National Matches Memories: Father and Son Make Trip from Spain to Compete in CMP’s Annual Event
January 31, 2024Civilian Marksmanship Program▸The First Shot▸National Matches Memories: Father and Son Make Trip from Spain to Compete in CMP’s Annual Event
By Ashley Dugan, CMP Staff Writer
The National Matches at Camp Perry has been a summer tradition through the generations – creating legacies and memories on the range since 1907. The month-long series of outdoor and indoor competitions features pistol, highpower rifle, vintage rifle, smallbore rifle, long range rifle and air gun events for adults and juniors of all experience levels.
Each year, the National Matches welcomes thousands of guests from all regions of the country and even from around the world. Many who have participated in the event’s lineup of competitions, educational courses and unmatched camaraderie return year after year, eager to take part in the nostalgic atmosphere and to share the experience with others.
Last year, John Hughes, 53, and his son Christian, 19, made the long journey from their home at a Naval Station in Spain for a summer excursion in the States. The itinerary included a trip down memory lane for John and a new set of memories with Christian after the pair decided to make a stop at Camp Perry for a little fun on the firing line at the 2023 National Matches.
Born in 2004 in Rota, Spain, where his family has been stationed since 1992, Christian hasn’t lived anywhere else.
“It’s definitely different,” he said of growing up in another country. “Spain has a beautiful culture, and it’s a beautiful country all together – very close people that love getting together for everything and anything.”
Over his lifetime, Christian had heard a lot of stories about his dad shooting at the National Matches. A member of the Navy team and Distinguished in both rifle and pistol, John knows a thing or two about marksmanship and was eager to get back to competition at Camp Perry. Christian, on the other hand, had no background of his own, besides growing up watching his dad compete and leisurely firing air guns and other firearms, on occasion.
Even so, the lack of experience didn’t stop Christian from competing alongside his dad during their trip to Camp Perry.
“My experience was very positive,” Christian said of the National Matches. “It was definitely hard getting through some nights of reloading while dealing with jet lag and having to wake up at 6:30 in the morning every day, but I think it was well worth it.”
The pair competed in the pistol portion of the Matches – both in the outdoor bullseye/.22 events and the air pistol offerings within Camp Perry’s Gary Anderson CMP Competition Center.
“Honestly I just went to the Nationals for fun,” Christian said. “My goal was not to be last in any competitions I shot.”
He decided not to put any real expectations on himself for his competition performances. In fact, he had only practiced four days before the matches using the family pistol and ended up shooting all the air matches and final with a rented CMP air pistol. But, to his amazement, Christian well surpassed the bar he had set for himself after finishing as the sixth highest junior overall in the National Air Pistol Junior Championship.
“When I found out I was in the finals, I was definitely surprised, and that caused excitement,” he said. “But I was pretty calm knowing that no matter how I shot, I had already reached my goal.”
The championship included a 60-shot qualifying match (where Christian ended eighth overall), plus an elimination final to determine the overall winner.
The score of his first shot in his first-ever final? 10.7.
“I looked back at my dad, made eye contact with him, and we both started laughing,” Christian recalled of the moment.
“Now that I’ve seen what the competition world is like and I know what to expect and prepare for, next year, my goals will be set a lot higher,” he added.
Besides the National Air Pistol Championship, Christian also competed with his dad in celebrated National Pistol Matches like the President’s Pistol Match, the National Trophy Individual Match and others.
Additionally, Christian participated in the educational Pistol Small Arms Firing School, where students learn fundamentals and safety in the classroom and on the range from military marksmanship instructors. His dad had taught him gun safety over the years, which made SAFS a good refresher on the basics, but more in-depth conversations in the course brought Christian new perspectives.
“I did learn a few techniques to improving accuracy when shooting and learned a lot about the mental side of shooting,” he said. “It was definitely a positive experience that even experienced shooters should go to at least once. My dad wasn’t able to go to the SAFS, but I spoke to him about the course, and even he found some stuff really helpful, useful – and he’s been shooting in competition for probably over 30 years.”
Prior to the 2023 National Matches, Christian hadn’t visited the U.S. since December 2021. He and his dad made the trip back to the U.S. by flying Space-A (space available) through the military when seats opened up, which took them five days in total.
“Flying with firearms is pretty simple, but carrying necessities like ammunition – you’re only allowed to carry 11 pounds of ammunition on a plane, so we carried 11 pounds on the dot of .22 and .32 ammunition,” he explained.
The added effort to compete at the National Matches was a tiring process. They brought casings and bullets to reload the .45 ammo while at the Matches since they couldn’t fly with enough to cover what they would need for competition. They also had to drive around for 10 hours after they arrived to get items they couldn’t fly with, like powder and primers.
They brought along a Walther GSP EXPERT with both the .22 and .32 uppers and one air pistol from Spain. The rest of the pistols were picked up at Christian’s brother’s house in Denver the day before they flew out to the Matches. To add even more work, the two reloaded every night until 3 a.m. before their competitions.
“But we really enjoyed it,” Christian said. “It was well worth it. We both had a great time, met great people, and, for me – I turned an experience that was meant to just be for fun into a common hobby with my dad.”
Currently, Christian is off accomplishing a dream that he’s had since he was four years old – following in his father’s footsteps in the U.S. Navy.
“If I’m done with all my schooling for the Navy and my future command allows me to take some time off, we will most definitely be going again next year,” Christian said of the National Matches. “We have unfinished business.”
Create Your Own Memories – Sign up for the 2024 National Matches! Start a tradition of your own by joining in on the century-old event. Registration for the 2024 National Matches opens March 1. Learn more about each phase, view CMP’s updated event schedule and plan your trip by visiting the CMP website at https://thecmp.org/cmp-national-matches/.