Caleb Collins grew up shooting, primarily hunting and shooting trap.
When the Greenbrier High School senior started competing with the Lake Oconee shotgun team, he learned to shoot a variety of targets and, more importantly, learned the mental aspect of competition.
Collins' progression helped earn him a full scholarship to compete at Southeastern Illinois College, a two-year school where Collins plans to earn a degree in shooting complex management and game preserve management.
Collins didn't know the school was watching. Shooting scholarships are rare, and Collins had planned to stay in the area after high school. But the coaches at Southeastern Illinois had been following Collins' scores from competitions across the country and called him with an offer last month.
Collins said his work with Lake Oconee shooting coach Sammy McFaddin helped him progress.
"I had always hunted and all, and was always a decent shot; not great," Collins said. "And decided I wanted to take it farther."
Collins started working with McFaddin when he was 15, and it paid dividends. He was the 2007 and 2008 Scholastic Clay Target Program Georgia champion and the 2007 Georgia state sub-junior champ in sporting clays.
After working with McFaddin for a while, Collins started traveling to Texas for training camps. McFaddin said one of Collins' biggest improvements has been in his mental approach.
He offered last year's National Sporting Clays Championship, held in Texas, as an example. McFaddin made the trip, and after the second round of competition, he noticed Collins was often missing the final clay at each station.
"And so we talked about how to deal with that mentally, how to stay focused," McFaddin said.
The pair set a goal for the third round. Collins, who had scored 62 out of a possible 75 the previous two rounds, aimed for 70. McFaddin told him to concentrate on finishing each station.
Collins finished the third round with a score of 70, and he went on to capture the junior division title.
"He has learned to recognize how to handle the different target presentations," McFaddin said. "And he's also learned how to handle the pressure of competition."
Collins also was introduced to the pull-away method while training in Texas, which involves pulling the gun along the target and firing almost as a reflex. Collins had previously used sustained lead, which he said involved picking a spot in front of a target, squeezing the trigger and hoping for the best.
"That right there improved my scores big time," he said.
Collins also competes with the Columbia County 4-H Shotgun Team, which starts practice Feb. 19 at Pinetucky Gun Club. The group usually practices at the Columbia County landfill.
Collins will share his time practicing there and making the drive three times a week with the Lake Oconee team. The 4-H team will compete in county, district and state competitions.
Between the weekly practices and travel for competitions, the Appling resident is on the road often. His persistence has paid off.
"This is the first time anyone has gotten an actual scholarship that we know of," said Lori Patterson, lead coordinator of the Columbia County 4-H Shotgun Team. "From now on, we'll know who to contact and things like that. But they sought out Caleb."
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