This year, MSgt Nick Capko, 38, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, returned to the Camp Perry Nationals after more than a decade since his debut, marking only his second trip to the annual event that has been a marksmanship tradition in Ohio for over a century. .
The primary purpose of his return was the same one that brought him to the grounds of historic Camp Perry in the first place: to represent the US Marine Corps as a member of the marksmanship team.
“I wasn’t ready for college and it was something I was interested in doing. It was something to start my life with,” she said of his early days in the Marine Corps. “Ultimately, that was the reason I chose the Marine Corps: the challenge that was presented to me.”
Nick has been a Marine for 20 years. Before that, he had never fired a gun; he made the first shots of him during training camp. After signing up for a unit he deployed to, leaving it behind, he went on to supplement his time by training others on the shooting range.
“There someone said to me, ‘Hey, you should join the Marine Corps shooting team,’” he explained.
A few years later, he began his career as a competitive shooter. He did well enough to finally be drafted into the Marine Corps shooting team in 2010 as one of the summer raises, where he got to try out the Camp Perry nationals, a staple event in the world of marksmanship. since 1907.
He returned to the Fleet Marines for the next decade, but now serves as the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Marine Corps Shooting Team. Even though the Marine Corps Target Shooting Team has been out of commission for the past year and a half, Nick’s primary goal as a leader is to have the Marine Corps represented at national games each year.
“As long as we can fit it into our budget, we will continue to represent the Marine Corps in national and interservice competitions,” he said.
He began the potential revival of the service’s target shooting program in 2022 by bringing a team to Camp Perry that consisted of two current Marines on the Pistol team, as well as some former members.
“Making sure we are represented here is important to me and to the Marine Corps,” he said. “Honestly, a lot of people reached out to me, so it’s important for everyone who comes to Camp Perry to see the Marine Corps here.”
Also traveling with Nick on the trip was his 15-year-old son, Caleb.
“He has always shown an interest in shooting,” Nick said. “I thought, let’s get him over here and introduce him to competitive shooting so he can start mastering those fundamentals and have fun while he’s at it.”
“I only have a couple of years left with him before he starts his own life,” Nick continued. “(Camp Perry) a week where it’s just him and me, having fun and getting to know each other better.”
Caleb had never been to national games before and, in fact, had no other competitive shooting experience before heading to Camp Perry.
“He wanted to come for fun because he was a little tired of being stuck at home doing nothing,” Caleb joked. “(Camp Perry) was an opportunity to go out and shoot with my dad, so I took it.”
Although he sometimes shoots at home with rifles or shotguns, Caleb used his time at Camp Perry to learn more about the sport, participating in small arms shooting school and other .22 events. He already had much of the information on firearms that he had learned from his father, but he also learned some new things.
“There were times when we were shooting at the same time on separate fields, and he didn’t have a problem,” Nick said. “He was able to shoot through the course, but not only that, he shot well and got better.”
The two also stayed in the cabins on the base, soaking up every bit of what makes the National Matches such an exceptional event.
“For my first time, it was very special for me, especially with my dad,” Caleb said. “I definitely want to go back.”
Although he has no idea what he would like to do in the future, Caleb said he might want to go to college and join the Marine Corps as an officer. No matter what he chooses, he already has it in his mind that he will return to Camp Perry, even as an adult.
“With my 60-year-old dad,” he said, mocking Nick.
“I’ll still win!” Nick joked back.
“I am super proud of him. He did really well,” Nick added, genuinely, about Caleb. “I can’t wait to see what he does next year.”
The US Marine Corps in the national games:
Throughout its existence, the US Marine Corps has cultivated a respectable reputation as a highly skilled commando of marksmen and snipers. Their marksmanship teams have long represented the Marines’ superior standards in national games, helping others on the field improve their own fundamentals during competition and through training courses.
Marines are recognizable figures at Camp Perry in clinics like the Small Arms Firing School and its own USMC Junior Highpower Clinic, a popular choice among young athletes. The three-day clinic focuses on more advanced training, including weather conditions, equipment use and shooting positions, while also implementing live shooting on the range at 200, 300 and 600 yards.
In addition to mentoring others, Nick emphasized the value of Marines attending National Games to learn their own valuable lessons.
“With the Marine Corps Shooting Team, we have two missions: to represent the Marine Corps, which we do through competition, and the other part is instruction. We are teaching the marines. But who teaches us? he said.
“We learn by coming to these competitions and competing against some of the best in the country, some of the best in the world. We talk to them, ask them how they practice, how they train, what they’re working on with the trigger grip. And we retrieve that information and work on it, and then we can turn it over to the Marine Corps.”
“In matches that are of this high level, you have the best leading minds in the country in one place. It would be foolish of us not to go and collect their brains,” Nick added.
In his quest to build a team ready to compete in notable events, Nick looks for more than just skill in his recruits—he needs the full embodiment of the Marines.
“Having Marines specialized in precision shooting is something that will add value to the Marine Corps,” Nick said. “Especially with what the Marine Corps is looking for, which is to prepare Marines for combat. We want to make sure we’re helping Marines shoot, not just fast, but accurately.”
He continued: “The residual benefit (of coming to the National Matches) is public outreach because that’s one of the things we look for in every Marine we recruit for the shooting team: character. We look at character over talent. We have to have the right Marines who leave a favorable impression on the public about who the Marine Corps is and the professionalism that we have and pride ourselves on.”
The Civilian Aim Program is a federally chartered 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. It is dedicated to firearms safety and marksmanship training and the promotion of competitive marksmanship for United States citizens. For more information about the CMP and its programs, log on to www.TheCMP.org.