Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 3, No. 5           31 March 1995

Rustles of Spring

Spring has indeed sprung up all over Southwestern low country, after a very mild and moist winter - though it is still having trouble up on the Continental Divide. The pleasant aspects of the season are being overlooked by the carpers, who insist that this sort of thing produces overmuch pollen for those who suffer from hay fever and promises a summer of grass fires and bugs.

And then there are the snakes. Down in the desert the people are complaining about the unusual proliferation of rattlesnakes, which is being investigated by the media based on the number of phone calls the police are getting. I find this bothersome. It simply does not occur to me that one calls the police when he finds a rattlesnake in his backyard. Why is a rattlesnake the business of the state? And in what way is the state better qualified to handle a rattlesnake than the householder?

There are various things to be done about a rattlesnake in one's garden, but I do not see that the cops are in a position to do them. The first thing to do about a rattlesnake is let it alone. Unless there are small children about, or particularly dimwitted pets, a rattlesnake may well be allowed to go about his business. If, on the other hand, it is necessary to get this beast out of your vicinity, he is probably best scooped into a large jar and spirited off to the nearest high school biology lab as a demonstration.

If this idea does not take your fancy, he can be beaten on with a stick and dropped into the trash. Better, however, he may be beheaded, skinned, eviscerated, cut into one and a half inch chunks and deep-fat fried. (This works best for pretty big ones.)

His skin makes into a nice hat-band, and his rattles into a nifty presentation piece for travelers from abroad.

In no case, however, is he a matter for the state. If we truly have got to the point where the citizen's first response to anything he does not understand is to call the police, we are probably too far gone down the road to serfdom

"No one but he who has partaken thereof can understand the keen delight of hunting in lonely lands. For him it is the joy of the horse well-ridden and the rifle well-held; for him the long days of toil and hardship, resolutely endured, and crowned at the end with triumph."

Theodore Roosevelt

I was recently asked by a magazine editor what sort of sidearm I would suggest for "the elderly." This caught me somewhat aslant, since I am pretty elderly myself and I do not feel a need for a firearm especially attuned to my aged condition. For one who has handled firearms since early adolescence, as most of us have, it is hard to discern any age differentiation when it comes to shooting. Certainly eyesight tends to degenerate with the advancing years, but as long as one can see at all he ought to be able to use Gun A as well as Gun B.

An exception to this, however, may be the "pistol ghost-ring" devised by Steve Wickert of Wells Sport Store in Prescott. Several old timers now have reported that this sighting system does wonders to make up for the increasing stiffness of the cornea that normally comes with age. This arrangement is somewhat more obtrusive than conventional rear sights on a pistol, but not enough to invalidate it as a holster weapon. If you find it increasingly hard to pick up that front sight in a hurry, you might well give this arrangement some thought.

We are holding your checks for the Waco Memorial with extreme care. When we reach $5,000 we will establish a resident chairman in Waco and an appropriate bank account. If we do not reach that figure, your money will be returned with thanks.

Those of you who have hunting trophies on your walls will be glad to learn of a new service based in North Carolina which will undertake to renovate, fumigate, and bug-proof your prizes. It appears that there is a particular sort of trophy-eating moth that eats hair, skin, and horn, and it usually does so before one discovers it at work. We had a crew here at the Sconce following the Safari Club show and now we feel much better about the whole thing. For further information call:
Miller Trophy Room Preservation, 704-436-2001.

We seem to be off to Guatemala for a teaching week in early June, and then off to Austria at the end of the month. In the middle I have speaking engagements in both Denver and Salt Lake. (Maybe I will finish the book in my free time.)

We hear from Africa of a gent who reversed the 50-caliber boat-tail bullet of the Browning machine-gun cartridge and inserted it backwards into the throat of the 510 Wells Express. He claimed it was a real walloper. I should hope to snort!

The core of the "hitability factor" in any hand-held weapon is its trigger action. At one time factory rifles were furnished with quite good triggers. I have a Model 70 Winchester dating from 1937 on which the trigger has never been touched by a gunsmith and yet will stand up to any of the after-market inserts I have tried. Today, however, in the Age of Litigation we find that this situation has changed, and when one acquires any domestic rifle the first thing he must do is to take his piece to a gunsmith and have something done about that trigger. (And this goes for about fifty percent of European competition, too.) This is not only a nuisance but it is unreliable, since not every gunsmith knows how to improve a trigger properly.

As colleague Ross Seyfried recently pointed out in an article, the factories will not put good triggers in their weapons because,
  1. the handwork required is expensive, and,
  2. a really good trigger might be regarded as a liability in a lawsuit.
This problem is not found in the higher-grade European actions. The Mauser, Mannlicher and Voere rifles normally come over the counter with excellent triggers. And then, of course, there is the Blaser, of which I have spoken before. Conventional triggers may be said to operate as a pair of interconnected hooks, one the striker and the other the sear, which have to be scraped off in order to release the firing pin. This means that metal must be dragged across metal, and this calls for a very high polish of extremely hard, wear-proof surfaces in order to function well. The Blaser trigger, however, operates on a different principle. When the piece is cocked the sear proper is placed under powerful spring tension, which will pop it loose when permitted. It is not permitted, however, as long as the trigger pedestal resists this spring tension. When the trigger is pressed this pedestal is lowered out of contact, without friction. Nothing need be polished or tuned and every trigger comes off the line the same as every other. This is a beautiful arrangement. I wish I could say, "Don't leave home without it!" but as of now it comes only on one gun.

Oldtimers will be interested to learn that the county has now filled in Tillman's Bog, which used to lie between us and the highway. On one hand it was a nuisance during the rainy season, on the other it did serve to keep out the riffraff.

Someone called the front office at Burris and was told by the girl on the phone that the Scoutscope was being discontinued. This was a matter of much concern, and I called in person to verify it. The production manager, who should know, told us in no uncertain terms that production on the Scoutscope would be continued through `96. I assume that I can take this as truth, but nonetheless I counsel you to buy two of the Burris glasses as soon as you can come up with the scratch. It makes one uneasy to depend upon one manufacturer who alone can or will furnish the product you desire.

"Watching the unfolding political debate, it occurs to me that liberals feel the same way about truth that Dracula feels about sunlight."

Paul Kirchner

Sometime back we wrote our annoyance at those who did not understand about our use of the atomic bomb. Since that time we have been further annoyed by a group of people who wished to observe the 50th Anniversary of the Battle for Iwo as an occasion for sorrow. Of course any man's death is sorrowful to his family, if not necessarily to him, and a great many good men died on Iwo, but the battle itself was not a tragedy. It was, on the contrary, a triumph. The Marine Corps wrote its name yet again in letters of gold across the pages of history, and the heroes who died there will remain heroes as long as our culture endures.

Bob Cushman, my boss on several occasions and later Commandant of the Marine Corps, told me face-to-face that he as a battalion commander went through three sets of lieutenants in the course of that battle. There are upwards of twenty lieutenants in a battalion, and all of those who went ashore with Colonel Cushman were either killed or medevaced - and all of their replacements were either killed or medevaced, and almost all of their replacements were dragged off the field on stretchers. "There was a meat grinder!" the general told me. And so it was, but we accomplished our mission, against what appeared to be insurmountable odds, and that is what should be taught in the schools and celebrated in the parades.

As we discovered later, Iwo was practically defenseless when we were busy down in the Mariannas eight months previously. Saburo Sakai, the great Japanese fighter pilot, wrote in his book that the island could have been taken by two destroyers and one company of military police when he was flying off it to attack us down at Saipan. If there is tragedy involved here, it is that, and not the battle for the island, which was an occasion for glory such as is not understood by the current administration of the United States of America.

One piece of information that the media are not likely to emphasize these days is that the homicide rate in Florida is down 29 percent since the enactment of the concealed weapon permit law. Some people take notice, however, as state after state passes new legislation allowing decent citizens to go armed.

Caption entries in our great caption contest keep pouring in, though a number are a bit too gamey for a family magazine. It will be a month or so more before we close the entry list.

We had occasion to report not long ago upon the untimely death of the Honorable Anthony Fraser on the horns of a buffalo in Tanzania. We noted that Mr. Fraser was the son of Lord Lovat, and now it seems appropriate to mention the recent demise, at the age of 83, of "the handsomest man who ever cut a throat," as Churchill put it.

Brigadier the 17th Lord Lovat, 24th Chief of Clan Fraser, was a legendary commando leader in the Second World War. He was what may precisely be termed "a gentleman of the old school" who fought with the dash, style and elegance befitting a hereditary aristocrat. No only did he bear the Military Cross, the Distinguished Service Order, and the Croix de Guerre, but the Germans did him the honor of placing a reward of one hundred thousand Deutschmarks on his head. He was a champion fencer, horseman and marksman, and did all the things expected of a man of his lineage. He hunted all over the world, and for thirty-five years he was chairman of the Shikar Club. Since the one son was killed by a buff and the other suffered a heart attack while riding to hounds, the peerage is now succeeded by grandson Simon, the 18th Lord Lovat. Now there is a lad with a lot to live up to.

"Equality may perhaps be a right, but no power on earth can ever turn it into a fact."


Amongst the continuous irritations foisted upon us by government is the impertinent assumption that one must prove to the state his need to be armed. In a recent feature in Time the author found it surprising that in various jurisdictions the applicant for a firearms license was not even asked to establish a need. A free man should not have to show any need for being armed, and a public official is almost never in a position to pass judgment upon any such need. "I want it because I want it." That should be enough.

(Please note that our new telephone code here at the Sconce is (520) - replacing (602). This goes for both phone and fax.)

It is interesting to examine the rationale behind the awarding of military medals. The cynic will say that medals are awarded in order to improve the morale of the home folks, regardless of the justification, and there is just enough truth in that to make it bothersome. The spate of Victoria Crosses issued at Rorke's Drift is one example, and the US handed out a couple of Medals of Honor at the beginning of the war in the Pacific which, upon detailed examination by historians, seem to have been mistakes.

Nevertheless, military medals can be respected as tributes to heroism on various pretexts, and at both ends of the scale, varying from acts of the grandest performance of duty to acts of momentary hysteria. In the American tradition a man earns a Medal of Honor for throwing himself on a grenade, whether or not this accomplishes anything but his own death. Presumably this represents sublime self-sacrifice, and certainly such behavior ought to be recognized. However, it is not comparable with behavior which achieves dramatic military results by the demonstration of brilliant military capacity at risk of one's life.

We read recently of the death, from natural causes, of Brigadier General James Howard of the Air Force, who earned the only Medal of Honor awarded to a fighter pilot in the European theater in WWII. The story has it that this officer was a member of a formation of P51s assigned to protect bomber attacks over Germany. He became separated from the rest of his group, but when he located the bombers he discovered they were under attack from no less than thirty German fighters. By himself, he dove into the German fighter formation, disrupted its attack, and shot down four of the enemy aircraft.

This behavior demonstrated matchless devotion to duty, sublime physical courage, and total mastery of his weapon. This is the sort of thing for which the Medal of Honor really should be awarded.

You know, of course, that the current head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is Louis Freeh. In noting our comments recently concerning Mr. Freeh and Benjamin Franklin, correspondent Jordan Kossack of Stafford, Texas, has sent us a card paraphrasing the motto emblazoned upon the Alamo, to wit:
"Freedom isn't Freeh."

Now we hear that the president and head honcho of the company manufacturing the Czech 75 pistol, of distinguished note, was effectively defenestrated at the international arms fair in Nurenburg. If true, this is one more example of the fact that the natives of Eastern Europe are growing increasingly restless now that they no longer have the Soviets to keep them in line.

And it seems "the Greens" in Germany have successfully mandated the use of "environmentally friendly" firearms by police and the military. Projectile, propellant, and priming are all subject to regulation to make sure that when one shoots at a bad guy he does not pollute the environment. Silly as it may seem, this development is naturally greeted with enthusiasm by the manufacturers, who can now replace everybody's equipment at a nice profit.

Note that the date for the Third Gunsite Reunion and Theodore Roosevelt Memorial has been advanced to the weekend before the Great Man's birthday, thus landing on 19, 20, 21 October of 1995.

Our recent hypothesis about the gent who wound up with both the projectile and the case in his head was evidently unsound. We hear now, from the horse's mouth in Italy, that this loony attempted to kill himself with a 32 auto-pistol, but he loaded it with a 25 auto cartridge. How the firing pin popped the primer is unclear, since the case should have dropped freely through the barrel, but somehow it did go off and since the relatively low-powered explosion did not have sufficient energy to work the action, both case and projectile were fired out the muzzle. There was not enough power left to do the job properly, so the loony walked off with a couple of band-aids and is now free to try the operation again.

I find this perplexing. If I one day wind up in the presence of a 32 auto-pistol, and have access to a 25 auto cartridge, I am going to try to duplicate this trick (not on myself, of course) just to see if it is technically possible.

Senator Larry Craig has taken cudgel and addressed the Attorney General a specific and public letter questioning the need for official American stormtroops. I do not see how she can avoid answering this. It will be very interesting to see what she says.

As of right now, there is a rumor to the effect that federal marshals may arrest Lon Horiuchi and deliver him to the State of Idaho. Perhaps this is only a rumor, but it certainly is a good one.

(If I keep writing this sort of thing, I guess I can expect the ninja any quiet morning about 0300.)

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