The only real problem with writing about the top rifle towns are the dozens and dozens of other deserving spots that must be left out due to space. To come up with this list, we looked at the local availability of rifle ranges (the number of ranges we list is based on ranges within a 60-mile radius of a central zip code), clubs, leagues and competitions--plus local rifle sales and collecting, as well as the overall rifle "culture." What we found were enough towns to fill a book, but since we have to start somewhere€¦.
Camp Perry, Ohio
Camp Perry is home to the National Matches and the Civilian Marksmanship Program, and the area hosts tons of shooting competitions.
Ranges: 24 (not including ranges on Camp Perry proper)
In the world of competitive rifle shooting, Camp Perry--an Ohio National Guard training facility--is most definitely the place. The National Matches, considered America's "World Series of the Shooting Sports," have been a tradition at Camp Perry since 1907.
Each summer, the nation's finest civilian and military marksmen and women square off for weeks of competition in a variety of formats and events sponsored by the National Rifle Association, the Civilian Marksmanship Program and the Ohio National Guard. Combined participation in the 2009 National Matches events alone exceeded 6,500 shooters.
"Camp Perry provides one of the largest facilities in the United States, with 250 highpower firing points at a range of 600 yards and 150 firing points for our 1,000-yard long-range matches," says Mike Krei, director of the NRA's Competitive Shooting division.
"The NRA also builds ranges at Camp Perry to host the NRA National Smallbore 3-Position and Smallbore Prone championships," Krei adds.
Camp Perry houses the Civilian Marksmanship Program, a national organization dedicated to training and educating U.S. citizens in responsible uses of firearms through gun safety training, marksmanship training and competitions, with a special emphasis on youth shooters.
As part of its mission, CMP sells surplus GI-issued M1 Garand rifles to qualified members of the general public.
The CMP North store at Camp Perry has more than 400 rifles on display, ranging from wall-hangers to shooters to collector grades. The store also sells surplus .22 caliber Kimber rifles, shooting equipment, accessories, .22 and .30 caliber ammunition, and more.
"There are over a dozen CMP-affiliated shooting clubs that have events at Camp Perry over the course of the year, including the Ohio Rifle and Pistol Association and the Friends of Camp Perry," notes Steve Cooper of CMP's media department. "ORPA runs clinics here, and CMP runs clinics, too--primarily at the airgun range for junior shooters."
Quad Cities, Iowa & illinois
Several gun makers, including Springfield Armory, Les Baer and ArmaLite, are based in the Quad Cities area. Here an ArmaLite employee puts a .50 BMG through its paces.
Shooting Ranges: 20
Stretched out on both banks of the Mississippi River and incorporating two states, the Quad Cities are centered on the cities of Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Moline and Rock Island, Illinois.
A number of other communities are grouped around these four cities, with the Rock Island Arsenal sitting right in the middle (on its own island, no less). Rock Island is an active U.S. Army facility that for decades was home to American military gun making and design.
Rifle manufacturing thrives in the Quad Cities. Springfield Armory and ArmaLite are both located in nearby Geneseo, Illinois. And that's not all.
"This town has only 6,000 people and a big percentage of them are in the gun business one way or another," says Arthur Steadman of ArmaLite. "Rock River Arms is just down the road in Colona, Lewis Machine and Tool is in Milan, and Les Baer Custom is in Le Claire, right across the Mississippi in Iowa."
If you want to buy a rifle, the Quad Cities is the place, too, thanks in part to the Rock Island Auction Company. In 2009 alone, this auction house did $28 million in firearm and accessory sales, which included more than 3,500 rifles--everything from ARs and hunting rifles to collector's items like the factory engraved Winchester Model 1873 chambered in .44-40 that went for a whopping $425,500.
The arsenal's museum displays hundreds of historically important rifles, including the very first Model 1903 rifle ever made, M1903 No. 1, which was manufactured at the arsenal.
Open to the public, the museum also exhibits five rifles positively identified as Sioux- or Cheyenne-owned rifles used at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Not surprisingly, rifle shooting has a long history in the Quad Cities. The area's oldest gun club, the Davenport Shooting Association, was started in 1862 and promotes the German-influenced offhand rifle shooting sport called "Schuetzen." Family oriented, the club boasts some sixth-generation members.
The Austin, Texas, area supports an active shooting community, and military buffs can tour a museum stocked with weaponry from old Enfields to BARs.
Population: 735,000 city limits; 1.5 million metro area
The capital of the great state of Texas, Austin is also a center for rifle shooting. At the Copper Creek Range and Gun Club in Marble Falls just east of Austin, the Texas State Rifle Association hosts smallbore 3-position outdoor championships. TSRA also holds the state's highpower rifle championship matches at nearby Camp Swift, a Texas Army National Guard training center.
"In the greater Austin area there is a highpower match on nearly every weekend of the year, weather permitting," says Paul Laberge, highpower director at the Austin Rifle Club. "The one thing I'd add is that we have lots of members that don't shoot in rifle competitions but shoot just for fun, and their numbers far surpass the shooters that compete."
"And there are tons of 4-H rifle matches around the state and Austin, both outdoor and indoor," says Bill Morgan, TSRA smallbore director. "These are limited to 4-H kids, but the turnout is usually high, 50 to 70 kids or better, with tons of parents and siblings in attendance."
For the military enthusiast, the Texas Military Forces Museum has artillery pieces, tanks and armored personnel carriers on display, as well as a number of historically significant rifles. The latter includes: Enfield rifle muskets (two-band and three-band); a Springfield rifled musket (one of only 70,000 built by Providence Tool Company); an 1895 Colt/Marlin "potato digger" machine gun; a Browning Automatic Rifle; a Quad-50 machine gun; and an Armalite AR-7 Survival Rifle.
Raton, New Mexico
The NRA Whittington Center is the big draw in Raton. The complex hosts a lot of formal and informal matches in a variety of disciplines.
Just four miles from Raton, New Mexico, sits one of the nation's crown jewels of rifle (and all other) shooting: the NRA Whittington Center. Founded in 1973, the Whittington Center is among America's most comprehensive shooting facilities and plays host to many competitive, educational and recreational activities in the shooting disciplines.
More than 190,000 people visit the center annually. On the rifle side of things, ranges include a 1,000-yard highpower range, highpower and smallbore silhouette and sight-in ranges. Matches are held regularly in highpower, silhouette and sporting rifles. You can fire everything at Whittington from a .22 long rifle to a .50 BMG.
"We do a tremendous amount of lever-action events, too," says Mike Jones, who handles public relations for the center. "Much of it cowboy action shooting."
The Cooper Rifle Walk is a popular center venue. Based on Col. Jeff Cooper's scout rifle concept, the walk offers rifle enthusiasts the chance to hike some rugged terrain, rifle in hand, while engaging pop-up and stationary targets.
"I have organized and shot highpower and Palma matches at the center, several years ago," says Mel Smithour, chair of rifle programs for the Los Alamos Sportsmen's Club. "It is a magical place and a real treasure."
"The NRA is a huge asset for Raton," says Scott Weese, president of the Raton Chamber of Commerce. "The NRA has many events, and all have great attendance or participation. I know lots of people have moved to Raton just to be close to the center."
Morgantown, West Virginia
Morgantown is home to West Virginia University and its championship rifle team--as well as numerous gun shows and other shooting activities.
Morgantown sits astride the Monongahela River not too far south of the Pennsylvania border. The medical, cultural and commercial hub of the region, Morgantown is also the home to West Virginia University, which has an annual enrollment of nearly 29,000 students.
WVU has one of the best rifle shooting teams in the nation, with an all-time best 14 NCAA shooting championships, most recently in 2009. The 2009-10 team went 11-0, finished first in the Great American Rifle Conference and third at the NCAA championships. In 2010, seven Mountaineer rifle shooters earned 12 NRA All-America honors.
"I really think the achievements of the team do bring a huge sense of pride to the people of the state, and this is often conveyed to me and the team members at the different functions we attend around the state," says team coach Jon Hammond.
Rifle shooting is very much a youth activity in the Morgantown area, too, as reflected by the fact that the state 4-H air rifle events are held here every year. Meanwhile, the many rifle ranges provide a steady supply of rifle matches, get-togethers, and other events, thanks to the numerous rifle clubs and leagues.
Rifles are a big draw at local gun shows, too. "Morgantown seems to be big on long guns--more there than most of our shows," says Jennings Lipscomb of R&R Gun & Knife Shows. "There's a lot of .22 caliber target shooting all over that area. A lot of big bore competitive shooting, too. Right now, though, I'd say hunting rifles are the biggest sellers."
Portland to Salem, Oregon
ARs are the big thing along the I-5 corridor in Oregon, and matches and classes have sprung up in the region to accommodate them.
Interstate 5 runs north and south through Oregon's Willamette Valley, and the northern half of that valley is bounded by Portland at the top and Salem to the south. Portland is Oregon's largest city (population 566,000) and a center for health care, manufacturing, high-tech and tourism, while the rolling hills around Salem, the state capital, are home to Oregon's growing wine industry. The fertile Willamette Valley itself is among the top agricultural areas of the West.
Areas on both sides of I-5 corridor are also home to numerous rifle ranges and rifle training facilities. The Tri-County Gun Club is a rifle shooting mecca in the Portland area and hosts numerous rifle matches and leagues--including benchrest, blackpowder, highpower, practical rifle and silhouette.
The Oregon Firearms Academy, located in Lebanon, just south of Salem, is just one of the local training facilities where rifle courses are increasingly popular. OFA holds courses in defensive carbine, general purpose rifle and long-range precision rifle.
"The biggest increase in class attendance came soon after 9/11 and again in 2008 when the economy came to a crawl and people are seeing police budgets cut or soon will be cut," says OFA co-owner Dan Abbott. "These rifle classes generally fill up in a few days, and we're seeing people traveling greater distances to attend these popular courses."
AR-style rifles are increasingly popular in the area, notes custom rifle maker Larry Martin of Aurora. "We have a good number of local folks coming to us for custom shooting rifles and ARs for hunting and long-range shooting," says Martin.
Abbott concurs. "The most popular rifles for defense seen in our courses are the ARs chambered in the .223/5.56 and their variants," says Abbott. "I'd estimate ARs account for probably 85 percent of the rifles brought to a typical class."
Not surprisingly, matches and shoots for AR- and military-style rifles have a large following up and down the I-5 corridor.