Posted by: Josh Workman
This being a presidential election year have you considered how many of our past holders of the oval office have been shooters?
We are well aware of the current Chief Executive’s position on firearms, but not all American presidents, regardless of political party, have been anti-gun. Some were hunters and enjoyed being afield, while others preferred target shooting.
Perspective by Larry S. Sterett | Contributing Editor
George Washington was not only an outdoorsman from his early surveying days, and later military life. He enjoyed riding, particularly fox hunting or riding with the hounds, and apparently did so even while President. He also enjoyed cockfighting, fishing, hunting. (Some of his journals refer to such events as “Went a ducking between breakfast and dinner and killed a Mallard and 5 Bald Faces.”) When Washington left office he ceased fox hunting, but continued with his rides around the Mount Vernon countryside.
Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, was an excellent swimmer, but like later President Harry Truman, apparently preferred walking for exercise. He tended toward intellectual pursuits such as chess and reading, rather than outdoor sporting events such as fishing and hunting.
Andrew Jackson, our seventh President was an expert pistol shot, as evidenced by his winning of a number of duels. He was also an excellent rifle shot and enjoyed cockfighting and horse racing.
Our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln, was best known for his wrestling ability, but he was no slouch with a rifle, as indicated by his shooting of the Spencer rifle on the White House lawn during the Civil War. He also got some marksmanship time in during the Black Hawk War. Whether he ever had time in his youth, or a rifle or shotgun to use for hunting isn’t known. However, hunting for food—venison and small game, such as rabbits and squirrels—was an accepted way to help fill the food larder.
Ulysses S. Grant was probably the best horseman of any of our presidents. Although he did not get in much shooting practice as a General during the Civil War, he would no doubt have done so during the Mexican War in Monterrey. He was also an excellent track athletic, setting a high-jumping record at West Point that stood for more than 25 years.
The 22nd and 24th President, Grover Cleveland, enjoyed both fishing and hunting, and was known for his many two-and-three day jaunts in the pursuit of his favorite pastimes. He tended more toward fishing than hunting, but enjoyed the time he was able to spend doing either.
Following Cleveland was Benjamin Harrison, who apparently enjoyed hunting more than fishing. He was reported to be an excellent wing shot, which would help explain the Lefever shotgun mentioned earlier. How many birds were bagged with the Lefever is not recorded.
The 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, without a doubt, ranks as the ultimate hunter among our Chief Executives. His book African Game Trails is a classic, but he also hunted in the western U.S., Brazil, and possibly elsewhere. (During his African safari, Roosevelt’s battery included his custom Springfield Armory built M1903 rifle, a Winchester M1895 lever action rifle in .405 Winchester—the medicine gun—an English-built double rifle presented to him by friends for use on Big Game, a side/side shotgun for bird hunting, a .22 rimfire rifle for small game, and according to the New York importer at that time, a M1908 Parabellum (Luger) pistol. There may have been others. During his time in the Western U.S., prior to his time as President, he carried and used lever action Winchester rifles (On his Centennial Model 1876, T.R. commented: “The Winchester…is by all odds the best weapon I ever had, and now I use it almost exclusively…”) Colt handguns, and possibly a few other brands. After each adventure he chronicled it with a book. T.R. definitely knew and used his guns.
A number of our presidents from TR to his cousin, FDR, were more interested in baseball than in either fishing or hunting. Golf was also becoming popular as a means of obtaining some exercise outdoors.
Prior to his being struck with polio in his late thirties, Franklin Roosevelt enjoyed big bore rifle shooting using the M1903 Springfield. After he became paralyzed from the waist down, FDR took up swimming for exercise, and stamp collecting as a hobby.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, our 34th President, liked to golf, but also enjoyed fishing and hunting. He enjoyed quail hunting in particular, and reportedly hunted quail on his Gettysburg farm when he retired. DDE is known to have received at least two presentation firearms. One was an over/under 12 gauge Russian-manufactured shotgun with Tula choke barrels, a gift from the Russian Premier. The second was a M1911A1 Ithaca-manufactured pistol. The shotgun was elaborately engraved, along with gold inlays. The Ithaca M1911A1 featured the President’s signature in gold inlay atop the slide behind the front sight, and the presidential seal medallion inlays on the stocks.
Once, when questioned on sports, Eisenhower responded: “There are three that I like all for the same reason—golf, fishing, and shooting—because they take you into the fields…where you are thinking of the bird or that ball or the wily trout. Now…it is a very healthful, beneficial…thing, and I do it whenever I get a chance, as you well know.”
John F. Kennedy was known for his touch-football playing, hiking, and boating. With a bad back, he was not known for spending time in the field hunting or fishing, or even target shooting as did FDR. However, as a US Senator, JFK did own a 1959 Springfield Armory National Match M1 Garand rifle. Documented, and historically significant, the rifle recently sold at auction for $149,500.It is doubtful if Sen. Kennedy (later President Kennedy) ever fired it in any matches, or even if he ever fired it.
Richard M. Nixon was a wannabee of organized sports, such as football. (Nixon is known to have called some coaches and suggested plays they might use.) He also played golf, but apparently had no interest in fishing or hunting.
With the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, out 38th President, Gerald Ford, was probably in the best physical shape of any of our presidents. He was no doubt the best athletic to occupy the White House, having been a pro-caliber football player, a good skier, and an excellent swimmer. He apparently had no or little interest in fishing or hunting, which may be a bit surprising, as his home state is known for both.
Jimmy Carter, our 39th President, isn’t remembered as being a fisherman or hunter, but was actually both. He played tennis and softball, but in earlier years enjoyed fishing and small game hunting. With the exception of Theodore Roosevelt, he was one of the few Oval Office residents who wrote at least one book devoted to his enjoyment of such sports.
Ronald Regan was noted more for his collegiate football days and his movie career than for fishing or hunting. In his movie role days he no doubt handled a number of firearms, especially handguns as a cowboy actor. He also is reported as having done some duck hunting and upland bird hunting along with other screen men, such as Clark Gable, who was an avid game bird hunter
Our 41st and 43rd Presidents, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush both enjoyed quail hunting in Texas. They may also have hunted whitetails on their Texas ranches. H.W. was the youngest pilot in the U.S. Navy in World War II, and may still hold that record. He flew Grumman Avengers, and was shot down a reported three times, surviving to eventually become President of the United States. George H.W. as a pilot in combat no doubt had experience with the .50 Browning machine gun. What rifles, and/or handguns he may have been familiar with in a sporting sense isn’t known to this writer.
The current president is known for his anti-gun sentiment, but does have one rather unique gun-related aspect. According to the New England Historical Genealogical Society, President Obama is the sixth cousin, six times removed, of Wild Bill Hickok, through his mother’s side. The common ancestor was Dutch immigrant Thomas Blossom, who arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1629. Back in 2008, in Springfield, Missouri, during his run for President, he cautioned Senator John McCain about debating a relative of Wild Bill. (Hickok shot Davis Tutt in the Springfield town square on July 21, 1865; the beginning of his short career as what many have called the deadliest Pistoleer of the Old West.) As the saying goes, Hickok might turn over in his grave, as he was a staunch Republican, and the owner of many firearms; at least nine, with the pair of ivory-stocked Colt Navy .36-caliber revolvers being the most noted. (Hickok was reported to originally have been buried with his .50-caliber sporterized Springfield M1870 rifle; the rifle was removed from the coffin by someone during a later reburial.
There you have it, a brief summary of the shooting sports activities of our past holders of the title, President of the United States. Political affiliations ranged from Whig to Republican, including Democrat and Federalist.