Happy Birthday Gunsite!

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posted on April 21, 2016
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The Gunsite Academy, in Paulden, AZ, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Col. Jeff Cooper (1920 - 2006) and his wife, Janelle, founded the American Pistol Institute on property that they called Gunsite in 1976. While the school began as a means to teach honest citizens to use their handguns in personal defense, it quickly expanded to teach fighting techniques for rifles and shotguns as well. Cooper, a life-long hunter, also added hunting rifle courses to the curriculum. It is the oldest defensive training school in the world and also the most famous.

Those who are new to this business of personal defense probably don't have any idea of the immense debt that we shooters owe to Col. Cooper. Above all else, Cooper was an inquisitive man, continually looking for better gear and better ways to do things. He was also a great teacher, finding the best way to teach students the new techniques.

In the 1970's, the double-action revolver was the king of personal defense for citizens and police. Col. Cooper showed us that the big-bore service auto had a lot going for it as a fighting tool. And, while he preferred the 1911 pistol, Cooper saw to it that Gunsite taught defensive techniques with all of the various types of autoloading pistols, as well as the DA revolver. Here are a few of the other defensive innovations that came from Jeff Cooper and Gunsite.

The Color Code. Cooper developed a color code system (white, yellow, orange, & red) that helped teach the student awareness for what was going on around him and the mental conditioning necessary to deal with threats.

The Weaver Stance. California deputy sheriff Jack Weaver was using a unique shooting method to win many of the early combat matches. Cooper studied Weaver's technique and incorporated it into his teachings. The Weaver Stance uses an isometric grip that helped control the heavy recoil of a service pistol and an athletic body position that allowed the shooter to move in addressing a changing defensive scenario.

The Flash Sight Picture. Col. Cooper knew that it was not the first shot fired, but the first hit, that stopped gunfights. He taught students a method that allowed them to acquire their sights very quickly and make that fight-stopping hit.

The Surprise Trigger Break. Cooper taught the importance of a smooth trigger press, as opposed to pulling or jerking the trigger, which allowed the sights to stay on target.

The Pistol Presentation. Col. Cooper called it the Draw Stroke. It incorporated one obtaining a shooting grip on his pistol the moment that the hand touched the gun. It further minimized unnecessary movement and made for a quick, positive method of getting the gun into the fight.

The Combat Mind Set. To my knowledge, Col. Jeff Cooper was the first to teach citizens the mental conditioning necessary to winning a deadly encounter. Gunsite was really a fighting school as opposed to a shooting school.

The core of what Cooper called The Modern Technique of the Pistol is taught today by many instructors around the world. The honorable ones continue to give credit to Jeff Cooper for showing us the way. Even today, his teachings are the foundation upon which personal defense with a firearm should be based.

The good news is that Cooper's defensive lessons are alive and well at Gunsite, and at many other defensive schools. And so I wish a Happy Anniversary to Buz Mills, Ken Campbell, and the rest of my Gunsite family. Thanks to you, the flame is still burning.

Front sight, Press. May it ever be so!

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For me, one of the many bonuses of this gunwriter business has been the opportunity to meet and become friends with a number of the firearm enthusiasts of an earlier generation; legendary figures such as Frank Hamer Jr., Bill Jordan, Bill Toney, Col Walter Walsh and the subject of this column: COL Rex Applegate.

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