Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 7, No. 7           June 1999

Interesting Times

Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble! We returned from our recent escapade in Europe to discover that the foes of liberty have been hard at work in our own country during our absence. (I wish I could discover a connection here, but I cannot seem to put it together.) The foes of liberty may reside in Peking or Belgrade or Baghdad, but they are not nearly as dangerous to us as those unhappy hypocrites who are too frequently found in the halls of American government. It appears that the self-styled "ambulance chasers" who made successful war on the tobacco industry have now decided that there is big money to be made in harassing the American "gun culture." This movement has nothing to do with either crime or safety, but only with oppression. The Prime Minister of Great Britain has stated for the record recently that his hoplophobic proposals have nothing to do with crime. "I just want to destroy the gun culture." This puts us in mind of the recent statement by a female member of Parliament when she took action against fox hunting in England. "I don't care about the bloody foxes, I just want to fight the *#!* class war." Such attitudes typify politics in the Age of the Common Man.

To no one's amazement, we dined very well in Europe. We remember with delight splendid luncheons at the Schwarzenberg Palace in Vienna (now a hotel), the Gasthof Gmachl in Salzburg, the Hotel de Ville in Gruyéres, Switzerland, and the Auberge de Noves in Provence. Our cup ranneth over.

In our three weeks in Europe we learned many interesting things, as we always do when we travel. The hospitality, the food, the wine, the scenery, and the manifest friendship were perfectly splendid. It was asparagus season, and we took full advantage of that. Personally I do not care much for the continental breakfast, and the 3/10th beer portions in Switzerland were skimpy. Highway driving was just fine, relatively unhampered by highway patrols. The freedom to take risks free from the fear of meaningless litigation was a pleasure. (The fact that motor fuel costs about four times as much on the Continent as it does in the US may be one reason we noticed fewer idiots at the wheel over there than at home.)

Obviously we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, and we extend our thanks to our many good friends abroad.

In our travels we note a depressing tendency for people to wear insignia they do not rate, on all sorts of things from t-shirts to cap ornaments. It must take a peculiar sort of fellow to take any sort of pleasure in pretending he is something he is not. I guess that is another spin out from the Age of Illusion.

From Africa we hear of a peasant who claims that he was attacked by a python while he slept in the bush. It seems unlikely that anyone would go to sleep in the bush unless he was "under the influence" of something, but this sportsman must have been pretty well passed out, if indeed the python tried to engulf him head first, as he claims. The report we get claims that "the incident is not in dispute," but if that is the case, it is a first instance on record of a python trying to scarf up a human being. Ex Africa semper aliquid novi.

Liberty is so rare in the history of the human race as to be regarded as an aberration more than an achievement. The Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Chinese, the Persians never gave it a thought. John Locke and his followers became its delineators as recently as the 18th century. The idea that a free man could do what he pleased as long as he did not injure or deprive other free men was a cornerstone of American political thought, and it inspires our Constitution. For the first time in the long, grim story of mankind, today only Americans venerate liberty, and by no means all Americans at that. That is why we must not submit our sovereignty to any such thing as a League of Nations or the United Nations Organization. The other members of such groupings have no real interest in the things that we hold most dear. This is not a matter for majority rule.

At this time, we may be able to defend our liberty - our unique historical achievement. This may no longer be taken for granted, however. There are too many American citizens who will not fight for their liberties - or for anything else for that matter. There is a mood afoot in our education establishment, as well as in the media, which holds that fighting, for any reason, is bad, and that "violence never settles anything." It is interesting to speculate upon whether these people are wicked or just catastrophically ignorant. Fighting in a just cause is not only permissible, it is admirable, and our examples can take us back to Moses and beyond.

But we have to understand just where we do stand, and this congressional battle with the Schumers and the Feinsteins and the Lautenbergs, and the Clintons, must establish that they are the declared foes of that lady who stands there holding the lamp above the golden door. Change one letter and we have her proper title - "The Statute of Liberty" - The Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

Is the America of George Washington, John Adams, Ben Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and George Patton truly worth fighting for? Are you prepared to fight for it? Patrick Henry was.

One of the first things one notices about the European scene is the tidal wave of Japanese. Every time you turn around, there are 317 Japanese that you had not seen before. (I counted.) They are not offensive, since they are well-mannered and travel in buses, but they certainly use up tourist space. I cannot imagine what they do with all the pictures they take. There cannot be enough wall space in Japan to accommodate the art work. This means that if you intend going any place in particular, better make your reservations a year in advance.

Our principle professional object was to see about a new and radical sighting system for the Scout Rifle. I do not mean to criticize the excellent Leupold glass that is now fitted to the Scout. Mine has served me very well for a couple of years, and one might well advance the classic quote, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." This approach does not satisfy me, however, for while contemporary telescope sights of high quality do indeed give good service, their designers have been tireless in improving characteristics which do not need much improvement, such as field of view.

Where currently available telescope sights fall short are in the areas of honesty and durability. An "honest" telescope does what you tell it every time you move its adjusting knobs, either in plane or in direction. Too few examples now available do that. Secondly, the sight reticle must not come adrift in the middle of a hunt, it has happened with me three times, and to my friends many more than that. I believe there should be no moving parts inside a telescope sight. There is no need at all for variable magnification, and changes in reticle position inside the glass are so minute as to be almost beyond the reach of currently practical technical competence.

Hence we went to Kahles and Swarovski with the suggestion of building a completely simple scope tube, and leaving the sighting adjustments up to the mount. This system has been tried before, notably by Bausch & Lomb in the US some thirty years ago. The difficulty of bringing an optical and a mechanical solution to bear upon the same instrument by the same company seems to have been very serious. Neither Kahles nor Swarovski accepted any notion of building a scope mount which included both lateral and vertical adjustments, but the people at Steyr Mannlicher have put one of their best engineers on this problem, and I think we may see progress here. The result should be an extremely strong, compact sight riding in a low, compact mount. The increased cost of the mount ought to be compensated for by the simplicity of the glass itself.

The foregoing ideas were brought into harmony in this last month. All hands involved agreed that the ideas were distinct improvements. The only question to arise was the general marketability of radical ideas. The obvious success of the Steyr Scout rifle is evidence that radical ideas do not necessarily repel the customer. (Whoever thought that one could sell a small automobile with a horizontally opposed air-cooled engine in the back. Ridiculous!)

I am optimistic, but then I am optimistic by nature. We must now wait and see.

D-Day came and went without any particular fanfare, which is yet another commentary upon the state of our society. World War II may be considered as a watershed in American history. We were a different people before it, and we certainly have become a different people since. At Midway the war in the Pacific was decided, though this was not apparent to us who were fighting it at the time. When we secured a viable beachhead on the continent of Europe, the European war was decided. This again would probably not be appreciated by the people who were fighting it. These were turning points, and nothing much of importance has happened since, apart from the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It is said that those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it. It is also said that those who do not read are no better off than those who cannot read. The overall situation does not promise much, but that does not mean that we should not enjoy the good things we have while we have them. So let's get at it!

Guru say: You are "outgunned" only if you miss.

Pistolcraft is an amalgamation of weapon, cartridge, shooter, skill, and attitude. It is nice to have a good weapon, but unless you can shoot it and are mentally equipped to do so, its mechanics are irrelevant. Back in the 50s we attempted to study this matter by means of practical experiment, but a large measure of the experiment failed. It was discovered that only hobbyists are really interested in this, and hobbyists do not constitute a viable commercial market. Thus we can now observe very little progress in the mechanical side of pistolcraft, and almost none on the human side. Competition has gone far astray, becoming almost meaningless. It is dangerous to assert that we have nothing left to learn on this subject, so I will not assert it, but I remain unconvinced that we are any better in charge of the subject of personal self-defense as we approach the 21st century, than we were back before Vietnam. Of course, personal self-defense, is illegal in Britain now, and there are many who would like to make it so in the United States. That does not affect people of wisdom.

We hear a curious story from what used to be German Southwest Africa of a park attendant who was scarfed up by a lion while his tourist group watched in dismay. They reportedly agonized that they could not do anything about it. To us old folks it would seem that the simple answer would be for one of them to have shot the lion. Objections to that notion are not going to be entertained by this court.

We fired the 376 Steyr cartridge at Hirtenberg. Very satisfying! The factory insists upon calling this the "376 Scout," contrary to my advice, but that is no great disaster. People seldom pay much attention to what they are saying. The 376 as we fired it is of Scout configuration, and a very fine piece it is, but it is unnecessarily powerful for general use, and I do not believe that its ammunition will ever become easily available worldwide. Its recoil is the same as that of the 350 Remington Short Magnum, as fired in the Remington 600 and 660. This may dismay the novice or the recoil-shy, but it will not bother any experienced rifleman. At 260-grains at 2600f/s it is about one click short of the 375 Holland (270 at 2700). I doubt if the target will be able to tell the difference. In Scout configuration it is so light, handy and comfortable that it is truly a delectable item. It should not, however, be considered a deer gun, as it is more suitable for animals in the thousand-pound range. As established by its precursor, the Remington Fireplug, it should be just about perfect for moose, the big bears, eland, lion, and bison. It is a bit much for the anti personnel role of the true Scout. I was a bit dubious about its market appeal when the issue was first raised, but it is so much fun to shoot, now that we have it, that our doubts are well dispelled.

We invite edification on the subject of the difference between "iron" and "steel." On two occasions when we were being given conducted tours of steel plants, we raised this question with the tour guide - to no avail. Basically it appears that if you do anything with iron to improve its utility, you have made it into steel. However there is such a thing as "malleable cast iron," which may refute this notion. We need help from the audience.

In discussing telescope sights with both Kahles and Swarovski, we note that the proper technique of the telescope sight is not widely understood. The binocular use of the instrument ("track with the left, shoot with the right") is not any great advantage in slow-fire, and practically all rifle shooting is slow-fire. Those who have been to school, however, understand that the quick shot with the rifle is a skill readily acquired, and tremendously satisfying to the shooter, regardless how seldom he may use it in the field. In that regard, note that if you are conspicuously left-eye-dominant you can overcome this by placing a 10mm spot of masking tape in the center of the lens of your left shooting glass for training and practice. Daughter Lindy discovered this on her own, but I had not known about it during Gunsite Orange days, and it is not in the book.

In Austria we were informed that there are between 35 and 50 Steyr Scouts in Kosovo.

It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So in the Scout concept we are appropriately flattered. We now note people selling all sorts of things which approximate the Scout, for less money. It must be obvious, nonetheless, that putting a supercharger on a Volkswagen does not make it a Porsche. The philosopher John Ruskin once pointed out that there is hardly anything in the world that some manufacturer cannot make worse and sell for less. The result is, of course, sucker bait.

We were greeted in the Alps by our long-time good friends, the Marc Heims, who showed up with a bottle of champagne, a bottle of Jack Daniels, and a wheel chair. Now that is a marvelous manifestation of hospitality! I do not know that I can call it typically Swiss, but it is conspicuously genteel. Not much of that sort of thing around anymore. On top of that I was offered a pistol to carry, if I so chose. That is a touch that few would understand, and fewer could grant. It is great to know the right people.

In Provence we were whisked about by Jean-Pierre Denis in his Mercedes CLK. Now there is a gentleman of taste!

With all this journalistic handwringing about the dreadful state of violence in the world, both public and private, we come back to the recurring question of why men fight. At a previous Gunsite Reunion our colleague Finn Aagaard stated flatly his answer. "Men fight because they like to fight." That really should settle the question, but I doubt that it will.

We have now heard people complain about the fact that the bipod on the Scout clicks when it is deployed, this noise evidently alerting the target. From where I sit it seems that if you are close enough to your target so that he can hear the click, you do not need a bipod. However, the factory says it is going to improve the device with a softer click. They also plan to rubberize the bipod tips.

Has anyone noticed how few men of consequence today are men of consequence? It is very hard to point out an example of someone who would have any stature if he were not a politician or an entertainer. In American history I can think of Washington, Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and Theodore Roosevelt. About there the line stops, unless I make an exception of Joe Foss. In Provence I saw a sketch of the Emperor Charles V, who was in the process of killing a fighting bull from horseback with his lance, this in celebration of the birth of his son and heir. He was the Holy Roman Emperor, and he felt that it was necessary for him to demonstrate that he was also a man. Imagine what dismay would result if any one of our important people of today were to risk his tender body by driving at Indy or Le Mans, climbing the Eiger, running Hell's Canyon, or even flying his own airplane. We may be able to get Jesse Ventura to do something heroic during his term of office. It is worth a try.

It occurs to me that the people at Steyr Mannlicher, as well as those at Gun South, do not really understand what they have in the Scout rifle. It is not just another item on the shelf, but rather a "great leap forward." The trouble is that only shooters can appreciate this, and almost no industrialists are shooters. Well, it is there, and that fact alone gives me great pleasure. I cannot say that I designed it, but I did conceive it, and that is a Great Good Feeling.

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