Ken Blaedel Earns Distinguished Rifleman Badge at Age 75

Ken Blaedel, 76, of Dublin, California, doesn’t let age get in his way. In 2022, he achieved an ambition that took more than a decade: earning a distinguished rifleman badge. With the achievement, he has become one of the few shooters in history to achieve the feat after the age of 70.

Some people spend decades in pursuit of a Distinguished Badge, which is the highest individual award authorized by the US government for excellence in marksmanship. The badges, offered in various disciplines, are presented by the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) after an individual receives at least 30 Excellence in Competition (EIC) “leg” points in qualifying matches.

“I never had any particular desire to be Distinguished,” Ken admitted.

Ken’s own journey began unexpectedly. It started in 2007 when one of his colleagues convinced him to go to the CMP West Games, an annual event held in Phoenix. It was there that he shot an EIC match where, according to Ken, he “magically scored points.”

“I really enjoyed the match,” he said, as well as earning points. “He unpacks his rifle, fires his record shots without scopes, and then packs up his rifle. There’s no gossip or shooting alibis. If you don’t know your rifle, you’re out of business, from the start.”

Distinguished Badges are awarded to those exceptional shooters who show continuing excellence in the sport.

A few months later, he earned 10 more points at his local club, the Coalinga Rifle Club in Fresno. Although he continued to compete, from 2008 to 2014 he did not repeat himself.

“It was just a poor shot, what can I say?” he joked about his drop in points.

“As I continue to age, my body doesn’t willingly do what I tell it to do,” he continued. “A position that worked well last year may not work today. I have had to continually change positions, not only to stand, but even more so to sit. The change can be in small increments or become almost continuous, just trying to get ahead of the inflexibility that comes with age.”

Fortunately, in April 2014, another match at Coalinga brought 10 more points, with their final points won in October 2022 at the same club.

“The leg matches in California are well attended by well-trained juniors,” he explained. “The consequence, however, is that points are routinely stolen from me in matches.”

CMP’s annual Western Games feature rifle and pistol matches, held in the sands of the Arizona desert.

During the October match, he edged out the young goalscorer by one point. Fortunately, they both reached EIC points in the end.

Coalinga is home to the California Grizzlies, a youth club filled with some of the most decorated and talented young shooters in the country. Since their formalization in 2003, the Grizzlies have racked up countless youth wins in National Match events while holding numerous national records.

“I think everyone here supports the junior program,” Ken said. “It is absolutely the best.”

Although he doesn’t train youth himself, Ken says there are many other ways to support the program: financially, emotionally, with donations, or just by encouraging them the old-fashioned way.

“Without a youth program, we don’t have a long-term sport. It’s as simple as that,” he said.

After all, Ken was once a junior. As a boy, he and his brothers would shoot a .22 rifle in the backyard in the summer and in the basement in the winter against defenses built by his father.

His grandfather was a country doctor and on his rounds he carried a revolver (always Smith & Wesson). Eventually, he convinced Ken’s parents to let him have a revolver as well, heading to the local gun store where his grandfather bought a Smith & Wesson K-22 for Ken to use.

“I still throw it from time to time,” he said.

Ken competed informally with a small-bore rifle at a small indoor range in Wisconsin, especially during the winter, and then shot pistol target shooting at the University of Wisconsin.

“Then life got in the way and I didn’t compete again for a few years before I retired,” he admitted.

Since high power seemed to be quite popular in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Ken had relocated, he decided to return to the rifle. Ken’s Service Rifle career began with an M14 before moving up to the AR-15.

“We are incredibly lucky to have such an active community,” he said. “We can shoot three high-powered games a month and literally every weekend if you’re willing to drive an hour or an hour and a half. Because I am retired, I can and do routinely compete in high power three weekends a month. I do a practice session almost weekly and dry shoot maybe twice a week.”

“If you look at the really good shooters, they take a rifle every day, that’s every day, no cheating or excuses, but I’m not there yet,” he quipped.

The California Grizzlies have shown consistent prowess on the range, even keeping the current
national records.

The evolution of the world of marksmanship is partly what has allowed it to stay competitive as the years go by.

“One thing that has kept me shooting the service rifle is the scope,” he said. “This is without a doubt the most advantageous change to the rules for seniors and old eyes.”

For those seeking a Distinguished Badge of their own, regardless of age, Ken has some simple but effective advice.

“Do not give up. Shoot leg matches because they are wonderful matches,” she suggested. “If you go out, great; if you don’t, it’s still a wonderful experience.”

“I certainly plan to continue filming the individual matches that take place simultaneously with the leg matches. In the end, the most important thing is to score a good score and, secondly, to beat the juniors”, he joked once more.

Although he faces a knee replacement in the near future, which will undoubtedly cause a radical change in his sitting position, it won’t take him away from the shooting range. He will do everything possible to stay there, enjoying the sport that has given him a lifetime of experiences and memories.

“There’s no way I’m going to give up Highpower, but I might have to accept a couple point drop in score as a consequence, so be it!” he said. “I think the bottom line is that marksmanship is a wonderful sport that you can be involved in for most of your life.”

Learn more about the Distinguished Badge program by visiting the CMP website at Find local matches by searching our website at

— By Ashley Dugan, CMP Staff Writer

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 proficiency for United States citizens. To learn more about the CMP and its programs, log on to

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