The daughter of a special forces sniper, Patch marksmanship standout Caelyn Miller started shooting guns at a young age. She shot pistols stateside, and was “a little bit depressed” upon her move to Stuttgart and discovery of the Panthers’ air rifle program.
She’s since come around.
“I like shooting real guns,” Miller said. “But this is just as good.”
And she is as good as anybody at it. That’s why Miller is the newly-crowned DODDS-Europe individual champion and the Stars and Stripes marksmanship Athlete of the Year.
“I was surprised in a good way,” Miller said. “I ended up loving it.”
Many of the nuances of shooting translate seamlessly from the “real guns” she fired stateside and the air rifles she now wields as a member of the European champion Panthers, Miller said. That made the adjustment much easier.
A close friend, and a resulting friendly rivalry, made the new sport even more enjoyable.
Miller and fellow junior Maggie Ehmann waged a season-long battle for shooting supremacy. The winter-long duel started in a high-scoring tie and finished with Miller just slightly ahead, with each shooter claiming bragging rights for at least a portion of the season.
Ehmann held the edge before the holiday break. On Dec. 7, in the season’s first meet, Miller and her best friend, Ehmann, finished tied at 290 points. A week later, Ehmann’s 287 points placed her three points ahead of Miller.
Quickly improving, Miller moved ahead in January. She beat Ehmann by a single point in meets on Jan. 11 and 18 and by three, 288-285, in the final meet of the regular season on Jan. 25.
This trend continued at the European championship; Miller won the individual crown 288-286 as the Panthers earned a runaway team victory.
“We always try to make each other better. If she makes the high score, I guess that’s the next thing to beat,” Miller said. “Really what we focus on is everyone trying to do their best. That makes the whole team look good.”
It’s this season-long friendly rivalry, and the miniscule numbers separating the two, that had the unassuming Miller almost bashfully accepting her newfound status as DODDS-Europe’s premier sharpshooter. After the championship meet, Miller said that she didn’t expect to win; she thought Ehmann would beat her, and said she wouldn’t have been crestfallen if that’s how it had worked out.
“I would still be really happy being here,” Miller said. “This is one of the greatest opportunities I’ve had in my whole life.”
A strong runner-up, Ehmann agreed that the spirit of friendship and teamwork evident on the Panthers transcended simple one-upmanship.
“Rifle is really competitive, no matter who you’re going against,” Ehmann said. “I really try to make it a friendly competition. I don’t want anything to happen between me and my best friend, or anyone on my team.
“A little competition is always good here and there.”
Miller plans on a lot more competition in the months and years to follow. She’ll travel with the Panthers to Ohio this spring to compete in a national rifle competition. She expects to be back next school year to compete alongside Ehmann as senior members of the Panthers. If all goes well, that won’t be the end of her marksmanship career.
“I’ll be shooting until I graduate,” Miller said, “and hopefully when I go off to college.”