Some Thoughts On Jeff Cooper and the Modern School


by R.K. Campbell

photography by R.K. Campbell

March 26th, 2007




The man cast a giant shadow. Most of us never met Colonel Jeff Cooper, but the ramifications of his thoughts and techniques will be felt for years to come. Cooper profoundly influenced the thinking of the shooting world and in some cases he saved our lives. Even if you did not attend one of Cooper's schools his writing and his books were distance education well worth their modest price.  I do not count these works as Cooper's writing but rather as Cooper's thoughts. I grew up reading the works of Keith on hunting and Skelton on police work. Askins was an acerbic wit I enjoyed, but I am not certain just what I learned. Jordan clearly had good points. But Cooper was the odds on favorite source of information for those of us who had decided to take total responsibility for our own safety. Cooper taught us how to prevail at arm's length affairs. He understood the balance of weight and bulk that armed civilians will tolerate and cautioned against the less effective calibers.

Cooper did what had not been done before. He made an intellectual study of pressing strategic struggle on a personal level. He had the intelligence needed for analysis and the force needed to inspire. He leveraged his educational and military background for all of us into a consensus of what was needed in personal defense. I learned about awareness from working the street, but I went there with Cooper's color codes and warnings of combat awareness well rooted in my mind. I was able to enjoy life more through this alertness and to make cases by observation. On more than one occasion this awareness saved my life. There are faint warning signs that arise from the mass of background noise and when you connect the dots the whole picture is there for those who care to see.  The signal for an impending attack may be ambiguous or it may not, but for us to prearrange actions that are right for our defense and that are feasible is certainly something we should do. We also understand that early signs of an attack may be false, which is why we do shoot no shoot drills and practice keeping a clear head.

Strategic thinking allows useful preparatory measures. These measures could not be possible if we did not think strategically. And that is what Cooper did. Thinking tactically is fine once we are in hot water, but if we think strategically we will be ahead of the game. As I read Cooper's work I saw the one great difference in Cooper's promises. I knew that I would not gain proficiency in one fell swoop but that my skill would build quietly and cumulatively. In a writing world dominated by cops and hunters, Cooper was a brilliant exception. Cooper was well-read and charming in a day when much of what was written was as charming as a concrete berm. I read his work voraciously, often keeping one of his books in the cruiser as I chased some perp in a real or imagined pursuit of crime. Many of them were big timers in their own mind. I worked with people who were much like myself, perhaps clever and ballsy but not intellectual. The clever cops reminded me to watch for the bad guy's ratline. The ratline was simply a means of getting away if all else failed. The ratline may be an escape route, a stooge or an alibi...or it may be a pistol. The discovery that some thugs were well armed and proficient at arms was a little disconcerting, but after seeing my second thug with a nickel plated .45 Colt automatic I began to understand the need for practice and parity.

I also began to understand that the public really didnít care for cops very much. They tolerated us more than anything else, and with my background in the study of the human mind, I began to understand that much of the admiration the liberal left has for the criminal class is homoerotic.  Some professional types who do not deal with the thug  think they are free of dark impulses but on the other hand they envy the thug's life in many ways. Macabre as Poe and as cruel as de Sade, the warped side of humanity has more twists than O Henry. Cruelty and morbidity are their stock in trade. 

With Cooper's demands for proficiency firmly installed in my hard drive, I learned that if we participate in violence we must have a regard for the consequences. I have quite a few scars. When younger the chicks digged scars, but now the scars lend a certain character. I think of some of the bad guys I dealt with a generation ago. Their games are now long thwarted, often hideously so. There is a kind of rough justice in the world quite outside the criminal justice system. Violence casts a long shadow over many of our brothers and sisters. The wrong type of man preys upon them with no pang of conscience.  As a young cop I tried to make sense of things I could barely imagine.  Those living in poverty have prospects are largely tied to their attitude. But crime is always there to influence that attitude.

I became something of a deep thinker as many cops do on those lonely nights.  Cooper was responsible at least in part for this thinking, although comrades who went on to other professions also influenced my decisions. I think of Cooper often as I train tactical hypochondriacs who arrive on the field with a high capacity 9mm, four magazines, a back up pistol and two tactical knives. I donít need to call in help for the diagnosis - but they may have seen too much television or read the wrong book.  Some are wannabes but others donít have a clue. As for the wannabes, listen, I have been there and it isnít easy being me. Cooper gave us something to aspire to. By following his rules we have quite enough to aspire to without changing the program. Naturally there are irrelevant issues that come to the forefront such as point shooting and that have to be shot down forcefully for the welfare of the student, then and now, and we have to stay sharp. The Colonel would like it that way.

The Consensus

Colonel Cooper always gave credit to others, whether it was the FBI's contribution to training or a colleagues invention. Colonel wrote with the editorial WE that editors find stilted. Yet, he carried it off well and I am certain he often wrote with the full weight of a consensus of experts behind him. Cooper felt that the 1911 .45 auto was the best fighting pistol of all time. Nothing has changed my mind on that score. However, when I look at my Springfield Loaded Model with Novak sights, ramped barrel, forward cocking serrations, beavertail safety, and butter smooth trigger, I find little resemblance to the GI .45. Still, it is a 1911. Cooper's pistol logic led to a consensus of what was needed in a combat pistol. A good set of sights, a speed safety, and a good trigger. That is still what is needed, and there are very good pistols of the type that Cooper would approve of. In Cooper's day, it was common to pin the grip safety shut since some shooters missed the grip safety. Today, we have beavertail grip safeties to cure the problem. I appreciate the grip safety too much indeed to tape it shut and appreciate the beavertail.

Cooper on Stopping Power

There have been outrageous claims on minor caliber stopping power that must be taken with a grain of salt. I do not subscribe to any document with hidden, secret sources and unrepeatable unverifiable events. I have shot all types of game with the .45 and engaged in interpersonal combat. I cannot agree with Colonel Cooper more on the .45. I suppose since I have not shot drugged goats I am behind the times - but I doubt anyone else has done so either. The .45 ACP cartridge remains as well balanced and effective a defensive cartridge as we are likely to produce. Those advocating the small bores either have no personal experience in the problem, or they do not understand the problem. I do not necessarily carry the loads Cooper recommended. There is nothing wrong with hardball and the Hornady 230 grain Flat Point that Cooper preferred is a fine, accurate load. But we do have reliable expanding bullets and we should take advantage of them. Bill Wilson finds the 200 grain XTP at 1,000 fps at ideal loading and Wilson Combat offers the same as a custom loading. I think the Colonel would probably give a nod on that one but I am not certain. Certainly quality of manufacture and attention to detail must be respected in a combat cartridge.

The Hatcher Scale

A rather reputable mathematical formula that was booed by the junk scientist who once found voice in print is the Hatcher Scale of Relative Stopping Power. Julian Hatcher quite simply was a very experienced solider and experimenter whom Cooper obviously admired.  In a sense, Hatcher's work and writings were in perspective much the same to Cooper's generation as he was to ours. Hatcher was quite confident in his formula. Another soldier who served in the Philippines and saw much conflict was Colonel Thompson, the man credited for the Tommy Gun and also an architect of victory in World War One due to his faultless organization of war time weapons production. Thompson is more responsible for the .45 ACP cartridge than he is given credit. In any case, neither man thought much of the cheaper and easier to control small bore cartridges. Colonel Cooper reduced hatcher's scale to a 'short form'. The original calculated bullet mass and weight and velocity multiplied by the constant of gravity. There was a formula that accounted for bullet expansion. Cooper shortened the form to give a passing score at 20, while the original was more cumbersome.

Here is the formula:

Bullet weight  times velocity times frontal diameter. Then, add 25% for bullet expansion.

As an example, 160 times 1000, round off, gives 16. Add 25% for bullet expansion and you have 20.

A really hot .38 or a standard .357 made the scale.

The .45 is a fine cartridge based on historical and factual evidence. The Hatcher scale simply confirms this. The Hatcher scale was something Cooper respected.

After the Miami shootout in which good FBI agents were slain by killers, Cooper disdained the small bores and reported the main creep had taken fourteen hits. An up and coming writer noted that Cooper should get his facts straight, the man was shot twice and it could happen with any bullet. When a complete study was released months later, Cooper's report was proven correct.  I am sure the Colonel had contacts at Quantico. Cooper reported factually and probably didnít understand why others did not. We are all allowed our own opinions, but not our own facts.

There is a lot more, and like many of you, the light went off when I deciphered Cooper's work. Will there be another like him? When you consider the awesome tasks our armed forces are assigned and the quality of the educational system in America, almost certainly another like him will rise, but whether he will choose to write in our field is not question. I certainly am not making light of Colonel Cooper's achievements, but there are many great Americans and I see much that is great in the young generation.

I said all of this in a chapter on Colonel Cooper in my book THE 1911 AUTOMATIC PISTOL from Stoeger Press, years ago. If you find time pick up a copy. I hope you enjoy it.

R.K. Campbell

Got something to say about this article? Want to agree (or disagree) with it? Click the following link to go to the GUNBlast Feedback Page.

Click pictures for a larger version.


Colonel Jeff Cooper.



The modern 1911 owes much to Colonel Cooper. Novak sights, beavertail safeties and good triggers are practically the norm in high end .45s these days.



The beavertail grip safety and ambidextrous safety of the Springfield owe much to competitive shooting founded by Colonel Cooper.



The author often carries his cocked and locked lightweight frame Government Model in a Wellsmade holster. This is as good as it gets.



A sight to gladden the heart - a young soldier with five years in firing a 1911 .45.



The author appreciates the 1911 more, not less, each time he examines a new example of the breed.



Will a new 1911 soon be issued - and might it be a Taurus PT 1911? We could do much worse- and in fact, we already have.