Frederick W. Cole, Jr., a smallbore shooting mainstay in the Northeast and nationally, passed away earlier this month at the age of 98. The word reached us on the Ides of May, the irony not being lost as Fred spent a long and fruitful career teaching Shakespeare to high school students.
Fred began shooting in the Marine Corps during World War II. After discharge he took advantage of the GI Bill and studied at Columbia University on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. In those post-war years, there were vibrant high school and collegiate scholastic rifle leagues in New York City. Fred starred for the Lions and was named a first team All-American in 1947. He would continue in competitive shooting for the next six decades.
He earned his first national title in 1977 as the Senior Position Champion. Next was the Intermediate Senior Championship in 1981. No, he did not invent a time machine or alter his birth certificate, but rather a change in NRA National Championship rules produced this particular glitch. He followed it up with two more Intermediate Senior titles—wielding his incredibly ugly, but impeccably accurate rifle which he painted black and called “Darwin’s Delight,” because, “it just evolved” with liberal applications of wood putty and constant filing. Serendipitously, the diminutive Fred found himself the center figure on a Camp Perry postcard sandwiched between the towering Tommy Pool and Dave Cramer.
Fred earned his NRA Smallbore Rifle Distinguished Award in 1977. Just to prove he wasn’t a one-trick pony, he added himself to the membership in the 1600 Club four years later.
On Valentines’ Day in 1971 he shot an Open and Civilian National Record kneeling on the A-17 target of 200x200 with 492 addition 10s. The record remains unbeaten to this day.
He was a mainstay of the Roslyn New York Rifle and Revolver Club competing in both gallery and outdoor competition with the likes of Walt Tomsen, Howard and Rhonda Barush, and Fred Willing.
Between 1977 and his retirement from the national stage in 2010, Fred had an amazing run of 15 senior titles to add to his three Intermediate Senior crowns. He may have had a few more, but there we several years when he was top dog, but not enough seniors were entered in the category to meet the award requirements. Since those years, no one has come close to matching his senior record.
Robert Makielski, the 1987 Senior Champion, paid a gracious compliment to his friendly rival Fred Cole when he told all who would listen that the only reason that he had won was that Fred was not in attendance. Modestly, Makielski did not mention that this was his third straight position victory. Cole had missed the championships as he was at home recuperating from a close encounter with an electric hedge cutter that almost cost him the middle finger of his left hand.
The Frazier-Simplex Rifle Club honored Robert K. Moore, the first U.S. Indoor Smallbore Position Champion and the 1958 National Prone Champion, in 2005 by gifting the Robert K. Moore Trophy, to be awarded to the senior three-position champion. Moore presented the award it to its first winner, Fred Cole.
One of Fred’s finest moments came at Connecticut’s Blue Trail Range in the late 1970s, when he became the first person to shoot a 200x200 in the Connecticut Gallery Match. It was no easy task, as the course-of-fire at the time was five shots in four positions in 25 minutes.
After a hiatus, Fred returned to the National Matches in 2010 for a final time and was recognized at the awards ceremony with a standing ovation. By coincidence, or perhaps the subtle sense of humor of the statistical office, Cole was assigned firing point 88, his age. With an impish smile he commented that he hoped that would happen each year until he fired on point 100. Sadly, that will not be. The shooting sports community is diminished by his loss.