Caylen Wojcik is a lot of things. From Marine sniper to steel fabricator, backcountry hunting expert to celebrated long-range shooting instructor, Wojcik’s life has been one spent wearing many hats. He’s a published author and widely recognized as an expert in both long-range shooting and wilderness travel. He is a highly regarded member of the tactical precision rifle competition community and an eight-year veteran of the Marine Corps. He’s been awarded a Purple Heart and a combat action ribbon, both resulting from his three overseas deployments. He climbs sheer sheets of ice that form on mountainsides and is a record-holding skydiver. He spends days, sometimes weeks, hunting in the wilderness near his home, the rugged and thrilling Cascade region of Washington state. He does all of it with a fully reconstructed knee.
Caylen Wojcik is an adventure machine, the living embodiment of the Die Living mentality.
Give me some background. Have you always been shooting? What sparked your passion for rifles?
I grew up in Western New York, just outside of Niagara Falls. I was always shooting. I started hunting when I was about ten, running around with BB guns as a kid, got into small-game hunting around twelve, bought my first centerfire rifle when I was fourteen. I basically taught myself how to shoot and how to reload.
Was your family big into hunting?
No. Not at all. My dad didn’t hunt, my mom wasn’t into it. But they supported it and saw that I was serious about it. So my mom reached out to a local kid who was twenty-four or twenty-five-years-old at the time and said, “Will you please take my kid hunting otherwise he’s gonna kill himself.” His name was Bill Joseph.
Do you still talk to him?
All the time. I haven’t hunted with him in many years but we talk all the time. I thank him regularly, tell him how grateful I am for his selflessness. Without him, I could have been a delinquent.
I grew up in a bar. We lived above the bar that my dad ran and a lot of guys are still sitting on the same barstool they were twenty-five years ago. If I had never gotten into hunting, I’d probably still be there on one of those barstools.
So is that what led you to the military?
I have a lot of military history in my family. My grandfather was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne. He jumped into Normandy, participated from D-Day to VE Day. Mom’s dad was in Korea and a couple of my uncles were Marines. I had a lineage in my family.
When I was a kid, I read a book called Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills, which tells the story of Carlos Hathcock. Right then, I decided I wanted to become a Marine sniper. The Gulf War had kicked off and that was super influential to me as well.
So you wanted to defend your country?
At seventeen or eighteen, you don’t know shit about that. You just want to do something rad. So I enlisted when I was seventeen, told the recruiter that I wanted to be a sniper. He told me I had to join the infantry first.
Was that beneficial?
It was because as a sniper, your job is to support the infantry. As an assaultman, I learned how the infantry worked.
I took the selection for sniper platoon after my first deployment, went through a whole shitload of schools, did a Western Pacific deployment as a leader of a sniper team, came back from that deployment and reached Hawaii on September 5, 2001. My girlfriend at the time and I took leave and flew home on September 10, 2001. The next day, my unit was floating back from Hawaii while I was still in San Diego. I remember freaking out like, “Fuck man. If they’re gonna go to war without me, that sucks.”
So were you deployed to combat?
For the next three years, I was teaching marksmanship as an instructor at the First Marine Division Scout Sniper School but I wanted to make a combat deployment. Around early 2004, I found out my boss at the schoolhouse was going to be in charge of a sniper platoon. I knew the platoon commander and he solicited me, knowing they’d need seniority on their deployment. I knew the snipers because I had trained them as they came through the course, and I said, “If I’m gonna go, I want to go with people who I can trust.”
That was when I took over as the Chief Sniper of Third Battalion, First Marine Regiment.
We deployed to Anbar Province in June 2004. I was on that deployment until November 9, 2004, which is when I was wounded during the Second Battle of Fallujah, Operation Phantom Fury. I got hit with shrapnel in my right knee that obliterated my kneecap. That fucked me up pretty bad. There was just so much damage to the joint that it needed a full reconstruction.
Some doctors said I’d be lucky to walk again, while others said I would be fine, no big deal. I was on crutches at worst and walking with a cane at best. I lost a shitload of range of motion. I was going to PT every day and it just wasn’t looking good. They found me unfit for service, I appealed the board once, that was denied. On my second go-round, I decided that I don’t want to be here if I can’t do my job.
So that ended your military career?
Yep. I was medically discharged in September of 2005.
How’d you handle that?
My transition was pretty shitty in the sense that I didn’t really understand what was going with my psyche. I was bitter because I had goals of staying in the Corps as long as they would let me. And since I had read (Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills), this is exactly what I wanted to do.
It took me a while to process my purpose. That was a very difficult transition. After plenty of time of sitting back and reflecting on it, looking at how many relationships were affected by that transition and just my own level of joy was just not good. I didn’t turn into a drunk or anything like that but it was just not a happy time in my life. I was just trying to figure out what the fuck I was supposed to do.
Then I took a job for a family business out (in Washington state) working as a steel fabricator. I had never done it before but figured I could just as easily learn. Physically, I eventually recovered to the point where I could get out into the mountains.
How did you get back to shooting?
Out in Washington, I started bowhunting. I was able to get back into the mountains and hunt but it was too painful to pick up a rifle because it was my whole life. But eventually, I got back to it.
Was it easy to pick it back up?
It was like riding a bike. The fundamentals of marksmanship do not change but the technology does. So that was the big thing, to stay abreast of the advancements in technology, which I had been. So from there, I started teaching for some contracting security companies which kind of led me to start my own company called Central Cascade Precision. I working and teaching long-range shooting instruction. That kicked off in 2009.
At that time, I was mainly instructing civilians. Tactical shooting and practical rifle competitions were starting to grow and a lot of people were looking for that tactical marksmanship instruction so they could compete in these competitions.
I did solicit local law enforcement but the training industry wasn’t what it has become.
Now you have dudes who are getting out of the military left and right who are starting to teach. It’s a really saturated market right now
But you were at the forefront of it.
Yeah. When I started, there weren’t many people doing it. I’ve watched this industry fledge and grow, watched it shrink and watched it grow again.
A lot of guys say “I was a combat sniper. I’m gonna go start teaching.”
But just because you execute a skill with proficiency doesn’t mean you can explain how to execute that skill with proficiency. Now I’m seeing a lot of people start these training courses because they shoot well at a rifle competition. I just sit back and watch because it’s a cycle. It’s gonna ebb, it’s gonna flow.
What is your method as an instructor?
I pride myself on not simply regurgitating information, but in peeling back layers. Looking at it from the standpoint that I need to teach not only the how but the why behind the how.
Which is the difference between teaching and simply showing.
Exactly. And to give you diagnostic tools so that when you do leave, you have a baseline from which to grow. You can identify progression, a plateau, a digression, et cetera. And that will give you the tools to become a better shooter.
When did this become a full-time gig?
In 2010, I went to work for Magpul, who make the PMAG and all the components for the AR-15. I worked for them for six years and left recently to start my own company again, which is called Kalinski Consulting and Training Services. Focusing on marksmanship, I have the consultation side of the business and the training side of the business. The training side is fairly diverse. I focus a lot on military and law enforcement skills.
But we also do a backcountry hunting course, which my hunting partner and I created to teach people how to hunt in the backcountry on their own.
What’s the difference between backcountry hunting and hunting in the woods behind my house?
With backcountry hunting, you’re submitting yourself to hunting and being at nature’s will. You’re putting everything you need in your backpack and going out for ten days. You have to be ready to deal with anything the mountain might throw at you. In the backcountry, you’re gonna have more solitude, you’re gonna see more animals and have more opportunities to harvest more animals. A lot of times, you run into animals who have never seen a human being in their lives. It’s all problem-solving. You’re relying on your individual skills and smarts to keep yourself safe and to be successful.
Backcountry hunting gave me that sense of purpose again because it’s not easy. You’re moving through the mountains with fifty to eighty pounds of shit on your back doing twenty-five-hundred to three-thousand-feet climbs every day. It encompasses all the skills I learned as a Marine sniper only now I’m carrying a rifle, not in defense of my nation but to put food in my freezer.
What else are you doing these days?
Anything in the mountains, I enjoy doing. Just yesterday my brother and I did some ice climbing. I dabble in mountaineering. I do a lot of skydiving now. I learned to skydive in 2016 and that led me to set a record in the Mount Everest region of Nepal when I became the skydiver with the least amount of jumps to jump in Nepal. That was a life-changing trip for me.
As always, I do a lot of shooting. I’m very active in the precision rifle competition world.
How’s your knee?
I had another surgery in 2014 to clean up the mess and, dude, I have no pain. Over the years recovered to be in some of the best shape in my life.
How do you approach SOFLETE’s Die Living mentality?
Often, I see guys in rifle competitions and that’s all they do every weekend. I’m not like that. I want to go skydive I want to go climb I want to spend time with my family. I do my best to balance my time so I can do all of those things. If that means that I’m not the best at any of those skills, so be it.
All the things I do are pretty dangerous. Being in the backcountry, jumping out of airplanes, climbing, it’s all dangerous stuff that some people look at and say, “Why the fuck would you do that?”
But you have to live and you have to experience life. You could choose not to. You could wake up every day, get in your truck, go to work and visit the lake on the weekends. But climbing and skydiving and being on the mountain by myself allow me to continually test my mind, my perseverance and my fortitude.
We come up with the best resolve through suffering. Skydiving is not suffering but mountain climbing fucking sucks. It’s hard, you’re freezing to death most of the time. Backcountry hunting is the same thing. If the mountain says it’s gonna rain, it’s gonna rain and you have to deal with it. You’re not going to get anything without effort in the backcountry.
Man, I’m just gonna continue my life. When it’s time for me to not be on this planet anymore, I’m gonna be living when it happens.
Interview by Michael Venutolo