He received a bachelor's degree in political science from Stanford University and, in the mid-1960s, a master's degree in history from the University of California, Riverside. In addition to his expertise in firearms, he was a history instructor, philosopher, adventurer, and author. He was also widely known as "the Gunsite Guru."
In 1976, Cooper founded the American Pistol Institute in Paulden, Arizona (API, later the Gunsite Training Center). Cooper also began teaching shotgun and rifle classes to train law enforcement and military personnel as well as law-abiding civilians. He also did on-site training for individuals and groups around the Free World. He sold the firm in 1992 but continued living on the Paulden ranch. He was well-known for his advocacy of large caliber handguns, especially the Colt 1911 and the .45 ACP cartridge; and in the sphere of big-caliber revolvers and pistols Cooper's contributions are comparable to those of his near-contemporary Elmer Keith.
Jeff Cooper conceived and designed the Bren Ten pistol around the 10 mm Auto. This pistol was based on the Czech CZ 75 design and the cartridge was more powerful than both the 9 mm Luger and the .45 ACP round.
His second major contribution to firearms design was what he termed a Scout Rifle. These bolt action carbines are typically .30 caliber (7.62mm), less than 1 meter in length and less than 3 kilograms in weight, with iron and optical sights, and fitted with practical slings (such as Ching Slings) for shooting and carrying and capable of hitting man-sized targets out to 450 meters without scopes. Typically they employ forward-mounted low-power long eye relief scopes or sights to afford easy access to the top of the rifle action for rapid reloading. Steyr, Ruger, Savage, and several other gun makers now manufacture Scout rifles that roughly match Cooper's specifications, but most lack auxiliary iron sights.
Cooper defined his goal: "... a general-purpose rifle is a conveniently portable, individually operated firearm, capable of striking a single decisive blow, on a live target of up to 200 kilos in weight, at any distance at which the operator can shoot with the precision necessary to place a shot in a vital area of the target."
Cooper died peacefully at his home on the afternoon of Monday, September 25, 2006.
Cooper's modern technique defines pragmatic use of the pistol for personal protection. The modern technique emphasizes two-handed shooting using the Weaver stance, replacing the once-prevalent one-handed shooting. The five elements of the modern technique are:
Cooper favored the Colt M1911 and its variants. There are several conditions of readiness in which such a weapon can be carried. Cooper promulgated most of the following terms:
Some of these configurations are safer than others (for instance, a single action pistol without a firing pin safety ought never be carried in Condition 2) while others are quicker to access (condition 1). In the interest of consistent training, most agencies that issue the 1911 specify the condition in which it is to be carried as a matter of local doctrine.
This firearm condition system can also be used to refer to other firearm actions, particularly when illustrating the differences between carry modes considered to be safe for various actions. For example DA/SA is designed to be carried in Condition 2, which is not safe for 1911s.
In the chapter on awareness, Cooper presents an adaptation of the Marine Corps system to differentiate states of readiness:
The U.S.M.C. also uses "Condition Black" as actively engaged in combat, as do some of his successors, but Cooper always felt this is an unnecessary step and not in keeping with the mindset definitions.
Also note that the Color Code was never meant to be a warning system. Rather, the Color Code was designed to be a mental crutch. It was designed to allow someone to "get over" the resistance that a normal person has in pointing a pistol at the center of someone's chest and pulling the trigger.
In short, the Color Code helps you "think" in a fight. As the level of danger increases, your resistance to shoot decreases. If you ever do go to Condition Red, the decision to use lethal force has already been made (your "mental trigger" has been tripped).
In the early 1980s, Cooper published an article describing his ideal of a general-purpose rifle, which he dubbed a Scout rifle. In late 1997, Steyr-Mannlicher produced a rifle to his "Scout" specifications, with Cooper's oversight during the engineering & manufacturing process. While not a particularly spectacular sales success, these rifles nevertheless sold quite well and are still being produced. Cooper considered the Steyr Scout "perfect", and often made the point that "I've got mine!" Riflemen regard Cooper's development of the scout rifle concept, and his subsequent work on the evolution of the Steyr-Mannlicher Scout rifle, as his most significant and enduring contributions to riflecraft.
In addition to his books on firearms and self defense, Cooper wrote several books recounting his life adventures plus essays and short stories, including Fire Works (1980), Another Country: Personal Adventures of the Twentieth Century (1992); To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth (1998); and C Stories (2004). His daughter Lindy Wisdom published a biography, Jeff Cooper: the Soul and the Spirit (1996).
Cooper was also regarded as one of the world's foremost authorities on big game hunting.
Some of the comments from his "Gunsite Gossip" newsletter were printed in gun magazines as "Cooper's Commentaries," and later were compiled into The Gargantuan Gunsite Gossip. These were his thoughts on firearms interleaved with his wide-ranging musings on many other subjects, and acquired a large US and international following from 1980s up to his death.
A complete bibliography of Jeff Cooper's writings from 1947 onwards is available at the Jeff Cooper Bibliography Project.
Cooper was the Founding President and Honorary Lifetime Chairman of the International Practical Shooting Confederation.