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Coach Brian Rishel, left, and Caile Bradham continue to work every week to improve the young shooter’s technique and skills, both in shooting form and mental preparation.

GUNTOWN The shotgun game of skeet offers challenges both physical and mental, the latter being the more difficult to overcome. For one local shooter with three world championship titles on his shelf, the quest to master the two have come to define the person he hopes one day to be, because his shelf has lots more room yet to fill.

Competed target to target and station to station over the course of hundreds of opportunities spread across 12 gauge, 20 gauge, 28 gauge and .410 bore, world class skeet events are typically decided by a very small handful of misses sprinkled into a full week of shooting.

In any given event, five or fewer missed targets typically make the difference between earning an outright win and being nowhere to be found on the leaderboard. Improving incrementally in a game that, when first learned, saw improvement arrive in leaps and bounds, is very much an introspective task, but it’s one that suits Belden’s Caile Bradham very well.

“I’m naturally a competitive person, and I enjoy working to get the best out of myself week in and week out,” he said.

Strong beginning

He got his first taste of the shotgun life as a youngster, breaking clay pigeons flung from a single backyard thrower. Handling his own shotgun from the age of 9, the duality of being pretty good at the game while seeing lots of room to be even better appealed to him early on. Investing in a competition-quality shotgun at the age of 14 and bearing down on improvement since 2008 through regular lessons with skeet champion Brian Rishel,

Bradham’s steady work has netted him considerable success in the years since, success that includes 16 Mississippi state titles, six zone championships and four All America Team berths. At the head of the list stand three World Skeet Championships, one in the 12 gauge division in 2015, the next in the 20 gauge division in 2017, and the most recent as High Over All, a category that combines scores from the shooter’s 12, 20, 28 gauge and .410 bore shoots plus a 100-round doubles shoot. At the World Skeet Championships in San Antonio earlier this month, Bradham went 547 for 550 across the board to take the title of High Over All.

The World Skeet Championships, which date to 1935, draws competitors from around the globe, each working constantly to improve upon near perfection. That’s a quest that continues to drive Bradham every day.

Best of the best

“I tell people now, since I’ve been working with Caile, there’s only 1 percent of people willing to do what he’s done to be good at this,” said Rishel, a 2016 inductee to the Mississippi Skeet Shooting Hall of Fame. “He’s worked tremendously hard to get incrementally better and, at the level he’s shooting, all improvement is incremental.”

“I’m competing against other people, but I can’t make anyone else miss,” Bradham said.

“Part of the reason Caile has improved the way he has is due to his competitive nature,” Rishel said. “He started shooting competitively with 4H and worked his way up, and he was always very competitive about it, even when he wasn’t very good at it. He was always competitive about it and anxious to work and get better. That’s not a trait you see in most people, or even in most competitive shooters.”

Initially, Bradham and Rishel worked together three to four times a week through 300 targets or more on the ranges at Whitetail Ridge Outdoors near Guntown. Now, they practice two times a week, through 200 to 250 targets, to keep practice repetitions down over the course of a long year’s competition shooting.

“We have very intense, precise practices,” Rishel said. “We work on technical perfection with a no-tolerance policy for less than the best. When the physical comes together, then the mental aspects can come together, and every bit of it has to be earned. There are no random things that come along and push a shooter to the next level. They earn it all, every bit.”

Excess practice repetitions are avoided because Bradham’s competition calendar includes repetitions enough as it is. With competitions running from April to October and including 400 to 500 targets every weekend, his technique gets plenty of exercise along the way.

“It’s taken a lot of mental work, putting things into perspective when the wins aren’t coming along as rapidly as I feel they should,” Bradham said. “I try to apply a lot of what high-tier athletes do to my game, and that helps. It makes sense to me to do that because, no matter how big the stage, it’s still high stakes to me.”

Miles of goals ahead

With titles at every level already attained, Bradham still sees lots of room to grow and improve.

“The most World Championships anyone’s ever won is a number in the 40s,” he said. “I’ve got three. I’d like to get as close to that as I can.

“I like to set small goals and fine tune my game along the way, and one of my biggest goals is to stay as humble as possible with any success I come across. I could let it go to my head, but I didn’t get the success I’ve gotten being arrogant, and I won’t get any further success being arrogant, and it’s important I work at keeping myself in check.”

Speaking of work, Bradham supports his shooting habit with full-time employment at Barnes Crossing Hyundai Mazda in Tupelo.

“I’m not paying off my mortgage with shotgun shooting, that’s for sure,” Bradham laughed. “I’m just a regular guy with a regular job who’s devoted the rest of my life to getting to be the best I can be at shooting.”

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