Casey McMillen has been dreaming of being a professional cowboy since he was in high school. The 1999 graduate of Moffat County High School is now living the dream.
"Ever since I spent time with my uncle and dad at rodeos, I've always thought the life of a cowboy was something I wanted to try," he said during a phone interview from Casper, Wyo. "Now that I'm doing it, I've realized it dang sure keeps ya hooked."
McMillen started competing full time in the Pro Rodeo Tour in January after graduating from Casper College. He's been happy with his progress.
"There was some time where I didn't have too much luck," he said. "But I've had 14 rodeos since January, and it feels good to be going hard."
McMillen, who considers Craig home, competes in steer wrestling, a talent passed on by his family.
"It's just what I've watched ever since I went to the rodeos," he said. "I've never thought about any other events."
Since January, McMillen has earned $18,000 in prize money, which puts him at 14th in the world. He also has earned 42.75 points, good enough for 12th place in the points standings. His top-12 status earned him an invitation to the Pace Picante Chute-Out from May 13 through 15, in Las Vegas. The Chute-Out is for the top 12 cowboys in each event after the winter rodeo series has completed.
"This will be the biggest rodeo I've ever competed in," he said. "There will be a lot of adrenaline."
In the Chute-Out, each cowboy will get two runs in the first round. The top eight averages will move on, followed by the top four, and then the winner will be announced. The purse is $58,000.
"I just want to get two steers down and go from there," he said. "I want to get in the top eight and see what happens."
He's going into the rodeo riding on a hot streak. Since April 22, McMillen has won $12,000.
"I had some time off in March because I didn't qualify for those rodeos," he said. "It gave me some time off to clear my head a bit, and I've been doing well ever since I came back."
Beyond the Chute-Out, McMillen hopes to stay in the top 15 money winners so he can compete at the Super Bowl of rodeos, the National Finals Rodeo.
"I probably need to earn about $55,000 to stay in the top 15," he said. "To make the NFR and have a chance to be World Champion is my goal."
This weekend, McMillen will be in Craig to get some practice in and see family, then he will be off to Vegas.
"I just want to be smart and not make mistakes (at the Chute-Out)," he said. "That's all I can do."