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Jeff Cooper: Father of Modern Handgun Shooting

The rifle has no moral stature, since it has no will of its own. Naturally, it may be used by evil men for evil purposes, but there are more good men than evil, and while the latter cannot be persuaded to the path of righteousness by propaganda, they can certainly be corrected by good men with rifles. – Jeff Cooper, Art of the Rifle

Whether you know it or not, if you’re a gun enthusiast, Jeff Cooper has influenced something about the way you shoot. Maybe it’s the way you place your feet, maybe it’s the way you hold your weapon, but something you do probably came from Mr. Cooper.

I’m confident in saying no other man has influenced small arms technique since someone decided a rifle needs to be in the shoulder. The man has influenced handgun technique in the U.S. military and law enforcement branches from local police to the FBI.

Born as John Dean Cooper in California on May 10, 1920, he was later called Jeff by his friends and the name stuck. Cooper attended Sanford University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

Jeff went on to join the Marine Corp as a commissioned officer a few months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, served in the Pacific theater, and later served again in Korea, retiring with a rank of lieutenant colonel.

Mr. Cooper started writing while he was in the service, writing twenty books and countless magazine articles for Guns and Ammo. Known for his informal, pull-no-punches style, his columns quickly gathered a league of followers. His best known books were on practical pistol shooting.

After the war, he started a shooting club that would eventually become the Southwest Combat Pistol Club. Here Mr. Cooper and friends would compete in matches of speed and accuracy which involved drawing their weapons and hitting a target at a combat distance.

Cooper was an advocate of the Weaver stance, created by Jack Weaver. The Weaver stance used a two-handed grip in a time where the one-handed grip was in fashion. When Cooper became a firearms instructor, this was the shooting stance he taught. Modern pistol stances taught to Marines are either the Weaver or a variation of it to accommodate our bulky gear.

If you had ever been to any shooting range, whether it was civilian, police, or military, you’ve seen the four safety rule sign, or some variation of it. The wording may not be verbatim, but the message is always the same. Also a fifth rule has been added at most ranges about keeping your safety on until you’re ready to fire:

1. Treat every weapon as if it were loaded.
2. Never point a weapon at anything you don’t intend to shoot.
3. Keep your finger straight and off the trigger until you’re ready to fire.
4. Be sure of your target.

Mr. Cooper created these rules and every shooter knows them by heart. The rules may seem common sense to us, but a new shooter should commit them to memory.

Keep Your Handgun Locked and Loaded, Ready For Instant Use – Without Fear Of An Accident!

Jeff also invented the “modern technique,” a technique designed around defensive handgun shooting. Cooper invented several principles still in use today by organizations like the U.S. Marines:

  1. The first principle is Flash Sight Picture, which is the concept of rapidly acquiring a sight picture with both eyes open and aligning your sites on the torso of your target as soon as the pistol is on target.
  2. The second principle is Compressed Surprise Break, which is the approach to pulling the trigger. Cooper found anytime the trigger is jerked, the sight picture is lost. Cooper taught the importance of pulling the trigger without jerking and that the weapon firing shouldn’t surprise you.
  3. Cooper’s third principle was the Controlled Pair, a.k.a. Double Tap. The act of putting two rounds rapidly into an attacking enemy is always better than one. Mr. Cooper knew from his fighting in Korea and the Pacific that when an amped-up, adrenaline-fueled enemy is attacking, never trust only one round to take him out.
  4. The fourth principle is the Weaver Stance, as I mentioned before.
  5. And the fifth principle is Mr. Cooper’s preferred draw. He referred to it as the “five-step draw,” another technique still used by modern gunslingers. The steps are as follows:
    • Grip: Get a full shooting grip on the gun while it’s still in the holster.
    • Clear: Withdraw the weapon until it just clears the holster.
    • Click: Bring the weapon level.
    • Smack: The gun hands come together with the weak hand supporting.
    • Look: You’re on target with the finger on the trigger, ready to deliver the shot.

Jeff Cooper founded the International Practical Shooting Confederation and turned his modern technique into sport shooting.

He invented the weapon’s conditions to describe the way a weapon can be carried, and how quickly could be ready. The United States military has applied these conditions to every weapon in their arsenal, and many infantrymen have heard them enough to be memorized.

Jeff Cooper developed two techniques that are still instructed to servicemen and women. First is the “tap-rack-back,” the most basic immediate action drill. Tap the bottom of the magazine, rack the slide, and pull the trigger.

The second technique is the Mozambique drill, also known as the “failure to stop drill,” one hammer pair to the chest, and one well-placed shot to the head.

Jeff Cooper also built a firearms training facility second to none, which would become the premier firearms school, Gunsite.

Cooper was a firm believer in the thought that the most important way to win a gun fight is not with the gun or the skills, but the mindset. It is the primary and most important tool a combatant has.

Jeff Cooper invented the color system still taught in Combat Mindset classes to U.S. Marines. The color code is a measure of one’s state of mind. Cooper had never claimed to invent the color code, but was the first to use it to measure a mental state.

  • White: Unaware and unprepared. Complacent
  • Yellow: Aware, but relaxed. A person should always be in this state.
  • Orange: Something is wrong and you are aware of it. Defending yourself has become more than likely. A potential target is zeroed in on.
  • Red: Your mental trigger has been tripped. You’re in the fight.

Jeff Cooper was an extraordinary man, a brilliant writer, and a small arms technique master. His influence surrounds the shooting world, and weapons have been based and built around his ideas. Sadly, he passed away in 2006, but the lessons and techniques he left behind have made him a legend.

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