The History Channel’s Top Shot has been an amazing success both commercially and for the sport of shooting. While it is a TV reality show, it is remarkably unscripted, compared to most TV reality shows that are really scripted TV shows with amateur actors. The show is accepted by gun enthusiasts as well as those who are developing an interest. As a shooter who lived through the dark days after the 1968 Gun Control act when anyone who liked guns on TV was portrayed as a partisan fool, it’s apparent to me that firearms ownership and recreational shooting have come a long way.

Several of the show’s stars are now descending upon Columbia, Missouri for the 35th MidwayUSA & NRA Bianchi Cup. Ranging from 24 to 53 years old, these shooters come from all walks of life: a federal police officer who served with the Air Force in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the first female member of the Venezuelan Olympic Shooting Team; a video producer who taught himself to build and shoot weapons, a Homeland Security agent, a construction worker who holds 26 state titles, a plumber who graduated at the top of his class at the Marine Corps Sniping School, and the National Rifle Assocation’s 11-time pistol champ.

Returning Top Shot champions Iain Harrison, Chris Reed, Dustin Ellerman, and Chris Cheng will take part in the upcoming all-star season. Colby Donaldson also returns as the host of the elimination series. With the season premiere just around the corner, I happen to be at the Bianchi Cup with two former Top Shot contestants who will be featured during the all-star season.

Caleb Giddings, Chris Cerino, and Iain Harrison are all shooting the Cup, which is where I first met them all. All now have jobs in the firearms industry and all say Top Shot changed their lives. Harrison and Cerino are both part of the all-star season. They were the finalists who fought it out to the finish, the winner determined by one shot, and have been fast friends since. They see each other at least once a month, in spite of the fact they live on opposite sides of the country.

One defining thing about this reality series is that it’s truly a reality series with real challenges done with only minutes of practice time and only a few shots to acclimate oneself to some truly exotic firearms and other weapons. The other defining thing is how the series changes the lives of those who find success and how firmly the bonds made during a trying experience tie the participants together.

Like the earlier seasons, there will be a lot of diverse challenges with historic weapons. The first episode features the Soviet semi-automatic rifle that was used in the Nazi invasion of World War Two, a LaRue Tactical OBR, the Milkor M32A1 grenade launcher, and an FN FAL selective-fire battle rifle, popular among NATO troops during the Cold War. In addition, competitors must conquer a mortar-rigged barbed wire fence, an unstable platform, and a bull’s-eye target, where elimination is just a fraction of an inch away.

In addition to a boot up to a career in the firearms industry, challenge winners will receive prizes like sporting equipment and Bass Pro Shops gift cards. Only one Top Shot all-star will take home the Grand Prize: $100,000 and a Top Shot special edition Tahoe Q5i Speedboat, provided by Bass Pro Shops.

The series premier is just one week away on the History Channel, May 29 at 10 pm Eastern, 9 pm Central.

Image by Dick Jones

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