Thursday, July 15, 2010

Caleb Giddings’ Top Shot Elimination Interview

If you’ve been following the reality TV shot “Top Shot” on the History channel, you probably saw that Caleb Giddings was eliminated after going head to head against Adam Benson following a drama filled episode. Caleb was gracious enough to take a few minutes and talk to us about his experience and give us some insights into the show.

Cheaper Than Dirt: So, it’s come to this. I was really hoping to interview you again and congratulate you on your win, but it appears that was not to be.

Caleb Giddings: Ya know, these things happen. That’s the nature of the game I suppose.

Cheaper Than Dirt: It is a game after all. Obviously there was some game playing in between episodes between you and Adam. Adam had to know that you were good friends with Blake and JJ. What was he thinking?

Caleb Giddings: I don’ think that Adam realized just how close Blake and I actually were, despite the amount of time that we spent hanging out together. I think that he thought that I was just in it to play the game.

During the show, Adam said that he intended to “manipulate” you. Did you feel that Adam intentionally set you up, knowing that you might tell Blake and JJ of the conspiracy? I don’t think that he set it up for me to come across like a rat. I think that Adam’s plan was to see where I fit in with the voting bloc and when I told my friend that someone was conspiring against him he was surprised that he got his hand caught in the cookie jar and reacted… well, you saw how he reacted

I think every one watching the show knows how he reacted. Let’s talk about the Flintlock rifles for a bit. You’ve got some experience with these types of firearms, is that correct? I do. I shot a lot of muzzleloading rifles when I was much younger, back in high school. A friend of mine who was very much a into the muzzle loading community and I would shoot a lot of caplocks and flintlocks and that sort of thing. I have a very great passion for muzzleloaders, it’s just not something that I shoot very often anymore because most of my time is consumed with action pistol shooting.

Do you still own a flintlock? Or muzzleloader? You know, I used to but I sold it when I finished up college. I haven’t actually had one for quite some time.

So you went into this event a bit rusty. Yeah, I would definitely say I had let the flintlock and muzzleloading skills atrophy, and there is a huge difference between shooting a modern firearm and shooting a muzzleloding flintlock or a caplock. With a flintlock as you saw in the episode there is that long ignition time. It doesn’t feel that long when you’re actually shooting the gun, but there’s a huge difference in lock time between a flintlock and, say, a modern 9mm pistol.

And you don’t see that lag on a modern muzzleloading firearms? No, modern muzzleloading inline firearms use a much more efficient ignition system. They use higher volume caps, modern blackpowder substitute powders, so you will have a longer ignition time with a modern muzzleloader, but it won’t be anything like what you saw with a flintlock using traditional blackpowder.

You obviously felt pretty confident going into the team challenge, even going so far as to volunteer to take the most accurate shot. Do you regret that decision? Not one bit. I knew that with the rifle we had practiced with that I knew exactly where I needed to hold for a 125 yard shot and it would have just been of putting the sights on target and pressing the trigger. I would have been pretty confident with the results I would have gotten.

Now, they switched out rifles because the first flintlock was having some pretty serious problems with misfires, and you didn’t have a chance to practice with the replacement, right?That’s correct. The replacement was the expert’s rifle, Gary James. Everyone in the shooting community knows him, he’s an editor for Guns and Ammo, and just a really all around great guy.

I have to talk for a minute about the rifle he brought with him. That was, that rifle was a work of art. According to Gary I believe it was about a $15,000 handmade rifle, and it exemplifies the artistry and the attention to detail that goes into a truly custom weapon. I still just cannot thank him enough for letting us shoot that beautiful rifle. It was phenomenal.

Now that you’ve talked it up a bit, do you think that shooting that rifle affected how your shot went off? It absolutely did. Just because, I didn’t have the opportunity to practice with the rifle. The big difference when you’re shooting a muzzleloading rifle, or any rifle with fixed sights, is that you don’t know how much the bullet is going to drop at a given distance based on the sight picture.

So, using that rifle and using some of the information I’d gathered from my teammates, I just estimated the elevation and took the shot. Obviously I didn’t estimate well enough because I missed low on the target apparently.

Was it at least the same caliber as the initial rifle? Yes, the caliber was the same. The thing about a muzzleloading rifle is that there are so many variables that go into the flight of the bullet. Everything from bullet is placed on the patch, to the way it’s inserted into the bore, how much powder is inserted in, and the length of the barrel also affects the rifle. Generally muzzleloaders had such long barrels back in the day to make more efficient use of the powder. The barrel on Gary’s rifle was much longer than the barrel on the rifle we’d originally been using. So, it stood to reason that it would have a higher muzzle velocity as it would burn more powder as the bullet traveled down that barrel.

So you’ve got a different rifle, with a different personality, with sights that you’re not sure of, and a longer barrel which will give you a higher muzzle velocity. Can you say that if you shot the rifle you practiced with that the shot might have been on target? I believe that if I had been able to take the shot with the rifle that I practiced with that I would have definitely put it on the target. That being said, there’s no way to know that for sure, which is kind of the fun thing about all of this because it’s a lot of speculation.

I had felt very confident with my practice shots, with how the rifle had performed and with where I needed to aim to get the hit, so I do believe given the same rifle I would have made the shot. Now, I’m not trying to blame my equipment because even with that rifle it’s still a makable shot. It just made it more difficult-

Well, the purpose of the show is to feature marksmen who are able to pick up anything and be proficient with it. Absolutely. One of the things that was missed in my exit interview was that a truly great all around marksman can pick up any rifle and make difficult shots with it. I didn’t do that on the day that I missed that 125 shot. It’s unfortunate. I’ve got to tell you I would love to have another crack at that.

Do you think that, assuming you had the chance to do it all over again, if you had performed better on the team challenge, even if your team still lost, that it would have resulted in somebody else going to the elimination challenge against Adam? It’s hard to tell, there are so many variables that went into that elimination challenge vote that you don’t see in the episode. The episode did a great job of encapsulating the personality conflict between Adam and myself and that was a huge factor in who went in to the elimination challenge. I also said, and this was not in the episode, that “I missed the 125 yard shot, I had an opportunity to tie things up for my team and I let them down, so I should be in the elimination challenge.” And I welcomed that opportunity to take that shot at redeeming myself.

You felt that, based solely on your performance, that you should go to the elimination challenge. Absolutely. When you watch the episode you saw Chris talking about how I was the ringer on the muzzleloader. I had the expectation that I was going to be able to make that shot, and when it came down to it I didn’t. And you’re only as good as the last shot you fired.

Presumably you had to nominate yourself to be the ringer, so you kinda put yourself in the position of having the whole team ride on your shot. I did, absolutely. And again, I have no regrets about that. I believed at the time that I could have made the shot and unfortunately I wasn’t able to do it so I earned my spot in that elimination challenge.

You mentioned on the show that your head wasn’t exactly in the game. You know, it’s honestly hard to look back at that, because it was 3 or 4 months ago now, and tell you how much that mental aspect affected me. I can tell you it obviously did, because the whole team did not perform up to our usual standards. I think that had we not had all that team drama going on we would have done much better in the challenge, been more focused and get better hits.

Talk to me a bit about the distances you were shooting at. The TV makes it very difficult for viewers to see how far away from the targets you are during the various challenges. Some of them are obvious, like the flint lock challenge we’re shown the various targets and told that the farthest one, the one you shot at, was 125 yards away. But in other challenges like the lever action challenge I don’t recall being told how far away the rope actually was. It looked like you were reasonably able to get shots on the target, so it couldn’t have been too far.

Looking back on it I would say that that rope was no more than 7 yards away-

So it was actually very close… I want to say 7 yards sounds right, but that’s just me guesstimating through memory about how far away it was.

But that really shows how difficult the shot was, to have it that close and still run through that many rounds. It is a tremendously difficult shot. That piece of rope we were shooting at was maybe an inch wide, and you’re trying to hit it with a bullet that is less than a half an inch wide. When you add up those two variables it definitely is not an easy shot to make.

Looking back on it now, what I wish I would have done is slowed down. I ran the 73 winchester like it was a cowboy action match, loading fast and slamming bullets fast. With 20-20 hindsight, if I had slowed down and taken much more precise shots I probably could have severed that rope a lot quicker.

Now, on to the challenge itself. You got your first three shots down range and reloaded before Adam. Did you change your strategy or point of aim to help get a shot that would connect? Actually, I didn’t. What I had done during the practice, and I know this sounds crazy. During the practice I saw that we were shooting ladder rungs, I just had this crazy suspicion in my head that we were going to do the rope shot. We had Winchesters and we were shooting at these inch wide ladder rungs. I just had this sneaking suspicion in my gut that we were going to end up doing the rope shot.

In the practice I actually shot the sides of the ladder, the vertical rungs, to establish the windage of the gun. It was actually dead on right over the front sight. So, when we got to the challenge and we were shooting a vertical rope I just held right in the middle of the rope and tried not to mash on the trigger. Obviously with the speed that I was trying to run the gun at was not conducive to the accuracy that I needed.

Had you ever shot that style of lever action before? Like a ‘94 Winchester or something like that? Yeah, I have shot some lever guns a little bit.

So it wasn’t something completely new to you. No, it’s a familiar platform. I believe those were Navy Arms replicas that we were shooting, which are pretty top of the line. On that gun, the lever was silk, the gun was extremely accurate, and just very easy to shoot. They’re generally extremely forgiving and easy to shoot weapons.

What did you do to keep the elevation the same? How did you make sure that your point of aim was the same from shot to shot to make each round hit the rope in the same spot? Once I actually got a hit on the rope, I knew that the rifle was a 6 o’clock hold, so I just held the front sight right under that first cut in the rope and put the rest of the bullets on target there. Though obviously I didn’t get the out quite as effectively as I needed to.

Did you get any indication who the rest of the team was rooting for at the elimination challenge? Not really, I honestly couldn’t tell. It’s funny, when I was actually up there shooting I couldn’t hear the rest of the team cheering. I was only peripherally aware of Adam’s shots. I would occasionally hear Colby yell “someone got a hit,” I wasn’t honestly paying too much attention to it. It was just me and the rifle and my sights and the rope. I wasn’t aware of the cheering and clapping that was going on in the background until I actually saw the episode and saw how close it was between the two of us.

So, you weren’t aware at all of how Adam was doing? After he got the first hit on the rope, did you realize that? When Adam got his first hit on the rope I heard Colby say that he had hit his rope and then I hit my rope within a couple of shots after that. After that it was a blur until I saw the guillotine start to slide down.

Tell me what was going through your mind when Adam severed his rope and the weight dropped, blocking any further shots. “Crap, I lost!” {laughs} That was the extent of it. The next thing that went through my mind was “Wow, he really shot well.” I never at any juncture in any of this had an axe to grind with Adam. Obviously I didn’t think that the personal attacks and name calling was cool, but I wasn’t upset at him or just out to get him or anything like that.

I was really impressed with how well he shot and the accuracy of the fire that he put out. He definitely put out much more accurate fire than I did. I definitely proved the old adage “You can’t miss fast enough to catch up.”

The drama definitely put an interesting spin on things, with previous elimination challenges it was mostly just a head to head match up over who was the better shooter. I know you’ve talked about wanting to go up against the best and see how you fared. Do you feel like you got that opportunity, or do you feel cheated at all that so much drama played a role in this? I don’t feel cheated by the drama. Obviously I wish that the drama hadn’t happened because I would have loved to make it to the eventual point where we are one team and we’re all competing as individuals.

I would have loved to see how I would have stacked up against J.J. or Blake, not necessarily with a pistol but with whatever the producers would throw at us. And while I would have loved to have gotten that opportunity when it comes down to it I did go to Top Shot to shoot, I got the opportunity to shoot, and when it came down to it I lost fair and square. I’m extremely happy with my experience.

One thing that strikes me about the show is how they focus on a marksman being a person who can pick up virtually any projectile weapon, go into a situation they have no knowledge about, and be reasonably proficient with it. That’s an enormously difficult task, and the difficulty that some of the contestants had with the challenges really reflects that. What did you learn about having the ability to pick up any firearm and being able to be effective with it? One of the big lessons I learned is that when it comes to firearms, we’ll leave out bows and arrows, knife throwing or any of the other stuff, but when you’re shooting guns ultimately the fundamentals of shooting apply no matter what you’re doing. Sight alignment and trigger control are always going to be important. It’s just a matter of, sometimes you’re trying to do it fast, sometimes you’re trying to do it slow, and sometimes you’re trying to get a good balance of the two. It was very illuminating to me to have that opportunity.

One of the things I really liked about it is that there is never any better opportunity to compare yourself to shooters who are better than you are. Lots of guys will say, “Oh, you know, I’ll compare myself to shooters in my class,” but if you do that you’ll only end up being a big fish in a little pond. The only way to really know how good you are is to try to shoot against guys who are bigger than you. That’s why I go to Bianchi cup, and that’s I go to Top Shot, I want to see where I stack up next to the guys who are better than me. On Top Shot, I had that opportunity and I learned that there are some areas I need to improve in.

Now that you’ve been on the show, are you implementing any changes in your training based off of what you learned from being a contestant? Right now I am trying to focus a little bit more on accuracy in my training and in my practice. When I started my shooting career at the Coast Guard academy I was a tremendously accurate shooter, I was a bullseye shooter, and I did very well in the ‘01 Sectionals and some other matches. Since then I’ve let that foundation of accuracy slack off a little bit in favor of speed, and I’m looking to try to get some of that back. I focus a lot more on accuracy in my practice lately.

What did you take away from the experience with regards to competitive shooting? I think what I took away with regards to competitive shooting in general is that the most important thing you can do to be successful as a competitive shooter is mindset. It’s got nothing to do with your trigger control, nothing to do with your sight picture, it’s having the right mindset and the right frame of mind when you’re going into a competition. If you’re rattled, if you’re not focused, if you’re not thinking clearly when you’re getting ready to shoot that shot, it will have an effect on that shot and it will have an effect on your ability to win that competition.

The other thing that I learned is, don’t go into a competition expecting to win. This is something that is a kinda zen thing I picked up from the Brian Enos guys is that, don’t ever go into a competition expecting to win, but go in expecting only to perform as well as you can. When you go in expecting to win, you’ve probably already failed. That was kind of a good thing for me to learn, and it really took the Top Shot experience to really drive that home for me.

I guess, being surrounded by so many top level shooters, you’re kinda forced into the mindset of “You can only do what you can do.” Absolutely. It teaches you the very concept of going out to do your best, and when your best isn’t enough, you learn to do better. And that’s the expectation that you should have going into these competitions.

That’s something that I’m trying to carry with me now into the regular competitive shooting of IDPA and Steel Challenge, is I want to shoot to the best of my ability with no expectation of victory or anything like that. That will help keep the mental butterflies away as well.

I think that’s a great idea for a way to identify areas for improvement. If you come out of a match going “Well, I’m just not as fast as Dave Sevigny,” you’re not going to learn anything from that. If you go into there, shoot your best, and then identify where you fell short and where there’s room for improvement, then you’ve got a starting point. I agree with that 100%. The best way to diagnose yourself is to shoot against people who are better than you and not have any expectations of your performance going into the match. Then you can be honest and you can be clinical with yourself your breakdown of your performance.

Thanks for taking the time to follow up with us regarding your experience on Top Shot, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the HAVA auction. You just successfully auctioned off a Sig Sauer 1911 with the Crimson Trace Laser Grips That’s correct, yeah the Sig 1911 went first and that was $1,200 right there, and currently up for auction is the Mossberg M590A1 at Gunbroker and that’s currently going for $400, although I haven’t checked it since this morning so that may have changed.

But for people who thought the Sig was a little too pricey, the Mossberg is much more cost effective, and you can never have too many 12 gauge shotguns.

That’s true, you know I own a Remington 870 and I just picked up a Mossberg M590A1 There you go.

There’s no reason not to have both. Absolutely, and the nice thing about that is the Mossberg and the Remington are basically the best examples of the 12 gauge pump in the world. You can compare and contrast them, put all kinds of crazy aftermarket parts on it and see what you like best.

And of course it doesn’t hurt to be familiar with the differences in the safeties on those shotguns, with the tang versus the crossbolt safety. That’s very true.

So, what else can we look forward to seeing in upcoming HAVA auctions? Coming up next we’re going to have an accessory package, it’s going to have some Crimson Trace lasers, and it’s going to have some other goodies for people’s various concealed carry needs. Then the very last week we’re going to have a very special item from DPMS that will also include more goodies from Crimson Trace and a really high quality scope from Leupold.

That sounds great. I might actually have to put in a bid on that myself. Well, thanks again for taking the time to talk to us, it’s a shame to see that you got eliminated. Do you think there’s any chance you might go back for season two? I would love to go back for season two, but not as a contestant. If I were to go back I’d want to go back as one of the experts.

It’s been great talking to you and we hope to talk to you again soon.

About our Guest Caleb makes his home with his wife in Indiana where he is a competitive shooter. Caleb is an active blogger as well as the host of Gun Nuts Radio.

Are you interested in becoming a Top Shot contestant? Now is your chance. The producers of Top Shot are holding an open casting call for individuals skilled with a pistol, rifle or any other firearm. If you’re interested in auditioning for the next Top Shot, email TopShotCasting@gmail.com with your name, city/state, phone number, a recent photo of yourself and a brief explanation of why you should be on the show. Deadline to apply is August 12, 2010. For more information, visit www.pilgrimfilms.tv and click on “CASTING” or call 818-478-4570 for more information.

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