A Camp Perry Primer
By Dan Arnold
©Copyright, Precision Shooting Magazine
"I got my vacation approved, so I can go with you guys to Perry this year? What should I take?” asked a new shooter at one of our mid-July practice sessions.
It was appropriate that such a loaded question be directed my way while we were at the range. My first impulse was to reply, “Bring a sense of humor,” since Camp Perry can be a challenge, and it’s not just the shooting. It’s also about keeping yourself and your gear in the best condition possible, despite what’s going on around you.
The old versus the new: Jerry Penn demonstrates a technique for carrying gear that goes back to the days of the M14 or before, while Kent Shomber opts for wheeled transport.
Being located on the edge of a very big lake, the Camp Perry area is subject to rapid changes in weather that can leave you and your gear a sodden mess if you decided against tarping all of your shooting gear or taking a poncho to the pits. Since the Nationals are held in July and August each year, it could be hot. It could also feel pretty chilly in the morning if you’re from central Oklahoma, where only a few days before you were mowing the yellowed patches of grass masquerading as a lawn on a sunny 98 degree afternoon, the coolest day of that week. And then there are the little things: Boats in the impact area when you’re sweltering under far too many layers, Viale Range’s “little stroll,” or “the death march,” depending on how you look at it: 800 plus yards of dust or mud, depending on the previous day’s weather. Throw in a little humidity, a lot of mosquitoes, and you’ve got a recipe that wears down the unprepared.
Despite the foregoing, Camp Perry is an awesome experience that should not be missed. Unlike other sporting events, going to the National Matches involves no process of competitive elimination to qualify for attendance. One only has to pay the entry fee and somehow get there. No where else do you have the opportunity to meet so many other shooters from around the country, exchange ideas, and learn, regardless of your current level of experience. Besides, where else can you start your day with the boom of a cannon, the sight of Old Glory rising up a flagpole to the accompaniment of the Star-Spangled Banner, and total, absolute silence from over 1000 people, all of whom are either saluting or placing their hands over their hearts?
Accurate rifles are easy to build. So easy, in fact, that these days you can buy an off-the-shelf service rifle from several makers that will consistently hold the ten-ring all the way back to the 600 yard-line if fed quality ammunition. The biggest factor in producing good scores lies within the shooter, so rather than focus on loading tech- niques, super-bullets, or whose barrel to use, we’re going to explore the things that keep a shooter in top form at Camp Perry.
Who said recycling couldn’t be fun? Big wheels off a baby jogger cover uneven ground with ease…at least in theory. We’ll see at the 09’ Nationals.
A Miserable Shooter is a Poor Shooter
Not always, but most of the time. There are those rare occasions that discomfort causes you to “hunker down,” and really concentrate on what you’re doing, if for no other reason than to prove to yourself that you can still succeed. Nine times out of ten though, being miserable is just a distraction made worse by seeing your final score.
At Camp Perry, there is either too much water, or not enough. When it rains, it can come in torrents. Sometimes it even rains sideways, so keeping a poncho in your shooting stool is a little like bringing band-aids to a multiple-vehicle accident. Invest in a rain suit. Even a cheap one is superior to a poncho if the wind is blowing. What’s good for you is good for your gear too, so bring a tarp and some bungee cords along. When you get ready to go to the pits, set everything on top of your stool, wrap the tarp around the pile, and secure the entire mess with the bungee cords. Just because it’s sunny when you go to the pits doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way. Storms come in off of Lake Erie very quickly and no one likes shooting all week in damp, mildewing gear.
Water: Too much is a bad thing. Not enough is even worse. The Camp Perry support staff does an excellent job of keeping full water cans in the pits and on the ready lines, but you can never get your fill drinking out of those little cone-shaped, paper cups. When the human body starts dehydrating, all sorts of things start happening to you and most of them are bad. Canteens and water bottles are great, but a far better solution is a hydration pack by Gerber, BlackHawk, or the grand-daddy of them all, CamelBak®. With a 70 to 100 ounce capacity, staying hydrated is much simpler. There have been occasions when I have gone through the contents of my hydration pack by the time I got to the 600 yard-line and was glad to see those orange water cans, though. Remember, if you’re not going to the porta-potty, you’re not drinking enough, so don’t be bashful: Drink all you can, whenever you can.
My home-built rig with my gear. In actual use I’d add a couple of extra bungee cords and a tarp just in case.
One of the most positive advances of the last three or four years is the combination of hydration systems with usable back packs. Usable meaning that they are big enough to carry items of necessary gear while featuring load bearing shoulder straps and waist belts to distribute the weight of that gear evenly over your torso. Now you can carry lunch, rain gear, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, and plenty of water all in one easy-to-carry container.
On the same note, heatstroke has been a too-common occurrence over the last four or five years. It doesn’t do your scores any good and shutting the range down for the ambulance inconveniences the rest of us, so it’s best to do everything in your power to avoid it. Wear cool clothing or some sort of wicking material as produced by the makers of Under Armor. Big, floppy hats with a brim all the way around, universally known as “bush hats,” or “boonie hats,” are another good idea to keep cool and prevent sunburn. Just because Camp Perry is in the northern part of the United States doesn’t mean that it doesn’t get hot. On the contrary, temperatures in the low 90’s, coupled with the humidity contributed by Lake Erie make for some pretty uncomfortable heat indexes. Think Houston in June and you’re pretty close.
Be prepared to do a lot of walking at Camp Perry. If you’re early, parking can be had near the ranges. If not, it could be a couple of hundred yards to the edge of the range. There is a motorized “shooter shuttle,” that ferries shooters back and forth, but its capacity is limited and there a lot of shooters going back and forth, like 900 to 1,200, depending on which week you’re there. Bad footwear can cripple you after a couple of days of walking, or if it’s raining all week, wet shoes can give you immersion foot, so it’s prudent to have a spare set of shoes or overshoes.
This is what everyone wants but just can’t justify on the family budget: the Camp Perry cart ala Creedmoor Sports.
Making Life Easier…Or at Least Less Painful
While we’re on the subject of walking, it’s a good time to consider how your gear is going to end up at the firing line in the morning and in your vehicle or hut in the afternoon. That’s right: you are the primary means of transportation. How you do it is up to you, depending on how you view yourself on the evolutionary scale. Are you a simple pack animal, a highly-evolved toolmaker of the genus Hominidae, or somewhere in between?
Try this exercise: Take everything you need for a rifle match out of the closet and pile it in the middle of the living room floor. At the least, you probably have a rifle, its case, a stool, spotting scope, mat, coat, glove, at least 50 rounds of ammunition, data book, magazines and a few small miscellaneous items, say ten to fifteen that stay in your stool all the time in case you need them. Now, pick everything up and move it to the garage in one trip. Remember to bend your knees, and you might want to make sure no one else is in the house unless you plan on being the night’s entertainment. A cell phone with 911 pre-dialed might be a good idea, too.
Now that you’ve tried that, you can see why pistol shooting is so popular: you only have to carry around one box that contains three pistols, ammo, spotting scope, and lunch.
In all seriousness though, moving fifty-plus pounds of gear back and forth for a week puts a strain on bodies that are more accustomed to sitting behind a desk, let alone older bodies that have picked up a few tears, pins, and permanent aches learning the wrong way to do things. Why not make things a little easier?
Over the years, my approach to transporting gear has evolved. In the beginning, when the world seemed a lot flatter and I had most of my hair, I managed with the addition of a single strap on my shooting stool. While wearing my shooting coat, I would put the shooting stool strap and the rifle case strap over my right shoulder, impale my rolled-up mat on the spotting scope stand and then balance it on my right shoulder as well. With my right hand raised to control the scope stand, the shooting stool and rifle case straps couldn’t slide off my shoulder and I could get the whole mess to the next firing line. This was a fast and more important, cheap solution in those poorer days when I didn’t mind walking with a permanent list to port.
A Belgian Army surplus pack frame came next. Designed to hold a jerry can, it allowed me to carry everything but my rifle on my back and retain a great deal of mobility. In fact, if I wasn’t too tired, I could almost jog back to the hut at the end of the day. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived I could almost touch my shoulder blades together behind my back. It was a good party trick perhaps, but bad for my offhand scores.
The wheeled trash can with a lid was next. Featuring dry, safe storage, its insignificant wheels were made to roll household garbage down the driveway from the garage to the curb, not fifty pounds of gear over 800 yards of rutted range. The fact that everyone kept mistaking it for the real Camp Perry trash cans was another problem that was never completely solved.
Like woodworking? The Camp Perry cart is your opportunity for self-expression.
By the time I turned forty, some sort of cart was looking very attractive. Like most things that 40 year old men find attractive, they were also rather expensive for something that was only going to be used once in a while. A wheel kit was an option, but when you own a “basic,” shooting stool, your options for wheel kits are limited in selection and worse yet, in function. Buying a higher-end stool and wheel kit was considered just long enough to see the final tab after the add-ons. The answer finally came from a roadside ditch during a family outing. Peeking above the weeds was a complete axle and pair of wheels from a residential garbage bin, the type that requires a large claw on the side of the garbage truck for its weekly dumping. How the axle got there was anyone’s guess. The bin itself was absent, but I cared not a whit. The real prize, the wheels and axle were soon on top of my wife’s Nissan with the bags and camping gear, lending a Beverly Hillbillys air to the rest of our trip and proving once and for all that one man’s treasure can also be the rest of the family’s embarrassment.
Back at home, the axle and the handle from a broken fertilizer spreader were soon attached to my shooting stool, creating a low-tech cart that carried my gear for the 2007 and 2008 Nationals.
Evolution is an ongoing process, however. A neighborhood garage sale turned up a worn baby jogger that gave up its large diameter wheels and padded handle to make my life more comfortable. We’ll see how it works out this year.
The point of all of this is two-fold: First, you have far better chances of shooting well if you are not bruised, chaffed, strained, or exhausted from carrying your gear back and forth on the range. Second, your solution need not be expensive, or even stylish. After all, it’s a shooting contest, not a gear show. Save that and your credit card for Commercial Row.
At Camp Perry, you’re responsible for your own comfort, but this might be overdoing it a bit. Kent Shomber and Bill Meade relax during the team match.
I Don’t Remember Where I Forgot to Put it
Transporting yourself and your gear to the local range is hard enough. After all, how many times have you forgotten your chronograph, ammunition, or even your rifle? Going across state lines, possibly multiple state lines just aggravates the process. Sometime during the week there will probably be an occasion to discover that there’s something you need that didn’t find its way into the truck. Instead it will still be sitting safely on the kitchen table, 1,100 miles away. Take heart, Commercial Row has anything you may have forgotten and there is a Wal Mart located in Port Clinton. Between those two sources, your needs should be met for a week’s worth of shooting. Realistically, if you have your rifle, ammunition, coat, and prescription glasses (if needed), you can borrow or purchase everything else you might need and still perform well.
Do you know your rifle’s elevation and windage zeros? Some of us know exactly how many clicks up, down, left, and right are necessary at each yardline. The human mind is a precarious place to store information though, particularly when you’re placed under pressure. Scouring your memory for zeros and coming up with ATM pin numbers is pretty useless at the 600 yard-line, so most of us keep a data book. Unfortunately, data books have an uncanny ability to escape from shooting stools on the way to the firing line, leaving you wondering if it was three clicks up from the 200 yard-line or five. Or was it seven? A piece of masking tape on the side of the receiver or the stock is a great place to write down those zeros. Use permanent ink however. Rain is always a possibility at Camp Perry.
Data books aren’t the only things that find their way into the “Lost and Found,” bin at Camp Perry, so it’s a good idea to put your name on everything. If you missed something, the pre-printed stickers that are issued at in-processing are handy to put on items of your gear since they usually give out more than is necessary.
Squadding assignments are another easily lost item. You can count on being assigned to a different firing point, relay, and possibly, a different range each day. Not only do you need to keep up with where you are supposed to be, but you have to keep up with the rotation between the pits, ready line, and the firing line each day. Keeping that information in a couple of places is a good idea.
Home Is Where the Hut Is
Cheap, close to the ranges, Commercial Row, and air conditioned if you bring one with you, the huts are one of the Camp Perry experiences that everyone should partake in. Unlike most motel rooms or condominiums, spilling an entire bottle of solvent on the floor doesn’t create a problem. On the contrary, your hut mates will appreciate the temporary relief from spiders and flying insects after their eyes stop watering.
Most people describe the huts as “Spartan,” a word derived from Sparta, an ancient Greek city-state. My guess, the Spartans would have thought the huts crude at best. The fact is, the cells in most county jails are better appointed, so you have to be creative. That may be what gives the huts their charm: As long as you don’t burn one down, nobody cares. Make whatever alterations you think are necessary for your comfort, because it’s up to you to be well-rested when your feet hit the firing line each day.
Bringing along a broom is a good idea, as is a bath mat, unless you like standing on bare concrete while dressing in the morning. The bedding provided runs toward early war surplus, probably Korean War, so they have seen their share of use and abuse over the years. I have watched mattresses fold up around team mates due to the poor condition of the wire netting stretched in the bed frames, so a piece of plywood to put between the wire and mattress is a necessity, unless you normally sleep in something that resembles a defective taco shell.
Duct tape: where would we be without it? With it, you can seal the windows around the air conditioner to keep the cold air in and the rain out, fix holes in the screens, tape your shoes back together, make water proof covers for score books, and with the advent of colored duct tape, you can identify your gear from a distance. Don’t laugh: with over 100 firing points and more than 600 shooters, the area where everyone leaves their gear gets pretty crowded. In short, it’s cheap insurance for anything that can and will go wrong.
Take a friend, even if they aren’t “competitive,” or have an interest in match shooting. If you’re there for CMP week, even non-competitive shooters can have fun shooting the various matches that the CMP has designed for as-issued military rifles. You can always shoot in the President’s, Leg, and Hearst matches and then join your friend for the Carbine, Garand, Springfield, and Vintage-Military matches. The important thing is that friends make whatever you’re doing more enjoyable, whether shooting together or huddling under a poncho during a driving thunderstorm. Hmmm, should’ve brought the rain suits after all.