December 11, 2018
You probably have heard of Lones Wigger Jr. His competition rifle-shooting accomplishments are legendary. He was inducted into the U.S. Army Shooting Hall of Fame in 1988 and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2008. In 2017 the interior of the USA Shooting headquarters and upper range were named the Lones Wigger Legacy Hall and Range. Additionally, in 1999, Sports Illustrated named him the third highest-ranking athlete of the 20th century, behind baseball star Dave McNally and rodeo champion Dan Mortensen.
Lones W. Wigger Jr. was born on August 15, 1937, and he grew up near Great Falls, Montana. At the age of 12, he took up smallbore rifle shooting. According to RifleShooter Editor in Chief J. Scott Rupp, who trained under Wigger at the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) in the 1980s, Wigger wanted to be a baseball player, but his town didn’t have Little League. The local community center had an indoor shooting range in the basement, and that’s where Wigger found his groove. From the start, he was dedicated to developing his skills.
In 1960 Wigger achieved All-America honors as a member of the Montana State University rifle team. He enrolled in ROTC at MSU and consequently met several members of USAMU. Duly inspired by those shooters, after he graduated from MSU in 1960, he joined USAMU. While in the Army, he did two tours of duty during the Vietnam War—including one in which he established the 23rd Infantry Division Sniper School—and spent more than two decades with USAMU, all the while competing in formal rifle-shooting competition.
During his military and competition-shooting careers, Wigger was a champion smallbore shooter at the Olympics, the World Championships, the Pan American Games, the Championships of the Americas, and other international competitions. At the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, he won the gold medal in 50-meter smallbore Free Rifle and captured a silver medal in 50-meter Prone Rifle. In 1966 he helped the U.S. dominate the World Championships at Wiesbaden, Germany. In 1972 he won a gold medal in 300-meter Free Rifle at the Olympic Games in Munich. Wigger became the only athlete to win medals in all three Olympic rifle shooting disciplines and was selected as one of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s 100 Golden Olympians. At the Pan American Games, he won a total of eight gold medals in 1963, 1971, 1975, and 1979.
In addition to demonstrating his own shooting prowess, Wigger also was committed to developing young shooters. While with the USAMU, he ran a junior program for years, devoting time, energy, and resources to a team that produced world-class athletes and a number of national team titles. When he retired from the Army in the 1980s, he moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the USA Shooting Olympic Training Center is located. He went on to serve USA Shooting in many capacities, always with a goal of helping young shooters develop into champions. The Lones Wigger Endowment & Legacy Project continues to grow youth shooting programs and has raised more than $225,000 for junior shooting programs.
Yet despite all those accomplishments, Wigger insisted he was never a super-gifted shooter. And at five feet, seven inches and 180 pounds in his prime, he may not have looked like a sports champion, but he certainly performed like one.
He attributed his great success to dedication, mental discipline, and hard work. He once said, “There are no secrets. It takes hours and hours of hard work, commitment, dedication, sacrifice, and desire.”
He also was quoted as having said, “I’m like any athlete who uses his mind and has to concentrate. I train like an athlete in any sport.”
Wigger’s illustrious international shooting career spanned 25 years and saw him winning 111 medals and setting 29 world records. He was described by more than one shooting publication as being the the greatest shooter in history.
Even more impressive to me was his incredible commitment to the shooting sports. It was inspirational.
Lones W. Wigger Jr. passed away in December 2017 at his home in Colorado Springs from pancreatic cancer. We likely will never see his kind again.