Many Silhouette shooters had the pleasure of shooting with Lones W. Wigger, Jr. over the years. While Silhouette was not his primary focus, he did love our game and was a two-time winner of the NRA High Power Silhouette National Championships. He was also a four-time Olympian and the most decorated shooter in the history of shooting sports. We all were very sad to hear Lones “left the range” in 2017.
“It takes 3-4 years to learn how to shoot and another 3-4 years to learn how to win – to deal with the match pressure. It takes several more years to learn how to do it when it counts.”Lones W. Wigger, Jr.
I remember my very first conversation with Lones Wigger as a 16-year-old junior shooting at the 1970 Fall Round-Up Smallbore Prone Championships. Lones and I were the only shooters that weekend to shoot a 200-20X. His encouragement that day was inspirational and meant the world to me.
The following summer at Camp Perry found me protesting one of my scores to no avail. I found out later that day Lones had tried to intervene on my behalf to reverse the scoring decision. Needless to say, I was astonished he would do that to find out later that was the character of the man I came to greatly admire. Other shooters, junior shooters most of all, in many shooting disciplines had similar encounters with Lones at the matches we attended.
So, it feels right to kick off our Inspiration Blog Category with our first blog entitled Lones W. Wigger, Jr. – The Making of a Champion. I hope you enjoy the read as much as I did capturing his achievements!
Lones W. Wigger, Jr. was born August 25, 1937 in Great Falls, Montana to Lones Sr. and Violet (Brown) Wigger. The oldest of three children, Lones Jr. worked on his parents farm in Carter, Montana so it is no surprise he learned how to handle a gun and hunt at a very early age.
While baseball was his first passion, there were not many opportunities to play youth baseball in the area. Therefore, Lones Jr. took up rifle shooting at the local Carter Rifle Club his father ran and never looked back. If we had been there, we would have picked up on what would become his trademark of outworking all of his competition.
“My father would have to come in at night and pull me off the firing line, say we’re closing for the night and that we are going home, otherwise I’d practice all night.”A Young Lones W. Wigger, Jr.
With a passion for shooting, Lones enrolled at Montana State College in the fall of 1955. Lones Wigger was a standout shooter on the Montana State College Rifle Team from 1955-1959, achieving All-American Honors for three of his years. In 1959, the Montana State Rifle Team won the Intercollegiate Rifle Championships. Lones is shown 3rd from left holding the “Betsy Ross”.
While at Montana State College, he would also meet Mary Kathryn, the love of his life, get married in 1958 and stay together for 59 years before his passing.
Soon after graduating with a Degree in Agronomy, Lones was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army.
“Wigger, The USAMU & Glory In Tokyo”
After WWII, the Soviet Union was dominating international shooting competitions through their systematic, scientific and well-funded shooting sports program. To push back on this, the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) was established in 1956 under the direction of President Eisenhower.
As a newly-minted 2nd Lieutenant, Lones joined the USAMU in 1960 and spent two years in the Unit. While showing some future potential, Lones was not satisfied and decided to return to Montana. During this transition, Lones won a Silver Medal in the 50-Meter Prone Event at the 1963 Pan Am Games. He then went to Camp Perry in the same year and won both the National Outdoor Smallbore Prone and Position Championships in the same year, the first time this had ever been achieved!
With a letter from the Army awaiting him on his return home, Lones decided to rejoin the USAMU and rededicated his effort to win gold at the Olympics. Timing was perfect. In 1962, William (Bill) C. Pullum had been appointed Coach of the International Rifle Team within the USAMU. Bill Pullum’s coaching genius was his focus on the mental aspects of training rather than the physical side. With these resources, Bill Pullum’s help and the tough competition at the USAMU, Lones now had the perfect environment to begin his quest for gold.
Lones’ return to the USAMU paid off as he qualified for the US 1964 Tokyo Olympic Team in both the 50-Meter Smallbore Prone and Position Events.
Lones’ performance in Tokyo stunned the International Shooting Community. He won the Silver Medal in the 50-Meter Smallbore Prone Event, tying the Gold Medal winner but losing in a tie breaker. Showing this was no fluke, Lones went on to win the Gold Medal in the 50-Meter Smallbore Position Event with a World Record of 1164.
“Hello Vietnam – Duty Calls”
Lones would serve two 11-month tours in Vietnam. On his first tour in 1967 and now a Captain, Lones would serve as an Advisor in the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) using his degree in Agronomy to assist Vietnamese farmers in the Mekong Delta. Interestingly, one of Lones’ operational functions was collection of information and fire support for Riverine forces. In a glimpse of his true character, Lones sent a letter home to his county mayor appealing for toys for Vietnamese children as “Any usable toys would be better than the none at all they have now”.
On his second tour in 1971, Lones would serve as Officer-In-Charge (OIC) of the US Army 23rd Infantry Division Sniper School stationed at Chu Lai. Within weeks, he had his snipers hitting targets out to 600 meters with their scoped M14’s. Imagine that….got that assignment right! A quote from Lones tells us more about his character during this turbulent time:
“I had two tours in Vietnam, 1967 and 1971, and I look at those tours as two of the best years of my life because I was able to give something back to the military.”
Lones Wigger’s 2nd Vietnam Tour – OIC of the US Army 23rd Infantry Division Sniper School
Juggling his love for shooting with his tours in Vietnam was no easy task. One example was after receiving R&R from the Sniper School, Lones’ first priority was to get back so he could participate in the 1971 Pan Am Games in Cali, Columbia and then on to Camp Perry. He managed to hitch a ride on a military transport plane back home. All of his expenses, regardless of his previous Olympic success, came out of his own pocket. That’s why Lones always called shooting a poor man’s sport “because you get poor doing it!”
After winning the Silver Medal in the 50-Meter 3-Position Event at the Pam Am Games, Lones hopped on a plane and flew back to Miami. He and his wife Mary Kay drove straight through to Camp Perry Ohio and arrived the day of the match at 5:00 AM.
Lones took a nap and over the next two days proceeded to set a blistering pace and win his 6th NRA National Smallbore Outdoor Position Championship!
By this time, it was very apparent a that a pattern was emerging. No one would work harder than Lones to make it on to the winner’s podium!
“Glory & Tragedy In Munich”
Lones participated in the 50-Meter Prone Event at the the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, but did not medal. He made the Olympic Team for the 1972 Munich Games in both 50-Meter Prone and 300-Meter 3-Position Events. Both his tours in Vietnam had cut into his training time, but in Munich he managed to win the Gold Medal in in the 300-Meter 3-Position Event. His second Olympic Gold Medal at Munich in 1972 was a big confidence builder for Lones with him making the following comment:
“That meant a lot to me. It proved the first one (Toyko in 1964) wasn’t a fluke.”
Two days after Lones won his 300-Meter 3-Position Gold Medal in Munich, tragedy struck when Arab terrorists kidnapped members of the Israeli Olympic Team at the Olympic Village. Upon the terrorists and hostages arriving at a nearby NATO Airbase “awaiting transport to Egypt”, an undertrained German sniper team botched a rescue attempt and the hostages were killed by the terrorists.
The tragedy greatly affected everyone. Lones, as a former Officer-In-Charge of the 23rd Division Sniper School while in Vietnam, had plenty to say about the failed rescue and wished the US Military had been called in to assist (quote from the Denver Post).
“We had a few (snipers) in Germany at the time at one of the Army bases there. They had the proper rifles and the proper equipment. If they had brought them in, that thing could have been handled properly.”
This tragic episode reminds us that first and foremost, Lones was a soldier committed to his craft…..
“The Golden Age – USAMU Firing On All Cylinders”
There’s a motto pinned on the wall of the USAMU Indoor Range at Fort Benning that reads:
“Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
Nothing can define this persistence and determination better in the 1970’s that the achievements of what could be considered the best rifle team ever as shown below. The USAMU Army Rifle Team of Lones Wigger, Margaret (Thompson) Murdock, John Writer and Lanny Bassham would dominate the world stage in the first half of the 1970’s. Between these four shooters, they would have a combined total of 8 individual Olympic Medals (4 Gold and 4 Silver).
Lones Wigger – 3 Olympic Medals – 1964 Tokyo (1 Gold, 1 Silver), 1972 Munich (1 Gold)
Margaret (Thompson) Murdock – 1 Olympic Medal – 1976 Montreal (1 Silver)
John Writer – 2 Olympic Medals – 1968 Mexico (1 Silver), 1972 Munich (1 Gold)
Lanny Bassham – 2 Olympic Medals – 1972 Munich (1 Silver), 1976 Montreal (1 Gold)
Nothing could also better exemplify President Eisenhower’s decision to establish the USAMU than the coaching success of Bill Pullum and both the individual and team successes during this “Golden Age of the 1970’s“. Lones summarized how he felt about his teammates in this quote:
“I was part of 20 gold medal winning teams in the World Championships and in this I take great pride.”
We also could not help notice that he also took great pride in taking down this CCCP Team in the World Championship Awards Ceremony in the photo above. While his teammates are staring at the flag, Lones is staring at his vanquished CCCP competitors. A little taste of the competitive spirt in Lones!
“The USAMU Takes On The Silhouette Game”
The Silhouette Game, or Metallica Silueta as it is known in Mexico, was exploding in popularity across the USA in the 1970’s. So much so that the NRA agreed to sponsor the 1973 NRA National Metallic Silhouette Championships at the Tucson Rifle Club.
In 1974, the special “Sports Afield Trophy” was created for the top Silhouette shooter in these NRA National Matches.
The NRA’s entry into the sport in the 1970’s was all the catalyst needed to further fuel Silhouette interest in the US. So much so that it would catch the attention of the USAMU. Lones Wigger and his teammates made their first appearance at the 1976 NRA National Metallic Silhouette Championships. Lones would emerge as the new 1976 Silhouette National Champion. Lones’ USAMU teammate John Foster would tie for 4th, but lose in the sudden-death shoot-off to Mexican Champion Alvaro Frescas.
While one could say that the USAMU participating in the 1976 NRA National Metallic Silhouette Championships was good publicity for the sport, not everyone was happy about it. Some felt that bringing in the USAMU “professionals” was taking away some of the “purity” of Silhouette. In truth, the USAMU brought prestige and legitimacy to the sport of Silhouette.
At the 1977 NRA National Metallic Silhouette Championships, Lones and other USAMU shooters returned. Among them was Karen Monez who ended the match with the best score but whose rifle stock was protested (after first being allowed). She was disqualified but still allowed to shoot the rest of the match and ended up with the top score.
Monez’s stock controversy, as well as a few other shooters’ stocks stretching the definition of a “hunter rifle”, finally drove the NRA later that year to establish what was a “legal stock”. That is why today there is a stock template that your rifle must comply with to get certified at the NRA National Silhouette Championships!
Lones Wigger would make another trip to the winner’s podium in 1979, taking his 2nd and last “Sports Afield Trophy” as the National Champion.
While the Silhouette game may have lost out in priorities for the USAMU, Lones continued to show up at the big matches over the years. Lones, with the USAMU “Black Vest”, is shown here at the Louisiana State High Power Championship at Zwolle, LA.
This match, held by the Toledo Bend Silhouette Shooters in Zwolle, LA is the longest running Silhouette Championship in the USA. LLoyd A. “Bucky” Murdock, a good friend to Lones, first started this must-attend match and some of the best Silhouette shooters in our sport have stood on this firing line.
Lones is shown here with his fellow USAMU teammate Karen Monez at the 1983 NRA National Metallic Silhouette Championships in Coraopolis, PA.
Also shown are David Tubb (far right) who would later win the NRA National Metallic Silhouette Championships an unprecedented 7 times from 1987 though 1993. Conard H. Bernhardt is also pictured here next to David Tubb (second from far right) who won this same National Championship in 1986.
In later years and well past his prime in offhand shooting, we were thrilled he continued to participate at some of the bigger Silhouette Championships such as Ridgway, PA, the Whittington Center in Raton, NM and the Southern Nationals in Winnsboro, LA.
Lones is shown here shooting at Ridgway, trading in his “Black Knights” black silhouette vest for a purple and turquoise Hardscrabble Mountain silhouette vest with a big Eley logo on the back made by Chris Winstead.
“Fall Back & Re-Establish New Goals”
The 1980’s started off well as Lones qualified to represent the USA for the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games. This was vindication after Lones failed to make the US Squad for the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Future glory soon came crashing to earth when President Carter announced a boycott for all USA athletes going to Moscow. A very small consolation for the US athletes was an invitation to the Whitehouse…. just to have Lones miss the Any Sight Prone Phase at Camp Perry!
Lones doubled down and extended his service in the Army to train at the USAMU for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. He was in fine form and coming off a good showing at the 1983 Pam Am Games in Caracas, Venezuela with 4 individual medals (2 gold and 2 silver) along with 2 gold team medals.
Lones’ daughter Deena was also in prime form and able to join her father for the same 1983 Pam Am Games, capturing 1 gold individual medal and 1 gold team medal.
Both Lones and Deena continued to train hard, hoping to be the first father/daughter duo to make the US Olympic Team for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
Disappointment followed with both Lones and Deena failing to make the US Olympic Team in 1984. Lones reflected on this in the following quote (from Sport Illustrated):
“All year in ’84 I just was not on top of my game. I’m not whining or making excuses. It just didn’t gel for me that year. All you can do after a disappointment of that kind is fall back and reestablish your goals”
Reestablishing his goals is exactly what he did with a decision to leave the Army and his training at the USAMU, effectively retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel. So Lones and Mary Kay packed up and moved to Colorado Springs in his new role as Director of the US Shooting Team at the new Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO! Deena, at 21 years old, made the US Rifle Team for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Lones joined her as the US Team Manager.
Leaving the Army effectively put the brakes on Lones’ International Shooting, but his success in International Championships is unprecedented and not likely to ever be achieved again as summarized below:
1964 Tokyo Olympic Team – Gold & Silver Medal
1968 Mexico City Olympic Team
1972 Munich Olympic Team – Gold Medal
1980 Moscow Olympic Team
International Shooting Career:
65 Gold, 38 Silver, 8 Bronze = 111 Total Medals
29 World Records
USA Shooting Hall of Fame
USAMU Hall of Fame
US Olympic Hall of Fame
“Camp Perry – The Last Full Measure”
While the International Championships were now in the past, Lones would now focus much of his competitive efforts on the National Outdoor Smallbore Prone and Position Championship Matches held annually at Camp Perry. Simply put, since winning his first double Championship in Prone and Position at Camp Perry in 1963, he dominated this shooting venue. Arriving through the front gates of Camp Perry, he was at home on this range and it’s tricky winds coming off of Lake Erie.
While not having the prestige of an Olympic Gold Medal, Camp Perry attracted the best shooters in the USA, both from the civilian ranks and the US Armed Forces Teams. With a competition field of sometimes 300-400 shooters on a half-mile long firing line for both prone and position events, winning here was just plain tough!
Prior to his retirement from the Army in 1987, Wigger had accumulated more wins at Camp Perry between the years of 1963 to 1986 than any other competitor as summarized below:
Lones Wigger – USAMU – 1963-1986
Camp Perry National Championships
1963 – Prone & Position Champion
1965 – Position Champion
1966 – Position Champion
1968 – Position Champion
1969 – Position Champion
1971 – Position Champion
1973 – Prone & Position Champion
1974 – Position Champion
1975 – Prone Champion
1976 – Position Champion
1977 – Position Champion
1978 – Position Champion
1979 – Position Champion
1980 – Position Champion
1981 – Position Champion
1982 – Position Champion
1983 – Position Champion
1984 – Position Champion
1985 – Prone Champion
1986 – Position Champion
Lones’ record at Camp Perry between 1963 and 1987 after serving 26 years at the USAMU, was absolutely astounding. No one has and probably never will ever achieve a record of 4 National Prone Titles and 18 National Position Titles during his time at the USAMU. Nor was he done yet!
As a civilian and in his new role as Director of the US Shooting Team at the new Olympic Training Center, Lones continued to train and returned in force to Camp Perry and continued his winning ways as shown below. Age did catch up to him, as he retired from position shooting in 1993 due to a deteriorating knee and a lack of training time. The fact that he continued to shoot Silhouette with all of us after this decision is a testament to his competitiveness.
Lones Wigger – Lt. Col (Retired) – 1987-2002
Camp Perry National Championships
1987 – Prone Champion
1988 – Position Champion
1991 – Position Champion
1992 – Position Champion
1997 – Prone Champion
1999 – Prone Champion
2002 – Prone Champion
Lones Wigger’s legacy of National Outdoor Championships spanned a total of 39 years from 1963 to 2002. His last Prone Championship in 2002 was achieved at 65 years old, the oldest competitor to win this event in the history of Camp Perry. When asked what his new goals were in 2010 (Pronematch.com), his answer was what we would all expect:
“Do you have any short term and/or long term goals?”
“I want to win the prone aggregate at Perry one more time so I can be the oldest shooter to achieve this mark.”
Lones Wigger was also the most sucessful shooter in the history of the prestigious National Indoor Sectional 4-Position Smallbore Championships. The C. B. Lister Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the National Indoor Sectional-National Smallbore Rifle Champion. Lones’ last victory in 1987 was as a civilian, shooting a perfect score of 800 to cap off his seventh Championship!
Lones Wigger – National Indoor Champion
C. B. Lister Memorial Trophy Winner
1965 – 800 total score
1966 – 798 total score
1976 – 800 total score
1981 – 800 total score
1982 – 799 total score
1984 – 799 total score
1987 – 800 total score
While perhaps his USA domestic shooting achievements might be overshadowed by his International Championship victories, they are no less impressive and we will not see someone in our lifetime repeat this success:
56 National Indoor and Outdoor Championships including:
21 National Outdoor Smallbore Position Titles (Frank Parsons Memorial Trophy)
8 National Outdoor Smallbore Prone Titles (Critchfield Trophy)
7 National Indoor Smallbore Position Titles (C. B. Lister Trophy)
2 NRA Silhouette High Power Titles (Sports Afield Trophy)
In addition, Lones won numerous NRA Championships traveling around the US, appeared on 29 Dewar Teams at Camp Perry, held countless NRA National Records and was always in the running even if he did not finish first.
“Team Wigger – A Family Affair”
As if Lones’ achievements were not enough, it is remarkable that his two sons and his daughter were champion shooters themselves. One of the shooting achievements he was most proud of was the performance of “Team Wigger” at the 2013 NRA National Smallbore Rifle Prone Championships. Lones and his three children would shoot a perfect 1600 with 133x’s in the team match, just 13x’s behind his old USAMU Teammates!
The shooting prowess that Ronald, Danny and Deena achieved their shooting was further testimony of their father’s dedication to his family and coaching his children as summarized below:
Ronald Wigger (eldest son):
Ron attained a shooting scholarship to Eastern Kentucky University. He later became a member of the USAMU. Ron was a member of the All-Guard Smallbore Rifle Team who took the 1993 National Prone Team Championship at Camp Perry. Ron was also was in the final six shooters competing for a spot on the US Team for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. Ron Wigger later coached the U.S. Military Academy Rifle Team (West Point) to a National Collegiate Championship in 2005 and was named “Coach of the Year” twice in his coaching career.
Danny Wigger (youngest son):
Danny also won a shooting scholarship to Eastern Kentucky University. Danny was a member of the Southeast Michigan and Northern Ohio Rifle Team, capturing the National Anysight Prone Team Championship at Camp Perry in 2008.
Deena Wigger McDorman:
At just 16 years of age, Deena had her break-out moment and joined her father on the US Team for the 1983 Pam Am Games in Caracus, Venezuela. She won the Gold Medal in the Women’s 50-Meter Prone Event and her team won the Gold Medal in the Women’s 50-Meter Prone Team Event.
Deena earned a shooting scholarship to Murray State and just like her dad she set goals for herself.
Deena became an 8-time NCAA All-American. She was also an OVC Scholar Athlete and GTE Academic All American in 1990. Her shooting abilities also helped lead her team to the 1987 NCAA Team Championship and she won the NCAA Individual Championship in 1988.
Even as Deena participated in the Collegiate Shooting Program at Murray State, she still managed to maintain her elite shooting status in International competitions. Deena became one of the top women shooters in the World with some of her top accomplishments shown below:
1983 – Pam Am Games – (1) Individual 50-Meter Prone Gold Medal and (1) Team 50-Meter Prone Gold Medal
1986 – World Championships – (1) Bronze Individual Air Rifle Medal
1987 – Pan Am Games – (1 ) Individual 50-Meter Gold Medal and (1) Bronze Individual Air Rifle Medal
1988 – Seoul Olympics – Competed on U.S. Olympic Rifle Team in Air Rifle at 21 years old with Lones as Team Manager. Finished in 10th place.
1989 – Sets women’s world air rifle record with 398 points out of 400 possible
1990 – World Championships – (1) Individual 50-Meter Position Silver Medal, (1) Team Air Rifle Gold Medal, (1) Team 50- Meter Position Silver Medal
1995 – Pam Am Games – (1) Individual 50-Meter 3-Position Gold Medal
“With Attainment Comes Responsibility”
Lones’ USAMU Teammate Lanny Bassham (2nd from left) has some wise words on the responsibilities that come from being a Champion. Here is a quote from Lanny’s book Freedom Flight:
“With Attainment Comes Responsibility”
“If we strive for a successful life we must be prepared for the responsibility of that success. To do less would cheapen the attainment. Less meaningful accomplishments require little responsibility. As your accomplishments broaden so should your desire to seek to become someone worthy of the position.”
Lones W. Wigger, Jr. found True Attainment through embracing his passion for supporting junior shooters. This support is symbolically captured in this image of Lones signing an autograph for a young girl after winning his Gold Medal at the 1972 Olympics.
There are so many testimonies of how he would stop what he was doing and help juniors needing assistance at matches he attended.
While stationed with the USAMU at Fort Benning, Georgia, Lones started the Ft. Benning Junior Rifle Club and devoted countless hours in developing many juniors (including Ronald, Danny & Deena) into world-class athletes and a number of national team titles.
The culmination of his involvement with the juniors was the establishment of the Lones Wigger Youth Programs Endowment, together with the MidwayUSA Foundation, to create perpetual funding for youth and grassroots development programs.
In March of 2022, Lones’ family made the decision to put Lones’ personal firearms and Olympic memorabilia up in auction. All of the proceeds would be donated to support his beloved juniors that make up the future of USA Shooting’s Youth Shooting Program.
Lones’ collection was mostly made up of smallbore rifles, highpower rifles, shotguns and pistols from such manufactures as Remington, Winchester, Anschutz, Mauser, Browning, Walther and Smith & Wesson.
In March of 2022, the GunBroker Auction of the personal firearms of Lones W. Wigger, Jr. came to a close with a total of $70,278 raised for the Lones Wigger Youth Programs Endowment.
Lones’ daughter, Deena McDorman, coordinated the auction and stated “We are thrilled with the outcome of the auction and the generosity of those that participated. We hope buyers will cherish their winnings and understand their significance in promoting junior shooting programs. My Dad would be pleased.”
For us Silhouette shooters, the highlight of the Lones Wigger Firearms Auction was one of his Silhouette highpower rifles in .243 caliber. Accompanying the lot was his last silhouette vest made by Chris Winstead (Hardscrabble Mountain Shooting Products). Many of you remember shooting with him wearing this vest.
Lones W. Wigger has more than attained the right to be called “A Champion’s Champion” as well as earning the title of “The Most Successful Rifleman in the History of Shooting Sports”. We were blessed to have him in our lives and may never see the likes of him again in our lifetime.
Lones Wesley Wigger, Jr.
“The Making of a Champion”
“Champions are made when no one is watching.”
“Champions are not made when they win.”
“Champions are made when they finish second.”
“Champions are made in solitude.”
“Champions are made in the off-season.”
“Champions are made in the cold, the heat, early in the morning and late at night.”
“Champions are made when they do what no one else is willing to do.”
“Champions are made when they do not want to do the work, but do it anyway”
“Champions are not born”
“Champions are not lucky”
“Champions are made”
“Lones W. Wigger was a Champion’s Champion”