By Ashley Brugnone, CMP Writer
CAMP PERRY, Ohio – Zachary Wehner, 11, of Valparaiso, Ind., took his first trip to the historic National Matches at Camp Perry last July, 2018.
“It’s amazing,” he said of his experience. “It’s just nice to walk around and tour the place, and it has an air range.”
During his self-tour of the grounds of the Camp Perry National Guard Training Base, which has been home to the National Matches since 1907, Zachary found his way to the Gary Anderson CMP Competition Center. The facility, maintained by the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), contains many fascinating findings within, but most visitors come for its 80-point electronic indoor air gun range.
The range is open to the public all year long and hosts numerous events. The National Matches season gives guests the opportunity to not only try their hand at air rifle or air pistol at their own pace, but also allows anyone the chance to compete in national-level competition.
That’s exactly what Zachary did, competing in the 30-shot sporter Bench League, where individuals fire upon the electronic targets from a fixed, seated position. It was his first time trying air guns, having only fired BB guns in Cub Scouts before getting to Camp Perry.
Zachary didn’t come alone on the National Matches adventure. He brought along with him two other generations of the Wehner family, his dad, Jeffrey, and his grandpa, Gerald.
The idea of a three generation trip originally started with Gerald, a regular to the National Matches since 1967.
“It’s kind of like a disease,” he joked, about the National Matches itch. “My wife says, ‘Before Perry, you get all grumpy, and then you go to Perry and you come back happy.’”
Gerald fired in the 2018 National Matches pistol events using a National Match .45 he had bought at the event years ago. It’s one of many firearms he has accumulated over the years.
“I’ve been interested in shooting all of my life,” explained Gerald, 80, an avid pistol marksman.
Growing up, his brother was the one who got him interested in shooting. Gerald’s first gun came in the third grade – a BB gun his brother gave him after he upgraded to a .22 rifle. A few years later, his brother upgraded again, this time to a shotgun, and Gerald quickly saw an opportunity.
He explained, recalling the story, “I said, ‘So what are you going to do with your .22?’ He said, ‘Well, it’s not mine – it’s yours!’”
“And I’ve still got that gun,” he said as he smiled.
When Gerald was a senior in high school, he bought a single-action revolver for $49 from Colt Frontier Scout. In a moment of shear happenstance, that summer, as he was telling his dentist about the new revolver, the dentist asked Gerald if he would like to shoot on a real marksmanship team.
Apprehensive at first about what he was getting into, Gerald decided to give the team a try and bought a high standard target pistol for $35 later that summer.
“I had to aim it sub-six because of the sights,” he recalled.
That first summer of 1956, he fired in a park league and earned a medal that was, as he described, “a little bit bigger than his thumb nail.”
“I was very proud of that,” he chuckled.
Later on, he moved on to a Ruger Mark I, moving up from a high standard, which he shot for several years before getting the National Match .45 at Camp Perry and a Clark Ruger in 1967.
Along the way, Gerald gained a family, which made it harder to make the trip back to Ohio in the summer. But, eventually, he and a new shooting buddy made it back to the Matches – his son, Jeffrey, Zachary’s dad.
Jeffrey didn’t get interested until later in life, into his 30’s, when he started asking Gerald questions about the sport. The two started going out to the local range in Valparaiso, and also visited Bristol and regional events before eventually making it to Camp Perry.
“We were just talking about it one day, and he wanted to know if I wanted to come, so we made an agreement,” Jeffrey said.
Making a weekend trip out of the arrangement, young Zachary wanted to come along as well. And, with his first successful air gun competition under his belt, they were almost unable to get him to leave.
“We could hardly pry him away,” Jeffrey said as he laughed. “He became a competitor this year.”
Now hooked, Zachary is looking forward to coming back out to shoot with his dad and grandpa at this year’s National Matches.
Gerald is in for round two, saying, “Good Lord willing, I’ll keep coming back.”
Jeffrey is also onboard with the idea, ready to make a tradition out of the trip.
“This is because of my dad. And I would like to continue it for years to come,” he said. “It’s a fun place to be. You get a little tired of it after a week, but as soon as you get home, you want to come back.”
He added, “It was a good experience, having three generations here.”