As many as 6,000 shooters from across the United States will step up to the firing lines at Camp Perry over the next six weeks during the 101st edition of the renowned National Rifle and Pistol Matches.
A First Shot ceremony is set for tomorrow evening, followed by the opening Tuesday of competition in the pistol discipline, featuring revolvers, in what is known as America's World Series of shooting sports.
The Matches have been at Camp Perry, just west of Port Clinton off State Rt. 2, since 1907.
The 640-acre Ohio National Guard training base along Lake Erie over the years has been thoroughly upgraded, including an array of shooting range and lodging improvements. Visitors are welcome during all the matches.
A national pistol champion is to be crowned next weekend after a series of challenging matches that includes hundreds of rounds fired with special .22, centerfire, and .45 semiautomatic target pistols. The kickoff pistol matches Tuesday are unofficial memorial revolver events.
Competition overall includes pistol, smallbore or .22 rifle, and centerfire or high-power rifle, the latter including matches fired at ranges of up to 1,000 yards.
The complex task of managing and conducting the matches falls to several partners, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), and the Ohio National Guard. Competitors will range in experience from new first-time competitive shooters to Olympic champions, and will include civilians, military personnel, and law enforcement officers. A wide variety and number of matches are offered which appeal to a broad range of competitors.
"The National Rifle and Pistol Matches hold a unique place in the sports arena," said NRA President John C. Sigler.
"These matches provide a venue where anyone, regardless of age, gender, or physical condition, can compete in one of the world's most exciting sports.
"Competitive shooting is a lifetime sport and Camp Perry offers everyone an opportunity to test their skills under national match conditions," he said.
"Over the years, millions of shots have been fired during the National Matches by competitors in pursuit of prestigious titles, awards, and trophies.
"The NRA is proud to present these annual competitions which represent the finest traditions of our Second Amendment freedoms."
The NRA sponsors the actual Rifle and Pistol Matches and the CMP, a quasi-government organization, sponsors the concurrent Trophy Matches, many of which focus on military service competition. Together the events are called the National Matches.
Among other things the Matches also provide an economic boost to the region, estimated to contribute more than $10 million annually. They have become especially 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 site for the matches.
The coming week's activities also include 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.
Several program changes are being introduced at the 2008 National Matches. The NRA has now committed $200,000 in awards for the National Rifle and Pistol Matches. A new award schedule has been developed which marks the beginning of a phase-out of the award points previously given to winners.
The new plan will substitute Visa gift cards for a number of awards in the NRA National Grand Aggregate Championships in lieu of award points. This year will also bring a new team match during the NRA High Power Long Range phase. A new target will be used for individual three-position competitors in the National Smallbore Rifle Championships, set for July 16 through 24.
High Power rifle matches begin Aug. 3 with the Springfield M1A Match, a recreational event.
From Aug. 4 through 8, the NRA National Individual and Team High Power Rifle
Championships are scheduled, followed by the Long Range Championships Aug. 9 through 13.
For more information about the National Rifle and Pistol Championships at Camp Perry or other competitive shooting events or programs, visit the NRA Competitive Shooting Division on the Internet at nrahq.org/compete or call (703) 267-1450.
Retired Oregon Municipal Judge Don Petroff, an avid shotgunner, won the recent state singles championship at the Ohio State Trapshooting Tournament at Cardinal Center in Marengo.
Petroff broke 200 targets straight in the regular program and another 100 straight to win the shootoff.
"There were more than 1,200 people competing with the best shooters from Ohio and many from around the country," the judge summed. "I turned 70 years old on June 5, and they tell me I am the oldest person to win this event.
"Every once in a while an old dog can outrun the pack. It is an experience to be in the zone for a long event and I hope to be able to do it again - as long as they keep making Motrin."
So, a tip of the outdoors hat to the old-dog judge.
By the way, wildlife poachers and scofflaws, didn't enjoy appearing before the Petroff bench. He wasn't swayed by sob stories and meted out fair but stern justice to offenders.