Civilian marksmanship was appalling, for a population obsessed with guns.

– Jack Reacher

Lee Child (pen name for author Jim Grant) is the creator of the Jack Reacher series of novels, which inspired the Hollywood movie of the same name.

I can appreciate Reacher/Child/Grant’s sentiment, but I’d drop the civilian descriptor as military marksmanship can be frightfully poor as well.

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Reacher is a claimed winner of the Wimbledon Cup, described as “the only non-Marine to win the U.S. Marine Corps 1000 Yard Invitational rifle competition.”

In reality, The Wimbledon Cup is an open civilian match and is but a part of the NRA Long Range Championships. All the trophies and events of the NRA Long Range Championships are described here:

Why is it incorrectly thought to be a Marine match? And why the fixation on one single match instead of the overall aggregate? Probably because Carlos Hathcock won it back in 1965 with a score of 100-17V (yes, this was before the smaller, more difficult decimal target was adopted.) Hathcock’s later exploits in Viet Nam as a Marine sniper garnered him some fame.

Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter revolves around a former Vietnam War sniper named Bob Lee Swagger. The book was later made into the film Shooter with “Marky Mark” Wahlberg playing Swagger. Says Hunter,

I wanted to write a novel about a sniper. I’d read a biography of Carlos Hathcock, a Marine sniper. … Carlos Hathcock lost a spotter in Vietnam. So, I had Bob lose a spotter in Vietnam. Of course, the movie has been updated, so Vietnam hasn’t figured in it.

What the sniper fanboys, wannabes and novelists seem to forget is that modern sniping doctrine was created by competition shooters.

In September 1966 Captain Jim Land arrived in Vietnam. He had come specifically to train and organize Scout/Snipers for the First Marine Division which would soon replace the Third Marine Division near Da Nang.

Land faced a number of challenges. Like Bob Russel before him he was left to his own resources in acquiring equipment and personnel for his new sniper platoon.

“I had no guns, no instructors, I never had an office. But the one thing I did have was that I knew the location of just about every Distinguished Marksmen in Vietnam.” Distinguished Marksmen were top scoring marksmanship team competitors. One such marksman, who was assigned as a military policeman, was Carlos Norman Hathcock.

Of course, like Reacher, Swagger had to win the Wimbledon Cup because Hathcock did. Not the whole aggregate, just the Wimbledon. Apparently, it’s some sort of rite of passage for super macho tough guys.

Then there is the reality. Starting as a teenager, Michelle Gallagher has won the Wimbledon Cup five times. Her mother, Nancy, has won it as well. Not even fictional tough guys (never mind those in the real world) can make this claim.