You might say that Tom and Joan Kerbel met by “accident”—that is, a car accident.
One fateful day, Tom got into a wreck so bad that it, unfortunately, destroyed his lunch—so, he was forced to walk into the local Subway to have another sandwich made. There, the employee, Joan, was happy to make him another. The two ultimately hit it off, marking the beginning of a lasting relationship.
Fast forward eight years into their marriage and the two have sparked a new type of love affair that has strengthened their bond even more—air gun competition at Camp Perry.
Camp Perry in Port Clinton, Ohio, is headquarters to the Civilian Marksmanship Program—a national organization dedicated to firearm safety and competition for all. The base also holds the Gary Anderson CMP Competition Center, which is home to an indoor, 80-point electronic air gun range that has facilitated local, regional and national events for more than a decade, including Olympic trials.
Outside of competition, the air gun range hosts open public timeslots each week, where anyone of any skill level is welcome to give air rifle or air pistol a try—even if they don’t own an air gun of their own. It’s a great place to gather with friends and family or simply to try something new.
“We like it because it’s something we can do together,” Tom said. “We enjoy it.”
Joan, a native of nearby Gibsonburg, Ohio, all her life, was aware of Camp Perry and had seen the activity around the CMP National Matches each summer, but never knew what it was about.
“I just knew it was some sort of shooting—I didn’t know it was people from all over the world, which is amazing,” she said.
Tom, also from the area, remembers shooting .22 rifles at Camp Perry when he was younger—even thinking back to the famous Mess Hall that was destroyed by a tornado in the late 1990s. He got away from visiting Camp Perry for a while, then came back around six years ago when he was invited by a group of friends to try out the air gun range.
Though he had always shot for fun at sportsman’s clubs, he didn’t know what to expect with air gun. He was quickly entranced and soon encouraged Joan—who wasn’t too keen on the idea of shooting—to join him at the range.
“I thought to myself, ‘Great, now I have to sit and watch him shoot,’” she said. “I didn’t want to go.”
Her thoughts changed as she walked up to the main entrance of the Gary Anderson CMP Competition Center, saying she was immediately impressed by the facility.
“We were surprised at how big and beautiful the building is,” Joan said. “When you walk in the door, the people are so helpful and so cheerful.”
Once in the range, Tom got Joan on the firing line with an air rifle, though she was nervous. Thankfully, her worries were alleviated with the help of employees, who happily assisted her during her first dive into marksmanship.
“There were people there to help us, and that felt really good,” she said. “The people at Camp Perry came over and showed me how to set everything up and how to handle the air rifle and how to absolutely be safe. And I was instantly hooked. I just loved it.”
CMP staff, such as former NCAA Division I rifle athletes Ryan Hinson (CMP junior rifle camp coordinator) and Catherine Green (North Range coordinator) have supported Joan along the way and are always at the range to help others interested in the sport. Joan also received help from Jackie Slosnerick, who regularly competes in air pistol.
“They were very comforting,” she said of the staff members. “They’re so willing to help you.”
Staff gave her tips on how to improve her shots and made the entire process easier on the newcomer.
“The people are so nice—I can’t stress that enough,” she said. “The cost isn’t bad to try it out, to rent the gun and buy pellets. It’s just a fun day.”
Joan admits she likes the lightweight air guns because it’s less compression on the ears, with no kickback as with other firearms. Tom and Joan also like the controlled temperature of the range—avoiding the elements of the outdoors.
Tom and Joan visit the air gun range every Tuesday and Thursday during the day and compete in CMP matches when they can. Since their start, they’ve now grown to participate in other marksmanship disciplines, with Joan recently moving on to the outdoor .22 rifle and .22 pistol. Tom also shoots silhouette, long-range and blackpowder events in his spare time, and even won five air gun trophies during the 2023 CMP National Matches.
“It was just a good year,” Tom said with a smile.
Tom and Joan became so involved with air gun, that they even trained to become range officers—individuals who ensure safety on the range during events. It was while serving as a range officer during a CMP competition that Joan took notice of air pistol and became intrigued.
“I thought, ‘I’d like to try that,’” she said. “So, the next time we went to the air range, I tried air pistol, and BAM—I was hooked again.”
Joan has goals of her own in the sport—starting small by trying to reach an overall score of 400 and earning a bronze medal at the upcoming 2024 CMP National Matches at Camp Perry. Until then, she and Tom will continue their weekly dates at the Gary Anderson CMP Competition Center, doing what they love.
“We feel blessed to have this facility so close to our residence. So many people can’t do this,” Joan said. “We’ve also met so many wonderful people through shooting. It’s amazing.”
Learn more about the Civilian Marksmanship Program.