Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 13, No. 5          May 2005

85th Birthday

One's 85th birthday is not an occasion for special celebration. The "indignities of age" must be suffered with the best possible spirit, considering the alternative.

The excellent firsthand reports we continue to receive from the sandbox are far more encouraging than one would suspect from the general tenor of the public press. The main thing that the media choose to comment about is the butcher's bill for our side. Certainly we have been taking casualties, and every man's death is a disaster for him and his family, but that is not the measure of success or failure in war - and we are at war. We have been stacking the Arabs in satisfactory fashion in all engagements. It is infuriating indeed for our people to be killed by crude destructive devices planted at random by the enemy, but we have been improving our box score steadily and should take such satisfaction as is deserved thereby. The whining repetition of queries about when we are coming home are properly countered by the obvious statement - "When we have won!" When Michelangelo was working on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, he was continually nagged by the Pope as to when the painting would be finished. And his answer, of course, was "When it is finished!"

Having fought in a couple of wars myself, I do not remember anyone asking us when we were coming home. It seemed obvious that our answer was "When we have won!" It is not practical to set forth a given date or territorial objective as a measure of victory. The thing is to keep the pressure on and build up the box score until we have finished what the Arabs started at 9/11. I remember the war cry repeated to us from the home front - "We're in it, let's win it!" It seems a good idea to repeat that now. We're in it, let's win it, and we won't be back `til it's over over there.

The 45 Short introduced by Glock seems to be a pretty good idea. If the powder space is there we might as well use it and profit by resulting compactness. I do not intend to rush out and buy a 45 GAP, since I have a couple of very serviceable full-size 45s now. Besides which, I am no longer combat ready. Additionally, there is very little combat taking place in my immediate zone of operations at this time. This is not to say, of course, that the central scene is all sweetness and light in all parts of the world. We should remind ourselves that O.J. Simpson and Lon Horiuchi are still running around free, and the people who rubbed out Vince Foster have yet to be properly identified. So much time has elapsed between Vince Foster's murder and the present that it is possible that his murderers have by this time left us. But the world continues on its rough-shod way, and all careful people of whatever nationality or combat status will continue to be properly alert and properly conditioned.

It is interesting to learn that the new importer of Steyr equipment is now offering a single-shot sporting rifle in caliber 50 BMG. It is hard to come up with a purpose for such a piece, but as with so many grown men's toys, the purpose of the instrument is simply to have something that nobody else has. The 50 BMG cartridge is an item of strikingly limited utility, but a man need not be troubled by questions about what things are for. If he wants it he might as well have it, as long as he can afford it. Those of us who have used the 50 BMG in the field usually have great affection for it, though under circumstances we would prefer not to see repeated. I guess we should not get too serious about these things. I once saw a defunct Japanese Zero which had been shot out of the air by one round of 50 BMG. Oddly enough it was almost unhurt, except for a half-inch hole through its vitals. One of its 20mm canon, its oil cooler, its starboard side landing gear, and its landing flaps were defunct, but apart from accompanying cuts and scratches it was pretty close to air worthy. Nobody, however, volunteered to fire it up and fly it away.

It is always interesting to explore the motivation of the hoplophobe, although philosophical results are seldom satisfying. I have pretty well settled on envy as the fundamental element in the discussion. A man who cannot cope envies and therefore dislikes the man who can. Family member T.J. Johnston feels that the far-out liberals who fancy the nanny state like to think of the government as a benevolent father, rather than the fearful master described by the Father of the Our Country. It does seem sometimes that the current beneficiaries of the political liberties secured for us by our Founding Fathers are not up to the gift they have been given - The Gift of Liberty (which is not to be confused with freedom). I repeat for the next time, but not the last time, that freedom is a physical condition, whereas liberty is a political ideal, something we cannot say often enough. Whatever the State can do for you, it can also do to you. The struggle continues and will not go away.

The speed of the second shot can be overemphasized. Unless you are repelling hordes of howling savages coming over the wall, you have ample time for a second shot, which, of course, you should not need if you delivered the first shot properly. Since we now almost universally enjoy self-loading actions, we do not have any particular need for instantaneous number two. On the occasion of my double on buffalo, I was able to work the bolt in the time it took to recover from recoil, which is noticeable in the case of the 460. The old time elephant hunters generally preferred the quick second shot afforded by the double rifle, but whether they needed it remains an open question.

One thing which has incurred since the advent of the self-loading rifle is improper bolt work. The military no longer trains on bolt work, having no bolt rifles to work with, and this means that "short-stroking" can cause trouble. If you do not withdraw the bolt all the way manually, you may not pick up the next round, with the result that you get a click instead of a bang on your second squeeze. This happened with my late, great friend, Dr. Albert Pauckner, and his day was saved by the back-up rifle of his partner. Vigorous bolt work should be emphasized in current rifle training. Instructors should insist that students show that bolt no mercy, either in practice or in action. The short-stroke can get you killed, and this point should be made quite clear to all students of rifle work.

On the subject of proper bolt work, we should point up the outstanding achievements of Shooting Master Marc Heim of Comano, Switzerland. Marc, as you know, once broke four out of five flying clay birds with his Steyr Scout. What you may not know is on that occasion he recovered from a miss by working the bolt instantaneously and catching the bird before it got away. Now that is good trick! Note that Marc used the so-called butter knife bolt-handle of the Mannlicher action, rather than the pingpong-ball arrangement which has been showing up in over-the-counter items. Hereabouts we have access to four of the Zedrosser/Bilgeri actions, all of which disdain the pingpong-ball in favor of the more traditional bolt-handle.

The more we use the Steyr Scout (and its somewhat more muscular cousin the 376 Dragoon) the more we admire it. It is a sweet and lovely instrument, though it cannot be fully appreciated until it is taken afield and used under field conditions. One of the exasperating conditions I face with this extreme old age is that I am not able to take either Scout or Dragoon afield and enjoy the results of the advanced thinking in these rifles.

In the material coming back from Iraq we are now amused to hear that a private is now a specialist, the rifleman is now a sniper, and a sergeant is probably something else.

People are still falling into the error of bragging about shots they should not have taken. It is not how far away your animal was, but how close you were able to get. Generally speaking, no shot attempted beyond 300 meters on a game animal should be exemplified. If you can get closer, get closer. Possibly the old Indian custom of counting coup might be revived. If you can get close enough to a white tailed deer or a Rocky Mountain bighorn to slap him with the flat of your hand, you have really achieved the remarkable.

Several times over the past couple of decades I have enjoyed the "catch and release" system in the field, thus copying the achievement of the trout fisherman. The idea is to place yourself in a position where when the opportunity offers you carefully extract the cartridge from the chamber and press the trigger on an empty. If you are a good rifleman you know where that shot went, or where it would have gone if it had been hot. I have taken three lions that way, and where I do not feel this is going to replace the actual hunt, it certainly affords distinct pleasure. It will not work on a pachyderm, because you are never quite sure of the bullet's travel inside that beast once it's hit. It does, however, work very well on medium game, and it increases the amount of pleasure you may get from any single hunting trip.

It is a great pleasure to hear that the giant sable has been rediscovered in Angola. This beast was thought to have been extinct for some time, but these new reports are apparently authentic, which is great, good news.

Back when I was on active duty I rather enjoyed packing a swagger stick, which was a prescribed item of uniform on or about the turn of the 20th century. General Shoup all but prohibited it when he was Commandant of the Marine Corps, and I think there was a certain amount of dash lost because of this. I see nothing wrong with dash as a feature of the proud warrior. It is obviously out of fashion at this time, but a lot of good things are out of fashion which probably should not be. General Shoup disliked the swagger stick, but General Hanneken did not. I also remember General Cates carrying his, and I leaped happily into the breach when I made major and was therefore entitled to the extra swank contributed by the scrambled eggs on the bill of the dress cap - and the swagger stick. The five elements of the soldier are: skill at arms, discipline, hardihood, valor, and pride, and a warrior should be proud of himself and his profession. He will do better duty for it.

Shooting Master John Gannaway reports a neat one-shot stop on a hippo by way of the 376 Steyr, using the 300-grain solid. I do not think it is the best policy to use any medium cartridge on pachyderms, but that does not mean that they cannot work very well in the hands of good shots. Gannaway, of course, is a master marksman.

Our granddaughter Amy Heath, who lives in New York City, aspires to membership on the board of directors of the National Rifle Association. I cannot look at this project objectively, since we are most impressed by this lady and her manifold accomplishments. Her résumé is impressive in several different aspects, since she has not only been instrumental in the organization of women's shooting activities in New York City and state, but is also a fully qualified marksman with both rifle and pistol, and a seasoned big game hunter. Her endorsement is limited to 150 words by regulation, and it will be very hard to cut it down to that. Be that as it may, we take this opportunity to inform the family that we welcome their signatures on her petitions.

"Voting is a civic sacrament which should not be exercised carelessly."

Bill Buckley

The obvious decline in public and civic morality, which we see going around us, has several sources, and unfortunately they are all working together. The loss of history in the schools is certainly a major factor here. If we do not know how we got here, we have no way of assessing those qualities which made it possible. Consider the line in the song, "When brother died on Bunker Hill, my mother said to me, `Go get your gun and join the men who fight for liberty.'" I do not think many young men today can tell you what the issues were at Bunker Hill, and yet such things are vital to us as a nation if we are to take any pride in our position as the sole remaining world power. The united states of America are not defined by a political boundary or a line in the sand, but by an ideal which developed in the minds of people who knew what they were talking about and what they were fighting for.

But the failure of the schools is only part of this. Possibly more important is the institution of television, which invites parents to relinquish the moral guidance of their offspring to a host of commercial hucksters who cater to the lowest common denominator. Parents who turn their children over to the tube rather than discussing the issues of the day at the dinner table, should not be surprised if their children have no idea about what is going on. The situation is bad, but I do not think it hopeless. There are still parents with a conscience in today's world and do feel the responsibility they have for the character of the world forthcoming. It is a duty of a morally responsible parent to introduce the notion of reading for pleasure to these children. Reading is not something you do, or should do, in order to pass a test, but rather something to entertain you and show you the way of the world in all its aspects. The thought is not lost. I know several young people who read for pleasure, and I invite them to take advantage of our library here at Gunsite. We are, of course, pretty remote but we are not the only source of good reading. Once a youngster can be shown how much sheer fun there is in learning about the adventure of man, we may be able to get the show back on the track. Whether we can or not, it is our duty to make the effort.

If you are interested in a very simple and yet effective test of rifle marksmanship, try shooting at a cigarette mounted vertically at a range of 10 yards and shooting from off-hand. It seems that this was another common test sometime ago in the southeast. It is simple to arrange and surprisingly demanding.

We have yet to receive any reports of the use of the leopard light on the Steyr Scout. We do not shoot at night in these parts, so the opportunity does not present itself much. Still, however, if anybody has used the leopard light on the Scout, I would like to hear about it.

Is there truly a use for a defensive firearm against dangerous animals? Generally speaking, the only circumstance which we can call to mind here would be defense against the big bears. Both the big pistol and the shotgun are suggested, but neither is really handy. The shotgun works fairly well, provided a properly designed slug is used and the range is kept under 20 yards.

It is, of course, quite possible to hit a big animal at ranges up to a 100 yards with a good shotgun, but penetration can be a problem. Beyond very short range, the heavy hair, hide and muscle of a big bear are apt to throw the projectile back at the shooter. A big pistol (44 Mag and up) will do fairly well at ranges up to 50 yards, assuming the shooter is up to the task. As in most such questions, the answer lies with the user rather than his instrument. A properly designed medium rifle, well set up, is better than either pistol or shotgun, but ease of use always makes for a problem. Packing a rifle around is not always handy.

We repeat the dates for the Reunion this year at Whittington. They are 23 through 25 September. Arrange your schedules and make your reservations now.

It may be unseemly to sound heartless about military service, but it should be noted that when you go to war, coming home is not your objective. When you go to war, victory is your objective, and I did not even know that there was such a thing as a rotation policy in World War II until I was astonished to get my orders stateside after 30 months on the line. The objective in any war at any level is the destruction of the enemy and his capacity to make war. This is a grim assignment, but war is a grim proposition. It is our business now to make that clear to the Arabs who have handed the matter to us without asking.

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