Since 1907, the National Rifle & Pistol Matches have been a staple event on the historic grounds of Camp Perry in Ohio. Attracting visitors from across the nation (and even across the world), the event has become a revered marksmanship tradition – so much so that many have made it an annual excursion that has spanned across their lifetimes.
Such is the case with Pat Smith, 69, of Tiffin, Ohio, who competed in his 50th National Trophy Individual (NTI) Rifle Match during the 2022 National Matches.
“It’s just 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 Matches. The overall competitor is awarded the Daniel Boone Trophy – a historic honor that dates back to 1904. With a course of fire of 200, 300 and 600 yards, the NTI joins some of the best marksmen and women in the country on 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, headquarters of the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), which directs and hosts the National Matches. He first arrived in 1972 with members of the local Tiffin Gun Club who decided to fire in the NTI event.
“I was kind of awed by it all,” Pat admitted. “The well-run range organization and shooting 600 yards – that’s not possible to do on most ranges, so it was a learning experience.”
The Tiffin Gun Club is part of the Northwest Ohio Rifle League, in operation for over 90 years. Just as the founding hunters and recreational marksmen intended, the league creates a foundation for fellowship and competition through indoor smallbore rifle competitions in the winter months – something Pat has used to fulfill his marksmanship needs for decades.
“I was pretty much on my own getting started,” he said of his initial beginnings in marksmanship competition.
One of the club’s members had shot at Camp Perry for many years and helped Pat with using a sling and positioning. Outside of that, Pat has equipped himself as both coach and armorer – learning how to improve reloading techniques and other essential maintenance on his own.
“If it broke, came loose or needed the bedding redone, I had to learn to repair it,” he said.
Primarily a rifle competitor, Pat quickly felt a connection with the National Matches during that 1972 appearance. Since then, he’s only missed the summer of 2020, when the event was cancelled for the year.
His walls at home are filled with photos from the range, and a shadowbox holds several decorative National Matches pins – each memorializing the experiences he’s collected at Camp Perry over the years.
“When you look back, it’s like, where’d all the years go?” he pondered.
Pat has also competed in the National Matches President’s Rifle Match since it was started as a no aggregate match by the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice in 1977. The President’s Rifle Match is another historic event, dating to 1894, that utilizes the same course of fire and runs parallel in prominence to the NTI – garnering a reputation as one of the most commemorated competitions of the National Matches.
Outside of the President’s and NTI, Pat has taken part in the National Matches Hearst Doubles team competition, CMP Cup Matches and a variety of CMP’s own vintage Games Matches, including the John C. Garand Match and the Vintage Sniper paired event.
He has gone on to compete as a member of the Ohio Rifle & Pistol Association state team for the National Trophy Team and National Trophy Infantry Team matches as well as in Long Range events, using a prone bolt gun.
Admittedly, Pat’s 2022 National Matches showing wasn’t his best, but that’s not what’s important to him. The milestone year simply marked another opportunity to challenge himself on the range, doing what he loves to do.
“I didn’t do great, but I made the cut for the NTI and came in second place in the Vintage Sniper match with teammate Joe Stevens,” he said. “Since I got Distinguished in 1984 (Badge #516), I don’t really need to shoot the NTI – but the match is a challenge of a rifleman’s skill that I find interesting, with the different distances and wind factors involved.”
“It’s also an endurance test,” he went on. “I’ve been there when there was a week of over 100 degree temps, when they had 7-8 relays sometimes, and have gotten off the range during downpours with no place to hide.”
Understandably, attending the National Matches for half of a century has allowed Pat to observe many encouraging changes, such as more participation from women and junior athletes and advancements with equipment.
When he first began in 1972, the military shot mostly M14s, while civilians used M1s.
“The first M16s I had seen was about 1975. The Air Force Team was using M16s with Redfield sights past 300 yards. They didn’t do that well,” Pat said.
Another developmental moment was around 1994 when the Army fielded all ARs, while the Marines still used M14s. The next year, that changed, and no one looked back.
“Great advances have been made with rifles and ammunition, so I’ve had an opportunity to witness an evolution in firearms and equipment,” he said.
The years also brought surprising learning moments for Pat.
“I most likely have the first M1A used at the Camp Perry National Matches,” he said.
In 1973, Pat had gotten an early NM M1A, which the locals approved as a M14 duplicate, and used it during the NTI that year. It wasn’t until the middle of the match that the competitor Pat was squadded with pointed out the rifle was not legally approved for the event.
“I wasn’t one of the top scores that year, so it went unnoticed,” he joked. “The rifle may have been locally approved but not yet approved for National Matches competitions. It wasn’t until about two years later that the M1As were actually approved.”
Though Pat has seen many transformations during his tenure, the one thing that has remained consistent is the interesting people he’s able to encounter on the range.
“From all walks of life and every job description, every branch of service – I even spoke to a person that was in the new Space Force last year,” he said. “Each one of these competitors has a common interest and goal.”
“Shooting by yourself or with friends may be fun for a while, but competitive shooting is what makes it more enduring,” he went on. “I have met and developed friendships with people from all over the country.”
For those who may be interested in competing for themselves, Pat has advice.
“It’s a precision sport, which requires proficiency,” 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 regional and club levels around the country. They’re a good place to start.”
He also suggested the Small Arms Firing School (SAFS) held each year during the National Matches. The course includes classroom and real range training, led by current military instructors and athletes like the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit. It’s a place where an individual may gain the Camp Perry experience while receiving constructive personal coaching.
“SAFS is a great steppingstone to shooting the President’s or NTI,” he said. “A team match is also a good place to gain experience. Target practice on your own is different than in a rifle match situation, so immersing oneself in shooting, even club matches, will give a new competitor the experience and confidence they need.”
When National Matches season is over, Pat competes every other week in the nearby Toledo Area High Power Rifle League’s winter reduced course rifle league in addition to the weekly competitions in Tiffin. He still uses his old Anschutz 1413 for smallbore and AR service rifles and AR based match rifles for highpower.
“Shooting/competing is unlike other sports,” he continued. “It can truly be a lifetime sport or hobby that can be branched into other related activities when not able or wanting to spend long days on the range . . . like coaching, collecting or gunsmithing, to name a few.”
Pat plans on returning to the National Matches again in 2023, humbly remaining true to the long tradition he began so many decades ago.
“Most people aren’t dumb enough to keep doing the same thing over and over again,” he teased. “But, it’s just something I do in the summer.”
CMP National Matches
The National Matches held at Camp Perry in Port Clinton, Ohio, is open to the public. Spectators are welcome to stop by and learn more about the sport of marksmanship. The Small Arms Firing School is a great course for beginners as classroom instruction focuses on safety and firearm fundamentals. Equipment is provided for live fire during the course. Learn more about the National Matches and view all 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 firearm safety and marksmanship training and to the promotion of marksmanship competition for citizens of the United States. For more information about the CMP and its programs, log onto www.TheCMP.org.