Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 7, No. 2           February, 1999


Very little winter so far here at Gunsite, though the rest of the country seems to be getting its full share. We could, of course, use some precipitation here, but one does not complain about the weather when each day seems nicer than the one before. We will doubtless get our share of sloppy weather before the winter is out, but meanwhile nobody is complaining. As the man said, "It never does any good."

We are informed of an elaborate new private training facility just south of the Virginia border in North Carolina. It is called "Blackwater," and appears to be a very expensive layout. From its brochure it seems that it is primarily intended for the public sector, which is fine, because the public sector can use all the training it can get. But I recall from my teaching days at Gunsite that the problem with military, naval and police types in weaponry training is a basic lack of motivation. If the government or your employer is paying your way, you do not have nearly the desire to learn that you would if the tuition were coming out of your own pocket. This problem is not insurmountable, of course, for a good many people on the public payroll are indeed interested in weaponcraft, and would be even if they were not wearing a uniform. Still, one must not expect results as quickly or as high when teaching public servants as when teaching private citizens.

We have noted with gratification that our great patron, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., has finally been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his conduct under fire in Cuba. While we have had some notable soldiers as presidents - Washington, Grant, and Eisenhower - I do not believe that any one of them other than TR ever personally led a charge against a defended enemy position. And that is only one of the ways in which TR was unique.

"To address or refer to a woman by her last name only is to reduce her to the status of a man."

The Guru

It has been called to my attention that when I referred to the "45 Professional" cartridge dreamed up by Tim LeGendre, I should have said that it was based on the 284 case, rather than the 280 case. The 284, with its rebated rim, permits a slightly larger powder capacity than the 280.

A Middle Eastern terrorist, Khay Rahnajet, did not pay enough postage on a letter bomb. It came back with "Return to Sender" stamped on it. Being of the usual intellectual development of a terrorist, he proceeded to open the letter. Maybe he learned from that experience, but considering what he started out with, I doubt if he learned much.

(The foregoing information appeared in "Firearm News" from Stellenbosch, South Africa.)

Also from the previous publication we learn of two animal crackers who were protesting the sending of pigs to a slaughterhouse in Bonn, Germany. Two thousand pigs burst through a barbed fence and fatally overran the two "activists."

It turns out that the caliber 308 is prohibited for private use in France, thus the Steyr Scout must be sold there in caliber 7-08. This would not seem to be a serious problem, since the ballistics of the 7-08 and the 308 are practically identical, but our French correspondent maintains that it is difficult to obtain commercially loaded, factory ammunition in caliber 7-08 in Europe. Europeans in general are highly respectful of the "wild boar" (Sus scrofa), and I daresay with cause. This suggests a niche for the Steyr Dragoon rifle - shortly to be available. To my mind, shooting a wild pig with the 376 Steyr cartridge is pretty much a case of overkill, but it is better to be overgunned than undergunned, I am told.

Our hero Charles Schumer, the new Senator from New York, is on record as inflamed with a "passion to legislate." Legislation, by definition, is coercion. Here is the bare face of tyranny! Perhaps the first item on the senator's legislative agenda should be a new federal law making "a passion to legislate" a federal crime.

Charlie Putman, distinguished member of the Gunsite African Rifles, is now back from his third African hunt with many interesting things to tell. He hunted in Tanzania, which is a locale I would not recommend, but once he got out into the bush he had a fine time.
"As in much of Africa, the city life is crowded, poor and filthy, and the people unanimously appear frightened or suspicious. In contrast, the bush country is seemingly endless open space. Our tent camp was staffed by friendly, colorful native people who made us feel much more comfortable than in town."
Further on in his tale he mentioned that his tracker told Dianne that the leopard she had shot was dead, as he could tell from the sound of the shot. Now this is pretty far out! To be able to be sure that your target is dead from the sound of the Kugelschlag is interesting evidence of witchcraft. Another example of one of the mysteries of the Dark Continent.

To aspiring authors we suggest the title, "How I Killed Vince Foster." You would not have to write the book, the title alone would sell it.

Family member Celia Milius is doing great things with her beautiful Perazzi shotgun. She now has gone far enough up the line to be entering international competition, and we wish her great success. She did very well with the rifle when she was a student here at Gunsite, but she learned the shotgun on her own.

A prominent family member - who shall remain nameless because of certain financial concerns involved - came up with one of the most flahoolich Christmas gifts of all time. He presented each one of his numerous brood of children with his own personal Steyr Scout. Now there is a man with a truly royal gift for gift giving!

In '97 we visited the Czech Republic and cruised down to the Moravian town of Uhersky Brod, where the Cesko Zbrojovka facility (previously "BRNO") is now located. On that occasion we discussed the prospects for a new service pistol and a new heavy rifle, both to capitalize on the excellent reputation of BRNO firearms. They have now brought out their new service pistol, and apart from the fact that it is in caliber 45 ACP, it shows no evidence of my input whatever. Well, it is a 45, but it does not seem likely to replace the 1911. Among other things, it is both bigger and heavier than the 1911, one of the few faults of which is that it is too big and heavy. I wish these people well. They showed us a nice trip, but the heir of the 1911 is yet to be.

We learn from Thomas Sowell that Brooke Shields, the notable flashbird, was graduated from Princeton without ever taking a course of any consequence in any subject. Thus it is that academic perversion has now diminished the value of a college degree to nothing more than a meal ticket. It will not be long before it will not have any value as even that.

In the last issue of this paper I referred to 1999 as "the last year of the millennium." Wrong! 2000 is such. If I am not more careful I may well lose my Guru's turban.

In view of this modern passion for minor caliber sidearms, it would seem a good idea to produce a target which represents only the eye sockets of a human adversary, and which is capable of quick movement both lateral and vertical. To use a small caliber pistol efficiently for defensive purposes, the shooter should be able to hit a pingpong ball reliably at ranges of up to 7 yards, even when that target is in motion.

Which brings us to the proposed Gunsite Conquistadora Award. We hear by round-about ways of a copchick in Latin America who responded to a call of a bank robbery in progress. She was by herself and armed with a P35 Browning. By fortuitous chance she confronted the three bad guys directly. One was armed with an FN assault rifle (caliber 308), one with some sort of 9mm squirt gun, and the other with a 12 gage shotgun. With admirable aplomb our heroine selected the most dangerous target, the one with the 308, and terminated him cleanly with one round to the center of the forehead. She then shifted to the man with the squirt gun and knocked him down with two rounds to the center of the chest. At this point the boy with the shotgun dropped his gun and gave up. Olé!

The report we have insists that this girl is quite pretty, which makes a story all ready too good even better. We are going to look further into this matter and see if the details are forthcoming. If we can run these down accurately, we will come up with a second ring of valor for this distinguished conquistadora. If this all works out we might even buzz down that way to make the presentation in person.

The Steyr Scout marches on! It was designed to be just the right piece for everything except pachyderms, buffalo, and formal target shooting. And so it is! For deer, antelope, pigs, mountain sheep, mountain goats, guerilla warfare, or urban law enforcement, it is just about perfect. I say "just about" because there are a few ways in which it could be improved. I want that rigid telescope sight, and, of course, I want a left-hand version. The Leupold sight I have on Old Number Six works just fine as of now, and I am right-handed. Nonetheless, I will continue to work on this project. Since there is no money in it for me, I can feel free to enjoy it.

In perusing the popular press, one is driven to the conclusion that the English language is too subtle an instrument for the "workers and peasants." The gender problem, for instance, appears to be beyond the reach of the journalist, and pronouns remain obscure. Though I am not deeply instructed in the matter, I am given to understand that other Indo-European languages slide around these matters, and thereby lose a certain amount of elegance. Furthermore, the correct use of pronouns seems to be a mystery to a good many writers, and an annoying mystery at that. Does this matter? Only if it bothers you. I revere the English language personally, and it does bother me to see it misused. I cannot guarantee my own usage, but I do make an effort, and I find that a great many people who presume to put finger to word processor do not.

In our emasculate age, it is considered uncouth to confess to anything resembling a killer instinct. Yet such a thing does exist, and it is worth study. It is fashionable to protest that one does not hunt in order to kill, as with Ortega y Gasset, yet if one does not kill, hunting is emotionally unsatisfying. This is why some people hunt and others do not. I think it is ingenuous to protest that the killer instinct is evil. Man is a carnivorous predator - you have but to look to his teeth - and though very few men now need to hunt for their food, a good many men do need to hunt for emotional fulfillment. This is not evil. It is as natural as the enjoyment of good food, great art, and fine music. To deny this is simply to look foolish. I know many shooters who are not hunters, and I do not think less of them for this. I know a surprising number of hunters who are not shooters, and while I think this is peculiar, I do not think it is wicked. I must admit that today in my declining years my bloodlust has slackened, but this has no moral significance for me. Even today I hunt whenever I can, and I often play catch-and-release by snapping in on an empty chamber. The fact remains, however, that there is such a thing as a killer instinct, and it is neither to be extolled nor condemned. In my own family there are those who are true killers and those who are not, and I love them equally. Judging from my own experience (which is a thing one never ought to do) I feel that those without the killer instinct lead somewhat diminished lives, as do people who are tone deaf or color blind, but I think we should drop psychological pretense in this matter, and face facts as they are. I happen to relish chile very much, but I do not demand that you do. It is not a moral issue.

Our friend and colleague Gregor Woods has just released an interesting piece about chasing rhinos up in Rhodesia. This has to be done with cameras rather than with rifles, for the Zimbabwe government prizes its rhinos highly and pounds heavily on anyone found pounding on its rhinos. The outfitter in this case made a strong point in enjoining any member of the party from carrying a rifle. Admitting that the black rhino is an irascible, powerful, and dangerous beast, he insisted that there would be absolutely no shooting on the expedition, especially not even in "self-defense." He made it clear that it is better to be caught and tossed by a rhino than to do a tour in a Zimbabwe jail. Prison guards are a mean lot in any language, and given the current state of racial tension throughout the world, anyone, guilty or otherwise, is well advised to stay out of their way.

I have long regarded the buffalo (Syncerus caffer, not Bison bison) as a very marvelous game animal. Not for his rarity, nor for his horns, but for his attitude. Thus,
"You wound a buffalo and he turns into 1500lbs of hate. He can run faster than you, smell what you had for supper two nights ago, turn on a coin, hide behind a bunch of leaves, and when this big black brute boils out of the bush his little eyes are focused only on you. Nothing will turn him. As he charges, he chews up bullets and spits them out. Only death will stop him - his, or yours, or both"
(by Jep Jonas in Magnum).
I have taken seven buffalo but I have never stood a charge, though there was one case which might have been one if the beast had not already been tagged twice with a 460. It is said that you must gather up ten buffalo before you can be sure of any real drama. Well, I have not got there yet. I hope there is time.

I have been shooting for a very long time, in training, competition, and recreation, and I have come to the conclusion that trigger control is the heart of the matter. It may be that I am too particular about good trigger action, but I do think it is the most important single aspect of hitting what you shoot at. To my surprise I find a number of people who do not feel this way at all, and are quite content with triggers that, in Hemingway's memorable expression, "Let go like the last turn of a key opening a sardine can."

It is possible that good trigger action is not important in weapons intended for combat or the hunting of dangerous game, but I do not believe so. Certainly you do not need perfect trigger action to flatten a tiger in full charge at fifteen paces, nor to hammer a goblin across the counter. Still I find that even in coarse shooting I am not just more precise, but distinctly faster when using a good trigger.

By a "good trigger" I mean one that breaks cleanly without apparent motion of any kind. Take-up is okay (if it is smooth), but after the second stage is reached, there must be no detectable motion of that trigger, either by touch or by sight. Visual observation is, oddly enough, more useful than touch. You do not have to aim-in. Simply point the piece in a safe direction, place your finger on the trigger, take up the slack, and press gently. If you can see your finger move before the striker is released you do not have a good trigger. Weight is not vital, but it must be considered. In my opinion, a service pistol should break at four lbs or a little under. Three-and-a-half is better. On a heavy rifle (45-caliber and up), three lbs is about right. With a light rifle you can go quite a bit lighter, though this tends to shake up the liability lilies. The trigger on my factory-tuned SS breaks at 26 ounces, and it is the same on my Blaser 93. Both these rifles are supremely "shootable" - no more accurate perhaps than others, but easier to hit with, especially in a hurry. In slow fire or off a bench, trigger action is less critical.

I am admittedly a nitpicker about this, but I have a long background in the matter, and additionally I have the advantage of the experiences of a great many other people besides myself. One's personal experience is of some value, but people do not ever "average out" and the experiences of ten men are always more instructive than those of just one. Trigger control is essentially a psychological issue, and we are never likely to get a valid statistical sample of high numbers, but each rifle class teaches the riflemaster something new. I know a great deal about the management of the trigger, but I have still a lot to learn.

"Vice is a monster of such fearful mien,
to be hated, needs but to be seen.
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace."

Alexander Pope
He wrote that back at the turn of the 18th century, but it took almost two hundred years for it to become a social truism.

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