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Civilian Marksmanship Program Provides a Physical Connection to History

By: Josh Wayner

I’ve been writing about the gun industry professionally for the better part of six years. Looking back to how I got to where I am reveals a strange and often rudderless journey, a regular plunge into the unknown. I am, despite an unlikely beginning, able to live my life as a journalist now because of my roots in rifle competition.

It may seem strange, at least in today’s world, that a person can live by their passions and have them amount to something great in all areas of life. When I was younger, I wasn’t at all into guns. In fact, I was beyond uninterested. They were complicated mysteries to me and relatively out of reach for a boy my age. I was primarily concerned with swords, bows, and other things that would have been carried by the heroes in the movies I watched.

Since I have always been a tinkerer and grew up building LEGOs, I had the desire to take things apart and see what made them work. As I made my way through middle school, I discovered woodworking and metal shop. I didn’t really have an interest in making tables and chairs. I wanted to make swords and knives and all sorts of contraband. Naturally, this inclination was frowned upon in public school.

Eventually, my hobbies expanded to include archery, painting models, and studying history. I didn’t have enough time in the day for all my interests, so I began to lose interest in them – not an uncommon thing to have happen with teenage boys. All that changed, however, when I suddenly realized I could combine all my interests into one thing: guns.

My mom arranged for my dad and me to go to the shooting range when I was about thirteen. After that day, all I could think about was shooting. It was honestly like a light was flipped on in my mind, and there was no going back. In one single hobby, I had a lens with which to focus all my interests. I could read about history and battles, practice wood and metalwork, target shoot, and be competitive.

My immediate interest has always been centered on the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) sports, because they allow me to spend time with my friends and fellow competitors and to continue learning about these fascinating weapons and their history.

I wasn’t all that good when I began. I didn’t have professional equipment or high-quality rifles. I probably fired only a few hundred rounds in practice during those long summers of my youth. Nowadays I spend hours and hours at the range where I do the majority of my practice from standing, which is the most difficult position to fire from. I fire thousands of rounds a year now, virtually all of them precision handloads tailored to my individual rifles.

My very first match at Camp Perry got me my first medal, a bronze. Last year, my fourteenth year shooting in rifle competition, I received my fifteenth medal, a gold, and recorded the highest score for both the Swedish Mauser rifle and the 6.5x55mm cartridge on the line. The rifle I used was made in 1914 and is a true treasure. The gun sees well over three thousand rounds a year in my practice and is as accurate as the day it was made. I greatly enjoy that I get to keep it and its history alive when I take it to matches.

For those who don’t know, the CMP sports are based on the pillars of American history. The games have their roots at Camp Perry, a military base in northern Ohio that has been the home of the National Matches since the days of President Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy himself helped make the base a reality, which was later named for War of 1812 hero Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry.

The promotion of marksmanship led to the foundations of the CMP, which has evolved to become a popular modern sport. Nowhere else in the world can you be around so many M1 Garand rifles or military Mausers at one time as you can on the line at Camp Perry. History comes alive – you can see it, smell it, and put your hands on it.

My love for history is just one of many reasons I’m so passionate about CMP competition. I have a great deal of respect for archaeology. I grew up watching documentaries about great finds and the painstaking efforts made to decode them. I feel the same way about finding military rifles out in the “wild” (at gun shows and in stores). I never go out looking for something; I let it come to me. Finding a German K98k and looking over the markings, to me, is like finding a great treasure. Seeing the familiar forms of the beautifully crafted weapons on racks at gun shows and striking a deal is one of my favorite things to do. The fact that I get to enjoy these rare finds even more by researching their markings and actually shooting them with replica ammunition in competition against others only adds to the excitement.

Competition shooting with these old military rifles at a place so historical is very meaningful to me. By shooting at Camp Perry, I feel at one with my culture and the practices of those who came before me. I like to imagine that some of the guns I use had visited the line before in the hands of another patriotic citizen like myself.

My advice to those who have the same passion for the sport I do, or who want to get into CMP? Don’t be afraid to shoot and enjoy your old military guns. The reason we love them so much is because they are more than just guns to us. They are a physical connection to history and each one tells a unique story.

The world of CMP competition is steeped in culture, history, and the bond of brotherhood. I love everything about it. There are no other sports that allow a person to feel so completely connected to the past, while at the same time offering the promise of a future to aspire to. There is some wisdom that can only be found on the line at Camp Perry. I’d love to share it with you, but it’s not my place to do so. You’ll just have to grab your old 1903 Springfield and head out yourself. I think that you’ll be happy you did.

Josh Wayner is a professional freelance journalist, nationally ranked competitive shooter, and industry consultant.

Photo Credit: Josh Wayner

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.