Since 1907, the national rifle and pistol games have been a staple event on the historic grounds of Camp Perry in Ohio. Drawing visitors from all over the country (and even the world), the event has become a revered marksmanship tradition, so much so that many have turned it into an annual outing that has lasted their entire lives.
Such is the case for Pat Smith, 69, of Tiffin, Ohio, who competed in his 50thhe National Individual Trophy (NTI) rifle match during the 2022 National Matches.
“It’s something we do, so we keep doing it,” Pat said of the event.
The NTI is one of the most celebrated competitions of the National Tournaments. The overall competitor is awarded the Daniel Boone Trophy, a storied honor dating back to 1904. With a range of 200, 300, and 600 yards of fire, the NTI joins some of the best shooters in the country at the range with those who aspire to be, along with others who enter simply for the experience.
Pat lives less than an hour from Camp Perry, home of the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), which runs and organizes national matches. He first came in 1972 with members of the local Tiffin Gun Club who decided to shoot at the NTI event.
“I was a little in awe of the whole thing,” Pat admitted. “The well-managed field setup and the 600-yard shooting, that’s not possible on most courses, so it was a learning experience.”
The Tiffin Gun Club is part of the Northwest Ohio Rifle League, in operation for over 90 years. As the founding hunters and recreational shooters intended, the league creates a foundation for camaraderie and competition through indoor small-bore rifle competitions in the winter months, something Pat has used to fulfill his marksmanship needs. during decades.
“I was pretty much on my own starting out,” he said of his early starts in competitive marksmanship.
One of the club members had been shooting at Camp Perry for many years and helped Pat with wearing a sling and positioning. Other than that, Pat has kitted out as a trainer and gunsmith, learning how to improve reloading techniques and other essential maintenance tasks on his own.
“If the bedding was torn, loose, or needed to be redone, I had to learn how to repair it,” she said.
Primarily a rifle competitor, Pat quickly felt a connection to the National Matches during that 1972 appearance. Since then, he has only missed the summer of 2020, when the event of the year was cancelled.
The walls of his house are lined with photographs of the range, and a shadow box contains several decorative National Matches pins, each commemorating the experiences he has collected at Camp Perry over the years.
“When you look back, it’s like, where did all the years go?” she mused herself.
Pat has also competed in national President’s Rifle Matches since the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice began as a non-aggregate match in 1977. The President’s Rifle Match is another historic event, dating back to 1894, using the same shooting range and runs parallel in prominence to the NTI, earning a reputation as one of the most celebrated National Matches competitions.
Outside of President’s and NTI, Pat has participated in the National Matches Hearst Doubles team competition, CMP Cup Matches, and a variety of CMP’s own vintage game matches, including the John C. Garand Match and the Vintage Sniper paired event.
He then competed as a member of the Ohio Rifle and Pistol Association state team for National Trophy Team and Infantry National Trophy Team matches, as well as long-range events, using an upside-down bolt pistol.
It is true that Pat’s performance in the 2022 national matches was not the best, but that is not what is important to him. The breakout year just marked another opportunity to challenge himself on the field, doing what he loves to do.
“I didn’t do very well, but I made the cut for NTI and came second in the Vintage Sniper match with my teammate Joe Stevens,” he said. “Since I got Distinguished in 1984 (badge #516), I don’t really need to shoot the NTI, but the game is a challenge to a rifleman’s skill that I find interesting, with the different distances and wind factors involved.”
“It’s also an endurance test,” he continued. “I was there when there was a week of 100+ degree temperatures, when they sometimes had 7 or 8 relays, and I went off the range during downpours with nowhere to hide.”
Understandably, attending national matches for half a century has allowed Pat to see many encouraging changes, such as increased participation by female and junior athletes and advances in equipment.
When it started in 1972, the military primarily fired M14s, while civilians used M1s.
“The first M16s I saw were around 1975. The Air Force Team was using M16s with Redfield scopes out to 300+ yards. They didn’t do it right,” Pat said.
Another development time was around 1994 when the Army shipped all ARs while the Marines were still using M14s. The following year, that changed, and no one looked back.
“Great strides have been made with rifles and ammunition, so I have had the opportunity to witness an evolution in firearms and equipment,” he said.
The years also brought amazing teachable moments for Pat.
“Most likely, I have the first M1A used at the Camp Perry National Matches,” he said.
In 1973 Pat had acquired an early NM M1A, which the locals approved of as a duplicate of the M14, and used it during that year’s NTI. It wasn’t until halfway through the match that competitor Pat pointed out that the rifle was not legally approved for the event.
“I wasn’t one of the top scorers that year, so it kind of went under the radar,” he joked. “The rifle may have been approved locally but not yet approved for National Match competitions. It wasn’t until two years later that the M1As were approved.”
Although Pat has seen many transformations during his tenure, the one thing that has remained constant is the interesting people he can meet at the shooting range.
“From every walk of life and every job description, every branch of service, I even spoke to a person who was in the new Space Force last year,” he said. “Each of these competitors has a common interest and goal.”
“Shooting alone or with friends can be fun for a while, but competitive shooting is what makes it last the longest,” he continued. “I have met and developed friendships with people from all over the country.”
For those who might be interested in racing for themselves, Pat has some advice.
“It is a precision sport, which requires competition,” he said. “First, one needs the interest and desire. A good foundation is always important, and the CMP does an excellent job of providing clinics at the regional and club level across the country. They are a good place to start.”
He also suggested the Small Arms Shooting School (SAFS) which is held every year during the National Matches. The course includes classroom and actual range training, led by current military instructors and athletes such as the US Army Marksmanship Unit. It is a place where an individual can gain the Camp Perry experience while receiving a constructive personal training.
“SAFS is a great springboard to shoot the president or NTI,” he said. “A team match is also a good place to gain experience. Shooting practice on your own is different than at a rifle match, so diving into shooting, even in club matches, will give the new competitor the experience and confidence he needs.”
When the national match season ends, Pat competes biweekly in the nearby Toledo Area High Powered Rifle League Winter Small Range Rifle League, in addition to the weekly meets in Tiffin. He still uses his old Anschutz 1413 for AR and small-bore service rifles and AR-based competition rifles for high power.
“Shooting/competing is different than other sports,” he continued. “It really can be a lifelong sport or hobby that can branch off into other related activities when you can’t or don’t want to spend long days on the course. . . like training, collecting or gunsmithing, to name a few.”
Pat plans to return to National Matches again in 2023, humbly staying true to the long tradition that began so many decades ago.
“Most people aren’t dumb enough to keep doing the same thing over and over again,” he joked. “But, it’s just something I do in the summer.”
CMP National Parties
National Matches held at Camp Perry in Port Clinton, Ohio are open to the public. Spectators are welcome to stop by and learn more about the sport of marksmanship. Small Arms Shooting School is an excellent course for beginners, as classroom instruction focuses on firearms fundamentals and safety. Live fire equipment is provided during the course. Learn more about national matches and see all of the upcoming 2023 events by visiting the CMP website at https://thecmp.org/cmp-national-matches/ or call 419-635-2141 or email email@example.com.
The Civilian Marksmanship Program is a federally chartered 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. It is dedicated to firearms safety and marksmanship training and the promotion of marksmanship competition for United States citizens. To learn more about the CMP and its programs, log on to www.TheCMP.org.