Brothers in arms (w/video)
Behind the back, through the legs, over the shoulder and off the barrel; it sounds like a cutthroat game of P-I-G but instead of a basketball, it's shotguns that are the primary tool of this trade.
Guys like Minnesota's Tom Knapp have wowed crowds all over the world with their speed and accuracy on shots of the highest degree of difficulty. Busting 10 hand-thrown targets with individual shots in 2.2 seconds seems impossible, right? That's one of three world records that Knapp holds in the sport of exhibition shooting.
Knapp has set the standard in the sport, but it's shooters like Aaron and Steve Gould who might be the future. That's the hope anyway for the local brothers, whose popularity in exhibition shooting is exploding like the clays they powder in the blink of an eye.
Aaron, 31, and Steve, 27, grew up in Long Prairie and graduated from Long Prairie-Grey Eagle High School. Both currently work in Alexandria fulltime during the week. Many of their weekends are spent traveling around the country to perform in front of audiences as large as 800 people.
"A lot of times it brings a big smile to your face," Aaron said of working with his brother. "Sometimes you want to grip your fist and give him a little love hit or whatever you want to call it. It is good most of the time. It's great to be able to work with your brother, travel with your family member and ultimately your close friend."
Getting their start
Six years ago, the idea of having sponsors and shooting exhibition shows wasn't even on the radar. Aaron grew up with a passion for hunting and shooting sports that wasn't shared by Steve.
The younger of the two brothers took a different path. It wasn't until college that Steve said he developed that same passion after becoming a Christian.
"I got some different passions and hobbies and different perspectives on life," he said. "One of my new passions was hunting and shooting, so when I got into it, I got into it pretty heavy. Once we got into shooting, it just kind of spiraled into exhibition shooting."
The brothers kept it simple at the start. First it was throwing three clays in the air and busting them with individual shots. That was quickly followed by four, then five. After a summer of practice, the two decided they were ready to put on their first show in front of an audience of family and friends.
"Yeah, it was a biased crowd," Aaron said. "But they loved it. So, we said, 'Let's try to put a business plan together and see if we can promote ourselves just a little bit.' "
Perseverance pays off
It's easy to see how far they have come in the five years since then. The brothers gathered to practice on a range overlooking the edge of Aaron's front yard just north of Miltona on a cloudy Sunday afternoon in mid-October. Six Winchester firearms equipped with Trulock choke tubes lined the shooting table near the range. Stacks of Sure Shot exploding targets and boxes of Winchester 1 1/8 ounce eight-shot ammunition were ready to be put to use.
All of it bought and paid for by companies that believe the Goulds have the talent to promote their products. It took years of practice and building relationships to get to that point. Self-made YouTube videos and years of knocking on the door before it finally opened paid off this past January when they secured a handful of sponsors. That had to be the moment they felt they had finally made it in exhibition shooting, right?
"No, because it's not the end goal," Steve said. "It's a point on our plan of where we want to go, so it was basically a check. It feels good to be shooting ammo you didn't have to pay for, but we're working for it. We're delivering a value to our sponsors and that's why they give us ammo."
Showing off their shots
Their goal is to become the best shooters they can be and provide the greatest entertainment value to their audience. Working as a duo allows them to have a dialogue during shows, but their bread and butter will always be what they're able to do with a shotgun.
That's already a long list of impressive shots. The brothers went through a series of those that afternoon in October as they showed off their speed by busting seven clays. Their personal record came a few weeks ago when Aaron powdered nine targets with individual shots.
Their trick shots leave the average shooter wondering how they find their mark with such consistency. It's a repertoire that includes shots from behind the back, over the shoulder and while in the middle of a pushup exercise.
These don't involve aiming in the traditional sense. There is no shouldering of the gun and looking directly down the rib to the bead at the end of the barrel. Instead, they focus on creating a sight-picture using the eyes, the barrel and the target as the key points in creating a visual reference.
"You are aiming," Aaron said. "You're creating basically a sight-picture, using the references that you have. It's that and a lot of practice. A lot of shells downrange and memorizing that sight-picture."
Dedicated to their craft
The Goulds try to shoot 1,000 rounds between them every week. That can be hard when balancing family, work and traveling on the weekends. They also love to hunt but don't get a lot of time in the field or the woods with so much else on their plate.
That dedication has paid off in just five short years. They have gone from performing in front of family and friends to putting on 24 shows in nine different states this year.
That's just the beginning of the plans they have in mind. Their ideal schedule would include as many as 60-70 shows per season. They have already opened up for Knapp in the past. Someday, they hope to hear their name mentioned in the same breath as him when people think of the best marksmen in the sport.
"Ultimately, we want to break some records but that's not our main goal," Steve said. "Our main goal is to make a career out of this, deliver a high value to our sponsors and a high level of entertainment to the shows. We want to spark interest in other people in the shooting sports, conservation, the outdoors and living with a purpose. Breaking records would be great if they could go along with that."