Friday, October 21, 2016


We frequently discuss here the power and performance of the rifle in a variety of esoteric ways that can be measured precisely with concrete numbers and in technical terms; caliber in hundredths of an inch, bullet weight in grains, velocity in feet per second, energy in foot-pounds, trajectory and deflection in inches, and accuracy in Minutes-of-Angle.
 The ultimate book on the subject; The Art of the Rifle by Jeff Cooper

However, a good rifle…in good hands…also represents a different sort of power, difficult if not impossible to quantify or measure technically. Properly handled, the rifle empowers the individual with such things as confidence, courage, and strength. The rifle in skilled hands can make a man master of all he surveys, man or beast, at least out to “the rifleman’s quarter mile” or the “hale half kilometer.” As Colonel Jeff Cooper put it in To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth, “The basic attribute of the rifle is reach. A powerful rifle enables a man to reach ‘way out past Fort Mudge’ and strike a blow that will stop not only a man but a truck or a horse dead in its tracks.” The combination of a good rifle and rifleman need not fear the teeth and claws of the natural predator nor the evil intentions of lesser men.
 Skill with the rifle brings with it deep obligations and responsibility, for the power of the rifle, as with any form of power, can and has been abused. “The only real power comes out of a long rifle,” said no less authority on the subject than Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, and he was echoed by Chairman Mao’s adage that, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
Fortunately, a good rifleman tends to possesses the inner strength and fortitude to negate the temptation of abusing the rifle’s power. As President Theodore Roosevelt saw it, "A good shot must necessarily be a good man since the essence of good marksmanship is self-control and self-control is the essential quality of a good man." British small arms expert W. W. Greener concurred: "Rifle-shooting, in any and every form of competition, calls for the exercise of all the qualities that most ennoble a man--determination, self-possession, faith, self-confidence, admiration for the achievements of others." Neither sheep nor wolf, the ideal rifleman serves by his very presence to stand guard over his own and his nation’s liberties.
From the very beginning of the United States of America, the Founding Fathers understood the unique influence the gun can have upon the individual who can skillfully yield it. When Thomas Jefferson advised a young college student as to the importance of daily exercise, he wrote, “As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind.”
In Colonial New England at the time of the American Revolution, it was the smoothbore musket that was found in every home and the rifle remained virtually unknown. When the companies of volunteer riflemen led by men such as Michael Cresap and Daniel Morgan arrived from the distant frontiers the capabilities of the rifles and the men who wielded them made a big impression.
The creation of German and Swiss gunsmiths who emigrated primarily to what is now Lancaster County, the weapons in question were then known as Pennsylvania Rifles and would eventually be called Kentucky Rifles. Both names fall under the catch-all term of American Long Rifle. Author John Dillon called it, “…a rifle which changed the whole course of world history; made possible the settlement of a continent; and ultimately freed our country of foreign domination.”
 The American Long Rifle

As for the men behind the rifles, Charles Lee, a major general in the Continental Army, wrote enthusiastically, “The frontier riflemen will make fine soldiers…their amazing hardihood, their methods of living so long in the woods without carrying provisions with them, the exceeding quickness with which they can march to distant parts, and, above all, the dexterity to which they have arrived in the use of the rifle gun. There is not one of these men who wish a distance less than 200 yards or greater object than an orange. Every shot is fatal.”
After observing a demonstration of the frontiersmen’s rifle shooting prowess, a correspondent for the Pennsylvania Packet opined, “With their rifles in their hands they assume a kind of omnipotence over their enemies.”
          The Gunner’s Guru, the late, great Colonel Jeff Cooper understood the magic and the power of the rifle better than most, noting that, “The rifle is the queen of weapons and its effective use is one of the greatest satisfactions available to man.”
          “A really good rifleman, with a really good rifle in his hands, is a man of stout heart. He knows what he can do and he looks down upon those who cannot do the same.”
Theodore Roosevelt also understood and frequently commented on this. “To my mind there is no comparison between sport with the rifle and sport with the shotgun. The rifle is the freeman’s weapon. The man who uses it well in the chase shows that he can at need use it also in war with human foes.”
“Shooting well with the rifle is the highest kind of skill, for the rifle is the queen of weapons; and it is a difficult art to learn.”
Mister Rifleman himself, Colonel Townsend Whelen, observed in 1932 that, “A good rifleman, plus a good rifle, will shoot straight, see straight, think straight and will run our country straight.”
Early outdoorsman Horace Kephart called the rifle a “noble weapon” which he credited with a mystique that, “entices its bearer into primeval forests, into mountains and deserts untenanted by man.”
Jack O’Connor, in The Rifle Book, said, “To me the rifle has always been the most romantic of all weapons, and of all rifles the one I love most is the rifle for big game… Because I love rifles and because I love wilderness country I have carried my rifles all over the North American continent, from the hot, dry, barren sheep mountains of northwest Sonora to the glaciers of the Yukon.”
In 1920, Charles Winthrop Sawyer wrote, "Rifles are the average man's Alladin's lamp; they bring elating thoughts of out-of-doors, by their appearance suggesting sunshine and cloud-shadows, wooded hills against the sky and watered verdant valleys, wind against tanned cheek and leaping blood and eager chase in wilderness adventure."
"A rifle is a stimulator, a companion that brings a sense of safety, and a magician that confers wonderful and unlimited power."
Although primarily associated with the British Royal Navy from his Horatio Hornblower series of books, author C.S. Forester also understood the rifle, the rifleman and their combined capabilities, espousing upon the theme in excellent novels like Rifleman Dodd and Brown on Resolution.
“But Brown was only powerful in consequence of his rifle; the handiest, neatest, most efficient piece of machinery ever devised by man. Not for the first time was the rifle altering the course of history. Brown was not a marvelously good shot…but he could handle his weapon in good workmanlike fashion; and the rifle asks no more.”
Military historian John Keegan also understood the importance of the rifle and its influence upon the individual rifleman as well. “The musket, like the uniform livery of the dynastic armies that used it, was a mark of servitude. So short was its range that its effect could be harnessed to battle-winning purposes only by massing the musketeers in dense rank, and keeping them ‘closed up’ at pike-point. The rifle, by contrast, was a weapon of individual skill… as Thomas Carlyle put it, ‘the rifle made all men tall. A rifleman was as good as any man.’”
Militarily, the United States Marine Corps has understood this tenant since prior to the First World War. In that conflict, the prowess of U.S. Marines with their Model 1903 Springfield rifles shattered German attacks at long range and led the American Expeditionary Force’s commander, General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing to state, “The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle.”

"The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle."

Institutionally, every Marine, no matter his or her technical position, is a rifleman first. Early in the Second World War, this doctrine was enhanced when Major General William H. Rupertus penned the Rifleman’s Creed, which is to this day memorized by all US Marines during recruit training.

“This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
          My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.
Without me, my rifle is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must
fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will...
          My rifle and I know that what counts in war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit...
          My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel. I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will...
Before God, I swear this creed. My rifle and I are the defenders of my
country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life.
So be it, until victory is America's and there is no enemy, but peace!”

USMC Raider Brigadier General Merritt Edson explained, “It is the rifle that ultimately takes ground, and it is rifle fire that holds it after it’s taken, by throwing back enemy counter-attack. The man with the rifle is the man who wins wars; and accurate rifle fire from individual riflemen is the most effective factor on any battlefield.”
Another WWII leader, General Joseph “Lightning Joe” Collins, while serving as US Army Chief of Staff, also understood this. "The primary job of the rifleman is not to gain fire superiority over the enemy, but to kill with accurate, aimed fire."
Beginning during the Korean War and escalating through Vietnam and Desert Storm, the US Army at times lost its way when it came to individual rifle marksmanship, a hard-won skill requiring much practice, so the powers that be sought to replace it with technology and sheer volume of fire. Jeff Cooper termed the effort, “If you can’t shoot well, shoot a lot.” The practice of swatting flies with a sledgehammer, and the inevitable collateral damage that goes with such a concept, became the norm and for a distressingly long time individual small arms were treated as little more than an afterthought. The Global War on Terror soon showed that leveling an entire apartment block to silence a single sniper did more harm than good in the long run and brought back the importance of the individual soldier’s skill with his rifle, which can be wielded with the precision of the surgeon’s scalpel against individual enemies, as noted by 11B Captain Daniel Morgan in Infantry Magazine.
"Marksmanship is the core of excellence for an infantry soldier. Their proficiency in killing wins the battle. The more you suppress a target without killing or wounding the enemy, the bolder he becomes in attacking you. You need to train your soldiers to aim, fire, and kill."
            Beyond its military, hunting and sporting attributes, the rifle also carries with it a certain moral authority in that it stands as the last line of defense when it comes to insuring freedom and democracy against the clutches of tyranny.
Understanding only too well the value of liberty as an escaped slave, the brilliant abolitionist orator Frederick Douglass noted, "A man's rights rest in three boxes: the ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box."
The great Lakota Sioux warrior and holy man Sitting Bull said, “I wish it to be remembered that I was the last man of my tribe to surrender my rifle.”
Mahatma Gandhi went so far as to say, “Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the act of depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest.”
Famous for penning tales of bleak, dystopian futures that would come to by synonymous with his name, novelist George Orwell wrote, "That rifle on the wall of the labourer's cottage or working class flat is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there."
Edward Abbey of The Monkey Wrench Gang fame once wrote, “The rifle is the weapon of democracy. If guns are outlawed, only the government will have guns. Only the police, the secret police, the military. The hired servants of our rulers. Only the government—and a few outlaws. I intend to be among the outlaws.”
John Steinbeck explained, in The Grapes of Wrath, “And the rifle? Wouldn’t go out naked of a rifle. When shoes and clothes and food, when even hope is gone, we’ll have the rifle. When Grampa came here—did I tell you?—he had pepper and salt and a rifle. Nothing else. That goes.” 

Once again, Jeff Cooper espoused this ideal most succinctly. “Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen.”

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