"In the year 1907 the machinery of the National Matches, now grown to immense proportions, was moved to the mammoth new range at Camp Perry."
—James Drain, Arms and the Man, August 1911
Shortly before the National Matches (or National Shoot as stated for the first time in the match program) commenced on Ohio's new state rifle grounds, the facility was dedicated and named Camp Perry in honor of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, hero from the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie. (Official recognition by the state legislature occurred the following year.)
On Aug. 19, 1907 a new era in National Match history began with the firing of NRA and Ohio State Rifle Association matches. Specifically, the first shot of the event was fired from a Krag by Corp. L.B. Jarrett of Indiana at 9:10 a.m. in the Championship Company Team Match. The Leech Cup Match was the first individual contest fired, attracted 327 entries and was won by the prior year's Wimbledon winner, Capt. J.C. Semon of Ohio. While conditions on the first day were considered excellent, they deteriorated rapidly as the second day offered up wind, rain and a 15-degree temperature drop over a period of a few hours, thereby establishing immediately the reputation of Camp Perry as unpredictable and environmentally challenging.
Fortunately, Ammon Critchfield had the foresight of having wood planks positioned throughout the grass-deprived camp to help competitors deal with the muddy swamp-like conditions caused by the rains off Lake Erie.
The appearance of Camp Perry during its National Match debut was crude but functional. Given the short amount of time that Critchfield had to deliver on his promise to have Camp Perry ready for the 1907 matches, those in attendance seemed more than willing to traverse rutted roads and firing lines. They had good reason to overlook some of the undeveloped areas, for it was obviously a work in progress and one worth waiting for. Reachable by an extension of rail from LaCarne on the Sandusky division of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway, Camp Perry had its own station at the entrance to the grounds and competitors who traveled by train were able to secure a special prize of two cents per mile, although the offer appeared to have been made somewhat begrudgingly since the match program stated there was "agitation between railroads and state law requiring a reduced rate."
If funding was still an issue, travelers had the option of disembarking at Port Clinton and proceeding the final five miles via horse drawn wagon. Whatever the method of transport, what greeted competitors upon arrival at Camp Perry was a newly built clubhouse that the Sandusky Register reported in August as being "furnished throughout with all modern conveniences, electric lights and water." In addition, hundreds of canvas tents provided for all the shooters' needs, including latrines and showers. And in a contrast of structural styles, an existing farmhouse with wraparound porch served as the first administration building.
On the 400-acre facility, rifle ranges accommodated 160 targets for shooting out to 1,000 yards and skirmish events, while revolver targets numbered five each at distances of 15, 25, 50 and 75 yards. The central geographic location, uniform flatness of the landscape, ideal north-facing range layouts and well constructed butts reinforced with concrete all added to the appeal of Camp Perry as the National Match site.
While representatives from firearms and sporting goods companies attended matches at Creedmoor and Sea Girt, it was Camp Perry's debut as National Match host where the "Commercial Row" tradition was launched due largely in part to the tented village atmosphere that drew unprecedented interest and turnout.
Capt. K.K.V. Casey of Delaware won the first Wimbledon Cup Match fired in Ohio, while Sgt. W.A. Berg of Washington state won the President's Match to become the first recipient from the West to garner the prize. Under the new rules, the Military Champion of the United States was now the aggregate winner of the NRA President's Match and the National Individual Rifle Match. A young midshipman, Harold Travis Smith, earned the honor. (President Roosevelt sent letters to both Berg and Smith.)
Smith, age 23, was not the only Naval Academy midshipman to make waves at the inaugural Camp Perry matches. Teammate and novice marksman Willis Lee, Jr., age 19, won both the National Individual Rifle and Pistol Matches and is the only shooter in National Match history to accomplish the feat, on the same day no less. In the National Team Match, the Naval Academy placed an impressive sixth in a field of 48, while Navy won the team title by a three-point margin over Massachusetts. Executive Officer of the National Matches was Lt. Col. Robert K. Evans, who began his longstanding stint in that capacity, while Brig. Gen. John Speaks oversaw the NRA matches.
Photo: When Camp Perry opened, the Krag-Jorgensen rifle was still king of the range. It was not until 1908 that enough of the Model 1903 rifles were available that they could be set aside for use in the National Matches. Of interest in this photo—from Perry in 1907—is the use, by the shooter in the foreground, of a Pope sight micrometer attached to the rear sight elevation leaf. Harry Pope's micrometers, unlike most of the several varieties that were made and sold, were intended to be left in place while the rifle was being fired.
Read more: Last Year At Sea Girt: 1906 National Matches