I grew up near the shores of Port Clinton, Ohio and spent much of each summer girl watching at the Cedar Point amusement park. I was vaguely aware that just west of the roller coasters, log flume and giant piles of french fries (a Cedar Point specialty) was a place called Camp Perry where each year hundreds of shooters from the military and civilian world convened to compete for some of the most exclusive titles in the shooting sports.
A few years later I was enrolled in the ROTC program at Bowling Green State University. Camp Perry was the closest military installation and we would spend time there working on our military skills, using the Leader Reaction Course and other military related activities we couldn't do while on the school campus. One of my strongest memories was staying in what were refereed to as the 'huts' or 'hutments'; small 4-man cabins built during WWII to house German and Italian POWs. While not luxurious by any means, the huts were a damned site better than what our American POWs were housed in while guests of the Third Reich or the Empire of Japan.
Camp Perry was opened in 1906 as an Ohio National Guard training facility. The Ohio State Adjutant General at the time, Ammon Critchfield, had the camp laid out with extensive rifle and pistol range facilities, including one of the longest military rifle ranges at the time - 600 yards. The goal was to build ranges that could support marksmanship training with the newly adopted M1903 Springfield rifle and it's powerful .30-03 cartridge (soon updated to the even more accurate .30-06). In 1907 Critchfield convinced the newly formed National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice (now known as the Civilian Marksmanship Program, or CMP) to move the National Matches from Sea Girt, New Jersey to Camp Perry. For almost 110 years, interrupted only by two world wars and the Korean conflict, Camp Perry has been the home of the National Matches. In the minds of many shooters Camp Perry and the National Matches are inseparable.
I've had the opportunity to go to Camp Perry twice in the 1990s while the National Matches were being held. I didn't go to compete, just to drop by and see what was going on. Unless you are a participating shooter it can be pretty boring walking up and down behind the ready line, listening to the tower commands and the sound of gunfire. Perhaps more than any other sport, precision rifle and pistol shooting is a lonely individual endeavor - man against paper target. No cheering crowds, no waving foam fingers, no fans painted up in their favorite team colors. From that perspective the matches can be pretty dull. But behind the ready line things can be interesting. All the service marksmanship units have their trailers set up and they are more than happy to talk shop and give tours. Commercial Row, where the vendors set up, is always a fun place to wander through. You can buy just about anything shooting related except, of course, a gun. The installation itself is quite picturesque and it can be relaxing just sitting by the lake and watching the boats go by.
But for me it is the history of the place that beckons. Since 1907 all of America's greatest marksmen (and women) and gun writers have passed through Camp Perry. As you walk around the huts and tent areas you can almost hear old timers like Elmer Keith, Charles Askins, Townsend Whelen and others of their generation sitting under the trees swapping lies, griping about their scores and discussing the newest developments in firearms and cartridges,
That's why Camp Perry is considered hallowed ground by thousands of American shooters.
This Camp Perry post card collection is an offshoot of my collection of cards highlighting life in the pre-WWII Army. As I searched for cards I inevitably stumbled on a few specific to Camp Perry and the National Matches. They paint an interesting picture of activities at the camp before WWII. Let's have a look!
|Main entrance to Camp Perry. This is likely a 1950s vintage photo that shows the iconic 'lighhouse' towers that guard the entrance|
|A very early elevated view of the pistol and rifle ranges. The large building in the background is the camp's mess hall, built in 1909 .The photo was taken from atop the camp's water tower|
|The Club House was fronted by a bathing beach that was apparently quite popular with the family members of competitors at the National Matches|
|Another view of the Mess Hall. It was built in 1909 using the revolutionary (for the time) process of pre-cast concrete construction.|
|The Mess Hall (again) with a company of soldiers lined up waiting for the facility to open. Whoever colorized this photo did a particularly good job capturing the features of the individual soldiers|
|One of the earliest detailed photos (1908) I've been able to find of Camp Perry match participants. I first spotted this image on the Shorpy.com website where it was captioned as showing members of the California National Guard rifle team. The soldiers in the photo are wearing a eclectic mix of Spanish-American War uniform items - dark blue shirts, crushed felt campaign hats, leather puttees and wide cartridge belts originally designed for the Krag-Jorgensen rifle. The soldiers are all holding the new M1903 Springfield rifle and based on the age of the photo it is likely they were all chambered for the early 30-03 cartridge|
|Fast forward a few decades and we have the Texas National Guard rifle team, considerably better equipped than their California brothers (above) but still shooting the venerable M1903 Springfield!|
|In the early days, back before anti-gun political correctness and scare mongering set in you could actually shop for and buy firearms at the National Matches. Yes sir, guns and 'military equipments', whatever those were|
|Even Winchester got in on the act. And everybody was welcome!|
|Based on the uniforms and equipment I'm guessing this is a post-WWI shot of a military only match. Perhaps the Ohio National Guard match, which was (and still is) a qualifier for the National Matches|
|Here's another view of the Club House and the 'squaw camp' area. I'm sure, except for the sound of gunfire, it was a nice place to spend a week with the family|
|All's well that ends well|
And so fair reader we bid you good night. Remember to keep the home fires burning, make sure the guard is set and maybe a tune or two from the Camp Songbook would be appropriate before the bugler blows taps.