Shooting in a new discipline can be a nerve-wracking experience. Months of equipment purchases, load testing, and range practice are involved when preparing for a new shooting discipline. The stress associated with these activities can be exponentially amplified when the final match takes place at the national level. This article seeks to provide new shooters a basic overview of vintage sniper rifle competition, offering a general outline of the National Matches, the rifles used in the match, a brief biography of the shooters themselves, and a firsthand account of the 2014 Vintage Sniper Match. We travelled to the National Matches with a few veteran shooters who were able to provide a plethora of advice for aspiring marksmen looking to break into this relatively new form of competition.
The hallowed grounds of Camp Perry have hosted some of the nation’s finest shooters each summer for more than a century. Some of the world’s greatest marksmen have accomplished remarkable feats on the ranges of this lakeside military outpost. The traditions imparted by those shooters continue to live on through the annual National Matches. Held this year from July 6th through August 15th, events are scheduled for a wide variety of shooting disciplines.
Located on the coast of Lake Erie, Camp Perry is positioned just outside of the scenic town of Port Clinton, Ohio. It is our firm belief that every shooter should make the pilgrimage to the Camp Perry at least once in their lifetime. If not participating in an event, visitors should at least make an attempt to meet the competitors, witness the wide selection of firearms used by participants, and pay a visit to the various vendors on base.
Camp Perry offers a number of unique experiences not found at other match venues. The waterfront location can lead to the occasional cease-fire if an unwary fisherman wanders into the offshore impact area. On-base housing available for the matches include the famous hutments. These small wooden structures at one point housed prisoners of war during World War II.
Vendor’s Row features a number of small buildings stocked with a plethora of firearms, parts, accessories, and reloading components. If a shooter is looking for a replacement part to install on one of their competition rifles, they can likely find it somewhere on Vendor’s Row. This area is separate from the CMP North Store, which is located a few blocks from the row. A large inventory of M1 rifles and their accessories are commonplace at the North Store, but occasional special offers pop up during the National Matches. This year the North Store sold a number of 1903A3’s that are not available through their online catalog.
While I was fortunate enough to have a group of Camp Perry veterans help walk me through the annual event, there are a number of programs in place to help build the familiarity and comfort level of a novice shooter. Once such program is the Small Arms Firing School, which provides shooters the ability to learn range etiquette and marksmanship fundamentals prior to competing in scored matches.
I was introduced to the Camp Perry experience by longtime shooter Bob Schanen. It would be impossible to find a better guide for my extended weekend visit than the thirty four year veteran of the matches. Bob has racked up an impressive nine President’s Match victories and countless other Camp Perry accolades over the past three decades.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Jerry Van Treeck. Bob has competed with teammate Jerry for over twenty years. A crack shot with the M14, Jerry plays an active role in coordinating the range activities of the Racine County Line Rifle Club in Racine, Wisconsin.
When it comes to the National Matches, Bob and Jerry’s track record is nothing short of extraordinary. Their latest recorded win was the 2013 Vintage Sniper competition where their team, the “Hornady Over The Hill Gang” scored a 394-13X using their Criterion-mounted rifles. Their team was joined by protégés Shawn Steliga and Billy Van Treeck. The two younger shooters shared rifles and equipment with the Hornady duo, lending credence to their team name (Bob’s Gun and Ammo).
Hornady’s Dave Emary was the brainchild of the Vintage Sniper Match. The competition was inspired by his father, a World War II scout sniper who carried a rifle similar to the 1903A4 rifle builds that can be found today on the Camp Perry firing line. Bob worked alongside Dave and the CMP staff in establishing the various competition rules prior to the first official Vintage Sniper Match in 2011.
The match developers made a point to offer some level of flexibility in rifle configuration, allowing specific types of non-issue optics and rifle rebuilds. This helped make the match more inclusive, serving to keep build projects within the realm of affordability. Available build options can be found by clicking the below link.
Bob has two vintage sniper competition rifles. Both builds are based off of the USMC Model 1941 sniper rifle, a design similar to the M1903A1 National Match rifle, but featuring an attached 8x Unertl telescopic target sight and mount. Bob’s rifles both carry 8x Lyman Junior Target Spotter scopes with a thin crosshair reticle. Bob attributes a large part of his rifle’s accuracy to the Criterion M1903 match grade barrels installed on each rifle by Rick Humphreys, a Milwaukee area gunsmith. These tack-driving barrels are capable of .5 MOA accuracy when mounted on receivers nearly a century old!
Nearly identical, one of his rifles was built specifically for load testing. He calls it “The Mule.” The other rifle is his preferred competition build. The only visible differentiator is the front sight, which has been removed from one rifle so that he doesn’t have to continuously check the serial number to verify which rifle he is shooting. “The Mule” has a trigger pull that is two ounces lighter than the competition rifle, a feature that leads to Jerry’s favoring of that particular build. Over the course of the vintage sniper match these shooters made use of match grade Hornady 168 gr. A-Max loads.
The adage of “having one is none, and two is one” proved true during the 2013 match, where a bolt malfunction en route to the 600 yard firing line led to the need for a quick rifle swap. The rapid changeover helped lead the team to victory, narrowly avoiding the catastrophic outcome that would have otherwise occurred had the team maintained only one rifle.
While a novice shooter can remain competitive using one of the widely available 1903A4 reproductions or a relatively inexpensive 91/30 Mosin Nagant PU, Bob’s approach helps increase barrel longevity on his competition rifle and continues to serve as a back-up if another mechanical failure occurs.
The night prior to the event each of Bob’s custom built rifles were cleaned and inspected. Patches were run through both Criterion 1903 barrels to ensure cleanliness, and upon completion of maintenance the rifles were placed in their respective cases.
Some matches require shooters to be on the firing line at the break of dawn. Fortunately we were able to sleep in until around nine, as our match commenced later in the afternoon. The later start time is intentional, as the Camp Perry winds are normally at their highest and most difficult to read during the sniper match. This offers the best test of skill and effort brought to the table by each shooter/spotter team.
Upon arriving on base both teams walked through a pre-established routine prior to joining their fellow shooters on the firing line. The group had registered, received their score cards, and had gathered their name tags the previous day, so all that remained were preparation activities that took place on Viale Range.
Both teams carried out an initial equipment inspection in the parking lot. The checklist included items like ammunition, shooting mats, spotting scopes, and many other components essential to each facet of the match.
It is never a bad idea to show up a few hours early to any match, but this advice holds especially true at larger competitions such as those found at Camp Perry. Shooters will spend a significant amount of time standing by waiting for various registration stations and range commands, followed by brief flurries of rapid processing and preparation activities.
Both teams began this process by hopping in a line to squad up and receive their designated firing point assignments, eventually joining another line to get their rifles inspected by CMP personnel. A cursory search was carried out to determine if rifles were kept in match-legal condition. Trigger weights were also measured to ensure no illegal modification had taken place.
Walking down the registration line one can find a plethora of various rifle models. Although 1903A4 and USMC M1941 builds made up a significant majority of the rifles on the line, other models such as the K98, M1C, M1D, M91/30, Swedish Mausers, and the No4 Mk1 (T) had their place in the hands of various shooters.
We made our way down to the 300 yard line after the morning relay had completed their course of fire. Bob and Jerry discussed the wind conditions as they made their way past the ready line. The Vintage Sniper Match is unique in that it relies upon the skill and communication of two teammates, the sniper and spotter, to successfully perform in competition.
In past events the team competed against shooters who had put up excellent numbers, but faltered when their counterpart had a difficult time consistently reading the range conditions. Bob and Jerry’s years of working together help to minimize these communication and observation errors, enabling them to consistently place among the top teams in competition.
The course of fire for both the 300 and 600 yard target points is identical. Shooters are given 5 minutes for unlimited sighters, after which they fire 10 rounds for record. For each of the scored shots, the targets are raised for a mere twenty seconds, forcing the shooter to work with the various wind conditions they encounter along the way.
A consistent 8-10 mph crosswind made its way across the range from right to left. The shoot began in sunny conditions, but gradually shifted to an overcast lighting as the afternoon progressed. When the shooter prep time commenced, Jerry began placing the sandbag rests in a very deliberate manner. The exact alignment is a trade secret, but ensures a platform on which the rifle and shooter can maximize their stability. Bob set up the shooting mat, rifle, and ammunition. Once everything was in place, the line stood by for the range officer’s command. Targets rose, and the shooter-spotter relationship became immediately evident.
Like a well-oiled machine, Bob and Jerry began calling out condition reads, sight adjustments, and position corrections as each round headed downrange. On occasion the spotter would reaffirm the target number. Even professionals need to remain aware of the possibility of an accidental cross-fire in the heat of the moment.
“Target down.” “Scope Back.” “Hold Center Bob.” “Target Seventy-two.” The dialog continued as Bob proceeded to clean the target on the first relay. The match proceeded through four relays and a pit change, eventually moving from the 300 yard line to the 600. Wind reads and position adjustments proved to be increasingly important at the longer distance. Even the slightest discrepancy in either could make the difference between an “X” and a “9”.
As it turned out, one point was all that separated first and second place. Although Billy cleaned the target at 300 and Shawn fired an impressive 100-5x at the 600 yard line, “Bob’s Gun and Ammo” finished a close second behind “Team Double D” by a mere single point and four X’s, shooting an aggregate score of 397-19X. The “Hornady Over The Hill Gang” placed slightly behind, but remained in the top ten, ranked 8th out of 231 teams. When shooting at the level these teams compete in, even the slightest error can have a significant impact on rank placement.
The Vintage Sniper Match was the first of many I had the privilege to witness over the course of the weekend, but a number of other matches served to showcase a wide variety of classic rifles. Each build had its own story. Some rifles were acquired in perfect unissued condition, while others were discovered as rusted out sporter builds lying in the corner of a barn. Criterion Barrels is proud to play a role in restoring these classic rifles, making every effort to keep the traditions of Camp Perry alive through the National Match rifle competitions.
Any shooters who might have questions about the Vintage Sniper Match are welcome to post in the comments section below. We would be more than happy to help answer any inquiries.
Content and photos provided by Criterion Barrels, Inc. and The Garand Thumb Blog