The 100th anniversary of the renowned National Rifle and Pistol Matches at Camp Perry is being observed through Aug. 14, and the beginning of the celebration last week went off with a bang - actually lots of bangs.
A First Shot ceremony Monday night was followed by the opening matches Tuesday for the pistol discipline, featuring revolvers. A national pistol champion is to be crowned this weekend after grueling competition that includes hundreds of rounds fired with special .22, centerfire, and .45 semiautomatic target pistols.
As many as 6,000 shooters from across the United States are set to step up to the firing lines before the last shot is fired Aug. 14. Competition includes pistol, smallbore or .22 rifle, and centerfire or high-power rifle, the latter matches fired at ranges of up to 1,000 yards.
Camp Perry Military Reservation today is a 640-acre training complex along Lake Erie west of Port Clinton and is considered one of the largest and best-equipped outdoor ranges in the country. Visitors to the matches are welcome.
"Camp Perry may well be the single-most revered place in the hearts and minds of competitive shooters," said John Sigler, the new president of the National Rifle Association and a long-time competitor himself.
The NRA sponsors the National Rifle and Pistol Matches and the Civilian Marksmanship Program, a quasi-government organization, sponsors the concurrent National Trophy Matches, many of which focus on military service competition. Together the events are called the National Matches.
"Since 1907 some of the most elite marksmen that America has ever produced have competed [at Camp Perry] alongside club shooters who consider the NRA National Matches a vital part of their lives," said Sigler. "The combination of shooting skills, fellowship, exchange of ideas, and sheer enjoyment make Camp Perry a special place indeed."
The Matches also provide an economic boost to the region, contributing more than $10 million annually, according to Port Clinton Mayor Tom Brown. They have become important to Ohio in shooting circles since the Amateur Trapshooting Association moved its World Trapshooting Championships from Vandalia, Ohio, to Sparta, Ill.
The Matches first were fired in 1903 at New Jersey's Sea Girt Range on 148 acres along the Atlantic Ocean 60 miles south of New York City. But in 1905 Brig. Gen. Ammon Critchfield of the Ohio National Guard, later an NRA president, became deeply interested in developing a world-class marksmanship training center in the state.
Critchfield's search led to the mile-long, mile-deep, flat lake plain west of Port Clinton. He wasted no time in developing Camp Perry, named after Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry of War of 1812 fame and the Battle of Lake Erie. Nor did the general waste any time in securing the National Matches for the site.
The initial 2007 pistol matches, held Tuesday, were unofficial and did not apply toward the national pistol championship. They involved revolver competition, which has been growing in popularity and participation.
In the Harry Reeves Memorial Revolver Match, Brian Keyser, of Birdsboro, Pa., topped a field of 436 shooters firing a 278-6X score out of a possible 300 in a 30-shot event.
The X-score refers to shots in an inner X-ring within the 10-ring of the bull's-eye, and those shots are tallied to be used as potential tie-breakers. In the Reeves Match, for example, second-place finisher Keith Hanzel, of Fredericksburg, Va., also fired a 278 but tallied only 3 X-ring shots.
The Distinguished Revolver Match was won by Greg Abraham, of Lake Crystal, Minn., with a 279-6X for 30 shots. He bested 329 shooters, including Paul Bertrand, of Tifton, Ga., at 279-2X.
In the preliminary pistol championship - a 90-shot aggregate event involving .22, centerfire, and .45 - seven-time national champion Brian Zins, a marine gunnery sergeant from Quantico, Va., proved himself to be the shooter to beat in the official matches. He posted a score of 887-42X out of a possible 900. The warmup event fielded 719 pistol marksmen.
Last week's activities also saw a junior pistol camp and small arms firing school in which civilian participants could learn to safely handle and fire the M9 military service pistol. A similar school for the M-16 rifle and a junior .22 rifle camp are set for later this month.
Smallbore practice and initial matches in the grueling 640-shot suite of .22 rifle matches begins Wednesday. High-power events begin July 29.