapable of coping in any organizational sense. I have always been great for individualism, but the individual does better when he is comfortably acquainted with social discipline.

I dare say I should specifically use the "he or she" speech pattern here, but it does seem that girls take better to discipline than boys. We have successfully raised three girls without any trace of disciplinary problems. Voices were never raised and blows were never struck. It has been suggested that boys are just basically harder to straighten out than girls, and this may be true, but regardless of gender, discipline is not only necessary on the range, but everywhere else in life.

It seems that the practical element in Practical Marksmanship has suffered drastically due to the lack of variation in the types of courses used in competition, both here and abroad. When the program was started back in California in the 60s, we insisted on each course of fire being radically different from that held during the previous month or session. This called for distinct variation in ranges, firing positions, conditions of readiness and all such matters. However when the movement took off abroad, it turned out that too many jurisdictions called for artificial consistency in course type or course design. In certain places this meant that ranges would always be about the same, the condition of readiness would be the same, and scoring systems would be the same. Note that in Europe today, most major contests require the shooter to start with his weapon resting on a table just within reach, and that spare magazines be presented in specific fashion for each firing string. This means, of course, that speed on the draw has ceased to be a significant element in performance. It is possible that draw speed was overemphasized in the early days, but that does not mean that the idea should be abandoned.

The matter of power, of course, has been lost completely, largely due to the fact that pistol power is very difficult to measure. The Europeans insist that the 9mm Parabellum cartridge of 1908 has all the power which may be called for, whereas time has proved that this cartridge is distinctly inferior as a means of stopping fights.

The upshot is that practical pistol shooting in the competitive sense has pretty much lost sight of the element of practicality. If a given course of fire did not replicate the conditions of an actual pistol confrontation, it was not a measure of practical skill. Over here and abroad, however, practicality is now viewed askance by a lot of people who really ought to know better. If the show gets too close to an actual street fight, it becomes sort of "antisocial" and thus should be disallowed in polite competition.

All is not lost, however. Competitive practical pistol shooting may not be everything that it should be, but it is immensely better than it was half a century ago. By better I mean more useful. The service handgun is a fight-stopping device, and its practice should reflect its fight-stopping capacity. A serious pistolero must commence with the proper attitude, and build both his equipment and his annual skill upon that. There are those who might ask what need there is for a serious pistolero, and I cannot answer that question. If one does not know why anyone should be able to defend his life and family and property against felonious aggression, he should move to Britain where self-defense is now illegal.

We continue to congratulate Shooting Master Tom Russell on his magnificent leopard, taken recently in Tanzania. The leopard is a wonderful beast and has been admired for both its grace and its beauty throughout history. It was generally called panther by the British colonials, and its melanistic (black) form was particularly glorified by Rudyard Kipling in his jungle stories.

The leopard has become listed as one of the "big five" in recent decades, but I think this is a mistake. He is certainly deadly and upon occasion has taken to eating people in places where they are unprepared materially or psychologically to defend themselves. Personally I have no desire to shoot a leopard. I do not object to others who prize him as a trophy, but he is not for me. He is just too beautiful to spoil with a rifle shot.

On the occasion of my 80th birthday, I was treated to a regal celebration by Danie van Graan at Engonyameni. This party involved drum beating, ceremonial chanting, eulogizing in Swazi - and enthronement upon a leopard skin (which I hasten to say I had not shot myself). Seated elegantly upon that leopard skin, I reflected that long ago and far away George Washington made his inaugural parades, completed by a leopard skin saddle blanket, in each of the major cities of the colonies which formed the nuclei of the new nation of which he had become the Father. Like wow! There is nowhere to find more distinguished company than that.

We have not got many reports back from the field on the performance of the 376 Steyr Scout, apparently because the factory has made no effort to promote the weapon. Such information as we have is most exciting, but that may be due to the fact that nearly all the people now packing the "Dragoon" in the field are superior marksmen. These nice one-shot stops we are told about come largely from members of the Gunsite family and its extension, and those people are likely to get first-rate field results with almost any sort of piece. In a sense this is a penalty for excellence. If you use all the right gear and you do everything right, the results are likely to be superior. (Even if the gear is not perfect, a good shot is likely to get very satisfactory results in the field.)

It gives us great pleasure to learn that what we have called The Modern Technique of the Pistol here at Gunsite has now been adopted as standard by both the Swiss military and the Swiss customs office, and as of this year, the word "Modern" has been dropped, implying that what we began to develop so many years ago at Big Bear Lake in California is now world standard. Happiness is the byproduct of achievement, and it certainly makes us happy to know what has been achieved. Having now passed age 85, I guess we ought to be able to sit back and put our feet up. The (Nouvelle) Technique de Tir de Combat is now sort of engraved in bronze. It is there, it works, and it is world standard. (Except, I hope, for the ragheads. I do not think those people could profit by it anyway since in their world God will provide for everything, and man's achievements have nothing to do with anything. Now let's see who wins!)

Little girls, like kittens, are evidence of God's good nature.

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