Blast From The Past: Miss America Shooting A Cutting-Edge Rifle

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In late 1963, photographer Arthur Rickerby snapped photos of a Colt demonstration of its new AR-15 rifle. The photos appeared TIME Magazine, and their focus was on more than just the rifles themselves: Present at the shoot was 1962 Miss America pageant winner Maria Fletcher. The photos give an interesting look back to a rifle that was cutting-edge in the early Sixties:

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The Colt representative shows Maria how to shoot the AR-15. Though it is considered bad form today, Maria’s exaggerated “chicken wing” hold was standard practice for riflemen and women at the time. Note the “LIFE” stamp on the photo; I have been unable to locate a LIFE issue which used these photos, but since TIME and LIFE are associated magazines it is possible the “LIFE” stamp was added much later when the photos were added to archives.

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The date of the photos is an irony in and of itself: TIME ran the article and its photos in the 21st issue of their 82nd volume, on November 22nd, 1963; the same day President John F. Kennedy was fatally shot. Kennedy’s assassination, and the others that rocked the Sixties afterward, led directly to the passage of the 1968 Gun Control Act and the general souring of popular media towards the firearms hobby.

Many thanks to Daniel for his help researching the background of the photos in this article.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Martin Grønsdal

    Unless I see ejecting brass, I won’t believe it.

    • WFDT

      Picture #7.

      • Martin Grønsdal

        I bow my head

    • FrenchKiss

      7th picture.

      • Martin Grønsdal

        I bow my head.

        • Martin Grønsdal

          actually, the more I look at this photo, the more I don’t think that is an empty case just ejected from the rifle: she is not closing her eyes, she doesn’t seem to be affected by any recoil, and the thing that looks like an empty case, looks more like light reflectet from the receiver.

          • Haunted Puppeteer

            The shape is not consistent with reflected light. Beside that, the finish on these rifles is pretty obviously matte.

            It looks like a round in midair. Face it, she fired that rifle like a boss.

            Bonus points for no eye protection, and probably no hearing protection. The only thing that would complete the picture would be a cigarette hanging from her mouth. It was the 1960s. Seatbelt, what’s that?

          • Martin Grønsdal

            my only comment would be that after I downloaded the photo, and enlarged it, there seems to be no depth in it. As if that spot was on the rifle. Also, the light part of the buttstock seems to follow the line of that patch, as if a strobe was used on the camera, or a slave flash from the side.

          • Bob

            Granny? Is that you?

          • It’s definitely a piece of brass, I can see the primer. What makes you think it’s unlikely she actually shot the rifle that day?

          • Martin Grønsdal

            how on earth can you see the primer, since the photo is very blur, and the empty case is sideways to you?

            I don’t know if she shot the rifle or not, but neither her face nor anything else looks like she did -at least not in that very moment.

          • She can blink faster than the gun cycles, buddy.

          • Martin Grønsdal

            yep 😉

          • Martin Grønsdal

            yes, from the other photos there is little dobt. Brave girl

          • MR

            Kind of looks like an oily forward assist, but these rifles lacked that feature. Closer look, it’s definitely a spent case.

          • Haunted Puppeteer

            And another image..

          • Martin Grønsdal

            ok. objection overruled 😉

          • MR

            Okay, now let’s see her firing an M14 on full auto… 😀

          • MR

            Not exactly Miss America, but interesting. I’m sure it just looks easier on video, but that didn’t look as bad as I’d been led to believe.

          • One of my later Light Rifle articles will deal with controllability and what that really means – a subject not oft touched upon.

          • Haunted Puppeteer

            A different angle, complete with blinking.

          • hikerguy

            Yes, I see.

          • hikerguy

            Thought it was a forward assist at first, but I realized this version didn’t have one. I then thought it could be a reflection off of the gun, but is much brighter than the anodized (parkerized?) finish . I see no reaction (like you) to firing the rifle,and so I am …confused, LOL.

  • nirvana

    Kennedy assassination, Gun Control Act of 1968, attempt on Reagan, Brady Bill etc- wow- this almost seems like part of a grander scheme.

    • SP mclaughlin

      Beware of the reptilians!

      • nirvana

        or the Zionists

        • MR

          Or the RINOs

        • Simcha M.

          I hope you say that in jest, Mr. Nirvana.

          • MR

            Pretty sure it’s a collaboration between the Zionists and NeoNazis, they decided to put aside their differences to move towards their true goal of stripping the populace of rights.

          • MichaelZWilliamson

            You didn’t mention the Illuminati, the Saucer People, or Elvis. The Saucer People handle the chemtrail spraying to keep everyone docile.

          • LCON

            Shhh…. Elvis might hear you.

        • Vitsaus

          You forgot the Free Masons! *turns off the flashlight he was holding under his chin*

    • go4it

      The Kennedy “execution”! LBJ’s escape flight back to Washington DC on Air Force One was quite successful …..

    • n0truscotsman

      Yeah its called “authoritarianism”. Nothing secretive about it.

      “oh its okay. Society will be safer if I give up a little of my freedom for the common good”

      When has that ever gone wrong? (heh…)

  • Jonathan Ferguson

    Thanks for this – I found these images in the LIFE archive a couple of years ago, without any captioning, so had no idea who the subjects were until now.

  • Brian

    Nice photos. I find it notable that Miss Fletcher is able to carry 5 of these AR15s. Certainly would have been a major struggle if they were M1s.

  • SP mclaughlin

    The original black rifle.

  • Fred Johnson

    So . . . this is before all beauty pageant contestants wanted “world peace”? 😀

    • MR

      World Peace…Through Superior Firepower

    • Matrix3692

      Si vis pacem, para bellum

  • Ben

    That third pin…

    • Stan Darsh

      …makes me feel some kinda way!

  • john huscio

    She’s a shooty cutie

    • hikerguy

      Yes, she is. She would be babe in any era.

  • Esh325

    In addition to the chicken wing, the way they are not leaning into the rifle enough would probably also be considered poor form today. Although honestly the human body is much more inclined to lean more backwards than forward.

    • For the kind of shooting they are doing, you actually want to lean such that the rifle and your torso are well-balanced over your body. That’s the key to good standing shooting of the type they are doing. Having a lighter rifle makes it easier.

      • But… but tactical.

      • Esh325

        It’s preferable in most situations to lean into the rifle you’re right, but what I’m saying is that when somebody picks up a rifle for the first time they usually have a tendency to lean more backwards rather than forward as it’s more natural to the human body. So while you are controlling the recoil better , it’s less natural to lean into rifle heavily.

        • I was actually saying you’re supposed to lean back, as it improves your center of gravity over your hips.

        • iksnilol

          You controll the recoil less when leaning back, but you are more steady.

      • Tassiebush

        Why was the chicken wing dropped? Was it about them seeing your elbow as you “slice the pie”?

        • Man, I don’t know, to be honest. Ask a tactical instructor. I’ve never had a problem with the chicken wing.

        • I suspect that is part of issue, along with the danger of your extended elbow striking vertical obstacles when moving in and around buildings.

          • wouldn’t know, don’t operate

          • Joshua

            We have body armor now, and are taught to square up to the target to expose the most armor possible.

            It’s much more natural to tuck your arm in with that type of stance than chicken winging it.

            Back then you wanted as small of a target as possible, and standing like that left little shoulder to put the stock on thus the chicken wing. Now days we want to have our plates out front.

          • Tassiebush

            That point about armour makes heaps of sense! You don’t want to take a position that exposes the side and lets bullets bypass the plate!

        • Tierlieb

          I should point out that the chicken wing has not been dropped completely. The Swiss are still teaching it. Which means that a lot of people coming to this beautifully neutral country still practice it.

          And while the chickenwing might be a liability in CQB with body armour, it is the best way to fully shoulder a rifle stock. Chickenwinging creates a great rest for the stock between the chest and shoulder which is a lot less pronounced with a lowered arm.

          If you have ever seen a Swiss instructor landing hits on man-sized targets 500m away while standing, you see the value 😉
          Yes, the Swiss still have a different idea of what modern combat looks like, because they are defensively oriented. But it seems to make sense for their concept and their environment.

          • Tassiebush

            Wow hitting a man sized target at 500m while standing is remarkable! Any technique that can achieve that has considerable merit!

  • Gotta love the heels.

  • Red State

    Does not look like anybody was using heaing protection back then.

    • jeffrey melton

      WHAT?

  • ghost

    Why is she fully clothed?

    • Vitsaus

      Because she was at a firing range, not at SHOT show.

      • ghost

        Oh……

  • ostiariusalpha

    LOL! Picture #11, it looks like Ms. Fletcher is about to throw a kidney punch to get her rifle back. Don’t let some show-off hog that blaster Maria!

  • I think it’s “slenderman”…

    • MR

      No, “Slim Man” from the Charlie’s Angles movies. Slender Man was unavailable for this job.

    • LCON

      That’s just what they want you to think,

  • WOOF

  • MR

    Have you ever wondered why I never drink tap water? Only fresh rain water, and only pure grain alcohol?

  • Phillip Cooper

    Never was much of one for blondes, or raccoon eyes.
    She’s a good example of why. Meh.

    • ghost

      Before you get really involved with a woman you need to see her without makeup. (no comment on what the woman needs to see).

  • Brian

    Anyone have line on the scope one one of the rifles?

  • Keith

    She’s still alive. Someone on this site should interview her about the experience. Second from left in this recent photo.

  • Simcha M.

    My kinda gal!

  • SP mclaughlin

    I, for one, welcome our new conspiracy overlords.

  • fred

    Anyone who hates black rifles is a racist

  • AK™

    Chicken tendies cant melt steel beams

  • John Richardson

    Maria Beale Fletcher was a mountain girl. She grew up in Asheville, North Carolina. She was a Radio City Rockette before she became Miss America.

  • LetsTryLibertyAgain

    I don’t always shoot in high heels, but when I do, I adopt the chicken wing stance.

    It honestly looks like their shoulders are severely dislocated.

    • MichaelZWilliamson

      That was the style at the time.

      • LetsTryLibertyAgain

        I know it was the method that was taught at the time, but it’s as anachronistic today as spats and buggy whips.

  • claymore

    Surprised there was not even one comment on the waffle pattern mags.

  • MichaelZWilliamson

    But that was more than 50 years ago! Did they really have military grade high tech weapon of mass destruction assault sniper killing machines then?

  • RPK

    It was refreshing to see a “public figure” not wrapped up in anti-gun ownership rhetoric who appeared to be enjoying the activity she was engaged in and not just the noteriety of her “crown”. As they say here in Texas, she was hotter than a $2.00 pistol! I agree that a “retro” story should surface asking her about the experience and ascertain if she is currently a gun owner or otherwise, and what she thought about the “evil black rifle” at the time the story ran and her present feelings about that same “frightening rifle” so villified in the media.

  • B. Young

    This follows a certain 3 step blog formula:
    1.Girl,comma cute
    2. Gun (or guns!)
    3. Cute girl