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The Gunsite story: jeff cooper's legacy continues.

FROM 1958 UNTIL 2003, these pages were graced with the words and wisdom of Col. Jeff Cooper. Readers worldwide subscribed to read his thoughts, primarily those associated with the use and application of the defensive handgun. Similarly, when Cooper opened the American Pistol Institute on the Gunsite Ranch near Paulden, Arizona, in 1976, like-minded folk traveled from far and wide to learn from "The Guru." The story of Gunsite, now called Gunsite Academy, is the self-actualization of Jeff Cooper.

If you grew up reading Cooper, you probably knew this, but for the latest generation of gun owners, the impact Gunsite has had on the world of firearms is, at best, unappreciated and, at worst, unknown. According to Robar Guns' Robbie Barrkman, "Jeff Cooper and the Gunsite doctrine have single-handedly been the genesis of a whole industry. Name anyone who is somebody in the firearms business relative to defensive firearmcraft or equipment and I'll show you a connection either directly or indirectly to Jeff Cooper."

How could one man and one place be so instrumental in the genesis of defensive firearm use? For starters, that man would need to be a practitioner and teacher, a student and philosopher; that man would have to be an evangelist of a useful doctrine. He would need a means for broadcasting his teachings and philosophies to the world. Finally, that man would need a practical pulpit from which to espouse his wisdom. Cooper was the first, the only and the last to be all three.

John Dean "Jeff" Cooper was born on May 10, 1920. He graduated Stanford University with a BA in political science and received a commission in the United States Marine Corps in 1941. He served in World War 11 and the Korean War, and in the mid-1960s he received a Master's Degree in history from the University of California, Riverside.

Between 1957 and 1976, Cooper became affiliated with two endeavors that would lead to the codifying of the Modern Technique of the Pistol and Gunsite. He had established a relationship with Robert E. Petersen of Petersen's Publishing and was writing various articles about sports cars, but mostly about guns, for Petersen's magazines. He also started the Leatherslap competitions in Big Bear Lake, California. Ultimately, those shooting matches would evolve into the International Practical Shooting Confederation (1PSC), of which Cooper was the founder and first president.

Cooper's writings in Guns & Ammo were shored up by his codified doctrine of the Modern Technique of the Pistol, which was supported by his emphasis on the combat mindset, and reached readers the world over. This led to invitations for Cooper to teach, and teach he did. He started in Guatemala for the bodyguards of the newly elected president, then continued in Salvador, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, South Africa and Rhodesia.

These experiences led to the book, "The Principles of Personal Defense," which was the forerunner to the Cooper Color Code, a system that has become the standard for teaching mental conditioning as it. relates to individual combat. This and Cooper's continued study, documentation, codifying and reporting on the developing art of practical pistolcraft, interspersed with his philosophy on an individual's right to defend himself, his loved ones and his country, connected with gun owners.

Cooper became the professor of the art of weaponry or, more precisely, the Modern Technique of the Pistol. Through his writings in Guns & Ammo and various books, shooters relished the opportunity to learn from him face to face. What Cooper needed was a basilica, a place to hold court and teach the value of the combat mindset and the importance of DVC, diligentia, vis, celeritas (accuracy, power, speed). It could be said that what he ultimately created with Gunsite was the church of pistol shooting, but what it has become is a cathedral of defensive weaponcraft, or, as Barrett Tillman called it, "the Camelot of the Great Southwest."

Cooper and his wife, Janelle, decided that his mission of spreading the word of the Modern Technique could be served best by setting up a school and letting students come to him. In August 1973, they bought a cattle ranch in Arizona. There was no water or electricity and almost nothing but dirt and rattlesnakes. They named the property Gunsite and called the school the American Pistol Institute (API).

Gunsite started with a single, square range 50 meters deep. They built roads, erected a windmill for water and purchased a generator for electricity Soon they added the Funhouse, an indoor reactionary shooting facility In 1976, there were no cell phones or email, so if you wanted to contact Col. Cooper at Gunsite, you wrote a letter or called a radiophone rigged up in his Volkswagen bus. When the phone rang, the horn would blow.

Cooper focused on the curriculum and acquiring quality instructors, or coaches. Over the next 16 years, some of the best-known firearms instructors to ever set foot on a range taught at Gunsite, men such as Chuck Taylor, Bruce Nelson, Clint Smith, Louis Awerbuck, Pat Rogers, Robbie Barrk-man, Bill Go, Mike Hughes and Ed Stock. They helped Cooper spread the word, and they spread it often, but not to just anyone.

Only upstanding folks could attend Gunsite. Prospective students had to meet certain criteria. This was not meant to exclude by class or wealth, but by character. If you were an honorable person, Gunsite was waiting for you. If you were a goblin, Gunsite was bad news because those who graduated Gunsite were not to be trifled with.

The first lecture sessions for classes at Gunsite were held on the veranda of the Coopers' home, but as time passed, more land was purchased, more ranges were built, a classroom was added, and so was a gunsmith shop with live-in quarters. Cooper soon found that he and his team were able to produce a very capable practitioner of the defensive handgun in five and a half days.

The certificates awarded upon course completion came in four varieties. Those who attended but did not perform well received a Certificate of Completion. The certificate for those who did OK was stamped "Marksman," and a Marksman First Class or Ml certificate was presented to those who were especially good shots. The Expert certificate or "E-Ticket" was bestowed only to those who demonstrated the highest level of proficiency with a defensive handgun. Then and now, no one questions the validity of a Gunsite certificate.

In 1981, Cooper began writing a newsletter called "Gunsite Gossip."

It was a collection of observations, quotes and pointed remarks from Cooper pertaining to guns, training, hunting and even politics. Tom Siatos, former editor and publisher of Guns & Ammo, proposed that excerpts from this newsletter form a regular column in the magazine. This became "Cooper's Corner," and through it, readers continued to become enthralled with Cooper's philosophy and teachings, attracting many to train at Gunsite.

Gunsite was thriving, and at age 72, both Jeff and Janelle wanted to slow down and enjoy their golden years. In 1992, Gunsite was sold. Even though the new owner insisted on his intent to maintain Cooper's vision and allowed for Jeff and Janelle to continue to reside in their home, known as the Sconce, located on the property, the amicable relationship turned intolerable. In 1993, Cooper was banned from the ranges and from anything to do with operations.

Over the next six years, Gunsite declined. Lacking the commitment to the doctrine and message that resonated so well with gun owners, attendance dropped. The facilities were in disrepair, and no one wanted to come to the school founded by the father of the Modern Technique if they were not going to be taught by or even have a chance meeting with him. It looked like the end of Gunsite was near.

Enter Col. Owen "Buz" Mills and his wife, Sonja. Buz had met Cooper in 1980 and had always been impressed with him. He was equally impressed by the Gunsite doctrine, the professionalism of the Gunsite staff and their ability to teach at all levels. Buz and Sonja purchased Gunsite in 1999, and the revitalization began. Not only did Buz begin to rebuild and repair, he added ranges, offices and classrooms and expanded the pro shop. More important, Buz welcomed Cooper back in the capacity of a consultant. Buz realized that Cooper was Gunsite and that they were inseparable; he knew that Gunsite without Cooper was like Christmas without Santa Claus.

On September 25, 2006, the four-term NRA Board of Directors, Lifetime Executive Council Member, founding president of IPSC, father of the Modern Technique, Guns & Ammo editor-at-large and what some have labeled the "Gunner's Guru" passed away. However, a visit to Gunsite today will leave no question that Cooper's vision and standards are driving the train. Cooper's widow, JaneIle, still lives in the Sconce. She often welcomes graduates of the 250 Pistol Class into her home, where she'll serve them cookies, brownies and tea mixed with lemonade. They'll hear her stories and visit Cooper's armory, which is very much the same as it was when he was alive.

Today, Gunsite encompasses more than 2,000 acres of prime shooting real estate. The curriculum has been expanded extensively to encompass all forms of defensive shooting, hunting and even recreational endeavors. Courses are taught to beginners and operators at every level. From tutorials to women-only courses to diversified classes filled with shooters from all walks of life, Gun-site is training more shooters than ever before. Gunsite is staying in step with technology as well. Courses are now being taught on the use of lasers, night vision and extreme long-range shooting. Gunsite has also become a manufacturers' proving ground for new guns, ammunition and accessories.
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Author:Mann, Richard
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Aug 1, 2014
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