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