The National Championships are held at the Ohio National Guard Base "Camp Perry" on the shores of Lake Erie every summer. The championships include muzzleloading, pistol, smallbore rifle and highpower rifle. The matches last from early July through mid August.
Numerous shooters, including pistol shooters, both junior and adult rifle shooters compete in Smallbore, Service Rifle, NRA highpower rifle and Long Range (1000 yard) stages.
Volunteers run the Matches. They share the primary responsibility for providing a safe and well-run match for the competitors. The volunteers work on the ranges, in the statistical office, scoring operation, air gun range and sales facilities, and maintain the "Bulletin Board", where daily and aggregate results are displayed. The entire staff, from the match director down to the range officer including the range director, chief range officers, assistants, referees, range control talkers, scorers, and scorecard runners, is made up of volunteers carrying out their duties from pre-dawn until long after the last shot is fired each day, regardless of weather conditions or fatigue factors.
Photo courtesy of Bruce Bowler Scoring targets at the national matches. 3 person teams worked on each target to ensure accuracy. The scoring teams worked behind locked doors from 8 in the morning until well after the last match in the evening.
The 50-meter outdoor Smallbore Rifle matches began in 95-degree heat Wednesday morning, and then it got hotter. Competitors lined up shoulder to shoulder as far as the eye can see. I spoke to a 14-year-old competitor from Illinois who took his place on the line for his first Camp Perry Match next to Michael Anti - the US Olympic Silver medalist. At Camp Perry, everyone is equal until the targets are scored.
There were two Small Arms Firing Schools conducted by the US Army and USMC marksmanship training units, sponsored by the Civilian Marksmanship Program. There are also NRA's Smallbore Camp and NRA's Long Range Firing School, each of which is designed to enhance skills and techniques. It is an opportunity to learn from some of the best rifle shooters in the country.
After working in the scoring shack for 9 hours, I attended an NRA Coaches School in the evenings. What was learned should be directly applicable to coaching new juniors and coaching team practices and matches at the new ADF&G Indoor Range next to the Juneau Gun Club.
During the Smallbore Prone phase of the Championships, the NRA hosted the Pershing Match. This historic event occurs once ever eight years and recognizes a tradition started by General John J. Pershing, Commander of the A.E.F. in World War I, and his British counterpart, Lord Roberts. The Roberts Match is hosted by the Brits on an eight-year cycle, to which the NRA sends Smallbore Team.
After the smallbore events, CMP week starts. The matches this week are sponsored by the Civilian Marksmanship Program, (http://www.odcmp.com), best known for promoting high power rifle shooting through the sales of the surplus M1 rifles that so many of us started our competitive careers with (they have surplus smallbore rifles too now!). The following day is the National Trophy Individual Match, more commonly called the "LEG" match. The top 10 percent of the non-distinguished shooters in the nation earn points towards their own Distinguished Rifleman's badge, a journey that takes several "legs", hence the name. Over 1200 shooters are expected this year.
Even for someone shooting relatively low scores, just being among 6,000 other shooters, trolling the numerous shops on "commercial row", in a match nearly a century old, is an unforgettable experience. It reminded me of the freedoms that we often take for granted: the Second Amendment of the US Constitution gives law-abiding citizens the right to own and possess firearms - a right few other nations enjoy.
I met the British representative to the upcoming Match in England. He reminded me that we are truly blessed, and to guard those rights well.