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.
The treachery of a pulsating artery or a pulsating wind could foul up Ransford Triggs's chances in the upcoming national matches, but the prospect never worries him. Over the years he has experienced a good number of odd twists in the game. Four years ago, going into the last match, Triggs stood even with Alonzo Wood of Elbridge, N.Y.; each of them had dropped only seven shots out of the 320 that counted for the title. In the last match, each man had one shot seemingly nipping the 10-ring. When the shot holes were gauged by officials, Wood's shot was in the 10-ring by 1/50th of an inch, Triggs's was out by as much. Six years ago, when his gun was accidentally left in the hot sun between matches, the heat cooked the fouling in the barrel. In the next match his shot group opened up, the shots falling all over the 9-ring. Out of one 20-shot string, Triggs dropped eight. He lost the title by seven.
Triggs has, in fact, won the title only once, long ago, in 1941. This is typical of the sport—John Moschkau of Waterloo, Iowa, for another example, came within three points of winning in 1940 and never came so close again until he took the title last year, dropping only eight shots out of 640. It is in considering the scores of all the top men through the years—the superaggregates of their scores, as it were—that Triggs stands somewhat in a class by himself. Triggs has usually ranked in the first 10; in 13 championships in the past 20 years he has fired 4,960 shots and dropped only 208 outside the 10-ring—a record for consistency that will not be equaled often or easily.
Triggs has long since given up caring whether he wins or not. "If I felt I had to win," he commented recently, "I wouldn't go." Triggs's interest is in firing as clean a score as possible, with little concern for how he ranks in the competition. He cannot, in fact, recall with any certainty what he scored in prior matches, and he is reluctant to dwell on the bad luck and near misses that have spoiled his scores. Every man on the line, he figures, gets his share of misfortune, and the man who alibis too much too loudly is soon rated by his rivals on the firing line as the biggest bore in the small-bore field.
This month, almost concurrent with the national matches, the world shooting championships take place in Moscow, and it is the oddity of the sport that, because of their devotion to prone shooting, many of our best men never represent us abroad. For while the U.S. has stayed on its stomach, international competition has trended toward position shooting of a highly specialized sort. The extent of specialization in both types of shooting is somewhat apparent in the display of rifles shown on the preceding pages. Second from the left in this display is the Winchester High Wall rifle, now extinct on the firing line but in its day used both for prone and position shooting. The modern target rifle at the left, Remington's 40x Rangemaster, is the sort popular for U.S. prone shooting. The gun at the extreme right, the Finnish Lion, with thumb hole and palm rest, is typical of the arms used in position shooting. Second from the right is a Winchester experimental rifle which carries the U.S.'s hopes in international high-power competition.
It will be a surprise, however, if U.S. shooters do well internationally so long as the essential interest here is in prone shooting. In several ways, by incorporating position shooting in the junior qualifications and by promoting a special position competition at Camp Perry, the National Rifle Association is trying to get the U.S. rifleman up off his stomach. There has been some progress, but not enough. At Perry, for example, while Triggs and about 650 more will enter the small-bore prone matches, probably not more than 300 will try position shooting. Triggs himself prefers prone shooting, where the refinement of the weapon and the doping of conditions are the foremost challenges.
PRECISION AND MORE PRECISION
Triggs is by profession a printer, vice-president of Triggs Color Printing Corporation, which produces book jackets and inside color work for many large publishing houses. His work involves the precise care and feeding of great presses that thump and rumble through the day like caged brontosaurs. After a work week of exact, millimetric precision among the presses, it would seem that for recreation Triggs would seek out some chaotic, haphazard game, something on the order of flamingo croquet as played by Alice in Wonderland. But, says Triggs, "I shoot because I am a tinkerer at heart. All small-bore men are tinkerers at heart." At tinkering, Triggs is the ultimate. The gun he holds in the picture at left is like no other. It is a Triggs gun. Every part of the barrel, action, stock and sights was cut by Triggs from raw material, machined, drilled, tapped, threaded, reamed, milled and finished by him in his cellar. The 30-inch barrel is the end product of 18 such barrels that he drilled and rough-reamed. Twelve of the barrels he discarded because the tensions released by drilling produced warp. The remaining six barrels were then placed on his house roof for six months of weathering to release any further tension. The best of these six became his barrel.
It is not, however, Triggs's contention that a successful shooter need make his gun from scratch. In the welter of guns in his house, Triggs has good proof to the contrary—a Model 52 Winchester, the standby of the firing line, which he purchased in the late '30s. In the years since, he has put 200,000 rounds through the barrel; the Model 52 groups as well today as it did when he won the national title with it 17 years ago. The essential, Ransford Triggs concludes, is that the man must be the complete master of his target gun whatever its origin.