When it comes to marksmanship, 18-year-old Kenlee Ewton of Soddy Daisy, Tennessee has it all.
She is a regular at the monthly matches of the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), a series of indoor competitions for athletes with air rifles and air pistols. The event is held each month at CMP’s airgun ranges, the Gary Anderson CMP Center of Competence in Ohio and the Judith Legerski CMP Center of Competence in Alabama.
For Kenlee, who chooses to compete at the Alabama location, the monthly matches are another way to train and interact with like-minded people who share a common interest: marksmanship.
“I enjoy how most people in this sport support each other, despite being on different teams or their scores. The community is great,” Kenlee said. “It’s encouraging to see familiar faces at the monthly games in Anniston. In addition, the atmosphere is welcoming and it is easy to meet other shooters”.
Kenlee is a hard-working athlete, earning a prestigious Junior Distinguished Badge #1453 in 2019. She also recently won gold at the Tennessee Junior Olympic Qualifier for air rifle and silver for small bore. In 2021, she was among the top athletes in the USA Shooting Winter Airgun match, with several other notable accolades throughout her career.
After finishing high school this spring, Kenlee is now looking forward to jumping into college rifle in the fall after a challenging and insightful journey through the sport that began at just 11 years old.
“My dad has trained me from the beginning and he still trains me now,” he said.
Kenlee’s beginnings in marksmanship were through the Rhea County 4-H BB program in 2016, finishing the year sixth overall on his team with his father coaching. The following year, he placed first and was able to attend the Daisy Nationals in Arkansas.
He made the switch to the sport air rifle in 2018 and then competed in the 2018 4-H Tennessee State championship, where he won gold. In November 2018, he began the transition to a precision air rifle. The discipline is currently used in international airgun events, collegiate rifle, and even at the Olympic Games.
Because his 4-H club didn’t offer precision, Kenlee and his dad began practicing together in their living room. That same year, she attended CMP’s Three Position Air Rifle Camp, a popular program held across the country during the summer months.
“I found my first camp extremely helpful and insightful,” he said. “I was in the early stages of moving to precision, so seeing how others train was a big help.”
“I still use a lot of the things I learned at my first camp and it was fun,” he explained. “I recommend athletes new to the sport to go to CMP Camps and other camps. Some colleges also run camps, but CMP camps are great for those transitioning to precision.”
Kenlee competed in precision for a year before adding a small-bore rifle to the mix, practicing outside on the family’s lawn. He now trains four or five days a week, using a small-bore 3×20 and an Air 60 or Air 2×60 with a 10-minute break in between. Above all, he works consistently with his shooting process.
“Which is harder than you think,” he admitted. “One of my main problems is overthinking or overcomplicating the process when it is relativity simple. Things like overthinking take time to fix and get over, but it’s possible. I’m getting better at it.”
For Kenlee, her process is easy to follow. He loads the buckshot the same way each time, picks up the gun the same way: places his hand, cheek, hip, and elbows in the same place, with his finger in the same place on the trigger. What was once a difficult approach is now just part of her usual routine when she’s in the line of fire.
“Over time, your process will become subconscious and muscle memory,” he said. “That’s the main goal of the process, for me.”
As for equipment, Kenlee switched to a Styer air rifle in December 2022 and uses Anschutz scopes. For small bore, he shoots a 1907 Anschutz rifle with Anschutz sights for all positions.
“I like 20 clicks,” he said. “It makes it easy to make small changes to the pool.”
His advice to other juniors facing challenges in their own marksmanship careers?
“You can do it!” she encouraged. “There is a phrase to keep in mind: ‘Practice makes better.’ You can only get better, but you will never reach perfection as the standards of this sport are constantly rising.”
“Don’t add up your score while you’re shooting,” he continued. “You can only control your performance and how you do your process. Try to find something positive in every practice and competition. Even if you’re having a tough day, try to find something that you did well. You will learn something new every day.”
Kenlee also encourages others to make official college visits, as she did. Some varsity rifle teams even have open competitions.
“I enjoyed photographing at the colleges that interested me because I was also able to look around the college,” he said.
Ultimately, Kenlee found that she enjoyed the University of Memphis the most and is excited to join as one of the newest members of the team in August 2023.
“I can’t wait to be part of the team and have a coach in practices and games to help me when I need it,” he said.
Are you interested in joining a varsity rifle team? CMP has several resources for junior shooters interested in continuing their marksmanship journey into their college years. Visit the CMP College Resources webpage at https://thecmp.org/youth/college-resources/. CMP also has a place for athletes to indirectly connect with NCAA coaches called College Connect along with a CMP Guide to College Recruiting. If you have questions about starting a college marksmanship career or need any other assistance, please contact CMP at (419) 635-2141 or [email protected].
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.