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Col. Charles Askins was a gunfighter, lawman and soldier who proved how thin the veil can be between sociopath and professional.

The fact that Askins named his auto­biography Unrepentant Sinner pretty much says it all. When his lifelong best friend, George Parker, was dying of cancer, Askins handed him a .45 auto. Parker shot himself, allowing Askins to brag that he helped his friend “do the manly thing.”

While most of his kills were racked up during his days with the Border Patrol along the Rio Grand River in his native Texas, Col. Askins added to his tally in World War II when he served as a battlefield recovery officer.

Askins rode the river for the U.S. Border Patrol in the lawless “gangster era” of the 1920s and ’30s. His numerous gunfights with contrabandistas and other criminals of the El Paso region are vividly detailed in his autobiography.

The son of Maj. Charles Askins, a noted gunwriter of the day, Charley Junior was born to guns. His old man was perhaps one of the best shotgun shooters of his day, a gifted wingshooter and an avid upland bird hunter. Charley inherited his Old Man’s mantle as a storyteller par excellence, but there was a darker side to Junior’s sagas.

Askins was one of the first recipients of the Outstanding American Handgunner Award. He was a national champion pistol shot. He won the centerfire event with what would be contested as an illegal pistol, but in typical Askins fashion, immediately after firing the winning score he resigned from the Border Patrol Pistol Team so he could go out a champion.

Knowing guns as well as he did, Askins was keenly cognizant of the handling characteristics of the best fighting guns of his time, as well as the terminal ballistics of their cartridges. He fully appreciated the firepower of self-loading weapons and favored a Remington Model 11 self-loading 12 ga., a clone of the Browning Auto-5.

Askins’ war stories were full of details on the guns he favored for combat. He was a master storyteller and his vivid descriptions of gunning down armed and unarmed criminals alike made for riveting reading in the days before political correctness made such confessions impossible.

All’s Fair In War
Always a gamesman when it came to winning at any cost, Askins cheated in gunfights as well as pistol competitions. Once, during World War II when the Allies were set to cross the Rhine into Germany, his unit was stymied on one side of the river while a bedraggled remnant of the Nazi army was facing them, dug in on the German side of the river.

As stalemates tend to go, both sides grew complacent. Askins noticed that every morning at a particular time, a fat German sergeant made his way to a particular bush near the river and squatted for his morning constitutional. This gave Askins an idea.

He found a suitable two-story house with a clear line of sight on the bush and set up a sofa and table in a second story window. He borrowed a range finder from an artillery battery and ranged the bush from the window, a bit over 800 yards. He then found a Garand that was reputed to be more accurate than most and commandeered a Jeep to drive himself to the rear. There, he set up a target using the range finder at the exact distance as the bush was from his house. He zeroed the Garand to be dead-on at that distance.
The next morning, Askins and his Garand were sandbagged when the “fat Kraut” made his way to his usual bush. Once he settled down to his business, Askins centered him on his front sight and squeezed the trigger. Killing doesn’t get any more cold-blooded than that, even if it was done under the color of war in a “legitimate” sense.

Years later, in the late ‘50s, Askins hired himself to Vietnam as a military advisor to the South Vietnamese. Askins had one of the then-new Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum revolvers and was determined to kill the first man with the big magnum.

His opportunity came when he was out on patrol with a few South Vietnamese soldiers, set to ambush some communist infiltrators. Askins gave the word that no one was to fire until he did and he waited patiently until the small column of men had passed. At the right moment, he stepped out into the trail and shot the last man in line. Askins was delighted by the huge revolver’s performance, lifting the body off his feet. He was equally pleased to proclaim that he was the first to kill a man with a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum.

Combat Training

Focusing on what works in a gunfight, Askins learned to tie a white handkerchief on the muzzle of his shotgun to better see it at night. To better train for moving targets, Askins rigged up a target stand on two clothes lines and had a youngster run back and forth, tugging the target so he could fire. He practiced shooting from awkward positions, on horseback and on the ground, all to better simulate the realities of gunfighting.

Askins was one of the first to pioneer the concept of training the way we fight, with man-shaped targets and rapid fire drills instead of bullseyes and slow fire. Today we accept “reality based” training as just obvious, but in Askins’ day, firearms training was based on bullseye-shooting techniques.

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