Petzal: Happy Warriors

In the 1950s, in The Gun Digest, Charlie Askins did a terrific piece on then-Master Sergeant Huelet "Joe" Benner, who was one of the great American handgun shooters of the 20th century. Askins gave GD's readers a detailed look at how Benner went about his trade, and the handguns he used, and then included the seemingly odd piece of information that Benner was a happy man, very much at peace with himself and the world.

Maybe not so odd. In the late 1980s I spoke with the colonel who commanded the Marine Corps Scout-Sniper School, and asked him what psychological types they looked for in their candidates.
"We want all-American boys," he said. "We don't want loners or psychos or Rambos. We want well-adjusted Marines who will do exactly what we tell them to do."

The club that tolerates my presence runs year-round competitions with rifle, handgun, and shotgun, and the most-revered competitor in its 107-year history is a man who not only beat everyone at everything nearly all the time but was the personification of a sportsman and a gentleman. His name deserves to be remembered, so I will tell you that it was David George.

He was a ferocious competitor, but his ferocity was directed against targets, not himself or his fellow shooters. When he won, he won with grace, and on those rare occasions when he lost, he was no different.

The moral of all this is that the best shooting is done with an untroubled spirit. Martial artists make much of this, and they are right. If you can't master yourself, you will never master a rifle.