CAMP PERRY, Ohio – Rex Walter, 62, of Parker, Pennsylvania, has never missed the National Rimfire Sporter Match – a popular event of the annual National Matches at Camp Perry. Over the match’s 20-year history, Rex is the last known competitor to have attended every year since its beginnings.
“I’ve never missed a match, but I have missed the target,” he joked.
The Rimfire Sporter Rifle Match, one of the fastest growing shooting disciplines in existence, was introduced to the CMP Games schedule in 2002 and can now be found at events around the country throughout the year. The Games matches are designed to emphasize participation, accessibility, affordability and fun – and the Rimfire Sporter Match is no exception to that ideology.
It’s a match for all ages, from age 10 to 80 and beyond, and showcases an assortment of marksmanship skills through slow and rapid fire stages in prone, sitting and standing positions. Using .22 caliber rifles fired from 50 and 25 yards in three classes (O-Class for open sight, T-Class for telescopic and TU Class for tactical/unlimited), the match is an ideal way to introduce adults and juniors alike to the excitement, challenge and enjoyment of competitive shooting.
Thanks to continued support and popularity, the National Rimfire Sporter Match at Camp Perry is the largest smallbore rifle championship in the nation.
“We come over to support the program. Someone’s got to shoot well enough to keep the cut scores down,” Rex joked again about competing in the National Matches each year. Cut scores help determine which competitors earn gold, silver or bronze medals.
Currently, Rex works in a steel mill – 13-hour shifts six to seven days a week – making it hard to take a vacation. But, he makes a point every February to request time off just to shoot in the Rimfire event. He’s shot in all the Rimfire classes over the years, not having a preference, though he chose to shoot in the scoped and tactical classes in 2022.
“They’re all fun,” he said.
For Rex, traveling to the National Matches is more than just about the sport – it’s about seeing old friends and making new acquaintances as well as passing on marksmanship knowledge to the next generation.
“Twenty years ago, I would’ve said I do this to see how good I could be, but I’m passed that stage. I like to see people continue to come out – I like to see the young people,” he explained. “Every time we come over here, it’s not the same young people – it’s different groups, but there’s a constant influx of new young people. It’s good to see people bringing in youth, and this is a great entry.”
Rex’s beginnings in marksmanship started at five years old, when he took his first shot using a .22 rifle. From there, his parents taught him all about firearm safety – taking him hunting and shooting often on the farm where he grew up. As he got older, he found a gun club where he started in competitions.
Eventually, Rex became involved with coaching kids from different school districts at the Koppel Big Beaver Sportsmen’s Club in Wampum, Pennsylvania, where he also conducted several intro to firearms and firearm safety courses – facilitating over 2,000 people through the span of a decade.
“It was a place where they could relax and speak their minds in a safe place,” he said of the youth program.
The youth group would shoot every week, with practice first and hot dogs after (once they washed their hands, of course). At Thanksgiving, they would have pumpkin pie. Rex and the other adult leaders did what they could to make the group fun and encourage kids to come to practice. Rex even created a game called “Shoot the Dot Out,” where the kids would have to fully shoot out an orange sticker – no matter how many rounds it took. Unbeknownst to them, the sticker was the same size as the x-ring on a target.
“We made it a fun activity. They wanted to come – they wanted to be there,” he said.
The group of kids was the reason Rex traveled to the National Matches in the first place.
“We were looking for something to do, to get youth involved in shooting,” Rex explained of his beginnings at Camp Perry. “The Rimfire Sporter Match was a great opportunity for that.”
The first year, the club brought five kids to the National Matches. The following year, he purchased a used military training rifle for $49 and spent $1 at a gun show for a sling and $1 for a swivel. With his $51 worth of equipment, he fired in the Rimfire Sporter event and won a gold medal.
“Once parents heard of our success, we started getting more and more kids,” he said.
The following years saw the club bringing multiple vanloads of 15 adults and youth who all stayed in the huts on Camp Perry’s grounds. They also traveled to other states for matches, like Winchester in Virginia and Canton-McKinley in Ohio.
“To the kids, it was a big deal. For some of them, it was their only outlet,” Rex said. “You get to watch them grow up and watch what they become.”
Camp Perry, a National Guard Training Facility and World War II icon, presented an impressive impact on the kids – with the base’s the helicopter displays, personnel in uniforms and the old Prisoner of War huts all part of the experience. Then, over a decade later, things began to change.
“Like everything else, the kids grew up and moved away, so it kind of became an adult program,” Rex explained. “I wanted to go shoot and I wanted someone to go with me, and it turned into a group activity.”
Through the years, some members went on to other things or even passed away – leaving Rex as the only one left to make the trip.
Though he’s the only one on the firing line, he brings along his wife, Pam, who has missed just three National Matches over her time traveling with Rex. Pam’s not a markswoman herself but has remained present in the sport – serving as a den mother to their club’s youth program while also watching Rex train their own son and daughter on marksmanship safety.
Out of all his years firing in the National Rimfire Sporter Match, Rex’s highest score (so far) has been 593, and he has finished within the top 20 over the hundreds of participants who fire each year.
“There’s always the hope that I’m going to get an award – the anticipation,” Rex said. “It’s like Christmas – you don’t know what you’re going to get.”
Counting local matches, he has over 100 awards that Pam has placed within display cases, along with a hat full of pins.
Rex plans to retire next year and would like to form another group to go with him to Nationals – hoping to mark a new tradition. He confesses that many see the word “national” of National Matches and think they need to be at a certain level of skill to compete, but Rex has simple advice for those who may be nervous about not doing well in the match.
“Nobody expects you to. It’s the experience,” he said. “Prepare. Make sure you have a reliable rifle, make sure it’s sighted in, and then you have to practice. And that’s pretty much it. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Don’t get caught up in the score. You’re competing against yourself. Shooting is ultimately a mental game and how you handle the stress. Come over and have fun.”
“It’s been a good experience,” he added. “I’ll keep coming as long as I’m able.”
Other Rimfire Sporter Opportunities:
Outside of Camp Perry, Rimfire Sporter Matches can be found all year long at CMP Affiliated Clubs around the nation. These clubs are eligible to hold their own CMP sanctioned events at their home ranges, including the Rimfire event. Learn more about sanctioned matches at https://thecmp.org/clubs/clinics/. Find a list of upcoming CMP sanctioned matches on the CMP website at https://ct.thecmp.org/app/v1/index.php?do=matchRegistrationListUpcoming.
The matches are also now featured at all CMP Travel Games: Western CMP Games (Phoenix), Eastern CMP Games (Camp Butner, North Carolina), Talladega D-Day and 600 Matches (Talladega, Alabama) and the New England CMP Games (Camp Ethan Allen, Vermont). Learn more about the CMP Travel Games events, including a full series schedule, at https://thecmp.org/competitions/cmp-travel-games/.
CMP Rimfire Sporter Program:
Learn more about CMP’s Rimfire Sporter Program on our website at https://thecmp.org/competitions/matches/rimfire-sporter-2/. Resources, such as the CMP’s Guide to Rimfire Sporter Shooting, is available for viewing and downloading. Save the Date for the 2023 National Matches: Rimfire Small Arms Firing School: Saturday, July 8, and National Rimfire Sporter Match: Sunday, July 9.
The Civilian Marksmanship Program is a federally chartered 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation. It is dedicated to firearm safety and marksmanship training and to the promotion of marksmanship competition for citizens of the United States. For more information about the CMP and its programs, log onto www.TheCMP.org.
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