As a young boy living in Alaska, I often hunted with my father and his friends. My dad obtained a Moisin-Nagant 7.62x54mm Soviet military rifle from a Russian fisherman in trade in the early 1960s. It was an old rifle with a tremendous recoil. He gave it to me on my 14th
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birthday. The fisherman had been in the Red Army and fought against the Germans during the Great Patriotic War. He had told my dad that it was a great hunting rifle, whether one was hunting for deer or the enemy.

One day, I got a Styrofoam head, put a cap on it, and placed it in the woods. I pretended to be a sniper and enjoyed honing my skills. My mother was horrified when she learned what I was doing, but it sure beats shooting at beer cans! I became fascinated in the stories of snipers. It was often said during the Great Patriotic War that the best snipers were born in the frigid regions of the Soviet Union. Recounted one former Soviet veteran: “In the colder regions of our country, we hunted to put food on the table. Fathers taught their sons how to shoot at an early age. Anyone can master the handling of a rifle, but it took instinct and cunning to be a successful hunter. City boys just did not have the knack to be a sniper.”

In the summer of 2005, I visited Yakutsk, the capital of the Republic of Sakha (formerly the Yakut ASSR). As a representative for a large machinery conglomerate, I frequently travel through the eastern parts of the Russian Federation. This has given me a rare opportunity to visit some military museums that Westerners seldom see. I was particularly interested in one particular Hero of the Soviet Union – Fyodor Matveyevich Okhlopkov. He was one of the best snipers in the Red Army. Yakutsk is a mixture of a modern city with the outlaying areas of old wooden houses and unpaved streets. The republic is known for its wealth of natural resources, especially gold and diamonds. It is not exactly a tourist mecca, but if one visits the city, there is much to see and do. I stayed at the Tegin Darxhan Hotel which was pricey for a Russian hotel.
Its restaurant specializes in native Yakut cusine which made it all worthwhile.

I set about trying to find the Okhlopkov family and made a number of inquiries at various places, including museums and city hall. There are a few public places named after the famous sniper. I left my name and telephone number of a friend at places and they promised to look into it. Just before I was to leave, my friend was contacted by a distant relative of the Yakut sniper. The relative was wanting to know why I was interested in the old soldier and (...continued)

PHOTO ABOVE: Fyodor Matveevich Okhlopkov (shown above in an early publicity photograph) was officially credited with 429 kills at the end of World War 2. In comparison with other famous WWII snipers, Ludmilla Pavlichenko earned 309 kills to her name, and the famous Soviet/German arch-rivals Vasili Zaitsev and Erwin Konig totalled 400 kills each at the end of their military career. Okhlopkov ranks number 7 for sniper kills out of all armed forces that fought in World War 2. The top "honor" goes to Simo Hayha of Finland, with 542 kills.

PHOTO AT TOP OF PAGE: Staged photo showing Okhlopkov with his spotter.
PHOTO ABOVE: Despite being one of the top snipers of World War II, Okhlopkov's wartime accomplishments were overlooked because of his ethnicity. In 1965, after petitioning by a veterans group, he was awarded the Gold Star Medal for Hero of the Soviet Union, number 10678 and an Order of Lenin. Photo above was taken from the "Hero of the Soviet Union" encyclopedia set.

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