Last updated on December 6th, 2017 at 06:20 am
For something like the last 100 years, competitive rifle and pistol shooters have made an annual pilgrimage to a small town in northern Ohio on the shore of Lake Erie. The NRA and the CMP have worked together for many years to co-host their separate variations of national championships, and for folks involved in the Highpower disciplines, Port Clinton has become the Mecca of elite competition.
I began shooting Service Rifle in NRA and CMP matches in 2007, when fate landed me in a new shooter clinic put on by Kurt Borlaug and Tom Torborg at the Gopher Rifle and Revolver Club in Harris, MN. My first trip to Camp Perry was in 2009 for the CMP Trophy Matches. I made the 12-hour drive with my friend Jeremy Harrison (who I had met at the clinic), and we were both in awe of the sheer spectacle of it – roughly 1000 people assembled to shoot the same set of matches. Some were there for glory, hoping to win it all, others hoped to achieve smaller personal goals, and still others were there for unique the camaraderie that could not be found anywhere else. I suppose it would be fair to say that we were all there for some combination of all 3.
My Service Rifle journey continued through 2010 with another trip to Port Clinton for CMP week. This was also the year that I earned CMP Distinguished Rifleman Badge #1990, (See link: http://thecmp.org/wp-content/uploads/Distinguished_History1.pdf). This was a goal that I had set at the 200-yard practice match the very day after the aforementioned clinic. As I had always struggled with the A2 post sight on the Service Rifle at 600 yards, I took completing my DR quest as an opportunity to move to a platform that was friendlier to my vision.
In 2011, I took up the Match Rifle in earnest, and the aperture sights on my 6mm spacegun unlocked 600 yard scores that I would not have thought possible while shooting the A2. I made 3 more trips to Perry for the NRA OTC Championship in 2011-2013, and enjoyed the combination of a more relaxed pace while also shooting more rounds per day. There were a lot fewer people than for the CMP matches, but for me, the tradeoff was worth it. Watching legends like Carl Bernosky and Sherri Jo Gallagher battle it out while shooting record scores that may never be broken definitely made for memorable matches.
With all this in mind, I had mixed feelings when I first heard of the NRA’s plans to move the nationals away from Perry. There have been lots of rumors circulating, but the actual details of the NRA/CMP divorce are still anything but clear. Depending on who you talk to, you will hear that the issue was 100% the CMP’s fault, or 100% the NRA’s fault. I have to think that there is plenty of blame to spread around to both organizations. At any rate, after the initial shock of the announcement wore off, I started to think that the NRA moving to a new venue might not be a bad thing.
My 7 trips are child’s play compared the history that some shooters have with Port Clinton, but I feel that my experiences have been enough for me to make some observations. While I enjoyed every trip, I always felt that there was much room for improvement. As a general rule, nothing at Camp Perry ever works the way it should. Matches take forever, pit changes alone can take nearly an hour, and there are always moments when all a shooter can think is “What the heck are they doing now?” I remember spending 11 hours on the range in the Ohio sun in 2009 to shoot the 30-shot President’s match. Target carriers are poorly designed and poorly maintained. Housing and other facilities on post are sorely lacking. Some (NOT ALL) match personnel tended to treat competitors like they should feel lucky just to be allowed to shoot at CP, instead of being treated like the paying customers that they are. In my experiences with the NRA, it has often seemed like the National Championships were just sort of an afterthought, not a real priority.
Fast forward to 2017. This year, the NRA National Championships were held at Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh, Indiana. I decided fairly quickly after learning about the move that I wanted to be there to witness the inaugural event. I completed my entry and reserved housing on post as soon as I could.
The area surrounding the base also has a lot going for it. A 5-minute drive East will put you in the middle of downtown Edinburgh, with a fair selection of local-type small town establishments. 5 miles further south there is an outlet mall with lots of larger chain restaurants (Applebee’s, Cracker Barrel, Ruby Tuesday, etc) along with fast food. 10 miles even further brings you to Columbus, a town of 45,000 with about anything you could want. We didn’t get too crazy, but did manage to find some hidden gems – El Jefe in Edinburgh, and Joe Willy’s in Columbus were both excellent locally owned spots. In my opinion, it is definitely an upgrade from Port Clinton.
Now, on to the matches themselves. I shot my trusty Palma rifle all week, so my perspective is mostly from the Palma Rifle matches. Things kicked off on Friday with 2 matches from the 1000-yard line; the Remington Trophy and the Mustin Trophy were up fro grabs. In the Remington match, the top shooter from each of the 4 relays moves on to a 10-shot shoot off to decide the fate of the trophy. The nicest lady in all of shooting, Shirley McGee topped her relay by driving her 6mm SLR to a cool 200-9x on her way to a shoot off berth. In a true show of good sportsmanship, Shirley shot an 8 on her first record shot, just to let the competition feel a little better about their chances. She buckled down after that, and kept the next 9 shots in the 10 and x-rings to finish with a 98-5x. Young phenom Adam Fitzpatrick was the last to finish, and was only down a single point going into his last shot, but it wasn’t meant to be. Shirley’s 98-5x held up, and she is your 2017 Remington trophy winner!
In the Mustin Trophy match, the top shooter of each rifle type (Any Rifle, Palma Rifle, Service Rifle) from each relay (12 total shooters) makes it to the shoot off. I was pleasantly surprised to shoot the top Palma score of the match, landing me in my very first shoot off. Between my rookie nerves and the 95º heat, my performance was not as impressive as Shirley’s, but I was happy to participate. After walking down the line and seeing Kent Reeve’s winning 100-8x target, I didn’t feel quite so bad. Even if I had shot my best it would not have matched Kent’s performance!
On Saturday, it was a single 20-shot match at 1000, then the Roumanian Trophy 4-person team match. The Andrus Trophy match came down to an epic finish, with Annette Wachter and Nate Guernsey shooting the exact same score in the 10-shot shoot off. This led to another 5-shot head-to-head shoot off, with Annette winning it on the very last shot. Talk about high drama! The Roumanian team match was stolen from the big guns by a pick-up team led by coach Russ Theurer. Russ steered his squad to an excellent score of 785-26x to get the “Highway 6” team name on the cup. In addition to being a top-notch shooter, Russ showed that he can also read a little wind.
Sunday’s Andrus Cup match saw another Minnesota boy in a shoot off, as Matt “Ice Pumpkin” Griffin was high Palma gun on his relay. Matt suffered the same fate as I had the day before, getting bested by Kent Reeve. No shame in that, Mr. Reeve has been the best Palma shooter in the US for years. Scattered thunderstorms throughout the day had pushed the shoot off deep into the afternoon, and the Herrick team match had to be postponed until further notice.
The Palma individual trophy match was on the schedule for Monday. Winds were switchy and stronger than they had been, and a lot came down to relay assignments. Some relays got beat up badly, while others were left relatively unscathed. I was somewhere in between. My 4th relay got caught in complete reversals at both the 900 and 1000-yard lines, but I managed not to embarrass myself and finished with a 444-25x for the day. That would only be good enough for 28th place though, as 2016 LR Champion John Whidden cruised to victory with his 450-28x. John had only dropped 4 points so far for the week, and his perfect finish in the Palma put him in very good shape for the agg – his score was going to be tough to beat. The match finished in good time, and the match director decided to add the Herrick team match at the end of the day. The Herrick trophy went to the Southeast Rifle Club, with their fine score of 789-30x.
Come Tuesday morning, all that was left to do was shoot the Palma Team match. Nancy Tompkins coached her team of Michael Storer, Todd Branin, Annette Wachter, and Bob Gill to victory with every firing member shooting a 445 or better. Our team was not in the running, but wind Maestro Bob Mead coached the Ice Pumpkin to a cool 449-25x, the top individual score of the match. This was Matt’s first trip to the Palma 448 Club – congratulations on a fine day of shooting.
Things wrapped up on Tuesday evening with a very nice awards ceremony. The NRA definitely stepped up their game from past years, serving an excellent catered meal to all attendees. There was a stacked prize table with some very nice prizes to be awarded by random drawing, and it seemed like almost everyone won something. There were 6 or 8 $500 checks given away, along with scopes, triggers, bullets, brass, and many other items. I was one of the very last names to be called after 2 hours of drawings, and I still ended up with a box of Lapua Palma brass. John Whidden’s tall score of 1246-91x came out on top as he went on to win his 2nd consecutive Long Range National Championship.
Overall, I had an excellent time at Camp Atterbury, and I feel like the move is a step in the right direction for the NRA matches. As this was the very first year in the new venue, match numbers were down from previous years, but I think shooters who decide to make the trip in future years will be impressed. The matches ran smoothly, the staff was friendly, and the range is solid. The few problems that arose were minor, and both NRA and Camp Atterbury staff seemed eager to get them fixed. NRA Highpower Committee Chairman Walt Walter was on hand for the Competitor’s Meeting, and he was very candid in discussing all topics. I was happy to get my “Inaugural Year” t-shirt, and I definitely plan to make the trip again.
Erik Rhode | President 2017 Palma Alliance – 40 members strong and growing!