Lessons Learned From Col. Jeff Cooper

posted on May 20, 2020
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In Col. Jeff Cooper's armory, sitting with the legend himself, I suffered a negligent discharge—with words, not bullets.

It was bad enough that I committed a grievous English error, because I had been reading Cooper's books since the late 60s, riding my Schwinn Varsity a couple of miles from my house to the library in Clovis, Calif. When I bought my first pistol in 1987, it was a Colt 1911 in .45 ACP, just like the colonel carried.

In 1992, working as a TV reporter, I somehow convinced my station to do a story about Gunsite Academy. Bill Jeans, rangemaster at the time, ushered me into the inner sanctum.

Cooper was equally renowned for his precision with language, and he did not tolerate incompetence. In the armory, I asked him about his personal philosophy of self-defense.

He opened his mouth, but no sound came out. It took almost two agonizing seconds⁠—I timed it because I still have the video⁠—for him to speak.

"I am not sure of that sentence, 'A personal philosophy...' What's an impersonal philosophy?"

At that moment, I felt as tall as a .22 Long Rifle cartridge. But like all hard lessons, it stuck. Words are like ammo. Don't spray and pray.

I continued to learn from the colonel. I bought a used Tikka Scout, a .308 Win. with a Leupold 2.5X scope in front of the action. In his book, "To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth," Cooper praises this setup: "This forward mount, properly used and understood, is the fastest sighting arrangement available to the rifleman."

In 2017, on my friend's ranch in central California, I went pig hunting with Col. Craig Boddington. I had been reading his articles for years, and I'd also watched him on TV. I didn't want to screw up in front of him or my friend, Anthony Lombardo, even though Tony is used to it. So, of course, I missed shot after shot.

In the Jeep, I got pretty lonely in the back when the discussion focused on my rifle. There were two skeptics in the front seats who had me outgunned. 

Other shooters disagree with the scout concept, or have abandoned the idea, including the veteran hunter who sold me his Tikka. But an unconventional scope mount wasn’t causing me to jerk the trigger. Surprise Break, I heard Cooper whisper. Surprise Break.

Then I saw three pigs. Not trophies, but we were hunting for meat anyway. I picked the largest of the trio. My handload45.5 grains of Varget under a Nosler 150-grain E-Tipstaggered the big one. Boddington held off until I connected, then joined me with his .270 Winchester as we cleaned up.

"Great shooting, partner!" Boddington is so polite that I think he was just being kind, but I gratefully accepted the compliment.

I also have a forward-mounted scope on a 30-40 Krag that once belonged to my beloved Uncle Harry. Like the Tikka, this rifle isn't a true Scout. But Col. Cooper shared my admiration for the Krag, and I hope he would approve. When we rescue vintage guns from the back of our safes, we honor the past. The true innovators, such as Jeff Cooper, live on.

My video of the colonel's interview includes his famous mindset lecture. I shared it with some Gunsite grads. Wyoming's Ed Cassidy said it best: "I miss him every day."

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