5,000 Military, Civilian, and International Marksmen Face Off: The Shooting Games at Camp Perry

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Historic Camp Perry, located on the Ohio shoreline of Lake Erie, has been hosting the National Rifle and Pistol Matches since 1906. Considered the World Series of Shooting Sports, for five weeks each July and August more than 5,000 of our nation's finest civilian, military, and law enforcement shooters--men, women, and teens--compete for more than 100 trophies and awards. The National Matches are conducted by a partnership among the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), National Rifle Association (NRA), and Ohio National Guard (ONG). W. H. "Chip" Gross spent time recently at this year's matches. See what he learned about the history and the future of this long-lived shooting competition.
Western Lake Erie may be best known for its spectacular walleye fishing, but for five weeks each summer the focus along the Ohio shoreline is Camp Perry, home of the annual National Rifle and Pistol Matches. This historic military installation is more than a century old, once even housing World War II prisoners for a few years during its storied past. More recently (beginning in 2004), some $37 million in improvements have been made to the Camp. With a total of 2,000 yards of shooting lines, Camp Perry boasts the largest outdoor shooting range in the world. photo courtesy of CMP
The opening day First Shot Ceremony is always filled with military-style pomp and circumstance. Making a few remarks to the crowd and then firing the traditional first shot this year was Lt. Gen. William E. Ingram, Jr., director of the U. S. Army National Guard. "I was taught to shoot by my grandfather when I was about six or seven years old," Ingram told the hundreds of spectators attending the event. "We had an old, single-shot .22 bolt-action rifle that I think was his grandfather's. I learned how to shoot and about firearm safety at a very young age."
The American flag arrived at the First Shot Ceremony via armored personnel carrier (in upper-right corner of photo). In addition, a military combat maneuver was demonstrated by soldiers of the Ohio Army National Guard. The four main shooting ranges at Camp Perry (Viale, Young, Rodriguez, and Petrarca) are named for Medal of Honor winners.
Another tradition of opening day at the Matches is the Small Arms Firing School conducted for civilian pistol shooters by the Civilian Marksmanship Program and taught by military instructors. Pictured on the range and receiving a few shooting tips is Barbara Allen of Chugiak, Alaska.
The Small Arms Firing School also provide rifle and pistol instruction for those with physical disabilities. Pictured here is Glenn Friar of Scarborough, Maine.
In 1903, with the support of then President Theodore Roosevelt, the 57th Congress passed a bill that was the foundation of the National Rifle and Pistol Matches. Roosevelt said, "The great body of our citizens shoot less as time goes on. We should encourage rifle practice among schoolboys, and indeed among all classes, as well as in the military services by every means in our power. Thus, and not otherwise, may we be able to assist in preserving peace in the world… The first step--in the direction of preparation to avert war if possible, and to be fit for war if it should come--is to teach men to shoot!" Historic photo courtesy of Civilian Marksmanship Program
And so, the school is open to teen shooters, as well. The CMP vision for youth states: "...Every youth in America has the opportunity to participate in firearm safety and marksmanship programs."
Shooters compete for more than 100 trophies and awards at the National Rifle and Pistol Matches. However, most of the trophies are so valuable that they don't go home with the individual winners. Instead, a winner is given a plaque, his or her name is added to the trophy, and the trophy is then stored safely away for another year. Many are housed at the NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia.
All branches of the U.S. military send shooting teams to the National Rifle and Pistol Matches. In this photo, members of the U. S. Navy Marksmanship Team fire at targets 600 yards away using iron sights. In this course of fire, the team then moved to the 300-yard line and then to the 200-yard line.
Civilian shooters make up the majority of competitors at Camp Perry, which is exactly why the CMP was developed over a century ago with a mission to: "Promote firearm safety and marksmanship training with an emphasis on youth."
A few competitors dress in period clothing to match the rifles they shoot, such as this shooter wearing a World War II, U. S. Army combat uniform squatting near three M1 Garand rifles. During some matches, competitors shoot at targets as far as 1,000 yards away, using only open sights.
No, it's not what you might think; this teen shooter from California did not choose his haircut. It's a tradition of the California Grizzlies Junior Rifle Team that the coaches cut the hair of all their first-time male shooters the night before their first competition at Camp Perry. First-time female team members do not have to go through a similar initiation.
Each piece of competitive shooting attire is carefully chosen for a specific purpose. A hat with side flaps hanging from the extended brim helps block out distractions. A shooting coat holds the shooter's upper body tightly, reducing movement and making for a steadier hold on target. A heavy glove on the fore-end hand also helps steady the shooter's aim.
Talk about getting your game face on. Would you want to compete against this young lady? Most teens shooters at the Matches compete on junior shooting teams. In 2009, a junior team beat the adult shooters, winning the National Team Infantry Trophy Match, known as the "Rattle Battle." It was the first time the trophy had been won by civilians since 1930.
Not surprisingly, firearm safety is of the highest importance during the Matches. Here, a squad of shooters advances 100 yards closer to their targets as the range safety officer holding up a red paddle, signaling a cease fire.
What changes have the National Matches seen in recent years? Mark Johnson, deputy chief operations officer for the CMP said the "games" matches--Springfield match, carbine match, Garand match, and vintage sniper rifle match--have all increased significantly in popularity. "Those events are what we consider our fun matches," Johnson says. "They are shorter courses of fire, usually 200 yards, the days aren't as long, and the level of competition is such that even entry-level shooters can compete."
Another trend at the competition in recent years is the proliferation of AR-style rifles. As a result, the number of women shooters participating in the matches has also increased, according to Sue Mogle, a competitor, mother of a youth shooter, and registered nurse from Indiana. "These newer rifles are lighter, have less recoil, and are very easy guns to shoot accurately," Mogle says. "You don't have to be a big, strong, fast athlete to shoot well. It's really more mental discipline, and a woman shooter can be equally as competitive as the guys." About 10 percent of the shooters at the National Matches are female. Pictured is 17-year-old junior shooter Sophie Christensen of California.
The Matches are open to shooters and teams from outside the U. S. as well. Here, members of the Australia High Power Rifle Team confer with officials just behind the firing line. The matches also welcome spectators. If you are a serious shooter (or would like to be) you owe yourself a visit next summer. There is no admission charge to the matches. Camp Perry, located near Port Clinton, Ohio.
Here, James Morgan (Yes, he bears a striking resemblance to Santa Claus. Now we know how he spends his summer months.) from King George, VA spots for the Virginia Rifle Team. A highlight of the National Matches for those competitors and spectators returning year after year is the camaraderie they share with other serious shooters.
Commercial Row is always popular with competitors and spectators alike. Dozens of retailers and manufacturers provide ammo, spare gun parts, and most anything else shooters might need during the National Matches. Some vendors report $35,000 to $40,000 in sales per day during the matches. The immediate area also benefits economically. The National Matches bring an estimated $25 million to northwest Ohio annually.
Not to be missed during a visit to Camp Perry is the CMP Marksmanship Center. This state-of-the-art air-gun facility has shooting stations accommodating up to 80 shooters at a time. Open to the public year-round, shooters can rent air guns and purchase ammunition for a reasonable fee. The U. S. Olympic Team air-gun trials were held at the range, the winners advancing to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Each shooting station at the CMP Marksmanship Center is equipped with Mega-Link electronic targets, giving shooters instant feedback about their hits and misses. A large, flat-screen, overhead monitor also displays the results for spectators. In addition, electronic targets can be linked to the Internet, providing those watching from home real-time results as to how a competitor is shooting during competition.
One of only two CMP stores in the nation is located at Camp Perry; the other is in Anniston, Alabama. The stores are authorized by the federal government to sell surplus, vintage military firearms to qualifying members of the shooting public. And if you qualify, you may not only purchase a firearm, but it can be shipped directly to your home, bypassing a federal firearms dealer. See the Web site www.TheCMP.org for details.

Historic Camp Perry, located on the Ohio shoreline of Lake Erie, has been hosting the National Rifle and Pistol Matches since 1906. Considered the World Series of Shooting Sports, for five weeks each July and August more than 5,000 of our nation's finest civilian, military, and law enforcement shooters--men, women, and teens--compete for more than 100 trophies and awards.

The National Matches are conducted by a partnership among the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), National Rifle Association (NRA), and Ohio National Guard (ONG). W. H. "Chip" Gross spent time recently at this year's matches. See what he learned about the history and the future of this long-lived shooting competition.