|The beginning of Day 2 of the NRA National Championship Match at Camp Perry, Ohio.|
|"Baby Head" ice cream from Andy's Party Mart. Because a serving is as big as a baby's head.|
|The huts at Camp Perry, Ohio.|
|Summer camp accommodations :).|
|Dining by the harbor in Port Clinton, Ohio.|
|The M-16A2 type Service Rifle (top) and the 2016 Rule Scoped Service Rifle (bottom).|
The Civilian Marksmanship Program National Matches are among the most prestigious high powered rifle competitions on earth. For the individual rifleman, The President's Hundred (P100) and the National Trophy Individual (NTI) matches are the pinnacle of service rifle competition. You go toe to toe with eleven hundred other people spread out over two ranges spanning roughly eighty firing points each running six relays per range. It's a race to be the best. You are on your own with whatever skill and experience you brought with you.
It starts with the President's Hundred. P100 is thirty shots. You need to make ten good offhand shots, make one solid wind call and hold like there's no tomorrow at 300 yards, and surf the wind ten times at 600 yards. That's it. Short and sweet. If you finish in the top 20 out of 1,400 you get to go to a shoot off. Ideally, you get one squadded practice window to check your zero and sniff the wind at 300 yards. No such ideal in 2016. Squadded practice was cancelled due to lightning. Everybody goes to P100 naked. It's a fair fight.
The sum total of my experience shooting this range started at zero. My first record shot at 200 yards offhand began a very steep climb up my learning curve. I began with my Coalinga no wind zero. The shoot broke good. It came up elevation good but it went right. Ok, that must have been me. Check your NPA, settle down and do it again. Comes up same place. I need to dial a minute and a half of wind? Since when do you need to put wind on at 200 yards? Well apparently at Camp Perry on the big end with the wind coming in from the left at near full value, maybe you do. But my head's still murky thinking I must just not be breaking them clean and it's my nerves being the first time on Viale. So I do it again. Fine. I'll dial wind. Things get a little better on paper and I'm going, "Ok, I can do this. It's my first time. This is all about learning new things and not finishing dead last."
Next comes one rapid fire string at 300 yards. I feel more confident. I've called wind and centered up before. I check my wind meter. Estimate my dial. Build my position. Stand up and put my concentration on the target. The string goes off. I land a nice group out the right side at the border between the 9/8 ring. Apparently, I did not dial enough. So we go out to the pits and I chat with the guys that have done this before. I tell them what happened. They all smile and say "Welcome to Perry" this is one of the few ranges where the wind has the same velocity pushing on your bullet from your firing point to the target. Most everywhere else, trees or terrain weaken the wind pattern. Here, dial aggressive. I find out just how aggressive at 600 where I again underestimate how powerful the breeze is and pop an 8 out the right for my first shot, double my dial, and then start to learn how to surf the shifts for the remainder of the string.
The end result of my first P100. Offhand 85-1, Rapid Prone 86-0, Slow Prone 90-1 for total of 261-2X putting me in 595th place out of 1,139. Middle of the pack. Not my best day ever but I notice that everyone is congratulating me on joining the club of people that have shot at Camp Perry. I feel suddenly so at home among a thousand strangers who've become my family.
The next day is the NTI. This is the mother of all Excellence In Competition matches. Fifty shots. It's a cloudy day and the wind is coming from the right, opposite of yesterday. Dial aggressively at Perry burns inside my mind. I shoot my offhand string and deliver an 84-1, about the same as yesterday. NTI has rapid sitting so I get to this for the first time at Camp Perry. I set up my position and snuggle deep into the rear aperture to see the target in the overcast. The shot plan yields me a 90-0, well below my average. Next comes another bout with rapid prone at 300 yards. Dial aggressive at Perry. I got this one. Maybe not. Today I've over dialed and I place my group in almost the same spot on the right side of the bull as yesterday. 91-0. This range has now shattered my confidence and I am a convinced I am a wind calling dunderhead. Fortunately the clouds clear up and my mood brightens with it and when we get back to 600 yards I finally do something right popping a 189-5 at the slow prone stage. Total for the day is a paltry 456-6 good for a deep back seat 490th place out of 1,074.
At dinner later in the week I relate that this range is kicking me hard. I tell people about how hard I was pushing my eye into my aperture. They smile that welcome to Camp Perry smile again. They ask what sights I'm shooting on my A2 and I tell them I've got an 0.050" front and 0.038" rear to maximize depth of field. They smile more broadly and tell me my problem is that I'm from the Western provinces where the sun is bright and the ground is devoid of flora. Lot's of light. It's green here and we have clouds I'm told. Not nearly the same ambient lighting. You have the wrong sights my son. Where there's green grass you want a big fat 0.072" front the size of an aircraft carrier deck and a huge (they said "yuge" because the RNC convention was just in Cleveland) 0.046" hole in the morning and maybe close it down to an 0.042" rear aperture later if the sun comes out. But that desert glare sight system of yours will lose you about 5-8 points in these parts. Well there you go. Learn something every day.
To tell you the truth, I'm glad I learned these lessons the hard way. It's more meaningful this way. It enriched my first tour of Camp Perry and left me hungry to put this learning to use in the future. I checked off one of the most important bucket list goals of my shooting career, I shot the P100 and NTI with iron sights. My irons gun earned its "Hell I was there!" sticker.
|My A2 iron gun last 4-digit serial number 3010 earned the right to wear the 2016 Nation Matches sticker on its stock.|
|Hanging with the California team.|
|Life in the pits. The people you meet. The friends you make.|
The family you realize shares your love of the game.
|The top teams from the Whistler Boy Match being recognized on stage.|
|Squadding for NRA Week.|
|Getting basic zeroes for the scoped gun in California a week before going to Ohio.|
|441||Day 1 OF||154.01|
|442||Day 1 RS||191.02|
|443||Day 1 RP||195.06|
|446||Day 1 SP||188.06|
|444||Day 2 OF||188.01|
|445||Day 2 RS||192.04|
|448||Day 2 RP||192.05|
|449||Day 2 SP||194.03|
|450||Day 3 OF||181.04|
|447||Day 3 RS||197.04|
|451||Day 3 RP||194.04|
|452||Day 3 SP||186.01|
|The best souvenir from my trip.|
I ended my time at Camp Perry attending the awards ceremony for the NRA Championship matches. Another drive through America's heartland this time via Interstate 70 would take me home from what will always be one of the most special vacations of my life. The things I saw, the things I got to do, the new things I learned, the people who's company I enjoyed. So many stories. So many moments. These will be the lasting memories of my first time at the U.S. Nationals.