PORT CLINTON, Ohio - The sound of gunfire echoes against the distant line of trees as rifle and pistol marksmen from throughout the U.S. and several parts of the world fire on targets in what the shooters call the "world series of shooting."
Camp Perry, home of the Ohio National Guard and a facility used by the U.S. Coast Guard and military reservist units, is also home of the largest civilian shooting competition in the world. For several weeks every summer, the Civilian Marksmanship Program and the National Rifle Association sponsor the competition. It draws more than 3,000 shooters over its six-week competition.
"Camp Perry has four ranges," said Denny Willing, coordinator for the matches. "Everything from 200 yards to 1,000 yards."
For more than a hundred years, Camp Perry, nestled against the Lake Erie shoreline, has hosted the competition. It has become important to marksmen because of its size. Its four firing ranges, each named in tribute to a U.S. Medal of Honor winner, comprise the largest outdoor firing range in the world.
"Everything's flat, so the ranges are easy," said Hank Langsdorf of West Palm Beach, Fla., as he sat immediately behind a line of shooters on the firing line. Wearing a brightly-colored vest, Langsdorf served as one of the many safety officers on the firing lines.
Clad in a shirt bearing the word "Australia" across his chest and back, David Walters of Sydney, Australia, echoed that viewpoint.
"Australians view the U.S. soil as the pinnacle for shooting sports and we always saw Camp Perry as the greatest event that we could attend," Walters said.
Though the NRA is often embroiled in controversy over the question of guns in America as balanced against Second Amendment rights as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, an organization spokesman said political activities were no allowed at the competition.
"We don't allow anything pro-firearms or anti-firearms to occur here on the base," said Willing. "This is an apolitical thing." He called the rifle and pistol competition "strictly a sporting event."
Camp Perry was established in 1907. When Ohio National Guardsmen and other military units trained for World War I and World War II, the facility played a major role. During the latter, it was used by the government as a prisoner of war camp for captured German and Italian troops from the European campaign. Hundreds of the huts that housed the prisoners are still at Camp Perry.
Many have been torn down, but others that have heavily deteriorated through the years remain as a visible reminder of the role Camp Perry played when it went off to war.
"There is a lot of history at Camp Perry that very few people probably even know about," said Willing as he walked among the huts.