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Behind the Scenes of Top Shot

Top Shot champion Iain Harrison reveals 10 secrets—in no particular order—from his Top Shot experience. Behind-the-scenes shenanigans are included.


Over 300 hours of footage was gathered for each episode of the History Channel's reality shooting competition "Top Shot." So, it's safe to say that there were more than a few things that didn't make it to air. In service to our readers, the editors went to the best source possible to get some answers—the Top Shot Champion. Iain Harrison, who is currently basking in the glow of his $100,000 payday, had more than a few secrets to reveal from his time in front of the cameras.

According to Harrison, the cast was locked down for a month while filming was going on, and relied on each other for entertainment and conversations that lasted into the wee hours. As a result, the 9 mm vs .45 debate has finally been settled, the new NATO rifle round designed and the chasm between martial artists and gamers has been bridged.

Here are the top 10 secrets—in no particular order—from Iain's Top Shot experience. Behind-the-scenes shenanigans are included.

1. The show was filmed over the course of 33 days in March/April 2010, in Santa Clarita, Calif. During filming, competitors were not allowed to have cell phones, e-mail, newspapers, books, TV or even music. This was all in an effort to encourage interaction with fellow housemates. This inevitably lead to pranks, such as duct taping people into their bunks and throwing buckets of cold water on showering team members. There were many, many others, but as this might be read by those of a sensitive disposition, I'm going to plead the Fifth when it comes to Frank Campana's rendition of a scene from "Silence of the Lambs." Kelly Bachand still has nightmares...

2. Unlike most reality TV shows, the competitors had a great deal of respect for each other. When one team lost a challenge, the other would cook dinner for them, and Tara baked cakes and cookies non-stop. Since the show aired, there have been numerous viewing parties and mini-reunions around the country where shooters from both teams have met up to celebrate. Brad and Pete recently met up with Blake in New Orleans; Pete, Frank and Adam rendezvoused in Baltimore and Tara and Caleb joined me for the finale in Oregon where we packed out a bar with shooters, friends, family and the occasional bemused passerby. There's talk of a full reunion in November.

3. Question. How many Top Shot competitors can you fit in a pantry? Answer: 15.

4. Chris Cerino's family is in the restaurant business and that seems to have rubbed off on him, as his talents in the kitchen were appreciated by everyone, but most of all by Pete, who's culinary skills almost extend to opening a box of cereal. If you ever run into J.J. Racaza, try to steer him toward a grill, as I guarantee his method of preparing ribeye steaks is the best you've ever tasted. Just make sure you keep a fire extinguisher handy.

5. It took us about an hour to lose all the darts that came with the dartboard in the house. After we were resupplied (and puncture wounds patched up), Caleb and Blake developed a new game called Battleship Darts, based on IPSC scoring and stressing long-range marksmanship from different positions. Most of those projectiles ended up in the neighbor's yard.

6. How did we all end up on the show? The producers put out a casting call in December of 2009 to most of the national shooting sports organizations, as well as some of the most popular shooting websites, asking for applicants. About 5,500 people filled out application forms and sent in videos—of that number, 50 were invited to a week-long audition in L.A., where various mental and physical tests were conducted, as well as interviews and a range day. Those who were successful were offered the chance to participate in the series.

7. Practice sessions were deliberately kept short by the producers. Often, competitors would get only 10 rounds or so to familiarize themselves with a new firearm, or the team as a whole would be allocated a number of rounds and then given the task of distributing them to team members. Blue team made a point of giving as much practice time and ammunition to those less familiar with a given firearm, with the team experts coaching them. Both teams were separated during practice so that the opposing team could only guess at competitors' abilities, should they need to sit someone out. For most of us, the limited amount of practice time was the hardest aspect of the competition, especially if you're used to burning 500 to 600 rounds a week between matches.

8. Peter Palma can hold court for hours on the tactics and equipment necessary to survive the forthcoming zombie apocalypse and will debate the finer points of symptoms, causes, the type of zombie most likely in your area and the best cartridge for dispatching them. Sort of like the inevitable hunting camp conversation about the best round for whitetails, this is one argument where no clear favorite emerges, but everybody has fun showing off their ballistics knowledge.

9. Recreational opportunities were limited, as we were confined to the grounds of the house when not shooting. There was a weight machine (which Blake and JJ quickly broke—those guys could bust a bowling ball) and a treadmill facing out over the valley. The runners among us were Chris, Kelly, Andre and myself, and it was kinda hard with all that beautiful scenery laid out below us not to just turn off the machine, hop over the balcony and keep going across the field.

If you ever get the chance to participate in one of these shows, my advice is to go for it. So long as you and your family can handle the separation, it will present a great opportunity to see behind the scenes of a TV show, shoot a few unusual guns and make some lasting friendships. Just remember that the show's audience is comprised of mostly non-shooters, and whether you like it or not, you are acting as an ambassador for the sport we all love. Your behavior reflects on all gun owners. Don't screw it up.

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10 Responses to Behind the Scenes of Top Shot

Calvin Cowley wrote:
November 16, 2013

Big well done to Iain I was in the British army with this bloke top man x coy cattrick

Erika wrote:
February 06, 2011

I enjoy the show very much, and the scenery looked familiar. When I looked up to see where it was filmed, I was delighted to learn that it was all in my home town of Santa Clarita. I can recognize those hills anywhere! Keep shooting!

Chad wrote:
January 31, 2011

I was wondering for those that were kicked off early, do you have to remain sequestered? Do they move you to another house with tv at least?

Eileen wrote:
August 31, 2010

Enjoyed the show and makes me want to sharpen my skills to compete in this show. I am a new skeet shooter at age 59. Totally new to shooting world but competitive nature in me want to get better at it. A little politics on this show and I am glad to see Kelly survived that far. And I agree, bring Tara back and let her compete again. Grandma in FL

Pete wrote:
August 27, 2010

The show grew on me. My favorite aspect is the elimination challenges. You may think you're sending home someone you don't like, but as Kelly proved, don't count your chickens until they're hatched.

John wrote:
August 27, 2010

I wonder if Pete's Pants would work as a zombie repellant? And a bump for bringing Tara back.

Michael Hanvey wrote:
August 27, 2010

I enjoyed what I saw of the show. Unfortunately I don't believe in supporting Cable or Disk TV so I didn't see much, but it was exciting to see nerves get the professionals down and the others get the best of them because of a little mistake. I would have like to have seen the Olympic shooter go further. He had a good head on him and was great at thinking things through. Michael

Seth from Massachusetts wrote:
August 27, 2010

I agree with James, Tara deserves a second chance. I was rooting for her all the way. I was quite disappointed with the opening episode but it grew on me as it went along. Glad I wasn't on the team, I would have been toast at the knife throwing episode!

James Voelzer wrote:
August 27, 2010

Bring Tara back for the next show. She is deserving of it by way of her awesome shooting skills and might just have won the first show had she been able to remain.

Don Reeves wrote:
August 27, 2010

I thoroughly enjoyed this show and am looking forward to the next season. Any competitors who read this, If your'e in the Portland OR area, O have a hot ribeye and a cold beer waiting for you! DOn