December 15, 2017
Lones W. Wigger, Jr. — the United States' most decorated competitive shooter — has passed away following a battle with cancer. He was 80 years old. The following article appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of RifleShooter magazine.
Lones W. Wigger Jr. recently celebrated his 80th birthday. If you don't know the name, you should. Wigger is unquestionably the greatest rifle shooter the United States has ever produced — or probably ever will.
From his first international medal at the 1963 Pan American Games until his retirement from international competition in the late 1980s, Wigger collected 111 individual and team medals in international competition, more than any other shooter in the world. Ever.
He was a member of four Olympic teams — winning two golds and one silver — and earned two world championships in addition to being on 20 world championship teams. He is the only shooter to be inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, and at one time he held or co-held a whopping 27 world records (13 individual). And that's in addition to his victories at the Pan American Games, Championship of the Americas and Council Internationale Sport du Militaire matches.
And national championships? Forget about it. He's won the three-position individual title at Camp Perry 23 times — including a remarkable sevenyear run of consecutive championships from the late '70s to the mid '80s. He's also won seven national prone titles at Camp Perry, as well as a couple dozen indoor national championships in both smallbore and air rifle. Add a couple of national championships in highpower rifle silhouette, just for fun.
Wigger grew up in Montana and wanted to be a baseball or basketball player, but his rural area lacked Little League or other organized teams. However, there was a community hall not too far away, and in its basement was a rifle range. He knew he wanted to compete in something, and shooting became that something. And he quickly showed the dedication that would carry him to the highest levels.
"When we'd go to the range, we'd be the first there and the last to leave, he liked it so much," his late father, Lones Wigger, Sr. — a longtime shooter himself — said in a 1989 interview. "That bulldog attitude got him to the top."
Wigger enrolled in ROTC at Montana State University, and while in college he met several members of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit. He decided then and there that's what he wanted, and in 1961 then-Lt. Wigger joined the USAMU, which is based in Fort Benning, Georgia. Aside from two tours in Vietnam — including one in which he established a sniper training school — the USAMU was his home for more than two decades.
As he'll tell you, he was never a super-gifted shooter. He succeeded through dedication, mental discipline and hard work. "Nobody outworks me," he told me when I interviewed him for an article on his retirement from international competition.
Quick story. I was one of his shooters at USAMU in the 1980s. It was early winter, and we'd just finished a long season of outdoor competitions. Wigger had won yet another three-position national title — and, I believe, gold medals in smallbore and 300-meter three -position at the Pan Ams — and now we had moved to shooting 50-foot indoor smallbore.
Not everyone took indoor season seriously, but Wigger did. One day I was shooting next to him in practice and decided to watch him. He was shooting standing, a coffee cup next to him on his gear stand. He raised his rifle, studied the sight picture, set the rifle down and took a sip of coffee. Up went the rifle, down came the rifle, another sip of coffee. He repeated this process for several minutes until he finally broke the shot — undoubtedly a 10.
Wigger had already achieved everything a person possibly could in a single sport. And yet here he was, after a long and successful outdoor season, immediately back to work to get ready for the indoor smallbore championships. With him it was never "just practice"; it was a total commitment to make literally every shot he fired as good as it could be.
Wigger demonstrated this commitment not just to his own excellence but to the development of youth shooters. For many years he shepherded a junior program at Fort Benning, devoting time, energy and resources to a team that produced some world-class athletes and a number of national team titles.
When he retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel, he moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado — home of the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Over the years he has served the U.S. Shooting Team in many capacities, always with an eye toward developing shooters into champions.
So it was more than fitting that in late August a couple hundred family, friends and old teammates gathered at the U.S. Olympic Training Center's indoor 50-meter range to celebrate Wigger's 80th birthday.
His son Ron gave a moving tribute to his dad's legacy, and teammates and friends voiced their admiration for their shooting hero. Wigger himself spoke powerfully about the path his life had taken — as well as his thoughts on what it takes to be a champion.
It was a special night for a special man, but it was about more than just his past. It was also about his commitment to our sport's future.
At the conclusion of the festivities, it was announced that the initial fundraising effort for the Lones Wigger Legacy Endowment — an endowment that will help support our Junior Olympic shooting program's rifle, pistol and shotgun shooters — had raised more than $200,000. (You can be a part of this worthy effort by visiting USAshooting.org and clicking on "Donate to the Lones Wigger Legacy Project & Endowment.")
The range on which we gathered was also named in his honor. So it's safe to say Wigger's accomplishments will never be forgotten, and generations of shooters to come will benefit not only from his wisdom but his commitment to the sport.
And lest you think he's slowing down at 80, when I talked to him a couple weeks before his birthday, he told me he'd be coaching the U.S. Roberts team in Bisley, England, and he was preparing to shoot in a smallbore benchrest match. The best never rest.