Kelly Bachand is young, still in his early 20s, but he’s made quite a name for himself as a long range rifle shooter. He’s won numerous national competitions, as well as the World Championship long range rifle match as a part of the Young Eagles US Rifle Team. Lately you might have seen him on the History Channel’s new reality TV show “Top Shot”.
Kelly is still a college student, and has a busy schedule between competition, classes, and his part time job he uses to pay for his education. Still, he managed to make time for us to sit down with him and talk a bit about his shooting experience as well as give us some insights behind the scenes of Top Shot.
You’ve been shooting since a very young age. How did you first get involved in the shooting sports? I’ve been shooting ever since I was about 5 years old. Like many I got a Red Ryder BB gun for my 5th Christmas, but the very next day we had to take it back and return it for one that was a little more accurate.
I guess it’s safe to say you didn’t put anyone’s eye out? I put no one’s eyes out. I mean, this was back when we took the BB gun out Christmas day and we were shooting at pop cans and stuff at a local park. Now I’m pretty sure if you brought a BB gun out there someone would call the cops.
So I shot recreationally for many years with my dad, we’d go hunting, target shooting at the range. My grandpa would always give me guns, he gave me a .22 rifle for my 10th birthday and a .22 pistol a couple of years later.
It was in high school that I first started competing. I saw when I was signing up for classes that I could take a class about shooting and that it fulfilled my P.E. requirement. For three years in high school I did Marine Corps JROTC Marksmanship and I did all right. I won some things, lost many things as well and then after graduating from high school there was a couple of months when I didn’t shoot at all competitively. I didn’t really know that there was more to do after I shot air rifle in high school until a buddy from church invited me to come out and start shooting High Power.
I shot High Power for a year, which is an AR-15 at ranges from 200 – 600 yards and I did well so I was encouraged to start shooting more long range, 600 yards and farther using open sights. Then, in 2006 is when I tried out for the USA Young Eagles Team, which was the under 21 long range rifle team. I ended up making it and I won a couple of things. I believe I was high junior in the Leech Cup and the high junior in a couple of other things. I think I won a 600 yard match where I was the high expert. I’d have to check back to remember what exactly I won that year.
Sounds like a busy year. It seems you’ve pretty much stuck to rifles in competition. Why did you choose rifles instead of another shooting sport like International Free Pistol, IDPA, or IPSC? It’s just kinda the way it happened. I did shoot a little bit of air pistol in high school. We had a couple of months where we set down the air rifles and picked up the air pistols. Kind of like when you do Free Pistol, 10 meters one handed, so I did to that for a little bit. It didn’t really grow on me as much as the rifles did, simply because the rifle portion was made easy for me. People were lending me rifles and encouraging me to come out and shoot matches.
As in most shooting sports I was able to get into it and succeed because there were many more experienced shooters with extra equipment lending me their rifles, lending me their spotting scopes so that I could get started.
Now when you got started in Palma you got Mac Tilton to donate a gun for you. Yes, but that didn’t happen for a few years. In 2007, 2008, and the first part of 2009 I was actually shooting a Washington State Association rifle. It was a Savage, kind of an older rifle, but that was what I shot in the World Championships in 2007 and that’s what I won quite a few things with from 2006-2008.
Then when I turned 21 I was no longer considered a Junior so I was no longer able to borrow that rifle. I wrote a couple of letters and sent them out to people that I thought could possibly sponsor me and Mac responded. That turned out to be a very very good relationship. Just a few months after he built me the rifle I won the Canadian Nationals with it.
Let’s talk about training. What type of training do you do? What’s an average week of training look like for you? I probably don’t train as much as someone like an Olympic shooter might. I typically practice once a week, sometimes twice a week. I have a 600 yard range not too far away and I go there every other week with my team. I shoot somewhere between 40 and 80 shots from prone, the same sort of thing I’ll do in competition.
We do things to simulate long range, because the 1,000 yard range is quite a ways away. I have to drive out of state to get to the closest one. We shoot a target at 600 yards that’s been scaled down to look like a 1,000 yard target, so it’s really a very small target we’re shooting. Then, when I’m on my own, I will go out to a 200 yard range and just plink away by myself.
Now, as far as someone without a whole bunch of natural skill becoming competitive? They absolutely can do it with some discipline. Getting instruction is extremely important so they can learn the proper fundamentals. As far as being competitive and winning at a national or international level, I do think there is a little bit of innate skill that’s needed.
You’ve referred to yourself in the past as a prodigy… I haven’t referred to myself as that, but I’ll accept it if people want to call me that. I am a little more modest than I’m sometimes portrayed on TV. I’ve kinda grown into being the kind of person who just lets my shooting score speak for itself. But yeah, being as young as I am and being good at a sport that is typically dominated by much more experienced shooters puts me into an area where people are going to call me a prodigy.
Let’s talk about those more experienced shooters. Who is someone who you look up to, who you try to model yourself and your shooting style after? And who are your mentors? In the long range game there are a couple of people that are typically dominating. The thing that I look for and the thing that I strive for is to be able to win or lose and still make and keep friends. Some people aren’t good at that, and you’ll see some really arrogant people out there winning all the time, but no one wants to talk to them. That’s not the person I want to be.
I’ve got a couple of friends, people that I look up to, one of which is Michelle Gallagher. She’s won at long range matches all over the country, internationally also. She does it always with a smile on her face. I definitely look up to her as a friend and a competitor, I talk to her all the time. We bounce a lot of good ideas off of each other. Another good friend and competitor is Bryan Litz, and then someone who just shoots like a machine is Tom Whitaker. He’s pretty much set and holds all of the records in the Palma shooting world. If you can hope to shoot like anyone, that’s the guy you want to hope to shoot like.
What do you see yourself doing in the future? Do you see yourself going out for the Olympic team or anything like that? That’s a good question. A lot of people ask me “If you’re on the US National Rifle Team, are you going to the Olympics?” Unfortunately, no. There is not an Olympic event for long range rifle shooting. I guess it’s just a land issue. Not too many countries can host 1,000 yard shooting because there’s so much land required.
But there is .22 Rimfire… There is .22. Now, I could get started in that, I could go that way, but right now as a college student I don’t really have the ability to do that. If someone wanted to buy me the equipment, get me started, I’d be all over it. The truth of the story is, in long range shooting there is a tremendous amount of skill needed on the shooter’s part just to break good shots. The people who win though, they don’t just break good shots, they break a lot of really good shots, and they call the wind better than anyone else.
If I go up to a 50 yard line shooting .22 against somebody, I’ve just taken away one of my huge advantages: my ability to know what’s happening with the wind. Will I do well? I might, I could probably learn it and do pretty well, but right now I’m excelling at doing well in long range shooting because of that added element. For some reason it’s something that I pick up intuitively. It’s really just a guessing game, reading the wind and deciding what it’s worth. If I start shooting in small bore or air rifle, I take away that advantage and then it just becomes an equipment game: who has the best equipment.
Then there’s controlling variables. You’re there [shooting small bore] as a shooter with all of your equipment, you want everything to be exactly the same. Whereas with long range shooting, I might be shooting in a mud puddle one week and the next week I’m shooting on concrete.
Those are some good points. Let’s move on and talk about Top Shot for a bit. What prompted you to apply to be a Top Shot contestant? A local friend that I shoot with in long range matches actually told me “Hey Kelly, I think you’d be great for this. You should audition for the show.” We both auditioned for it together, and oddly enough we were both picked for the top 50 selection.
We both went down there and they have whatever hoops they want us to jump through to see if we are qualified, and so they can pick who they want to be on the show. I kinda felt like I had it in the bag. When I went there I saw I was the youngest person, and I was the youngest by a couple of years. I went into an interview and I felt like I just did really well. I came out of the interview with people telling me they really liked me, they liked my attitude, and I had a lot of fun with it. I fully expected to get a call back a couple of weeks later to tell me that I’d be on the show.
And of course you did get that call. Did you do any particular training or preparation prior to your appearance? I didn’t do any training in preparation for Top Shot.
Other than your normal training routine? No, I did shoot a little bit with a .22 conversion kit on my 1911. About 50 rounds or so. But, without having an instructor, just going out and shooting by myself isn’t much in the way of training.
Still, you did take the time to re-familiarize yourself with handguns. I tried. I tried, now I was quite busy. I’m in electrical engineering at the University of Washington, and I actually had to finish a quarter of three classes at 300 level engineering two weeks early in order to be on the show. I had to take all of my finals early, turn in final projects early, and my professor wasn’t very cooperative. He wanted me to just fail all of my classes and retake them. So, I had quite a nightmare just even getting prepared to get on the show.
Once I finally finished everything and got on the plane to go down to LA I just breathed a big sigh of relief. I was just relieved, it was vacation time now.
You went into this just looking at the competition as a vacation? Yeah, when I’m here at home working, going to school, sleeping very very little, it’s kind of a grind. I’ve got a little bit left of engineering school and I’m paying for it with a part time job, so that doesn’t really leave a lot of time for sleep. When I found out I’d be in sunny California, no alarm clock to wake up to, be able to eat whatever the heck I want, I was really looking forward to it.
You know, that’s one thing that both Caleb and Denny mentioned was the inordinate amount of down time, long stretches where ya’ll really weren’t doing anything. There was a lot of down time. Which is why you see some of the shenanigans we got ourselves into. All the arguments and bickering, when you have 16 alpha personalities in a house and you don’t have music, you don’t have TV, stuff’s going to happen.
Did you go into the show with any particular strategy in mind? I thought I had a strategy, but as I continue to watch myself on TV I think I’m finding out I really don’t have a lot of tact sometimes.
You did seem to have the ability, for better or for worse, to be able to tick off just about anybody on the show. Yeah, I don’t know how I did that. I really am quite a nice guy, a lot of fun, but I guess I just had a way of getting under people’s skin sometimes.
How much do you think your lack of experience and young age played into people’s perceptions of you? I’d say that lack of experience, that’s just an excuse. Now my age? Sure, people definitely I’d almost say discriminated against me and singled me out because of my age. But I don’t think anyone could cite my experience as a reason to not like me or to single me out and vote for me. While I am young, I’ve been shooting quite a while and my intellect and natural talent allows me to pick things up maybe a little faster than the average person.
During the first elimination challenge you shot rifles and sent Mike Seeklander home. That was a pretty stunning defeat and seemed to surprise everybody. Do you think that their estimation of you went up after that? I think some people were surprised, but in my opinion I don’t see that they have begun to respect me anymore, seeing as how I just got thrown under the bus. Again. In the last two episodes.
That’s a good point. You’ve been on three elimination challenges so far, and it seems that a couple of your teammates may have it out for you. After the third elimination challenge, what’s your mindset like? I was a little shocked really. If you look at my face during the show you can see I’m just a very expressive person and I’m going to wear my emotions on my sleeve. You see just me being appalled, being angry, just leaving my team, walking over to be with the blue team, grabbing my Bible, just trying to relax. I was very appalled, I was very bewildered that Denny hadn’t stepped up or asked for some votes.
You know, that’s surprising, the last two episodes we saw Denny put in what are quite frankly poor performances, really not contributing anything to the team, and yet he’s not been sent to a single elimination challenge. Is it just his good looks and affable personality that have kept him safe? You know, I really couldn’t tell ya. I voted for him one episode ago, and I think the reason I voted for Brad is that I was looking at Denny and Brad in last night’s episode and I remember thinking that both of them hadn’t contributed anything to the team. But I saw that Brad had helped us even less. Not only did he miss all of the shots, but he talked us out of taking the aggressive strategy that really could have helped us win.
We really didn’t get a good idea of the alternate “aggressive” strategy. Can you fill us in? Sure. The “play it safe strategy” was what you saw. That helped us lose. The aggressive strategy was an attack plan and it would have gone like this: Denny would have shot the Annie Oakley shot. Apparently that’s something he does in his exhibition shooting, so it wouldn’t have been very difficult for him. Among the exhibition shots that was the easiest. In practice, Brad shot the smallest group with the Smith & Wesson .38. I think he even hit the little dot twice. I hit it once, Denny hit it once, and Peter never hit it.
How big were those dots? In practice, the dots were about quarter sized. I think we shot it from 8 yards. Not that hard to hit for an experienced pistol shooter. I believe the Smith & Wesson had pounds, 8 maybe 10 pounds trigger pull when you pull right through double action like that. One handed, that’s a tough feat.
But it’s not nearly as hard as shooting the nails. Oh no, no, I mean the targets we practiced with were 2-3 times as large as the nails. So then I would have shot the large cans we had thrown and Peter would have shot the small cans. Now in practice it only showed that Denny nicked a cabbage. I also nicked one in practice, Peter never did and I don’t think that Brad did either. But Peter and I did go out and practice with the Boccie balls for hours.
Yes, we saw you with J.J. and Peter practicing outside, and then later Tara, J.J. and Blake inside practicing with the water gun. Yeah, so we all got in a lot of practice but Brad, oddly enough, never came out and practiced with us with the Boccie balls. So, it wouldn’t have made sense really to have him shoot on the aerial target when he really only practiced it 5 times. We got I think 5 throws in practice.
So, the attack plan was Denny on the bottle, Brad shooting the nails, me shooting the large hand thrown cans and Peter shooting the smaller ones. Had we done that, who knows what would have happened, but I’ve got to think that if I had hit one of the small cans I probably could have hit two or three of the big ones. I think if anyone could have hit the small ones, and more than one of them, it would be Peter. He practiced throwing those Boccie balls for hours. I mean, he had that down pat.
During the soda can toss, you whispered “Just like practice” – what was going through your mind as you prepared for the shot? That’s just something I do. I like to put myself at ease any time before I take a shot that someone might view as a high pressure shot. If you had tested my blood pressure and heart rate right then and there it would have been low. I was calm, I was cool, I was collected. I was ready to take the shot, and I fully expected myself to hit it. The funny thing is, I said “just like practice” and in practice I only hit one out of five, so it really was just like practice.
The “just like practice” mantra is something I’ve done for a while. It’s something one of my coaches Gary Rasmussen taught us. When he’s at nationals he just tells himself “Ahhh… it’s just another cool day here on the practice range. Everyone knows, and you do it all the time, you go out to shoot practice and you shoot the best you’ve ever shot in your life. Then, lo and behold, you go out and you shoot a match and maybe you’re just not mentally there and you just goof up. It happens a lot. Everyone has done that.
It does seem like your mental attitude has really helped you through all of the elimination challenges you’ve been through. Do you think it’s just your mental attitude that has allowed you to be so successful? I do have a certain mental ability that I’ve kind of picked up and practiced and begun to get better at over the last year, year and a half, to kind of shut other things out while I’m actually shooting. I’ll be extremely nervous up until the point I’m actually shooting, extremely extremely nervous.
At the Beretta Xtrema challenge I got up to the line, and I’m way outside of my comfort zone holding this Beretta. I’ve fired it all of about 20 times now, and I got up there, I focused on what I need to do, and I make the shot. It all kind of goes away. What I do is I just repeat a mantra in my head. I just ask myself, “OK, what do I need to do to make this a perfect shot?” Then I tell myself over and over what I need to do. If I’m continually force feeding myself thoughts, good thoughts positive thoughts about what I need to do to make it perfect, I typically make very good shots.
That’s some really great advice there for anybody in any of the shooting disciplines. That’s right out of Lanny R. Bassham’s book “With Winning in Mind”. I read that a year and a half ago and it’s a great book.
You’d recommend that book to any competitive shooter? Definitely.
Let’s talk about the last elimination challenge against Brad. Did you have any shotgun experience prior to that? Well, I used to work at a shotgun range actually. My first real job when I was 15 I worked at a shotgun range. I used to leave my shotgun there and then go shoot some on lunch breaks. Now, I didn’t ever compete or anything-
Still, one could argue that gave you some advantage going into the last challenge. One could argue that, but I would argue in return that the shooting wasn’t really the difficult part of that challenge. Sure, it mattered, but the throw was really the difficult part and if you didn’t have the throw it didn’t matter how well you could shoot a shotgun.
For example in my last throw when I threw 5 birds, I had a particularly awful throw and one of the birds actually ran into the other right after it left my hand and broke. Once it breaks leaving your hand you’re not allowed to shoot it. So when that one broke, it made it so I couldn’t even shoot those. They were out of play because my throw was so bad.
We were given an allotted amount of time to practice. you have X minutes of practice or 25 rounds. I used like 80%-90% of my time with Scott Robertson, he was the expert, just practicing my throw. Because I knew that was what it was going to be all about, but they wouldn’t let us practice the throw while holding the gun. They wanted that to be something we’d never done before. They wanted to keep throwing us tricks and stuff. So that’s why when we went back to the house I grabbed the gun off the mantle, it was a little prop gun, and I went and grabbed the Boccie balls and went and threw Boccie balls up on a hillside to try to get a motion down. It was really all about the throw.
Did you ever let your guard down? After the elimination challenge, did you ever just stop and go “OK, now I’ve got a break”? Honestly, I was just excited I got to unpack my bags again. When they voted for me I was as much pissed that I was going to the elimination as I was pissed that I had to pack my bags again. That’s just frustrating…
…because you’ve done this three times now and you’ve had to pack and unpack every time- Yeah! Now granted, Brad had done it the same number of times; he went against Bill and he went against Frank. Brad and I both were packing our bags for the third time. It was just so aggravating. Mentally, you’re packing your bags, it’s just a sign of going home. So, you think “I’m packing my bags. Am I going to unpack them at home? Am I going to unpack them back here in the mansion later tonight? I don’t know.” It’s just very mentally draining.
That’s one thing Caleb mentioned was just how difficult it was to get mentally in the game what with the drama and the threat of getting sent home. Obviously with your ability to focus you’ve really been able to get in there and stick with it. Sure, so on the firing line it was a whole different story if you talk to me. But in the house? There’s a lot of drama, I’m even involved in it most of the time. I’m pissing people off left and right, inadvertently albeit. I’m making people angry here or there, but get me on the firing line put a firearm in my hands and I’m going to forget about all of that, I’m going to focus on what I need to do to make a perfect shot.
And and the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what drama or interpersonal conflicts are going on. If you simply show up and continue to out shoot everybody and make those perfect shots, you’ll go right on until the end. Yeah, you know that’s the theory. Chris on the blue team actually said, “Kelly, if I was you I wouldn’t even shoot for the team any more. I’d put my bullets in the dirt.”
And for a second that seems for a second, that seems like a vengeful “these guys are out to get me” tactic that might work. I’m not a vengeful person, but for a second or two something like that really seems like an attractive idea. Now, it’s not something I could do, I’m much more sportsman-like than that, and I think that’s been shown. But it would be hilarious.
Well, thanks for taking the time to talk to us about your experience in the shooting sports and for giving us some insights into Top Shot. Hopefully we’ll get to talk again after you’ve won the $100,000 grand prize. I sure hope so, and no comment on who won.
Kelly Bachand is a college student attending the University of Washington where he is studying electrical engineering. He competes in Palma rifle competitions and is currently a member of the US National Rifle Team.