Apr 27, 2017

Salute to Col Jeff Cooper, John Pepper, Ron Benson, & early Steel Target designs from Gunsite

In previous #SaluteTargets Blog articles I have endeavored to honor and record the many accomplishments and visions of Col Jeff Cooper, US #Marines , and founder of #Gunsite Academy. He was an amazing ‘Pistolero’ and ‘Renaissance Man’ when it came to all things inspirational about our #American #shooting heritage. To those of us who were blessed with having connected with him through taking a course at Gunsite, particularly Marines (whom he and his gracious wife Janelle would host at their beautiful, tactical home The Sconce) what we also greatly appreciated was his gift as a “Raconteur’ … he could share one amazing story after another.

Aside from his having his priorities right in what we Marines refer to as the ‘5 F’s’: Family, Friends, Faith, Flag and Freedom, Col Cooper’s next main focus was Heritage. What have we learned from the past and how are we to be good stewards of it? He knew that History is a fragile thing, and that when an old duffer, particularly a #combatvet passes away, it is sadly like the burning of a library. So much that may not have seemed important at the time is lost.

One area about #ColCooper that I have yet seen addressed is his ideas and experiences with steel targets. This has become quite an industry as any trip to #SHOTShow in #LasVegas in January will attest. As a retired Marine, avid historian, shooting, and entrepreneur founder and owner of a steel target company, I have tried to provide definitive Blog articles covering this rich history.

I specifically want to share with you more that I have recently uncovered about Col Cooper and shooting steel. In the late 1970s, he, together with John Pepper and Gunsite’s first all-around, jack of all trades, maintenance man, Ron Benson, had recognized the advantages of shooting steel over paper. It was fun, durable, cost effective in the long run, and always popular with tactical training. As the old saying goes: “If you don’t hear the pling, you have missed the thing.” The work horse steel target from the beginning became known affectionately as the “Pepper Popper”, named after Col Cooper’s good east coast buddy John Pepper. It is still one of the most popular targets out there and comes in many shapes and versions. The originals were designed for the main calibers of the post WWII period: .45, .30-06,, 7.62, etc. Here at Salute Targets, we have developed a 21st century variation more accustomed to 3 Gun competitions 9mm, 12 gauge shotgun, and 5.56, the shorter, stouter “Salute Popper”. Outstanding 3 Gun shooters like Lanny and Tracy Barnes (former Olympic Biathletes) out of Durango, Colorado, love them. We also made heavier square shaped target paddles for military calibers (such as our 7.62×51 or .308 Dueling Tree, plus a .338 Lapua Target). And our Salute Slammer was custom designed as a steel reactive target for .50 caliber & 300 Win Mag (Col Cooper called this a caliber that “kills at both ends”). But like all steel targets, it comes down to what works best for your tactical training scenario.

Col Cooper and Ron Benson began experimenting with steel target Dueling Trees in 1980 and 1981. The first prototype was on a vertical upright welded to an agricultural disc (pulled by tractors to break up fields for planting). Right away, Col Cooper realized that shooting vertical steel was dangerous, and you had to create a deflection angle on either the upright, or the rotating paddles themselves to deflect bullet splatter into the ground. The easiest approach was simply a forward leaning upright. The other option was mounting the plates themselves in angled brackets on the upright so they faced forward at the upper edge and rearward at the lower edge. Both systems worked like a charm. At this same time, Col Cooper’s friends up the road in Seligman, Arizona, also developed a dueling tree target and sent one down to Paulden for Gunsite to test. Made by Seligman Shooting Products, it was appropriately named The Seligman Dueling Tree. It was featured in the October 1984 issue of Guns and Ammo. Together with these homemade Pepper Poppers and Dueling Trees, the target that took up most of Col Coopers time and imagination with a complex, dual trolly system called the APITIR (a ‘Cooperism acronym’ combining his ‘American Pistol Institute’ with the French word ‘TIR’ to shoot). This complex target system was a challenge in more ways than one. It went through several redesigns with two arms each with two plates, assisted by springs and cables. Competing shooters would track and shoot it from approximately 25 yards down to 10 yards. By hitting the approaching ‘threat’ target, you were awarded either 4 points or 1 point. Needless to say, it was an engineering and shooting challenge and was eventually retired because of complexities and taking too much time to operate. #SteelTargets

Find #militarysteel Salute Targets at: www.salutetargets.com

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