Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 7, No. 10          September, 1999


Corn and tomatoes! Corn only minutes off the stalk and tomatoes fresh out of the garden certainly rank high among God's blessings. It is sobering to realize that the human race got along without either of those until well up into the Renaissance, but then we got along without paper and electricity, and even Steyr Scouts as well. Boggles the mind!

As the argument about the meaning of the Second Amendment continues, one is at a loss to determine whether we are dealing here with simple stupidity or willful wickedness. Certainly "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" cannot be simply misunderstood. Our adversaries suggest that "the people" does not really mean the people, but rather the sovereign states. It is hard to take such ninnyhammers seriously, but they are there, and they are noisy, and they must be taken seriously. When they try to connect a nasty school shooting to constitutional law, they not only do not make sense, but they know they do not make sense. Gives me to ponder about the utility of the democratic process. As I recall, Socrates wondered about that too, but I was much younger then, and I might have misunderstood what he said.

I thank the readership most profoundly for the enormous amount of help I have been given in this matter of steel fabrication. I now have enough reference material on the subject to conduct an upper division college course upon it. Clearly, civilization depends upon steel. Without it we would still be in the Bronze Age. That proposition may have its points, but it is hardly an option at this late date.

For those who came in late, "steel" is a compound of iron and carbon. The carbon component is quite small, on the order of half of one percent, but without it, we do not have a useful substance. Pure iron is not found in metallic form in nature, and therein lies the problem. Whatever form it does assume must be "de-carbonized" and then "re-carbonized" in the proper proportions. This calls for huge effort, and additionally, enormous amounts of fuel - either firewood or coal. This accounts for the deforestation of the Mediterranean littoral over the past three thousand years.

Thus the metallurgy of iron is a subject that we should all know more about. So let's get at it!

It appears that these "photo safaris" are giving African boondocking a bad name. The people who go on African hunts with rifle rather than camera are much more apt to know how to conduct themselves in the woods. The camera types are too often totally innocent off the pavement, and their outfitters are often not truly qualified to handle babes in the bush. An outstanding number of these over-civilized tenderfeet are simply unwilling to accept the existence of danger and even when it is explained to them they do not believe it. The fact remains, however, that the woods are dangerous. The mountains are dangerous. The sea is dangerous. Fire is dangerous, and even love is dangerous. Danger is the spice of life, but you cannot enjoy it unless you use the proper recipe. Too much spice may well spoil the broth. We avoid this by studying the problem, but study is hard work, and while you can lead a fool to wisdom, you cannot make him think.

So we have mishaps, and when we have mishaps certain kinds of people wring their hands and call upon Big Brother to make everything safe.

Hunting (even the hunting of dangerous game) is no more dangerous than any other outdoor pastime, but firearms in the hands of fools can certainly make it so. We had a recent report back from Africa about a European group whose gunhandling was so dreadful that it forced the outfitter to remove all bolts of all rifles until the target for one hunter was clearly in view. It is simply that gunhandling is not a subject normally taught in academia, nor in the armed services. The wonder is not that we sometimes have deadly mishaps, but rather that we do not have more. Proper gunhandling is taught in the good private weaponry schools, but there are not many of those, and not all of them are good.

In recent rifle classes we have encountered some sighting problems, one of which resulted in the loss of the telescope involved. Care should be taken to assure that all screws on your rifle are tight before you take to the bushes or the range. This is a precaution which goes along with peering through the barrel and sharpening your knife. "Tighten your screws, young man!" should be a standard command before saddling up.

The family should all note the dates 15, 16, and 17 October for this year's Gunsite Reunion and Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, at Whittington Center in New Mexico.

At time of writing, Lon Horiuchi not only walks free, but continues on the public payroll. John Hinkley walks the streets on probation, and while we know absolutely that Vince Foster did not commit suicide, we still do not know who killed him or who ordered it. I do not suppose there is anything we can do about that, but I just thought I would call it to your attention.

"The crow sees.
The deer hears.
The bear smells."

This is one of those "old Indian sayings."
We acquired it from John Barsness.

In another step in the continued degeneration of the English language, we see that the Los Angeles Times, a widely read and presumably respectable public organ, has come up with a peculiar notion of the "compulsory volunteer." This is in connection with a proposal that some sort of "public service" effort be a requirement for a college degree. Each student would presumably be required to "volunteer" for some sort of punitive labor assignment. Certainly all sorts of things may be required of a college student in order to qualify him for a degree, but you cannot make him into a "compulsory volunteer" if you wish your speech to make sense.

Our favorite quotation of all comes from the General Motors Proving Ground in Michigan. To wit: "We've just got to get rid of this idea that people know what they're doing."

I guess it is a compliment to the Scout idea that various people are now producing imitation Scouts selling for a lower price. The problem here is that the fabricators of these devices do not seem to understand the principle of the Scout rifle. Certainly hanging a Harris bipod and a low-powered telescope on a Remington 7 does not make it a Scout. There are about 12 component features in the true Scout, and you are not going to get them at discounted rates.

This is not to say that you cannot make up an excellent "pseudo-scout" from components of your choice. You may create an excellent rifle this way, and I know of several examples personally, but you are skirting the issue, and you are probably spending more money than you should.

The African National Congress (ANC) commands a total majority in the South African parliament. It is strongly, though not totally, Marxist in its political outlook. The only hope we may have for South Africa as a nation is the divisiveness of the ANC. It is composed of many factions, some of which are strongly opposed to one another. Thus it is unlikely for us to see a totally Stalinist regime in charge in the immediate future, but the situation is bleak indeed. Go while you still can!

You doubtless remember the Australian movie "Crocodile Dundee." It turns out that this film was based upon the personality and adventures of a real man, one Ron Ansell. He was fully as flamboyant a character as the protagonist in the film, living in the northern bush and never wearing shoes until adolescence - and rarely thereafter. Though he became a celebrity as a result of the movie, life did not go well for him, and now we hear of his death in a roadside shooting. It seems he took it upon himself to shoot a police officer and was thereupon shot and killed by the officer's companion. We have two newspaper accounts of the episode, but they tell us very little. I hope to hear more about this whole case from our friend Tim Lloyd, who is a constable up in Darwin and a member of the Gunsite family.

Since the introduction of the Steyr Scout we have heard considerable discussion about the relative merits of the fine reticle in the Leupold scope, as opposed to the coarse version. The difference is not great, but in our opinion the fine reticle is better for play on the range, and the coarse reticle is superior for serious work on living targets. As we have reported, we proposed a new and radical reticle system to both Kahles and Swarovski last spring. We have no information on progress as yet, but we have a couple of agents over there just at this time who may bring back news of some sort.

Note that Ashley Outdoors is now promoting an excellent ghost-ring sight system, as an after-market addition for those shooters who prefer iron sights to glass. In my opinion, there are many situations in which a telescope sight is not the answer, particularly including all hunting of dangerous game, and brush hunting in general. The regularly issued open iron sight now standard on most pieces is a pretty poor proposition, but a good ghost-ring, featuring a large aperture with a thin rim and a properly organized square front post, may well be superior to any glass sight under certain hunting conditions. It is fast. It is precise. Unlike telescope sights, it is not fragile. This is not a popular idea to sell to "the industry," the object of which is to sell stuff, but there is such a thing as an enlightened consumer, and it would be nice to provide for his needs too.

As everybody knows, horse racing is the sport of kings, and the Palio at Siena is beyond question the uttermost horse race. It apparently originated before the discovery of America, and has been run annually ever since, with certain pauses for wars, revolutions and natural disasters. It is run three times around the piazza of Siena, and this year our daughter Christy and our son-in-law Chick were present for the occasion. (As was Tony Blair, the current Prime Minister of Great Britain, to the fury of the British animal crackers.)

The entries are made by the craft guilds of the city, and competition is furious and sometimes uncouth. I had thought it run on cobblestones, but now I find that it is run on fill dirt packed in each year for the occasion. It is run bareback, and without protective armor. In order to insure parity of weaponcraft, the whips are issued to the riders just before the start. This year four horses finished out of ten entries, though one horse was without a rider. Three riders were hospitalized, but apparently without serious injury. One horse was slightly hurt.

As we previously reported, Brigitte Bardot wants the event banned on the grounds that occasionally the riders miss each other the hit the horses. I gather that she is unlikely to prevail in this proposal, since the Palio lies at the heart of the ancient traditions of Tuscany.

The foregoing material has nothing to do with guns or shooting, but we found it pretty fascinating and hope that you do too.

So now we see advertised a slimline Glock. Back in the good old days, we went to some trouble to slimline the 1911, producing the only significant improvement in that venerable arm. At Orange Gunsite we found that 25 percent of the men and 50 percent of the woman students were unable to get a really firm grip on the pistol, since the butt was just too big around for a small hand. Nobody in the industry noticed this until just now. It takes a long time for advanced thinking to catch on - witness the Steyr Scout.

Thomas Sowell is just about our favorite current political commentator. He is not exactly a paladin of the Second Amendment, but he understands the problem and is on the right side. In a recent episode he was stopped on the highway and the cop not only did not approach him for some 15 minutes, but waited until a backup car showed up with two extra policemen. It turns out that Dr. Sowell was listed in some central database as "registered gun owner," and this information, available by punching keys in the cop car, rendered him a dangerous proposition in the eyes of the arresting officer. Indeed, Big Brother Is Watching You, and the wonders of modern technology are at his instant disposal.

We note with amusement that this fellow who scared everybody to death with his movie "Jaws" has now been brainwashed by the bambiists into concluding that sharks do not eat people on purpose, but only by accident. Whoops, sorry about that!

Now the big news is that some sort of investigation may be conducted into the atrocity at Waco. Several people have made a point decrying the use of incendiary devices by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the BATmen. Personally I am less concerned about incendiarism than I am about the matter of why the feds were there at all. The Koresh cult did not seem, at first glance, to be a federal matter. The great state of Texas could have handled that scene with far less hurrah, or so it seems from here.

Among the many traditions floating around amongst shooters is the one that maintains that accuracy can only be obtained with a long barrel. This idea originated when we used muzzle-loading rifles with open sights. To get a rear open sight far enough away from the eye to permit a crisp image, it is necessary to push it well out on the barrel. To match this, the barrel must go way out there in order to obtain optimum sight radius. Thus we saw the development of the enormously clumsy "Pennsylvania rifle," which generally stood taller than a man.

Today these conditions are no longer with us, and we find in the bench rest matches that 19 inches of barrel produces about as much accuracy as we can use. I remember in Okavango some time ago when my PH looked doubtfully at my Remington 660, and noting that the wildebeeste were quite some ways off, asked, "How accurate is that thing?" My answer was, "It's as accurate as I am."

Moral: "A long barrel may indeed give you greater sight radius, but that has nothing to do with intrinsic accuracy."

What ever happened to the "Titanium Taurus"? We saw it at the last SHOT Show and were much impressed. It looked good. It felt good, and as a glamour touch, it was made entirely of titanium, rather than partially so, as with the Smith & Wesson offerings. We put in for one in caliber 45 Colt, but as of now nothing has turned up. I think that there is still a place for the revolver in defensive pistolcraft. Our sporting activities with the Southwest Pistol League pretty well shot down the wheel-gun for serious competition, and then later for police work, but that may not have been an unmitigated blessing for a non-shooting household. A short, light, big bore wheel-gun has a definite place.

At our last rifle class, we logged our first ponytail on the range. I did not make an issue of that, but it certainly seems to me that wearing one's hair in a ponytail is an invitation to disaster. What better handhold can you offer your enemy?

I recently enjoyed a feature on hunting the leopard by colleague and family member Finn Aagaard. He struck a responsive cord when he said that he had never pressed trigger on a leopard and never intended to - because the leopard is just too beautiful to shoot. I have felt exactly this way for a long time, but the notion apparently is rare amongst experienced hunters. Finn and I do not maintain that the leopard is a nice guy, being partial to domestic dogs and small children when he can get them, but this is an aesthetic issue rather than a moral one. Beauty resides in the eye of the beholder, and certainly many of the creatures we pursue in the wild may be considered beautiful, but the leopard is the standout. I do not object to friends and fellow shooters pursuing the leopard, if they so choose, but they will do it without me.

"When they needed a man to encourage the van
or to 'HARass' the foe from the rear,
or to storm a redoubt,
they would set up a shout
for Abdul Abulbul Amir."
If we wish to use this verb, let us pronounce it right, hey?
I have shot the rifle for a long time, having used it a bit even before I was introduced to it formally in high school ROTC, but there are plenty of things about rifle shooting that I still do not understand - one of which is "long shooting." I have talked to and read the works of a great many people who seem to be living in another world, because they do not live in the one that I see around me. The best shots that I know are pretty deadly at 200 yards, if they are not hurried too much. They can also do fairly well at three, under the right conditions, but these four-, five- and six-hundred yard boys never seem to show up when the matter can be tested. A good man, using excellent equipment under ideal conditions, can center the head of a man-sized target at 400 yards with his first shot - some of the time - but I have never known anyone who can do that at 500 on demand without preparation. I just do not meet the right people.

Daughters Parry and Lindy are at this point frolicking in the Alps in pursuit of the Gams (chamois). They had no need to bring any rifles through customs, since their hosts at Steyr Mannlicher just happen to have a couple of Scouts on hand. The 308 is indeed a bit much for that little mountain goat, but it is better to be overgunned than undergunned, I heard somebody say.

It has been suggested that I preach for power in pistol cartridges, but not in rifles. This is true, and my reason is that the pistol is a conceptually defensive instrument, while the rifle is not. The purpose of the pistol is to stop a fight that somebody else has started, almost always at very short range. This calls for the most power that the shooter can control so as to save his life, under conditions where there is no time for finesse. But with the rifle, on the other hand, one chooses his target and sets his conditions. Field rifle shooting is almost always slow fire, permitting perfect placement of the shot if the shooter is in control of his nerves. Under these circumstances, precise placement is more significant than brute strength.

Thus it is that for personal defense you want a large cross-sectional area of impact and as much mass as can be comfortably stuffed into the load. For field shooting, on the other hand, while you do not need excessive power, you do need delicacy of delivery, which is more a psychological than a mechanical consideration.

(Using power to flatten trajectory in a field rifle is, in my opinion, unproductive. Trajectories of all modern rifle cartridges are so flat that bullet drop at any range is far less significant than the holding ability of the shooter.)

We now hear that there is a faction in France which suggests putting girls into the French Foreign Legion - for crying out loud! Certainly I never thought it would come to this!

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