Mike Hughes, from History’s Top Shot season 3, was kind enough to spend some time with me last week.
AARON SPULER: Let’s talk about your shooting background. I don’t know if you grew up shooting or if that was something you got in to later on in life, or maybe military or police or something like that. What was your introduction to shooting?
MIKE HUGHES: I got in to shooting after playing college football, just for a competitive outlet actually. I first started Bullseye shooting, NRA Bullseye, which I enjoy quite a bit because I get to see progress each week. One time I heard the chiming in the back bay, the steel. You know the bing-bing-bing, and I was drawn to speed steel which I thought was a tremendous shooting sport. And finally I rolled in to USPSA IPSC because I was infatuated with the athleticism of it. You had to run, decelerate, reload — the full gamut of skill sets and all the challenges that are wrapped up in that sport.
AS: Yeah, that’s really a lot different than just standing solitary and shooting some targets or paper or whatnot.
MH: Well, the combination of speed, power, and accuracy — in particular speed and accuracy — is what I really find fascinating, and it is a never-ending endeavor. You can always get faster, and you can always get more accurate, and it doesn’t seem to be totally youth based, even though foot speed and hand speed are so heavily rated in that sport.
AS: It’s a good thing, too. Because otherwise the young guys would just run us out of town.
AS: I kind of have a special connection to Washington state. I know you’re from Washington state. I have family up there, I have an uncle that was the one who taught me to shoot when I was little. It was kind of like summer camp up there, going up to Stevens pass and Blewett pass to go shooting. I have good memories of Washington state.
MH: We live rural, so I have my own little private range just a few hundred yards from my house, which is really nice.
AS: That’s been a goal of mine for a while now, but I don’t know when that’s going to be able to happen. I would like to be able to go out and shoot on my own land whenever I wanted to. With a two year old, I don’t have as much time to get to the range as I’d like.
MH: I hear ya.
AS: Do you have a favorite gun that you like to take out to the range with you, that you find yourself using quite often, or do you just kind of like them all?
MH: I used to shoot Glock, but I switched over now to the M&P, Smith & Wesson, 9mm. I think I might be able to squeeze a little bit more performance out of that platform. But I don’t have a huge preference over any one gun I think. If anyone picks a gun, and just simply trains, they’re going to be well off. On the same token too, I think when you really get in to shooting, even though we may squeeze an extra 5% just by getting really honed in with one particular system, I think a good shooter should be able to pick up any gun and be able to go to work with it.
AS: If you get way too used to just one gun, you get in to a specialist role, and don’t really have the adaptability that you really need. It kind of limits you.
MH: Exactly. I see that issue sometimes with some 1911 shooters that are just shooting the 1911, which has of course its very sweet single-action, low poundage, low over-travel, short resetting trigger. But, that can mask trigger mechanics deficiencies. With my SIRT guns — my training guns — I’ll actually jack those up to a lot heavier, like 7 pounds, for a lot of my training, with a little extra over-travel.
AS: I was actually going to bring up the SIRT guns a little later on, but we can talk about those now. That looks like a pretty impressive product you’ve got there.
MH: Oh, thanks. Well, basically when I first started shooting, I noticed that shooters didn’t really train that much. Compare that to a high school basketball kid making hundreds of thousands of baskets a year. With the various barriers getting to the range for the live fire, I don’t think that we handle the gun enough honestly. And the skill sets to really be a good shooter is not only recoil management, but draws, reloads, target transitions, sight acquisition, all the fundamentals of grip and stance, sight picture, and probably above all I think the grand daddy is trigger control.
AS: Definitely. I’ve actually found a lot of good use out of some laser trainers myself. It helps with point shooting, and the basic fundamentals. It really makes a difference to have that trigger time. Then when you get to the range, you can worry about recoil and other aspects. But you don’t have to worry about your basic fundamentals that you’re able to practice whenever and wherever you need to.
MH: Exactly, exactly. My philosophy is to train all these skill sets in high volume and bring it to the range, and integrate recoil management. It’s working out really well. It’s worked out extremely well for my training. I was motivated by a lot of trainers who saw the concept to start Next Level Training (http://www.nextleveltraining.com) and make a full-blown startup out of it.
AS: I’m surprised that the idea hadn’t really caught on before this.
MH: The number one question I got from investors when I started the company was ‘Why hasn’t someone done this before?’ I think one issue, one barrier to entry was that we started out with the Glock platform. And to really make an effective laser training tool, you have to have an auto-resetting trigger so you’re not wasting time racking the slide.
MH: And an adjustable trigger. The powerful green laser makes a huge difference because it’s visible outside.
AS: The difference between the green and red is really night and day.
MH: Yep, totally. And then I think another key feature that we put in there is the take up indicator, because trigger take up is such a key fundamental aspect of trigger control. Having the take up indicator gives us a lot of information of when we’re shooting off the reset, when we’re prepping the trigger, when we’re coming in to a target with a hot gun with the trigger fully pressed, and so forth. And seeing when we over transition or do high speed transitions which killed me in nationals by coming in too hot and not decelerating, over transitioning the target, and doing the tuning fork.
AS: Just the repetition of it is what you can build and train your muscle memory for those skills, so you can get so much better when you’re actually out there on the range. It just strikes me as odd that nobody really thought of it and found a way to get it working well before this. So my hat’s off to you.
MH: It took a lot of time and engineering, time and money, to get it right. We’re pretty pleased, especially with the new models we’re putting out — the M9 and the M&P — here very shortly.
AS: In regards to Top Shot… how’d you find out about the show? What made you want to apply for it?
MH: Well, I originally applied for the first season. When I found out that it was going to be six weeks, I had to back out. I was just way too busy starting up Next Level Training. The second season I applied and didn’t get on then. I think because Chris Tilley filled the lane as a competitive shooter.
MH: And Pilgrim Films actually called on the third season and I began the interview process.
AS: You shot the S&W 500 really quickly and accurately in the first episode. Was that your first time with one of those?
MH: When I was walking down to the shooting position my mind was racing. Single action or double action… shoot single action or double action… I have not shot a S&W 500 before, but honestly I didn’t care about that or the recoil for that matter. My mind was more focused on whether to take the time to cock the hammer for each shot and have a more crisp single action trigger break or pull the trigger for each shot maintaining my grip and shoot double action only. Double action only may be faster, but slightly less accurate. I figured that the recoil will cause more muzzle flip and I will have time to cock the hammer and reestablish grip. Also, since I am not “calibrated” with this particular gun with regard to the location of the trigger break, it made more sense to shoot the gun single action. In the end of the day, it is about sights and trigger control.
AS: With all that free time on yall’s hands — I know that each episode is spread out over three to four days, and you’re not at the range that much — what did yall do to keep entertained at the house?
MH: There was very little to do to keep entertained. In fact, my schedule is extremely busy with the business, family, training — all three of those elements. So to go to having that much time was really hard. The first week, it was kind of like a vacation. But then after that, it was very difficult to go from 100 miles per hour to being extremely unproductive.
AS: I can imagine. It probably threw your game off a little bit too, didn’t it?
MH: It was just difficult to be that unproductive. Even when we passed time by playing chess and what have you, I would have given anything for a laptop, a book, to doing something productive.
AS: I understand. One thing I had a question about, when yall go up to the training sessions and then one team starts off while the other goes back to the house, how far away is the house from the training sessions yall had? Was it a pretty good area they had for the land there? A stretch away, or pretty close? Could you see that from the house?
MH: We could, sometimes, we could see across the road as to what’s going on. Particularly when there was something that really had some oomph to it, like the Gatling gun and what have you. The range was basically across from the house, through the valley out there in the middle part of California.
AS: OK. Now when red team would go to elimination, is the first time you’re seeing some of these elimination challenges — obviously you knew the outcome because you knew who came back to the house — but with the show airing, I’m guessing that’s the first time you’re able to see the elimination challenge itself. Is that right?
MH: That is correct. It’s interesting to watch the show because I haven’t seen the final edited version. None of us contestants have. So it’s actually really interesting to watch the horse challenge, Cliff throttled the cannonball challenge, this last bow and arrow challenge where Chris and Cliff duked it out. It’s fun to watch, because we hear about it when they come back but don’t actually get to see it.
AS: I bet that’s pretty interesting too, just to see the way it’s handled on TV versus kind of know how it is in real life.
AS: Congrats on making green shirts. That’s always a fun time because you’re no longer on teams and it’s everyone for themselves. It should be interesting changing things up in the team dynamic.
MH: Yes. When green shirts time comes, it is no longer a team event. And every individual is for themselves. I think, as you’ll see, the dynamics do shift. It’s going to be very interesting to say the least.
AS: I don’t want to prod you for any insider information, but I’ve seen the tension in the house ratcheting up. So I have my guesses on maybe which way that’s going to go, but I guess I’ll see next week when airs.
MH: By rights, this thing is interesting. I guess I’ll leave it at that.
AS: Has it been difficult to keep the whole thing bottled up and secret? I’ve read a few place that there’s a very large fine, I don’t remember what the value was, if you leak out the secret. So I’m sure that helped some. But it’s got to be strange to keep that from your family while they’re watching it on the TV trying to figure out what happens.
MH: It’s really not strange at all. I was a patent attorney before Next Level Training, and just have to keep information in confidence. It’s not really new. It’s no different than trade secrets, and of course I don’t want to disclose any information which would give anything away that could harm the show.
AS: Definitely. So, elimination challenges… you’ve only had to go to one, against Jarrett. What was that like? Would you have been pissed having to go home on the primitive weapons, getting knocked out for rocks, knives and whatnot?
MH: Jerrett and I volunteered to go to elimination because I think we both mutually figured that there was only going to be one winner in the end, so let’s just sort things out early on. There wasn’t a whole lot of information at that point as to who should go on the blue team. Also, red team had a lot of drama going on with regard to who went to elimination and I don’t think that we really wanted to go down that lane at that time. So, going to the challenge was actually pretty enjoyable because we actually got to do something and not just sit on the sidelines. The week before, I sat out the revolver, after getting keyed up to compete. I think I was just eager to compete a little bit.
AS: I understand. In terms of 2nd Amendment stuff… the History Channel has been good about getting folks on Top Shot that are fairly level headed and show people that gun owners aren’t weirdos or freaks of nature. They’ve been good about getting folks that aren’t so much in to guns to watch the show, I know my wife for sure. Is there really anything in your mind that we as gun owners could do in terms of making responsible gun ownership more mainstream?
MH: I think we have to look at gun usage in the same manner as, say we look at children’s playgrounds. If we start taking playgrounds out, we’re going to have kids that have less ability, less coordination, which will ultimately suffer injury and get hurt more downstream. I think, with gun ownership, we have to be aggressive and really push and promote firearm usage, training, competitions, tactical shooting or really whatever people are interested in with regard to firearm usage. That make sense?
AS: It does. And I agree, the USPSA and IPSC, that’s also a great way to get people interested because it plays more to the competitive, athletic side of things.
MH: Yeah. I mean, as far as shooting sports goes, a great sport to start at is simple steel challenge. I don’t shoot that right now personally, but the barriers to entry are very low. It’s very reactive and rewarding. A wide range of pistol caliber firearms can be utilized in steel challenge, from a 22 on up to a 44 magnum. I believe that proficiency and safety are intertwined, and the more proficient people are with firearms and comfortable with handling them, the safer they are going to be.
AS: I agree. Mike, I’d really like to thank you for talking to me, I really do appreciate this opportunity.
MH: You bet.
AS: I’ll be looking forward to seeing how far you get through the competition, and I’ll be rooting for you.
MH: It’s going to be a wild ride man. Stay tuned, that’s all I can say.
AS: Thank you very much sir.