By Jim Foster
A recent telephone call to San Antonio, Texas, resulted in some disturbing and depressing news.
It seemed I had visited Hal only a short time ago, but time marches on. Hala’s lifelong companion and No. 1 supporter, Wilma, answered the phone at the Swiggetts’ residence.
Wilma sounded good and told me that although Hal was physically good for a fellow of 84 years he is suffering from advanced dementia. He no longer can remember his friends. Distressing news to hear about a man with whom I had spent hours with — hearing about his relationship with his Creator, his wisdom, his exploits and his always-sage advice.
What can be said about Hal Swiggett?
On a personal level, Hal has been a mentor, a hunting partner, a guide, an instructor and mostly a friend. Hal is a man of many talents, and in retrospect, a man who wore many hats, although the one he wore on his head was of the cowboy variety.
I would describe Hal as one of the tallest men I’ve ever met. In actuality Hal stands just a bit over 5 feet and wears a size 5 cowboy boot. Hal is not tall according to a ruler, but his measurements cannot be calculated in feet and inches. Anyone who has ever shot, much less hunted, with a Thompson Center Arms 45-70 pistol will agree it’s an explosive experience. Hal tested this hunting handgun by shooting many rounds and later brought down a Maine moose at more than 150 yards with the same weapon.
A few months after he downed his moose, Hal was singing in a chorale ensemble of Baptist ministers of music in McAllen, Texas.
The many sides of Hal —
He was born Harold Eugene Swiggett in 1921 in the town of Moline, Kan. His grandfather taught him to shoot, starting with a .45 Colt on his sixth or seventh birthday. His grandfather taught him how to steady the pistol by using two hands and how to overcome the dominant eye by shooting with both eyes open, a shooting form Hal has used all his life.
A shooting story about Hal that I witnessed involved an injury he suffered to his right hand, specifically his trigger finger. In true Swiggett form, when the doctor told him the finger would forever be stiff and unbendable, Hal simply said, “Cut it off.” The doctor obliged, and only a few days later Hal was on the range shooting a .454 Casull. The only real adjustment he made was to use a shooting glove.
It was in Corning, Calif., where Hal met his wife-to-be, Wilma Caroline. Hal proudly told me many times over the years that they were 15 when they met and 20 when they married. At the time of our last hunt Hal and Wilma had two sons, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Hal has had a remarkable career. He was the chief photographer for the San Antonio Express/News for 20 of the 21 years he worked there.
He sold his first handgun article in 1947 and has been writing in this field ever since.
Hal is an ordained Baptist minister and lives his life accordingly. He was the minister of pastoral care for the Alamo City Christian Fellowship and spent his afternoons visiting the hospital’s sick and injured. If you wanted to speak with Hal you’d need to leave a message at his office or with Wilma. He’d call back when he finished his rounds.
Living in Salmon, Idaho, and having met handgun pioneer Elmer Keith several times with Hal, I was impressed when I learned Hal would present the first Outstanding American Handgunner Award to Keith. As the last of the first 10 awards were given out, it was only right that No. 10 went to Hal Swiggett, a man truly deserving of the award.
So what can I say about Hal Swiggett? He is all of the above and much, much more: fellow writer, mentor, adviser, cherished friend and a true legend of the outdoors.
Jim Foster is a freelance writer, columnist, photographer and a board member for OWAA.