Chris Knott, 29, of Gadsden, Alabama, has surrounded his life with marksmanship. Most days, he dresses as an Army specialist or as one of the talented gunsmiths within the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) Custom Shop. Other times, he finds himself taking his rifle talent out of the realm of maintenance, not only priming the triggers for others at the range, but also pulling the triggers for competition.
It’s a recent passion that led him to earn his US Army Distinguished Rifleman Badge at the 2023 US Army Small Arms Championship in March. The badge is an honor that many strive to achieve, but for Chris it was an unexpected ambition.
The distinguished badges are the highest individual award authorized by the US government for excellence in marksmanship. The badges, offered in various disciplines, are awarded by the CMP after an individual receives at least 30 Excellence in Competition (EIC) “stage” points in qualifying matches.
For Chris, earning a badge manifested itself simply by showing up for work, along with encouragement from a fellow shooter.
“Shamefully, I was unaware of the Distinguished Program until I started traveling for the CMP,” he said. “It didn’t really become a goal until I shot my first EIC match at the CMP Western Games in 2018. Nick Till, to whom I owe a lot of thanks and appreciation, asked if I’d like to shoot the match.
Chris admitted that he was somewhat intimidated to compete in the EIC match (which is shot at 200, 300 and 600 yards) as he had never shot beyond 300 yards. Till, a decorated marksman and a regular at CMP events, insisted Chris try out the competition and even offered to use his rifle for the match.
Borrowing everything except the clothes he wore to the shooting range that day (including a shooting coat, ammunition, and other gear), Chris shot a score of 484-13X and was the best undistinguished competitor, winning a leg of 10. points.
“From there, the hunt began,” Chris said.
Although the quest for a badge was new, Chris’s beginnings in marksmanship began at an early age, after he received his first BB gun at age five.
“After that, there wasn’t a safe can of soda in the neighborhood,” Chris quipped. “My love for marksmanship started there and kept growing.”
His first competitive shooting was when he joined the Albertville High School Army JROTC Rifle Team. It was also when Chris first became familiar with the CMP.
“Being an avid history lover, I was more interested in purchasing an M1 at the time, rather than the wealth of marksmanship knowledge the organization had to offer,” he admitted.
Chris competed in the sport class three position air rifle all four years of his high school career, graduating as team captain. He didn’t compete again until he started working for the CMP.
His first match since high school, his first high-powered competition, and his first trip to Camp Perry came during the 2016 National Matches when he competed in the National Vintage Rifle Match. Since then, Chris has done everything he can to gain time in CMP events.
“The ancient sniper combat (one of the most popular CMP Games rifle events) is one I will never turn down the opportunity to shoot,” he said.
When it comes to practicing, Chris joked that he doesn’t do it enough.
“Most of my activation time comes from shooting guns at Talladega Marksmanship Park for the company,” he said. “But I like to dry fire as often as I can. Most competitors will agree that’s the key to success, and it’s free.
Chris also gets range time for his involvement in the Army, which began in January 2015 when he signed up for the Alabama Army National Guard. In August of that same year, he left for Fort Jackson, SC, for basic training. He was then sent to Ft. Lee, Va., for his Advanced Individual Training (AIT) for the 91F MOS as a small arms/artillery repairman. He was assigned to the 1-167 Infantry Battalion Advance Support Company and remained there until recently, when he was transferred to the 20th Maintenance Battalion, Special Forces Group.
In late 2020, he was drafted into the Alabama National Guard’s Fatality Group, where they also run the state marksmanship team and host a state marksmanship competition known as the TAG Match. There, people have a chance to win an honorary “Governor’s Twenty” token.
With his military career and responsibilities as a gunsmith, Chris certainly keeps a full schedule, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Working for CMP has been an incredible experience,” said Chris. “I have loved every second of it and it has given me many opportunities to compete and learn. I wouldn’t be where I am today as a competitor if it weren’t for the opportunities I’ve received here and the amazing people I’ve met along the way who have helped and guided me.”
Like his journey to a Distinguished Badge, Chris’s start at the CMP also came about in a chance meeting after he returned home from AIT in February 2016. He was looking for a job and luckily came across son from Mike. Long (current CMP manager in 1911) in a recruit-sustaining drill that same month.
“He told me I should apply for the CMP and next week I’ll come and fill out an application,” Chris explained. “I started the following month at the Custom Shop.”
Now, Chris works hard within the Custom Shop to revive rifles that are shipped in from all over the country for restoration. He also travels to many CMP events, ensuring safety through inspections and rifle repairs. His downtime allows him to leave the gunsmith’s trailer to join like-minded people at the shooting range, all gathered to enjoy the sport they love.
“Being a competitor and a gunsmith helps me bridge the gap between the inspection table and the line of fire,” he said. “I see things from both sides of the coin when it comes to equipment, firearms and the rules that govern what we can and can’t use on the line. It helps me engage with the competitors we work so hard to care for.”
From here, Chris will continue as one of CMP’s Gunsmiths and will continue to compete in events across the country as time permits. Although he is now among the elite list of distinguished riflemen and women, Chris remains humble and remembers those who helped him achieve his outstanding achievement.
“I would like to include a thank you to Nick Till for getting me started on the badge quest and to the Alabama Lethality Group, specifically SSG James Ruddick, the State Marksmanship Coordinator, for the opportunity to compete for the state of Alabama and the opportunity to get the points he needed from the Army’s side,” he said. “If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be as far away as I am today.”
What’s next for Chris? “My most important game of the season starts at the end of the month. I will be one of four Alabama National Guardsmen representing the state at the 52nd Winston P. Wilson Small Arms Championship at Camp Robinson, Arkansas, which hosted the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center. We’re up against 64 other 4-man teams from across the country,” Chris said. We wish you the best of luck!
Learn more about the Distinguished Program.
Want to learn more about the Distinguished Badge program? Visit our website at https://thecmp.org/competitions/distinguishedbadges/ or email email@example.com for more details. Upcoming EIC matches can be found on our website at https://ct.thecmp.org/app/v1/index.php?do=matchRegistrationListUpcoming. CMP Director Emeritus Gary Anderson recently wrote an article titled “America’s Distinguished Badges: Golden Symbols of Marksmanship Excellence,” which can be viewed at https://thecmp.org/wp-content/uploads/ 2023/03/Americas-Distinguished-Badges-Golden-Symbols-of-Marksmanship-Excellence.pdf.
The Civilian Marksmanship Program is a federally chartered 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. It is dedicated to firearms safety and marksmanship training and the promotion of marksmanship competition for United States citizens. To learn more about the CMP and its programs, log on to www.TheCMP.org.