CAMP PERRY, Ohio – Rex Walter, 62, of Parker, Pa., has never missed the National Rimfire Sporter Match, a popular event at the annual National Matches at Camp Perry. During the match’s 20-year history, Rex is the last known competitor to have attended every year since its inception.
“I have never missed a game, but I have missed the target,” he joked.
One of the fastest growing shooting disciplines in existence, the Rimfire Sporter Rifle Match was introduced to the CMP Games calendar in 2002 and can now be found at events across the country throughout the year. Games matches are designed to emphasize participation, accessibility, affordability and fun, and the Rimfire Sporter Match is no exception to that ideology.
It’s a match for all ages, from ages 10 to 80 and up, and showcases a variety of aiming skills through slow and rapid fire stages in prone, sitting, and standing positions. Using .22 caliber rifles fired at 50 and 25 yards in three classes (Class O for open sight, Class T for scope, and Class TU for tactical/unlimited), the match is an ideal way to introduce adults and youth alike to the excitement, challenge and enjoyment of competitive shooting.
Thanks to continued support and popularity, the National Rimfire Sporter Match at Camp Perry is the largest small-bore rifle championship in the nation.
“We come to support the program. Somebody has to shoot well enough to keep the cut scores down,” Rex joked again about competing in national matches every year. Cut scores help determine which competitors win gold, silver, or bronze medals.
Currently, Rex works at a steel plant 13-hour shifts six to seven days a week, making it difficult to take vacations. However, he makes sure that every February he requests time off just to film at the Rimfire event. He has shot every Rimfire class over the years, with no preference, though he chose to shoot the Ranged and Tactical classes in 2022.
“They’re all funny,” he said.
For Rex, traveling to National Matches is about more than just sport: it’s about seeing old friends and making new acquaintances, as well as passing on the knowledge of marksmanship to the next generation.
“Twenty years ago, I would have said I do this to see how good it could be, but I’m past that stage. I like to see people keep coming out, I like to see young people,” she explained. “Every time we come here, it’s not the same young people, it’s different groups, but there is a constant influx of new young people. It’s good to see people bring in youngsters, and this is a great inning.”
Rex’s beginnings in marksmanship began at the age of five, when he first shot with a .22 rifle. From there, his parents taught him all about gun safety, taking him hunting and shooting often on the farm where he grew up. As he got older, he found a shooting club where he started shooting competitions.
Rex eventually became involved in training kids from different school districts at the Koppel Big Beaver Sportsmen’s Club in Wampum, Pennsylvania, where he also took several introductory firearms and firearms safety courses, facilitating over 2,000 people for a decade.
“It was a place where they could relax and speak their minds in a safe place,” he said of the youth program.
The youth group shot every week, with practice first and hotdogs later (once they washed their hands, of course). On Thanksgiving, they would have pumpkin pie. Rex and the other adult leaders did what they could to make the group fun and encouraged the kids to come practice. Rex even created a game called “Shoot the Dot Out,” in which kids would have to shoot an orange sticker all the way, no matter how many rounds it took. Unbeknownst to them, the sticker was the same size as the X-ring on a lens.
“We made it a fun activity. They wanted to come, they wanted to be there,” she said.
The group of kids was the reason Rex traveled to the National Matches in the first place.
“We were looking for something to do, to get young people involved in shooting,” Rex explained of his beginnings at Camp Perry. “The Rimfire Sporter Match was a great opportunity for that.”
The first year, the club took five children to the National Matches. The following year, he bought a used military training rifle for $49 and spent $1 at a gun show for a slingshot and $1 for a swivel. With his gear valued at $51, he shot in the Rimfire Sporter event and won a gold medal.
“Once the parents found out about our success, we started having more and more children,” she said.
In subsequent years, the club brought in several vans filled with 15 adults and youth who stayed in cabins on the Camp Perry grounds. They also traveled to other states for games, including Winchester in Virginia and Canton-McKinley in Ohio.
“For the children, it was a big problem. For some of them, it was their only way out,” Rex said. “You can watch them grow and see what they become.”
Camp Perry, a National Guard training facility and World War II icon, made an impressive impact on children: with the base’s helicopter exhibits, uniformed personnel and former POW cabins all part of the experience. Then, more than a decade later, things started to change.
“Like everything else, the kids grew up and moved on, so it became an adult show,” Rex explained. “I wanted to go shooting and I wanted someone to come with me, and it became a group activity.”
Over the years, some members moved on to other things or even passed away, leaving Rex the only one left to make the journey.
Although he is the only one in the line of fire, he brings along his wife, Pam, who has missed only three national games during her time traveling with Rex. Pam isn’t a marksman, but she’s kept a presence in the sport, serving as den mother in her club’s youth program while she watched Rex train her own son and daughter in safe marksmanship.
In all his years shooting in the National Rimfire Sporter Match, Rex’s highest score (so far) has been 593, and he has finished in the top 20 out of the hundreds of entrants who shoot each year.
“There’s always the hope that I’m going to get an award, the anticipation,” Rex said. “It’s like Christmas: you don’t know what you’re going to get.”
Counting home games, she has over 100 awards that Pam has put up in display cases, along with a hat full of pins.
Rex plans to retire next year and would like to form another group to go to Nationals with him, hoping to mark a new tradition. He confesses that many see the word “national” in National Matches and think they need to have a certain level of skill to compete, but Rex has some simple advice for those who may be nervous about not doing well in the match.
“Nobody expects you to. It’s the experience,” she said. “Prepare. Make sure you have a reliable rifle, make sure it’s aimed and then you have to practice. And that’s it. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Don’t get caught up in scoring. You’re competing against yourself. Shooting is, ultimately a mind game and how you handle stress come and have fun.
“It has been a good experience,” he added. “I’ll keep coming as long as I can.”
Other Rimfire Sporter Opportunities:
Outside of Camp Perry, Rimfire Sporter Matches can be found year-round at CMP-affiliated clubs across the country. These clubs are eligible to hold their own CMP sanctioned events on their fields of play, including the Rimfire event. Learn more about sanctioned games at https://thecmp.org/clubs/clinics/. Find a list of upcoming CMP-sanctioned matches on the CMP website at https://ct.thecmp.org/app/v1/index.php?do=matchRegistrationListUpcoming.
Matches are now also featured in all CMP Travel Games: Western CMP Games (Phoenix), Eastern CMP Games (Camp Butner, North Carolina), Talladega D-Day and 600 Matches (Talladega, Alabama), and New England CMP Games (Camp Ethan Allen, Vermont). Learn more about CMP Travel Games events, including a full series schedule, at https://thecmp.org/competitions/cmp-travel-games/.
CMP Rimfire Sporter Program:
Learn more about the CMP Rimfire Sporter program on our website at https://thecmp.org/competitions/matches/rimfire-sporter-2/. Resources, such as the CMP Guide to Rimfire Sport Shooting, are available to view and download. Booking for the 2023 National Matches: Rimfire Small Arms Firing School: Saturday, July 8 and National Rimfire Sporter Match: Sunday, July 9.
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.
Restricted to CA 18+ in accordance with CA State Assembly Bill 2571 which prohibits the sale of firearms to minors in the state of CA.