It was at this past SHOT Show that I first came up with the idea to do an in-depth series on the National Matches, particularly the President’s 100 Match. I’ve written about the Civilian Marksmanship Program sports before, but my experience there was much more in the vein of my own interest.
In this six-part series, I will describe the efforts I made to understand the traditions of the President’s 100 and how to build a rifle suitable for the events with the help of Brownell’s.
This first part of the series is something that I spent a great deal of time pondering. You see, I have never fired an AR-type rifle in a match setting. I have only ever fired Springfield, M1, and Mauser rifles at Camp Perry and at a range of only 200 yards.
As I write this, I don’t know how I’ll fare in the President’s 100, which is part of why I’m writing this now. I want you to have a good idea of what I’m doing so that you can know what to expect if you want to try this yourself.
It is important for these matches to know how we got here and why it is worth it to partake in the grand tradition of nation. The history of the President’s 100 is of vast importance because the match itself has had a huge impact in shaping all competition shooting in America.
As goes this match, so goes many other styles of competition.
The following was written by Hap Rocketto, himself a very accomplished match shooter with a long history of contribution to our sports, and is republished with permission from the CMP. It should be noted that this version has been edited and abridged for this site and lacks footnotes.
A Short History of the President’s Hundred By Hap Rocketto
The sun slanting in from three o’clock glints off of the brass cartridge cases as they click into the magazine. The shooter, readying for the President’s Match, is not thinking about history. Yet history is all about at Perry and if one ignores it one ignores the very essence of the sport.
To understand why the President’s Match Trophy, and by extension, the Presidents Hundred, has such a special aura in a trophy room full of venerated shooting icons it is only necessary to let your mind travel 4,000 miles east and nearly 150 years back in time.
What may be the most difficult service rifle and pistol honor to attain in the United States had its antecedents, oddly enough, at a joint meeting of the National Rifle Association of Great Britain and the Volunteer Service Club. Gathering on March 7, 1860, at London’s Saint James Hall, for a business meeting and Volunteer Levee, some 3,000 military volunteers were encouraged to both join the NRA and raise funds to “offer prizes worthy of being competed for by the Volunteer Force.”
Queen Victoria was so moved by this patriotic display that she donated the munificent sum of £250, an amount equivalent to the cost of a new house at the time, for an annual prize to be awarded to the best marksman within the volunteer ranks. As might be expected the prize became known as The Queen’s Prize and, to this day, it is the most prestigious rifle shooting award in Great Britain.
In the aftermath of the United States Civil War Colonel William C. Church and General George Wingate, Union veterans of the war, were troubled over the sad state of marksmanship demonstrated by their troops. To help remedy the situation they formed the National Rifle Association of America in 1871 with the goal, according to Church, to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.”
The organization and its concept was similar to that of the NRA of Great Britain and just as the British were headquartered in London with a range close by at Wimbledon, the NRA of America began in New York City with its range established a short distance away at the Creed farm. The Long Island location had a certain resemblance to the misty and desolate region of southern England and it soon became known as Creedmoor.
The NRA instituted the American Military Rifle Championship Match at its annual matches at Creedmoor in 1878 which was won by Sergeant J. S. Barton of the New York National Guard. The name was changed in 1884 to the President’s Match for the Military Rifle Championship of the United States and was fired at Creedmoor until 1891 when the range was closed.
Fortunately the NRA was not without a venue as the New Jersey State Rifle Association had begun development of a 148 acre range facility at Sea Girt. When Creedmoor closed Sea Girt was ready and hosted the annual match schedule for the first time in 1892. In the confusion of the relocation a hiatus of several years ensued and the President’s Match, as we know it, was reintroduced at Sea Girt in 1894.
Competition would continue until interrupted, in 1898, by the Spanish American War. This would not be the last time the annual championships would be cancelled by international conflict. However, a hard fought action on July 1st of that year, in what Secretary of State John Hay, called “a splendid little war,” would eventually have an effect upon the President’s Match that would give it an aura that no other marksmanship competition in the United States could come close to matching.
On that day, under a blazing heatstroke inducing sun, Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt lead the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, more popularly known as Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, in a highly publicized assault on San Juan Hill. The fame he would earn as a result of that bloody battle would serve to vault him into the public consciousness, eventually leading to the White House.
The matches would continue at Sea Girt and would gain greater prestige when, in February of 1903, an amendment to the War Department Appropriations Bill created the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice (NBPRP), established the National Matches, and provided funding for both. Moving rapidly the first National Matches saw 15 teams from the US Marine Corps, US Navy, US Infantry, US Cavalry, and various state National Guards competing at Sea Girt just eight months later on October 8 and 9. For the next 64 years the NPBRP and the NRA would act in concert to produce an ever enlarging National match program.
The hero of San Juan Hill was now President of the United States and had been an active supporter of the legislation that led to the creation of the NBPRP and the National Matches. A few weeks after the conclusion of the 1904 National Matches, held at Fort Riley, Kansas, TR sat down, on September 25, 1904, and penned a letter to the winner of the President’s Match which gave greater meaning to the event’s name as well as greater prestige to the winner.
Roosevelt wrote to Private Howard Gensch of the New Jersey National Guard,
“I have just been informed that you have won the President’s Match for the military championship of the United States of America. I wish to congratulate you in person, and through you not only the First Regiment of the National Guard of New Jersey, but the entire National Guard of New Jersey. As a nation we must depend upon our volunteer soldiers in time of trial; therefore, the members of the National Guard fill a high function of usefulness.
Of course, a soldier who cannot shoot is a soldier who counts for very little in battle, and all credit is due to those who keep up the standard of marksmanship. I congratulate you, both your skill and your possession of the qualities of perseverance and determination in long practice by which alone this skill could have been brought to its high point of development.”
Thus began the tradition of the President of the United States sending to each winner of this match a personal congratulatory message. So important became this accolade that it was incorporated into the National Match Program President’s Match announcement, “Prizes.-To the winner, an autographed letter from the President of the United States…” or “…a personal letter of Commendation from the President of the United States…” or “…a congratulatory message from the President of the United States….”
Although there was a lapse during the period of the Viet Nam War and again when the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) was transitioning from Army control to that of the privatized CMP, by and large, this tradition has been honored by all of the nation’s chief executives including Presidents Reagan, G. H. W. Bush, Clinton and G. W. Bush.
The first of what might be considered the first of the modern National Matches was held at the United States Navy’s Great Piece Meadow Range at Caldwell, New Jersey through out August of 1919. Under the direction of Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel William “Bo” Harlee, the month long event incorporated high power, pistol, introduced small bore events, a training school for civilian instructors, and an exhibit of the cutting edge military technology of the day.
The President’s Match, the entry fee of 50 cents included ammunition, was fired over three days. On day one competitors fire standing at 200 yards followed by a slow fire prone at 500 yards on day two. After the scores of the first two days were totaled only the top 500 riflemen were allowed to fire slow fire prone at 1,000 yards on the final day.
The 1919 elimination round sees to have presaged the shoot-off adopted in 2007 which was, in effect, created an elimination round. In the end Sergeant J.B. Rhine, Coast Artillery Corps, topped the field with a 289X300 earning a letter from President Woodrow Wilson, a gold medal, and an arm brassard. Major Harry L. Adams of the US Cavalry, a former enlisted man and Distinguished Marksman, was presented with the Cavalry Cup while Seaman E. Phillips, USN, received the Crescent Cup as well as brassards.
The match was restricted to military personnel until 1920 with civilians being able to first participate in 1921, several years before they were eligible to participate in Excellence in Competition matches. No sooner were civilians allowed to participate than O.B. Emshwiller of Minnesota won the 1921 match, establishing his place in Presidents Hundred history. The military still had a strong grasp on the match and it would be another 33 years before New Yorker Fred Willing would become the second civilian winner.
With the development of match quality M16 rifles in the late 1990s junior high power shooters began to develop quickly and 17 year old Chris Atkins, of Georgia, became the youngest shooter, and first junior, to win the Presidents. Atkins is no stranger to shooting as his father is Billy C. Atkins, for whom an NRA National Championship Trophy is named. His score of 298-15X tied the second highest score fired in the modern format and is a point and four Xs off of the record held by Marine Staff Sergeant Richard Scott Threatt.
Just as President Roosevelt’s 1904 letter started a tradition so did the 1919 President’s Hundred Brassard. The two lines of uppercase letters embroidered n metal wire on a two inch by five inch strip of olive drab cloth read “PRESIDENT’S HUNDRED” and “1919” were distributed to the top 100 rifleman. The device was to be worn on a soldier’s uniform’s left arm midway between the elbow and shoulder.
The cloth brassard was replaced by a metal one in 1920 and it would follow a basic design that existed until 2001. It was replaced in 2002 by a medal whose pendent is a small copy of the slate disk that bears a gilded presidential seal that is the focal point of the President’s Rifle and Pistol Trophies.
Between 1968 and 1976 the President’s Match was a non fired match with both match and service rifles and any ammunition allowed. The aggregate of scores fired in the 20 shot standing Members Trophy, the 20 shot rapid fire sitting Scott Trophy, the 20 shot rapid fire prone Coast Artillery Trophy, and the 20 shot slow fire prone Army Cup matches determined the President’s Hundred. The NRA presented a belt buckle sized medallion, embossed with the seal of the President of the United States, to the top 50 competitors in the rifle and the pistol championship making 100 awardees.
With the National Matches of 1998 the CMP also began the practice of proving a handsome certificate proclaiming that the bearer had earned membership in the President’s Hundred. Small pins, which duplicate the trophy discs, and maybe used for lapel/hat pins or tie tacks are commercially available.
Another noteworthy award presented to the winner of the match was the Army Ordnance Association Trophy, in reality a selected trophy rifle. Awarded sporadically in the early years, the trophy rifle was as prized as the presidential letter. Some of the rifles have included the so called “Springfield Special”, which may well have been a specially selected 1921 National Match Springfield 1903 with ‘S’ style stock and star gauged barrel, awarded in 1925 and 1927, a U.S. Rifle Caliber .22, Model 22, M1” in 1928, as well as the “U.S. Rifle caliber .30 Sporter” in 1929 and 1931.
A Winchester Model 70 with Balvar scope was presented in 1963 while in 1964 a Remington Model 700 sporting rifle with Balvar telescopic sight was given the winner while it was a Winchester Model 100 sporting rifle with Balvar telescopic sight in 1965, 66, and 67. A National Match M1 Garand was awarded in 1977 and in 1997 the CMP began drawing on its inventory of historic M1 Garand rifles and had them prepared for presentation by Phil Arrington of Arrington Accuracy Works, Tucson, Arizona.
It is likely that there are other trophy rifles awarded in the Presidents in existence as the announcement of them as part of the prize package did not always appear in the match program. As an example, there was no notation of a trophy rifle in the1979 program yet after the awards ceremony Sergeant First Class Richard Scheller, of the Connecticut Army National Guard, the match winner, was called aside and told that there was an additional award awaiting him in the DCM offices.
Not knowing what to expect he was happily surprised to receive a Remington Model 700 .308 rifle mounting a Redfield telescopic sight with an accompanying sling and cleaning rod. A 3 inch by 1½ inch German silver plate was inset into the right side of stock upon which was engraved, in four lines, “1979 President’s Match winner SFC Richard M. Scheller ARNG 293-8x.” Not one to let a good rifle gather dust Scheller traveled to Maine in the fall and used it to harvest a brown bear.
When, in 1977, the President’s Match became a National Trophy event the occasion was marked by the introduction of the President’s Rifle Trophy. The handsome trophy is comprised of a substantial hardwood base that carries the gold gilded words, “THE PRESIDENT’S TROPHY” and supports a disc of black New England slate upon which the Presidential Seal is engraved and gilded.
Issue ammunition would continue under the auspices of the DCM until the programmed transitioned to the CMP. Competitors are now required to provide their own ammunition which means either ‘rolling your own’ handloads, purchasing commercial ammunition, or buying CMP ammunition at Camp Perry. The pistol trophy is a duplicate of the rifle award but for a white New England marble disc which carries the Presidential Seal.
Under DCM/CMP auspices the winner of the Presidents Hundred Pistol Match was awarded a trophy plaque, which resembled the trophy introduced in 1981. A metallic brassard was presented the top 100 shooters, until 2003, when it was replaced, like rifle, by a medal with a pendent resembling the trophy. A Presidential letter was presented from 1985 through 1997. Certificates were introduced in 1998 and were awarded retroactively if requested. A trophy M1 was first presented in 1997 and resumed again in 2000.
Marine Gunnery Sergeant Mitchell R. Reed was the first to win two Presidents with the service pistol with back to back victories in 1990 and 1991. Sergeant James Henderson, of the US Army Reserve, has an incredible four wins to his credit. His first was in 1997; his second in 2002, and then back to back wins in 2005 and 2006, when he established the match record of 389-10X.
While there have been close finishes with the rifle, a point being the closest, the closest finish recorded in the match series lies with the pistol. Marine Gunnery Sergeant James Blair and civilian Louisianan Charles Abbott tied at 383. The Marine’s X count of 13 earned him a letter from President Reagan in 1984.
While no competitor has ever won both the rifle and pistol President’s match three names do appear on both lists, John and Lowell Johnson, Hershel and Gary Anderson, and Eric and F.C. Wilson have won the pistol and rifle match respectively.
The Presidents Hundred is one of the nation’s most venerable sporting events, with a longevity and history as distinguished as the Kentucky Derby, organized baseball, or the America’s Cup. Like the Derby it only happens once a year at a very special location. Like professional baseball many players start the season but only a few will be on a World Series winning team in any given year. Like the America’s Cup it is an event where the basics skills for success have not changed in 130 years, but the technology has opened whole new vistas.
Membership in the Presidents Hundred and Distinguished status are the Gemini Twins, the Castor and Pollux, in the firmament of the service arm competitor, yet they are different-not identical twins, but fraternal, if you will. The quest for Distinguished is a marathon while the chase for the Presidents is a 100 meter dash. The Presidents Match is once a year happening and an event where there is no room for error because, like the dash, it is over quickly but like the marathon, the field is huge and crowded with talent, making it harder to earn.
Simply put, there is a greater percentage of Distinguished shooters in the ranks of the Presidents Hundred than there are Presidents Hundred members in the Distinguished rolls. Skilled competitors certainly have an advantage in the Presidents Match but there is always enough uncertainty in a short match to make things interesting. Perhaps the key to success in earning a Presidents Hundred brassard is that first you’ve got to be good, and then you’ve got to be a little bit lucky.