The Distinguished Badge is perhaps the most prestigious award in the shooting sports. The program was administered for many years by the Office of the Director of Civilian Marksmanship (DCM), a branch of the US Army, and now by its successor, the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP). Military or civilian personnel can earn points toward "becoming Distinguished" only by competing in "Excellence in Competition"(E.I.C.) matches in conjunction with State or Regional (Multi-State) Championships or the National Matches. This insures a high turnout of better shooters, raising the bar of competition to a more difficult level.
Points are awarded to the top finishers in a rather complicated system. A 1st place finish is a 10 point "Leg" in a journey of many steps to become distinguished, thus the term "Leg Match". Awards of 8 and 6 points are awarded to lower finishes. A shooter must earn a minimum of 30 points for the presentation of the gold, numbered Distinguished Rifleman’s Badge but there’s a catch. He must have at least one 8 or 10 point leg and cannot earn the award with 6 point wins alone.
Leg matches are few and far between, often only one per state per year so they draw good shooters from hundreds of miles away in search of the gold. Competitors must use U.S. Service Rifles such as the M1 Garand, M14, M16 or their civilian equivalents, the M1A or AR15. This increases the difficulty since most shooters have a tough time mastering such rifles and their post front sights as opposed to a fine target rifle with micrometer or telescopic sights. Strict limitations are imposed on modifications or tuning.
The course of fire is the standard NRA National Match Course consisting of 10 rounds Slow Fire Standing from 200 yards, a Rapid Fire 10 round string from sitting, a 10 round Rapid Fire string from prone at 300 yards and 20 rounds Slow Fire Prone at 600 yards. There is no coaching, the shooter is on his own and there are no sighting or zeroing shots. Thousands of shooters every year are out of contention after only 2 or 3 shots because they didn’t have a good zero or they failed to properly read the conditions (light, wind, etc.).
The quest for the gold Distinguished Badge is spread over many miles and after many years for those that even attempt the challenge. How hard is it? Since its’ inception in 1891(that’s right 1891!), there have been roughly 3400 Distinguished Rifleman medals awarded military members and civilians. It is said that fewer than 3% of those who seek to becoming distinguished ever realize success. Success goes only to the most proficient and persistent.
A more detailed history of the Distinguished Shooter Program can be seen here.