For more than a century, the National Rifle Association had conducted its annual High Power Rifle National Championships at Camp Perry in Ohio, and few people had reason to expect that to change anytime soon.
Last year, the NRA suddenly decided to find a new host for the event — and the group’s search led them to Camp Atterbury in southern Johnson County. The organization said the annual event gathers the nation’s finest civilian and military marksmen and women for almost 20 days of high power rifle competition in a variety of formats and events.
“There’s not a lot of places in the country that have 1,000-yard ranges, which is what my long-range matches run on,” said Sheri Judd, the NRA’s director of competitive shooting sports. “So you kind of narrow it down, and then you start looking and see what else they have to offer — and Atterbury has a lot to offer.”
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On Friday, the event — which runs through July 25 — got started with a ceremonial first shot from Indiana’s first lady, Janet Holcomb. A handful of matches, featuring competitors shooting from 200, 300 and 600 yards, also were planned.
Nearly 400 competitive shooters from across the country will be staying in the area for an extended period, sending more patrons to area hotels and restaurants, especially in Edinburgh.
“I’m sure if you own a hotel, you’re pretty happy right now,” said Ryan Secord of Greenwood, one of many local volunteers who helped get the event set up.
Judd noted that while some of the competitors and their families are staying at Camp Atterbury, many others are staying in local accommodations, most for an extended period of time.
“They’re going to be eating here, shopping here,” Judd said. “They’re basically going to be living here for three weeks.
“I shop here, I do my laundry here, I do everything here. So it becomes a little community; I’m starting to know the people down at the hardware store.”
Taking ownership of an event that had known only one home since its birth in the early 1900s wasn’t easy — especially since there wasn’t much prep time left after all of the logistical hurdles involved with bringing civilians and their guns onto a military base were cleared.
Volunteers had approximately nine days to get the shooting range and everything else ready.
“It was really short notice. I don’t know if we could have pulled it off without the National Guard,” said Charlie Hiltunen of the Indiana State Rifle and Pistol Association. “(Camp Atterbury) is set up for military personnel to come in, and to take it up to a nationally competitive level, they expanded the berms, brought everything in so that they could get to a national standard, and they met and exceeded that in a very short period of time.”
Should the NRA choose to keep the championships here in future years and Camp Atterbury has more prep time, Secord said he believes that it can make an even bigger impact.
“We have a real opportunity to make this an economic driver for the area,” he said.
“For that to move here, it’s a big deal for Indiana,” Hiltunen added. “I think this is the start of just a great, great thing.”
NRA High Power Rifle National Championships
Where: Camp Atterbury
When: Through July 25 (a match calendar is available at competitions.nra.org)
Who can take part?: The national matches are open to anyone who wishes to compete. There are no regional or state qualifying events.
Are spectators welcome?: Anyone interested in watching the matches should report to Building 109 at Camp Atterbury to obtain a spectator pass. A state-issued ID must be presented, and firearms are not permitted.