The competitive shooting community sadly lost a pillar with the passing of shooting legend Ernest J. Vande Zande. The beloved rifle shooter, well-known as “the human benchrest,” passed away on September 29 at the age of 70, after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer.
A native of McCook, NE, Vande Zande was a prone rifle specialist, with over 200 records set in International competition. Graduating from Murray State University in 1971, he led the rifle team to four National Championship victories, earning All-American honors each year.
After graduating college, Vande Zande was commissioned as an Army officer, serving with the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, and overseas as Company and Compound Commander at Camp To Bong Son, Korea. He retired from the Army as a Major after serving 23 years active-duty and as a reservist.
Vande Zande established the National Record for the Critchfield course-of-fire consisting of 1600 iron and 1600 any sight shots with a score of 3200-301X. In 1980, Vande Zande won the NRA Smallbore Rifle Prone Championship at Camp Perry. The next year, he fired a world record in the English Match with a perfect 600 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Vande Zande was a member of the USAR Shooting Team from 1982-1994; and won 11 medals. An International Distinguished shooter, Vande Zande was on nine Dewar teams and spent six years working at the U.S. Olympic Training Center as an NRA employee in the 1980s and early 1990s, serving on the NRA International Competitions Committee. He was also the team leader for the U.S. shooting team at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.