Hello and welcome back to The Rimfire Report! In this ongoing series, we explore and discuss various firearms, ammunition, and concepts within the rimfire world. This week we’re going to explore the indoor rimfire shooting sport of Wingo. If you’ve never heard of it before I wouldn’t be surprised as it was extremely obscure.
The Rimfire Report: Wingo – The Forgotten Indoor Shooting Sport
What is Wingo?
Wingo was the Winchester-Western Division’s answer to the shooting sports itch in the 1970s. While this sport was entirely experimental, it still had firearms and ammunition specially produced for it, some of which can be found as collector’s items today.
The basic premise of the sport was to outscore your opponent (although you could play by yourself using the machine’s options). Targets consisted of 4-inch diameter hollow ice balls which were launched at the shooter at speeds of up to 30mph, however, the speed at which the target was launched could be determined by the operator of the console. The shooter was armed with a 20 caliber smoothbore lever-action shotgun that fired proprietary 20 caliber shotshells.
The game was meant to be played by two teams with each game consisting of 10 shots that would cost $1 per game. The opponent team could select from one of 5 ports to launch from which were arranged in a quincunx shape (think of the 5 dots on a dice). The ports were distanced 75-feet away from the “player” who then was tasked with shooting and breaking the ice balls. The scoring system was automatic based on a combination of successful target breaks and time between the launch and the shot. The maximum score attainable was 100 for a series of 10 perfect shots scored between 1 and 10.
Equipment and Facility
The Winchester corporation intended to make this sport a high-class affair. The one and only facility was constructed using a combination of state of the art equipment and electronics combined with the luxury of a high-end lounge for potential customers. The decision to trial the viability of the sport on the west coast was picked because San Diego already had many other types of recreational activities.
The Wingo Smoothbore Shotgun
The shotgun used was electronically tethered to the shooting stand both for safety and so that an attached microphone could record the shot taken by the player for scoring. The shotgun was a smooth bore 20 caliber (5mm) lever-action shotgun which included an integrated “Qwik-Point” sight for faster target acquisition. The firearm was similar to the smoothbore “Garden Gun” that was released by Henry Repeating Arms in 2019 which made use of 22 caliber shotshells.
The inclusion of electronics also added an extra layer of safety. The shotgun could only be discharged when the ice target was launched, ensuring that shooters could not fire without a viable target downrange. The shotgun weighed a total of 5.5lbs and was 38″ overall in length.
The shotguns are now collector’s items and go for several thousand dollars on the open market and ammunition is just as rare sometimes going for $20 for a small sampling of the crimped nose 20 caliber shotshells. The shotshells themselves made use of 119 lead pellets of #12 shot which produced a 30″ pattern at 50 feet. The shotshells were the only type of ammunition that could be inserted into the shotgun as the diameter of the 20 caliber barrel was designed to specifically discourage people from bringing in their own rimfire ammunition.
The round was said to have produced so little sound that no hearing protection was required to be worn in the range.
Targets and Lanes
The targets were 4-inch diameter one-ounce hollow ice balls which were launched by opponents who sat behind the shooter at a control console for the lane. The balls were launched via a pneumatic air cannon ensuring the ice ball didn’t prematurely break in flight. The operator’s console also had an automatic mode for single players in which the electronic system would randomly select speeds and ports to launch the 10 targets out of.
From my research into online forums, it seems that there are very few who remember the sport or even knew of it. The facility was only open for about a year and consisted of 10 lanes and a concessions area, restaurant, and two sunken lounges for potential patrons waiting for a lane. The exterior of the building was labeled only with the words “Wingo” which was intended to draw curiosity by passers-by.
Ironically, the sport may have been ahead of its time with the ice targets. Not only were they cheap to produce but they were environmentally friendly which in today’s Californian environment would mean it would be under less scrutiny than normal.
Fun but not Profitable
Unfortunately, the Wingo shooting sport was not long-lived. The one and only shooting facility in San Diego was shut down less than a year after opening due to a lack of interest as well as a failure to be a profitable sport. Winchester never made another attempt at generating interest in the sport in order to reopen.
The Wingo Shooting Facility was closed and converted into a Branch of the San Diego Superior Court. Meanwhile, the rifles, ammunition, and ice machine equipment were sold off. Many of the rifles are in the hands of private collectors while one of the two remaining ice machines is known to be in the Cody Firearms Museum in Cody, Wyoming.
I hope you enjoyed this exploration of what I think would have been an awesome sport were it to have lived on to this day. In any case, thanks for stopping by to read The Rimfire Report we’ll see you next time!
Information and Sources derived from Popular Science Volume 198 – 1971.