Jerry Miculek Interview

Really like Jerry, and would love the opportunity to meet him in person.

Jerry Miculek is one of the greatest shooters of all time. Miculek began his shooting career over forty years ago and has collected multiple championship titles and world records along the way. We were able to gain a glimmer of insight into Miculek’s life and values with a three-minute, post-match interview.

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Interview: Top Shot Champion Dustin Ellermann

Top Shot Season 3 Champion Dustin Ellermann

Aaron Spuler: Hey Dustin, how have you been?

Dustin Ellermann: Pretty good. I’ve been crazy busy with people knocking down my door.

AS: I bet, especially after the last episode aired…

DE: You bet.

AS: First, I have to say congrats on the win. That was really an amazing performance you put out.

DE: That was something else. I ran away with it so much, it’s like ‘Mike, come on. You made the show look bad. We could have had a neck-and-neck and made it more exciting.’ But there was no stress on me at the end.

AS: It looked like you really just got in the zone, and it was all over then.

DE: It only took about two minutes to run through that thing.

AS: Good job there, it looked like it was a heck of a lot of fun for that last competition.

DE: I know it. If I had a choice of whatever I could do at Top Shot, that’s just too cool to go run though all the ones you did, throughout all the different stations. That was just one big crazy challenge. It was just too neat to get to do.

AS: Just a good wrap-up of everything. Not really exactly like when you’re doing a final exam in school – that’s not exactly very fun – but with Top Shot where you get to review everything again, that’s very cool.

DE: You’ve got a good point; it was like a final exam. If you didn’t figure out something, then you were screwed.

AS: I saw that they brought back the rocks that you liked so much.

DE: I was probably throwing rocks an hour a day in the back yard. I figured that would be part of the story line, but it was just a five second segment. I didn’t know how well I would do against Mike because he’s a baseball guy, and I’ve never played sports ever. Surprisingly I could throw rocks. I told my team ‘I can’t throw rocks, don’t put me on that.’ But nobody else wanted to do it, and that’s where they put the nice guy – at the end, where nobody else wanted to go.

AS: They did show the little clip of you throwing rocks at cans in the back yard.

DE: I was doing that all the time in the back yard. One reason was it just exposed a deficiency that I had.

AS: It’s cool being able to have a chance to touch base with you again. It was back in September the last time I talked to you. I do have a couple of questions from folks that posted their questions on the blog. You mind if I get to those in turn?

DE: Yeah, bring them on.

AS: This one’s from Sean… Congrats and an awesome showing. He wonders after you spend the necessary dollars on his wife, children and camp, will you be treating yourself to any special firearms purchases?

DE: I was going to put $5,000 aside for guns, but then I got my gift card. Then I thought ‘OK, I can put $3,000 aside for guns.’ But then I’ve been so blessed with getting good deals from manufacturers. I probably won’t have to. I was talking to my wife the other day; we passed an old military jeep on the road. She said, ‘You want to get that?’ You know, I have no desire to do anything with my earned money but put it towards the house for the wife and kids. I’ve really been blessed that I get to have the toys that I wanted as part of the title. That was my first intention, to play a little. But it looks like all the money gets to go towards what I need it to go to.

AS: Even better.

DE: Yep.

AS: Another question from Sean. A lot of doors have opened for the previous winners, especially Ian and even folks who didn’t win, like Caleb. Will you pursue a firearms related career if it’s offered?

DE: I’m split two ways, just a little bit. I’ll explain. One thing I do want to do is expand the camp a little here for some marksmanship training. Just marksmanship youth camps that I want to do on the off-season on the weekend for kids in ages 8 – 17. Cold Steel already donated some tomahawks. I’ll get some knives from Jack Dagger, looking at blowguns and some .22’s and muzzleloaders and pellet rifles and bows and everything. I’ve toyed with the idea of doing competition, but I almost look at Top Shot as my one lifetime competition and it went well. I don’t need to compete any more.

AS: I understand.

DE: Some of the stuff like 3 Gun looks pretty cool. I’ve checked out some YouTube videos and the scenarios look fun, like a Top Shot type thing. I may eventually get in to competition shooting, but for now I’m staying so busy with speaking engagements, appearances, and little promotions on the side. I’m plenty busy.

AS: I can imagine you’re plate is pretty full. That does sound pretty cool about the kid’s camp. I’m a full grown man, but I’d like to go do that sort of thing.

DE: Yeah, I get that a lot. I get a lot of people wanting to volunteer. It’s going to be fun.

AS: I saw something about Daryl Parker from last season opening up his own range, sort of like a Top Shot themed thing. That would be fun.

DE: He’s talked to me about coming in for a weekend, but my wife is having her baby around that time. So it’s on the back burner for now.

AS: I’ve got a couple of questions from another guy. He didn’t give me a name, just goes by Rifleslinger. What was your normal shooting routine prior to Top Shot? In terms of weapons, positions, round count, etc.

DE: Whatever I felt like. I’m not a competition shooter; I just go out and do whatever looks like fun that day. I only knew on Top Shot for like a week and a half when they finally approached me for doing it. So, most of my time was spent getting the camp ready to go. The only thing I remember doing – and a little bit of it made the video because they gave me a little Flip cam to play around with – I ripped my scope off my 10/22 and went out to 115 yards and just blew threw a couple of mags with the open sights, unsupported position. I’d even stand on top of a fence post – a little 4 inch fence post that I couldn’t fit both feet on – and practice shooting steel 100 yards away with iron sights. The unsupported positions proved to be helpful, because when you go out to the range you’re usually at the bench or prone or doing whatever you can to stay stable and make good shots. That’s something you have to make yourself practice because it’s not as much fun.

AS: I saw your audition video where you were being kind of silly and had three guns slung around your neck and you shot each in turn. That was pretty funny.

DE: That was just like ‘Hey this looks like fun.’ I’m a big weapons handler guy, because I’m pretty much just a kid. When I would get a new gun I would sleep with it by the bedside. I still kind of do that. When I get a new gun, it stays out of the safe so I can fondle it all the time. Just having that love of guns leads to ‘Hey I could run this thing pretty good.’ Switching around weapons and all the different varieties of guns is no big deal for me.

AS: What was your mental preparation prior to the challenges? Did you try to relax, get psyched up, or just have fun? Did you mentally or physically rehearse specific skills? What was your approach there?

DE: You know, I think probably I said it on one of the challenges. ‘Just pray more and shoot straight.’

AS: Mmm-hmm.

DE: I knew God had brought me here for a reason. ‘I’ll just do the best I can do and trust the rest to Him.’ That became a big thing that was a huge advantage. Because I don’t have to carry that burden of stress, or worry about what everyone else does, or what if everything goes wrong. I just said ‘OK, all I have to do is do my best and shoot my part, and God will take care of the rest.’ Obviously that worked out quite well.

AS: It really removes a lot of the burden from your shoulders.

DE: Exactly.

AS: And you can just focus on what you can do, and leave the rest up to someone else to watch out for you. Last question from Rifleslinger… Some of the competitors came in with very specific strategies, while others seemed more flexible and open. Could you comment on your approach vs. to those of the other competitors, and advantages and disadvantages of each?

DE: Strategy, like in the mental game of the house?

AS: I think that was the angle he was going for there, yes.

DE: I’m not that cunning of a person. I’m more of a simple guy. My thought was ‘Hey, if they send me to elimination, I get to play more. And if I do well and don’t have to go to elimination, I get to stay and play more.’ I was just there to be myself. I’m not an actor. I’m not that cunning to be undermined or to see the big picture sometimes and see what’s going on or what other people are trying to do, like Jake. Although I did see through his craziness. I was just there to be myself, and when they called me to shoot I went to shoot.

AS: Easy enough. You talked about going to play… I did notice during the last episode when you and Chris walked up to the stage, where you said ‘We get to go play again.’ Just from talking to you and seeing your personality on the show, I think that sums up and says a lot about you. You’re just having fun and enjoying yourself and not making a big deal out of things.

DE: I think it may have intimidated Chris a little.

AS: I’ve got another question from a reader named Rod. He wanted to say congrats. He and his wife Carol are hardcore fans of Top Shot, and were pulling for you to win. They said that you are a great ambassador for all gun owners and we just wanted to thank you for that. Now in terms of a question: Do you think Jake should have been kicked off show for his conduct of just being unsportsmanlike and a jerk in general?

DE: I’m not in charge of the show, but Jake did create…

AS: A little bit of tension to the house I think.

DE: I’ll put it this way: I wouldn’t be surprised if Top Shot enacted some sort of sportsmanship policy for the next season. Even if you’re going for a show in ratings, I think the producers bit off more than they could chew with him. Nobody wants the show to look bad. Honestly, Jake was toned down. He was much cruder, ruder, and vulgar than the show can air. It’s supposed to be a family show.

AS: If you have to bleep everything out it doesn’t make for good television.

DE: Exactly. Don’t be surprised if we see a sportsmanship clause come up.

AS: I saw an interview with Colby where he mentioned toning down some of the drama, based on feedback from viewers. One thing that I thought sounded cool was a spin-off show where they would talk more in-depth about the guns used on each episode.

DE: They have the webisodes where they feature the guns, but most gun owners would love more technical information.

AS: Heck, just seeing folks play with cool guns that I hope that one day I could get a chance to use – that would be cool.

DE: Exactly.

AS: I want to thank you for answering the questions from my readers. I know those guys will be pretty excited to see their questions answered, so thank you for that.

DE: Sure.

AS: I see you’ve been doing a lot of speaking engagements and appearances. Does it still feel weird to be notices and have people picking you out? Or have you gotten used to that?

DE: Yeah, I’ve gotten used to it now but I’ll put it this way. When the show was just airing, and I would get recognized by one out of ten people at Academy or something like that locally it was kind of cool. ‘Yeah, I’m on the show. Yeah, thanks man. It’s been fun.’ Now that I won and everybody knows me, it’s a bit overwhelming. I went in to town once to buy some stuff, just running little errands. I thought ‘OK, I’m not going back for several weeks.’ That was just overwhelming. It’s got its coolness, but it’s not as bad when I travel somewhere else. But locally? Newspaper and radio and news all make me in to some weird hero… It’s just overwhelming right now. I’m glad to go and speak at churches and schools and civic clubs. It’s just a neat opportunity to share about myself and my faith and my experiences on the show. I am enjoying that.

AS: When I talked to Gary he told me that folks he’s literally known his whole life, since first grade, they were asking him for his autograph. He was like ‘What are you talking about? I’ve known you my whole life…’

DE: I’ve had some of my staff, they’re afraid to ask. But they really want to. It’s like ‘You work for me…’ But I will oblige.

AS: In terms of going out and doing appearances, LaRue is having their range day on November 12. I know you are a big fan of their OBR.

DE: Yeah.

AS: Is that something you are going to be attending?

DE: I will. I’ll be picking up my OBR there. Before the show even aired, I called up LaRue and told them that I want one. I will be out at the range day, as long as the baby waits. It’s all dependent on that.

AS: Once the baby arrives you’ll be out of touch for a couple of weeks. At least I was with my son. I should be able to attend. Liberty Hill is about half an hour or 45 minutes from me. I’ll be sure to search you out and shake your hand.

DE: I’m a good five to six hours away.

AS: I see you had the Halloween contest. How is that going?

DE: We had nine little Dustins. That was scary man. There was one kid that got over 300 votes, so it looks like he’s going to be the winner.

AS: I know which one you’re talking about, he got my vote as well. I don’t think I’ll ever see folks dressed up as Aaron Spuler for Halloween. If they do, they might have problems. That’s kind of funny to see people dressed up as you.

DE: It’s kind of flattering. I think the kid that is in the lead is a local guy. He had a Top Shot birthday party and everything.

AS: Even better, good for him. Other than taking care of the house, I see that you are looking to get another piece of property with the prize money. Is that going to work out for you?

DE: We’ll see. The board of directors of the camp hasn’t made anything official yet. I just thought it was too amazing that there’s only three or four properties on our road to the camp, and one of those comes up for sale the day I win…

AS: What are the odds of that?

DE: I need a bigger house for my family, so that’s pretty amazing.

AS: Cool. What have you got planned out – other than the kids camp – that you want to let folks know about?

DE: Besides me just traveling everywhere, and then once that settles down, putting on the kid’s marksmanship camp, that’s all I’ve got planned for now.

AS: I’ll let you get back to it. I wish you and your wife luck with the baby. I look forward to seeing you at the LaRue range day.

DE: Thank you sir. Hope to see you as well.

Interview: Top Shot Competitor Gary Quesenberry

Gary Quesenberry is an agent for the Department of Homeland Security, a US Army veteran, and a competitor on season 3 of the History Channel’s Top Shot.

AARON SPULER: Firstly, I need to thank you for serving in the US Army.


AS: Let’s get started on your shooting background. Did you get started in the military or earlier on in life?

GQ: I can remember shooting guns before I could even hold one up myself. My dad used to take me out (he used to hunt with a .308) and he would hold it up to his shoulder and let me pull the trigger and shoot at like milk jugs full of water, and stuff like that. Just to get me used to pulling the trigger, and feeling the recoil, and the shock of the weapon going off. He got me a .22 and I started shooting on my own. He taught me everything I know. And the Army just polished the fundamental skills that my dad put in to me.

AS: When you’re shooting when you’re little, you don’t have any bad misconceptions yet. It’s just a fun thing to do at the time.

GQ: Right. And one thing too is I think a lot of people are just uneducated, maybe, about guns and the way they work and what they’re really for. When you start off with them in a place like I grew up when you’re that young it takes all the mystery out of them. They’re a tool. That’s just what they are.

AS: Exactly right. I couldn’t have said it better. So, can you tell me about the Triple Nickel?

GQ: I started working at the training academy for the Department of Homeland Security in 2007, and there was an instructor there who had put together this course of fire. He’s a former Delta Force Sergeant Major, real high speed pistol shooter. He put together the course of fire he called it the ‘Triple Nickel.’ It’s five targets (the FBI-QIT targets), five yards, and you have five seconds. So at the sound of the timer or the targets turning, depending on how your range is set up, you have to draw a production duty pistol that shoots a duty round (none of those light loads or anything like that), you have to draw from concealment, and you have to engage each of the five targets with two rounds. At some point after the first target, you have to conduct a reload — either emergency or tactical reload, it’s your choice. So you’ve got to draw from concealment, 10 rounds, and reload all within five seconds.

AS: Boy howdy.

GQ: Five targets, five yards, five seconds: Triple Nickel.

AS: That’s pretty impressive.

GQ: It’s pretty tough. And you’ve got to do it three times in front of two certified coin holders in order for it to count. And you’ll be brought in to the fold and issued a coin and a number.

AS: That’s probably a pretty small number of folks that have that, huh?

GQ: Well, as of last week, 89 coin holders. So there’s still fewer than 100. And it’s not just the Department of Homeland Security. We have guys in SOCOM down in Florida, and some local PD guys that hold the coin, there’s a financial advisor who used to work in law enforcement that has the coin. It’s a pretty diverse group of guys, all very talented.

AS: One thing that’s kind of different about your situation, at least as far as I’m aware of from the past three seasons of Top Shot, is that you’ve actually had a close buddy there with you.

GQ: Yeah.

AS: How cool was that? I mean, kind of kept away the isolation and gave you a little sense of home.

GQ: We let everybody know right up front, whenever we came in to the house, that Jarrett and I were really close friends. We worked together at the academy, and for the Department of Homeland Security we were both firearms instructors. He was actually at one point the lead firearms instructor and I worked under him. When he got promoted several years later and moved on, I became the lead firearms instructor. So, we had a really close relationship going in to this. During the competition and in the house it kind of gave me a mental leg up, because I had someone I could vent to and talk to. It felt a little bit like home, like you said.

AS: I talked to Dustin and Mike previously, and they mentioned how the isolation dragged on you. So I could see where that could really help you out.

GQ: It’s tough, because you don’t get cell phones, or iPods, or books, or magazines. There’s no TV. So to have somebody in the house that you’re really close to, that you could just sit down and have a conversation with and talk about family — they know you and know your family, and you understand them and their problems as well — it’s a big relief. It’s a big bonus to have that going for you.

AS: Definitely. Now who found out about the show first, you or Jarrett?

GQ: Well, I think we both found out about around the same time. We were working in Atlantic City together, and a good friend of ours who also works for the Department of Homeland Security was on season one: J.J. Racaza.

AS: Ok, yeah.

GQ: I guess, when season one finished shooting, he told us ‘Hey man, you guys might want to put in for this. It’s a lot of fun, and I think you would both be great for the show.’ And we both kind of batted it around a little bit, but things started happening. I got promoted and transferred to Cleveland, and my buddy Jarrett got promoted and transferred to Atlanta. And season two came and went we were in the middle of these moves. And by the time season three rolled around and it was like the perfect storm. It was a good time personally, for both of us. We both put in, and we were kinda under the impression that they wouldn’t take more than one DHS guy at a time because that’s just kinda always how it’s played out. And for them to pick us both up and put both of us in the house together, that was a big surprise and big relief at the same time.

AS: Yeah, it’s pretty neat. It seemed that they kind of did that with pairs of folks this season: two competitive shooters, two of this, two of that.

GQ: When they first came out with the advertisement for Top Shot, they actually advertised that they were looking for shooting pairs. Like father/sons, brothers, sisters, or whatever. We didn’t put in as a shooting pair, but I think from that idea they didn’t get enough interest or enough qualified shooting pairs to make a season, so they decided to get somebody and their counterpart and pit them against each other.

AS: I was a little concerned the way it started out where they put winners in blue team and losers in red team. But red team was able to hold its own really well all the way throughout the season until it came time for green shirts. I’m glad it worked out the way it did. I would have really been upset had it been a landslide.

GQ: I kind of had an issue with the way Colby labeled us losers. We’d show up at practice and he’d ask these questions like ‘How does it feel to be on the losing team?’ We’re not a losing team. We got bested with a S&W 500, which is a cannon of a pistol, if you’ve never shot one. If you’re not used to it, you haven’t shot one a lot, it kind of throws you off your game. The first round, the recoil and the shock of the whole thing throws you off your game.

AS: I can imagine.

GQ: I think it was fair enough. I think we had a fair mix. Just because they labeled one team the winners and one team the losers in the beginning. I don’t think that was representative for what was on those teams, with the amount of talent.

AS: I would agree. Had they done a gun that was maybe a little more mainstream, it would have slid the field a bit. But this was something unusual.

GQ: If it had been that S&W 686 that we shot during the trick challenge, there was no way Cliff Walsh would have lost to Mike Hughes. That’s his gun and he would have done a whole lot better. There was an equal mix, that gun was just a really good tool to separate the field.

AS: How does that compare in terms of the power factor of a 44 Magnum? I know obviously it’s going to be bigger. But was it quite significant?

GQ: The loads that we were shooting with the S&W 500, even though it still kicked like crazy, they were still a lighter load than you can put in that gun. The lighter load was still a little heavier than a 44 Magnum, so I would hate to think what it would be like had they put in a full load there, honestly. You saw when I shot it, it kind of rocked me back on my heels a little bit.

AS: Especially the ladies, you could obviously tell that it hit them hard. The upper body strength is just something they don’t have.

GQ: It was a struggle, and if you didn’t have the upper body strength to control the weapon, it was a struggle.

AS: One thing I noticed last night — when the show aired and you were packing up, unsure if you were going to go home — I noticed you had all the notes from family on the wall. That was neat to see that you had your support team right there with you in the bunk.

GQ: You know, I used those letters as a tool to motivate myself. I didn’t have a ton of letters I brought with me. I have three children and my wife. Each member of the family wrote me one letter. That’s four letters that I have while I was there. I told myself that I wouldn’t open a letter until we won a challenge. We lost with the S&W 500, we lost with the LaRue OBR. Finally we won with the AK-47. What a lot of people don’t realize is that each episode is three days. That’s six days and I hadn’t opened a letter from home. When you reward yourself with that, it’s a real big boost to your morale and motivation. I used those letters to get me through those challenges.

AS: That’s a good strategy. Is there any one particular challenge that has aired that you would call a favorite so far?

GQ: They were all a whole lot of fun and each one has some element that I really enjoyed. My favorite, I think, has to be the AK-47 challenge because it was so extreme, and the elements were so stacked up against us that morning. Having to jump in the cold water and then still pull yourself together to make some shots with the AK-47, and the fact that the red team won that challenge… That always stood out as a favorite to me.

AS: I think it’s easy to forget when you’re watching at home. But yall were wearing coats before starting that one. And you’ve got to tread through that water. It must have been pretty darn cold, that would throw you off. But you’ve got to calm yourself and make sure you play it straight and stick to your fundamentals when it’s time to shoot.

GQ: You know what, the way they ramp it up on TV, Colby explains the challenge, and the experts run through it so you can see how it will play out. Then Colby says ‘Marksman ready? Go!’ But in reality, they explain the rules, and then there’s a lot of set-up and positioning of the cameras. So you have this huge build-up of adrenaline when you see the challenge and they’re talking to you about what you have to get done. Then you just sit there and wait for a while. And that adrenaline starts to fade off on you, and kind of wears down on you and throws you off your game. So you have to focus and pull yourself together, and keep yourself level-headed, and ration that adrenaline out a little bit so you don’t burn yourself out.

AS: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve taken home from your experience on Top Shot?

GQ: ‘Pay attention in school.’ You saw how I struggled with the McMillan TAC-50. It’s an easy enough weapon to shoot, it’s super accurate. But when Craig Sawyer told us that the targets, say the average man walks about 2.5 yards per second and the bullet travels at this speed and the wind is crossing you at 30 mph, and all these equations and how to set the dope on the scope… And I’ve never been a long gun shooter. When I was growing up and deer hunting, I always wanted a scope. But my dad was like ‘No, you’re going to learn to shoot with open sights first.’ And I never got a scope. I just always shot with open sights. I kind of lost myself in the numbers and equations and didn’t pay maybe as much attention as I should have during the practice. So when I got there in the challenge and everything started happening, I realized that I was missing and that I’d was going to have to make some adjustments, the math wasn’t there. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, so I just kept guessing. And as you can see, it didn’t work so well out for me.

AS: But you know what, I am glad you stuck it through no matter how long it took to get it. It would have been bad to throw in the towel. You know had it been a stationary target, you could have done your corrections.

GQ: The thing is, as soon as that challenge started airing and everybody saw how I was doing, my phone started burning up. I’ve got a lot of friends in the military community and law enforcement, and a lot of those guys are long gun guys. They’ve all shot with me before and know what I’m capable of with a pistol. But I’ve never sought any type of advice on a long gun because it’s never been my thing. They were all asking ‘Why didn’t you just come to me for help beforehand, because then you wouldn’t have had to suffer through that challenge.’ But hindsight is 20/20 and I’ve found my weakness and made several steps already towards correcting that.

AS: Have you ever had the chance to shoot the Barrett and if so how does that compare to the McMillan?

GQ: I’ve never shot a 50 cal before this. I’ve shot some law enforcement 308, but at no significant distance. And that was the first 50 cal that I shot. It kind of says a little something about it in the episode about how I’ve had a significant amount of reconstructive surgery on my shoulder. I have a plate and eight screws, in that shoulder, so every time that thing would go off, it was like a bat hitting me in the face. It was very painful for me to shoot. I told the producers, I didn’t want them to show me icing my shoulder, because I didn’t want that to look like an excuse. I considered it like ‘If I didn’t want it to hurt, I should have hit my target faster and then it wouldn’t have hurt.’ So it’s my own fault.

AS: They showed it briefly on the show, but it didn’t come off that way at all.

GQ: Good.

AS: Folks that have just seen you on the show, what’s one thing that they wouldn’t know about you (and maybe would be surprised to know about you)?

GQ: Just from watching the show, I think I’ve come off as fairly level-headed. But I do have a little bit of a temper, and I do get frustrated some times. After Jarrett left the house and I didn’t have my friend with me, that frustration started building. Especially with Jake’s antics and the stuff that was going on in the house. I think they portray me the way I really am on the show, but there is a side of me where I speak my mind and I’m not as level-headed as I seem.

AS: It looks like there’s some sort of excitement going on with Jake next week, but we’ll have to wait and see what that’s all about.

GQ: There’s always some sort of excitement going on with him.

AS: This could be a gun you shot on the show, or something totally off on your own, but is there any gun that you tried it and decided ‘This gun is not for me, I don’t like it, I don’t want to touch it, don’t need to use it.’?

GQ: I would have to say that the TAC-50 is a gun that for me, and what I do, and the way I use firearms, it’s just something that is just way outside of what I would ever need. It’s a big, powerful gun. It serves a very specific purpose, but it’s not anything I could see myself ever needing to use.

AS: I would like to shoot a 50 cal, but I wouldn’t have a need to shoot one so regularly that I would consider buying one. But if a friend had one, sure I’d shoot it just to say that I shot it, but I agree with you there.

GQ: Right. There are a lot of guns that serve a purpose. You asked about something that may surprise people… One thing about me that may surprise people is that I’m not a big gun guy. I don’t have a ton of guns in my house or a huge gun safe. I have a pistol that I carry off duty, and a duty weapon, and a couple of guns that I got from my dad. Other than that, that’s it. I’ve got a bow, and I’m not a big collector of guns. Every gun I have has a purpose. I don’t need much more than that.

AS: If you know your tools, and know how to use them, then you don’t need a whole lot of them.

GQ: I agree with you 100%.

AS: Between the time you got the notice that you were accepted on the show and the time to go, did you do anything to prepare for the show? Try any different guns or anything?

GQ: I put my application in, and got a call back from the History Channel saying I’d made it in to the final 100, which is the semi-finals. Out of that 100, they pick 50 to go to LA for the finals. So, I started to feel like my chances were pretty good. That’s when I started practicing. Once I knew, I was practicing around the house and at the range after work — more than normal. Once I knew I was going to LA for the final 50, I started training pretty hard. I packed up the wife and kids and we went to Virginia. My brothers met me at my grandmother’s house where we grew up. They brought down all kinds of weapons for me to shoot. I had a tomahawk (sp?), I ordered a set of throwing knives. I completely wrecked a picnic table. It was a lot of fun. I got to reconnect and spend some time with family and work on things I felt like I needed to get me through the show.

AS: Not only that, but you had family time before you had to go away for the show.

GQ: Exactly. And that was important, because you know that you’re planning on seeing that thing through to the end and you’re going to be there for a while. Nobody goes in there planning on just being there for a couple of weeks then being back before you know it. Everybody goes in there wanting to spend the entire set of weeks there.

AS: Have the kids been watching on TV, and how interesting has that been for them to see dad on TV?

GQ: It’s fantastic. We stay up every Tuesday night and watch it. We have friends over to the house. I’ve done several viewing parties at the Buffalo Wild Wings local to here in the little town we live in. And the kids are always there with me. My wife and kids have been very supportive. The kids can be a little grumpy Wednesday mornings because it’s a school morning. But it’s a whole lot of fun, and they’ve really enjoyed. I think they enjoy inviting their friends to these things, and saying to their friends ‘Look, there’s my dad on TV.’

AS: Is it weird getting noticed out in public, now that the series has been going on for a while?

GQ: Yeah it is. It’s kind of funny. I think the weirdest thing for me so far has been when I went back home to Virginia to do a charity event at the local flea market and gun show. It’s a huge outdoor flea market and gun show. There’s a building in my home town called the Carter Home, and it’s a big historical building on Main Street. They wanted me to come down and take some pictures and sign some autographs, and have people make donations for the restoration of the Carter Home. People would come up to me on the street and want me to sign their gun boxes they just bought down at the gun show, or get their picture made with me. There were a lot of people from out of town, but then there were people I’d known my entire life that would come up and ask me for my autograph. It was really weird for me.

AS: Out of the norm for sure.

GQ: I’m like ‘You’ve known me from grade school, so what do you need my autograph for?’ At the same time it’s a lot of fun. It’s very flattering and very humbling to know that people are that interested in you and what it is you’re doing.

AS: What do you think as gun owners — as a group — what are maybe one or two things we could do to remove the negative stigma towards guns? I’d like to do what I can to change that mentality. Have you got any ideas of things we could do as a community?

GQ: I think a lot of it is just education. There’s a lot of people that don’t understand guns, so they are a little afraid of them. Because they don’t understand it, they just jump on the local bandwagon. Whatever the primary thought is in a community, like a majority rules type of thing. Where I grew up, everybody owned guns. We all hunt, we all fish, and there’s no mystery in guns and we understand that they’re tools. I think that if you could just get the word out and shows like Top Shot are fantastic for that, for showing people that it’s a sport. It’s something people can do to better themselves and to increase their focus, and have a lot of fun with friends, and build camaraderie. It’s not a bad thing at all. I think education is the number one thing as far as getting the word out that it isn’t anything negative at all.

AS: Growing up, I had an uncle that would take me and my cousins up in the mountains — we’d go shooting and have a great time. One of my cousins, she went to Australia for a year for school. They don’t allow gun ownership over there, and one time when asked what we did for fun, she said that we went up in the mountains and shot guns. They were mortified and didn’t know what to think. It just goes back to exposure and education.

GQ: Sure. I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe, and they have the same mindset. The police don’t carry guns over there. If they need guns, they call for them and a van shows up that’s got the guns in the van. It’s different here, because our culture is founded on firearms and marksmanship — from The Shot Heard ‘Round The World, the settlement of the Old West, the allure of the Old West gunfighter. It’s been a big part of our culture. I don’t think there hasn’t been a kid growing up that hasn’t fantasized about being a cowboy or playing cops and robbers. It’s just something that is ingrained in us from the time that we’re little.

AS: There’s really no other country that has the special relationship with firearms that we do.

GQ: I’ve been to a lot of different countries, and we are incredibly unique when it comes to firearms.

AS: Before green shirts it was team-based competition, and now with green shirts it is individual head-to-head competition. Do you have a preference on either one, and as a follow-up question: does one test your mettle more than the other?

GQ: I think the answer would be different for anybody that you ask. For me personally, I thrive in a team environment. I’ve always been that way. When I was in the Army, I was in field artillery, so you work with a group of guys on a cannon. When I was in the Bureau of Prisons, I was on the special operations response team. I’ve always thrived in that team dynamic. I enjoy individual competition and I enjoy going head-to-head. For me, it’s the thrill of competition and pulling the team together that’s more appealing to me. Once I have to start performing on my own, I can do that. I do a little bit better when I have to go head-to-head than I do standing on a line shooting and seeing how everybody else does. I need something there to push me, and going head-to-head, like with me and Mike or being part of a team — that’s what pushes and motivates me. For me, it would definitely be that I do better in a team setting.

AS: I want to thank for taking time to sit with me and talk to me. I really do appreciate it.

GQ: It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

AS: Yes sir, you the same. I wish you luck through the competition.

GQ: I tell you what, it can’t get any worse than it was with that MacMillan.

AS: There you go. Thank you very much.

GQ: I appreciate it.

Interview: Top Shot Competitor Mike Hughes

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.

MH: Yep.

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 ( 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.

AS: Correct.

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.

MH: Yep.

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.