Cheaper Than Dirt! Discusses Equipment Reliability with BLACKHAWK!

From humble beginnings crafting durable nylon web gear and packs in a garage back in 1993, BLACKHAWK! has grown into a large corporation offering thousands of products for military, law enforcement, firefighters and EMS, as well as for hunters and self defense. Every product produced by BLACKHAWK! is thoroughly tested under the harshest conditions to ensure that it will hold up and perform when needed the most. In short, for BLACKHAWK! products, failure is not an option.

We spoke with Ty Weaver, Senior Manager of BLACKHAWK!’s Special Operations Division to learn more about the history of the company and what goes into the development of their battle-proven equipment.

Ty Weaver BLACKHAWK! was started in 1993 by a gentleman named Mike Noell., He was actually an active duty SEAL at that time. He was in Northern Iraq on patrol hunting SCUD missiles and one of the straps on his backpack failed, which was bad enough on its own, but they had just found out that they were in the middle of minefield when that happened. So, he decided if he ever got out of that, he’d start making gear that the guys could depend on ’cause he wasn’t impressed with the quality of the issued gear at that time.

He went back, to his East Coast SEAL station in the Norfolk area at Dam Neck. He started designing and building gear out of a 2 car garage in Virginia. He started doing backpacks, load bearing harnesses and things like that.

Cheaper Than Dirt That’s still kind of BLACKHAWK!’s bread and butter isn’t it?

Ty Weaver Yeah, that’s the emphasis. We’re a very diverse company now. We were purchased by ATK in April of 2010—and continue to expand our product offerings. ATK has a number of well-known brands under the umbrella–Federal Premium, Speer, CCI, Weaver, Champion, Alliant Powder and RCBS to name a few. It’s a great fit.

Cheaper Than Dirt Anytime companies can work together under a single umbrella such as ATK, we see so much more product compatibility and so many more innovative products being developed.

Ty Weaver Yup.

We take it so seriously because, all of the guys in the Special Operations Division, we’ve been there. We’ve been in those fights and we know what it’s like when a piece of equipment fails. It’s not all about the money. This is about people’s lives, you know. It really is that important to BLACKHAWK! and that’s why the company has grown substantially since Mike started it. We’ve always had that philosophy of always taking care of the end-user at first.

It doesn’t matter if it’s law enforcement, the military or commercial. We look at the entire market and ask “What do we need? How can we make stuff better, lighter, stronger and faster?” So we work on that.

Cheaper Than Dirt All this gear is designed to be used in areas where failure is really not an option.

Ty Weaver Right, and we take that into account you know. We had crossed over in the last few years into the commercial market and done some packs with Real Tree camouflage, but we don’t really do a separate line. We take existing packs and reconstruct them the same way as we do for a military Special Forces unit. We’ll just change some colors, maybe change a few features on it to get into that specific, what we call “Different Mission Profiles,” whether it be a military mission profile or law enforcement, or commercial. We look at our mindset, asking where is the equipment going to be used, and then we specifically design for that.

Cheaper Than Dirt That’s a really good point because a lot of Cheaper Than Dirt customers are law enforcement and military. We also have a lot of customers who are simply supporters of the Second Amendment. They’re hunters, campers and people who are looking for gear that can survive being abused and being tossed in the closet and hauled out and expected to perform out every couple of years.

Ty Weaver Yeah we design and build our gear to the extremes. You buy one of our BLACKHAWK! three-day backpacks, it’s going to last you for 20 years. Through the years, with the different design changes, we control raw materials very closely and we’re always looking for new products out there to make our stuff lighter, stronger and faster. We’re consistently striving to put the best product out there that we can.

Cheaper Than Dirt What goes into the development process? How are BLACKHAWK! products developed? Do you just have a bunch of guys sitting around a table with a whiteboard and some scraps of paper, scribbling down ideas?

Ty Weaver These days, it’s all end-user driven. Once again it could be in law enforcement, military, civilian commercial, hunters or nearly anybody that we get feedback from. One of the most critical ways we do that now, for the last 6 years, we’ve had a Special Operations Divisions where I work and we have about 12 guys who are all prior law enforcement, military or both, all with an average of 20 years experience in the field.

We go out and do training for law enforcement and military. We do demonstrations, we outfit military units and things like that. Having that interface with the end user, we’re constantly getting feedback.

Teams will tell us “Hey we have this mission profile, can you build us something to accomplish this mission?” or “This holster is great, but we want it to do this: can you modify it this way?”

Cheaper Than Dirt You’ve actually got boots on the ground. You’re directly interfacing with the end-user in order to develop your products.

Ty Weaver Absolutely. For the Special Operations Division, with the team members we have throughout the United States, there are several guys that work at our headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, but the rest of us are in the field all the time. We work out of our house, I mean we work for the factory and obviously are full time employees, but we work in different areas throughout the country as well as all over the world.

Cheaper Than Dirt Let’s talk about one of your new products that you’re coming out with for 2011. You’ve got a new high performance fighting uniform, and one of the features we see on it is an integrated tourniquet system. That’s something that was directly driven by the military, wasn’t it?

Ty Weaver Absolutely, yes. It started off with one of the guys on our Special Operations team, Matt Willette, who was doing a tactical medical course with a guy named Dr. Keith Rose. Keith had done deployments to Afghanistan; he was in a convoy of what are called “technical vehicles” which are basically Toyota pickup trucks. One vehicle in front of them was hit in the front with an RPG, and the driver who was a good friend of his was stuck in that vehicle. They couldn’t get him out and he actually bled out.

Dr. Rose came up with the idea “Hey, if we would have tourniquets on his body in position, we could have saved his life.”

We looked at it, and there are so many ways you could use that. We’re considering, as we expand our apparel line, getting into hunting clothes. If you have a hunter out in the middle of nowhere by himself, and he goes up a tree stand and falls, and somehow a stick goes into his leg and hits an artery, what’s he gonna do? If he has the tourniquet system right there, with one hand he can apply that tourniquet. That’s the thought process, to just incorporate life-saving features in to the actual uniform itself.

Cheaper Than Dirt That same thought process goes into all of your items. You take military application and police applications, and make them into commercially viable products.

Ty Weaver It’s really neat, the way we operate. We have guys in every branch of the military, some guys are canine handlers and on SWAT teams, so when we look at new products it almost always comes through what we call the “SOD” (the Special Operations Division) and we look at it and give inputs on all different aspects.

“How can we make this better?” or “Did you think about this?” just trying to cover as many bases as possible. We strive to get the most use out of every part we build as possible.

Cheaper Than Dirt Let’s talk holsters for a minute. We’ve seen more and more of these holsters come out that accommodate pistol mounted lasers. As lasers become cheaper, less expensive and more readily available, more and more end users, not just police and law enforcement, but regular people carrying concealed handguns are looking for a way to carry that weapon securely concealed in a holster that can accommodate a laser. Can we look forward to seeing more laser holsters coming out from Blackhawk?

Ty Weaver Oh yeah, I mean that simple line that we have now, we already do nylon, leather and the polymer based SERPA holsters, and the SERPA holsters are already designed from the ground up so that when you reholster your weapon, if you have a Crimson Trace laser mounted to your weapon it’ll already accept that.

We also have light bearing holsters. One of the new items we’re coming out within the next 6 to 8 months is our concealed CQC holster light bearing. We did it as a level 3 duty holster for law enforcement. Now we’re taking it a bit farther so that people can carry a concealed weapon with a weapon mounted light as well.

As we go along, we’re developing more and more holsters for different brand weapons, but also incorporating the different accessories that are available out there in the market.

Cheaper Than Dirt Holsters are one those things that you can pretty much chase the long tail of the market forever. There’s almost a never ending possibility of different combinations of lights, lasers, and other accessories. How do you decide where to draw the line and what holster to customize for a specific gun/laser/light combo, and what to go ahead and stick with a universal-style nylon holster for?

Ty Weaver Well, look at holsters like our SERPA line. Obviously it’s expensive to do a mold for every gun, and you have a left and right hand version of each so you have two molds at a minimum, but we look at the industry out there and we have great connections. Within our Special Operations Division we have a guy who worked for SIG for several years. I worked for H&K for seven and a half years, and we have great relationships with people at GLOCK and Springfield, so we get input from them. They let us know what the most popular models are and what’s selling.

A lot of manufacturers will come to us and say “Hey can you do a holster for this weapon we’re going to come out with,” and we get ahead of the curve on that as well. One of the unique things is that we do the traditional leather and nylon, but one of the unique things about the SERPA is it’s a modular system.

For example, if you buy the CQC holster, it comes with both a paddle and a belt mount. But if you want to turn it into a shoulder holster you don’t have to buy another holster, you just buy the shoulder holster mount. If you wanted to buy an adapter to put it onto MOLLE gear or the PALS type of military webbing, we have that mount so that you don’t have to buy a whole new holster to accommodate that mission profile. Now you just buy an accessory and mount that holster on to it.
We’ve also done the quick disconnect system which is an 8 point gear system where you can mount this to any of the platforms and literally, within few seconds, mount and remove the holster and move it from platform to platform.

It actually started when the German military came to us and said “Look, we want to build a holster from our thigh to our chest, because we are out on foot patrol and we have our weapon on a drop leg holster, but once we mount up on a vehicle, we can’t access that when we’re sitting and it’s very difficult with your body arm to access it like that, so we want to be able to transfer to a chest platform.”

So that, even if you’re driving a vehicle, you know you’ll be able to access the weapon. We did that for them and now it works with all the components of the SERPA. I think there is a total of 12 different mounts we do now.

Cheaper Than Dirt With these new quick-disconnect mounts, can you move that setup with the gun still secured in the holster?

Ty Weaver Absolutely, the weapon’s in there, the trigger guard is protected, so it’s safe and law enforcement really liked it when they saw it. There are times when they’ll have to take the bad guy into the prison, and they’re checking into the Sally port and they’ve got to check their weapon. Now, instead of pulling the weapon out, clearing it, and putting it into the lock-up, they could just hit the quick disconnect, take it off, put in the lock-up, come back out and within just a few seconds they’re done.

Cheaper Than Dirt That’s a fantastic safety feature. Everybody knows that the more you handle a weapon, the more chance there is to have an accident. We all follow standard safety practices, but you’ve just eliminated one of the ways of having a negligent discharge.

Ty Weaver That’s what the SERPA holster has been all about. The natural draw of the SERPA, when you physically position your trigger finger in the same place on the slide as you are drawing the weapon, there are no un-ergonomic actions.

Within the Special Operations Division we do a one day SERPA holster instructor class. We teach people that if they are handed a pistol that the way they grab it is the same way you draw it out of that holster. The unique thing about it is, whether it’s a CQC holster, a Level 2 Duty or Level 3 Duty, a tactical drop leg, it’s the same consistent draw, no matter which mission profile you’re in.

Cheaper Than Dirt You’re basically training good muscle memory, and training good habits by doing that.

Ty Weaver Absolutely.

Cheaper Than Dirt You have an entire new line of EMS pouches, many medical pouches, and utility pouches.

Ty Weaver Absolutely. You know, we were surprised. We learn everyday too. You know, we took on the Special Operations Division guys and he has headed up our fire and EMS line. He’s the director of that now, and he got together and brought in a lot of end users from different fire agencies, from volunteer to big city agencies and held focus groups.

We started looking into this and one thing we found is that these agencies will spend millions of dollars on a fire truck, and then use equipment bags that they have their equipment in that are just substandard.

We suggested building and equipping them with better heavy-duty bags, and these guys were just ecstatic. They didn’t even know that the capability was out there to build to that level. If you ever go through a fire station, their individual equipment and their fire trucks are just the best that you can get, but it was just the support equipment that really hadn’t been brought up to a high standard.

We saw a real opportunity in there and that entire division for us is just taking off by leaps and bounds. We’re getting so much good feedback from these people thanking us for building this gear. They’ve told us “We had certain bags that, every year we were replacing them. Now that’s gone away. Now we have more options.”

Cheaper Than Dirt Just like in the military, people’s lives depend on this gear, and that’s an important point to remember. It may not be the user of the medical equipment that has so their life depending on it, but they’re using it to save somebody else’s life.

Ty Weaver Absolutely. That makes all the difference you know. If you’re on a search and rescue mission and you have to carry gear up into the mountains, and that bag falls apart like Mike’s backpack did in Iraq 17 years ago, it’s the same type of situation. It all affects whether that person is going to live or die. If you can’t get there with the equipment you need, it makes all the difference in the world.

Cheaper Than Dirt BLACKHAWK! is making that difference, and I know everybody appreciates it. Having quality gear is important to us all.

I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to us and explaining a little bit about the history of BLACKHAWK! as well as what goes into the development of your products.

Jay Lim Audio Podcast

Viewers of Top Shot Season 2 love him or hate him. Jay Lim has been the center of drama among the shooters of the Blue Team. His unconventional shooting techniques may seem to set him up for failure, but time and time again we’ve seen him pull through in the clutch and come out with a win. That is, until last week. After the Red and Blue Teams were done away with and the participants donned their green jerseys for the individual competition, Jay found himself once again sent to the elimination challenge. We called up competitor Jay Lim to talk about his background in the shooting sports and his experience on the History Channel’s new reality TV Show.

Listen to the podcast live using the player below, or download the entire .mp3 file here.

Follow Jay Lim on his Facebook Page, or on his website at JayLimGolf.com.

Top Shot Competitor Daryl Parker

Daryl Parker is a US Marine turned law enforcement officer who lives in the North Texas area just outside of Dallas. While he initially hadn’t even heard of the History Channel’s reality TV show Top Shot, one of his fellow officers heard about it and, knowing how skilled Daryl was with a rifle and pistol, encouraged him to apply for the show.

Daryl took the opportunity, and proved his skills as a marksman on the Blue Team, until he was eliminated by Jay Lim in the .22 LR steel plate challenge. We had the opportunity to talk to Daryl about his experience on the show and found out that he’s working on opening up a series of Top Shot themed shooting ranges where anyone can try their hand at similar challenges.

Listen live to the original interview below.Download the original interview with Daryl by clicking here.

Cheaper Than Dirt Did you grow up in a family of shooters, hunting and shooting and that sort of thing?

Daryl Parker Yeah, on my Mom’s side I’ve got a lot of military relatives, primarily in the Marine Corps. Then, on my Dad’s side, it’s basically just a bunch of good ‘ole country boys. That’s kinda how I was raised. I was brought up in rural areas in Arkansas and I’ve been shooting since I was a little kid.

Cheaper Than Dirt Did you have much experience with competitions or shooting sports?

Daryl Parker No, not at all actually. It was all recreational and hunting. I really didn’t compete at all as a kid.

Cheaper Than Dirt How about after you joined the Marine Corps?

Daryl Parker Yeah, in the Marine Corps we had annual qualifications for your weapon system. With both the M16 and the Beretta 9mm I qualified numerous times as an expert. That eventually leads to [someone asking] “Hey, are you interested in shooting competitively?”

The Marine Corps, just like all of the other services, fields marksmanship teams that compete at various levels, and eventually I became the captain of a competitive Marine Corps rifle and pistol team. We competed in both the Pacific Division matches and the Eastern Division matches.

Cheaper Than Dirt At what point does a Sheriff’s Deputy decide to sit down, get out video camera, make a short video, fill out the application, and audition for a reality TV show?

Daryl Parker *laughs* Well, out of the police academy I was the Top Gun. It’s kind of like an award they give to the top shooting cadet there. Through my qualifications with my law enforcement agencies, I had a reputation as being a good shot.

I didn’t actually seek out the top shot application. I didn’t know anything about it. My Chief Deputy saw this email where they were casting for Season 2 and he ordered that email to me, and the rest from there is kinda history.

Cheaper Than Dirt So, you were pretty much encouraged by your fellows on the force.

Daryl Parker Yeah.

Cheaper Than Dirt You obviously have a background in the Marine Corps and law enforcement as a shooter, you’ve shot somewhat competitively there, but have you done any league shooting such as USPSA or IPSC?

Daryl Parker No, I have not. I haven’t shot with either of those organizations, but based on my Top Shot experience I definitely think that that’s something that I get into.

Cheaper Than Dirt Tell me about your experience going onto the show. You show up there after a couple of days filming commercials for the show, and Colby Donaldson basically says “All right, this is it!”

What’s going through your head at that point when you’re stepping up there to the line for the first time

Daryl Parker Well, the first thing is that it’s a weapon that we’re all unfamiliar with, a Sharp’s Rifle. I don’t think that any of us had ever fired the Sharp’s rifle. The first thing was “Let me just manipulate this weapon in a way that I don’t look like an idiot.”

You know, it surprised me how much having the cameras and all of that there kinda increases your anxiety, so we’re all nervous. We wanted to shoot well, particularly our first shot of the entire show. Another thing that surprised me about Top Shot is that there’s very little practice time. We all thought that once we got onto the show that we’d be shooting at the range every day and putting a lot of rounds down range, but that wasn’t the case.

Cheaper Than Dirt That’s something that not a lot of people realize about Top Shot is how much down time there is and how little time is actually spent shooting. You can actually take a full three days to film an entire episode.

Daryl Parker Yeah, and shoot one shot.

Cheaper Than Dirt If you even shoot that. We have some shooters like Brian Zins who would go days and days and days without shooting anything.

Daryl Parker Correct.

Cheaper Than Dirt Let’s talk about the team dynamics on Blue Team. It seemed pretty interesting right out of the gate, what was it like right after the team was formed as everybody was getting to know each other?

Daryl Parker Well, to be honest I thought that he [Jay] made some good choices in terms of skill level and background, I mean, we had a pretty talented Blue Team put together. He made his choices based on the criteria he had set, and I don’t really think that it was a bad criteria.

Team dynamics? I would say that we didn’t know each other and we were kinda feeling each other out, but we were all very positive about it. In the very very beginning everything looked good.

Cheaper Than Dirt The Blue Team seems to be more of a team of specialists. You have a lot of competition shooters, you have Kyle Frasure who was a shotgun specialist, meanwhile on the Red Team you’ve got a lot of generalists, a lot of military guys who have experience with a wide variety of weapons. Do you think that Blue Team’s specialization had anything to do with some of the early eliminations?

Daryl Parker Absolutely. You know, when you talk about specialization, like on our first challenge the pool ball challenge and our second challenge the prohibition challenge which was also a pistol challenge, those specialists didn’t have their best days there. When you have a team that has so many specialists on it, I mean, if they have an off day it really doesn’t do us any good.

I think the generalists, for the show Top Shot, and for this venue, and for this concept of a show, I think the generalist is going to beat the specialist every time.

Cheaper Than Dirt Simply by virtue of the fact that you’ve got so many different challenges and so many different firearms that you’ve got to adapt to very quickly, you don’t see any advantage to being extremely skilled in one form of shooting or another?

Daryl Parker No, in fact I think it’s your handicap. It’s great when you get to that thing, but for the other 8 or 9 challenges that you go through, what else are you going to rely on?

Cheaper Than Dirt One thing that a lot of people have been commenting on is Jay Lim, and I know you had some interesting interactions with him early on. What was really going on there, because we know that, through the casting and through the editing process, that sometimes people can be made out to appear other than how they are. We saw you and Jay admittedly have some conflicts on camera, but what was going on there with his reluctance to accept expert advice, and your and his later head to head?

Daryl Parker Well, I would chalk it up to a misunderstanding. Jay, his reluctance to take advice from the experts, I’ll tell you a secret: his reluctance to take advice from the expert is what resulted in him hitting the bullseye with the Sharp’s rifle.

You have 16 marksman of the caliber that we were, and only one person hit the bullseye? How could that happen? I’m going to chalk it up to the sighting instructions that we received from the expert on the Sharp’s rifle. We all followed his instructions, and we all missed the bullseye. The only person who didn’t follow the expert’s instructions, as normal, was Jay, and he got a bullseye.

I think Jay is much more internally confident in his own abilities. Basically, he’s going to say “Look, I know how to shoot, and I’m going to shoot it my way. I’m just looking for some little tips that I can incorporate that don’t change my entire shooting style.”

And, you know, it’s served him well. That’s what has got him this far already.

Cheaper Than Dirt Something he repeated over and over, after commenting on the expert instruction, he said “Don’t reteach me the fundamentals, teach me to shoot faster.” Was that an accurate statement?

Daryl Parker I think people misunderstand how he means that. What he means is “Yeah, I get it, I understand that my stance and my pistol grip may be unorthodox, but I don’t have time to correct that right now. I’ll correct that later on. Right now, are there other tips that you can tell me about coming up on my target quickly, acquiring my target quickly, trigger control, something else I can use that I can incorporate quickly?”

People are mistaking him saying “Well, I’m not going to do that,” with a reluctance to be coached. He is not reluctant to be coached, he just is good enough that he knows what he can incorporate in the short time that he has.

Cheaper Than Dirt We saw him actually lending his advice to other shooters. Early on it sometimes it was not exactly welcomed, but later in episodes like the archery challenge we saw his much needed and very skilled advice actually help the team significantly.

Daryl Parker Yeah, and you’ve alluded to some of the friction we had in the first place, you know I’m an accomplished shooter, Jermaine is an accomplished shooter, Kyle is an accomplished shooter, we all have our strengths and we were all there for a reason. We were picked out and we did our pre-qualification, we shot against all the other applicants and that sort of thing. We felt like we all deserved to be there, and I think the thing that kinda caused some friction was Jay’s coaching without being asked to coach.

To be fair, there were other members who did ask Jay to coach them, but once we kinda talked that out and had that understanding, after that it was all fine. We haven’t had any conflict since.

Cheaper Than Dirt Let’s talk about once of the incidents at the nomination range, and I’m pretty sure you already know where I’m going with this, when everybody was going to nominate Jermaine and then Jermaine was going to choose one person to go to the challenge with, you stepped up there and you shot Jay’s target, and that kinda started a cascade of events there with Maggie eventually being drawn to choose who was going to the shoot-off with Jermaine, and she chose Jay. What happened behind the scenes that we didn’t see on the episode?

Daryl Parker Well, we kinda made the decision that we would all shoot Jermaine’s target, and then he gets to pick the other person that goes with him. But you know, Jermaine had just had a major mental fumble on that challenge, he was already feeling lousy about it, that he had to go into the elimination and that he made our team lose, so he was feeling pretty crappy about it.

I didn’t think it was fair to put the decision on his shoulders, to pick the other person to go with him, because then Jermaine has to go elimination and essentially eliminate that other person. I felt that as a team we kinda chickened-out by taking that decision and putting it in his lap. We should have chosen the second person. Some of the other team members thought that same way, and so we started talking about, well, who?

We didn’t know enough about each other’s skills or what we all brought to it, so the only thing we could point to was, if there was a friction point, where is that friction point? We decided that was Jay, and so my shooting Jay’s target was entirely 100% a team decision.

Cheaper Than Dirt Except, obviously, Jay wasn’t privy to the conversation, and we assume Jermaine wasn’t aware of it either.

Daryl Parker Yeah, and you alluded to the 3-day filming schedule, this kinda happened in a short-fused kinda way, and we really, with all the cameras in the house and not wanting the Red Team to know what was going on, we really didn’t get a chance to pull Jay to one side and tell him.

We knew this was going to be a surprise to him, and we knew it was going to look pretty bad, but we had decided that this was what needed to happen.

Cheaper Than Dirt The episode after that we saw you and Jay get into it a bit after that elimination challenge when Jay returned victorious. Did everything settle out after that?

Daryl Parker Yeah, really after that we had talked about it as a team and what they showed in the episode was basically myself telling Jay off, but there were other members involved in that and it got pretty heated. After that, it all went away. That kind of let all the air out of the balloon and after that we never had a problem.

Cheaper Than Dirt We talked to Kyle after his elimination and he mentioned the fact that after that little head to head with Jay where everything got resolved, Blue Team never left a meeting without knowing who was going to the nomination range.

Daryl Parker Yes, we said that, from now on. In the entire thing, that one vote that I took – and that was a team decision – that one vote that I took was the only vote that was an unconsolidated vote. After that, every single vote was two people and two people only.

Cheaper Than Dirt Do you think that really helped the team spirit? The morale of the team?

Daryl Parker Well, I really think that it helped that everything was above board and we didn’t feel that anyone was being schemed against or preyed on in a Survivor-like fashion. It was all on the up-and-up, and those decision were made based off of performance. When we got into the team meeting to talk about who should go, who should be nominated, we were very up front with each other, saying “Hey, I don’t think you performed,” or “I don’t think I performed.”

Cheaper Than Dirt Let’s move on and talk about the most recent episode. The Blue Team already had a very small team, only three people if I recall. Does that give you any inherent advantage or disadvantage when you’re going into a team challenge?

Daryl Parker Going in with only three people means that we get to sit two of the Red Team out, and we couldn’t sit Brian Zins out, but we could still sit two of their best generalists out. I think we sat out two of their best marksmen, Chris Reed and Joe Serafini. I’m still comfortable with that, and I think it was the right decision. It was a very close competition, and if we had fired just a little bit faster, things would have been different.

Cheaper Than Dirt You were selected to shoot at the moving targets within the shooting gallery. Do you think that if you had focused on some of the stationary targets instead that you would have been able to engage them a bit faster and have a higher score?

Daryl Parker No, actually the moving targets were worth two points. The stationary targets were worth one point. Because I had done well with the moving targets in practice, I shot the moving targets. My moving target score was nine. The other team had a couple of their members shooting at moving targets, so I at least tied their score with nine targets hit. Then, in my second rotation through, I moved on to the stationary targets.

I hit the nine movers and then, I don’t know, maybe six or seven stationary targets. I think my overall score accounted for a good portion of our total score.

Cheaper Than Dirt We mentioned earlier that there were only three people on the Blue Team. After the Blue Team’s loss during the team challenge, it seemed pretty obvious that you were going to be heading to an elimination challenge, simply by virtue of the fact that you’ve got only three people, two of whom have to go.

Daryl Parker Well, I think that my performance thus far on the team had been strong. I’d been one of the strong performers, Jay had been one of the strong performers, and Ashley had done well also. We kinda looked around at each other and said “Hey, we all did our job. How can we pick? Well, we won’t pick. We’ll just leave it to chance.”

Cheaper Than Dirt You went into the nomination range with the plan of everybody shooting the other person’s target which, I thought, was pretty ingenious, but Colby kinda threw a little wrench into the works there.

Daryl Parker Yes, he did. In the elimination nomination with Jermaine and Jay, the way they settled that, if there was a tie, was that they picked a name and then that person went up and shot another target. That’s when Maggie shot Jay’s target. We thought they were going to do that same thing with us.

We’d all shoot each other’s target, Colby would pull a name, and the person who’s name he’d pulled would go up and shoot the same target they’d shot before. That’s how the two people would be selected.

Cheaper Than Dirt Do you think the producers were back stage going “Ha ha! We’ll throw a wrench in their plans!” or was this something they had already laid out and planned before hand?

Daryl Parker I think it may have been already planned out because of our numbers. There were only three of us. They may have made the determination beforehand that that was how they were going to handle that.

Cheaper Than Dirt This wasn’t somebody looking at the footage that was shot that day and going “OK, what do we do about this?”

Daryl Parker It’s possible, I mean I’m giving them a lot of credit to say that they had the forethought to think of it ahead of time, that “If there are only three players what are we going to do if they all tie?”

So, I’m giving them the credit for thinking of that ahead of time, and I think that’s how it went, but they could have discerned our votes and come up with this different way to handle it.

Cheaper Than Dirt When you were going through the expert training after the nomination range, it seemed like you were struggling a little bit with cocking the hammer back on the revolver. Had you shot much revolver before that?

Daryl Parker I had, but not generally for speed. I knew this was going to be a head to head elimination. I just knew it was. When I’ve shot revolver before, I always cocked the hammer with my strong hand, with my shooting hand. With this one I needed to stay on target and acquire the targets fast, so I needed to cock that hammer with my weak hand.

It wasn’t a huge transition. It wasn’t a skill that was difficult to incorporate.

Cheaper Than Dirt Moving on to the elimination challenge itself, you’re shooting .22s still, the same as we saw in the team challenge, trying to eliminate these plates that are stacked up from largest to smallest, all in a row. We’ve already established that you’ve got a lot of experience shooting a rifle and a handgun. What about the Ruger 10/22 specifically, have you shot that quite a bit?

Daryl Parker Well, I’d never fired the Ruger model. Normally it’s a Remington .22 or something like that. I’d never tried the Ruger model. Sight picture, there is no difference: it’s a standard .22 rifle. The difference for the Ruger 10/22 was the magazine, it’s a box magazine. During practice it was a little glitchy for me.

Sometimes it would slide in and there would be a satisfying physical “click” and you knew that the magazine was fully seated. Other times, you’d slide it in and there would be no “click” but it was seated. I did notice that during practice, and I actually made mention of it to some of the other guys, but it wasn’t a problem in practice. It didn’t show up as a problem.

Wouldn’t you know it, it showed up as a problem later.

Cheaper Than Dirt Watching the elimination challenge, we saw that you struggled with the magazine. If you’re not getting the proper feedback from that magazine, you insert it and slam it home and you don’t feel that click, you don’t know for sure that it’s seated or not. An unseated magazine is not going to feed.

Daryl Parker When I had unloaded my previous magazine, I had intentionally left a round in the chamber, so that I knew that when I threw that magazine in I could go ahead and fire without having to rack the bolt and take an extra second. I had dropped that first magazine, leaving a round in the chamber, and threw the second magazine in. I didn’t feel it click, but I thought it had seated.

I threw it up, took that first shot, and the recoil from that first shot knocked the magazine out of my weapon.

Cheaper Than Dirt At that point, you were already running behind…

Daryl Parker Jay had stopped firing and was reloading. He was changing magazines. I was up and on target and starting to fire. I was behind, but I was on target with a full magazine. I think if my magazine had stayed in, it would have been a very very close run to the end.

After I felt that magazine drop out, I didn’t have a chance. I knew that.

Cheaper Than Dirt It kinda just took the wind out of your sails.

Daryl Parker Yeah, as soon as the magazine dropped I went ahead and grabbed another magazine and tried to reload, but inside I knew that there was no way I was going to have time to reload, rack a round, get back on target, and finish off my plates before Jay did.

Cheaper Than Dirt Ashley has called Jay a “magician.” He doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of skill, his methods are unconventional, and yet time and time again we’ve seen him show up to competitions and just walk away with a win. Is he just a great generalist, or is there something else that we’re not seeing that contributes to his consistency in winning?

Daryl Parker I think, first of all, that a lot of people don’t know about Jay’s background. They keep calling him a golf instructor, and that’s what he does for a living. A lot of people don’t realize that he is an Olympic qualifier for archery, for skeet, for air pistol, and for air rifle. Air pistol and air rifle are very similar to shooting .22 for example.

No, I think that Jay has a lot of natural talent and abilities. I think that he’s also accustomed to competing at that elite level of competition. I mean, we’re talking about an Olympic level competitor. That’s not small potatoes.

I don’t think that he’s like a child prodigy who sits at home and plays with a rubber band gun and comes out and out-shoots all of us. I think he’s an elite, high level competitor who may not be as generalized as most of us, but because of his natural skill and abilities, he picks things up pretty quickly. He’s very dangerous.

Cheaper Than Dirt You know, there’s been some speculation that Jay’s strategy going into this was get sent to every elimination challenge so that he could walk home with a bunch of $2,000 gift cards.

Daryl Parker Yeah, it’s tempting to think that Jay had that kind of skill, but I don’t think that’s the case. I’ve talked to Jay, and Jay and I are good friends. Knowing the anxiety that he felt before the elimination challenges, the same that we all do when we go into those, I have no doubt that he wanted our team to win in each of those challenges.

Cheaper Than Dirt Given the chance, if you had the chance to do it all over again, would you take the opportunity?

Daryl Parker Oh yeah, in a heartbeat. I mean, it was a fantastic experience. I got to shoot these crazy challenges that they come up with, I got to meet these people who were on the show with me. They were the most personable, skilled, dynamic people I’ve ever met as a group. It was a fantastic experience.

Then, you mentioned them, all the people who follow the show, the fans of the show, I mean it’s just amazing how many people have reached out to me and left positive comments. It was fantastic, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Cheaper Than Dirt We’ve been doing these interviews for quite a while now, starting with Season 1, and we’ve interviewed nearly everybody who has walked off the show. One thing that they have all agreed with is just what you said, that is the level of friendship that is earned through the camaraderie on the show that is unlike anything else.

Daryl Parker Yeah, you know I was in the Marine Corps for 21 years, and one of the main staples of being a Marine is the camaraderie with other Marines. It’s a bond, a kinship, and it’s life long. Somewhat less, but a similar situation exists with the 16 of us. I think that most of us will remain life long friends.

Cheaper Than Dirt Instead of being stuck on a boat with a bunch of other Marines, waiting for somebody to say the word “Go” you’re stuck in a house with a bunch of other competitive shooters, pretty much doing the same thing sitting around waiting.

Daryl Parker Right, except that all of these people were all hand picked, it’s a bunch of really dynamic people. There is a lot of footage that was taken inside the house that they don’t have time to show on these episodes, but we really had a lot of fun together. It was a blast being there. I wish everybody could have a chance to do something like that.

Cheaper Than Dirt It certainly seemed like quite the experience. You know, Top Shot has done a lot to bring the shooting sports back into the mainstream. You’ve been around hunters and shooters your entire life but, for a lot of the rest of the nation, they haven’t had much exposure to firearms and the shooting sports that we see on Top Shot. What else can we do, and how can we use Top Shot and leverage this to help bring the shooting sports back into the mainstream?

Daryl Parker Well, the first thing is that I think that a lot of people, after seeing the show, are realizing that firearms are not just this dangerous piece of hardware that sits in your house and is a threat to everyone. I think that they are realizing that the shooting sports are fun, and that you can shoot for recreation. It’s fun!

It requires a sense of discipline. There’s a lot of attention to detail in it, and you can excel in a shooting sport and you don’t have be an uber-athlete. You don’t have to be Lance Armstrong to be able to shoot well. It’s something that can apply to people of all ages, of all fitness levels and economic backgrounds. There’s nothing more American than firearms.

I think another thing we can do is open ranges that encourage recreational shooting as a sport, as opposed to shooting just to get good at shooting.

Cheaper Than Dirt You’re doing something just along those lines, am I correct? You’re looking at opening up a “Top Shot” style shooting range?

Daryl Parker Yes, here in North Texas I’m going to open up a range. It’s going to be called the “Top Shot Challenge” and it is going to be a range that offers all of the standard fare, firearm safety classes, basic marksmanship, that kind of thing, but it will also incorporate Top Shot challenges. Some of the challenges that you’ve seen on TV, and some other innovative challenges that we’re going to come up with here, are going to be available on the range. I think people are going to flock to it. They’re going to have a lot of fun, and it’s going to go further in educating people and enhance the thrill of shooting as a sport.

Cheaper Than Dirt Do you foresee this turning into a type of Top Shot training academy where future competitors can go to train for the show?

Daryl Parker Well, I think it’s very possible. You know, I’m talking to other Top Shot alumni, and this may be something that we’re able to start up in other locations across the country, sort of in a franchise sort of way. If it is done correctly and overseen correctly and done safely, then these can become training grounds for the Top Shot experience.

Cheaper Than Dirt That sounds really exciting, and it sounds like a great way to get people excited about the shooting sports and give them a chance to learn about it in a safe way.

Daryl Parker Yeah, and I’ve already kinda made known my intentions, and I’ve already got people from as far away as Canada that have already signed up to come to the range as soon as we’re done with construction.

Cheaper Than Dirt Cheaper Than Dirt! is also located here in North Texas, and I can’t wait to go see it and experience it myself.

In addition to your career as a law enforcement officer and your side projects with Top Shot and starting up a shooting range, you’re also a talented author, is that right?

Daryl Parker Well, I hope people will think so. I just published my first novel. It’s called “Sacrifice of the Season” and it will be available on Amazon.com and it’s also available at my website, DarylParker.com.

Like I said, it’s my first novel. It’s a work of fiction, and if you enjoyed the Harry Potter series, I think you’ll enjoy this book. Thus far I’ve had a lot of fans who are really excited about reading it and have already pre-ordered their copies. I’m thankful for that.

Cheaper Than Dirt We can’t wait for it to come out, and I’ll be one of those people waiting for it to show up on Amazon so that I can get my copy.

Daryl Parker Alright, I appreciate it.

Cheaper Than Dirt I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to us today and giving us a little bit of insight into your background and into what goes on on Top Shot and your experience on Top Shot. It’s been very enlightening.

Daryl Parker My pleasure, thank you very much.

CTD Interviews Phil Cashin from MasterPiece Arms

In August of 2008 experienced CNC machinist Phil Cashin acquired MasterPiece Arms from founder Gary Poole. With his extensive experience in precision metalworking, Phil set about to take the high quality firearms already produced by MasterPiece Arms and improve them even further by upgrading the manufacturing process.

Beginning with MPA’s existing line of MAC based Defender pistols, Phil expanded into the defensive carry pistol market when the Protector .380 was introduced. We sat down with Phil to talk about how MasterPiece has grown into the company that it is today, and to learn a bit about what goes into the design and production of high quality pistols like the Protector .380.

Cheaper Than Dirt: How did you get started in the firearms industry? 

Phil Cashin: Well, I became involved in the firearms industry through an acquisition of MasterPiece Arms from the original owner, a gentleman by the name of Gary Poole back in August of 2008.

I had known Gary for years and he contacted me regarding some of his capital equipment, which is the business I used to be in. I used to buy and sell capital equipment earlier in my career and then I got out of selling equipment and got into manufacturing. That’s actually my background, precision machining and manufacturing.

Cheaper Than Dirt: MasterPiece Arms manufactured all of their firearms in the United States prior to your acquisition of the company, and that’s a tradition you’ve been proud to carry on.

Phil Cashin: Yes, MPA products have always been one hundred percent US made.

Cheaper Than Dirt: After your purchase of MPA, you updated the production facilities to an ISO 9002 certified facility, correct?

Phil Cashin: Well, when I purchased MPA I also owned, and still run, a very large, very sophisticated machining and metal work company that is located just outside of Athens Georgia.

When the acquisition took place there was a transition from the previous facility where MPA was located in Carlson. The manufacturing and assembly was moved over here to our location, so we basically just absorbed the manufacturing of the components. We brought online our quality system and some of our manufacturing techniques and continued with the design enhancements. Gary had developed a very good sound design into MPA’s products. Our equipment and manufacturing techniques are faster and newer and/or efficient and more capable. We just kind of added the best of both companies together.

Cheaper Than Dirt: So MasterPiece has always created very high quality firearms, all you did was bring them into the 21st century and upgraded everything?

Phil Cashin: Exactly, that’s right.

Cheaper Than Dirt: When you came on board they were already manufacturing the MPA 30 and the MPA 10 is that right?

Phil Cashin: The products that MPA was producing at the time of the acquisition was the Defender line, which included the 930 series, what we call the Mini-9. The original has the charging handle on the top of the upper receiver, more in line with the original MAC design. Gary developed the side charging version that puts the charging handle on the left side of the upper receiver, thereby allowing a Picatinny rail to be mounted to the top of the receiver, which lets the shooter attach any number of aiming devices such as holographic sights or a laser on top. But primarily, holographic sights are what seemed to work best with all of those weapons. The Defender is based on the original MAC design and, of course, that was manufactured initially as a full-auto weapon. The original sights on the weapon are not what most people would consider sophisticated.

Cheaper Than Dirt: MPA developed a similar MAC version that fires with a closed bolt.

Phil Cashin: I wouldn’t say we developed it, I would say we perfected it.

The problem with many of the other companies in the past that have manufactured MACs in a closed bolt design is the gun worked wonderfully in an open bolt. When the ATF required us to go to a closed bolt design, there had to be some engineering changes to any number of instrumental components throughout the entire gun to allow it to function more effectively with a different design than what it was originally designed for.

Cheaper Than Dirt: That was because, for those of our readers who may not be aware, the ATF declared that any open bolt gun, whether or not it actually functions as such, is in fact fully automatic impact machine gun.

Phil Cashin: What had happened was that they allowed the semi-automatic open bolts production of these weapons for a period of time until it became very apparent that anyone could, without even looking on the internet since it didn’t exist back then, with a file and about fifteen minutes spent modifying certain internal components you could convert the gun back to full auto.

Cheaper Than Dirt: You went in and made some other very specific changes to the pistol, for example creating a model that allows the use of Sten magazines so that you have got increased parts availability and magazine availability.

Phil Cashin: Well how the change took place on the nine millimeter version, which includes both the Mini-9. The Mini 9 being the 930 series and the full sized 9mm being the 30 series. It was produced with the Zytel mag, which is a polymer magazine and the reliability was okay.

One of the things that Gary did when he got these going with Masterpiece Arms was he changed the design to accept Sten mags because they were pre-ban and were of a very good quality and very reliable. It was a better, more reliable design, and the same thing goes for the Grease Gun magazines and the .45.

That same design still carries on today. Even in our current production models we use new and reproduced Grease Gun designed magazines. They are just an exact copy of the Grease Gun mag, but they are newly manufactured.

For the 9mm, due to how scarce Sten mags have become, and the volumes in which we were selling these guns, we worked with Tapco in Kennesaw Georgia and we developed a polymer version of the Sten magazine. It’s a polymer magazine that fits right into our weapon, and works extremely well. Of course it’s much lighter than the Sten mag and it’s a very attractive product. All of our weapons on the nine millimeter side are shipped with the Tapco version of the Sten magazine.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Now you have expanded into the Protector line. What prompted the expansion into concealable pistols from the tactical Defender line of pistols and rifles. Where did that jump come from?

Phil Cashin: The history of our company is built around the MAC design and our little Protector series has absolutely zero resemblance to the Defender line.

The reason that we decided to start manufacturing the Protectors was the fact that we wanted to get into more of a mainstream product line into the firearms market as well as to bring an increased awareness of the Defender line. Not everybody who sees a MAC immediately thinks of Masterpiece Arms. They may think of MAC, RPB, SWD or some of the other more poorly designed weapons.

The design principle of a weapon being a fully machined, both the lower receiver and the upper slide out of solid 4140, is a more expensive technique in manufacturing the weapon, but it’s one that we are extraordinarily good at. The Protector line was our effort to continue to bring high quality weapons at a low cost into the defensive handgun market.

Cheaper Than Dirt: You have mentioned in the past that there are no cast or injection molded parts on this gun.

Phil Cashin: That’s correct, there is no forging, there are no castings, there are no metal injection molded parts (MIM) parts. Everything is, with the exception of obvious items like springs and a couple of other laser sheet metal parts like the shield on the trigger bar, everything is fully machined out of solid billet steel.

Cheaper Than Dirt: That’s a more expensive process, and yet we have various models of the Protector for sale for less than three hundred dollars, which is quite affordable compared to most of the pocket pistols.

Phil Cashin: Absolutely. It’s a fully machined premium design in a moderate price range. The pricing strategy that we used took an enormous amount of consideration, and I will get to that in a second.

Getting back to that the reason why we did it: We talked about the design getting our products into a more mainstream market. The manufacturing technique that we are using is one of our core competencies. Performing high tech, very high precision, CNC production machining where you can hold the tolerances down, when you can get cycle time down, you can significantly reduce your manufacturing costs.

On top of that, we do everything in house, with the exception of springs and magazines. All of the critical components we manufacture ourselves. We do our own heat treating, we rifle the barrels, we machine all the internal components of machining centers and CNC Swiss. For us, being able to control the manufacturing of you know all the critical components is very important.

One of the reasons why we try to do everything that we can ourselves because ultimately you are in the control of your own destiny. You are not having to rely on the manufacturing challenges of another supplier. Without a part to the gun, you can’t ship the products. If you’re missing the firing pin, a trigger, or a hammer, the product is not going out the door.

My predecessor Gary Poole had a pretty significant role in the development and manufacturing of the old Autauga pistol. That was a very small subcompact concealed carry .32 ACP pistol that very much resembles the Protector. We have made some design changes externally to make the gun more attractive.

There have also been an enormous number of changes internally to the weapon. The Autauga was a gun that Gary had developed for a company called Autauga Arms over in Alabama that is no longer in business. The lower receiver was a casting, the upper slide was a casting, all the internal parts was castings, and the gun did pretty well in .32 caliber, but because of the size of the weapon they were never able to even consider going to the 380 because of the increased strength of the round.

Cheaper Than Dirt: So the Protector kind of evolved from this earlier design then?

Phil Cashin: Yes, now they are the same.

Cheaper Than Dirt: It’s not like this pistol has just kind of arrived on the out of the blue. You’ve kinda had your finger on the pulse of the concealed carry market for some time. Recently we have seen an enormous increase in the number of .380 pistols that have been released onto the market along with the increased availability of concealed handgun licenses to lawful gun owners.

Phil Cashin: Oh absolutely and, I think, rightfully so. I use my own personal experience, which is another part of the reason why we designed this Protector. The ability to carry in a concealed manner and not advertise the fact that you are carrying, having the right by the Second Amendment to protect myself, and especially with way that the world is today, I have felt personally that it is necessary to carry a weapon the majority of the time. I had a lot of problems finding a weapon that I could carry comfortably because I didn’t want to carry a holster on my belt or in the back of my pants or on my side, because it was just uncomfortable. You know it just didn’t really provide the level of concealability that I was looking for.

In the summer weather, whatever the situation is, I am able to exercise my right to carry a weapon and not advertise the fact that I am doing so. Some of the polymer weapons are very nice products and they are quite reliable. They make good pistols. They are not as small as ours, but they still have a fair amount of concealability to them. Ours is just smaller and, the accuracy and performance is consistent with some of these other pistols that are quite a bit larger.

Ours is more of a premium design. I like to hold metal in my hand. It’s more of a traditional design. Making the decisions to get into that crowded .380 market, we didn’t want to create just another polymer .380.

Cheaper Than Dirt: It’s important to point out that, with the all metal design, you do have a little bit heavier gun. It’s a little bit more controllable with that extra weight there.

Phil Cashin: Absolutely. Do you want to shoot a .380 with a feather or do you want to have something a little bit more, delivering more substance, to absorb the recoil. There is an absolute relationship between weight and recoil. The heavier the gun, the less recoil. It reduces muzzle flip and with that little recoil you get to the point where it’s quite manageable.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Some of those other lightweight polymer .380s really do beat you up. I don’t think anybody wants to fire more than one or two magazines at the range, and as everybody knows, you have to practice with what you carry in order to be effective with it.

Phil Cashin: Absolutely yes, that’s absolutely correct. In that aspect, controllability and comfort in shooting really went into the design of the weapon. If you look at the profile, the grip design, the radius on the front of the grip where your finger sits below the trigger guard, the gun is really engaged in your hand when you grab the weapon.

Compared to some of the other versions that are out there that have a straight grip, or just don’t have that comfortable of a design, the Protector is very comfortable. Without going into some of the other specific names, some of the other ones that I have owned in the past, some of which I still do own, they always feel like they are going to jump out of your hand when you shoot them.

Cheaper Than Dirt: You have also made some recent changes and upgrades to the Protector to make it even more controllable, tell us a little bit about those.

Phil Cashin: Well, with any manufactured product, as time goes by and you get feedback from customers you improve on techniques. You find new and better ways of making a product more enjoyable to utilize You want to be able to submit improvements to the design, and that’s what we have done here recently with a couple of primary items, one being the grip extension, and the second being the new profiled trigger.

Specifically to talk about the grip extension having that additional basically seven hundred and fifty thousandths, three quarters of an inch, sticking out of the grip on the front of the weapon in the form of that extension gives the shooter basically more leverage to control recoil.

Cheaper Than Dirt: And just one more finger is sometimes all you need to have a more effective grip.

Tell us about the trigger design because I have seen, especially some female shooters shooting these little double action pistols, that it can be difficult with that really long trigger pull to actually be able to pull the trigger. What is the trigger change that you have made, how does it help reduce the trigger pull?

Phil Cashin: It just made the shooting experience more comfortable on the trigger finger. What we did is change some of the radiuses on the bottom of the trigger. We are able to extend the length of the trigger to eliminate the amount of gap between the bottom of the trigger and the trigger guard. It’s now measured in the thousandths. When the gun is being fired, what it does is keep the trigger finger on the trigger and off of the trigger guard.

Cheaper Than Dirt: That’s important. For those that haven’t fired many double action pistols, your finger actually slides down the trigger as its pulled.

Phil Cashin: That’s exactly right, yes.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Your design makes this a little bit more comfortable?

Phil Cashin: On these double action only pistols, the trigger is positioned on a hinge or on a pin at the top of the trigger. Basically it swings as a pendulum. When the trigger is moved back towards the rear of the receiver then the finger naturally is going to slide down towards the bottom. The path of least resistance is moving the finger towards the bottom of the trigger.

With the new design, what we have done is we have changed the radius on the bottom of the trigger and we actually were able to lengthen to the trigger to keep the finger on the trigger during the shooting sequence rather than sliding off or making some contact with the trigger guard.

With the return of the slide forward and then the return of the trigger forward, it basically eliminates that friction that would occur between the bottom of the trigger finger and the top of the trigger guard.

Cheaper Than Dirt: We have seen some reviews already come out about the .380 Protector, and one thing that I have seen people complain about is the magazine and dry firing the pistol. Your design is very unique. Tell us about the magazine design and how it interacts with the trigger spring.

Phil Cashin: The way the gun is designed, you have the trigger and you have a boss on the trigger. How the trigger interacts with the hammer is that you have a trigger bar, which basically is a CNC laser cut piece of spring steel, that really attaches the two to each other, and then you have a torsion spring that returns the trigger back forward at the end of the shooting cycle.

You then have a shield that goes on the top of the trigger bar and the torsion spring, and then basically sandwiches that end of the mechanism together below the grip.

On the underside, that trigger bar is right inside of the magwell. Because of the size of the weapon you have limited amount of space to accomplish you know the design principle of the weapon. When the magazine is in the weapon it somewhat acts as the retaining feature for the trigger bar and holds the trigger bar in place on the trigger and the hammer.

When someone is dry firing the weapon without the magazine in place, then the correction is quite simple. You take the flat head screw or the fastener out of the grip, you take the grip off and take the shield off and basically reattach the trigger bar onto the hammer and the trigger. It takes about thirty seconds to do it.

Cheaper Than Dirt: To be clear, it’s not that people cannot dry fire the pistol, and it’s not that if you do dry fire the pistol with the magazine removed that it will break, it’s simply that the parts won’t be in the correct configuration, at which point you have disassemble and reassemble in the correct order right?

Phil Cashin: That’s correct. What it really gets down to is the intended use of the weapon and functionality. Obviously if this had any negative effect whatsoever on the function of the weapon under its intended use, then the design would have been changed. Under normal shooting experiences you are always going to have the magazine in place when you are pulling the trigger. When you are firing the weapon you are going to have the magazine and the magwell, and there is typically going to be ammo in the magazine when you are going to be shooting the weapon.

If you look at an abnormal situation, let’s say for whatever reason the shooter removes the magazine from the weapon and there is still a round left in the chamber. That’s worst case scenario if for some reason that the shooter takes the magazine out prematurely or it’s the last shot or whatever the case may be, it will absolutely still fire.

After that there is a chance that the trigger bar will come off, but then at that point in time you know the intended function of the weapon is done. In 100% of all normal shooting techniques and usages of the weapon, that condition cannot and will not happen. It has never happened.

Cheaper Than Dirt: It’s important to point out that unlike some other firearms that intentionally are rendered inoperable with the magazine removed, the Protector can still fire with the magazine removed.

Phil Cashin: The Protector can still fire the last round. That’s right.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Which has rendered your lifesaving tool useless. Now the Protector is not really designed for combat reloads though?

Phil Cashin: That is correct. The basic thing behind the mag design is, this is not a combat pistol. If a person is carrying a weapon and they feel it is necessary to carry extra magazines, it’s important to remember that ours is a backup gun. It’s a close quarters gun. It’s not a gun that the policeman is going to take into a fire fight or a soldier is going to use in combat. It’s a gun that you are going to use when you are in very close quarters and you know typically you are going to fire one full magazine of ammo. One design that seems to be prevalent on a lot of these .380 is the mag release mechanism. It is a very simple and very inexpensive way of designing it, and one that we actually did consider, but the downside that it presents is the problem of premature mag release.

Cheaper Than Dirt: If I am carrying one of those polymer ones in my pocket, one thing that can happen is that when it is pressed against your body the magazine catch can be depressed. When you go to pull the gun, the magazine just pops out.

Phil Cashin: Yes, and if you really think about that, that is going to happen in that scenario in all weapons nearly ninety nine percent of the time. However, when you get into its intended use in protecting your life in a close quarters situation, the last thing in the world you want to have to worry about is whether or not the magazine is going to be in the weapon when you pull it out.

There are two situations where the magazine can cause a problem. One, like you say that, if you sit on the weapon. The other situation can occur when you are grabbing the weapon to pull it out of your pocket holster or, depending on your state laws, if you are just pulling the weapon out of your pocket and you are doing so in a quick manner because of the situation that you are in. Even if you are just practicing for that potential situation that could occur, your thumb, if you are a right handed shooter, is going to be right where the mag catch is located. On a button type system when you grab the weapon and you are squeezing the weapon to get a good grip on it, and you have adrenaline going through your body and your thumb is right at the location of the mag release button, if you push the button in then you have got either a no shot or, at best, a one shot pistol.

Cheaper Than Dirt: With your design then you are officially basically reducing the number of points of failure.

Phil Cashin: Yes, because ours is not a push button type, it’s a rear slide type. You basically have to slide the mag catch button backwards towards the rear of the receiver. What that does is it pull the notch free so that the magazine could come out. You cannot push down on our mag release button to get the magazine to come out. You actually have to have to take your finger and slide it back.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Did you include a slide lock on the Protector?

Phil Cashin: No there is no slide lock.

Cheaper Than Dirt: And that’s just because of space requirements I assume?

Phil Cashin: For this type of weapon we just didn’t see that it was necessary to have a slide lock or a last round hold-open design.

Cheaper Than Dirt: There is really only one control on the weapon then, and that’s the trigger.

Phil Cashin: That’s correct.

Cheaper Than Dirt: What other new products here we look forward to seeing from Masterpiece Arms?

Phil Cashin: We have our Defender line, and one of the things that we just came out with recently is the Mini 9 Tactical Carbine, which is based on what is probably our most popular Defender, the Mini 9. It has a limited quadrail and it has a low profile fully machined buttstock and comes with a holographic sight and a vertical foregrip. It’s like a tactical package and we introduced that right here at the beginning of the year in the SHOT show.

With the Protector series we are in the process of developing a 9mm version of the .380 Protector.

Cheaper Than Dirt: A big brother to that little 380?

Phil Cashin: That’s correct; yeah it will be slightly larger in size but still have the same in design methods, principles and the look of our Protector series.

Cheaper Than Dirt: We didn’t really talk about it that much, but you also have the Protector available in .32 ACP

Phil Cashin: That’s correct, yeas.

That’s a very small percentage of our sales, and probably not rightfully so. For a female shooter, unless she is quite experienced, the .32 is a more easily controlled round. It has less recoil, and with the new ammunition technology that is out there the .32 can do some damage. I want to be able get one.

Cheaper Than Dirt: As they say, the gun you have is always better than the gun you don’t?

Phil Cashin: That’s absolutely correct.

Cheaper Than Dirt: I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us about Masterpiece and some of your new products and explaining a little bit about the Protector line.

Phil Cashin: It’s my pleasure. The basic theme of what we do at Masterpiece is really just the accuracy and the reliability that goes into the manufacturing techniques and the engineering of the products. It really has enhanced the enjoyment of shooting the weapon, especially in our Defender line, and of course there is the reliability of the Protectors.

Cheaper Than Dirt: You have really proven that you know you don’t have to pay you know a whole lot of money to get a really high quality, fully machined, reliable pistol.

Phil Cashin: Our ability to get our manufacturing costs down, to manufacture everything internally, has allowed us to focus on that particular price range. It’s a good price point, and one that we feel comfortable with. We feel we have a slight advantage over a polymer design when it comes to the price, quality, and reliability we can offer.

Cheaper Than Dirt: You know, sometimes people see a gun that’s priced fairly low, and they see that price and think to themselves “That can’t be a high quality firearm.”

How do you deal with that, what do we tell customers when they ask us how MasterPiece Arms can afford to produce a quality arm at such a low price?

Phil Cashin: That’s a great observation. Really how overcome that stigma is just to continue to produce a quality product. By doing that we continue to bolster the good reputation of the weapon. People are going to find problems no matter what, whether it is in that trigger bar issue, or something else. We really have spent an enormous amount of time evaluating the weapon to create practical defensive handgun. If there was anything that had a negative effect on the function of weapon in a defensive situation, we would have changed it.

Outside of that it is just a matter of getting the weapons into the hands of the dealers, distributors, the gun blogs that are out there, and the various gun writers.

Cheaper Than Dirt: We have got our own model of the Protector in .380 and we are going to reviewing it soon as well as posting some videos on it.

Listen, I think that’s about all I have got for you, and I want to thank you again for your time and the insights you’ve given us into MasterPiece Arms and your development of this wonderful little pocket pistol.

Phil Cashin: It’s been a pleasure.

Cheaper Than Dirt! Talks To Top Shot Season 2 Competitor Kyle Frasure

California native Kyle Frasure was the youngest contestant on Season 2 of the History Channel’s reality TV show Top Shot. Kyle grew up in an environment in Southern California that, to be blunt, wasn’t necessarily conducive to acquiring an extensive background in firearms. Despite this, he’s become quite an accomplished shotgun shooter.

Kyle was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule and talk to us about his background in international skeet and his experience on Top Shot Season 2.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Let’s start by discussing your background with firearms. Growing up in Southern California, did you have many opportunities to learn to shoot and become familiar with the various shooting disciplines?

Kyle: I grew up in Orange County my whole life. It’s not exactly the warmest climate for the shooting sports. We don’t even have an outdoor shooting range in Orange County. I started out just being fascinated with firearms. My mom would take me to Disney Land and the first thing I’d want to buy would be a little cap gun. She began to realize that this could go a bad way or it could go a good way if I channeled it in that direction. Every time I got good grades on my report card she would take me to an indoor shooting range and get me a pistol lesson or a little rifle lesson with a .22 so that I could learn the safety and respect that sport deserves.

It was a lot of fun for me and made it more of an incentive to do well in school. When I was in 6th grade they got me a .22 caliber bolt action Marlin rifle, a little junior model, for Christmas. That kind of sparked things off. We’d go out every weekend and just kinda plink. At Prado where the 1984 Olympics were held I saw them shooting skeet one day. I was just shocked, it was unreal and I just had to try it.

I bought a gun that day, a 20 gauge Beretta 391, and I got a coach the next week and had my first lesson. Literally from then on it just took off. I was hooked on shotgun shooting. That’s where it started. Then, I went on the sporting clays circuit when I was 12 or 13 years old. I started going around competing in little local matches, little fun shoots you know. It kind of grew from there and I went to Regionals and Nationals and eventually US Open competitions.

Cheaper Than Dirt: You’ve made quite the name for yourself as a shotgun shooter, but have you gained any experience shooting any other competitive shooting disciplines such as USPSA?

Kyle: I haven’t done any rifle. I guess about 5 or 6 years ago I traded one of my competition shotguns for a 1911 and started doing some IPSC stuff. I really had no idea what I was doing though. I’m fortunate enough to be very close to a big organization that does IPSC shoots.

Maggie Reese is actually a member out there in Norco. They were so accepting and willing to help somebody who really had a desire to learn. I went out there a couple of times and had a lot of fun. I could never really say that I was competing or that I was nearly competitive.

Cheaper Than Dirt: You’re an accomplished shotgun shooter, and you obviously have a well rounded background, but I’m curious what prompted you to go through the trouble of putting together an audition video and filling out the lengthy application for the chance to be a contestant on Top Shot?

Kyle: You know, I don’t know. I watched the first season, and I really fell in love with the show. I watched it religiously, DVRed the whole thing and re-watched episodes. At the time I thought that I was really growing to know these characters. Since then I’ve realized I knew absolutely nothing about them from watching the show, but that was kinda cool.

I saw the last episode where they said “If you know of any shooters, or if you are a shooter yourself, amateur or otherwise, send in this application.”

My girlfriend is actually the one who said “You ought to try this,” and then upon looking into it I found it was this long 7 page application with all of these little mini-essays, and then you have to do the video. I realized that it was going to be a lot of work in order to just have a 1 in 7,000 shot at being on the show, but I did it anyway.

I’ve got a buddy who does wedding videos, and he was able to help me out and kinda get a video out in one day. It was kinda just a shot in the dark really.

Cheaper Than Dirt: But you had a leg up with a bit of professional production.

Kyle: Kinda, yeah. It’s a cool video, and he did a really good job. But actually, the producers and the casting people called me based on the application itself and said “Hey, we’re really interested, but we’d really like to see a video.”

So I told them “Well, I already sent one in. Do I need to send another one?”

They replied “Oh? We haven’t seen it yet,” so it was really different having a 23-year old kid sending in an application from California, especially in this area of California. I guess I bring something different to the shooting sports, something they were really looking forward towards exploring that option.

Cheaper Than Dirt: When you went to the audition then, you already knew Maggie Reese from USPSA?

Kyle: I did not. I knew a lot of the people out there that shot with her, but she does so many national level shoots that when I went out there, the few times that I did at first, she was out doing other things. Jojo Vidanes was actually the guy who really showed me the ropes. He’s a great guy.

So, at the audition, I didn’t know Maggie but I did know a few of the shotgun guys from Texas, but I didn’t know any other people really.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Where you surprised to get the call back from the producers asking you to be on the show?

Kyle: Really, I knew that the people who I was competing against to get on the show were going to be the young guys. I obviously wasn’t going to go and beat out a guy who was an Air Force sniper. We weren’t even going for the same spot. It really just boiled down to 5 guys, the young shooters who they needed for the show.

I had a feeling, the interview went so well with the producers, there was a good chance, but you’re obviously waiting on pins and needles the whole week. It was kinda funny, I was going out one night, it was like 8 o’clock and I got the call. It was such a relief, but then you start thinking “What the hell did I just get myself into?”

Cheaper Than Dirt: It’s a big decision to go into, knowing that you’ll be isolated for weeks at a time with no contact with the outside world, no radio, no TV, no cell phones, nothing.

Kyle: We didn’t know any of that up front. They really keep that information close to the vest. We get the call that we’re going to do it, and then they say “We’ll send you more information.” We didn’t know when we were leaving, how long we’d be gone, or what kind of contact we would have with the outside world. I didn’t know if I’d have internet access so I could pay bills or anything.

You get given information piece-mill, but I guess that’s just how it works. We found out we were going to be gone for 6 weeks, and this was right before the holidays. We’d have no phone, no internet, no radio, no letters, no contact with anybody. At that point your mind starts troubleshooting the actual logistics of living your life away from your actual life.

It was exciting and exhilarating and… Kind of frightening at the same time.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Tell us about preparing for the show. You saw Season 1 and had a rough idea about what types of challenges you would be faced with. Did you do any type of practice or preparation with other weapons to get ready for the show?

Kyle:Yeah, I have throwing knives which I just keep around for fun. But yes, I did, I don’t do a lot of high power rifle because we just don’t have the facilities to do 1,000 yard shots around here, but I picked up a .308 and a .30-30 cowboy gun, just to familiarize myself with the weapon platforms more than anything.

I obviously wasn’t going to master cowboy shooting or long distance rifle shooting in the week that I had to practice. Frankly, I couldn’t afford to go out and shoot as much as I wanted to practice either. It was a lot of picking up things I hadn’t normally shot before. I picked up the throwing knives again and shot some double action revolvers that I really never do because it’s so outside of my purview.

I did a little bit of preparation, but you just don’t know what’s going to happen. I have a bow and I shot that a little bit, but I knew that in that week of time that I wasn’t going to become an expert in any of these things. Really it was just getting comfortable with them again.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Moving onto the show itself, the producers really kinda just threw ya’ll into a kind of “trial by fire” with the first challenge. No warning, nobody was really expecting to shoot that day, and then BAM! You’re told that you’re shooting your first challenge.

Kyle: It was a crazy feeling. We were in a van for 3 days. It was raining and cold, and every second of sunshine was taken up by us trying to film something before the first rain came in. Then we’d get back in these blacked out vans and just wait for hours.

We weren’t really allowed to talk to each other yet. The entire show was trying to struggle between relaxing, being bored, and then trying to figure out what you’re doing. Then, all of the sudden, you’re in competition mode.

When you go on a shoot, whether it is shotgun, rifle, pistol, or whatever, you go to a range and you know what you’re getting yourself into. You know the mental preparation that it’s going to take to do well and to compete against all of these other people, but when you’re in this social setting, which is really what it was inside the house, we were all just goofing off and having fun, not knowing what you’re going to shoot and not knowing what’s going on and then all of the sudden you get a phone call saying “Hey, it’s 9:15, get in the van in 15 minutes, you’re going to shoot.”

It was the same thing when Colby said that. You didn’t know what we were shooting, and we weren’t mentally prepared. It really took a lot of people by surprise.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Let’s talk about the Blue Team that was selected by Jay after shooting the Sharps rifle. How did your background affect your role within the team?

Kyle: Well, I got along with Jay really well right out of the gate. He and I are very close to each other geographically. We live nearby each other and shoot at the same ranges. We also both shoot International Skeet, which is something that neither of us knew going in that there was another guy who shot such an esoteric sport.

It was really cool, Jermaine, Daryl, Ashley, these military guys with extensive backgrounds in that sort of thing, and then to have the dichotomy of having Chris and myself, we really had a well rounded team I felt. We had a well oiled team, we had all of our bases covered, and the dynamics were really really good in the beginning.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Your performance on the show really wasn’t that bad. You obviously were not the most skilled shooter on the team, but neither were you someone who could easily be dismissed. Many of the early episodes we see the team dynamic play a much more important role than the performance of any individual. Was it difficult to find your role within the team and to figure out what unique skills you brought to the table and how you could help the team the most?

Kyle: Absolutely. Out of the gate we shot the .45-70 Sharps rifle. It was a 200 yard shot, something that I don’t do a whole lot. Really, there were a lot of missed shots. The fact that Jay hit it and Ashley didn’t or George didn’t, that was kind of a fluke. There were not any elimination challenges that were going to come as a result of how well or how poorly you did there.

Then with the 1911 with the pool balls, that was really really tough. That was not something that I had claimed to be an expert in. The fact that you’re just going up there, you’re not prepared mentally, and I think Chris Tilley said it best when he said that he just “wasn’t in it,” because you can’t mentally wrap your head around what you’re going to do because you don’t have enough information.

I really struggled in the beginning. I struggled with the 1911, I struggled with the Police Positive in the paintball episode, and I don’t know what the turning point was really, but at the bow and arrow challenge, which is much more suited to a shotgun shooter in that you’re shooting more instinctively with both eyes open, for some reason everything began to fall into place.

I realized “Hey, I do deserve to be here. I am a good shooter in my own right. Let’s just have fun with it.”

Cheaper Than Dirt: One thing that everyone we’ve spoken to has mentioned, both from Season 1 and Season 2, is that despite how heated things may have gotten on the set, despite the intense competitions, and perhaps because of those same things, that they all came out of the experience with very strong friendships with all of the other participants.

Kyle: I absolutely had the same experience. Since the show has come out, and since the editing has been done, there has been a story line built around specific characters that may or may not accurately depict how they really are in real life, I feel like it’s been a full time job defending these guys, because they really are such good people.

A lot of people will say that “George is such a @#$! He’s got to go!” But I mean come on, he’s really just absolutely amazing. Or they will think that some guy is really arrogant, but I know that they are the most humble guy I’ve met in my entire life. How he come’s across that way is beyond me. Really, the coolest thing about the entire experience, yes we got to shoot some really cool scenarios with some great weapons platforms and all that, but the coolest thing about the whole thing is that I got to meet so many people who come from such a different background, who have a different mindset.

I’m 23, a lot of these guys are much older. The fact that they were able to break down their defenses and really open up to someone like me, or someone like Jay, or really anyone else in the house, was really cool.

You’re in this house with no outside stimulation, and all you have is each other. You have to get along. Getting to know them on such a personal level and becoming such good friends was the absolute best thing about the entire experience.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Let’s go back to something you just mentioned about the editing, the story lines, and the way the show is put together. IT does seem that through the casting process that they are really looking for talented shooters with the right personality to fill a certain character role that they have picked out. You mentioned that you were really only competing for the role of the young talented city slicker.

Kyle: Exactly.

Cheaper Than Dirt: We’ve seen the stoic military guy and the extremely specialized competition shooter, but there does seem to be in every season a person or two who are cast and edited to appear as the heel, as the adversary that the viewers are not supposed to like. For many viewers Jay Lim seems to fill that role in Season 2. What was your experience with Jay like? Is the editing accurate, and does he deserve that role that it seems he’s been cast into?

Kyle: Jay and I met, we’d never known each other before, but we first met in LA after we both realized that we were on the show. I had recognized him from the 50 people who went out for the final selection process. We started talking and realized that we lived only 20 miles away from each other, we go to the same ranges, and we had a lot in common.

He’s an academic, I’m an academic, and we just really hit it off. I would say that, without a doubt, he was my best friend on the show. We were buddies. I helped him devise his list for the team selection. We were very close. He respected my opinion, I respected his. He’s an awesome guy.

That being said, he has some quirks. Obviously those are exaggerated on the show through editing, but I had an awesome experience with him. We hang out together every week. We’ve gone to Vegas together. Would I want to live together with him ever again? Probably not, but I love hanging out with the guy. His family is awesome, he’s got an adorable little baby, and he’s just a great guy.

I didn’t get any of those negative vibes and, to be honest, the reason he came across so poorly to some of the Red Team members is that he’s just out there. The best way to describe him would is that he’s a systems guy. He thinks very systematically about how everything is supposed to work out. If it doesn’t, he gets confused or just mentally breaks down. With social dynamics, he can’t factor those into his system. The Red Team didn’t trust him, they didn’t understand him.

Towards the end however, I think that Eric and George and Jamie especially really opened up to him and consider him as much a friend as anybody else.

Cheaper Than Dirt: We saw some resistance from the Blue Team, some push back against Jay, to the extent that he was sent up for elimination. Still, he’s showed time and time again that when it counts, he’s able to make the shots.

Kyle: He’s a great athlete is what it really comes down to. He taught himself to play golf and became a professional golfer in just a year. That’s something that most people can’t do. He picks up a gun and he’s naturally able to bio-mechanically break down the motions and figure out exactly what he needs to do to hit the target. It may be unorthodox, it may not be everybody else’s style, and it may be a style from 30 years ago with his cup and saucer technique that has been lambasted on some of the online forums.

He’s unorthodox, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that in these team practice sessions you only get like, 12 rounds of ammunition. It’s not like you’re out there all day shooting cases and cases of ammo. You get rationed, literally sometimes only 4 rounds of ammo. Have fun with 25 rounds of .45 ammo! It’s not like you can overhaul somebody’s style or teach an old dog new tricks with those few rounds. He was going to revert back to whatever he knew in the heat of competition, so he might as well practice that and get to know the gun and where his point of impact is rather than adjusting his technique or style.

He made it happen in a number of those challenges just based on his pure natural ability. He’s not a professional shooter. I’m not sure he would even consider himself an amateur shooter. He’s a recreational shooter. He really did a lot better than everyone expected, and I think that is part of what drove all of the hate towards him.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Very interesting point of view there. Let’s move on and talk about this week’s episode. These were some of the most difficult challenges presented so far during Season 2.

Kyle: We came off of the most recent 1911 challenge two episodes ago, and I really felt like I finally was able to master that gun. I did really well on that one and felt confident in the way I was able to help my team. I did well on the last episodes with the tomahawks. We lost Chris Tilley and that was unfortunate, but it’s part of the game.

This last episode, we didn’t know what we were going to shoot. I kept thinking, “When are we going to see a shotgun?” I just wanted to finally show that I was worth my weight on this team. I want to be able to finally show off a little bit. Then we got to practice and it was three pistols. We had just sent home our last pistol shooter, and we show up to practice and it’s trick shooting.

There are a lot of exhibition shotgun shooters out there. It plays well to the technique and skills that a shotgun shooter possesses. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be shooting a pistol again, but the practice went well. The lollipop, I felt that I did the best out of our team, which was kind of a surprise to everybody, the Red Team especially.

It was a lot of fun. It was very very difficult. Those precision shots, with these guns in particular, a lot of people think “Well, I have a .357 Ruger here at the house, I can do that with my eyes closed.”

These guns are literally out of the back of a truck from some armorer. These are not competition guns. It was really really difficult. The first time we handled a double action trigger was the first episode when Chris Tilley went up against Travis Marsh with a .44 Magnum. He came back to the house and he said “I can’t shoot this gun! We’ll go from a 5lb trigger to an 8lb trigger in back to back shots. It’s such an inconsistent trigger pull.”

We got to the practice stage with the .357 Magnum and we were shooting our non-dominant hand. Shooting with your non-dominant hand is extremely difficult, people try to master this in all the pistol sports, but when you have a gun that seems to literally have a three-stage variable weight trigger it is just awful.

There was one time when I literally couldn’t pull the trigger back. It got stuck on the second stage and it was like a 25 pound pull. I told them “This trigger, something’s wrong with the hammer. You have a problem with the sear or the hammer, something’s up.” Ashley got up and he had the same problem, and we just shut it down. We weren’t shooting that gun.

We didn’t have a gunsmith on there. We had an armorer, and in his defense he did a very good job with what he was given. The next season, from what I hear, are going to be absolutely 100% better. They’re getting a bunch of sponsorships and it should be a lot of fun to watch. But yes, it was difficult getting results from the weapons we were given, not to make excuses, but it was difficult.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Top Shot is about being able to overcome and adapt using whatever you are given, and at the end of the day the competitor who is able to do that the best is the one who will prevail.

Kyle: I really think that’s what did a lot of the professional pistol shooters in. You know, all of the professional pistol shooters, Maggie, Athena, Chris, John Guida even though he’s not a professional he shoots at that level, they were all so honed with their match guns. They were talking about guns with a trigger pull measured in ounces, with optics and compensators, chambered in .38 super and other calibers with absolutely no recoil.

Then they’re given a 1911 GI model that is literally brand new, with an 8-9 pound trigger, and the entire thing is totally different. Yes, it’s the same basic platform they’re shooting, but this is a totally different gun. It’s like a baseball player with bat with a very specific weight. If you give them a bat that is a few ounces heavier or a few ounces lighter, their rhythm is off and their timing is off. Their swing is totally different.

I really think that is what hampered these professional pistol shooters who literally had just come back from the USPSA Nationals. There was not time to practice with these bare bones GI model guns.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Talking about the team challenge in this week’s episode, it seemed like everyone really seemed to struggle with it. You were left with shooting the vertical plates with both hands at the same time. It’s challenging enough just to get both hammers to fall simultaneously on a double action revolver, but to to be able to also aim at targets on the left and on the right at the same time, it’s difficult to imagine how anyone could pull it off.

Kyle: It really was difficult. During the team challenge, Ashley felt like he would feel more comfortable shooting the corn cob pipes, even though I had done better in practice and would do a better job in that particular stage. So, I took on the two-handed simultaneous firing vertical rack.

It was extremely challenging, especially with those triggers which were so inconsistent, all compounded by the fact that I’m blind in my left eye. So, it wasn’t like I could use my left eye to aim that one and get a proper sight picture and my right to do the same on the other side. There was no simultaneous sight alignment, I had to move my head.

Of course, when you move your head to the left, your right hand is doing whatever it wants to do as it is affected by wind, gravity, whatever. Getting them to fire at the same time is difficult enough, but combined with the fact that I couldn’t get a sight picture at the same time, made it nearly impossible.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Still, despite all of that, you did hit a pair of plates.

Kyle: I did, I hit the first two simultaneously and got a point, the next pair I hit the right one, and then hit the right one again. After the first pair I was never able to hit the left one again.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Ashley had a pretty poor performance during that challenge. Jay Lim also struggled and didn’t hit a single plate, and he indicated that he felt that he would be sent with Ashley to the elimination challenge. I think there was some confusion among the viewers, myself includes, as to why you were picked on the nomination range to go to the elimination challenge. Was there something behind the scenes that we missed?

Kyle: I knew 100% that I was going to be nominated. We had a breakdown about the 4th episode, and it didn’t come across, for once, as dramatically as it happened. It was the episode where Jermaine and Jay went to the elimination challenge, and Jermaine was supposed to choose whoever he wanted to go to the elimination with.

I knew that if Jermaine were to choose anybody, more than likely it was going to be me. Just for self preservation and because I didn’t perform well in the first two challenges.

Cheaper Than Dirt: And of course he did choose you.

Kyle: He did, but then Daryl stepped up and chose Jay and forced a shoot off, and then Jay ended up going. I was kind of saved by the skin of my teeth. When we got back to the house, it really boiled over. Daryl and Jay got into it, we all got into it. We didn’t leave our little room until we hashed things out. We were there for over an hour. There was some serious heat being thrown back and forth. Jay thought he was being undercut by Daryl, didn’t trust the team, thought he the whole team had kinda rebelled against him.

We got to the point where there was a mutual understanding of what happened, and what needed to happen moving forward. From that point on, we never left the room without knowing who was going to elimination. There was no doubt in our mind, we knew who exactly was shooting who’s target, but obviously they weren’t going to show that however because it would ruin the show.

We knew who was going up and who was going to fire on my target.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Right, and none of the viewers of this week’s episode saw that. Walk us through the logic, what happened behind the scenes that led to your nomination?

Kyle: I knew that I didn’t perform well in the first two team challenges. I knew that I had gone to one elimination when I had done better than Ashley or some of the other people. I took that as an indication that I had redeemed myself for one of my poor performances at the very beginning. I still had one more to make up for, in my head, how I was thinking.

I didn’t do terribly well. I tied Daryl, but then Daryl had that phenomenal shot with the splitting of the bullet on the axe, so we weren’t going to send him. Really it was left between myself, Ashley, and Jay. Ashley nominated himself, he was going to go regardless. At that point it just came down to myself and Jay.

I won’t say that Jay carries the team, but he performs well in every single challenge. He did phenomenally well, and this was the first challenge where he didn’t do so well, but he was also given the toughest shot. Each one of his shots was worth three times what ours were worth. Obviously it was a difficult shot, and while he didn’t hit any, it was the hardest shot and he’d done so well in all of the previous challenges that, by process of elimination, it became me and Ashley.

And I was totally fine with that. I was OK going up against Ashley, I had the utmost respect for the guys despite what is being said online about him calling me out and throwing me under the bus. Whatever, the guy is amazing, and there is a whole other story behind that as well.

I was confident. I felt that my skill set would be well suited for the challenge, and I felt like we would be evenly matched.

I also felt like the challenge might be with a shotgun, because in the last season and the exhibition shots, they used a shotgun. I wasn’t sure they would do that again, but I thought “Wouldn’t that be cool if it actually was?” so I was kinda holding out for that. Obviously it wasn’t, but I felt confident going in. I didn’t feel like my team had backstabbed me. It just kinda happened by process of elimination and I was cool with that.

Cheaper Than Dirt: You showed up to the practice session for the elimination challenge, and Taran Butler is standing there next to this big contraption, and he tells you that you’re going to be hanging upside down, did you have any confidence that you’d still be able to pull off a win?

Kyle: Absolutely. The whole thing about Top Shot is to be as prepared as you possibly can be for whatever is going to be thrown at you. You kinda have to laugh it off and have fun with it. Ashley and I were in the bus, we’re riding to the ranch to shoot, and we don’t know what we’re shooting or in what scenario and what the targets will be, we’re literally like two buddies going to the range having a good time.

That’s really what it was at that moment. We were standing there, still not knowing what we’d be shooting, just prepping for the filming and whatnot, and we kinda got a glimpse of the frame and wondered “What is that?”

We saw targets 25 yards away, so we knew it would be a pistol, that much was obvious by the way it was set up, and you’re just thinking to yourself “What the hell is going on?”

We couldn’t see who the expert was, but then we walked up and they told us “You’re going to be upside down.”

I have never shot upside down. There isn’t really a safe way to do it, really, at a range. I was very excited, and I had a lot of confidence. Ashley is a big, big lumbering guy, but this isn’t particularly suited for CQB tactics or Special-Ops stuff. It really is more suited for my particular skill set.

Cheaper Than Dirt: As you said, very few people have ever fired a gun upside down. What did you have to do to be able to make the shots?

Kyle: Many people have said “Oh, that doesn’t look that difficult. It’s just like shooting a regular target, but upside down.”

OK, well, that’s cool, but you have to imagine how gravity works on every single muscle you use when holding a gun. When you’re holding a gun while standing upright on your feet, you’re lifting with your arms and using your shoulders, forearms, and those groups of muscles. When you’re upside down, you’re actually pulling the gun instead of lifting. It’s the other way around.

All of the muscles that your using are muscles that you don’t normally use when you’re shooting. All of your control muscles are different. The sight picture is also disorienting. The entire thing is completely the opposite, you’ve got blood rushing to your head, you’re losing concentration, you can’t really breathe because your abs are trying to support you and keep you taught, and so all of these muscles are constricting and working hard, which is the complete opposite of how you shoot a successful shot where you would relax and use a smooth and easy trigger squeeze.

That’s not what you can do while upside down. It’s quite the opposite.

Cheaper Than Dirt: When shooting while standing upright, gravity also helps to mitigate the recoil by pulling the pistol back down after the muzzle blast pushes it back and upwards. While upside down, gravity makes the recoil much, much worse.

Kyle: The recoil control was another thing that made it insanely hard. The transitions were harder because the recoil was so much affected by gravity. Pulling the gun up to get it back on target when hanging upside down than it is when standing upright. Like I said, that makes the transitions a lot harder.

You really have to get it out of your head that you’re upside down and just mentally tell yourself that you can do this, that this can be done, and that you’re going to hit the target.

Cheaper Than Dirt: During the challenge itself, Ashley had a flawless run. He hit every single bottle. On your run going into it, did you feel confident that you could do the same?

Kyle: I did. I didn’t know his score. We weren’t able to see each other shoot. I had no idea that he had a flawless run. When I got back up to the set everything had been cleaned up and reset for me to go. I had no idea how well he did.

You just don’t know, so you get up there and you just tell yourself that you’re going to hit every single one of these targets. Obviously my pistol shooting wasn’t the best in the previous challenges, so I just told myself that I’d go up there and do my best.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Not knowing how Ashley did, you had to feel pretty good hitting 5 out of 6 then. There was no let down when you had that one miss.

Kyle: Oh, absolutely not. I felt really really good. Looking back, I was actually 6 or 7 seconds faster than Ashley, and the tie breaker was time. You have 6 shots, the chance of a tie is actually pretty great. I knew that I had to be quick, but also be accurate. Hitting 5 out of 6, I was pretty pleased with that.

I actually thought that I had won. You know, the chances of him hitting 6 out of 6, I didn’t expect him to do so well. I never thought he would have a perfect run.

Cheaper Than Dirt: If you’re going to be sent home however, that’s the way you’d want it done. For your competitor to have a flawless run.

Kyle: That’s exactly how it should have happened. If you’re going to beat me, you’d better be perfect. I couldn’t be mad about it, I couldn’t be resentful. I really was very very happy that he one in those circumstances, under those conditions, and with that score.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Given the chance to do it all again, would you take the opportunity?

Kyle: In a heartbeat. When I left, I don’t know if my answer would be the same, because you go through so much. There is so much boredom and you miss your family and friends. You miss the comfort of your own home and your own life, and you want some type of music of stimulation. When you’re on the show you don’t know the news, you don’t know anything, so getting out of there was actually kinda nice.

It was nice to watch TV or have a beer, or any of those things that you do in your day to day life. Looking back now, and being in that house with those guys, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. It was a great experience and I take away fifteen lifelong friends. It was awesome, I loved it.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Top Shot has done a phenomenal job of introducing people who may have never been exposed to the shooting sports to how fun, exciting, and safe they can be. California, where you live, is not well known for being very accepting of hunters and shooters in general. What more can we do, how can we leverage the foothold that Top Shot has given us to help to bring the shooting sports back into the mainstream?

Kyle: Even before I was on Top Shot, I really thought of myself as an ambassador for the shooting sports. I’m young, I’m not the typical looking shooter, and I think that allows people to talk to me in a different way, and I think that allows people to talk to me in a different way than if I were to be, say, wearing camouflage and open carrying an AR-15.

I went to UCLA in Los Angeles, which is arguably the most restrictive city, in addition to New York, DC, Chicago and San Francisco, which might be slightly more restrictive, but L.A. is very very restrictive. They do not issue any concealed carry permits whatsoever, except under extreme circumstances. I really do see myself as an ambassador for the shooting sports.

Everyone I meet and talk to, whether it be a political discussion or social discussion, at some point it always seems that shooting gets brought up. They’ll ask “What do you do?” And I’ll reply that I shoot competitively, and then their curiosity is piqued and the conversation just goes from there. They’ll want to know “How did you get into that?” and they’re so fascinated.

I’ve really taken it upon myself, whether it is co-workers or my friends or family members, to take them out shooting. Just take them out, have fun, and hit some targets, just so they can realize that:

A) Gun toting Americans are not uneducated or carrying guns and causing harm and being violent with them. The number of people who commit violent crimes with firearms are so few, and they are blown far out of proportion by the media. It has really been my mission to spread the word that gun ownership is your right and can also be seen as part of your duty to protect yourself and your family.

B) Gun ownership can be fun and enjoyable. It can be a way to bring families together and have a fun experience. I didn’t get the chance to shoot with my mom that much, but I shot with my dad and that really brought us together. It really solidified our relationship through what can only be described as turbulent adolescent times. I think there is a lot to be said for having a safe, recreational, shooting foundation within a family.

Cheaper Than Dirt: We talked earlier about your childhood growing up in Southern California and how your parents dealt with your early fascination with firearms. I’m sure there are many parents out there who have children who are fascinated with hunting, shooting, or firearms in general. Many parents see these activities and this fascination with guns and come to the conclusion that their children are social deviants, that they are violent, or have some mental disorder. What would you tell those parents out there whose children have expressed an interest in guns and shooting?

Kyle: I think, to go back just a little bit, that there are going to be far, far more kids out there who are interested in shooting. With video games that emphasize military actions or even competition shooting video games, there are going to be many more kids out there who have an interest in firearms and want to shoot guns.

If you don’t give them a direction with that interest, there is a very good chance that when they do encounter that firearm, whether they find one or their friends take them to their parent’s house and they see a gun, there is no education behind them. All they know is what they saw on a video game.

Any parent who has a child interested in shooting at all really needs to educate them. At some point in time they are going to encounter a firearm, and it’s important to teach them what to do when they do.

The Eddie Eagle program through the NRA is a phenomenal program, and I’ve actually taken part in teaching that program to a lot of young shotgun shooters in Orange County with my coach. It’s a great program and any parent out there should look into it. It’s free, and you can find literature about it online.

Give your child an opportunity to shoot in a safe environment, give them lessons, teach them the respect of owning a firearm, and the respect needed to shoot it responsibly. I couldn’t emphasize this more: education is the key behind any firearm legislation moving forward.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Those are some very profound insights, and I want to thank you for taking the time to share them with us. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

Kyle: By all means, I appreciate having the opportunity.

We Catch Up With Speed Shooting Champion J.J. Racaza

Viewers of Season 2 of Top Shot on the History Channel saw J.J. Racaza and Blake Miguez make a surprise appearance on the show a few weeks ago. Between his day job at the Department of Homeland Security and his time spent competing and practicing for the upcoming World Championships J.J. has a very busy schedule, but we managed to catch up with him and talk about his experience coming back onto the show as a speed shooting expert.

Cheaper Than Dirt: What have you been up to since we last spoke back in August of 2010 when you were eliminated on Season 1 of Top Shot?

J.J. I actually got engaged!

I’ve been trying to communicate with all of the supportive people out there and at the same time try to prepare for the World Championships this year. I have two of them lined up actually. There’s the IPSC World Championship and then the World Speed Shooting Championship is coming up in August.

Cheaper Than Dirt: You’ve won the World Speed Shooting Championship in the past. Will you be defending your title?

J.J. No, I actually lost the title last year. In Limited, iron sights, I lost my title from a stupid jam on the last stage.

Cheaper Than Dirt: What a disappointment. We’re all hoping you can win it back this year.

J.J. I’m hoping for it. I’m definitely going to go for it this year, in both divisions, Open and Limited.

Cheaper Than Dirt We’ve talked to nearly all of the Top Shot competitors as they have been eliminated from the show, just as we did during Season 1, and it seems like you’ve been quite the driving force in motivating a number of top level shooters to apply for the show.

J.J. *chuckles* Why do you say that?

Cheaper Than Dirt Let’s see… We’ve got Athena, Jermaine, and Maggie, just to name a few, all of whom said you encouraged them to try out.

J.J. *laughs* That’s good. The show was a positive experience for me last year. They saw how it could turn out to be a good thing, a great thing actually, to be recognized in that manner and to showcase your skills out there. People really gave me a lot of credit, which I don’t think I deserved. It was really just being in the right place at the right time I guess, but it’s nice to hear that they called me and appreciated my influence to get them to go on the show.

Cheaper Than Dirt It was great to see USPSA and IPSC represented on there, as well as another Filipino-American. We love to see that level of diversity as we bring the shooting sports back into the mainstream. What else can we as fans of the 2nd Amendment, as hunters, gun owners, and shooting sports competitors, do to help bring the shooting sports further into the limelight?

J.J. You know what, to tell you the truth, it’s a good start with Top Shot to bring out every type of shooting discipline into the mainstream. The biggest thing I noticed ever since Top Shot is that there are a whole lot of disciplines out there, and we don’t know each other. Even though one person may be in the top echelon in their field, like Kelly was number one in long range rifle but, you know, I didn’t know much about him.

We definitely need to get people together a little bit more. If we do that it will give us more recognition in the mainstream. Getting it on TV was definitely a huge help.

Cheaper Than Dirt What Top Shot really does is bring together the different shooting disciplines.

J.J. Correct. I totally agree with that. That’s it.

I mean, there’s a lot of difference between pistol shooters and rifle shooters, even IDPA and USPSA shooters, there is a lot of friction between each other. Instead of going against each other, why don’t we support each other? We’re all in the same field, but we’re all at the same time only interested in our own little discipline.

Cheaper Than Dirt Let’s talk about the show for a bit now. How did you wrangle your way back onto Season 2 as an expert?

J.J. You know, I was very fortunate. I was just in the right place at the right time during the first season. They knew what Blake and I could do, and we talked about it a lot. We wouldn’t shut up about it throughout the whole entire Season 1, on how we’d love to showcase our skills. I was fortunate to make it far enough to make it to that dueling tree and then make it look good.

They saw that and they saw the huge disparity on the skill level with the pistol, in both accuracy and speed, so in a sense their eyes were opened. They had no idea what my specialty was, I just told them “pistol.”

So, they called me and asked “Hey, what can you bring? Do you have a gun that looks like a 1911? That’s what we want to showcase.”

I said “I have the perfect gun for it,” and I told them “The 2011 is basically the 1911 on steroids,” and they used that line over and over on TV.

Cheaper Than Dirt Tell us a little bit more about the gun. This was the Razorcat made by Limcat, correct?

J.J. Yes. My sponsor gave me an opportunity since I was getting a lot of orders through them asking for my gun, and he didn’t have a gun specifically made for me. He asked me, “Hey, would you like to have a gun specifically for you?”

I told him “Definitely,” and so we started designing. He gave me about 5 or 6 designs with a compensator and we worked with it, test fired it, and came up with this. He asked me what color I wanted and I went with simple black and white. That black and white really stands out, I didn’t realize how it was going to turn out.

It was amazing watching it on there. It was almost a tear jerker for my parents to see that my gun was showcased on national cable television.

Cheaper Than Dirt Take us behinds the scenes now. We’ve talked with Athena and Maggie, both accomplished competitors who have shot with you on the national circuit. Everyone was so disappointed to see them go, especially when we saw that you and Blake would be back on the show. What was it like, you and Blake sitting in the hotel lobby, and seeing Maggie walk in through the door when you knew you were going to be on the show the next day?

J.J. You know, I was really hoping that I’d have a few friends out there. There were maybe 4 or 5 that I knew out there. Jermaine actually used to work with me at D.H.S. and I was looking forward to meeting them out there and seeing how they would react, because they had no idea. I was in the dark though, I had no idea how people were doing.

I was sitting there in the hotel lobby with Blake, we were just so excited, and we see Maggie come walking in and my heart just dropped. I couldn’t wait for them to showcase their skills because I knew it came early for them in the competition. Then I found out that Athena was gone, my boy Finks was gone, and Maggie was eliminated.

Maggie saw us and said “I was told what you guys were going to be doing, and I’m so mad!” You could actually look at her and see the disappointment on her place.

It touched me a little bit, and Blake and I looked at each other and asked “Who’s left? Because I don’t know…”

Now it looked like all the IPSC shooters where gone-

Cheaper Than Dirt Well, you had Chris Tilley still in.

J.J. Correct, but I didn’t know that Chris Tilley was still in. I actually had news for Chris Tilley at that point, because he had made the US Team, as the 4th place guy on the US Team. I asked the producers “Hey, can I tell him?” but they wouldn’t allow me to tell him. Being there, it was very hard to keep my mouth shut.

Cheaper Than Dirt How frustrating! And on top of that, unfortunately we saw him eliminated just a few episodes later, and now almost all of our USPSA and IPSC shooters are gone.

J.J. I think Kyle actually had some experience in the USPSA, he told me during the show.

Cheaper Than Dirt Top Shot is about being able to adapt to any weapon and do so quickly. Do you think the level of training in that particular specialization can actually handicap competitors on the show?

J.J. You know, I’ve looked at it, and I’ve thought about it, and it looks like it could work both ways. When I went in there I had all the confidence in the world that I would be able to pick up anything and translate it to the way I shoot my pistol. But you get there and they give you something that you’ve never seen before, never even heard of before, and they tell you that you’ve got 5 round to zero the weapon.

In a sense, it’s basically problem solving. Your specialty skill can help you with the confidence, but when they give you an unknown weapon you had better be able to figure it out, and you’d better have some good problem solving skills because that’s what Top Shot is. It’s about figuring out what you’re given and making the best out of it.

Cheaper Than Dirt What was it like to go back on there as an expert, to be on the other side of the fence? You don’t have anything on the line, you don’t have the stress of being up for elimination, and you get to watch things from the sidelines.

J.J. There are two ways to answer this. I’ve always had two answers for this.

Being out there as an expert with nothing on the line, just coaching and watching these guys compete was an amazing experience. Sitting out there, not as a cast member, but at the same time being a part of the crew, they treat us a lot different. We were no longer blind, we were constantly given the heads up. We were kinda roaming on our own schedule.

But when it came to competition, Blake and I kinda looked at each other, and I said “I’m not a bench player. I want to get out there!” It felt like it was the 4th quarter and we’re down by 6, and I’m sitting on the bench because the coach wouldn’t put me in.

I wanted to take over. The competition part of me wanted to go and help out and do something other than the coaching part of it. It was just torture.

Cheaper Than Dirt You probably have some sympathies towards the Blue Team, given that you were on that team in Season 1.

J.J. I was. Obviously my loyalty is with the Blue Team. I went up there and I looked at the Blue Team and it looked like they were struggling. They had less people than the Red Team. I actually said during the show “I wish I was on the Blue Team again.”

Once you start to meet the group and the cast, I started pulling for the Red Team. They had a lot more character it seemed like. The Blue Team, it seemed like they were all disheveled. Speaking to the team members one at a time, it seemed like they were all against each other. There was not that camaraderie that we had in the first season.

Cheaper Than Dirt In interviewing the team members as they are eliminated, we’ve seen that there are some serious problems popping up here and there in the team dynamic. As anyone who has been on the show can tell you, it’s critically important to be able to pull together as a team to win the team challenges and stay safe from elimination.

J.J. That’s it. Now that I get to think about it, in hindsight, you don’t need to be the best at one challenge. At the same time, you can’t be the worst. You just have to cruise through and make the team as strong as you can. The stronger your team is, the further you make it through the show. Once it gets to the individual challenge, the wolf gets hungry.

Cheaper Than Dirt Let’s talk about one team member in particular, and you’ll know what I’m going to ask you as soon as I mention his name: Jay Lim. He’s gained the reputation as someone who is difficult to coach. Was that your experience as well?

J.J. You know, it’s very hard to walk up to the line and try to teach somebody something that they are unaccustomed to within 30 or 40 rounds. I understood his point about trying out my style for 5 rounds and then going back to what he’s more comfortable with. The bottom line is, once you’ve been doing something for years and years, and then step up to the line you’re taught something completely different, when the pressure is on you’re going to go back to something subconsciously. You’re not going to have time to think things through.

There was a lot more resistance with Jay and coaching him, and it seemed like that throughout the whole season with all of the experts. I thought it was just me and Blake. We tried our best with him, but he even shunned Chris Tilley who was a Grand Master, on his team, and who tried to lend a hand to him.

Cheaper Than Dirt Jay made the comment “I was unhappy with the instruction. Why change fundanmentals? I just want to know how to shoot faster and more accurately.” Did he have a valid point there?

J.J. Actually, I would say no. The basic principles of speed shooting or practical shooting comes down to three things: recoil management, sight picture acquisition, and trigger manipulation. He didn’t have the first two. If you don’t have the first two, your gun is flopping all over the place. If you have one step missing you can’t put it together and shoot fast and accurate.

Cheaper Than Dirt Yet, when it came right down to it, Jay was still able to make the shots, and consistently so.

J.J. Yeah, he seems to have that natural ability to not worry about who he’s going up against or what people think about him. He just zones everyone out and does his thing, which is very important when you’re on TV or when you’re on a challenge like that.

Cheaper Than Dirt That is indeed the mark of an experienced competitor, having that ability to get into the zone and tune everything else out.

I appreciate your time and information and want to thank you for talking with us today. We’re looking forward to seeing you compete once again on the world stage at the Speed Shooting Championships as well as the IPSC World Championships, and we wish you the best of luck.

J.J. Thank you, it was great to talk to you again.

J.R. of Lone Wolf Distributors Discusses Custom Pistols

We unveiled a custom built .40 caliber pistol assembled from Lone Wolf’s Timberwolf frame and USPSA Open division legal Werewolf slide and compensator. No sooner had we released this little sneak peek than we became inundated with people wanting to know where they could acquire their own Glock based competition race gun.

We called up J.R. from Lone Wolf Distributors to talk about the gun and learn more about Lone Wolf’s custom division.

Cheaper Than Dirt Lone Wolf has been manufacturing aftermarket products for Glock pistols for some time now- 

J.R. Since 1998.

Cheaper Than Dirt What were some of the first products that Lone Wolf got started manufacturing?

J.R. We started out with basic items actually. I used to run with the crew from Aro-Tek, and at the time I was doing a TV show called “Sportsmen of the Northwest, it was a cable access show and we were doing all things that go bang. Our motto was “We’ll go fishin’ when we’re out of ammunition.”

I hooked up with the Aro-Tek crew, and that was about the time that Glock first came into the US. With Aro-Tek and Glock being synonymous in parts, I got hooked up with the Glock crew directly and ran with them on all of the early tournaments during the inception of the GSSF (the Glock Shooting Sports Foundation).

Cheaper Than Dirt It’s the aftermarket parts that are your main bread and butter, right?.

J.R. Yeah, we cater to the guy who owns a hot rod and wants to tweak his engine and put on headers and mag wheels. Our customers usually own multiple Glocks and tweak them all of the time. They want to do the best that they can, and that comes down to equipment sometimes.

Cheaper Than Dirt How do you go about developing these various parts? Do customers come to you and request various items?

J.R. Sure. Of course it used to be just mass quantities of alcohol and we’d just dream something up *chuckles*

No, I actually have a background as an action pistol shooter and also ran the cable access program, and we used to team up with these guys and listen to them and what they wanted in a gun. Being an innovator is just an act of listening.

People would say “You know, if this part did this, it would be better, and you could make an improvement over here too,” and I knew the right people in the industry who could do those things and bring them to market. Now with our status in the industry where it is at, I have people come to me all the time with ideas and suggestions for new products or improvements to existing products.

Cheaper Than Dirt What about concealed carry and defensive pistols? Can we expect to see more parts that are aimed at competitors in IDPA?

J.R. Yes, in fact I have a few plans to get into that. For IDPA, you need to produce 2,000 units per year to qualify for certain divisions, and they’ve got some regulations in there that make it difficult for a new gun manufacturer to get into.

Cheaper Than Dirt Lone Wolf has experienced rapid growth over the years, moving from basic parts and aftermarket accessories into becoming a full custom gun shop.

J.R. The custom gunworks that we have going is still in its infancy. We’re not actually releasing the completed guns just yet. We’re still doing them as custom builds for the customer. Some of the guns that you’re seeing, including the one that you tested, are project guns that we’re doing. Patrick Kelley’s is one of those. He helped us develop these pistols.

Here’s the thing though: If we began building custom guns using the parts that we have now, as soon as we build more than 50 guns we fall into the higher BATFE tax rate of 11% for firearm manufacturers. Once that happens, the price has to go up. Right now we’re just selling cheap parts.

Cheaper Than Dirt So there is a bit of a regulatory hurdle you’ve got to overcome if you make the decision to move into building actual firearms instead of just selling parts.

J.R. I full well plan on overcoming that hurdle, probably some time within the next year. I’ve got some concept designs that I’ve sent out to the USPSA and asked them where we need to be to meet their requirements and make 500 units. I could produce 500 units tomorrow, but it’s the additional 11% tax that the ATF charges and once you get that on there the cost of the custom guns we would be building goes up by that amount.

Cheaper Than Dirt Can we expect to see any “bare-bones” custom guns produced by Lone Wolf? Something along the lines of an STI Spartan maybe?

J.R. Right now I can get you into a bare-bones Timberwolf frame pistol with everything, all Lone Wolf parts, for around $700 I think.

Cheaper Than Dirt Team Cheaper Than Dirt! member Patrick Kelley helped develop one of your Timberwolf based race guns, and we got to take it out for some range time just the other day.

J.R. What you may not know is that Pat Kelley and I have been friends for, well, forever it seems like. I’ve squadded with him time and time again at numerous shoots, helped promote different shoots with him, so we have a lot of history together. What you may not know is that I bounce a lot of projects off of Pat and he gives me his input.

Like I said earlier, I rely on a lot of input from my friends in the shooting industry. We’ll bring in a new project and I’ll get their input and they may come up with 15 changes that they would like to see made, and we may incorporate 10 or 11 of them. It just makes it a better system all the way around.

Cheaper Than Dirt So the gun that we’re featuring here, is that just a standard Timberwolf frame with a Werewolf upper?

J.R. Actually I built that gun years ago when we were putting some ideas together, and Pat took a photograph of it in a low-light situation and we named it “Flash” because through that photograph we could see that we were achieving 100% gas dump. That compensator is really, really effective. Phenomenally effective.

The whole idea was that we could develop a system that could dump everything and keep it within 2-inches. If you look at the high speed photograph that Patrick took you can see that there is no bounce, that the red dot sight doesn’t move. That gun is going to be fast.

Cheaper Than Dirt You’ve virtually eliminated all of the muzzle rise.

J.R. Yup, it’s a beauty. The development of that gun has only been inhibited by access to a dot sight. I’ve gone to virtually every micro-dot sight manufacturer and tried getting them to cooperate and lower the price of the optic.

The Optima, and before that, the C-More, was the brainchild for all modern micro-dot sights. Ira K., when he introduced the C-More at SHOT Show, I was there when that happened and that was the biggest thing that had happened to the shooting industry in some time.

Tasco got involved and they brought in the Optima. When it was first introduced the Optima was $300 and that was just unacceptable. I bought the Optima for $300 and was incorporating it into our handgun designs even then. Fortunately for us, when Tasco went out of business after they ran into financial problems and went belly up, I was getting Optimas for $99 and then we could retail them out for $125 and add a base. Now you’re talkin’.

But we were doing dot sights way back then, and incorporating them into our designs. I was selling 100 of them a month.

Cheaper Than Dirt You’ve been machining slides to take these micro-dot sights for some time then.

J.R. Yes, for many moons. The problem was, when the Optimas ran out, nobody could bring them in. I actually tried to buy it, and of course everybody is familiar with the Doctor sight, but that was still $300-$400. I couldn’t get anybody to work with me, so we scrapped the whole project.

Cheaper Than Dirt At least until the Burris FastFire came out.

J.R. Burris jumped right on board actually. The Burris guys were out there and I had seen one of their samples. I had to meetings with them, made a few suggestions, and they made a couple of changes, some of which they were going to make anyway. Next thing you know we were able to introduce it as an OEM part, and that really pays off for the consumer.

Cheaper Than Dirt Some people express concern about the FastFire holding up to the recoil of the slide…

J.R. It’s just going to hold together. It’s solid-state, it holds together just fine. Nothing can happen.

The best thing is that Burris really wants to work with us. We were able to work together, bring the price down, and put it into an affordable package

Cheaper Than Dirt We’re Cheaper Than Dirt, and our customers are really bargain conscious, so it’s always great to see an affordable package like that be made available. Not everyone has thousands of dollars to throw away.

J.R. You’ve hit the nail on the head. IPSC and action shooters aren’t cheap, but they do need to maximize their dollars. If they’ve got $100 they want the most that they can absolutely get for that $100.

Cheaper Than Dirt What you’ve done then is take Glock’s parts interchangeability, their reliability, and take it the next step forward and push the envelope until you’ve created a fantastic race gun that can be assembled by almost anyone with a basic knowledge of the firearm.

J.R. Right. In the early years we were pretty much ignored by Glock because the majority of people just wanted a stock firearm that went bang every time. We were off into the race gun scene however. We were finding ways to make the gun run faster and faster.

Cheaper Than Dirt And make it faster you did. Most race guns are like finely tuned F1 cars that take a lot of maintenance and a lot of fine tuning and tweaking to run reliably. How does Lone Wolf overcome that?

J.R. We deal with it. When you see a high speed photograph of Pat Kelley with 5 empties rolling off his knuckles, most people look at that and marvel at the fact that there is no muzzle rise and comment that “He’s got to be the fastest shooter in the world.”

I look at that photo and I’ll tell you, that gun is riding right on the verge of failure to eject. The thing is, it can run on that edge all day long and that’s what makes it as fast as it is.

Cheaper Than Dirt So part of what you do is find that edge, push out and find just how fast you can go.

J.R. There you go. You find that edge, you find that point where the gun is running right at the point of failure, and then you pull back just a bit to make it reliable. It may take just a hairs’ breadth to tip that gun over the edge and have a failure to eject or some other malfunction, but we keep the gun running just on this side of that line.

Cheaper Than Dirt And that’s just what you manage to do is find that edge, pull back a hair, and then put the finished product into production and into the hands of shooters.

Now we’ve heard some rumors that, in the next few weeks, customers are going to be able to build and order their own custom guns online. Is there any truth to that?

J.R. Where we are at now, I’ve got a full time IT guy who writes code for me, and where we’re taking this is that you’ll be able to pull up the components you need and put it together online.

We’ve got a brand new facility, a million dollar facility. Right now we’re at 4,000 square feet but we’ll be moving up to 8,000 square feet. We’ll have a custom assembly line right there and in-house refinishing. Right now we contract out some of that, but things are changing big this year. Especially with the introduction of our new AR platform built all around Glock.

Cheaper Than Dirt Tell us a bit more about that.

J.R. It’s based on an AR, but it takes Glock magazines and it will run 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 SIG, and .45 GAP on one platform, and then we’ve got .45 ACP and 10mm on the other platform. We’ve built both receivers already. Once we do the 10mm we can do all of the custom wildcat calibers on it.

It’s a great short range carbine, perfect for law enforcement. We’ve got ones in full auto now too. I don’t know if you had the opportunity to see the newest one at SHOT Show, but it created a lot of buzz. We’ve got a lot of AR manufacturers who want us to license it through them also.

Cheaper Than Dirt Any plans to do that?

J.R. We can’t. I just want to make sure that it’s done right. At the end of next month we should start releasing them, and I want everyone to know that they came from Lone Wolf.

This has been a three year project, and we’ve had very limited production of the G9 for now. We just want to make sure the quality is there and that the firearm is done right.

Cheaper Than Dirt It’s really been a pleasure talking with you and learning more about how you make these fantastic firearms, and I can’t wait to see these pistol be put into full production. You’ve got some really exciting products coming out now.

J.R. We do, and we can’t wait to get them out to you.

Eric Anderson: Horseman, Marksman, Top Shot

Eric Anderson carried on the tradition begun by horseman Denny Chapman by representing Cowboy Mounted Shooters with his appearance on the second season of Top Shot. While his true love is horsemanship and riding, he’s no slouch when it comes to marksmanship either.

On this week’s episode of Top Shot, viewers watched as Eric struggled with a .45 caliber 1911 pistol during the team challenge, and then saw him eliminated in a head to head competition against Jamie Franks shooting a Razorcat 1911 style race gun outfitted with a holographic dot sight.

The next day Eric gave us a call to talk about his background as a horseman, his history in the shooting sports, and his experience as a contestant on Top Shot.

Cheaper Than Dirt Did you grow up shooting? Did your family hunt or shoot when you were a kid? 

Eric Anderson Absolutely. When I was young, we used to shoot off of the rock wall near my grandmother’s house. She lives on the Puget Sound up in Anacortes Washington.

Cheaper Than Dirt That’s a beautiful area up there.

Eric Anderson Oh yeah. There’s a bluff there, and we would set little cans out there off the rock wall, and we would shoot from the rock wall.

I can remember as a kid, 5 and 6 years old, I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to shoot and shoot with the family. Finally when I was 7 I got to shoot the rifle for the first time and got explained sight alignment and sight picture, and all the intricacies of getting your round down range and hitting your target.

I started rather young.

Cheaper Than Dirt Did you do any competitive shooting when you were younger, or did you just stick to plinking?

Eric Anderson Just plinking and playing around. Later on, when I was allowed to go duck hunting, I took the hunter’s safety course, and I would do duck hunting. It was a family time to go on the outings, and we would harvest ducks and then have them for dinner. It was the whole gambit: Appreciating your animal, your harvest, cleaning it and taking care of it, and then cooking it. It was a family tradition.

Cheaper Than Dirt You paint quite the picture of a family affair, more bonding and spending quality time together than focusing on shooting and marksmanship, though I’m sure that was a part of it as well.

Eric Anderson Right, absolutely.

Cheaper Than Dirt At what point did you first start getting interested in competitive shooting?

Eric Anderson Competitive shooting was probably in the Marine Corps. We would go to the rifle range, and for Jar Heads it’s just the way we are. We’re always competing at something. We’d go out the range, on qual day, and see who could shoot the best, and then that person either had to buy drinks or buy dinner. It could be so much as a bet on cleaning somebody else’s room.

It was all about good fun and shooting.

Cheaper Than Dirt If I can ask, how did you qualify in the Marines?

Eric Anderson I was expert, both rifle and pistol, and then later on became an instructor.

Cheaper Than Dirt Obviously your time in the service bred some familiarity with the M16 and M9 platforms, once you got out of the Marine Corps did you already have some experience as a horseman, or did you get into shooting first?

Eric Anderson The horsemanship started out when I got involved with team penning. Three people ride into a big arena, and out of 30 cattle they cut 3 out. Cows are numbered 0-9, and there are 3 of each number. They will call your number and you go in and you get those 3 cows out, get them to the other end of the arena, and then put them in a pen. You do this with a team of 3 people and 3 horses.

There are 6 brains there that are trying to do the same thing. I got into mounted shooting because it was just my brain and the horse’s brain, and we would get together, the two of us, as a team. It was kinda like going duck hunting with your Labrador. That bonding that you feel with that animal, when you succeed, is just phenomenal.

Cheaper Than Dirt Had you done competitive shooting before becoming an accomplished horseman?

Eric Anderson Just in the Marine Corps.

Out in Arizona, in Flagstaff, there was a gun dealer who would sponsor a weekend shoot. What they would do is they would set up different targets, little competitions, and you would shoot a bowling pin with a shotgun, and the next station you might shoot a target with a .22, maybe a metal target, and then the next station you would have to shoot it with a rifle.

The people who would there would all put in $5 and they would compete, and it was just a jackpot shoot. I got into a few of those when I was in Arizona but, other than that, no real competitive shooting.

Cheaper Than Dirt We talked to Denny Chapman, and he’s a horseman and mounted shooter who appeared on Top Shot Season 1. Did you know Denny before he was on Top Shot?

Eric Anderson Yes. Denny and I, we shoot in two different clubs together. We shoot in the SASS mounted shooting club here in Florida, and we also shoot in the CMSA. Denny is a great competitor, great guy, and really is fun to be around.

Cheaper Than Dirt Did he talk to you about going onto Season 1 when he first started putting together his audition package?

Eric Anderson I knew that Denny was going on Season 1 when he came back. We traveled up to the Easterns together, and he had just come back from Top Shot. Of course, he couldn’t say a single word and, I want to tell you, if there is ever somebody who was tight lipped, it was him.

He just said “You know what, you really need to try out for Season 2. If you get the opportunity, do it.”

On his recommendation I put a video together and sent it off to Pilgrim.

Cheaper Than Dirt Was it a surprise to you to discover that you were selected for the final casting call?

Eric Anderson I can’t say that I was surprised. I didn’t think I was a shoe-in, but I can’t say I was surprised. I was just like, “Wow!” I thought it was neat.

Cheaper Than Dirt You learned the fundamentals of marksmanship during your time in the military. Top Shot incorporates a lot of challenges that require you to adapt to a new weapon very quickly. Did you do any practice with weapons that you may not have had previous experience with?

Eric Anderson I really did not. I know I talked to Daryl, and he said he tried everything they did on Season 1 at his house. I fired a few rounds out my back door at a target, just making sure I still had what it took. You know, sight alignment, sight picture, breathing and relaxation, the squeeze and follow through, all of those things, and put them together.

The one thing I did notice was that my eyesight wasn’t what it used to be. You know, I’m 46 years old now, and you’ve got to do the reading glasses thing. In the shooting that I’m used to, you focus on your front sight tip. As long as I could see that, I felt like I was good to go. It’s paid off for me in the past.

The gun that got me off the show was something that I had never seen before, except in a video of Athena Lee, and I think that was even after the show. That young lady can rock and roll. Her, Maggie, myself, Jay, and Kyle, all got together out on California, and I shot one of their matches.

My goodness. That is high-speed low-drag.

Cheaper Than Dirt They are incredibly fast when you put a race gun in their hands. The guns you shoot on Cowboy Mounted Action Shooting are quite different. You’re not actually shooting ammunition at all, they’re just blackpowder loads.

Eric Anderson That’s right. In a single stage in a match, we shoot two pistols loaded with 5 rounds each. They leave an empty cylinder for the firing pin to rest on for safety purposes. During the period, you didn’t have the blocks for the firing pin.

You shoot 10 targets with 5 rounds each out of each of your revolvers, and it’s kinda like barrel racing, only you have 5 targets of one color and 5 targets of another color, and then a prescribed pattern that you must ride it in. And then you ride for time. Every balloon you miss is 5 seconds. When you get into the big matches, missing one balloon can put you completely out of it, and there are a lot of missed balloons.

Cheaper Than Dirt If I understand the sport correctly, the emphasis is more on time than on accuracy. Accuracy is obviously still important, but it only takes a single burning powder grain to burst one of those balloons.

Eric Anderson Well, just the muzzle blast a lot of times will pop that balloon. I think what you’re getting at is the actual accuracy however. It’s more like a shotgun blast. The explosion opens up as it goes out.

Cheaper Than Dirt Do you feel that a lack of experience with precision shooting affected your performance on Top Shot?

Eric Anderson I don’t believe so. I’ll tell you, my inability to adapt to something new, which was the race gun, was probably it. If you’ll notice when we were shooting the Police Positive, a small barreled gun, short distance from front sight to rear sight, gosh I dinged all 3 of my targets.

Cheaper Than Dirt That was the paintball challenge…

Eric Anderson Right. With the rifle, I shot one time and hit my target with no problem. The difference between what Denny and I do as a sport and actual marksmanship is the difference between shotgun shooting and shooting a precision firearm at a still target.

Cheaper Than Dirt There is a lot of movement in shotgun shooting, and there is a lot of movement in Cowboy Mounted Shooting. Many experienced precision shooters have no idea how to properly lead and shoot at a moving target. You’ve got experience duck hunting along with your experience shooting from a moving horse. When you went into the elimination challenge with the Razorcat, did your experience dealing with a moving target help you in any way?

Eric Anderson I’ll tell you where my problem lay, in the way you hold the firearm, I felt like that to get the acquisition of the dot on that firearm, I felt like I was almost pointing my muzzle towards the ground the way I was holding hit. Traditionally, when you bring a pistol up in your hand, you almost have your natural point of aim as you’re drawing that firearm out. On the gun I was firing, and I don’t know if I had J.J.’s or whose pistol it was, but I felt like I had to lean my wrist forward and down to find that dot.

When it came into the heat of the battle, with muscle memory and old habits that are hard to break, I kept looking for this dot, and I had to search for it and then find my target and shoot.

Cheaper Than Dirt I see. That’s something many people who have never shot a handgun with an optic don’t realize. It does set up very high above the bore, whereas traditional handgun iron sights are very low and close to the bore.

Eric Anderson Right. The way it set in my hand, if I grabbed that pistol the way I would normally hold a pistol, the dot was nowhere to be found. I truly had to lean my wrist way forward to find that dot.

Cheaper Than Dirt Let’s back up a bit and talk about the beginning of the series for a bit. When the teams were first being picked, it seemed to me, and to many viewers as well, that Chris Reed tended to choose all of the competitors with military experience for the Red Team. It seemed to be the active and former military guys versus the experienced competitive shooters.

Eric Anderson That is the way it turned out, I don’t know if that was by design. The people that Jay chose were people that I felt he was comfortable with, and most of them were civilians in the beginning. I don’t know if that because he was intimidated by the military fellows, or if during his interviews he just felt more comfortable with the civilians. Chris Tilley was his first pick. I noticed Chris Reed picked military guys up front first.

I was really surprised that I did as well as I did, seeing how the action shooters or the Cowboy Mounted shooters didn’t do as well last season. I think that Chris was truly putting together a team that he felt like was going to be successful, and I think we were.

Cheaper Than Dirt Getting into the team dynamics, it seemed that the Red Team was really able to pull together as a cohesive unit while the Blue Team struggled to find their rhythm.

Eric Anderson First thing, Chris Reed was a former United States Marine. Joe Serafini was a former United States Marine. Brian Zins was a former United States Marine. I was a former United States Marine. George is United States Air Force sniper instructor. Jaimie was, I believe, a rescue swimmer, Athena was our civilian, her and John Guida.

So we had two civilians on our team, and they were absolutely a part of our team right from the beginning. They just fell in and rolled with the flow. I would say that the camaraderie, the “Esprit de Corps,” that was brought together with that team was unparalleled.

You see it a lot in the beginning, with the Blue Team, they had some rocky times. I’m not going to say it was because they were civilians, but they just didn’t have the discipline that we had on the Red Team.

Cheaper Than Dirt Let’s back up for a bit and talk about the team challenge taking on the plate racks with the 1911-A1 pistol. Walk us through what happened with your performance there and what lead up to your nomination for the elimination challenge.

Eric Anderson It was really windy, it was blowing. We were under the impression, and then I don’t know what the hiccup was. I know that I felt like I didn’t step up as well as I should have.

I didn’t feel like I stepped up as well in the bow competition. If Blue Team had just said something to Maggie about the peep sight, it’s very possible they would have beat us in that challenge, and that was all my fault.

That, coupled with how I shot with the .45, I felt like I needed to be the one going up for elimination. There was a suggestion that each of us shoot at a different target and let Colby draw names out of a hat, but I pulled the Marine card and said “Gunny, Chris, Joe, I expect you guys to shoot my target. That’s the way it is, that’s the way I feel it needs to work, and if I come back from elimination I come back and, if not, that’s the way it was meant to be.”

At that point I felt like I was the weak link in the way I performed. I felt like I needed to go to elimination. That’s the way we roll.

Cheaper Than Dirt So it wasn’t just that particular challenge that led to your conclusion, it was your performance on the previous challenge as well.

Eric Anderson Right.

Cheaper Than Dirt There certainly were some personality conflicts early on with the Blue Team, but the Red Team didn’t seem to be immune either. This most recent episode it seemed to be the Corps versus everybody else. Is that an accurate description of the dynamic in the house at that time?

Eric Anderson I’ve heard here recently that a lot of people thought George was a Marine. George is United States Air Force, he just has a tremendous amount of military bearing, and he’s just a great guy.

I also want to say this: Jay is also a great competitor. I think that he has been misunderstood. The words that he is saying are absolutely true, it’s just the way he says it that leads people to believe that he is cocky. I don’t think he realizes a lot of times that you just don’t know how you’re perceived because you haven’t had a chance to step back and take a look at yourself.

Chris didn’t try to run our team at all. He was just part of the group. It was a group run team. I can’t ever remember him saying “This is what I want to do.” It was always Gunny, George, or myself and all of us who would discuss things.

Jamie alienated himself quite a bit. He did it to himself.

Cheaper Than Dirt You say that he alienated himself, but during the team meeting, we didn’t hear much discussion center around him. Still, once his name was brought up, it seemed like everyone just pounced on him as a candidate for nomination.

Eric Anderson Well, the first thing we had to get over in that meeting, and bear in mind that you didn’t see all of the meeting there on that episode, was the fact that I said that I was going, and I had to call out the Devil Dogs on that.

George said “I’m not voting for you, I think Jamie needs to be up.”

I think when he made his statement and expressed the way he felt and why he felt that way, the rest of the fellows said “You know, you’re right. Jamie hasn’t been performing.”

He took two shots with the rifle. I don’t know that he hit a target when we were shooting at bottles, and he hadn’t done a whole lot for the team up to that point. He felt like he shot the .45 fairly well. I can’t tell you either way, but Gunny was sitting so he got to see it all. Gunny wasn’t impressed with his performance either.

Jamie felt like he had a target on his back, like he was being picked on. I do not feel like that was the case. I’ve even tried to step back and take a look at it from his point of view. I don’t see that he was being picked on.


Howling winds and blowing dust made the speed pistol challenge incredibly difficult.

Cheaper Than Dirt Well, whatever the reason, it came down to you and Jamie, and I know a number of us were sad to see you go. Now that you’ve been off the show for a while however, have you taken the opportunity to get involved in some of the action pistol sports like USPSA?

Eric Anderson Well, I teach marksmanship for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. In the Hunter’s Safety course, one of the things we do explain is marksmanship. I truly enjoy marksmanship. I enjoy mounted shooting more because you have that camaraderie with your animal. You’re competing against people who all have the same sort of attitude. They all love their horses, and they all love to shoot. That’s what I truly enjoy.

As far as shooting competitively, I probably won’t go out tomorrow and buy one of those race guns. I got an opportunity to see what a used one was, it was $3,500, and that’s a good horse right there.

To answer your question, as far as shooting goes, I love to shoot. I feel that I’m a really good shooter. I understand shooting, I understand consistency, and I understand putting in the black, but I’m not going to go out and buy a race gun.

Currently my sport that costs me all my money is mounted shooting, and I really enjoy that. I do the mounted rifle shooting and the regular mounted shooting. That’s what I like to do. That’s not to say that later on in life when I get too old to ride a horse that I won’t go out there and try race guns, because that is a lot of fun. Like I said, we did it in California here about 2-3 weeks ago, and it was a blast.

Cheaper Than Dirt Given the chance, if you had the chance to do all of this again, would you take the opportunity?

Eric Anderson Absolutely, without a doubt. This is truly one of the coolest things I think I’ve ever done. The people that I had the opportunity to meet, the experience was phenomenal. This makes a trip to Disney World look like getting stuck in the corner with your nose in a circle. Truly it was a blast.

Don’t give me any of the crap that it takes 5 years to become friends. I can tell you that was the fastest 5 years of my life. We’ve got friends that will last forever. Athena flew over here. She came out and tried mounted shooting in my arena.

Cheaper Than Dirt That’s great! How did she do?

Eric Anderson She rode a horse and she shot a gun from a horse.

Cheaper Than Dirt And we’re just going to leave it at that?

Eric Anderson That’s exactly what we need to do. *laughs*

Ashley is going to be here, he’s going to come to the house and shoot, and anybody that was on that show is welcome to come to my house and bring their family and shoot and ride. Come to Florida and goof off.

This is truly a great bunch of people. The most valuable player in my world, the way I figure it, is the casting. Those folks did a phenomenal job of finding quality people to represent the United States of America.

Cheaper Than Dirt On that not, let’s get some insights from you. We’re all big supporters of the 2nd Amendment and proponents of responsible gun ownership. Top Shot has done a great job of finding quality people, putting them on television, and showing the entire world just how responsible American gun owners are. What more can we do to help bring gun ownership and the shooting sports back into the mainstream?

Eric Anderson Let me tell you this first of all: Safety is number one. We all believe in safety being number one. The other thing is that you’ll notice that every single night when we got back to the house and that flag hit the wall, we stood and did a pledge of allegiance, sat down, and had a prayer. Now there may have been some folks there who weren’t religious and didn’t even believe in praying. But out of respect for the rest of the people at that table, they would bow their head. We all held hands, and we said a prayer.

These were quality folks. Folks who believe in the United States of America. One nation under God. We had men there who were prior military. We had three active duty at the time: George, Ashley, and Jamie; active duty military who next week could be in Afghanistan giving their life for our freedoms.

These are the quality of people that they had on that show. If the American people don’t have enough respect for themselves to understand that this country is founded on our freedom, that’s their problem.

Cheaper Than Dirt Very well put. Before we let you go, I want to thank you again for your time, and for your service in the past. We were all sad to see you leave the show.

Eric Anderson I was truly blessed to be on that show, and blessed to be with the people I was with. All of them were fine competitors and great people.

Eric makes his home with his wife Sharyl near the town of Webster in Central Florida where they both train horses and riders. Learn more about them at their website Xtreme Horsemanship

Listen to Team Cheaper Than Dirt! member Caleb Giddings interview Eric Anderson on Gun Nuts Radio, or download the mp3 here.

3-Gun Champion and Top Shot Competitor Maggie Reese

Maggie Reese is well known on the 3-Gun circuit as one of the fastest shooters in the Open division. Her journey onto the national stage as a top level shooter is a bit different than most. She didn’t get started shooting until the age of 18 and, until a few years ago, never shot more than steel and bowling pin matches using her .45 caliber race gun. Now however, she’s a force to be reckoned with in USPSA handgun and multigun competitions.

Maggie also appeared on the History Channel’s reality TV show Top Shot as one of two female contestants. She was gracious enough to grant us an interview following her elimination from the competition, and we discussed her background in the shooting sports along with her experience on the show.

Cheaper Than Dirt How did you first get introduced to firearms and get started shooting competitively?

Maggie Both of those things happened at the same time. When I was 18 years old my dad took me out to the range and taught me how to shoot and we immediately jumped into competition. That was the idea behind it was that he wanted to introduce me to something that he loved and already did, and it was a great way for us to spend some quality father-daughter time together.

Right from the get go I shot local competitions where we lived in Northern Nevada. We shot man-on-man steel and bowling pin matches, and I had a custom built Caspian .45 that I borrowed from my dad. I shot that with 230 grain ball ammunition and we just went from there.

Cheaper Than Dirt Did he shoot competitively before that?

Maggie He did. He shot on a local level in Northern Nevada. It was just something real small scale and just a great way to spend a weekend with a good group of people who all had similar backgrounds and shared a similar hobby. It was something locally that we did together and he had started it before I did and really encouraged me to go out and do it with him.

I honestly didn’t really have any interest in it. I hadn’t shot guns before and didn’t see myself as a competitive type person, so I kinda hesitated to do it, but he really pushed me and said “If you just try it once and if you don’t like it, I won’t make you do it again.”

I went out the one time, borrowed his gun, absolutely loved it, and kept going back.

Cheaper Than Dirt At that point you’d gotten bitten by the shooting bug and were basically just off and running then.

Maggie I was.

Cheaper Than Dirt Did it kind of awaken the inner competitive drive that you’ve got? Or was it just the joy of shooting?

Maggie It was a little bit of both. I really enjoyed shooting. I kinda just took to it. Of course, when you find that you can do something and you can do it well, it’s encouraging to stick with it. I was happy to discover that about myself, but I also did find that I enjoyed the competition aspect of it and that did get my blood pumping and I really just wanted to keep going and get better and better and push myself.

Cheaper Than Dirt Did you get started in USPSA fairly quickly?

Maggie Well, I shot at local competitions at the steel matches and bowling pin matches, and I did that for 10 years off and on.

Cheaper Than Dirt At what point did you break out and decide to start doing other sports such as 3-gun?

Maggie Three or four years ago I moved back to Southern California and a friend of mine told me about this competition called Steel Challenge. He said “You’re going to be right there, why don’t you just show up and shoot it?”

I figured “Sure, OK. Why not?” So I just kinda wandered out there, I didn’t know what to expect or what was going on. I still had my .45, that’s what I was shooting at the time. I showed up and figured I’d shoot the competition and that would be that. While I was out there I met a lot of great individuals, one of whom is Taran Butler.

He saw me struggling with my .45 and he came up to me and he said “I don’t know who you are, but what are you doing? That’s not the right gun for this competition, let me give you some help. Here, shoot my gun. Shoot this 9mm,” and he loaned me a gun and I shot the competition and just had a blast doing it.

Then he said to me, “You know what, why don’t we go shoot some USPSA matches, I think you’d really like it.” Now, I didn’t know what that was, but I figured I’d try it. So, I went and shot some USPSA matches.

Then he said to me “You should shoot 3-gun.”

I said “Well, I’ll show up and I’ll just watch one to see if I like it.”

I showed up to my first USPSA 3-gun match, and he handed me his guns and said “No, don’t just watch. Shoot it!”

I said “Well, OK,” and so I shot it.

It was just those people like Taran that I met along the way who just came to me and kept saying “Here, try this!”

I kept saying “Sure, OK,” and that’s how I got into 3-gun, just by happenstance.

Cheaper Than Dirt Did you have any coaches or mentors other than Taran who kind of guided you along?

Maggie Definitely. My boyfriend Michael Voigt is the President of USPSA and a pretty good shooter himself. He’s a 10 time national champion in 3-gun.

Cheaper Than Dirt Just to be clear, did you meet him before or after you started shooting 3-gun?

Maggie I started shooting 3-gun and I met him on the range actually. Obviously once our relationship started he became a real driving force in my competition shooting and was able to coach me and support me and encourage me. Before that I had been doing it on my own with the help of friends and family members.

I think that my level of shooting really changed when I met Mike.

Cheaper Than Dirt At what point during all of this did you decide “Hey, I’m going to make a video and send it in to audition for Top Shot”

Maggie You know, I watched the entire first season, episode for episode. I just really loved it as a show, and I was familiar with some of the people who were on it. As I was watching it, I never in a million years imagined that it was something I would do. I just didn’t see myself on TV doing that kind of a competition.

I watched the show, but when they started the casting process for the second season, a lot of people just encouraged me to send in an audition video and fill out the application and see what happens, but I thought “No, they’re never going to pick me. This is just totally out of my comfort zone. I just don’t think I can do it.”

So many people encouraged me to try out, I just thought “You know what? Why not. What’s the worst that could happen? I’ll send in the application and if I never hear from them, who cares?”

Then they called me back, and they asked me to come out for the semi-finals part of the casting process in LA, and I thought “Oh gosh, do I really want to do this? It’s kinda nerve wracking, but I’ll just go out and see what happens.”

So, I went through the final casting process and then they asked me to do the show. It was just once again this weird sequence of steps where someone urged me to try it and I went ahead to see what happens.

Cheaper Than Dirt I’ve got to ask, J.J. Racaza has been a driving force in encouraging a number of this season’s competitors to audition for the show. Both Athena Lee and Jermaine Finks were prodded along by J.J. Did he encourage you as well?

Maggie You know, I know J.J., I’ve seen him on the competition circuit, he was actually one of the first big time shooters that I met. Blake was the first one. I had no appreciation back then for who these guys were, they were just nice people that I met at the range. I had no idea how awesome and amazing they were. But yes, they’ve both been very supportive and encouraging, and just been great representatives of USPSA to the rest of us to say “Yes, go out and do this.”

Cheaper Than Dirt We talked with Athena about some of the pressures of being a female shooter in a male dominated sport. How much of that weighed on your mind when you were considering whether or not to do the casting call?

Maggie You know, that honestly wasn’t a factor for me because I am so used to it on the competition circuit. I’ve showed up so many times to the range and been the only woman there and had people look at me and go “Are you lost? Do you need help? Can we point you in the right direction?”

So I’m kinda used to that. I didn’t think about going into it and trying to prove myself as a woman, I just thought about going into it as another competition.

Cheaper Than Dirt Still, it had to be a bit of a relief to see Athena there at the final casting call and realize you weren’t going to be the only female shooter on the show.

Maggie Definitely. I also knew Athena before the show, so she was somebody who I have a tremendous amount of respect for and was so happy to see her there. She was my roommate on the show, so it was great to have another woman to bounce ideas off of and reflect on the day, and just have a buddy to hang out with.

There is so much down time back at the house that you need people who understand where you’re coming from, and having another woman really helps.

Cheaper Than Dirt Before the show, going into it you had to know after watching Season 1 that there would be all manner of weapons thrown at you from shotguns to rifles and handguns, and as we saw in the last episode bows and arrows. Did you do any particular type of practice to brush up on your skills with those other weapons?

Maggie There wasn’t very much time between when I found out I’d been accepted for the show and I actually had to be there. Literally the day before I was just finishing up the USPSA Handgun Nationals. I had been in Las Vegas the week prior, and before that I had been preparing for that match and before that I had been shooting 3-Gun Nationals, so all of my focus was on my competitions that I already had planned.

I still had an obligation to myself and to my sponsors to show up and do well. I just put my focus into shooting the USPSA Handgun Nationals, but I did switch to iron sights instead of shooting the Open division so that I would have a little bit more experience shooting iron sights.

We left from Las Vegas and we literally left the competition in Las Vegas and my boyfriend dropped me off in LA for Top Shot and I never even had any other time to do the other things I would have loved to do.

Cheaper Than Dirt You really just got thrown right into it then, and the first episode just made things even more dramatic with the first competition right out of the gate.

Maggie Yeah, we had a couple of days of filming and doing the commercials and the photography and things like that, and you’re right exactly. We showed up and didn’t think that we’d be doing a competition right out of the bag. We thought we would go into the house and get settled and familiarized and kind of adapt to our new surroundings, but you’re right, instead right from the get go we had a competition.

Cheaper Than Dirt We’ve talked to some of the other contestants about the weather and other difficulties that the first team challenge presented. Everybody seemed to struggle, but you’ve got some experience with the .45 caliber 1911 platform, and you mentioned you’d done at least some practice with iron sights. What happened during that first team challenge?

Maggie Definitely from the onset when we were sitting there and we saw that that was going to be the first challenge, we all felt a little sense of relief. We thought this was a good gun to start with right off the bat, there was nothing weird or foreign or unusual. It was just a standard 1911 .45.

I think for some of us, particularly for myself, we simply weren’t in the right mindset for it. I just can’t even really begin to tell you how disappointing that whole performance was for me and for my team as well. Half of us failed completely at that challenge. It was really difficult, and I think we had just put ourselves into the moment and let our nerves get the best of us. We hadn’t really settled down and found a rhythm yet.

It proved to be a lot more challenging than we had considered giving it respect for. It definitely slapped us in the face and we had to regroup and come back and say “OK, wow. This is serious now.”

Cheaper Than Dirt A number of Blue Team members were handgun experts, yourself included. Do you think that the performance during the first challenge affected the team dynamics?

Maggie One of the things that happened with our team was that we noticed that there was a lot of negativity right from the start. We had some poor performances, and we had some high expectations from some members of the team. When things didn’t go well, it really did affect the team dynamic and the negativity really began to permeate throughout the situation. That was kinda difficult to overcome.

Cheaper Than Dirt Going a bit deeper into the team dynamics, we noticed that right off the bat that Jay Lim seemed to try to take charge immediately, but there was a bit of resistance from some of the Blue Team members. Were those just personality conflicts and how did that affect team morale?

Maggie I think that it had a huge effect on the team morale going into the challenges. We all felt like we were there for a reason, we all felt that we’d been picked for a reason. We all had our own specialties and things that we could lend to the team, and I think we wanted that respect in return for what we brought to the table.

Definitely there were some personalities conflicting, and when you’re in this sort of stressful situation to begin with your really need your team support. When that is lacking, it affects everything else you do and it affected us in the challenges for sure.

Cheaper Than Dirt Athena, the only other female on the show, was eliminated fairly quickly into the competition, leaving you by yourself. Did that change your strategy for dealing with other competitors or change your mindset at all?

Maggie It didn’t change my strategy, but I definitely felt her absence back at the house during our down time. Because we were roommates and, like I said, we bounced ideas off of each others heads and we could relate with each other at night when we were back in our rooms by ourselves, not having her there really kind of put me in a different position where I had to strike out on my own. I didn’t have her to rely on anymore. My buddy who I got to talk to all the time is gone.

Cheaper Than Dirt It’s important to point out too that your rooms were not in the main house. You and Athena had a little guest house off to the side to yourselves and had to head up to the main house to interact and socialize with the rest of your teammates.

Maggie Yeah, we were in what you might call a Mother-In-Law unit, a converted garage out in the back yard. We had our own bedroom, our own bathroom, and our own little sitting area. We really were separated from the men in that way. Of course we had communal living spaces in the main house and we would always go in there and visit with everybody, but at night we would draw back and be by ourselves and have that time just to ourselves.

It was so thrilling when I found out she was going to be there, and I went into that situation not knowing if there was going to be another woman. When I found out that there was, that was so exciting for me, and then to lose her in the beginning was so disappointing.

Cheaper Than Dirt Let’s talk about the Uphill Challenge that aired two weeks ago. You went into that challenge with high hopes and it seemed like absent Jermaine’s errors, you really should have won that.

Maggie I definitely think we should have won that. It was totally within our reach. We were so far ahead.

Cheaper Than Dirt What I wanted to know about is not so much the challenge itself, but afterwards. When it came time to decide who to send to the nomination range, Jermaine was obviously going to be one, but tell us about the team meeting after the challenge.

Maggie Initially in the beginning Jermaine insisted on being nominated into the elimination round. I didn’t necessarily agree with that because I felt like he was one of the stronger competitors on our team and one of the better shots, but he insisted on it and there was no way to talk him out of it. He really needed to do that for himself and we couldn’t deny him that opportunity to redeem himself.

The logic behind it was that he had made this fatal mistake in that one challenge, and we were only as a team looking at the specific challenge that we lost. We weren’t taking into consideration previous challenges, which may have been a mistake in our philosophy. So, we agreed to let Jermaine get nominated into the elimination round and then we decided that he would make the final decision about who he wanted to go up against.

That was a big decision, I think, to place on his shoulders when he was already focused on so many other things. I think we sort of did it in the moment because it was the easy way out for us. There was nobody else to really choose from. He had been the one to make this mistake, so how do you pick anybody else?

We decided that we would let him do it. Of course that was just the initial plan within the team meeting.

Cheaper Than Dirt At the nomination range, we saw Jermaine vote for Kyle and then Jay got nominated as well. Watching the show, viewers have to realize that there is a lot that happens on camera that never makes it onto the episode. Was there any collusion between yourself and Daryl to choose Jay instead?

Maggie Actually, what happened was that everybody voted for Jermaine except for Daryl. He voted for Jay, and Jermaine had of course already voted for Kyle, so that left a tie. Then I had to make the tie breaking decision.

I had talked to Daryl before the nomination round and he had told me that, upon reflection, he didn’t feel that it was a fair decision for Jermaine to make on his own. He felt that as a team we should step up and let our voices be heard as well. Daryl was of the opinion that Jay had been the weaker performer at that point and he told me of his decision to vote for Jay.

I knew going into it that there might be a tie breaker situation and I of course had my own opinions. Then I just happened to be the one picked to make that decision.

Cheaper Than Dirt Do you think Jay’s personality and the team dynamics surrounding that played into that decision at all?

Maggie Definitely. When you’re in this kind of team situation and you have such a limited time to practice with and so much at stake within the challenges, you have to be able to work together as a group.

When I looked at that decision between Kyle and Jay, first of all I saw Kyle as somebody who didn’t have the opportunity to compete within the Uphill Challenge, so if we were going to do what we had said we were going to do which was look at somebody’s individual performance within that specific challenge, Kyle didn’t compete in that and I didn’t think it was right to hold him accountable for our loss. I didn’t think that that was fair if we were going to go by the rules that we had established as a group.

I saw Jay as somebody who had been a little bit separate from the group in the practice. We had made an agreement going into the practice that those most comfortable with the rifle and those most familiar with sighting in a gun would be the ones to do it. Jay didn’t have any experience with the rifle and he didn’t have any experience sighting in a weapon, and yet he was still being very opinionated on what he wanted to see done.

It was such a short time available to us, there just can’t be those disputes.

Cheaper Than Dirt Just to be clear, for those who may not know, you only receive about 30 minutes as a team within which to familiarize everybody with the weapon.

Maggie Exactly, so when you have six, seven, or eight people trying to cycle through the weapon, including some people who have never shot it before and need extra time and extra help, and you also have a limited amount of ammunition so every shot counts and you can’t afford to waste ammo going back and forth.

Six of us felt comfortable with where the rifle was sighted in. One person felt differently. In that kind of situation you just have to suck it up and go with what the group wants, and he just wasn’t happy to do that at that time.

Cheaper Than Dirt After that, it seemed like everybody was sad to see Jermaine go. He did seem to be a valuable team member, despite his mistakes on the previous challenge.

Maggie He was just a really good guy, strong competitor, good shot, and had a great mindset. He particularly was a huge help in all of the practice sessions. He is a great instructor and someone who was able to give knowledgeable and welcome instruction to the rest of us. That’s important. It’s important to surround yourself with people who have the right mindset, the right mentality, who are positive and supportive.

We all needed each other as a team and he was a huge asset to us. Having lost him I think really affected us going forward.

Cheaper Than Dirt How did things change after Jermaine was eliminated and Jay was the one to return to the house? We saw at the beginning of the most recent episode Daryl sit down with Jay and apologize, and then Chris Reed sat him down at the head of the table and Jay just looked like a fish out of water.

Maggie He did. I think he felt very uncomfortable and he didn’t know what his place was within the group anymore, and he was very aware of how sad we were to see Jermaine leave. I’m sure that made him feel uncomfortable as well. That was just one of those awkward moments that we all had to work through.

Cheaper Than Dirt When you saw that the next team challenge was archery, that had to give him a good angle to get back in good with the team.

Maggie Certainly. At the end of the day we’re all there to compete and to win. Any advice that we can get from someone who is knowledgeable is always welcome. Finding out that archery was the next challenge and that that was something that he was proficient at, we were very happy to have him there.

Cheaper Than Dirt It was quite the turnabout from earlier practice sessions where it seemed that his advice was not welcome to this challenge where it was not just welcomed but requested.

Maggie Any time somebody has an opportunity to contribute something and the timing is appropriate and the place is appropriate, we want that.

Cheaper Than Dirt What happened at the team challenge?

Maggie Well, we watched the Red Team compete first, so we kind of knew what their performance was and could adjust accordingly. When we came up to the line we found that some of us were struggling. I missed two shots myself in a row, and I dramatically missed them.

It was just awful to be in that sort of position. I came back to my team and everybody just wanted to know what went wrong. I really struggled with the bow. It was foreign to me, having never shot one before. I was just trying to focus on some of the most simple and mundane aspects of it. They caught me in an honest moment when I said “I don’t know which way is up and which way is down.”

I really failed to get a proper sight alignment on my shots, and I really struggled to draw back on it. The weight of the bow was really hard for me. Some of my other teammates also struggled. Some of them had really close shots, but a miss is still a miss.

Jay did well though. He hit his shot right off the bat on the first try.

Cheaper Than Dirt Do you know what the draw weight of the bow was? We’ve had some questions from our Facebook fans about that.

Maggie It was 40 pounds. All of the men shot the Bowtech Assassin, but I shot the ladies version, which is the Hearbreaker. The draw weight was set up at 40 pounds and they guesstimated what my draw length would be.

Cheaper Than Dirt I see, so you had different bows.

Maggie Mine was, I think, 10 pounds lighter. The others were set up at 50.

Having never shot one before, I didn’t know what it was supposed to feel like and I really struggled with the weight of it, and I really struggled with the length of it. I found that difficult to overcome.

Cheaper Than Dirt After the team challenge, you pretty much chose yourself to be in the elimination challenge.

Maggie I was disappointed in my performance. We discussed back in the team meeting who had performed well and who had not. I was one of the people who had not made my shots, and I felt it would be appropriate for me to go into the elimination round.

Cheaper Than Dirt And Kyle was chose based on his overall performance?

Maggie This was where we kind of started to change things. Kyle had actually made his shot in that competition. We had now started as a group to look at people’s cumulative performances and we had enough to reflect back on. It was his previous challenges that put him in the elimination challenge this time.

Cheaper Than Dirt It seemed that, at the elimination challenge, that you were still struggling with the weight of the bow.

Maggie I was. Each time, during the team challenge, we had practice in the morning and then we had the team event. For the elimination round we had practice in the morning and the elimination challenge itself later.

I really found that I had fatigued myself trying to get the bow sighted in and trying to become comfortable with this operation, you know I went through dozens of arrows. During my practice session for the elimination round I got to the point where I couldn’t draw back the bow at all anymore.

The expert was great, we just set the bow down and he talked to me and just gave me all the verbal cues and tips. He walked me through it verbally, but I couldn’t physically draw back on the bow anymore and I had to give my arm a rest.

Cheaper Than Dirt Many viewers don’t realize just how much physical fitness is required to perform well on the show. When we spoke with Athena she described getting beat up and worn out from shooting the Thomson sub-machine gun.

Maggie Yeah, that’s right. That was really something I struggled with.

The object of the show however is to overcome and adapt. During the elimination challenge I wasn’t able to get the full extension of the bow when I was drawing back, and that caused my shots to go a little wild and a little low left. I saw that and was able to start holding off and start to overcome that.

Cheaper Than Dirt We saw that, and for a while it seemed like you really caught your rhythm, to the point that you caught up with and tied Kyle’s score for a while. Did you have any idea of how you were doing?

Maggie I had absolutely no idea. I was not at all looking at him, I wasn’t going to take a split second to look over at him and see how he was doing. I was just trying to stay focused on the moment.

I could hear Colby yelling out sometimes “Kyle hits! Maggie misses! Kyle misses! Maggie hits!” and I knew that he was saying Kyle was hitting a lot more often than he was saying I was hitting. That was something that was going on in the back of my head, but it was also something I was trying to push out of my mind and focus on the task at hand.

Cheaper Than Dirt We were all sad to see you eliminated there.

Maggie It was definitely hard for me to leave. I think one of the hardest things about it was that I just really grew to love and respect so many people in the house. It was just a great group of people, a great group of men who are just full of so much integrity and honor, and who have done really courageous things in the case of our military members.

I love the dynamic of being around these people and I loved working with them. It was really hard to say goodbye, and to say goodbye so abruptly. Of course I wanted to go on and win and do all of that stuff, but on a personal level it was just hard to leave all of these good friends that I had made.

It was really disappointing to walk away.

Cheaper Than Dirt We’ve been doing these interviews for a while, and one thing we’ve heard from almost every single participant on Top Shot is how they’ve made good and long lasting friendships with all of the competitors.

Maggie Definitely. When you go through something like this that is so unique and unusual, and something that not too many people have the opportunity to experience, you really bond with those people who understand what it was like to be there in the moment, and the stress, and the pressures, and the rewards, and everything else.

These were just such a great group of people, and I talk to almost all of them on a fairly regular basis. We message each other back and forth over the internet. It’s been great to keep in touch with everybody and watch it play out on TV. Now we get to sit back and be fans of the show again and see what happens.

Cheaper Than Dirt If you had the chance to do it all over again, would you?

Maggie I absolutely would. I would just love the experience to do it all over again.

Cheaper Than Dirt I don’t know how much of last night’s episode you saw, but Blake Miguez and J.J. Racaza are coming back-

Maggie I know! I can’t even begin to tell you my disappointment! One, that I missed out on seeing J.J. and Blake, and two, that I missed out on shooting a race gun!

Cheaper Than Dirt Oh my, I can only imagine. You know, I commented to Athena today after seeing that show, “Not only are Blake and J.J. coming back, but they’re shooting a Limcat!” Which is one of her sponsors, and of course you shoot a race gun in Open division as well.

Maggie Yes! I shoot Open division as well, and then Limcat was the first race gun that I ever shot.

I’ll give you a little inside scoop: When I left the show and went back to the hotel, I saw J.J. and Blake in the hotel lobby!

I said “What are you two guys doing here? Say it isn’t so! Say it ain’t so!”

And of course, they were saying to me “What the heck are you doing back at the hotel?” and I had to hold my head in shame.

Cheaper Than Dirt That had to be such a bittersweet moment.

Maggie It was, it was great to see two friendly familiar faces, and at the same time so disappointing. If only I had been able to hang on.

Cheaper Than Dirt Well, hopefully you were able to enjoy a few drinks together before you had to go and they had to go.

Maggie Yeah, we were able to. We were able to visit.

Cheaper Than Dirt If you’ve got time, I’d like to open up the floor to some of the questions we’ve gotten from our fans on Facebook. Do you have a bit of extra time?

Maggie Oh sure, yeah.

Cheaper Than Dirt We had a couple of questions regarding defensive firearms. Do you carry a concealed handgun for self defense?

Maggie I never have actually. Honestly, I’ve just never done it. It’s never seemed necessary for me. I would really have to sit back and ponder what I might want for that type of situation.

Cheaper Than Dirt For somebody just getting started in 3-gun, what division is good for a new shooter and what is a good 3-gun setup?

Maggie Tactical is definitely the easiest division to get into. Once you get into Open you’re getting into all of the tricky stuff and the fancy stuff, and the expensive stuff. There is a lot of money in that division. You can get into Tactical right from the start and use stuff that’s right out of the box. That’s a great way to keep the cost down when you’re trying to get yourself going.

Cheaper Than Dirt Any particular makes and models?

Maggie You know, I’ve got a Benelli M2. The only thing I did to it was chop it down a little bit so that it could fit my smaller frame. Other than that, I did the same thing with my AR. It’s just a flat-top AR and I put a scope on it, and of course I put the fancy optics on it to make it more competitive in the Open division, but it would work just fine in Tactical once you strip all of that stuff off.

You don’t have to get super fancy to go out and be competitive. That’s the great thing about USPSA is because of these different divisions, is you find somebody who is on your skill level with the same sort of equipment. Then you’re really just testing your shooting capability and it doesn’t come down to money.

Cheaper Than Dirt Gerald Weeks from Facebook wants to know: How many hours do you practice every week?

Maggie It depends on the competition I have coming up. I shoot a lot of different styles, from Steel Challenge, to Bianchi Cup, to 3-Gun, so it really just depends on what I’ve got coming up. I just put everything else away and focus on that for the moment. I try, if I’ve got a major match coming up, to be out at the range every day.

There is a lot of time that is spent just loading ammo and getting the equipment ready, and setting targets once we’re out at the range. The preparation is just as time consuming as the actual shooting. That being said, I can easily shoot 500 rounds a day.

Cheaper Than Dirt So, could we estimate 14-20 hours a week then?

Maggie Yeah, that would be fair.

Cheaper Than Dirt We touched on this earlier, but Justin Berkihiser wants to know: What kind of weapon did you first learn to shoot? He also wants to know what advice you have for those of us who dont compete but like to shoot for fun or practice for personal defense?

Maggie It was a Caspian .45, a 1911 style.

As for advice… You know, I shoot a local match here every Saturday that I’m in town. There are all different sorts of people out at these matches. There are people who are professional who compete on a national level, and then there is another group of people who just like to come out and have a great time. They just like the experience of being around other shooters and they are just there for the fun.

It’s that same thing that, because we have different classes and divisions, you can go out and shoot against people who are just doing this for fun as a hobby. It’s a great way to spend a weekend. It doesn’t have to be this high pressure situation where you have to go out there and get your but kicked by somebody else.

Just go out and shoot your local matches and have a good time.

Cheaper Than Dirt All right. Well, I think that’s about all we’ve got time for, and I do want to thank you again for your time and speaking to us.

Maggie Thank you so much!

Top Shot Competitor Jermaine Finks

Last week we saw Jermaine Finks eliminated from the competition on the History Channel’s reality TV show Top Shot. After a series of blunders during the team challenge, the Homeland Security agent who had previously seemed unflappable found himself up for elimination. During a tightly fought elimination challenge, Jermaine came up just short and was unfortunately sent packing.

Many fans hated to see him go, and we caught up with Jermaine to discuss his performance on the show.

Cheaper Than Dirt Most of us already know that you gained the bulk of your firearm experience after joining the military at age 17, but did you have any prior experience with shooting or hunting before that?

Jermaine No, I did not.

Cheaper Than Dirt In the military you served as an MP. Was law enforcement something you’d always aspired to?

Jermaine Yeah, as a kid I always wanted to be a cop, you know, playing cops and robbers. When I was in High School, at least in my last years in 11th and 12th grade, I was actually studying to be an architect. I guess I just changed my mind once I found out that the military could train me to be an MP and later a cop, I kinda switched gears.

Cheaper Than Dirt Many law enforcement agents don’t ever become as well trained with their firearms as you have. At some point during your career, you made the decision to not just become intimately familiar with the use of the tools of your chosen profession, but to become an instructor.

Jermaine When I joined the military they trained me to shoot my weapon and whatnot, so I kinda got to like using weapons. Then, coming back I became a firefighter for 10 years. I actually gave up the law enforcement deal after the military and went to be a firefighter in my local home town.

Around 2001 I got back into law enforcement on a part time basis because my schedule with the fire department was so easy to deal with I had enough time to go and work part time as a Pennsylvania State Constable. There, I saw that I still kinda had the firearms thing going on and that I really excelled at doing it.

Once 9/11 happened, that’s when I switched over to the Federal government. It changed my mindset, I had to take care of business, make sure something like that never happened again.

At the academy is where I really honed my skills from a few of the instructors there. They saw something in me and made the recommendation to me that “This is our skill set and you’d be really good at teaching it,” So with that, I had been an instructor in the military, and when they found that out they said “This is a good fit your you. You’re an instructor already, and you know how to teach people. We’re going to teach you how to teach people to shoot.”

It kinda spread from there. It’s been from 2003 until now and an uphill climb teaching people how to shoot.

Cheaper Than Dirt 1999 was a difficult year for you, when you were diagnosed with colon cancer. Throughout your career in the military, you overcame many obstacles, but this truly had to be a life changing challenge.

Jermaine Backing up a little bit, in 1995 I got laid off from fire department job, so I joined the military again for a 3 year stint of active duty. In there, I went and deployed, and when I got back after my 3 years the fire department actually called me back and offered me my job back. I finished my tour in June of 1999, but I came back earlier. With my leave built up I got to come back early.

It was about 2 months after being back on the fire department that I started feeling a little bit… not myself. I went and got myself checked up, and yeah, it was a life altering life changing event. I found out at age 26 and was diagnosed with colon cancer.

That set me back a little bit. I didn’t believe it at first, that kind of deal. There was a little bit of stress and depression setting in there, but I had a good friend who pushed me through and helped me get by.

Cheaper Than Dirt Your drive and determination definitely shows through even today. I’m curious though, what drives a Federal agent to apply to be on a reality TV shooting competition?

Jermaine Good question. As far as being being an instructor with this agency for the last couple of years, and especially dealing with firearms, you get that ‘Esprit de corps’ and that competitive edge amongst ourselves. We want to push ourselves to the most extreme limits that we can as far as doing well with firearms.

It was actually the first season that got me kinda motivated. J.J. Racaza, he’s a pro shooter and whatnot, and also a guy who works inside my agency. I know him personally because I was actually one of his instructors when he came through my field office. Seeing him on the show kinda motivated me, because he was one of our guys. I talked to him about it, and was basically just running it by him, asking him questions about the show and whatnot, and I jokingly asked “What do you think, should I try out?” or something like that.

He told me that he’d already dropped a couple of names to [the producers], and one of those names was mine.

Cheaper Than Dirt I guess we can blame J.J. for bringing a couple of people onto the show, since he encouraged Athena Lee to send in an audition as well.

Jermaine Yes sir, he encouraged a lot of folks to get on there and show their talent on TV.

Cheaper Than Dirt With your job as a Federal agent, was it difficult to schedule the time off to go and spend a few weeks on the show?

Jermaine Actually, being on the ground, it’s a bit easier. Being in a field office, or what we call “ground based,” it’s a little bit easier. Making sure that I had enough personnel to take care of my work load while I was gone for the tryouts and then when I actually got picked, I already had the leave built up and I just needed the approval from my supervisors.

What helped was knowing that J.J. Racaza had been through the season before, and we’ve all seen how well he did. They saw it as a good thing that I was going out there and giving it a try. It was a bit of an uphill battle at first but, once they had realized what it was for, they said “Yeah, go on ahead. Knock it out.”

Cheaper Than Dirt So you’re going out and showing everyone that we actually have some decent marksmen over at Homeland Security.

Jermaine Oh yeah, that’s another reason why we went out was to get out there and show our stuff off basically.

Cheaper Than Dirt On the first episode, shooting the billiard balls, everyone really seemed to struggle with that challenge.

Jermaine Yeah, with the billiard balls the tough thing was that there was no practice time with the weapon. It wasn’t a weapon that anyone was really familiar with. I mean, we all knew what the 1911 was, but it wasn’t anyone’s regular weapon that we had gotten used to in our careers or through professional competitions. They just kinda threw it at us and said “Here you go, let’s go.”

On top of that was the weather, the wind and the cold, as well as the visual interference from the fog and things like that. Add in the stress involved from the run back and forth, having only one shot, and the limitations on where you could stand and the stress of being the first competition where you know that someone is going to go home, you’ve got that in the back of your mind as well.

All of that, plus trying to shoot a little two-inch target at various distances, kinda put a little stress on you.

Cheaper Than Dirt You didn’t seem to let the stress get to you however. It seemed like you carried the Blue Team through that competition. You scored the first hit, and continued on to connect with another target as well.

Jermaine There was a total of eight balls, Ashley hit three and Jay hit three, and I hit two. That made up the total of eight balls right there.

Cheaper Than Dirt You had to be feeling pretty good coming out of that first team challenge.

Jermaine Kinda. I was a little bit stressed there in the beginning. Being the fifth guy in line and seeing the four people in front of me totally miss the first ball, it really kinda upped my anxiety. I kept asking myself “Am I missing something here? Is this really that difficult of a shot?” Once I got up there, I did a bit of a double-take to figure out what it was. It took me a second to get myself back in the proper mind-frame and realize that there was nothing there and just shoot it.

Once I did that, it kinda set the balls in motion so to speak.

Cheaper Than Dirt On the second episode we saw some friction start to emerge among the Blue Team members. Tell us a bit about Jay Lim. He initially tried to take on the role of team leader, but Daryl and a couple other team members didn’t quite see things the same way.

Jermaine That comes down to different styles of leadership and what you think might be the right thing to do and going ahead and making a decision on your own without consulting others. I wouldn’t say it was a dictatorship, but there was an element of “Let’s do it my way,” without consulting the rest of us.

Yes, there was some friction you could feel a little bit. It was kinda like at first he wanted our opinion on things, but then it turned into a situation where he’d say something like “What do you guys thing? OK, well here’s what I’m going to do.” That kind of thing.

Cheaper Than Dirt During the team practice it seemed at times that he did more instructing than the expert did.

Jermaine *laughs* Yeah, I kinda just stood back and watched that happen. Maybe I should have just gotten in there and told him “You know, there is and expert instructor here, you might want to show a little professional courtesy and allow him to do his thing.”

It was borderline disrespectful, but I could see where he was trying to help people out.

Cheaper Than Dirt Moving on, your team did well on the paint-ball challenge, but then on the next episode you had a bit of a meltdown at the team challenge. Most of us can understand having one moment of confusion, but to have two huge errors… tell us what happened there.

Jermaine I’m glad you asked about that one.

The weather out there was intense. The winds were whipping at 50 miles per hour. It’s not an excuse, but I will say that I changed my hearing protection. I used to wear these Peltors with speakers on them, but it’s difficult to hear when the wind is blowing, so I was usually wearing those but I was a bit leery about wearing them while running around. I was worried they might fall off. I opted instead to use my in-ear plugs, which basically cut out all sound.

I’m not saying that’s a valid excuse, but I think that if I had heard them yelling and screaming at me, I think I would have stopped in my tracks and reset myself.

The first mistake that I made, yeah, that was all me totally misunderstanding that I had to stay in the box and hand the weapon off to somebody so that they could go on to the next box. A little bit of my training kicked in: Never give up your weapon and get out of the foxhole and move to the next one. That might have had something to do with it too. I knew that the weapon had to get to the next foxhole, but I had a brain fart I guess as far as wanting to get it there fast.

I came back and shook it off, tried to reset I guess. The second mistake, I can definitely tell you how that one happened. I was resetting myself, looking up the hillside trying to figure things out. I thought, “OK. the first mistake is done, let’s get past that,” and I’m looking up the hill and I see an empty foxhole. I think “OK, that’s where I need to be when they finish their shots.”

I didn’t think to look behind me to see the other guys waiting at the start line ready to come. I just had it in my brain that I had to get to that last foxhole. What I failed to recognize was that that foxhole I was looking at was only the third foxhole. You really couldn’t see the fourth one which was at the top of the hill, over and past the rocks.

In my mind, I had the idea that that was where I needed to be, because I couldn’t see the last foxhole. I failed to realize that what I was looking at was only the third foxhole, not the fourth. Once I realized it was the third, after grabbing the rifle from Chris Tilley and running up there, I heard people screaming at me this time and then looked at the hill and realized this was not the last foxhole.

That’s when it really set in, the crushing realization that “I have really screwed this up. I’ve got to get this back on track again.”

Cheaper Than Dirt Before each event, the instructions are given out by Colby, but then you also have the rules arbiters on the show who are supposed to explain all the little nuances and details of each event. Were the instructions given out clear?

Jermaine They were. I understood that the first team would go first and last. In my mind, I knew that I would be one of the ones going first and last, not first and fourth. When I looked up the hill, that third position looked like the last position to me.

Cheaper Than Dirt Obviously your teammates were pretty upset about the whole thing. It seemed there was no question that you would be going to the elimination challenge.

Jermaine As soon as that last explosion went off and it wasn’t ours, before that even, I knew that all of the errors had been on my part. What really drove it home was that, even with my screw ups, we were still neck and neck right up to the end. In hindsight I realized just how far ahead of them we would have been.

Cheaper Than Dirt You still had to choose a second person to go to the elimination challenge with you. When it came time to make that decision, it seemed like the rest of the Blue Team kinda wimped out and let you make the call.

Jermaine At first the discussion centered around what to do, but I took full responsibility. After that, the question was how to choose who goes with me. That was the tough part, because everybody did their part except for me. I couldn’t put the blame on anybody else but myself. Still, I didn’t quite feel right about having them decide about who would go up against me when none of them deserved to be in the situation in the first place.

We kinda went round-robin for a pretty good while, much more than what was shown on TV. It finally came around to the decision that everyone would vote for me, which they should as it was all my fault. Then they would leave it up to me to decide who would go with me.

Leaving the decision to me was a mixed feeling. I didn’t like it, but it was really the only thing we could do to make it fair.

Cheaper Than Dirt Once you were at the nomination range, we saw you vote for Kyle. What were the reasons behind that decision?

Jermaine All night long I had to try and figure out who was going to go with me into the elimination round. I initially tried to figure it out base on that challenge by itself, but I couldn’t do it. Everyone did their part, including Kyle. In my mind, I totally disregarded that challenge and didn’t make my decision based upon it. I based my decision on the prior two challenges, and we had discussed beforehand making choices based on performance only.

The reason why I chose Kyle was because in the two previous challenges, he had shot the least amount of targets.

Cheaper Than Dirt After you voted for Kyle however, we saw the other team members select Jay instead. Were you surprised?

Jermaine Yeah. I don’t know if they caught my expression, but I was shocked. It was a total surprise to me when that happened. I went in there thinking they were all going to vote for me and I would select who went with me. That got turned around on me.

Cheaper Than Dirt Then we saw Maggie back up that vote with a vote for Jay during the tie breaker. Now you’re an experienced pistol shooter. The Glock 17s used in the elimination challenge were very much the same as your service weapon that you are intimately familiar with. One would think that you would have a natural advantage going into the challenge.

Jermaine When I was a constable I carried a Glock 22, so it was very familiar. When they told me what the weapon was and what the challenge was, I felt like it was just going to be like another day at work. I felt like it was redemption coming my way and I had a way to earn my way back into the house now. It totally lifted my spirits.

Cheaper Than Dirt At the challenge you had one round that went off and hit a no-shoot target. Did you think you might still have a chance after seeing that orange plate get hit?

Jermaine Everyone saw my reaction when I hit that orange plate. It was an immediate reaction and I knew that might come back to bite me. I had to get back into it and continue to shoot my targets. Those doors were opening and closing much faster than they appeared on TV.

Cheaper Than Dirt A lot of viewers felt that you were cheated by the scoring system that was used, like you got the short end of the stick.

Jermaine Reading the blogs and whatnot and reading the comments and whatnot, there were a lot of people who said “You hit seven and he only hit six,” but then again it did come down to the rule that the person who shot the least amount of friendly plates would win in the case of a tie. Jay hit zero friendly plates. I really can’t argue on that note. I guess it’s just how you viewed the rules, and a lot of people out there felt that it backfired on me.

Cheaper Than Dirt Was it worth it? Would you do it all again if you had the chance?

Jermaine Oh my gosh, yes. It was an enlightening experience that took me back to when I was young and learning the weapons for the first time. I just enjoyed it, being out there with no stress or work or phones or email to check, it was totally a relief to just go out there and just go have a good time and show off your skills.

Cheaper Than Dirt You’re a firearm expert. Did you do any preparation for the show or practice using other weapons?

Jermaine Hell yeah. It was kinda interesting the week before, I went to the range a lot and I actually shot a few different types of weapons, including a bow and arrow. I went out for a couple of hours one day and did that. I bought myself a slingshot and went outside and did that. I tried to throw some steak knives into trees. I also have a nice tomahawk that was given to me as a gift and I was tempted to start throwing that, but I didn’t want to ruin it.

But yeah, a lot of preparation was done practicing the fundamentals of firearm skills, and then I also had to think outside the box and realize that they could be throwing anything at me and prepare for whatever I might encounter.

Cheaper Than Dirt I want to thank you for taking with us today. Is there anything you’d like to add that we didn’t cover?

Jermaine Yeah, I’d like to give a shout out to all of the Facebook Fans following Top Shot and tell them thank you for their support. I’ll tell you right now my computer has just been going nuts with all the emails and messages from people who hated to see me leave. Thanks for all of your support, it means a lot to all of us.

Chad interviews Rob Romero after winning the 2010 FNH USA Midwest 3-Gun Shoot-Off

3-Gun Nation Update from SHOT Show

We caught up with Pete Brown and Chad Adams from 3-Gun Nation at the 2011 SHOT Show and had the chance to discuss the history of the 3-Gun Nation and gain an insight into some of the events they’ve got going on. The 2010 season is finished up and they are getting ready to kick off the 2011 season at Superstition Mountain 3-Gun match this March.