A familiar figure at the Grand some 50 years ago was an always-smiling, shy, short, stocky fellow from the state of Washington. He wore baggy pants, a green visor and a stained, wrinkled vest, and he smoked Camels. His name was Arnold Riegger, and he is a shooting legend in every sense of the word.
Old-timers will surely recognize his name. There were lots of stories about Arnold. A lot weren't true, but many were. Some will say, "He's the one responsible for the 27-yard line," and they'll be right. In an effort to stop him from winning big money handicaps in the Western states, the ATA changed the rules on Jan. 1, 1955, moving the maximum yardage from 25 to 27 yards. This didn't stop Arnold. In Las Vegas on Feb. 12, 1955, he broke 97 from 26 yards and became the second shooter to ever reach the 27.
Arnold Riegger was introduced to trapshooting by his dad in 1940. Shells were $.80 a box. A round of trap, shells included, cost $1.35. Joe Hiestand, Phil Miller and Ned Lilly dominated the game. Hiestand's long run of 1,179 registered targets seemed untouchable.
During his early days, Riegger shot a Winchester Model 37, a single-shot, break-open gun with an exposed hammer and no rib. It was a youth or beginner's model that he bought for $7.80. Winchester never meant it to be a trapgun, but no one ever bothered to tell Arnold.
At the Redmond Gun Club during the second war, he ran 177 straight with his little Model 37. Then trouble started. The barrel heated up so much that the action wouldn't easily open and close. Not to be daunted by this inconvenience, he broke 99 from 22 yards with #9 shot and then sold the gun. The next day he bought another one for $15.
Arnold received a letter dated June 28, 1946, from M. B. Allen, Sales Promotion Manager for Winchester. It said in part:
Dear Mr. Riegger :
Letters such as these are indeed a pleasure to write, First of all, because we want to congratulate you on your fine long run at the Washington State P.I.T.A. shoot.
Secondly, the record is of particular interest since it was made with a Winchester Model 37.
This is a rather unusual record for this gun in much as it is not usually in competition with guns especially adopted for trapshooting and retailing , at a much higher price. We feel this makes your record stand out still more.
An early newspaper clipping told a similar story.
Arnold Riegger a Boeing employee who came recently from Port Angeles, proved over the weekend a man does not have to invest several hundred dollar a shotgun to do good shooting. With a single barrel Model 37 Winchester that cost him $15, he broke 249x250 to top the field in the 16-yard event of Redmond Gun Club's inaugural trapshoot. Tree hundred trapshooters competed.
At an Elks Shoot at St. Johns Gun Club in Portland the forend on his little Model 37 split. He was told he would be unable to buy just a forend, that he'd have to buy the entire gun. The area Winchester rep, Winn Huff, convinced Arnold to try his Model 12. He shot a practice round at the then maximum 25-yard line and broke them all. Thinking this was just a fluke, he shot again and broke another 25.
Arnold tried to buy Huff's Model 12. When wouldn't sell it, Arnold bought another cheap Model 37 for $17.
Riegger took his new gun to Yakima, Wash., a week later. Winn Huff was there and let Arnold shoot his Model 12 again. He won the shoot and $160, and this time Huff relented and sold Riegger the Model 12.
His great scores and many wins with his single-shot Winchester amazed me. Trapshooters didn't use state- of-the-art shotguns back in the 1940s as they do now, but few could believe, even then, what Arnold accomplished with his Model 37. I can only compare it today with a fellow who wins a NASCAR race with the car he drives to work.
By the summer of 1947, Arnold was using his Model 12 pump for all events, including doubles, and this is the gun that made him famous.
Arnold and the rest of Boeing went on strike in the summer of 1948, which allowed Arnold to attend the Grand for the first time. A travel agent in Seattle lined him up with a sailor who needed a ride to his home in Michigan, and the two split expenses. It was about the only way Arnold could afford to go. Along the way he stopped at the Central Zone Shoot in Clinton, Ind., and won about everything but the clubhouse. By the time he got to Vandalia, Midwestern shooters knew who he was. His first day at his first Grand, he broke 50 straight in doubles, shucking his Model 12. He won alone and collected what was to be his first of many Grand American trophies.
Boeing wasn't on strike during the 1949 Grand, and it looked like Arnold wasn't going to go. When Arnold told Jimmy Robinson, Trap & Skeet Editor for Sports Afield, he wouldn't be at the Grand, Jimmy wrote to Arnold's boss. The letter worked, and Boeing let him have the time off. He went home with the Clay Target Championship and finished the year with an average of .9910 on 2,800 singles. It was the highest average ever compiled on 2,000 or more targets.
He was one of the first shooters to switch to 2 3/4- dram shells for handicap. The heavier 3-dram loads were used by the vast majority until Arnold started winning with the lighter loads.
Riegger was an early reloader. Prior to the late 1950s, no one ever thought about it. Homer Clark Jr. and his company (Alcan Corp.) changed all that. Homer made shooting more affordable by supplying the necessary components for people to load their own shells. Al Ljutic developed the first large reloading machine, and Arnold demonstrated and sold them. Riegger won many tournaments with shells he reloaded on Al Ljutic's press.
During the 1950s a lot of the big shoots put up new cars as the top prize in the feature handicap. Rumor had it that Arnold was so confident of winning that he would hitchhike or fly to the car shoots so he could drive the high-gun trophy home. I remember someone telling me he won over 20 new cars. The truth is, he actually won two; In 1951 in Reno, he broke 583x600 from the maximum 25 yards and won a new Dodge. A friend of his drove it home.
At the conclusion of the 1954 Grand American, somebody told Arnold that the Gates (Ohio) Gun Club was putting up a 1954 Ford. The handicap shoot was to be held the day after the Grand ended. He broke 98 and won the Ford. A friend drove the new vehicle to Casper, Wyo. where Arnold's dad picked it up and drove it back to Washington.
Jimmy Robinson once wrote in his Sports Afield column that Arnold had hitched a ride on a freight train to a shoot that was giving away a new car. And, of course, he won the car and drove it home. Arnold said it just never happened that way.
Here's one I know is true. At the 1959 Grand American, he started on a 16-yard long run that would eventually end at 1,434 straight, surpassing Joe Hiestand's record that had stood since 1938.
Lots of people followed Arnold's squad at the Grand that year. I was one of them. Arnold was shooting Peters shells and hadn't missed a 16-yard target all week, so by the time Wednesday's Clay Target Championship came along, his squad had collected quite a gallery. This was five years before the first plastic target load, and paper hulls lay allover the fields. When moving from one position to another, you had to literally kick the hulls aside so your feet would be flat on the shooting positions. Not Arnold, he stood on those empty hulls and smashed target after target. I heard someone say, " Arnold, don't those empty hulls you are standing on bother you?" And I'll never forget his reply: "What hulls?" Talk about concentration.
Years of Camel cigarettes caught up with Arnold Riegger in 1961. At 41 he was diagnosed with throat cancer. This didn't stop him from shooting, but it slowed him down some. He couldn't call "pull" loud enough for a puller to hear him, so he used a crow call and gave a single squawk. Later he went to a whistle, then a voice box with a small microphone. He continued to win until the late 1960s, when he pretty much called it quits.
By the time it all ended, Arnold Riegger had compiled one of the greatest trapshooting records of all time. He was selected to the Trapshooting Hall of Fame in 1975. Some of his Grand wins included the Clay Target Championship, Champion of Champions, Zone Champion of Champions, Singles Class Championship, High-Over-All and AII-Around. His world's record of 1,434 straight 16-yard targets wasn't broken until 1967. Additionally, he was one of two who represented the United States in trapshooting at the 1960 Olympic games in Rome. He won 17 Washington state ATA titles and 11 Western Zone championships. Riegger broke four 100s at doubles shooting his Winchester Model 12 pump gun and led the ATA in singles averages five times and twice in handicap. He was on 11 first-string AII-American teams and was captain five times. Unassuming Arnold would call all this a mediocre career.
He died of cancer on July 6,1996, two days shy of his 76th birthday. If Jimmy Robinson could come back from wherever the Lord has placed him, and pick an "AII-American 20th Century Trap Team," you can bet Arnold Riegger's name would be included.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 June 2010 09:30|