Many in the area may know the National Rifle and Pistol matches as an annual event that brings tourists to the area.
But for others, it is a chance to show off their talents in a competition that features over 6,000 participants each year.
The event, which has been held for over 100 years at Camp Perry, is operated by the Civilian Marksmanship Program in conjunction with the National Rifle Association and the Ohio National Guard. The competition, which ranges from beginners to some of the world's best, will run through Aug. 14. It attracts competitors, their families, and onlookers from all over the country.
For instance, a woman from Wyoming makes the trip to Northwest Ohio each year for the event, and she is not alone.
“I love coming to this event,” said Steve Simmons, a 21-year-old from Wilmington, Del., who is competing. “It's great to be here at the shooting competition with all of the other shooters. It's a special time of year that I always look forward to.”
The primary goal of the CMP is to ensure safety for its participants, according to the website,
“The CMP is dedicated to the respect for and handling of firearms, instilling patriotism and discipline in our youth participants. The CMP provides its constituents with the highest level of instruction in the proper control of firearms by highly-skilled coaches and veteran range safety officers in the classroom, at our ranges and wherever the CMP banner is displayed,” the website notes.
Part of what makes this event run so smoothly is the work done by the Range Operations, a unit that has been run for the last 30 years by Joe DeCosta.
“Most of our Range Operations are local kids from Oak Harbor that work at Camp Perry during the National Matches. Without their help and hard work, the matches would not be possible,” said Christine Elder, Camp Perry communications manager.
DeCosta, a native of Massachusetts, was a member of the Marine Corps shooting team and competed at Camp Perry back in his heyday.
“After I retired, I started coming up here and I was up here as a volunteer on the ranges. The range engineer who had the job for 25 years, brought me on in 1983 and I joined with him to see what was going on. It didn't take me long to get a grasp of things and then I took over for him.”
DeCosta, known to many as “Mr. D.” lives in Port Ritchie, Fla. during the fall and winter months before migrating back to Ottawa County on May 1 every year. His work is usually completed around Labor Day and it is then that DeCosta returns home to Port Ritchie, located just outside of Clearwater.
A National Rifle Association employee, DeCosta notes that, during the heart of the season, he and his co-workers will regularly log 80 to 90 hours per week.
“We start at 6 a.m. and after the shooting is over, we pick up the trash and clean all the ranges and the targets. We have everything ready for the next day. My philosophy is we don't leave until we're ready for the next day. We'll work 12 hours per day for seven days per week, 84 hours per week. It's a way for the kids to have a little more money. We do manual labor here — the kids are hard workers. We have a lot of people here; we like to hire people when they're young and then they come back and have gained more experience.”
With many of the hours coming via overtime, the paychecks can be quite lucrative and helpful to young people trying to save money for college.
DeCosta is still happy working at Camp Perry each summer, even after three decades.
“I'm not sure when I'll retire,” he said. “The challenge of working with these young people and building the ranges is very rewarding and keeps me going. I'm not stupid. There's going to come a time when I say, 'I think I've had enough.' They'll probably want someone to work with me for a year or two and then have it passed down.”