Lones Wigger

Rifleman For The Ages
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Rifleman For The Ages

Dichotomies exist in every sport, and the shooting sports are no different. Rifle shooters are methodical, quiet, introverted, precision oriented. Shotgun shooters are explosive, loud, out of control, unpredictable. If there are two types of shooters who are the farthest apart in style, technique and approach, it’s rifle and shotgun, and this describes the relationship between me and the greatest rifle shooter who ever lived—Lones Wigger.

To say Lones Wigger was a great rifle shooter is a trivialization. Over the course of his 25-year competition career, he claimed 111 international medals, set 29 world records, won 2 Olympic gold medals and 1 silver.

So, how did your humble correspondent, a lowly shotgun shooter, come to spend more than three decades with the greatest rifle shooter of all time? Wig and I partnered because he was putting together a team to shoot the Sportsman Team Challenge. The 3-person event consisted of pistol, rifle and shotgun and he needed a shotgun shooter. A shotgun shooter who could also shoot rifle and pistol.

Starting his career at the tender age of 5 years, Wigger was already showing his love of the shooting sports. Photo: USA Shooting

At the 1973 Championship of the Americas, Wig won a Silver medal. His ability to focus and block out everything around him was quite an edge. Photo: USA Shooting

Wigger was the only athlete to win medals in all three Olympic rifle shooting disciplines. He was selected as one of the US Olympic Committee’s 100 Golden Olympians in 1966. In 2008, he was elected into the USOC’s Hall of Fame, the only shooting athlete to receive the honor. Lones Wigger, 1937–2017. Photo: USA Shooting

Oil & Water

But, pairing up the two of us was like mixing oil and water. Wig and I had a love/hate relationship. Nothing gave either of us more pleasure than to bust each other’s chops and we’d go out of our way to do it.

For instance, on the way to the STC Nationals one year, he decided we’d train first in Lafayette, Al. We would drive from there to Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. Now I admit, I’m geographically challenged and when he said it was about a 4-hour drive, I took him at his word, but it was a 10-hour drive. Wig said he knew a great place for lunch. “Has the best burgers you’ll ever eat.” We drove along the back woods of southern Georgia, till we came upon a wooden building. It wasn’t very large, but I noticed there were no windows. I should’ve known something was up.

He opened the door to a guy sitting behind a counter in the entryway. Looking at me and glancing at Wig and the other two guys with us, he asked us each for $5 dollars. Our teammates followed suit.

Wig joined the Army out of college, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. As a rifle instructor, he had two tours in Vietnam, teaching marksmanship. After 3 weeks of training shooters in Vietnam, his snipers were hitting targets at 600 meters. At the Ft. Benning Army Marksmanship Reunion, Wig reunited with fellow well-known rifle shooters (left to right) Bill Pullman, Lones Wigger, Lanny Bassham, Jack Writer and Margaret Murdock. Photo: USA Shooting

Some Burger!

Walking through another door, I stopped in my tracks. “This is a strip joint,” I yelled at him. “Yeah,” he said, with that twinkle he always got in his eye when he knew he pulled one over on you. “But, they got great burgers,” he said walking over to a booth. “Now, sit down.”

Flabbergasted, I scooted into the booth, glaring at him. The waitress walked-up and started to hand us menus. Wig waved the menus off. “Four double stacks and four Bud Ice.”

“A double stack? Really?” I was incredulous. “Hey, I could be talking about magazines,” Wig said with that silly grin he’d wear when he was enjoying the moment. Music was blaring and there was a lot going on. The other guys on the team didn’t say a word and drank their beer, so I just sat, waiting for my food.

When the food and drinks came, I glared at Wig with a look that said, “This burger better be to die for.” He just glared back, smiling and when I took the first bite, he knew he’d won the day. It was without a doubt, the best burger I’d ever had.

That was Wig in a nutshell. His methods weren’t always kosher, but the end result was always the same. What was best for the team and for the sport. At his 80th birthday celebration, USA Shooting renamed the interior of its headquarters and upper range the Lones Wigger Legacy Hall and Range.

“Everyone here knows what it takes to be a champion or a success in life,” he said at the ceremony. “There are no secrets. It takes hours and hours of hard work, commitment, dedication, sacrifice and desire. Maybe desire is the most important. Everyone can be a winner. It just depends on how bad you want it. Never forget to dream. Dreams can and do come true.”

Constantly promoting the shooting sports and junior shooters, Wig was active with the National Training Center Junior Club, spending much of his free time working with young shooters. Here, in December 2015, he trains with National Junior Team member Will Shaner. Photo: USA Shooting

Winning Equation

If anyone loved to shoot and win more than Lones Wigger, you’d be hard pressed to find him. Wig hated to lose. He hated to lose more than he liked to win and he would do what it took to win. That’s what I learned from him in those three decades, and so much more. He taught me how to compete and how to compete to win. But, he also taught me how to enjoy the sport and celebrate it with those around me.

I would’ve liked to be at the pearly gates when Wig showed up, because I know he would be standing there, barking at some angel to hurry up and open the gates. There’s shooting to be done!

When Wig passed at the end of 2017, he left behind a legacy that will go unmatched for a long time. There’s a range in heaven reserved for Wig and I envy those who get to shoot with him now. Three decades was not enough to learn from this man everything he knew about shooting and I’m not sure eternity is.

I do know though, when I get to his range, he’ll greet me with a lopsided grin and that twinkle in his eye, busting my chops for taking so long.
Rest in Peace Lones Wigger. It was a privilege.

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