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Robert F. Jones
March 30, 1987
Lones and Deena Wigger are top U.S. marksmen
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March 30, 1987

Triggers For Wiggers

Lones and Deena Wigger are top U.S. marksmen

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After three weeks under Wigger, his snipers were hitting their targets at 600 meters with the first shot from their M-14s. "My best sniper was a ghetto kid from Chicago," he says proudly. "A Chicano we called Poppa Leech. He had all the patience in the world. He'd sit out there on a trail for three days straight, in the heat and the dark and the bugs. But he had to work alone—couldn't stand having a partner. I let him. In a way, that's what shooting's all about. It's an 'alone' kind of thing."

Just back from Vietnam, Wigger qualified for the 1972 Olympics. While shooting in the 300-meter centerfire competition—a "big bore" event, since discontinued on the Olympic agenda—Wigger realized his rifle needed an adjustment during the kneeling stage of the three-position event. He calmly took the barrel action out of the stock, put some cardboard in the glass bedding to tighten the fit, went back to the line and eventually won his second Olympic gold. No other American rifleman has won more. "That meant a lot to me," he says. "It proved the first one wasn't a fluke." Persistence builds consistency....

Both of Wigger's sons, Ronald and Danny, won scholarships to Eastern Kentucky on the strength of their marksmanship. Ronald, 26, is now a first lieutenant with the USAMU, and Danny, 25, is a senior at Eastern Kentucky. But Deena, his only daughter, dropped out of the sport for half a year shortly after she started shooting competitively at age 12. "I guess I quit shooting at the time because I felt I was being pushed," she says. "I want to do it on my own." But when her mother told Deena how much her dad needed her on the junior rifle team in Fort Benning, Deena responded and eventually began winning.

To anyone who has plinked tin cans in the backyard with an old .22, watching one of the Wiggers at practice is a revelation. First there's the gear—lots of it. Lones Wigger starts by pulling on two thick, tattered sweatshirts, even if it's 92° in the shade, then a pair of high-waisted leather shooting pants and a red-white-and-blue leather shooting coat with USA on the back. Last come a pair of flat-soled, high-arched shooting shoes and padded leather gloves.

"This stuff isn't for show," Wigger says. "You want flat shoes that will give you as much floor contact as possible. The high waist on the pants gives you lower-back support—mighty important when you're standing for two of the five and a quarter hours it takes for a three-position event. The sweatshirts and leather coat help dampen your pulse so the rifle doesn't jump with each beat of your heart. Even at that, you can't dampen it entirely. Most shooters try to squeeze off—to 'break' the shot—between heartbeats, when the rifle is steadiest. The padded gloves help, too."

Wigger's rifle is a $1,100 West German Anschutz Model 1813 that weighs 15 pounds fully assembled. The gun has an adjustable peep sight and a hypersensitive trigger assembly.

Deena uses a two-stage trigger, one that allows a bit of slack before tightening to the break point that releases the shot. Each shooter's "hold" varies with his or her facial structure, arm length and other physical features. Women, with their wider hips, have better stability than men and can rest the elbow under their support hand on what Wigger calls "their natural shelf—the pelvic bone. The stance can be fine-tuned by adding movable cheek-pieces and a fore-end stop that can slide up or down to accommodate a shooter's arm length. It's all necessary in a sport where three shots wide of the 10-ring bull's-eye in a 120-shot event can spell the difference between victory and defeat.

"I can practice four or five hours a day, year-round," Deena says. "I do aerobics. Four days a week I lift weights to develop upper-arm and lower-back strength. I try to run at least two miles a day." Then she smiles. "If the weather's nice, I lie out in the sun for a couple of hours and listen to music."

Despite her years of arduous training, Deena proved she was more than Daddy's Little Robot by earning a 3.67 grade point average in high school and election to the National Honor Society. She was also elected Homecoming Queen one year at Spencer High but had to decline because she was competing in China and couldn't get back in time. So her mother stood in for her. Now completing her sophomore year at Murray State University in Kentucky, Deena has a 3.1 average, with a major in business. "I'm interested in fashion merchandising," she says. "I did some modeling when I was in high school, but it really doesn't do much for me. I'm planning to shoot until 1992, and right now I'm arranging my goals. I'll join ROTC, like my dad and my brothers before me, then hope to get into the USAMU at Fort Benning. It's the best deal there is for a shooter."

So far she's well on her way to a shot at the '88 Games in Seoul. Last summer she won four national titles and the bronze medal at the World Championships. In 1985 she won a silver in the junior event at the World Air Gun Championships in Strasbourg, France. "It was an open event," she says, grinning, "so we got to shoot against the men. We beat the French guys, and they were the world champs."

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