History: The National Matches at Camp Perry
I am in my 5th year of attending the Camp Perry Nationals in high power and long range. Why they hold this event in August in Ohio with 100-degree heat and 1000-percent humidity is beyond me, but I still love it. I love the tradition. I love that during any of the high power events you can look down the firing line and see hundreds of competitors from all over the world. I love that during Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) week every single person has the same service rifle they compete with. I love that civilians get to compete with teams and members from all of our military services. I love that every morning to open the event the Ohio National Guard presents Colors with the blast from a canon. The National Matches are not just for high power rifle but also for pistol and small-bore.
Camp Perry is a 640-acre Ohio National Guard base located near Port Clinton, Ohio. It was established in 1907 for the Guard to practice rifle and artillery usage. The base was named after Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. Perry was a war hero who defeated the British in 1813 in the Battle of Lake Erie. The 200-, 600- and 800-yard ranges were put in and the first National Rifle Matches were held in September of that year. Today Camp Perry is the largest outdoor range in the world. There is an interesting story about how the land was discovered: 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.”
The purpose of locating the range at the edge of Lake Erie was so that shooters could use the lake as an impact area. I really wish I could find an aerial view of the “bullet berm” out in the Lake; over 100 years of bullets resting as underwater mountains. Currently, when matches are held, Guard patrol boats make sure recreational boaters do not travel in to the impact area. I have lost count how many times I have been on the line and heard, “Cease fire! Boat in impact area!” Perhaps the boaters can’t read the large warning buoys floating every few yards. Or perhaps they have had a few too many beers. It is August after all.
During World War I Camp Perry was used as a training center for officers and marksmanship instructors. During World War II, the facility also served as a reception center for the new recruits and as a camp to house the many German and Italian prisoners of war. At one time the camp housed approximately 2,500 German and 2,000 Italian POWs. Many of the tar-paper-covered huts constructed for housing these prisoners are still standing. I have been in these huts, they are obviously worn out, and yet many competitors stay in them during Nationals. Most have no doors or glass on the windows, the floors are crooked and rotting and they are mosquito and rat infested. Do you hear the girly in me coming out? Icky. You could not pay me to stay in those things. Many guys stay in there as a badge of pride. (That, and all other housing on base is full.) I say, “More power to them.” After the war, camp usage decreased. However, it began to pick up speed again during the National Matches in 1968. Since then weekend range firing and use by civilian rifle teams has steadily increased. The complex is also used daily by non-military agencies.
The National Matches at Perry are a combined effort of the Ohio National Guard, the NRA and the CMP. Pres. Theodore Roosevelt originally developed the idea of the CMP. It grew out of a desire to improve military marksmanship and national defense preparedness. A rifle shooter himself, Roosevelt felt a need for civilian practice in marksmanship with rifles and pistols. Of course, the NRA had the ball rolling in this effort for a generation prior.
One of the great things Roosevelt did was pass Public Law 149 which authorized the sale, at cost, of surplus military rifles, ammunition, and related equipment to rifle clubs meeting requirements specified by the Board and approved by the Secretary of War. This is the coolest part of going to Camp Perry. Well, other than winning national championships. The CMP has, in a building on base, a huge room full of racks of surplus military rifles. You can find M1 Garands, Carbines, Enfields and more. Occasionally one can get lucky and find some in pristine condition. That is not the only shopping one can do at Nationals, a street near the range has what is called Retail Row. Vendors such as Creedmoor, Midway and more set up temporary stores for the 5 weeks of matches. Between the CMP store and Retail Row it’s easy to leave with a very light wallet. By the time I get to Perry for the long-range match, which is the last week, there is nothing left to buy. If you drive to Perry you can fill your car with kegs of powder and components purchased from the retailers, with the happy thought of not having paid for HAZMAT and shipping, which is precisely why everything sells out.
The National Matches include the CMP National Trophy Rifle and Pistol Matches, the Pistol and Rifle Small Arms Firing Schools, CMP Games rifle events and the NRA National Pistol, Small Bore Rifle and High Power Rifle Championships.
Pistol matches start off the five weeks at Perry. A total of 25 different National Trophies are now awarded during the National Trophy Pistol Matches. In 1904 the first individual trophy awarded was the General Custer Trophy that annually goes to the Individual Pistol Champion. For rifle there is the National “Dogs of War” Trophy, which continues to be one of the most prestigious team trophies in U. S. marksmanship. Who wouldn’t want that trophy? The rifle category hands out 36 National Trophies total.
Twelve years ago, the CMP inaugurated one of Perry’s most popular matches, the John C. Garand Match. The Garand Match is a unique competition where shooters fire older “as-issued” military rifles. Back in the day ammo was issued to the competitors at Perry for any of the matches. Now, of course, everyone competes for the best ballistic engineering as well. CMP rifle week usually has the highest number of competitors at around 1500.
NRA Long Range week ends the Nationals. Open to any bolt-action rifle set up in iron sights or optics one can compete for the prestigious individual Wimbledon Trophy. Regardless of which Nationals week you attend, you are part of an amazing tradition of shooting sports that has been around since the late 1800s. There is much history at Camp Perry, if only the range could talk.
By Annette Wachter. Originally published in the September 2013 issue of GunUp the Magazine.