Sharp Shooting

Between Toledo and Sandusky, Ohio, along the Lake Erie shore, is the century old Army training facility Camp Perry, named after Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, the American naval commander who won the Battle of Put-in-Bay during the War of 1812. The fort is notable for containing the world’s largest outdoor rifle range. Every year since Camp Perry was commissioned in 1906 it has hosted the National Matches, America’s national shooting championship. Today, the base primarily serves as a training facility for the Ohio National Guard and Army Reserve. During the World Wars, however, it was a training post for Army officers, who were drilled extensively on marksmanship in those days.

One can drive for two and a half hours to the southeast of Camp Perry and come to the birthplace of Annie Oakley. Her family’s log cabin no longer stands on the site, but a plaque and marker were erected on the spot by a local organization devoted to Oakley’s memory. The site is landscaped and maintained by volunteers interested in its history. That the Oakley home did not survive through history is not surprising. When she was only six, Oakley’s father died of pneumonia and over-exposure, leaving the family destitute. Unable to feed her children, Phoebe Oakley bounded out Annie to a local family to help care for their infant son. This family was supposed to provide her with a stipend of 50 cents a week and an education. Instead, they kept her in a state of near slavery for two years, subjecting her to mental and physical abuse. Later, in her autobiography, Oakley would refer to this family as “the wolves,” but always refrained from referencing them by name. Oakley received little education and could not spell her own name properly. On contractual documents, she signed with the name “Oaklee.” Being fed little by her foster family and given no money to live on, Annie Oakley hunted small game at a very early age for food and pelts. She developed her skill for shooting quickly. When she was 15, a Cincinnati businessman contracted her for a shooting competition with renowned marksman Francis Butler. Oakley defeated Butler, shooting 25 out of 25 targets to Butler’s 24. A year later, the two married and began touring as a shooting act.

Besides its shooting range, Camp Perry is also believed to contain a ground to air missile battery that is a part of the nuclear missile defense network. During the Cold War, the fort was used as a Project Nike site. In the event of a nuclear attack against North America, an unknown number of Ajax missiles could be launched from Camp Perry to intercept enemy warheads in the earth’s upper atmosphere and effect detonation at a safe distance from the country’s populated areas. Project Nike was decommissioned in the 1970s. Information about what anti-missile defense operations still persist at Camp Perry is not available to the public, but we do know that the 372d Missile Maintenance Company, along with the 213th Ordinance Company missile support corps are stationed there, suggesting that some form of missile defense is still practiced on the base.

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