Interview: Top Shot Competitor Dustin Ellermann

I had the opportunity last week to talk to Dustin Ellermann, one of the remaining competitors from Top Shot season 3.

Dustin Ellermann

AARON SPULER: Well, first off I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I really do appreciate it.


AS: Let’s talk about your background a little bit. Did you grow up shooting and hunting with family or friends or anything like that? Or did you get in to shooting later on in life?

DE: Yeah. I think I was kind of born with a BB gun in my hand. You know it’s one of those things that I always enjoyed doing and couldn’t explain it. And so, you know from toy guns as a kid — I totally remember saving up like $12.50 when I was like six years old so I could buy a set of cap guns. And, you know I took care of the boogers and still have them today. And my boys are playing with them now. When I was old enough to shoot a BB gun I did so, and it was really a BB gun thing until I was probably in my teenage years and lived out here at our summer kid’s camp that I had enough property and stuff to expand to firearms.

AS: Gotcha, nice. Now, how did you find out about Top Shot and what kind of prompted you to want to join the show, or at least apply for the show rather?

DE: Well, I listen to a lot of gun podcasts and whatnot, so I knew about season one before it even aired. And I thought about it, it was like ‘man that would be fun.’ They talked about historical type shots, just marksmanship, and everything… and was like that would be a lot of fun. But at that time we were building a new chapel worship center at our camp and I was in charge of that. So I didn’t have the time to do so. Season one came, I liked it. Like I said, it just looked like fun. Then a friend sent me an email when it was almost time to close off casting for season three. And I was like, ‘yeah right, whatever… I’ll never make it on.’ But I thought all you had to do was send in and email with a description about yourself and a picture, I did so. And the next day they called me. By the end of the week they asked me to put together an audition video, and I did so. And obviously everything worked out well.

AS: Pretty fast track there. It looks like, from what I’ve seen of the episodes this season that yall filmed in springtime because yall still had on some coats and gloves and whatnot, is that right?

DE: That’s right. What I tell people is that it’s not live.

AS: Yeah… they have to do all the prep work and editing and whatnot. So did you do anything special in terms of after you got the call when they said ‘Hey, we’d like you to be on the show.’ Did you do anything special in terms of prepwork or maybe trying out some different guns, or maybe trying to practice some things you saw from season one or season two or anything?

DE: I gotcha. Yeah, before casting I had a friend of mine that likes historical firearms, like M1 Garands, Mausers, Mosin Nagants, and those type of rifles. I went to the range with him just to fire off a couple rounds and familiarize myself with the action. But that was a good month or so before I even know I was on the show. I only knew I was on the show probably a week and a half or two weeks before I had to fly out.

AS: Wow.

DE: Most of that time was really just spent getting my business and ministry here together so it could function without me for a couple weeks. And so, as of practice, I practiced with a couple of boxes of .22 ammo offhand, and just focused on the basic marksmanship stuff. Because, I mean if you look at Top Shot, there’s no way to predict what they’re going to throw at you. And even if there was, it’s not like you could build a crane in your back yard and practice shooting from it while falling…

AS: Yeah, I hear ya.

DE: So you just have to go with what you know and hope you adapt.

AS: And .22 will get you the fundamentals, and that will carry over to everything else.

DE: Exactly. It’s cheap, and it’s quiet, and it’s fun. It’s one of my favorite rounds.

AS: Do you have a particular favorite gun you like to shoot?

DE: I tell people asking me that question is like asking me if I’ve got a favorite kid. You know, you love them all. It depends though on what I’m doing. If I’m shooting 700 yards, I’m going to choose my .308. If I’m expecting hogs at close range, under 100 yards, I want my AR-15 with some heavy point tips. I like them all, and so it just depends on the scenario. If I’m target shooting, most of the time I am just using a .22 though. Because it’s cheap, accurate, and kinda neighborhood-friendly. I’ve really gotten in to suppressors and silencers lately, and I’ve got three GEMTECHs that I either own am waiting to pick up at the shop or are on order already. That makes shooting a gun so much more fun, I believe.

AS: It really does. I had the opportunity to shoot one of those for the first time this summer. I was really impressed with how much the noise was reduced.

DE: I love the whole science behind it, and just explaining to everybody how this helps and why this helps. Subsonic, supersonic, and all that cool stuff. I’m kind of a techo geek on those suppressors. It’s fun.

AS: Have you had a favorite challenge so far? They’ve been pretty diverse in terms of what yall are doing… I know you’ve had to sit out a time or two.

DE: You know, I do have a favorite weapon that we’ve used so far. I really fell in love with the LaRue OBR. It just reeks of quality, it has an excellent trigger on it, and those Trijicon AccuPoint scopes were sweet as well. Mine and Sara’s elimination, it was fun. Before Colby said go, we were waiting up there and cameras are off and I was just pumped. One of the guys came around with the camera and I just gave him a big thumbs up and a grin. He was like ‘No dude. You can’t be smiling like that, right before the pictures.’ Whenever I get in to shooting, I just have fun. The Benelli challenge was a lot of fun. Our team had been anticipating that type of relay, and to have just a total array of targets and a cool semi-automatic shotgun, and things that blow up and break… I’d only shot probably three slugs my whole life before this, and I’d never shot a semi-automatic shotgun. I was just having fun.

AS: It’s kind of like being a kid in a candy store.

DE: I’m liking them all.

AS: I understand.

DE: Except for the rocks. The rocks sucked.

AS: That was a little out there, but I guess it is what it is, you know? They’ve got to change it up a little bit.

DE: I know. I was just being a nice guy and letting my team put me where they wanted me, and it bit me that day.

AS: Now in terms of stuff that you had to sit out on, like last week’s VLTOR challenge, or any of the elimination challenges. Was there any one that after the fact you were wishing you could have done? For example, the Hotchkiss Mountain Gun — that looked pretty awesome. I’ll admit that I wouldn’t mind firing off a few shots from one of those.

DE: You know, it comes back to the fact that I love guns all over. So, it’d be sweet to do anything. Cliff’s looked amazingly fun, with the rolling cannonballs and the plates. That looked like a lot of fun to do. I specifically remember after the gatling gun challenge, I was just kinda like ‘We missed out.’ If I had known, I would have totally tried to lose, just to be able to shoot a gatling gun. That sounded too cool. When I started figuring out that the elimination challenges were so cool, it’s almost like you wanted to be there. If your team won, you’re stuck at a house doing nothing all day long, while the other team gets to go and either play with guns or watch them and have fun. So, yes, there’s a lot of stress and a lot of letdown when you lose a challenge, but at least you’re not sitting at the house being bored. Because I’m a very productive person. Being able to at least go spectate and participate somewhat in another day of shooting — that’s why I came to Top Shot. To shoot stuff and have fun with something that I’d never be able to do before. So it’s kind of a blanket ‘yes’ to everything, but I did like the gatling gun. That just sounded too cool.

AS: You wouldn’t get too much opportunity to shoot one of those in real life.

DE: No. It was fun enough just to watch, I didn’t have to pull the trigger to appreciate it.

AS: Since you sat out this week, you get to be in the trick shot challenge coming up next week. They had a trick shot episode on the past seasons and I’ve really enjoyed them. That kind of stuff just looks fun. It reminds me of when you’re at the carnival as a kid, shooting the BB gun at a bucket of water so it will squirt back at you. It’s just the epitome of fun shooting.

DE: It’s something everybody likes to do. It’s always like ‘Hey, I wonder if we can hit the nail on the target board.’ Or ‘A fly just landed at 100 yards, see if you can hit it.’ So, it’s going to be interesting, it’s going to be a lot of fun. You can see by the preview that Jerry Miculek — he’s the expert — and to be able to meet a legend like that is an awesome privilege.

AS: That’s one thing that I’ve noticed, that they’ve been bringing really good caliber folks in, and really this season I’ve liked how they’ve shown a little bit more of the instruction from some of these folks. It allows average Joes back home to peek in a little bit on that. I’ve really enjoyed that this season.

DE: That’s been a great opportunity for me as well, because I’ve only had one firearms training course ever. So it’s some cool, awesome, high-dollar instruction that we get to have.

AS: Definitely. Now, I know that you kind of touched on this a little bit ago, that through editing it looks like editing happens so fast. But from things I’ve seen it looks like sometimes that yall will do practice one day, then another day the actual course of fire, and then on the third day would be the elimination challenge. So it does seem to involve a lot of time sitting at the house. And from what I’ve seen you don’t get a lot of communication from back home. Has that been difficult for you?

DE: Yeah, it is. We’re on complete lockdown in the house. We don’t have even our watches. They even took my flashlight away.

AS: Wow.

DE: We’d go through all the books. By now, we found in the house, with the prop books there was a history book, and a chemistry book, and an algebra book. And we would actually sit around reading those things. So we’re getting bored. But being out of touch with family this long is tough. I kind of found myself making calendars of when stuff was, and what stuff would be happening. Kind of like a prisoner marking the days on the wall. It’s a part that took adjusting to. Next week is episode seven, and you can just find out on Wikipedia that it takes three to four days an episode to film this stuff. So, it’s been a while and it’s been tough. At that time, my wife was at the first trimester of her pregnancy too, so most of the stuff you can worry about but you’ve got to live with it and hope everything’s fine.

AS: Yes sir, yes sir. One thing I’ve really liked about Top Shot — aside from all the cool stuff there and all the cool guns you’ve got and exploding targets and all that — is that they really do a good job of showing quality people putting on a good show, and showing folks that responsible gun ownership is a cool thing. Is there anything you think that we could do more of or do better of as gun owners in trying to bring that back to mainstream ideology?

DE: I think if the truth was shown, that would help a lot. Because the liberal media can get hold of whatever gun situations or whatnot and they just speculate and lie about certain things. Like every time someone’s going to pass concealed carry laws. It doesn’t matter that 40 states already have it, everybody’s like ‘Oh there’s going to be blood in the streets, and it’s going to be the OK Corral.’ You know, it’s just not the case. If the truth of it were shown, I think it would be cool. There was an article in the paper last week or so on some gang violence or convenience store being robbed. Well what’s the picture they show? A picture of a gun. So they’re trying to connect crime equally with guns, and that’s not the case. If you just check out any type of statistics that aren’t gun hating, they show how many times guns prevent crime. But then, they’re also used for great things like these types of competitions. Or just myself, recreational shooting and having fun with friends. It can be an awesome fun thing.

AS: Yeah, and another part is if you make gun ownership a crime, all the folks that really legally own them and follow the law turn them in. Then the only ones left would be criminals, just like how it is over in Great Britain.

DE: Of course.

AS: Now it looks like from last week’s episode with Jake going to elimination, that tensions started getting a little high on the blue team there.

DE: Yeah. Jake has a tendency to act irrational and unsportsmanlike. And so, it’s just wearing on the whole house. We have to put up with him more on our team, but it’s the nature of Jake.

AS: And things like that are bound to come out. I mean, you’ve got a house full of alpha male competitors, and everyone’s trying to compete against everyone else. And I’m sure that the isolation probably plays a part in there too, so everyone’s probably just getting on edge. But you probably just have to put it beside you and get it out of your mind and concentrate on what you’re doing at the time right?

DE: Sure. And for the most part, I mean everybody in the house is a great group of guys. And it was just fun to be with them, and be around them and joke around and hang out. You know, we could play chess and cards and dice, that’s about all we had. So we were having fun. It was kind of like being at summer camp, where you’re all there with a common purpose and interest and so for the most part it was a good experience.

AS: Good, good. Glad to hear. Has it been difficult to hold the secret for this long? This was filmed way back in spring and here it is September. I’m sure at least your wife and maybe some family have probably asked for some hints or whatnot.

DE: I tell you, it’s really not that hard. I get that question a lot and I’m like ‘Eh, whatever.’ I mean, I’m just enjoying watching with everyone else. I’m just as excited to see the next episode because I’ve never seen this show. Yeah, I was there but on the other hand I have a short term memory, and sometimes I don’t even remember what happened.

AS: I understand. I have a hard time remembering sometimes what I had for dinner three nights ago.

DE: See, I don’t even try.

AS: Yeah. Are there any things that kind of stand out in your mind as differences between actually being there in person and watching it on TV? Anything like ‘Oh wow I wish they would have shown this’ or ‘This kind of seems different’ or anything like that that kind of seems changed up in your mind?

DE: Sometimes that happens. I remember the first thing was just the first episode. I was just like ‘Wow. So much more happened in those four days that we were filming that first episode.’ And to see it all chopped up to 42 minutes was just — I’ve gotten used to it now — but it was just kind of like ‘So much more happened to share our whole experience here and it was cut down so much.’ But, it’s understandable. But besides that, it is what it is.

AS: Sure. Has it been strange, folks noticing you or pointing you out in a crowd, or doing interviews or anything like that?

DE: Yeah, a little bit. It’s different, getting used to it. The longer I stay on the show, the more people do recognize me. I can tell sometimes what people are thinking because they look a little harder at me, and I look at them, and they look away. And then I find them looking at me again, and they’re just too afraid to say anything or whatnot. It’s kind of fun, and I don’t really get to go out too much. I’m so busy working at our camp out here, so it kind of goes both ways. Since I’m so hunkered down out here working I don’t always get to go out and be recognized.

AS: Definitely, yeah. Well, Dustin I really want to thank you for your time, and for sitting down with me to chat. I really do appreciate it, I know you’re a busy guy. But it’s been great talking to you Dustin.

DE: Hey, no problem.

One thought on “Interview: Top Shot Competitor Dustin Ellermann

  1. i think it’s great that dustin is self taught…we are both from east texas and as cong. charlie wilson said…”all we want are low taxes and our guns’ my grandpa let me shoot a 22 when i was 3 yrs old and i was hooked. i really hope he beats out all the pro’s. good luck dustin.

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