2011 Pioneer Award: An Award Worth Giving

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posted on June 15, 2011
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At this year’s Golden Bullseye Awards, NRA Publications named Melvin Forbes of New Ultra Light Arms the 2011 Pioneer Award Winner. A select group of senior staffers at NRA Publications had spirited input on just who the Pioneer Award should go to, and Melvin Forbes was at the forefront of my list from the beginning.

One of the first photo shoots I did for the magazine was for an article written by one of myliterary heroes—Field Editor Finn Aagaard—late in my first year here in 1991. Then Technical Editor Pete Dickey, the best pure gunwriter I’ve ever known or read, was enamored with Forbes’ innovation and wrote “The Ultra Light Arms” and Mel Forbes up himself in the November 1986 issue, which was quite a feat as Pete avoided most new guns by that time and left such mundane chores to others. In 1992, Pete tasked his newest editorial minion, moi, to be the newest non-celebrity spokesmodel for Finn’s January 1992 article. It was during the photo shoot, depicting an awfully young Mark Keefe pretending to be hunting in the wild spaces of suburban Herndon, Va. (actually out the back parking lot of our offices) that I first handled the magic that is a Melvin Forbes rifle. Five pounds of unadulterated accuracy and grace.

Melvin Forbes revolutionized the concept of the lightweight hunting rifle. He didn’t just chop off a barrel or give the gun a blind magazine; he looked at every piece of the bolt-action rifle and determined where weight could be removed without inhibiting performance. He also looked hard at the rifle stock, taking it from what he calls “boat hull technology” to something that incorporates strength, light weight and pointability.

Sometimes being a nice man—a gentleman every sense of the word—should count for something. Being a genius willing to work hard and create an entire class of firearms through solid engineering, a lot of hard work and thinking outside the box, counts for quite a lot.

I saw Mel several times during the NRA Annual Meetings and exhibits, and each time he vocalized his uneasiness with being named a “Pioneer,” joining Ronnie Barrett, Bob Nosler, Dick and Jim Cabela. “I’m not in their league, I don’t understand this,” he told me. No, Melvin, you might not, but we sure did. Sometimes being a “Pioneer” has nothing to do with the number of rifles sold or the dollars earned. His influence extends far beyond the number of rifles manufactured under his watchful eye since 1980. It has everything to do with a man with big heart and bold ideas willing to shake up an entire industry.

Mel Forbes remains a classic country gentleman that has never strayed from his West Virginia home and values. And he stands as a poignant example of the fact that, no, nice guys don’t always finish last. Congratulations, Mel, whether you admit or not, you deserve this award.

I own, shoot and hunt with a New Ultra Light Arms Model 28, and I’ve taken it to high places where my pants feel too heavy and there isn’t enough oxygen in the world. And I’ve shot it at long range, as well as taken snap shots in thick cover where I thought I could never see a deer or swing a rifle. It is lightweight perfection: Get your own, this one’s mine.

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