Miss America 1962 Maria Fletcher aiming an original Colt AR-15 in 1963.
In the early 1960s, it didn’t get much more advanced or high tech than the AR-15 rifle: a strange-looking amalgamation of plastic, steel, and aluminum that fired a new small, high velocity rifle round and had become the new military standard-issue rifle.
Thanks to the folks over at The Firearm Blog, we can get a look at just how cutting edge the rifle was. They recently posted a slew of photos taken in 1963 by Arthur Rickerby of a Colt demonstration of the AR-15 rifle that appeared in Time and LIFE magazines.
On hand was the 1962 Miss America pageant winner Maria Fletcher, who got some shooting lessons from a Colt representative and posed on the range and holding an armful of AR-15s.
Colt began producing the semi-automatic AR-15 for civilian and LEO use, based on the original military ArmaLite AR-15 rifle, after ArmaLite sold the design to Colt in 1959 due to financial difficulties. Of course, the full auto version would go on to become the M16 military rifle and began replacing the short-service-life M14 rifle at the beginning of the Vietnam War.
Colt didn’t begin selling the AR-15 until 1964, so in ’63, this would have been some seriously inside stuff.
Fletcher with a bundle of AR-15s.
The rifles in the photos are, of course, original slab-sided AR-15 rifles. You can see the lack of a forward assist behind the ejection port, which was added for the M16A1 to help rounds seat better and more reliably in the rifle’s chamber, after the originals experienced a number of malfunctions on the battlefield for a variety reasons, including the ammunition used with the rifle and the lack of a chrome-lined barrel and chamber. You can also clearly see the rifle’s original three-pronged flash hider, which was replaced with a birdcage flash hider on the M16A2 because the prongs tended to get snagged on gear and jungle vegetation.
The rifle features an integrated carry handle on top of the receiver, which meant any optics had to be mounted on the handle, just like the one Fletcher is seen looking down in some photos.
Modern shooters might be quick to criticize the pageant winner’s shooting stance with the exaggerated “chicken wing,” but if you take a look at the representative from Colt below, it’s proof that this was indeed common practice for many rifle shooters making an offhand shot at the time, and remains so for many competition shooters.
The Colt representative tells Fletcher to keep that chicken wing up.
Tactically, the stance becomes awkward and leads to undue exposure when shooting around barricades or moving through tight spaces, so most modern tactical and 3-Gun shooters have adopted a stance with that elbow tucked in. Keeping your elbow down also keeps the shoulder muscles more relaxed for extended aiming periods, which can keep a shooter from shaking, and requires less of an awkward bend at the wrist.
Fletcher worked as a Radio City Music Hall Rockette before winning the Miss America crown in 1962. During the late 1960s, Fletcher was the co-host of The Noon Show on WSM in Nashville, Tennessee. She remains the only Miss North Carolina to ever be crowned Miss America and currently lives in Las Vegas.
You can see her below in a 1962 TV spot for Oldsmobile with Garry Moore:
Some more chicken wing.
Fletcher isn’t the only pageant competitor to uphold guns and gun rights. Last year, the former Miss Ohio called for licensed concealed carriers to be allowed on state college campuses, and in 2015 Miss South Carolina showed her support for the Second Amendment in a pageant interview that some say cost her the competition.