This year, Master Sgt. Nick Capko, 38, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, returned to the Camp Perry National Matches years after his debut—marking just his second trip to the annual marksmanship tradition in Port Clinton, Ohio, for more than a century.
His main purpose of returning was the same one that brought him to historic Camp Perry in the first place—representing the U.S. Marine Corps as a member of the marksmanship team.
“I wasn’t ready for college, and it was something that I was interested in doing. It was something to get started on my life,” he said of his initial beginnings in the Marines. “That was ultimately why I chose the Marine Corps—the challenge that was laid out for me.”
Nick has been a Marine for 20 years. Before that, he had never fired a gun—taking his first shots during boot camp. After checking into a unit that was deployed, leaving him behind, he went on to supplement his time by training others on the range.
“There, someone said to me, ‘Hey, you should get on the Marine Corps Shooting Team,’” he said. A few years later, he began his competitive shooting career. He did well enough to eventually be recruited by the Marine Corps Shooting Team in 2010 as one of the summer augments, where he was able to get a taste of the Camp Perry National Matches.
He returned to the Fleet Marine Corps for the next decade, but now serves as the staff non-commissioned officer in charge of the Marine Corps Shooting Team. Despite the Marine’s Bullseye Pistol team being out of commission for the last year-and-a-half—Nick’s main objective as a leader is to have the Marine Corps represented at the National Matches each year.
“As long as we can fit it into our budget, we’re going to continue to represent the Marine Corps at interservice and national competitions,” Nick said.
He began the prospective revival of the service’s bullseye program in 2022 by bringing a team to Camp Perry that consisted of two current Marines on the Pistol Team as well as some former members. “Making sure we’re represented here is important to me and important to the Marine Corps,” he said. “I had a lot of people coming up to me, so it’s important to everybody who comes to Camp Perry to see the Marine Corps here.”
Also riding along with Nick on the trip was his son, Caleb. “He’s always shown an interest in shooting,” Nick said. “I figured, let’s get him out here and introduce him to competitive shooting so that he can start to master those fundamentals and have some fun while doing so.”
“I only have a couple of years left with him before he’s moving on to start his own life,” Nick said. “(Camp Perry is) a week where it’s just me and him—out here having fun and getting to know each other better.”
Caleb had never been to Camp Perry before and had no other competitive shooting experience beforehand.
“I wanted to come for fun because I was kind of tired of being cooped up at home doing nothing,” Caleb said. “(Camp Perry) was an opportunity to come out and shoot with my dad, so I took it.”
Though he sometimes shoots at home using rifles or shotguns, Caleb used his time at Camp Perry to learn more about the sport—taking part in the pistol Small Arms Firing School and other .22 events. He already had a lot of the information on firearms he had learned from his dad, but he also picked up a few new things.
“There were times that we were shooting at the same time on separate ranges, and he didn’t have any issues,” Nick said. “He was able to shoot through the course, but not only that, he shot well and improved.”
Though he doesn’t have an idea of what he’d like to do in the future, Caleb said he might want to go to college and join the Marine Corps as an officer. No matter what he chooses, he already has set in his mind that he’ll be returning to Camp Perry, even as an adult.
“With my 60-year-old dad,” he said, poking fun at Nick.
“I’ll still win though,” Nick joked back.
“I’m super proud of him. He did great,” Nick said. “I can’t wait to see what he does next year.”
U.S. Marine Corps and Competitive Shooting
Over its existence, the U.S. Marine Corps has earned a reputation as a highly skilled command of marksmen and women. Its marksmanship teams have long been representing the superior standards of the Marines at the National Matches—helping others on the range enhance their own fundamentals during competition and through training courses.
Marines are recognizable figures at Camp Perry in such clinics as the Small Arms Firing School and its own USMC Junior High Power Clinic, a three-day which focuses on advanced training, including weather conditions, equipment use and shooting positions, while also implementing live firing on the range at 200, 300 and 600 yards.
Outside of guiding others, Nick stressed the value of Marines attending the National Matches to gain worthy lessons of their own.
“With the Marine Corps Shooting Team, we have two missions—to represent the Marine Corps, which we do through competition, and the other part is instruction. We’re teaching Marines. But, who teaches us?” he said.
“We learn by coming to these competitions and competing against some of the best in the country—some of the best in the world. We talk with them, we ask them about how they practice, how they train—what are they working on with their trigger grip. And we take that information back and we work on it, and then we’re able to deliver that to the Marine Corps.”
In his attempt to build a team ready to compete at notable events, Nick is searching for more than ability in his recruits—he needs the full embodiment of the Marines.
“Having Marines who are specialized in shooting accurately is something that’s going to bring value to the Marine Corps,” Nick said. “Especially with what the Marine Corps is looking for, which is preparing Marines for combat. We want to make sure we’re helping Marines be able to deliver a shot, not just quickly, but accurately.”
He went on, “The residual benefit (of attending the CMP National Matches) is the public outreach because that’s one of the things that we look for in every Marine that we recruit to the shooting team—character. We look at character over talent. We’ve got to have the right Marines who leave a favorable impression to the public on who the Marine Corps is and the professionalism that we carry and pride ourselves in.”
Learn more about the CMP National Matches at thecmp.org.