Woodland Wonder Girl
(The Story of Gloria Norton) by Lee Echols
American Rifleman, March 1949


You'll find the sunlight-flooded town of Woodland, California, just a few miles northwest of the State Capitol on highway 99. You'll drive down the wide, tree-lined streets and you'll stop and talk to the friendly people. You won't talk to them long before they start telling you about Gloria Norton. Gloria is some punkins up around Woodland. She is some punkins anyplace else where the acrid fumes of gunpowder indicate a big West Coast pistol tournament. She is literally the Wonder Girl of the pistol range. I want to tell you about her.

Take a petite, well-stacked, straw-haired little gal, give her a pair of eyes as blue as the Caribbean Sea, equip her with an extremely likable disposition and put a smoking pistol in her steady right hand and there she is. Gloria Norton . . . the greatest woman pistol shooter who ever lived.

And for doubting Thomases who haven't had the dubious honor of trailing her all the way through a long, gruelling three-gun aggregate, I smugly refer to the record. She currently holds twelve of the fifteen recognized women's records, has broken one all-time national record and has tied so many of them it has become routine stuff.

On the West Coast, where pistol shooters come in bunches like grapes and where there are more high scores fired than in almost any other part of the country, Gloria has had a bad tournament when she finishes out of the top three in the grand aggregate.

And the amazing thing about this is the fact that West Coast shooters don't mind having her do it. She is probably the most popular shooter in the nation right now and a woman doesn't get that assignment simply by getting up on the firing line and making monkeys out of most of the male contenders. She is one of the finest sports in the game. To my knowledge she has never challenged a score or protested a decision.

True, when she moves up on the firing line, those blue eyes take on a confident, determined look that you don't find in them when she's telling you about the latest exploits of her two fine sons. When she prepares her equipment she's as unconcerned as a bear in a picnic lunch box and you wouldn't think she even suspected there were forty spotting scopes on her target. She exchanges a few pleasantries with her neighboring shooters and then she unhurriedly goes about the business of whaling the tar out of everybody on the range. When she looks down over those pistol sights she's as dangerous as a home-packed parachute . . . but when she gets off the firing line, she never even talks pistols. Whatever score the statistical office racks up suits her to a T.

What is there about this girl's makeup that puts her over the rest of her sex like a teepee over a Kiowa Indian?. Although the nation boasts hundreds of women pistol shooters, Gloria alone of all the crop can hold her own with the best of the men. At the big monthly San Francisco Police Pistol Tournaments from January to June, 1948, she piled up an average, computed from the scores fired during that period, which was second only to Olympic-team shooter Quentin Brooks. She bested such outstanding West Coast shooters as Bob Chow, another Olympics man and winner of the 1948 Regional Championship, and Jack Ahern, spark plug of the San Francisco Police Team. These matches have a greater attendance than any like matches in the nation and there are so many top shooters there that I have seen a 296 over the center-fire Camp Perry Police Course place eighth. She won the .22 aggregate at the 1948 Regionals in San Francisco and could easily have been in the top three in the grand aggregate but for her .45-caliber slow-fire scores, which, although Gloria would be the last to say so, can be attributed to a faulty gun. At the 1946 Regionals she tied Basil Starkey for first place in the grand aggregate and lost out on a Creedmoor.

Probably Gloria's phenomenal success lies in two directions. One is her early sphere of activity. The other is her composure on the line, which has aided her in effecting determination . . . the will to win.

Her early influence was a natural. She is the daughter of Captain Henry Jacobs, of the California Highway Patrol, who has been a big cog in the California pistol-shooting wheel ever since Emmett Jones got his first misfire. "Jake" and Gloria are a legendary father and daughter combination which is wonderful to behold. Gloria idolizes him and Jake has passed on to her those fine qualities which for so many years have characterized him and the California Highway Patrol teams. Jake was telling me how it all started.

"In 1933 1 was building a range near Woodland," he said.

"In those days we thought it imperative to dig a pit and I was on the business end of a shovel and had got down so deep I couldn't see out. The range site was near the city dump and every time I would stop to rest I would hear what I thought was someone walking around above me. I would get up out of the pit and look but couldn't see a thing. I was just about to the point where I was ready to check in for medical observation when I made a superhuman effort and got out of the pit almost as soon as I heard the noise. I found that it was rats running around the dump.

"Gloria at that time was eleven years old and I had given her a .22 rifle for her tenth birthday. She had had some instructions in sight alignment and squeeze and a lot of safety precautions and I decided I would bring her out with me the next day and see how she could do on the rats.

"Well," Jake said, "Gloria killed about fifteen of them with her rifle without a miss and I asked her how she'd like to try it with my revolver. She fired eight shots and killed eight rats.

"This started me thinking," Jake said, "and I put up a standard target at twenty-five yards and had her fire ten shots at it slow fire. She shot an eighty-eight her first attempt and I knew I had a pistol shooter in the family.

"She trained every day for the next two weeks and then I entered her in a twenty-shot slow-fire match at Fort Funston. She placed third with a score of 195 and the die was cast."

It certainly was. By the time Gloria reached her fourteenth birthday she was winning big matches against such all-time greats as Jake Engbrecht, Mark Wheeler and Hank Adams. She was breaking women's national records right and left and with it all she was making herself one of the best-liked people in the shooting game.

When she was 17 years old she accomplished something that few shooters attain in a lifetime. She broke an all-time National Record by shooting a 299 over the Camp Perry Police Course with her deadly little rim-fire gun and it stood for over a year.

The war years came along and Gloria traded her pistols for a pressure cooker and a washing machine. In 1942 she married a big, congenial guy named Warren D. Norton who wouldn't know a pistol rule book from a Coronet magazine and they went about the business of having a couple of the cutest little boys in California. David, now three years old, and Jeffrey, a long yearlin', are a pair of lads who require enough attention to kill the pistol-shooting ambitions of almost any woman. Gloria gave it up completely for a while. As any shooter knows, however, when you've watched those wadcutters going through the center and enjoyed the fine comradeship associated with the game for as many years as she has it's a hard matter to put it behind you forever. She found herself dry-firing in the kitchen and carefully scanning programs and bulletins and finally decided she could shoot in a few big matches each year and still maintain an orderly household.

"I practice dry-firing far more than actual shooting," she told me. "I can do that around the house and still wipe Jeffry's nose when it needs it."

When practice firing she usually shoots the National Match Course with all three guns and then puts them away.

She only commenced shooting the .45.in the spring of 1948 and, although she now holds most of the .45 records, she admits that it has her goat. She's determined to lick it, though.

"I don't know what I do wrong with it," she confides. "Probably be a lot easier to pick out the few things I do right."

This, however, isn't true. She holds it as steady as either of her other guns and her squeeze is as true as a radar beam. Her fault has lain in the fact that she has been shooting it without an accuracy job and as any good shooter can tell you, that's like running into the wind with a funnel in your mouth.

As a result, her twenty-five yard scores have been good because the variance in the seating of the barrel isn't great enough to make too much difference at that distance. Her fifty-yard scores are where it has shown up. At this writing, the .45 caliber slow-fire record is one of the only three women's records she doesn't hold. "Buck" Buchanan, the famous Los Angeles gunsmith, has been doing something about that and with a tight .45, equipped with good sights, she'll soon be stacking up long-range scores comparable with her others.

Gloria uses a relaxed, orthodox stance, but her grip on the gun is as out of place as a zoot suiter at the Governor's ball. She shoots with her trigger finger as far in the guard as she can get it and her right thumb sticks out on the side like a hat rack in a Greek restaurant.

"I don't know why I shoot like that," she grins. "Got started at it before my hand was big enough to go completely around the grip and never changed."

Norman Adair, famous civilian shooter from Yuma, Arizona, also uses this grip. I'm not sure whether he saw Gloria's marked success and copied it or just experimented around and started it on his own. I chided him about it once when visiting him in Yuma and he coaxed me into trying it. I shot a 297 over the Police Course with my thumb sticking out and it scared me so bad I never tried it again.

About Gloria's guns, she shoots a light-barreled Colt Officer's Model which has the distinction of being the first gun ever to have the now famous King ramp sight. It is equipped with King wide hammer and short action and has a 3-pound pull. Until lately she has shot a four-inch barrel Colt Woodsman with King ramp sights but when Colt came out with their new Match Target Woodsman las year she acquired one of them. She has found that it is a little too heavy for her...she only weighs 110 pounds...and has had Buchanan cut three-quarters of an inch off the barrel. This gives her better accuracy at fifty yards and still doesn't detract from her fine scores at twenty-five yards.

Although taking her shooting very seriously, Gloria isn't serious'about it. This tempers her determination with a sense of humor which stands her in good stead when a record is in the offing and the jostling crowds begin to form behind her. I watched her at Calexico, California, at the Desert Cavalcade Internationals last March when she had a bad string of rapid fire with her .45. She had only been shooting the big gun a few weeks at that time and it still had her somewhat baffled. As she walked off the line I asked her how it went. She put down her gun box and grinned.

"I think I've got to make a definite decision," she said. "I've got to decide whether I'm going to shoot four good ones and lose one as the target turns or just go ahead and shoot five bad ones quick."

Speaking of the Desert Cavalcade Internationals at Calexico, Gloria so endeared herself there in the hearts of the shooters and townspeople that, unbeknown to her, they raised a goodly sum of money and had a beautiful pair of cowboy boots made to her measurement...complete with crossed pistols, her name and all sorts of fancy doodads on them. This kind of treatment frankly amazes her. She asks no special dispensation because of her sex and the hundreds of shooters who have fired with her over the years realize this and respect her for it . . .

She was sighting in her guns for the big 1948 Regionals at San Francisco. She had driven in from Woodland and was tired and shaky. She jerked three eights with her .45 which touched one another at seven o'clock. Don Millican, great California Highway Patrol shooter, was spotting her target.

"That's our Gloria," he said. "She's the only pistol shooter alive who can jerk 'em thru the same hole!"

Yep, the folks up at Woodland: are just about right. Gloria Norton is some punkins on a pistol range.