Five years ago in the tree-shaded towns of Morris County, N.J. a cat burglar had a remarkable run of luck. In three months, he had climbed into 60 homes before being caught. There is little doubt that during his spree one of the cat burglar's luckiest moments came at 2 o'clock of a winter night when he escaped unscathed from the backyard of the shingled home occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Ransford Dobbins Triggs of Madison, N.J. Suburbanite Triggs, his wife Mary and their daughter Carol own enough arms—hunting rifles, shotguns, bows and arrows, target rifles, semiautomatics and revolvers—to equip one of Fidel Castro's platoons. And all three Triggses are skilled enough to take all nine lives of a cat burglar without dropping a shot.
On the night their premises were invaded, only one thing hampered the Triggs family. They had too many guns. Ransford and Mary Triggs were wakened when the burglar made some uncatlike noise, and Ransford Triggs was up instantly, moving toward the nearest gun. Although he was wide awake, Triggs was not, however, sure which guns were where. In his upstairs workroom he found a half dozen .22 rifles and boxes of center-fire pistol ammunition. Leaving these mismatches behind, he padded quietly downstairs and in the den closet found a .44 revolver and some .38 ammunition. In the kitchen closet he found a shotgun, more .22 rifles, a .22 Colt Woodsman and .45 ammunition. In the cellar there were a dozen guns and, again, none of the right ammunition.
The Triggses are a sports-minded family. At the time of the cat burglar they were also involved in showing pedigreed cocker spaniels. In one guest room, which they had converted into a whelping pen, the Triggses had kenneled 13 cockers, among them a champion, Rip's London Fog. For some minutes after the cat burglar wakened the household, while Triggs rummaged stealthily around for a gun and cartridge to match, the 13 prize cockers were properly silent in the finest tradition of Westminster. Finally, one rowdy cocker barked sharply and the cat burglar fled.
The Triggses have since given up showing dogs; nonetheless, future cat burglars are hereby warned. There are still weapons all over the Triggs house, in every nook, cranny and closet, and Ransford Triggs now knows where some of the right ammunition is. What is more, 49-year-old Ransford Triggs is still, as he has been for 25 years, a remarkably good shot, which he will be proving this coming week in the national rifle matches at Camp Perry.
A little more than 25 years ago, when he emerged from Duke University onto the bottom rock of the Depression, when scratching out a living did not give him much time for hunting, Triggs turned to target shooting of several sorts. He has, in the years since, won local and regional honors with hand guns, with bow and with both high-power and small-bore rifles of the sort shown at the right. There are few men today who have the money or, more important, the time to play hard at several different target games and amount to very much at any of them. Early in his career Triggs gravitated toward smallbore shooting, and, competitively speaking, today he is a small-bore man—not perfect, but as near perfect as you'll find.
HONORS LYING DOWN
Small-bore shooting occupies a rather unique place in the sporting scene. Since small-bore competitors in quest of the national title are permitted to fire the whole course in prone position, it is probably the only sport where a man can become champion by lying on his stomach and moving as few muscles as possible. On these terms, small-bore targetry seems to be a rather simple pursuit, or at least a restful one, but it is neither. Next week Triggs and the 650 men and women who will be competing against him for the national title will fire a variety of matches, some at the standard American distances of 50 and 100 yards and some at the slightly longer international distances of 50 and 100 meters. The 10-ring on the 100-yard target is two inches in diameter. The 10-ring of the 50-yard target is 89/100ths of an inch (slightly smaller than a U.S. quarter). The 10-rings of the international targets used at 50 and 100 meters are even smaller, respectively, than those on the 50- and 100-yard targets.
As anyone mildly addicted to target shooting knows, with the improved rifles and the improved loads of match ammunition, success in the 10-ring today is no longer enough. The competitor today knows that to have a chance for the national title about 630 of his 640 shots must land in the 10-ring and close to 500 of these should be in the smaller, tie-breaking x-ring, within the 10-ring. The x-ring, then, has become the symbol of perfection, a precious small symbol—on the 50-yard target, for example, considerably smaller than a dime. No gun, even when fired from a bench, is perfect and neither is the ammunition (Triggs is satisfied with his equipment if it will group in ¼ inch at 50 yards). The actual margin of error left for the human lying behind the gun is next to nothing. It is Triggs's opinion that a good shooter can eliminate most of the human error in less than six months of steady practice. The quest for perfection inevitably leads the rifleman down into his cellar to tinker with his gun, rebedding the barrel, remaking and refining the action and the stock. The quest also leads him on a hunt through the supply houses for new parts and better parts and for the lot of ammunition that will group consistently in his gun. An aspiring champion needs some of the innate, acquisitive zeal of a pack rat and the precise skill of a lens grinder.
The small-bore man needs also the patience of Job to accept injustices he cannot understand. In any match a good shooter may squeeze off a seemingly perfect shot, and for no reason at all the shot will land high, wild and wide in the 9-ring. The man who cannot take the unexpected flyers into the 9-ring in stride is apt to throw several more 9s and eventually come to feel the whole world is against him. After dropping two 9s in a string he may suspect that some idiot at the factory has loaded this lot of ammunition with a mixture of black powder and peanut butter. Then, shaken to a point of throwing several more 9s, he is apt to remember, not too kindly, that his gun recently got into the hands of his small son, who dropped it down the cellar stairs. After a few more horrid 9s he is apt to blame the whole disaster on his wife, who insisted that he paint the back porch last weekend instead of tinkering with a gun that is good for nothing except punching holes in cardboard.
In any match a target man can be undone by a number of treacheries for which he finds it hard even to blame himself. On a windless day, when the wavering mirage in his spotting scope shows barely a breath of air, the shooter will settle into his sling, centering the bull perfectly in the concentricity of his iron sights. And just as the shot goes off, too late to be felt, a breath of wind sweeps the course from the right, blowing the shot high to the left in the 9-ring. On the next shot the rifleman holds off low to the right on the target, so that the wind will push his shot back to the left and the clockwise spin imparted by the rifling will roll the shot up the wind, so to speak, into the center of the x-ring. As this perfectly doped shot goes off, the wind may die. The shooter is caught in a letup; the shot will land low to the right in the 9-ring. When he settles down for another shot, he may un wittingly take a deeper breath than usual. The extra charge of oxygen into his blood may accelerate and accentuate the pulse beat in the brachial artery that runs under the sling on his left arm. This pulsation, a scant millimeter, transmitted down the sling to the front grip, can be enough to throw the shot off.