Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 11, No. 1          February 2003

0 Three


Certainly we enter upon a banner year, from any aspect. One hundred years ago the Wright Brothers got us off the ground (with no help from the Prophet, may peace be upon him). And now we have walked upon the moon. Among that year's special notabilities, we have the great Springfield 03 rifle, which served as the pattern model for all such weapons to come. The "Springfield Sporter" was the proud possession of the senior big game hunter for many decades, and it was usually backed up by the innovative Mannlicher carbine, also of the year 1903. One wonders what sort of weaponry, if any, shall distinguish the year 2003. Our personal weapons have reached a state in which any conceptual improvement is hard to imagine. We have produced gadgets which will do almost anything for us that we may desire - with a couple of obvious exceptions. So we may well ask, where do we go from here?

If we can hardly improve upon our gadgetry, there are certainly many ways in which we can improve upon our performance, but improving one's performance is difficult, and the temper of the age appears to emphasize ease rather than excellence in operation. Perhaps an automatic football is the next thing we may expect, with which one may just punch in a touchdown and await results.

Without speculation we face a challenging year in 2003. May God grant that we measure up!

We were honored to attend the Scottsdale memorial services for Joe Foss, the last great man of the twentieth century. It was an inspiring occasion, and emphasized yet again that happiness is the by-product of accomplishment. Joe Foss was the definitive high achiever of his time. Everything he did, he did better than other people. All his life he was an enthusiastic marksman, and a marvelously good shot. I knew him only slightly, but I was able to verify this. I was able to furnish him with a superb sporting rifle, to his own specifications, and it was delightful to know that he used it delightfully well.

He was a great man, an obvious refutation of the proposal that all men are created equal, and all who knew him were enriched by the experience. May he rest in peace.

"There is no safety for honest men, except by believing all possible evil of evil men."

Edwin Burke, via Thomas Sowell

We have been running down this great 45 action story from Vietnam, and we discover the matter to be complicated. It seems that citation writers do not have to be especially competent in the details of the subject examined. The hero on the downed helicopter accordingly decks between one and 37 gooks, depending upon whose story you take. We will keep after this.

We were amused to see a news caption from the San Francisco Chronicle referring to the Steyr Scout as "a rare and expensive rifle made in Austria." I suppose these people refer to a Porsche as a "rare and expensive automobile made in Germany."

We all agree that every proper household must contain a 22. A rural household should properly have two such. What sort of 22 is a good subject for discussion. I tend to think first about a light, short, handy rifle, featuring a clean, light trigger pull and a good set of ghost-ring sights. If it is to be used principally as a trainer for the young, it should probably be a single-shot, though this is not a requirement. If a repeater is selected, my first choice would be for the classic Marlin 39 levergun, in a short-barrel version. Prewar production is preferable, both for quality of workmanship and absence of the questionable cross-bolt "safety". Any of the good bolt-action repeaters should do fully as well, but the levergun is a touch neater. A combination over/under 410/22 has much to recommend it, if you can find a good example.

Any of the good 22 handguns will give good service, but high quality is important. There are plenty of junk 22s around, but they do not suffice. Most of the self-loading 22s of good quality are too large and heavy for best service, but they will do well for range practice.

The classic house-22 was the Colt Woodsman. In my youth everybody had one, though there were more six-inch models in evidence than four-inch. The Woodsman was superceded by Bill Ruger's excellent version of the same weapon. It was every bit as good as the Woodsman, and it cost less. Ruger's aluminum Single-Six, in Peacemaker configuration, is an especially fine house gun, if you can find one with a good trigger, but maybe the best of the lot in theory is the Walther PPK and its clones. This is a self-loader, of course, and thus regarded askance by various sorts of regulators. It does not usually feature good sights, but that can be corrected. The new model Walther, called simply PP, is improved in many ways.

We must bear in mind that the 22 rimfire weapon must not be dry fired, lest its firing pin burr the mouth of the chamber. (A piece so abused may be easily de-burred, however, with a good quality penknife.)

I wish to point out firmly that I do not recommend the 22, either rifle or pistol, as a primary house defense gun. As a couple of readers have suggested, it will do for lack of anything better, in cool hands, but its primary purpose is not combat shooting. It is a recreational and utilitarian device to be used for the training of the young and the leaning down of the varmint population. Also it is a very satisfactory pot shooter in jurisdictions where small game may be legally taken for the table. For whatever purpose, you must have one. There over the kitchen door it is the evidence of a well run household.

The surest evidence of celebrity is being misquoted in the public press. We must bear that in mind.

According to George Mason, all mature American citizens are members of the militia. A well regulated militia should be composed of people qualified with the current individual arm of the United States services. This is the M16. Accordingly, everybody should be checked out with this weapon. The fact that it is capable of fully automatic fire may be a horrible idea to the hoplophobes, but I guess they will just have to face up to that.

"Political correctness is the oppression of the majority by the minority." Who said that?

Question: How many true believers does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: None. Allah will take care of the matter.

It has long been clear that when most shooters use the word "accuracy," they are more likely to mean "shootability," which is not the same thing. Absolute accuracy can only be determined by means beyond the reach of most casual gun owners, but some pieces are indeed easier to hit with than others. Most factory arms are more accurate, in the technical sense, than all but a few shooters can appreciate, but various good examples are indeed more shootable. I have had occasion to present rifles to two different celebrities, who upon practice reported back that their weapons were strikingly accurate. The feature I think they were appreciating was trigger-action. A really good trigger, which breaks lightly and cleanly without apparent motion, is the greatest single element of shootability. Such a trigger comes native on the Blaser R93, because it has no sear. However, the same action can be achieved on conventional triggers by careful mechanical effort. The first series of Steyr Scouts came over the counter with triggers set up at the factory to my standards. Various legalists subsequently decided that any trigger under about four-pounds weight constitutes a liability hazard. A good man can do very well with a poor trigger-action, but not as well as he might. This is especially obvious from unsupported positions. On a bench-rest it hardly matters.

"The love of violence is inherent in the human (male) spirit. The attempt to train it out of boys is both futile and immoral."

The Guru

I believe that rifle stocks are more useful on the short side. The proliferation of rear-mounted telescope sights, which is the primary cause of Kaibab eye, has led gunmakers to the erroneous idea that a long rifle stock will keep the glass out of your eye. It won't. The rearward (ocular) lens of a telescope sight should ride no farther to the rear than the rear curve of the trigger-guard. With the Scoutscope, of course, that ocular lens rides forward of the magazine well and avoids the problem entirely. The Scoutscope is thus also quicker to acquire.

A correspondent informs us that he can always print a cloverleaf with his pistol from 25 yards, off-hand. Such undiscovered mastery must be kept hidden lest this man be discovered by the enemy.

What is all this excitement about vaccination? In my youth everybody was vaccinated - most of us twice - and nobody ever fell ill on this account. And we did eliminate smallpox, which is a very evil affliction, almost entirely. Not being vaccinated because you might show a bad result is rather like not wearing a seatbelt because you might want to get out of your car in a hurry, a dangerous solution to an almost non-existent problem.

With all these "peacemaking" troops wandering around in blue helmets, we should point out that the classic American Peacemaker is the legendary Colt Single-Action Army revolver. The origin of that nickname is impossible to ascertain at this date, but it does indeed fit the subject. A fully armed society is a peaceful society, in largest measure. Scholarly investigations into the character of the "Wild West" discover that while individual animosity was occasionally settled in barroom brawls with sidearms, the streets of the towns were conspicuously peaceful, especially after dark, which is certainly more than you can say about what we have today.

To surrender one's personal weapon is to invite disaster. This has been obvious for so long and so often that there is probably a Greek word for the practice. If called upon to give up your gun by a superior force, you are faced with an evil choice, but if you retain it you at least retain your dignity. One thinks of the Fancher train, wherein the emigrants were assured that if they dropped their guns they would not be harmed. One thinks of Piet Retief, who was told that he and his people could not enter the presence of the king in possession of their arms. One thinks of the German Jews under Hitler - and one thinks of British street crime today.

In contrast one thinks of Hartmann, the all time high scoring fighter-pilot who, when asked to leave his pistol outside when being awarded his medal by Hitler, declaimed that "If the F├╝hrer doesn't trust me, I do not want his medal."
"Those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it."

Word from our man in Australia tells us that the current prime minister regards the American "gun culture" with horror. He is actively determined to disarm the Australian people, and dismally enough they seem inclined to accept his leadership. A hoplophobe is one who is neurotically obsessed with the idea that weapons possess a will of their own, and thus if people do not have access to firearms they will not be bad people. There have been bad people around for a lot longer than there have been guns. Morals are not a matter of mechanics.

It is hardly in line with the gun business, but we have been increasingly fascinated by this curious Hydrurga beast of the Antarctic rim. This is known as the "leopard seal," and as a voracious, one-thousand pound carnivore, he can be a pretty serious matter. A recent biological report maintains that the several attacks by Hydrurga upon people was motivated "more out of curiosity than aggressiveness." Just so. A carnivore is always curious about anything that may be good to eat - or maybe the beast simply wants to know your name, rank and serial number.

It is amusing to learn of these translation machines which now propose to solve all the world's communication problems. Years ago we were told of one which, when called upon to translate "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" into Russian, came up with "The ghost is ready but the meat is raw." There are still things beyond the reach of technology.

And now the Steyr Scout has been discovered to be an "assault rifle" in California. Before we moved thence we were under the impression that California was about to be washed into the sea. We made it just in time.

One custom gunmaker of stature has commented to me that the Steyr Scout has practically put him out of business. Naturally I am sorry to hear this, but I sought in the SS to achieve a product which would be ready for almost any task out-of-the-box without modification or addition; and that, of course, injures the customizer to the extent that it succeeds. The SS is not perfect - nothing is - but it is up there above 90 percent, and the fact that it is not available in left-hand version does not distress five-sixths of a population. The SS stands at the top of the list, as I hoped it would, for those who need or desire a general-purpose rifle. Its acceptance is hindered by the fact that most gun buyers do not use their weapons afield enough to appreciate excellence when they see it. So be it. Time will tell.

We hear that the Arabs missed a 757 on takeoff with two separate surface-to-air missiles. Thank God for the Koran!

A good friend of ours included the following passage in his Christmas letter. "As a PEO we outsource human resource functions and risk management for other companies." If this sentence had been translated into Greek I think I would understand it better - and I never studied Greek. This man is a Gunsite graduate and a good shot, and when he resorts to newspeak he shows how far I have been left behind.

We hear that Fred Wells, the distinguished rifle designer of Prescott, Arizona, is now producing a pilot version of the "700 BMG Improved," for those who have need of such a device. The line forms on the right.

We were asked by a correspondent to compare the stopping power of the 45-70 to that of the 30-06. Stopping power is too abstruse a subject for technical analysis, despite the many attempts, but I would estimate the 45-70 to be slightly superior on dangerous game at very short range (40 paces and under). I believe, however, that any difference is too slight to matter, assuming proper bullets in both cartridges. The 06, of course, is a much more versatile cartridge. It will operate with practical efficiency at ranges beyond those of the 45. Since dangerous game is normally taken up close, the superior practical range of the 06 may not be significant here, but it is a general-purpose cartridge, whereas today the 45-70 is a specialist tool. In Jim West's "Co-pilot" the 45-70 is a jewel for the big game guide, but there are not many of those. In any case, if you put the bullet in the right place, either round will do the job.

The bad news: Only 13 percent of American young men know where Iraq is.

The good news: Most of the them are US Marines.

Rumor has it that Remington is re-introducing a version of their excellent 600 carbine series. What is even better news is that they are introducing it in the excellent 350 Remington Short Magnum cartridge, which was a direct ancestor of the 376 Steyr. I have used the 350 SM extensively, and I have taken not only deer, but moose, zebra and lion with it. It is a very fine medium cartridge, and if makers do not understand that, it is their loss.

For people who are concerned about lead spray from steel targets, we point out that spray is distributed in a circular pattern perpendicular to the angle of impact. It goes up, down and sideways regardless of the aspect of the target. (You can test this by cardboard shrouding if you wish.) Thus nothing much is accomplished by slanting the target at minor angles. Eventually, of course, you will achieve ricochets, but target display will suffer.

In a lifetime of experimentation, we have discovered a great deal that newcomers are discovering again. One has but to ask.

Have you heard of the Denver Park fox? It seems that a bunch of polypragmatic theraphiles (now there is something to bite on!) discovered a red fox apparently marooned on floating ice in a park lake situated in downtown Denver. Wild alarm resulted. All sorts of government agencies were alerted and people charged around madly in all directions seeking community action for the rescue of the fox. After the uproar died down, it was discovered that this particular fox made a practice of sunning himself daily on floating ice in the park when it was available. He had the situation entirely in hand, which is more than you can say for the bambiists.

Crocodiles continue to be a hazard to human life in Australia, as well as the South Pacific. Their preferred prey, as you might suppose, is the tourist. In today's world, indigent tourists wander hither and yon with their backpacks and their sleeping bag totally devoid of bush knowledge.

During the holidays just past we were depressed by an occasional whiff of the anti-Christ, which we detected from time-to-time during the festivities. Christmas is a Christian holiday - see to the title - and the United States is a Christian nation, despite the efforts of the post-moderns to deny this. The Founding Fathers - those dead white males - were quite clear about this, and to the extent that we do not accept it we are unworthy of the nation they founded. Tolerance may be a virtue, but it is not unmitigated. Tolerance of sin is not a virtue. It may not be sinful to be un-Christian, but it is a start.

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