Aaron and Steve Gould are living their dream as exhibition shooters. And if you think this is path you want to follow, be prepared for a life on the road, chasing sponsors and the up-and-down flow of pay checks.
You may identify with Steve who studied finance in college “but I didn’t want to live in a metro area. When I left the working world, I was in a cubicle and I wanted out.”
Bear in mind what the Gould Brothers told their wives when they embarked on a professional career as exhibition shooters. “We told them we would give it three years to see what we could do, but every year more doors kept opening.”
For the Gould Brothers, though, it seems that they were preordained to become exhibition shooters. They’ll tell you that three-time world record holder and beloved exhibition shooter, the late Tom Knapp, was their inspiration.
Tom’s first record was established in 1993 when he broke nine hand-thrown standard clay targets with a Benelli M1 Super 90 in under two seconds. His second world record was set in the class of the Manually Operated Pump Gun in 2000 when, holding a pump shotgun he one hand, he tossed up eight clay targets with the other and broke them all in 1.87 seconds. Come 2004, he threw 10 clay targets in the air by hand and smashed all of them in 2.2 seconds. He passed away on April 26, 2013.
“In 2009, the first time I saw Tom Knapp was in a town about 24 miles from where we lived in Long Prairie, Minnesota,” Steve recalled. “Our shooting went from nothing more than a fun passion to something we wanted to do professionally.”
Aaron elaborated that after seeing Tom’s show “that summer we worked on our craft. We tried it all out in front of friends and family. Then in 2010 we did our first professional show. We got paid two cases of shotgun shells.”
Over the years the brothers got to know Tom personally.
“He gave us a lot of confidence,” Steve said.
Was it just a coincidence that Tom’s hometown of Maple Plain, Minnesota was only 115 miles southeast of Long Prairie?
If you ask the Gould Brothers, they may tell you that it was the work of their Savior, Jesus Christ.
As Aaron says on the Gould Brothers’ web site “I am a sinner in need of a savior. Follower of Jesus (my savior). God does amazing things in those who believe in him.”
Steve shares similar sentiments by posting “My faith in Jesus Christ in my number one thing. I am amazed at all that God has had in store for me after giving my life to Him.”
I caught up with the Gould Brothers at Southwind Sporting Clays in Quitman, Georgia, where they were taking a break from their practice grounds in nearby Monticello, Florida. They had just wrapped up a quail hunt at Southwind, stepping down from the bird buggy with their trademark exuberance. We grabbed some bottled water and sat a table outside the rustic clubhouse.
In recollecting their path to success, Steve talked about how “I don’t think anything about this came natural to us.”
“All we had was good hand-eye coordination,” Aaron added.
“We gain our target focus through a lot of repetition,” Steve explained. “If you throw multiple clay targets you begin to realize that you have to focus on one at a time, because it’s natural for your eyes to see everything at once.”
Still, on a more practical level, “With Steve and I being partners, we would help each other develop the target sight picture, especially with guns off the shoulder and off the face,” he said. “You have to focus on the target but also feel the lead. We also rely a lot on our peripheral vision.”
One of the earliest steps the brothers took was to start posting videos of their shooting on, at the time, the five-year-old YouTube site.
“We would make videos about once a year,” Steve recalled. “We started making more and more videos but they didn’t gain much traction.”
Steve told me that 2011 proved a turning point in their careers when they performed at NILO Farm in Brighton, Illinois, for the annual National Hunting & Fishing Day event.
Insiders know that if you spell NILO backwards you get Olin, as in John Olin, whose family originally owned Western Cartridge Company that acquired Winchester Repeating Arms in 1935. He was the inventor or co-inventor of 24 U.S. patents in the field of arms and ammunition manufacture and is widely acknowledged for his important innovations in ballistics.
Sponsorships were important to the Gould Brothers’ objective of becoming professional exhibition shooters, and so while at NILO Farm they reached out to Winchester. By January 2012, Steve and Aaron were able to announce that sponsorship at the Las Vegas Shot Show.
“It was a general sponsorship,” Steve explained. “We’d represent them at live shows in exchange for ammo and guns. After that, we became more popular and picked up more sponsorships.”
Now you wanna-be exhibition shooters should know that the Gould Brothers kept at it for six more years before, as Steve described it, “we caught a big break.”
While shooting for Bass Pro, they were introduced to the guys behind Dude Perfect, the sports and comedy group out of Frisco, Texas, who operate one of the largest channels on YouTube. The Gould’s teamed up with Dude Perfect and created “Shotgun Trick Shots” a video that has received over 54 million views.
“After that we tried to make our videos more relatable, not like a TV show promoting our sponsors,” Steve said. “Instead, we were a couple of guys having fun and putting a smile on people’s faces. That was a pivotal point for us, because we realized that we could make video content that wasn’t only about our live shows.”
The formula has attracted sponsors such as Federal Cartridges, Carlson Choke Tubes, White Flyer Targets, Promatic Trap Machines, Reeds Family Outdoor Outfitters and others.
We know one thing for sure: Steve is never going back to an office cubicle. It’s all or nothing.
Quoting the motivational guru Tony Robins, Steve said “Where focus goes, energy goes.”
“You are what you think,” Aaron added.
So, do you still want to be an exhibition shooter?