Hearts sank across the nation with the cancellation of the 2020 National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio, and Camp Atterbury, Ind. Luckily for high- power rifle shooters, Chuck and Kim Rowe immediately jumped into action, realizing how many people had already booked vacation time and look forward to the matches every year. An idea for a Consolation Cup quickly evolved into something larger when the response to a Facebook query to gauge interest was positive. After an informal naming contest, won by Ed Altmeyer of the All-Guard Team, the Buckeye Blossom Midwest Nationals were born.
Hosted by Alliance Rifle Club in Malvern, Ohio, the service-rifle matches included two Excellence-in-Competition matches, preceded by a 500 aggregate with sighters and a Garand match. Each day, the firing line was filled with 60 shooters on five packed relays. Attendees hailed from 12 states. Match directors Chuck and Kim Rowe were amazed how fast the news spread. “We took registrations the old-fashioned way (snail mail), and the service matches sold out within three days,” they said. “We had people sending overnight FedEx packages to ensure they got in.”
The start of the matches was no less exciting. While pulling the competitor envelopes Kim had so diligently prepared, I heard gasps combined with laughter. Nathan Evagash had arrived. At CMP Games matches, it is not unusual for competitors to arrive in vintage military attire. Evagash, however, had other plans, arriving in cut-off jean shorts and a belly shirt, accented by a sling fashioned into a belt; the belt held together by a Distinguished Rifleman belt buckle. Untraditional, but the spectacle brought some needed laughter after a rough year.
The arrival of the All-Guard shooting team the next day set a different tone for the across-the-course matches. Several daughters accompanied their fathers, moving from yard line to yard line and spending time in the pits. The Buckeye Blossom matches quickly evolved into something monumental—almost a worthy replacement for the National Matches. I had the privilege of scoring for the Offhand Sighter Throwdown Trophy match, established in the few minutes of preparation time before 200-yard offhand sighters between Bob Gill and Amanda Elsenboss of the All-Guard Shooting Team. First sighter: X. – First sighter: X. The tension mounted for spectators, but Gill and Elsenboss remained calm. Second Sighter: X. Second Sighter: 10. To champion Bob Gill, it did not matter how he shot the rest of the weekend, he had claimed the Offhand Sighter Throwdown Trophy which Elsenboss presented him the next day. The prize—a signed and dated bottle of Coca-Cola.
Heavy rain spurred several rounds of musical targets, moving them in and out of the frames several times within a half-hour. One of the infamous Alliance Rifle Club pit snakes made an appearance. Memories were made, lessons learned and four-leaf clovers found. The matches were an overwhelming success with nine total legs given out, and two shooters going Distinguished—Cole Eden with 482-9X and Jared Compton with 482-10X. Additionally, Compton earned two legs over the weekend to earn his badge with iron sights.
Undoubtedly exhausted, Chuck and Kim Rowe and their dedicated volunteers quickly transitioned to the long-range matches—this time with 100 competitors from 27 states, including Washington and California. The challenge that Chuck Rowe admits gave him nightmares, parking 100 cars in a lot designed for far fewer, was met through cooperation and carpooling. The Buckeye Blossom long-range matches were conducted entirely on Shotmarker E-targets loaned to the club from competitors, both present and absent from the event.
The unsanctioned matches shocked all involved, with an impressive list of attendees. “We drew shooters from every corner of the United States, including the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, the All-Guard Team, the USA F-T/R team and the U.S. National Rifle Team. I don’t think the quality of shooters was matched anywhere in the country since the 2015 World Championships at Camp Perry,” Chuck Rowe admitted.
Two days of practice for the National Teams preceded a two-man team match, four-man team match, Palma match and two days of 1,000-yard aggregates. Match winner Luke Rettmer dazzled with an impressive grand aggregate score of 1646-95X, while the best team name went to Emil Praslick, for “An Average of 6.125 mm,” a name creatively derived from the calibers of the team competitors. (See Rettmer in the photo at the top of this article.)
A remembrance of all things normal, the match not only brought great scores, but also formed bonds among competitors, as well as reinforcing existing friendships. This match was the first to bring together the new Young Eagles Developmental Team heading to South Africa in 2023, which is under new leadership. Team captain Justin George presented the Young Eagles Championship Belt, a competition among Under-25 shooters that will continue over the years across the country. Luke Rettmer had earned the belt early on, but it left with Kade Jackovich. Team chief and shooter for the AMU, as well as the main coach and shooter for the U.S. National Rifle Team, SFC Brandon Green noted that he “managed to sneak out a win in the Palma rifle division, which is saying a lot considering the level of competition at the match.”
Among a smaller, but talented field of F-Class competitors, Ian Klemm of Vortex Optics claimed the grand aggregate F-T/R title, while his father, Ken, secured second place.
“To encourage each other over a multiple day event to a one-two finish against several of the best F/T/R champions of all time is something I won’t soon forget,” said the younger Klemm. “This championship was an opportunity to make another lifelong memory with Dad. I am grateful to Chuck and Kim Rowe and the Alliance Rifle Club for deciding to create that opportunity in spite of many logistical challenges. I cannot guess at the level of effort it took to pull it off, but I will always be thankful that they did.”
How Did They Do It?
“We relied on a small, but passionate group to get all the heavy lifting done, such as running the pits, facing and calibrating the targets, running the line and getting people parked. The indispensable crew were Tom Colston, Tom Bonner, Harry Claypool, Matt Kellgreen, Tom Sloan, Kris Mosser, Larry Kopper and Randy Pike,” Chuck noted—in addition to the intense planning and logistics spearheaded by Kim since the spring.
Although competitors clamored for a second Buckeye Blossom, the Rowes announced it was a one-time event.
“We want to thank everyone who sponsored the matches, including Manson Precision Reamers and Ray Gross, Capstone Group (Berger, Lapua and VihtaVouri) and Emil Praslick, Mudcat Precision and John Friguglietti, Geissele Triggers and Amanda Elsenboss. And a huge thank you to everyone who trusted their time, vacation and money to us by deciding to spend a week with us shooting—a match is nothing without great competitors, and we had the best of the best. Kim and I are deeply humbled by the attendance and show of support.”
See more: Excellence in Competition Rifle: Then and Now