Ohio is home to America's "World Series of Shooting Sports"
By Chad D. Baus
Each summer, the world's finest civilian and military marksmen and women square off for five weeks of rifle and handgun competition in a variety of formats and events right here in the Buckeye State.
This year marks the 101st running of the National Matches, for which so many shooters have embarked on an annual pilgrimage to Camp Perry, Ohio, on the shores of Lake Erie near Port Clinton.
What thousands of others drive across country or fly around the world for, we are blessed as Ohioans to have literally right in our backyard.
If you enjoy the shooting sports to even the smallest degree, then there is simply no excuse for not making the short drive to the National Matches, whether you plan to go as a spectator, a volunteer, or a competitor.
More than 4,000 members compete at the National Matches each year. Civilian teams are often formed from high school and collegiate competitors, as well as from local gun clubs and law enforcement organizations. Our nation's servicemen and women are always well represented, as every branch of the U.S. military sends teams to the competition.
Events include NRA Pistol Championships, NRA Smallbore Rifle Championships (including the 7th National Rimfire Sporter Match), CMP National Trophy Pistol & Rifle Matches (including the John C. Garand Match, Springfield Rifle Match & M1 Carbine Match), NRA High Power Rifle Championships, and NRA High Power Long Range Championships (to name a few) stretched out over the months of July and August.
Approximately forty vendors will set up shop for the summer on what is known as Commercial Row. From Armalite and Bushmaster, Caspian Arms and Springfield Armory, to a host of other shooters' supply vendors, a walk down the Row feels like a mini-version of the convention floor at the NRA Annual Meetings.
Small Arms Firing Schools
The Department of Defense first conducted the Small Arms Firing Schools (SAFS) as part of the National Matches at Camp Perry in 1918. Federal law continues to require the annual conduct of Small Arms Firing Schools, which now instruct nearly one thousand pistol and rifle shooters each year in firearms safety and fundamental marskmanship skills. The Pistol and Rifle Schools are conducted by the U. S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) and sponsored by the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP). Schools are open to all U. S. citizens, anyone over the minimum age who wants to learn how to shoot or shoot better can enter. All the necessary equipment is provided as part of the entry fee.
In the Small Arms Firing Schools, USAMU instructors, assisted by Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine and Navy Active, National Guard and Reserve shooting team members, teach basic marksmanship techniques that are geared to meet the needs of new and less experienced shooters as well as shooters who want to learn new ways to improve their scores.
Each school begins with a half-day of classroom instruction taught by Army Pistol or Rifle Team members. Instruction covers safety, service rifle or pistol functioning, shooting positions and basic firing techniques. Special topics such as the effects of weather and mental conditioning are also covered. The classroom session usually ends when a panel of service pistol or service rifle champions answer students’ questions.
That afternoon, students go to the range to meet their coaches (firearms and ammunition are provided at your firing point) and begin firing. Military shooting team members coach all students on the line; there will be one coach for every two students. Rifle students fire prone, sitting and standing position slow or rapid-fire exercises. Pistol students fire slow, timed and rapid-fire stages. On the second day, SAFS students, while still being assisted by their coaches, have a unique opportunity to test their new marksmanship knowledge and skills by firing an M9 Pistol EIC Match or an M16 Rifle EIC Match that uses the course of fire practiced on the range the previous day. The top 10 percent of all SAFS students who have not earned any EIC points are awarded “introductory” 4-point legs to start them on their quest for the prestigious Distinguished Badge.
Civilian Marksmanship Program
Headquartered at Camp Perry, the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) promotes firearms safety training and rifle practice for all qualified U.S. citizens with special emphasis on youth. The CMP operates through a network of affiliated shooting clubs and associations that covers every state in the U.S. The clubs and associations offer firearms safety training and marksmanship courses as well as the opportunity for continued practice and competition.
The CMP was created by the U.S. Congress. The original purpose was to provide civilians an opportunity to learn and practice marksmanship skills so they would be skilled marksmen if later called on to serve the U.S. military. Over the years the emphasis of the program shifted to focus on youth development through marksmanship. Today the CPRPFS is a tax exempt not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization that derives its mission from public law.
One of my favorite parts of a visit to the National Matches is a chance to visit the CMP Store, where visitors can hand-pick their very own M1 Garand, M1903 Springfeld or .22 Target Rifles, as well as to stock up on surplus ammunition.
History of Camp Perry alone makes it worth the trip
Camp Perry is a 640 acre Ohio National Guard Training Site. Ranges and Training facilities include three automated firing ranges, ballistic shoot-house and multiple field training areas. There are facilities to support battalion size elements to inlcude computer generated training and weapons exercises. Camp Perry serves local and federal law enforcement, Homeland Security and Department of Defense agencies.
The need for the Camp was established during the Spanish-American War of 1898 when American naval gunnery and marksmanship skills proved to be deficient. In response, a Congressional Act of 1903 gave federal funding assistance to those state militias providing marksmanship instruction camps and practice rifle matches.
While duck hunting in the marshes along Lake Erie in 1905 General Ammon B. Critchfield, Adjutant General for the State of Ohio, located an ideal range site where all firing could be done from a common line directed toward the shoreline, maximizing natural light conditions.
In 1906, the State Legislature appropriated $25,000 to purchase over 300 acres of land for the state rifle range and camp. By the summer of 1907, the 200-, 600-, and 800-yard ranges were ready with parapets and 160 targets. During September, the National Rifle Matches were first held at the Camp.
By 1909, Camp Perry evolved into permanent camp with the largest and best equipped rifle and pistol ranges in the United States, if not the world. Four major ranges provided a total of 210 rifle and 20 revolver targets, all of which could be operated simultaneously.
During World War I, Camp Perry was used as a training center for officers and marksmanship instructors. The adjutant Erie Ordnance Depot west of Camp Perry was used to support weapons testing and development for the war effort. During World War II, the camp housed approximately 2,500 German and 2,000 Italian POW's, as well as served as a reception center for new recruits.
As a student of history, my own enjoyment of the National Matches always includes a solitary stroll, a self-guided tour through the past. As I wander amidst the many still-standing tar paper covered POW huts, I feel as if I can still feel the presence of men trapped in an epic struggle a world away from their homeland.
Leaving the POW enclosure, I stroll over to an outdoor display of historical military aircraft and armor, as well as the "Gratitude Train", a railcar that is one of 49 sent to the United States by France in 1949. The cars arrived in New York in January loaded with gifts as a gesture of friendship and gratitude from the French people. The box car is also known as the Forty and Eight because it could transport 40 men and 8 horses. It was transferred to Camp Perry in 1951.
Over the years I've created my own tour, but a Self-Guided Camp Perry Tour map is available at the lodging office, and informational placards are located around the base.
As a new century dawns on the National Matches, Governor Ted Strickland has once again honored his committment to gun owners by planning improvements to Camp Perry's ranges, housing, roads and services - improvements which will benefit both troops in training and National Match competitors, volunteers and spectators.
There is a tremendous need for volunteers to run this prestigious and historical competition.
In addition to helping with sales, volunteers help run the range and score targets. Volunteers are provided housing and daily meal expenses.
The volunteer website, NRAVol.org stresses that "No experience is necessary, we train you."
TOP TEN REASONS TO BECOME NRA VOLUNTEER EVENT STAFF at the 2008 National Matches:
1. Have fun!
2. Make important networking contacts
3. Learn and/or develop skills
4. Gain work experience
5. Make new friends
6. Gain references for college
7. Receive invaluable knowledge and instruction
8. Make a difference in the community
9. Insure the continuing support of the 2nd Amendment and the Shooting Sports
10. Be a part of history!