Competitive Shooting

Brad Engmann: USPSA Grand Master and Top Shot Competitor

Following up on our interview with Kelly Bachand, we tracked down Brad Engmann and asked him if he could sit down and talk with us about his background in the shooting sports as well as his elimination this week from the History Channel’s reality TV show “Top Shot”.

Living in San Francisco, there aren’t many gun ranges or shooting clubs to be a part of, but Brad showed an interest in shooting from an early age. It wasn’t until years later that he discovered USPSA and action shooting, and this late discovery led him to wonder why it doesn’t have more exposure in the Bay Area. His drive to help move the shooting sports into the mainstream of society is part of what motivated him to apply to be on Top Shot.

Here’s what he had to say about his early years shooting and his experience on the show.

Cheaper Than Dirt: How long have you been shooting and how did you get started shooting? I know being in San Francisco you probably didn’t grow up around firearms. Brad: What ended up happening was that I convinced my dad to take me to the range when I was 13. There is obviously not a very big firearms base out here in San Francisco, but just thought that it’d be cool to go and he took me. That was nice of him. We actually ended up making it kind of our weekend thing, so we’d always go to the range. It was just a static range, there was nothing particularly special about it.

What I ended up doing was that I was into car racing for a while and I’d take my car up to the track and I’d end up working on cars and building them and all that type of stuff. One thing that I kind of liked about shooting was that when cars got really expensive there was the same racing appeal where you could just go out and try to go as fast as possible. It kind of played on my previous experience at the range for a while. I picked up USPSA about three years ago I would say.

Cheaper Than Dirt: It’s funny that you should mention car racing, I know that John Bagakis had a background racing cars before he got started in the shooting sports. Myself and a number of us working at Cheaper Than Dirt! who participate in the shooting sports like IDPA and IPSC also raced cars until we discovered that bullets were less expensive than tires. Brad: Yeah, and if your gun blows up you’re out only $900 to replace the whole thing, versus taking out your car in a wall.

It’s interesting to see how many competitive shooters have made the transition from racing to shooting. Tell me, did your family own a firearm before your dad took you out to the range that first time? We actually rented one for many many years. We didn’t own one. I would shoot, ironically a Beretta 92F.

Similar to the one you complained so much about on Top Shot- Well, there’s a little more to the story than that-

OK, we’ll get into that in a little bit- But yeah, there was that and then I ended up buying a 96 in .40 S&W, it was the Brigadier version with the heavier slide and I kinda scrapped that in favor of a Sig P226 later on. That’s what I shot my first USPSA year with was the 226.

How old were you when you got your first pistol? My dad bought it when I was I guess 16 or 17, because I said “What’s the point of us renting the thing…” It wasn’t really necessary for us to have a gun, but it was more of a cost issue. I liked to go shooting and it was just practical to just have our own firearm.

It’s always been a sport thing for me. I was never really particularly concerned [about self defense]. Obviously the arguments are sensible and everything else, but my main concern was the sporting aspect. It wasn’t the defense issue.

So, you’re racing cars. You’re going to the range and shooting on the weekends. At what point did you decide to take up shooting as a competitive sport? I actually quit shooting altogether for about 4 years or so. The reason was because I really wasn’t aware of USPSA. this is something I think is an issue with the shooting sports in general. There’s not a lot of information that’s propagated throughout just the mainstream shooting community as far as what’s available in terms of sports.

I’ll talk to people about USPSA and they’re amazed that this thing even exists, that they let us go running around with guns and shoot stuff. They’ve never even fathomed that there would be something out there like that. So I just wasn’t aware, and I got bored just shooting at paper at a static range. Racing was more fun, and of course you pick up more girls with cars than you can with handguns. I just kinda stopped shooting for a while, but once the racing element got really expensive I got really frustrated with it.

I started looking into more sports and actually, I saw something on the History Channel in a Mail Call episode where this guy was shooting a plate rack, and he said “I’m from USPSA,” and I thought “What’s that?” and I looked them up.

You can blame the Gunny then for getting you started in USPSA. I can blame him, that’s exactly right.

As you got into USPSA, I’m sure you had to have picked up a mentor or a coach, or even just someone you looked up to within the sport. Who is someone who you look up to, who you try to model yourself and your shooting style after? And who are your mentors? Actually, the interesting thing about that is that while there were people who I met at the club who were helpful and would give me pointers, I never really had a coach. What happened was is that I didn’t really know anybody at the club. I just thought it would be fun and I just drove out there by myself and took the class.

I shot the first match by myself. Actually the first stage that I ever shot I was so nervous that I forgot to put in my earplugs. It was an IDPA match fortunately and it was only 16 rounds [on that stage]. I was so focused on hitting the targets, and at the end of the stage I unloaded and showed clear and I remember wondering “What the hell was that ringing sound?” I thought something was wrong with my hearing protection until I realized “Oh! It’s not there!”

But I never had a mentor per se. Pretty much what it’s been, is that I discovered it was fun, and I discovered it was something I want to be good at. I worked as a range officer at my local club so that I could go out and practice whenever I wanted, but it’s just been essentially me figuring it out.

It’s kind of difficult to figure out exactly if you’re doing everything right. As far as the top guys, I just knew that I wasn’t shooting as fast as some of these guys could, especially Vogel and Sevigny. They’re both in production, they’re both shooting the same gun that I was at that point. I would just constantly watch videos of them and try to discern what techniques they were using. I remember there’s a video on the GSSF Foundation where Sevigny is aiming a Glock at the camera and I would freeze frame that and then look in the mirror to see if my grip angle was correct on my left hand. It was just a lot of careful scrutiny trying to figure out what the right thing to do was.

It’s a lot like golf. There are a lot of small adjustments that can be made within the hand and hand position, the grip strength and everything else, that will have a dramatic effect on your shooting. With the absence of a coach and even with the difficulty of trying to analyze it on video, those little adjustments are very important to make. So I had to look to a lot of the top guys to see what they were doing so I could just try to, for now, emulate it.

Let’s talk about training. Do you still train regularly? I do. One of the guys in my club is a really top level shooter, his name’s Keith Garcia. He shoots 3-gun a lot but he’s a Grand Master in Limited and just became a Grand Master in Production. He’s a really really excellent shooter and he’s been helpful to me in the past. He’s pointed out some things that have kinda been wrong that I’ve had to work with.

As far as training is concerned, one of the things he turned me on to is airsoft training and shooting every day. Which, even if I’m not shooting live fire I’ll try to get the airsoft gun out and shoot some steel targets in my garage. I’ve got a full setup in there, much to the chagrin of my girlfriend.

Some people are content shooting for fun, they’re hobbyists and they’re going to do what they want to do. But some people who are really driven, who really want to be at the top of this game, are going to have to carefully analyze every iota of it because if you lose by a second in this game you’re going to lose by a lot. Everything has to be tuned to such perfection. At the higher levels you’re really trying to squeeze every bit of performance out that you possibly can.

For new shooters, I think that people are sometimes afraid to try new things, because what you see in a performance curve you see a dip in performance, even if it’s something that’s worthwhile to try out. You’re obviously going to screw up for a while when you’re trying to adapt. Vogel has a good quote in his video which is “You’ll try something in practice again and again until finally you’ll be in the middle of a match and you’ll just realize that you’ve been doing it and that it’s finally sunk in to your subconscious.” That’s when you know that you’re going to be able to adopt it well. But what a lot of people do is they will fall into a comfort zone and they’ll refuse to either listen to advice or try new things because they don’t want to have that dip in performance and fail for a brief period of time and experiment. I think that’s a very essential component.

You mentioned airsoft. We’ve spoken to Dave Sevigny and Caleb Giddings who both promote dry fire. How comparable do you find airsoft to be to dry fire practice? I think there’s two elements to that. The first of which is that airsoft is just more fun. My buddy who’s an SF Sheriff produces a bunch of targets called Bam Airsoft. They have Texas Stars, they have plate racks, they have timers, they have a full steel challenge course that you can set up. You get the reciprocating action of the gun, and it’s fun to watch the targets fall down. The problem with dry fire for me is that you have to rack the gun for each trigger pull. Unless you want to move around the house practicing your footwork and not pulling the trigger, I don’t think it’s mentally engaging. You don’t know what limits to push.

In the absence of anything else, it’s a good thing to try.

Do you find the simulated recoil of the airsoft to pretty closely replicate live fire? You can’t really practice recoil that well. It’s the equivalent of somebody going out there with a .22 LR. Because there’s no recoil on the gun you should be able to shoot that much faster. You can focus on your transitions and you can focus on your splits and pulling the trigger as fast as you possibly can. When you go out to the real range, make sure that you have the grip strength and that you get your timing down. There are certain things that you can practice really well with airsoft that are superior to dry fire in a lot of ways.

What type of training do you do? What’s an average week of training look like for you? It’s a lot. Some times I burn out a little bit. I was shooting live fire about 3 times a week or so, and I would drop about 1,000 rounds a week. Then I would shoot a few hundred BBs every night when I wasn’t on the range. If I didn’t go to the range I would come home and I would, even if I didn’t want to and I was tired and had to get up for work, I would still go out to the garage and shoot a few hundred BBs in about 15-20 minutes. That really helps.

There are these elite guys in shooting like Vogle, Leatham, Sevigny, even Blake Miguez and J.J., those guys are the elite of shooting and I’m not there. I realize that. So, the way I practice is I’m trying to- you know Sevigny, who you inteviewed, said he only practices sometimes once a week, and I can understand why because he already has the skill. He’s doing a lot of maintenance. Obviously he’s trying to figure some speed elements out, but I’m still trying to figure out how to get up there. That’s why I practice so often.

Let’s move on and talk about Top Shot for a bit. What prompted you to apply to be a Top Shot contestant? You get to be on TV dude! {laughs} But, ah… shooting needs a big mainstream appeal. Getting back to what I mentioned earlier, a lot of people aren’t aware of my sport. I think shooting in some places, in particular out here [in San Francisco and California in general], kinda gets a bad rap. People I think will dismiss it outright in some areas, either the defensive elements or the sportsman elements, or generally they’ll just look at you [strangely]. When I explain to some people what I do, like say when I just get back from practice and I’m meeting my girlfriend’s friends or my coworkers and they ask “Oh, what are you practicing?” expecting me to say “Softball” or “Bowling” and when I say “Oh, I’m a competitive pistol shooter,” they go “Really?!”

Invariably I can get them interested once I kind of explain it, but there’s not a lot of mainstream exposure. One of my side elements, aside from becoming rich and famous, was to hopefully promote the sport a little bit and to get people more aware that shooting competitively is a sport. It’s something that a lot of people, families, and whoever else can enjoy. It’s not like we’re training for the apocalypse out here. We’re shooting targets and we’re doing so in a very athletic way.

Did you do any particular training or preparation prior to your appearance? Well, the funny thing was when I was in between racing and shooting my hobby was a lot of weight lifting. I mean a lot. I blew out my left knee playing football and what I ended up doing was when I was rehabbing it was that I got really heavy into weights. I got up to dead lifting 425, squatting a ton of weight, bench pressing a lot, but the problem was that wasn’t really doing it for me. It was kinda like shooting at a static range. I didn’t know what I was training for.

So, I took all the time I was putting into weight lifting, which was 4-5 days a week, and put all of that into shooting. Which was why I went from barely making B-Class in 2008 to becoming a Grand Master a year and a half later. It was just all the time. What I ended up doing was neglecting my physical shape. I ended up putting on a big paunch because I wasn’t lifting weights. Pulling a trigger doesn’t really burn too many calories. So yeah, I had to hit up the gym, but J.J. still made us look like a bunch of sissies, walking around there like freakin’ Superman all day.

You didn’t do any extra pistol work or pick up a rifle or a bow and arrow in preparation for the show? The thing was we didn’t have any idea what the show was going to be like, we just knew it was a competition show and that the History Channel was doing it, and that there might be some mystery projectile weapons.

A buddy of mine shoots SASS (that’s Single Action Shooting Society or Cowboy Shooting), so I went and borrowed his Peacemaker, his single shot shotgun, I borrowed his double barrel shotgun, I borrowed a Winchester 73, and then I took out my own AR (which I don’t shoot too much) and was drilling targets there. It turned out, after having been on the show, that a lot of the challenges were accuracy based and didn’t require movement, at least when I was there.

My training was organized a little bit more around speed shooting I think, but I just wanted to get familiar with all of the types of guns. I think I got the reload down for the single action pretty good, but it’s difficult to train when you don’t know what the contest is so I just tried to get as familiar as possible.

Obviously those who might be applying for Season 2 are going to have a distinct advantage. Oh yeah, because they know exactly what it is they’re getting into. We didn’t. We didn’t know there were going to be teams until we were on the day we went up to the mansion and I started noticing the sound people had carts and one of them said “Red” and the other said “Blue” and I’m thinking “What the hell is going on here?” Then they walked us up and of course Colby came in and said “You guys are on a Red and a Blue Team.”

I had no idea. I kinda assumed it was going to be the kind of show where you would have a given weapon for that week and then the people who performed the worst would be eliminated. I didn’t know there was going to be much of anything, but the same producer who did Survivor also did Top Shot, so maybe it should have been more in the back of my mind.

Did you go into the show with any particular strategy in mind? I refuse to vote for anybody based on politics, I just did not want to. I voted exclusively based on performance. Much like what Caleb did, even though percentage wise Blake and J.J. are better shooters, if you were to take just a random shooting competition they would end up beating me. I still wouldn’t want to vote them out, I would want to shoot against them even if there was the hundred grand at stake.

I made a point of trying not to talk trash about my fellow competitors, and not to play politics once I found out there was the team voting. What you saw in Episodes 2 and 3 was I wasn’t entirely sure the direction the competition was going in, and then there was just a little bit of frustration there.

Let’s get into the first elimination challenge you were involved in with Frank on the MGM Ironman style zipline during episode 2. You had to be pretty happy seeing that challenge, it seemed to play right into your strong suit. Yeah, I was happy about seeing that. Either way, even if I lost, I thought it was going to be awesome that I had to go down a zip line on national TV. That’s not something that you can say that you did every day.

I knew that it played to my strengths in transitions, and then there were a couple of strategy elements going in there on how to shoot the course. I thought that I pretty much had it in the bag when I was introduced to the challenge.

Stop for a second and tell me a bit about your strategy going into the challenge. Did you have any idea where the targets were before you got on there? We had no idea where the targets were, but I kinda anticipated it was going to be a left to right. I could see a bunch down at the bottom of the hill, but the first ones that popped up were a surprise.

What the legal team told me was that if you hit the target, it’s going to shatter, and that’s going to count as a hit. They said they were made out of glass. So I come down the zip line and I shoot the first target on the right and it has just a center bullet hole, and I’m wondering “Is this supposed to shatter?” so I shot it twice and I missed the one on the left because I was too busy shooting the first one twice. Afterwards what I did was I shot a bunch of rounds at each one of the targets because I wanted to make sure that I claimed the hits because they couldn’t really see them. I wasn’t sure entirely with the gun.

If it was completely dialed in, like in USPSA, you call your hits. You shoot the target once, you know what your sights looked like, and you move on. But there, I wasn’t entirely sure of point of aim so I made sure to throw three rounds at each one. I took a conservative run on the first one. I went to slide lock too.

I got a few edges which weren’t called as hits, so they were close, but they have the arbitration team and everything else. What ended up happening in the second run once there was a tie was I knew that I could do a single shot with each one. They took out the first two targets and we went down and there were eight targets and two bonus targets. I came out of the gate and just go one for one in each of the three, and this is like a 40 yard shot or so. I just went 1, 2, 3, on the first three targets, shooting just over my feet.

Then I was kinda stupid, and you can see this in elimination interview. I thought I had plenty of time I can hit all of these, so I threw two rounds at the bonus target on the left. The problem that I had was that the zip line picked up in speed. I was so focused on hitting the bonus target that I then had to swing back and I had shoot two more targets on the right. At that point, because Frank had done pretty well on the first challenge, he’s a good shooter. I know people have been questioning his Weaver stance, but you’re strapped into a chair so you can’t move your shoulders at all. You couldn’t pivot your body. You can only move your hands, so the Weaver stance doesn’t matter. It’s only whether or not you can deliver a single shot on a target accurately. That’s certainly something Frank could do, he’s a very good natural shooter.

I thought I’d lost at that point because we both hit five targets on our first run, and I had an opportunity to clean all of them and I got stupid and chased the bonus one, so I thought Frank was just going to go down there and run me. I really did. That was a very bad feeling when I had to wait for 45 minutes to an hour for them to reset everything so Frank could shoot. When I heard him fire about 8 or 9 shots, I thought “I’m toast…” but he didn’t get it. I just think he had a bad run, he had a good chance of winning that time.

One thing that people don’t realize is, they’re so used to the 4th wall on television, that when they watch things they assume that the participants are unaware of what’s happening and how they’re going to be perceived. I knew that if I lost that challenge, the pistol challenge, that as a USPSA guy I was going to get lit up. Absolutely lit up. Furthermore, I was eliminating Frank who I’d met in casting, and we’d hung out a lot. I knew him pretty well and he’s a really good guy. I really thought I was going to go home and I eventually won on a wing and a prayer. I had to eliminate a good guy that everybody liked, so there was a lot going on and I just went back and kinda crashed out.

Moving on to the bow and arrow challenge, that seemed like a pretty frustrating challenge for everyone involved and the red team ended up losing. What went into the process that resulted in you being chosen on the nomination range and sent to the next elimination challenge? That I wasn’t too sure about. I know there were some personality issues. The thing is that the conflicts are going to be enhanced on television. You have to figure that you’re living with somebody for a while, and even if there’s a little bit of a disagreement going on that might motivate the voting, you’re still living with them. You’re still eating with them, you’re still hanging out with them, you’re sitting in the van for 2 hours waiting to be on set with them.

There wasn’t a huge amount of tension or animosity there, and for me I didn’t mind. The bow and arrow challenge I thought was more of a crap shoot because nobody really had any advantage there. If you could deliver arrows accurately on target you were in good shape. The difference between Kelly and J.J.’s shot was determined by a myriad of factors. Skill is one of them, but there were a number of others that went into them making that shot. As I said, I didn’t really care if they were going to vote for me. That didn’t matter to me.

As I said I’m not going to play politics. If you’re going to vote for me, whatever. I’m here because I want to shoot, I’m not here to sit out and not be there in the challenge. I’m not going to try to shy away from a challenge. This is what I do. This is why I’m on the show.

Still, it seemed like your tone changed once you realized that you might be eliminated after the bow and arrow challenge, with your now infamous quote being repeated across the internet. You know, that quote was made into a T-shirt by James Ong who’s a grand Master Open Class shooter. So, at the California Golden Bullet this year, everybody showed up with a shirt [with the quote], and under there was a picture of a bow and arrow shooter with a circle and a line through it. I’m actually wearing the shirt right now.

If I knew it would have been cross bows, I would have been happy, but I thought there was just going to be another bow and arrow thing. To me it just seemed entirely a luck issue. I mean, if you’re shooting at a target 30 yards away that’s one thing, but we were shooting with this long bow at 100 yards with literally about 15 arrows practice. At that point I’m saying I’m happy to shoot against whoever. That’s why I’m here, but to put me up against somebody in a bow and arrow challenge, it’s like “What’s the point?” I mean, if I got eliminated there then I would have been like “Well, why even bother?” Anybody could get eliminated at this thing. You’re taking skill out of the equation if it was bows and arrows at that point.

That’s something Caleb touched on in one of our interviews. It was a marksman challenge designed to have competitors be able to pick up virtually any projectile weapon and be proficient with it. As I said, I thought it was going to be, when I first went on the show, an event where it was going to be multiple weapons with the worst performer in each particular genre, or in that particular episode, would be going home. That’s how I thought they were going to eliminate everybody.

I knew I was going to be shooting a bow and arrows, don’t get me wrong. I read the description of the show. The thing was I thought that the bow and arrows were going to be one of many factors in determining somebody’s overall performance and whether or not they’re out of there. Which is fair. For me to go on the show and represent shooting and have a lot of background in practicing shooting and then to not just compete in this thing, but have the chance to be eliminated and leave the show and go home on something, it seemed to me that was like rolling dice or something.

Fortunately it was crossbows. Those crossbows were bad ass. They were dialed. They had cool triggers. It was an interesting thing to shoot, and it was based on a skill set that I think both of us had.

On to the challenge. It looked like it was windy that day. How did that affect your performance? There were a couple of funny things about that challenge. The first of which was that we didn’t shoot at 10 yards. I talked to Bill Trowbridge who was the expert. Just before we went to shoot at 10 yards he said “You might want to use the top of the triangle on the reticle.” I convinced them to let us look through a scope to figure out what the hell he was talking about.

My first shot I used exactly what he said but I didn’t hit the target. It went over it, so I had to aim at the bottom of the apple to hit it at 10 yards. The second part was about the wind. At 40 yards it was less predictable because the wind was swirling a little bit. What actually happened was I got on that 40 yard target very fast, and I dropped a couple of arrows at it and I finally hit the target. You can see the apple spinning on the show. What happened was, there are people who are supposed to call out the hits. They didn’t call it as a hit. Bill was saying “I think that’s a hit,” and then I say “I think that’s a hit,” and then Bill Carns is still reloading to shoot again so I’m like “Is that a hit? Is that a hit?” Meanwhile I’m reloading the crossbow, thinking how hilarious would that be to spin the thing and then hit the next target. What I actually had to do was I picked the same point of aim, which was about the left edge of that circle and I drilled it right through.

After that show, the Red team had a pretty good run and won some team events. Still, the team was pretty small at this point, it was just you, Kelly, Peter, and Denny. Going into the single action shooting challenge ya’ll had a small team and suffered another loss. It looked like Denny had put in a pretty poor performance but still didn’t get nominated for an elimination challenge. We’ve heard from Denny and Kelly to get their point of view, but what did you see? Why Kelly and Andre instead of Denny and one of those two? Well the thing was at that point, Kelly and Andre looked the worst in the challenge. The thing for Denny was that he had a few bad habits he developed from doing his cowboy mounted shooting.

The difference that appeared to me in my mind, and this is something that you can’t pick up on television, Kelly and Andre seemed very uncomfortable with the Peacemaker. When you watch them shoot it, Andre had two ADs. He had two of them in a row. Kelly was missing, he missed some of the biggest targets, 8 or 9 shots I thought. It wasn’t just having a bad day, because everybody can have a bad day. I don’t think people should be judged on their shooting performance just for having one bad day.

The reason Andre accidentally discharged was because his finger was in the trigger guard when he pulled back the hammer and he let the hammer fall onto the chamber. The reason J.J. accidentally discharged is because we were told we could only load the gun with 5 rounds instead of 6. What happened to him was that in practice they were doing it a different way, whereas in the challenge he loaded in the 5, except instead of skipping a chamber and loading them all in, he loaded them all in and then skipped a chamber. Or maybe it was the other way around. The point is, he had to cock the hammer and then rotate the cylinder over, when he actually didn’t have to. He ended up dropping the hammer onto a loaded chamber, it was just a reloading thing because he lacked the familiarity. Not his fault at all. That could happen to anybody.

Andre accidentally discharged twice, and I could see just watching him that he looked like he was in Never-Never Land out there. The same thing goes for Kelly, he looked a bit like an inexperienced shooter at that point with the pistol. That kinda stuck out in my mind a little bit when I said, “Well, this is a challenge that requires multiple shot engagements. It’s a handgun, and it requires some speed.” Just watching them I thought “This is why the two of them should go,” because Denny, it just seemed like he had his act together but he just had a bad run. He looked comfortable behind the gun, whereas Kelly and Andre did not.

In this most recent episode, it came down to yourself and Kelly shooting shotguns, and of course you got sent home after that one. Tell me a bit about the team performance leading up to the elimination range. I had a great practice session. I shot really well on the double action, I think it was the Smith & Wesson. It had like a 9 pound trigger. It was probably the worst trigger you could ever feel for a revolver you had to shoot accurately with one hand. A lot of us did pretty well with that. The next one was the mirror shooting, which I did not do incredibly well with. Kelly, Denny, and Pete all did well, they all drilled exactly what they were looking for.

Then it came to be the cabbage challenge. I read your interview with Kelly, I actually was the first person to hit. I got two hits on the cabbage. The first one was a graze, the second one I drilled. Pete was terrible on it, Kelly hit one, and Denny didn’t hit any. When we got back there was the Bocce ball thing, I actually was out there practicing for a little while. They had this picture frame that you stack on a desk and it holds the picture flat.

I’m not sure if [Kelly] was out there at the same time, but it’s that type of thing where they’ll have the camera on there and somebody will be out there for a limited period of time. We were out there a bunch. I didn’t practice nearly as much as Pete and Kelly did. That’s certainly true, but when it came time for the team challenge the reason I went for the “Play It Safe” strategy is because I didn’t think Chris was going to hit two out of three for the nails.

But one thing I must say is that there’s been a lot of single shot stuff and there’s been a lot of memory stuff that didn’t involve very difficult shots. The Peacemaker challenge where Chris performed he hit 12 for 12 out of that, and he also was able to hit 2 out of 3 nails. I think that it’s, surprisingly to me, the least talked about performance out of everybody on the show. Chris impressed me a lot with how he was able to deliver on those two challenges. Nobody expected him to go 2 for 3, we thought maybe he’d get lucky and get 1.

Things obviously didn’t work out quite the way you had planned on that challenge, the Red team lost, and you and Kelly were sent to the elimination challenge. Going into that elimination, when you saw you were going to be shooting shotguns, what was your reaction? Have you ever fired shotguns at clay pigeons before? I’ve done a little bit. I’ve shot skeet maybe three times in my life. Once I learned the technique of it, just putting the little bead on the target, I got pretty good at it. The only other time I’ve shot skeet was hanging out with Blake Miguez in Louisiana with Pete down there a couple of weeks ago, and we were out in the pouring rain and Blake brings out these humongous boxes of skeet and shotgun shells. I actually tried the trick again, but I actually discovered there was a different way of doing it which actually worked out a little bit better, but I’d never really thrown a skeet before.

But I was confident going into the challenge. In the practice itself when Scott was throwing for me, in one instance I went 5 for 5 on his throws, and I could hit 4 pretty much every time out of the 5 that he threw up. My throws were good too. The caveat was when I got out there and attempted to make the throws. Scott emphasized throwing them up very very high and using your legs a lot. What I would do was get into a crouch like I was doing a lunge, and I’d just whip them up into the air. The problem was when I had the shotgun on my left hip it ended up causing me to short stroke the throw. What you’ll see there is the skeet don’t go very high at all, and they go all over the place because of the short stroke.

What I discovered when I watched some videos of Tom Knapp, is that it’s actually a lot easier to hold the shotgun without it touching your body just with your left hand. Then hold the skeet so that instead of holding them with your thumb on the top and your fingers on the bottom and then trying to twist, instead you rotate them around so that they sit lengthwise in your hand and just keep your left thumb on the edge and just roll them off of your fingers. Then without using your legs a whole lot you just come up and shoot them.

I think that Scott had us going over a more advanced technique which probably works really well for exhibition, but I think that as a novice it was more difficult for me to pick that up while shooting the shotgun. We weren’t able to practice throwing while holding the shotgun in practice either.

During the challenge itself, Kelly was the first to have a miss when he only claimed 1 bird out of 2. At that point, did you think you had a pretty good chance of winning? Yeah, I thought I had it in the bag. He went up and he threw one and I thought “OK, I got this. I’m just going to go up and claim my lead and keep moving.” But when you look at that throw, if you watch I threw the first one and it hovered at the horizon and I drilled that, but the second one went like 30 feet into the air above it, so I had to track this thing and it’s falling at like 30 miles per hour. I had to shoot it right in the middle of a fall. I’m thinking that I can hit these, but if I have another throw like that, I’m in trouble.

I threw three and only hit one and I was kinda pissed off because the three went pretty much about as far spread out as you could possibly get. So I hit the first one on the left and then swung around and the second one was already dropping below the horizon. So, we were pretty much split at that point. When it came to 4, I remember this like it’s burned into my mind, Kelly threw up an absolutely perfect group of 4, and I just remember standing there, I was surprised he didn’t hit all 4. At that point I already knew that I had lost it because when I came up to 5 I was already debating about throwing the skeet a different way. It was going that badly for me. I just took in a breath and looked out at the mountains and I threw up my 5, determined to shoot them as fast as possible. I shot all 5 shots, but I only hit 2 targets since I was chasing the third below the horizon again.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough and you ended up eliminated by just one clay. What was it like to be on the set, in the heat of competition, at one moment, and then almost quite literlly on a plane heading home then next? It was very surreal to me. It’s not like there’s a cool down time, there’s no readjustment period. You’re living in fantasy Hollywood-land for a while, you can’t talk to people when you want to, you can’t go online, you can’t do this, you can’t do that, and then all of the sudden I’m sitting in the middle of LAX having my first beer in three and a half weeks. I’m just thinking, “I was just on a reality TV show just 2 hours ago, and here I am on my iPhone having my beer. I’m suddenly back in civilization.

I was looking forward to getting back and seeing my girlfriend, and then kinda getting back into the world. Believe you me, I went out and threw up some skeet on the range the next day and tried to do the “Mental Sanity Test.” I still couldn’t throw them very well. The only time I could throw them well was when I shot with Blake and he had me try his technique.

What did you learn, what did you take away from the Top Shot experience? I’ll put it this way: There is a lot of pressure involved when shooting on television. There is a lot of pressure. There have been a couple of things that I learned. Immediately after the show, one thing that I realized is that you have to calm down and shoot your game.

People saw a lot of me on the show, and it looked like I was getting mad at equipment issues or whatever else. Really how I am is I’m very hard on myself. If I go out there and mess up a stage, if it costs me the match, I kinda go on tilt. I stop caring about the match and get pissed off. People on my squad would notice a complete 180 switch. I would be jovial and happy when I was hanging out with people and cracking jokes or whatever, but after I threw a couple of mikes [misses] for about 45 minutes I’m not somebody you want to talk to. I wouldn’t be very friendly.

Just thinking about that, and thinking about it in context with the show, reading the comments and seeing myself on television, one thing I said in a post in the forums is that people are going to remember your character a lot more than they’re going to remember your shooting performance. What I was too concerned with during the show is that I knew what people were going to think. I knew people were going to think as a result of that rifle challenge in episode 1, I knew what people were going to think as a result of the Beretta, but the funny thing was what I really got hammered on was my personality. Obviously it was a caricature that I didn’t think was entirely fair, but I was getting hammered for my worst elements. I wasn’t getting hammered for my shooting performance. People started criticizing my shooting performance because they didn’t like me as a person on the show.

What occurred to me is that I need to tone it down and stop being so intense on the range. It’s the same drive that’s driven me to become good at my sport that also can sometimes cause me to go on tilt and get irritable and start not being the best teammate somebody could have. Nobody wants to hang around a guy who’s pissed off. I need to relax and enjoy it more. Calm down and enjoy the shooting more. That’s part of the competitive mindset that guys like Enos will talk about in his book.

It sounds like quite the life changing experience then. I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your background and your experience on Top Shot It’s been a pleasure. Hope to see you on the range some day.

Brad Engmann is a Project Manager in San Francisco. He’s also a USPSA ranked Grand Master in the production class, and he competes regularly at Area level competitions.

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