Kaycie Blankenship waits for the wind to cooperate as she prepares for a shot during a rifle match.
Give Wickenburg High School senior Kaycie Blankenship a challenge, and she’s going to meet it with hard work and effort. It’s that resilience which will take Blankenship to the 2021 F-Class World Championships in South Africa as a member of the U25 U.S. Rifle Team.
“In the end it’ll be worth it after five years of hard work,” Blankenship said. “It’s an amazing opportunity, and I’m very excited.”
The senior has started her preparation for the overseas trip, which includes fundraising, after a stellar performance at the 2019 F-Class U25 National Championships in September at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico. Blankenship medaled in 10 events, including finishing third in overall aggregate.
She won three gold medals, one silver, and eight bronzes.
“Normally, the kids in this room are expected to compete against adults and kids like them,” said Brian Young, WHS rifle coach, at the team’s workshop behind Tinzie Realty on West Wickenburg Way. “Our high school doesn’t compete against other high schools. This is the only high school, that I know of, that does high-powered F-Class in the world.”
Blankenship is classified as a high master in mid-range shooting, which is the highest classification a shooter can attain.
“She’s working on that for long range as well,” Young said. “She doesn’t have much further to go. She should have it within the year.”
WHS’s rifle club had a humble beginning in 1995 when Rex Powers, who is still involved with the team, returned from South Africa and inquired about starting up a Wrangler rifle team. When he explained to the principal and district superintendent the boys and girls involved in the program were going to develop self-discipline, he got his rifle team. Now the team has three coaches, including Mike Dalton. Both Young and Dalton shot for Powers when they were in high school.
It began with four old .22s that were beat up. The competition switched to the AR-15 and three shooting positions, and now it is an F-Class program with shooting from only the prone position.
“To be competitive, you need good equipment,” Powers said. “That’s why we depend on the Arizona tax credit. If it wasn’t for the tax credit, we wouldn’t exist.”
Rifle team members Nathan Shipman, Madison Dreher, Trey Campbell, Paige Biles, Blankenship, and others would lose out on an extracurricular activity in which they discover the value of hard work and self-discipline without the credit.
The Arizona tax credit allows an individual to claim a nonrefundable tax credit for making contributions or paying fees directly to a public school in the state for support of eligible activities, programs and purposes, according to the Arizona Department of Revenue. The maximum credit allowed is $400 for married filing joint filers and $200 for single, heads of household and married filing separate filers.
If a taxpayer owes taxes during a filing period, they can use the Arizona tax credit to lower that liability.
In F-Class shooting competitions, there are mid-range (300-600 yards) and long-range (1,000 yards) events. A shooter gets 22 minutes to fire off practice rounds and 20 rounds that count for score. It’s a typical paper target the competitors shoot at, with innermost ring worth 10 points and is only 10 inches in diameter.
The sport isn’t about having the best equipment and best ammunition loads, thought those things are important in competition.
“The sport is figuring out how to gauge wind movement so your bullet hits the spot you want to hit,” Young said. “It doesn’t take much when at 1,000 yards – that’s 10 football fields – it doesn’t take much wind to knock you off your target.”
The shooting range offers a series of flags for the competitors to read, but they may also have to read mirage. Shooters look through magnifying scopes, which cause the mirage effect just like when driving on a hot day. The target’s image gets distorted and could be vibrating, vertically extended or horizontally extended.
“If reading all this was easy, the sport wouldn’t exist,” Young said. “The game is figuring out the wind and how to manipulate the numbers.”
A .284 Shehane
Kaycie Blankenship, along with her older sister Katie, looks forward to South Africa with her .284 Shehane rifle.
A shooter’s rifle becomes a part of them, almost as if it’s a new appendage. The days, weeks, months, and even years spent understanding how a rifle works in the wind brings that sense of attachment. When it is time for a rifleman to upgrade her equipment, things can get emotional.
“When I gave up my first rifle, I was upset about that,” the senior said. “Even my last one that went to one of my best friends on the team. I was like ‘but that’s my rifle.’
“You become very attached after putting in all the time and work with the equipment.”
Blankenship will continue practicing, going to matches, perfecting her skills of reading the wind and mirage, and loading her ammunition. She’ll also work on getting the funds necessary to make the trip to South Africa in 2021, so she can participate at the highest level possible for her in the sport she holds close to her heart.
“This is my one thing that I put myself into,” she said. “It is my thing since I started doing it. I fell in love with it.”