Shooting for the stars: Helena teen Carley Seabrooke sets records in shooting sports

By Mackenzee Simms | Photos by Jeremy Raines

At 17 years old, Carley Seabrooke is already a champion. She currently holds two national records in shooting sports, is a member of the USA Olympic National Development Team and has competed in the past three Junior Olympics.

And it all started with a childhood dream.

 

IN THE BEGINNING

When she was 10 years old, Carley’s older brother was a member of the Boy Scouts of America. Their father wanted him to earn the rifle shooting merit badge, so the family traveled to the Shelby County Shooting Sports Association, located in Helena.

While Connor worked on his merit badge, Carley took a class in rifle safety. She picked up a rifle and she was hooked.

“I went with my brother for the merit badge and I never left,” Carley said. “I started in BB gun, and it’s about a six pound rifle. Then, I went to sporter air rifle, and then I went to .22, and then I went to precision air rifle.”

 

PRACTICE MAKES PROGRESS

As she got older, Carley’s skills improved year after year and she attained a position on SCSSA’s B team.

Carley’s father, Bob Seabrooke, still recalls once watching Carley when she traveled to compete at a Civilian Marksmanship Program’s (CMP) competition.

Bob and Carley’s mother, Gayle, were unable to attend this match, so they watched the live stream while driving in the car. As the couple continued to see Carley’s shots land on the target, their excitement mounted.

“She hit a 584 or something like that,” Bob said. “She beat some of the team members that were on the A team, and she’s on the B team. I was so excited for her. I just kept thinking, ‘Man, she can do this!’”

After this, Carley’s talent just kept growing. Her coaches helped her iron out her skills, improve her form and make necessary changes. All of Carley’s work behind the scenes began to bleed through into her scores.

“I knew that she was going to do good,” Bob said. “I just knew that she was going to continue because it was something she really wanted to do. It wasn’t anything that we pushed her to do. We didn’t worry about the scores so much, but we just saw her scores follow the work that she was doing.”

THE TURNING POINT

Carley shared that she herself didn’t recognize her own progress at first.  It wasn’t until she qualified for the Junior Olympics during her freshman year of high school in January 2022 that she understood how good she had become.

“I didn’t really realize that what I was doing was life changing when I was doing it,” Carley said.

In that same year, she earned silver at the USA Shooting Standing Air Rifle Alabama State Championship. During these competitions, Carley started to evaluate her competitors and compare her performance to theirs.

“I realized that I was shooting as good or better than some college students,” Carley said.

It wasn’t long before the people around Carley began to take notice too. College recruiters began approaching Carley’s parents at competitions and other students began asking Carley for advice.

“It really put a lot of focus on me,” Carley said. “I got a lot of people looking up to me. A lot of kids at my rifle team at home were like, ‘You’re a really good shooter. Can you help coach me?’”

During her sophomore year, Carley only continued to improve.

In 2023, she placed first at the American Legion Championship for the state of Alabama in both standing air rifle and smallbore and won the Smallbore Dixie Challenge at the Alabama State Championship.

That April, she returned to the Junior Olympics, where she made the finals and earned the silver medal in smallbore. In July, she won the CMP National 3P Smallbore Junior Championship.

In the fall, Carley traveled to Colorado Springs to compete in the Olympic Trials. Although she did not qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics, her score earned her a spot on the USA Olympic National Development Team.

Bob shared that Carley was always interested in joining the Olympic Development team, but that they had no idea how she could join. One day, he got an email from Peter Durben, a coach for the USA Shooting team, inviting Carley to join the development team.

Her parents and coaches kept the news a secret from Carley and surprised her at the SCSSA Christmas party. In front of her fellow shooters, Carley’s coach called her to the front and presented her with her development team invitation letter and her Olympic team jacket.

“It was so exciting,” Bob said. “There’s only 12 or 14 girls—maybe not even that many—on the national development team today, so for her to be part of that is a huge accomplishment.”

As a member of the Olympic development team, Carley receives invitations to compete in shooting events across the country. In addition, Carley is able to stay at the Olympic training center for free when she travels. There, she can practice from dawn to dusk with free ammo and rifle testing.

SMALLBORE 101

Carley primarily competes in smallbore rifle shooting, a discipline within the large umbrella of shooting sports. In smallbore, Carley fires a .22 bolt-action rifle at a target anywhere from 50 feet to 50 meters away. Smallbore has three shooting positions: standing, kneeling and prone.

In a single smallbore match, a shooter will take 60 shots, 20 shots in each position over the course of an hour and 35 minutes. According to Carley, the time management is one of the most important skills in competitions.

“You have to be very quick, but very precise, but not so quick that you’re running around and you’re freaking out,” Carley said.

In addition to the physicality involved in holding and firing a rifle for an extended period of time, Carley shared that there is also a huge mental component to shooting.

“You have to pay attention for hours at a time, and it’s just really, truly mentally straining,” Carley said. “The most important thing is catching yourself when you’re not paying attention. If you let your mind drift while you’re taking a shot, then you shoot a nine because you’re not paying attention fully.”

Carley shared that she is occasionally questioned by people that don’t understand the physical and mental rigors of shooting.

“A lot of people are like, ‘Why are you tired? You did nothing all day,’” Carley said. “And I’m like, ‘What do you mean?’ I stood there for an hour plus holding a rifle trying to make sure it’s a good shot and mentally battling myself so I don’t get distracted. It’s really tiring.”

RECORD SETTING SCORES

In smallbore, the rings on the target are numbered, increasing in value as you approach the center circle. The dead center of the target is marked by a small “X” the size of a ballpoint pen tip. Any shot that hits the outer edge of the center circle counts as a 10, while a shot that hits the inner portion of the center is considered an “x”. For example, a shot that hits the absolute dead center of the target is a 10.9x.

If you hit a 10 on the target, you get 10 points. A nine on the target is worth nine points, etc. At the end of the 60 shots, the scores for each shot are added.

For example, if a shooter takes 20 shots in the kneeling position and all of the shots hit the center—like Carley at the CMP Southeast Regionals in April 2024—she would score a perfect 200 with 20 x shots.

This is no easy feat, especially considering that when Carley did it, her score earned her two national shooting records, the American Legion and the Open/Overall 20 Shot Kneeling.

According to Carley, this is the achievement that she is the most proud of. The competition included college students and Carley’s success surprised even her.

“There was a lot of good shooters there and I ended up beating all of them,” Carley said. “During my last five shots, I started trembling and I couldn’t get into a good position. When I got first, it was amazing.”

While this achievement would be special for any athlete, it was an extra special day for Carley because it was the same day as her junior prom.

The morning of the CMP Southeast Regionals, Carley thought she would have plenty of time between the end of the competition and the start of prom. But at the urging of her mother, she brought her prom dress to the competition just in case.

When the competition ran late, Carley had to finish the match and immediately run to put on her prom dress and start her makeup while the scores were tallied. While she was frantically applying makeup, her parents received word that Carley broke a national record.

When Carley’s coach, Barry Blount, called to check in on Carley’s performance, they told him the news. Gayle recalled the conversation.

“How’s she doing?”

“Barry, she broke a national record.”

“Does she know yet?”

“No, not yet.”

“I’m driving there.”

Blount drove over an hour to surprise Carley at the awards ceremony. When it was announced that Carley broke not just one, but two national records, her coach escorted her up to the podium in her prom dress.

And the prom dress? A gift from a fellow shooter, Brooklynne, from Georgia Southern.

According to Carley, the world of shooting sports is a small one and she has made incredible friends along the way.

“It’s a small community,” Carley said. “I could literally go to a monthly match at the CMP, and there will be Olympians there. There’s not many of us. It’s a sadly dwindling sport, but hopefully it will grow soon.”

For anyone interested in trying shooting sports, Carley recommends finding a shooting club nearby and becoming comfortable in the shooting environment.

“People have to start somewhere,” Carley said. “I mean, I started really terribly. I couldn’t even shoot the black of the target when I started. Start Googling rifle teams near (you). Learn the very basics. Make sure you’re in a really positive environment. And find friends, really supportive friends.”

As for Carley, she has her eyes on the future. Although she may not know which college she’ll go to, she knows her love of the sport will follow her there.

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