The championships used to be annual affairs attracting as few as three countries, but since 1954 they have been held every four years, like the Olympics, and now draw very well. More than 900 contestants were entered this year, and, though there were a few protests about scores, the shoot-out was an amiable event. The Russians brought their own vodka and generously passed out an occasional bottle. The Japanese amused themselves by teaching pesky American kids tricks of jujitsu.
Veteran observers of American training methods feel that we will fall still farther behind the Russians unless something is done to jack up our range techniques. Curiously, in a society considered "open" when it comes to gun ownership and use, the United States is notably deficient in organizing its gunmanship. An American pistol shooter, for instance, is very likely to train at all the various pistol events—standard pistol, center fire, rapid fire and free pistol. Sportsmen from other countries tend to specialize. And in Russia, where gun regulations are far tighter, every encouragement is given to marksmanship. Ranges throughout the country are open to anyone—with rifles furnished by the government and low-cost ammunition provided. A young shooter of promise will be trained at government expense. Our best training grounds are military—the Army supplies the bulk of our competitors. The U.S. rifle team consisted of eight soldiers and a marine. The 11-man pistol team was totally military except for one civilian and a border patrolman. But even military interest in the sport is declining. The Air Force has abandoned it altogether.
It would be futile these days to ask Congress for funds to build adequate practice ranges. Contestants in Caracas in 1954 fired their guns on a range that cost the Venezuelan government $5 million. At Cairo eight years later, the range cost the Egyptian government $7 million. The Black Canyon rifle and pistol range and the Phoenix Trap and Skeet Club, where the shotgun competition was held, represented a total investment of $1.2 million—one-sixth of it public funds.
Preparations for the championships were made by the National Rifle Association, with the International Shooting Union officials checking. Teen-agers from the Phoenix Indian School were trained in scorekeeping, working targets and being generally useful. Interpreters were plentiful, too, among them 14-year-old Richard Mesnard, who is fluent in Spanish, French, Russian, Italian and even Latin. The British contestants, he found, spoke "rather strange English."
Not all the shooting was with firearms. There was competition with the air pistol and air rifle. Indeed, the first gold medal for the U.S. was won by Army Major Sallie Carroll with her air pistol, beating out two Russian women sharpshooters. Youngest of the competitors was 15-year-old Bonny Hampson of Homestead, Fla., who placed in the top three to make the U.S. women's team as a rifleman. She is also a member of her high school bowling and swimming teams.
The U.S. team was captained by Colonel Walter Walsh, USMC retired, who is also a veteran of the FBI during the shoot-out days of the '30s when G-men were coping with the likes of Pretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger. He was himself wounded four times in bringing down a bank robber, Al Brady, outside a Bangor, Me. sporting goods store where the mobster had gone to replenish his arsenal.
No one knows how many rounds were fired in practice and competition during the championships, but one observer, watching the dust kicked up behind the targets at Black Canyon, reckoned that "there's enough lead in there to warrant mining it."