Waves lap on the sandy shore, not ten feet away. Wind rustles leaves in the trees. A squirrel chatters in a nearby red pine.

In stark contrast to almost every other time and location in Camp Chippewa, the ten campers gathered here on the peninsula between Buck and Cass Lake are silent and motionless. They are lying down, some of them closing their eyes, some obviously slowing their breathing with calm, measured breaths. The campers appear meditative, serene, and focused—and where better to meditate than on this narrow strip of pine-covered land between two azure lakes?

The silence is broken by the measured voice of a staff member. He repeats the set of eight instructions, phrases each of the campers knows by heart.

“Ready on the right. Ready on the left. Ready on the firing line. You may load one round, and proceed firing five rounds down range, at your own target. The range is hot.”

Slowly and surely, the campers carefully aim and meticulously fire their rifles at the small black circle of their targets 50 feet away. While the silence is tempered with the small “crack” of the rifles, the tranquility is not interrupted.

After each camper finishes, they lay their head on the ground and quietly wait for their friends to finish. Almost ten minutes have passed. Then it is the counselor’s turn. “Ceasefire. Ceasefire. Ceasefire. Open all bolts. Produce five brass, return your blocks, and retrieve your targets.” The steps are completed in the same calm, measured tenor so indicative of the Rifle Range.

Walking slowly back with their targets, campers compare scores and chat about their progress towards their next rank—a progression of increasing scores while also increasing difficulty through different body positions. Prone to sitting, sitting to kneeling, and kneeling to standing. It is a progression that has been around Camp Chippewa for over 80 years, offering achievement and advancement to every camper, but only yielding the final rank of Expert a couple of times a decade. Riflery, more than any other sport at Camp, is one where patience and dedication are the law of the land. And only through unyielding dedication can a camper persist through the 14 ranks of increasing difficulty.

So much of the riflery program is steeped in tradition. Cap Endres was a captain in the Army and extended his coaching expertise to their marksmanship program. JP (Cap’s son) and Chris (JP’s son) continued the family tradition of excellence and instruction in riflery, teaching the sport in the U.S. Army and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, respectively.

With such rich tradition, it is no surprise that commensurate professionalism is imbued in the instruction at Camp Chippewa. Instructor knowledge is deep enough to provide teaching points over the summer, and for consecutive summers into the future. Over time, competence gives way to mastery. For the campers who do not select riflery as one of their activity periods, the basics of gun safety, terminology, and technique are taught during the first days of camp.

Guns are a contentious issue—an aspect of our society that is deservingly analyzed at great length. Camp Chippewa’s continued investment in our rifle program is not a political statement, but a unique and impactful opportunity for our campers.

Why is riflery such an effective teaching tool? Some campers may participate in hunting or shooting sports like trap or biathlon later in life. Some may benefit from the foundational firearm safety skills they learn at Camp. Many will have a maturity and caution around firearms that far exceeds their peers. Most important are the durable, transferable, and lifelong skills that come from Camp Chippewa’s riflery program. Campers learn to calm themselves down, to deal with failure, to intentionally and repeatedly employ patience, to learn a nuanced skill, and to lengthen their attention spans.

Walking back towards the rest of camp on the pine needle-covered path, campers chat about their best targets and their progression towards the next rank. Many notice they are better at the sport of riflery. As camp professionals, we know the more important truth: they are more resilient, patient, measured, and calm than when they arrived.

camper sitting and smiling at the Rifle Range