Canton and Perry are about as different as they can be. Canton was, to me, extremely enjoyable. Perry was, while not exactly a let-down, much less so.
The Canton Regional precedes the Nationals at Camp Perry. The former is calendared so it ends on Sunday with enough time left to drive to Camp Perry and pick up your CMP registration details. Perry then begins early the next morning with the SAFS (Small Arms Firing School).
Canton is described as a good warm-up to the Nationals. It’s the place to do a final check of sights, replace red dot batteries and double check all those occasionally used things like the tiny screwdriver for the Bomar sights on the ball gun and the per-caliber chamber scrubbers to use on a mis-feed before firing the alibi string.
But aside from the scope of the two competitions — one a Regional, the other Nationwide — and aside from the number of competitors — 250 versus 3-4X that — there’s another and, to some, a more significant difference.
At Canton, camaraderie is “on tap” throughout the day and well into each evening.
First, there’s organized food. There’s the torch-it-yourself steak grilling and sit with friends and strangers event the evening before competition. The next night there is the traditional BBQ, again with “who will I sit with tonight” seating. And the third night is the dog-and-brew party with raffles and drawings.
Each of these brings shooters together for the evening, sometimes with friends, sometimes with strangers. The first night, my wife and I sat with a father and son from England now living in the US, and with three enlisted, one with multiple tours of Afghanistan under his belt. Hearing everyone’s story gave us pause — the world is not a simple place.
The second night, we found some shooters I know from my travels but who were new to my wife and, as before, the talk was less of Bullseye and more about life in general.
Kielbasa and beer night was less social while the give-aways — I got a BSA red dot — and raffles — I got nothing — took place.
But once those were done, everyone gathered in folding chairs beneath the huge trees next to the picnic area just as they had done on the previous two evenings. I sat next to Brian Zins with two other “Top Shot” competitors across from me. To my right were my wife, and good friends from California, Massachusetts and Colorado. The participants in any given conversation ebbed and flowed over the evening. Sometimes there were three or four discussions going at the same time; sometimes only one. Someone’s 1911 was passed around so everyone could try the trigger. (For the most part, each tester also verified the pistol’s unloaded status.)
And the camaraderie wasn’t limited to evenings. Canton has about 80 firing points that are used in multiple relays. But those not shooting only have a small area in which to be. They can be sitting and watching those shooting, inside the main building where food and swap tables can be found, or busy inside trailers or camping tents. Impromptu “guess who I just ran into” meetings are common.
Canton has a wealth of social opportunities.
Shooting targets, while important and essential at Canton, is not what stays in your mind a week, a month, nor I suspect a year later. What persists is the memory of sitting under that tree with everyone, from novice to (now) twelve time national champion, and talking about this and that.
The small talk. The getting to know each other. The just sitting there and enjoying the tree shielding us from the light rain, the occasional flash of a lightning bug, the view of everyday people having an everyday kind of relaxing evening.
Perry couldn’t be more different.
First of all, Perry is huge. There are four firing lines of almost 100 firing points each. One is reserved for practice but, even so, nearly 300 shooters can be in competition on each of the three relays. That means that almost 1000 shooters compete at Perry, four times the number at Canton. For every person you might know, there are now three strangers keeping them hidden from view.
Finding a specific individual is difficult at Perry. Which firing line are they in? Which relay? Are they on the left end, the middle or the right of those 100 shooters I see right now on relay 2 of firing line 4?
Are they inside one of the dozen buildings along Commercial Row?
What about the trailers from the different military branches where they might go for trigger weight certification or some last minute fix? (The National Guard tweaked the harp on my ball gun so it no longer rubbed on the magazine inhibiting the trigger reset, thank you very much.)
Or the BX for a snack?
The air pistol range?
The trailer and camping area?
Coordination for team events can also be tricky. Which range, which firing points, which shirt and hat, when do we shoot and who’s bringing the flag, all were passed by cell phone text messages or, with less success, by word of mouth on a chance meeting or cell phone call or voice mail.
Apart from the Larry’s Guns picnic, Perry really has no social event other than what one small group might (or might not) arrange.
And conflicts arise.
Weeks in advance, Tony Brong and I had agreed to share a meal at Perry on Friday evening. Dan Pauley, another friend common to us both, was added into the mix as was Tony’s son, Alex. I was really looking forward to that dinner.
But shortly after arriving, I discovered that the Arizona team would also be having their team dinner that same evening. I was a first-time member of that team and would certainly be expected to attend. (“Low man buys the beer” — that’d be me.)
Fortunately for this situation, Port Clinton is not awash with fine dining so when the two dinners ended up at the same restaurant, it became possible for me to table hop and spend time with each group.
But that was it for social activities.
Perry is about the shooting, the competition, the winning. Scores are quickly tabulated and posted on-line, at the NRA office and at the wailing wall (shelter). Challenges must be filed in short order before the results are deemed “final” so, for the top competitors, that double-check can be an essential task.
The awards ceremony could be described as a social event but it’s really about the winners and giving them their deserved accolades. By the time it’s over, everyone heads to sleeping bag, cot or bed because the CMP NTI and President’s events start early the next morning.
As the picture at the top of this article suggests, Perry can sometimes be lonely.
You are there to shoot at an assigned firing point at a specific time but because of the very large space and number of different things to do, getting a group together takes planning. Change meetings are rare and finding someone specific can be next to impossible.
I don’t shoot to win. Instead, I shoot to do the best I can at that moment.
I won’t be winning the Nationals. If I shoot well, I might at least place in one of the numerous subcategories such as Civilian, Senior, 22 caliber Timed Fire but most of the nearly 1000 shooters expect little more at Perry.
Perry is about the spectacle, the being there in large numbers, the sharing of a common interest with so many others.
But when it comes down to the personal contact with those others, Canton is the place to be.
Canton hosts around 250 shooters whereas Perry, the week after, has nearly 1000. Most everyone who shoots Canton will also shoot Perry. They’re arranged in time and location to make that easy to do.
But I have to admit, there’s a lot going for Canton that you won’t find at Perry. And for those of us who shoot Bullseye for the friendships and camaraderie, Canton is the #1 place to be.
Perry is for the big guns.
Canton is for friends.