Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 2, No. 7           3 June 1994

The Golden Joys, 1994

The Babamkulu Expedition was an occasion of unexampled magnificence - a broad mosaic of lapidary experiences which became so crowded together as almost to lose their individual characteristics. The exotic, the new, the wonderful, the exciting all happened so quickly and steadily that one's sensitivity circuits sometimes became overloaded. Pliny wrote, "Ex Africa semper aliquid novi," two thousand years ago. It must have been true then, for it is still true today. Babamkulu was an act impossible to follow.

This is not to say that one cannot do another African adventure, but only that one cannot step into the same river twice, and what one builds up in his memories may possibly never be approached again.

Most members of our gang kept a journal, and I will be enchanted to read as many of them as I can see, since what impresses "A" does not necessarily impress "B." Atop my own recollections, for example, stand the little kIipspringer "Bokkie" who delighted in head-banging with the guests, the baby rhino who wanted to adopt us, the platoon of wild dogs enjoying the comfort of the day-warmed asphalt with no fear of man, the mamba heaving one-third of himself erect as he went to Condition Red, the stately beauty of the mighty kudu, the quite unbelievable giraffe, and the joy of watching our grandchild distinguish herself both by her superb marksmanship and her astonishing physical stamina. I must not forget to mention the evil serenade of the hyena at our bush braai. "Hear me! Out in the dark beyond the fire, I wait. Hear me! You will all come to me - in the end." Almost you get up and walk out to meet him. Almost.

And that just scratches the surface!

I packed along the curious new Blaser R93 rifle. This was the first example delivered in the States and it drew a good deal of attention in South Africa. It is indeed a very choice arm, and while by no means a Scout, it is a pleasure to use. I must caution the perspective user, however, to practice with it before he takes it to the field - and not just on the rifle bench. Its controls are enough different from a conventional bolt-action gun that under stress a shooter who is not used to the weapon may cross himself up. I am writing up the R93 for publication.

I intend to write up the entire Babamkulu episode in proper length when I get the chance, but this quick study will have to do for now. It is enough to say that the Golden Joys of Africa are still there. For how long we cannot say, but as of now, they are still there.

Of the seven rifles, five were 30-caliber. Larry Larsen brought his Fireplug and Alvin Hammer used a 7x57. The favored bullet was the 180 Nosler partition, and we have no complaints about bullet performance. Every rifleman in the group was a good shot, having been qualified personally by me, and a good shot will have no trouble with a light rifle or anything up to but not including buffalo. One shot stops on wildebeest and zebra are uncommon, as these are two of Africa's toughest beasts, pound-for-pound. On this occasion, however, we had our share, generally at moderate ranges. A zebra shot squarely through the heart with a 308 will run about 200 steps before bleeding out. He may not run quite that far if the same blow is delivered with a heavier rifle, but I am not sure about this. Up in Rhodesia, a good while back, a saw a zebra shot squarely through the boiler room twice with a 458 soft-point and he ran about the same distance. Larry Larsen iced his zebra on the spot by breaking its neck with the borrowed Blaser 30-06 after his telescope came apart in the middle of the hunt. (Fortunately, Larry had taken official advice and had another telescope available at the ready.)

One of the nicest things about South Africa is the fact that one can wear his pistol at all times, with no trouble from the law. This makes for a very serene and comfortable atmosphere, which is missed immediately upon departure from the country. I did not wear my pistol when actually hunting, but at all other times during our tour. There was no cause for alarm, however, and I never sensed the electric tension that I recall from Central America or the Philippines. This is the way it should be, for "an armed society is a polite society," as we all know.

As it has been well put, "The first rule of gun-fighting is to have a gun." Most of the disasters we read about happen to people who did not understand this principle.

It was indeed sad to return to the States after a month's absence only to discover what silliness the silly Congress has been up to in our absence. That repeating rifle ban is not yet law and the fight continues. It is such a gross piece of silliness that it may well result to our advantage in the November elections. The silliness indicators for 1993 were up by 7.9 percent, and it looks like `94 is going to make things worse. Well, as `tis said, "People get the government they deserve." It does seem to work out that way.

Through the good offices of General Denis Earp, we were shown an attempt by Musgrave to produce a competition rifle for IPSC. This was in the form of a straight Musgrave Mauser in 308 mounted with a Tasco red dot sight high and forward. When we had all shot this weapon, the consensus was that while that red dot was indeed handy for coarse shooting at short range, it obscured the entire target at distance. If that red dot were superimposed upon a conventional reticle, however, it might have some advantages. Naturally we all had doubts about a fighting machine that needed a battery to make it work. The rule about batteries is that they are usually dead when you need them.

After our hunt at Engonyameni, up on the Crocodile River, we drove south to the battlefields of Natal, where we studied on the ground various heroic acts performed by dead white males - and dead black males. We explored the battle at Blood River, fought with flint locks against spears, on up through Isandhlwana, Rorke's Drift, Laing's Nek, Majuba Hill, Colenso and Spioen Kop, the last fought with M96 Mausers. Thus we got a clear and vivid picture of war as fought by individual riflemen, and to us, who are rifleman, it was perfectly fascinating. Majuba Hill, for example, was fought by British soldiers using Martini-Henry rifles against Boer farmers using, for the most part, Snyders. These weapons were black-powder single-shots of large caliber and low velocity. While the British had some support artillery along on the expedition, it did not see action on top of Majuba Hill, which was, therefore, a rifle action, fought largely man-against-man with approximately equal numbers on both sides. The action was a total victory for the farmer and a total defeat for the soldier, and restates the proposition that there is no substitute for the one-shot, one-hit technique.

It is all there in the books, of course, but we, as rifleman, found many little details which caused us to reflect that chroniclers are rarely warriors, and often get the details of war fairly well mixed up. The matter of range, especially, is the weakest part of any battle account, and yet, in a rifleman's war, range is absolutely critical. We were fortunately able to walk the ground and measure the ranges for ourselves.

After studying the battlefields at suitable length, the expedition broke up, with various members leaving for home while the remainder moved on to the delights of the Cape. Here we spent a week in the wine country, where we did all the regulation things, such as riding up to the top of Table Mountain, and driving down to the end of the world, where the wind titan was confined by the Gods after the victory at Olympus. We lived luxuriously throughout and had only a little trouble with food and water. The trouble with the food was there was too much of it and it was too good. Several members remarked after they rose from the table that they simply could not bear the thought of another meal (and they did not have to, until the next one.)

As to the water, our problem was that many of our people drank too much of it. It is my view that overindulgence in water can cause water-on-the-knee, water-on-the-brain, floating kidneys, and rusty pipes. South Africa is wine country, and to drink water there is to go against the advice of Saint Paul. In addition I think that over-much water interferes with proper eye-to-hand coordination. I am glad to report that I had no trouble of this sort.

At the Army base where we shot the Ratel, we noted that the weapon of choice for officers and NCOs was the 45 auto, carried cocked-and-locked. It appears that my teachings are taken more seriously outside the US than in.

Granddaughter Amy distinguished herself, as had her brother and sister, using the renowned "Sweetheart," previously known as Scout II. After ten years, it still remains the best general-purpose firearm we have seen, since the Mannlicher Scout project seems to be on indefinite hold.

In reading Marion Carl's new book, co-authored with Barrett Tillman, we are impressed by the General's firm conviction that only enthusiasts do things well. Since one cannot draft nor train enthusiasts, that poses a problem for the armies of the world. I gather that the general opinion is that only one fighter pilot in ten turns out to be a real fighter pilot, thus we have to train ten to get one. Perhaps this is true of marksmen, too.

When you consider the obvious difficulty of putting twelve people of different backgrounds, temperament, and age together into one expedition for a full month, you can see how delighted we were that things went so well. This smoothness was due to the extraordinary administrative skills of Barry Miller, our old friend from Durban, who was there to arrange everything without a hitch, from time of arrival to time of departure. Barry even arranged the weather, which was perfect from start to finish.

In the actual hunting, Danie and Karin van Graan, who own and operate Engonyameni Safaris hunting concession, were complete marvels of efficiency and tact. We wanted for nothing, every need was met without asking, the game was plentiful, and our accommodations were lush. To my considerable delight, I discovered that Danie has built a bar adjoining our quarters under the trees out over the water, which he has officially labeled "Cooper's Corner." As I sat there on the terrace, lacing up my boots in the cold, grey light of dawn, listening to the "Christmas Tree birds," I reflected that life cannot get any better than this.

The crowning glory, from the standpoint of the Countess and myself, was granddaughter Amy's rifle performance. Elmon, her Swazi tracker, told Danie flatly that Amy was the best shot he had ever seen - and he is no chicken, being the progenitor of various grandchildren. This was rather as if the coach of a major professional football team were to watch his grandson, playing on his team, win the Most Valuable Player award in the Super Bowl.

The conventional wisdom maintains that the "Big Five" of Africa are the elephant, the rhino, the buffalo, the lion, and the leopard. Older generations referred only to the Big Four, not considering the leopard to be in the top category.

To the current Big Five might well be added the hippopotamus - when taken on dry land. I have known a couple professional outfitters who claim that this sort of thing is too dangerous and they will not attempt it. So if confrontation is your kick, you might give that a thought. It is difficult to find a place where hippo can be legally taken and then to find an outfitter who will lead you to a dry land shot, but I have it in mind and it may indeed be possible. Note that Mozambique is collapsing into old-fashioned disorganization and contains many hippos.

Now then, I have considered the matter at some length and I propose a further Big Six for the collector, based upon the particularly choice nature of the trophy. This Big Six would include the Walia ibex, the mountain nyala, the bongo, the giant eland, the giant sable, and the situtunga. The man who can show prime examples of these six on his trophy wall is as yet unknown. For those who enjoy a really hard challenge, there is one.

Through the courtesy of our hosts I got a chance to fire the French 20mm gun which is the main armament of the Ratel, the extraordinarily efficient scout car used by the South Africans in the Angola War as a forward communication center for the famous G5 field gun. This is a very modern 20, with a surprisingly high cyclic rate of 800 rpm. This last feature is largely academic, since the only way to fire the piece effectively is in the semi-automatic mode. The Ratel is an armored personnel carrier somewhat reminiscent of the US Bradley, though it runs on wheels rather than treads, which makes it more suitable for African operation.

Only a little practice was necessary to demonstrate that once you have spotted on target with your coaxial machine-gun, the proper way to use the 20 is with a series of quick single shots delivered about half a second apart. In this mode it is easy to place all direct hits on the Sherman chassis we were using as target, whereas if bursts were used the result was some hits and some misses, with attendant wastage of ammunition. As with all vehicles of this sort, reloading ammunition is a tedious process and the gunner is well-advised to avoid wastage.

Curiously, this same principal applies to the use of hand-held automatic fire - an easy point to prove on the range, though not at all easy to get across to our legislators and commentators.

If I have anything to say about it - as I hope to - at the forthcoming Barcelona conference, it is going to be very difficult to build a special rifle for international competition, since that international competition will be so varied as to preclude specialization. Time will tell.

In that connection, we were interested to observe the results of the "Great Cultural Revolution," which took place in Africa in late April. The only result we could see to the election was the rescinding of the dress code for Parliament, which now allows a representative to represent his constituents in loin cloth and ostrich feathers, if that is his desire. One other change we did notice was the display of the new "gaboon banner" on every standard. The situation appears quite stable to an outsider at this time, but there is bound to be some sort of backlash when these poor deluded people find out that the instant wealth, leisure, and luxury promised them by ANC representatives are not immediately forthcoming.

It is true that the ANC platform calls for a number of steps which will be very difficult to enforce and would be better off left abandoned - such as one firearm per family. Mandela and Slovo must, to a certain extent, maintain their proper Marxist position in order to pacify the young activists on their team, and if lip service to Marxism is all that they really intend, the situation may show some promise. The people we talked to suggest that the new batch of legislators and officials are more easily bribable than the old, and thus may be kept in line by simply paying them off. Would that things were that simple in the US!

"Men who are looking for a safe thing should stay away from Africa."

Major Frederick Russell Burnham, in Scouting on Two Continents

"Three goblins gain entry to house and ask maid, at pistol point, where child is. Maid says that she doesn't know. Mother walks into room. Goblins ask mother. Mother tells them same. Second maid sees goblins and screams. Crowd gathers to see what's happening. Goblins fire to scare crowd away. Big mistake - most neighbors are military or security types. Goblins retreat into house and attempt escape across roof and out into street. First goblin is shot in leg and promptly beaten to death. Second goblin is shot in leg, beaten, and left for dead. (Made it alive to hospital; unknown if he lived.) Third goblin manages to make it to police where he falls on knees and begs officers to arrest him. Neighbors unhappy about arrest since it ruined their scores on goblin catching."

"Big difference in reactions between Americans and Guatemalans."

Thomas K. Graziano,
April 18, 1994,
Guatemala City, Guatemala

Only interested people are interesting.

The Guru

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