MINNEAPOLIS -- Trick shooter Tom Knapp has traveled the world as a shotgun "shooting star" and television show host.
Knapp, 59, worked for a local parks systems for 25 years while honing his shotgunning skills. "I started playing with the idea of becoming a sponsored shooter in 1987," he said. "In the meantime, I did a lot of unsponsored shows."
Knapp began shooting for Winchester Olin in 1991 and later shot for Benelli. Now he shoots for a local company, Federal Cartridge, and most recently was host of "Benelli's American Birdhunter" TV show for eight years.
During his television stint, Knapp traveled as many as 40 weekends a year. Now it's down to a dozen or so. "This schedule is much more agreeable to me," he said. Meanwhile, a new TV show (and perhaps two) is in development, one on bird hunting, the other on shooting.
Knapp offered tips to help wingshooters as they prepare for the fall bird-hunting seasons:
Q: Which type of shotguns do you recommend for young people and others just getting into hunting?
A: Young people who have just passed their hunter-safety training usually have an idea of the type of shotgun they want, perhaps having been influenced by their fathers or others. I would just say this: You don't need an expensive gun. Today, even less-expensive pumps or semi-autos are reliable and will shoot the full range of shells. And if a person is recoil-sensitive, there are several guns built with recoil-reduction systems.
Q: Are 20-gauge guns a good option?
A: Absolutely, a 20-gauge shooting 3-inch No. 4s kills well, with less recoil than a 12-guage.
Q: Will an "off-the-shelf" shotgun fit most people? Or do most guns need to be "fit" to shooters?
A: Most shooters can get a good fit off the shelf. For small adults and young hunters, there are youth models of shotguns that, again, will fit in most cases.
Q: Talk about safety.
A: I love to talk about safety. Gun handling, particularly in the field, is very, very important. This takes experience, but there are fundamentals of gun safety everyone should know.
In the field, you can see when your dog gets birdy, or knows when a bird is in the area. It's then that you want to carefully position the gun so you are not a danger to your dog or others in your party, as you prepare, possibly, to shoot.
When your dog is birdy, position your gun semi-horizontally, away from the dog. Then, when the bird flushes, push the safety off as you pull the gun into the shooting position, all the while keeping your eyes on the target.
Safety problems I see most in the field are related to arm fatigue. At the end of a long walk, hunters get tired. Sometimes they cradle their guns in their left arms, and pretty soon someone to the left of them is looking down a barrel.
Q: When a bird flushes, or a clay target is released, a common problem hunters have is keeping their heads down, cheek on their stocks and eyes aligned down the barrel.
A: Exactly. It's very typical that when hunters approach the ready position, preparing to shoot, they'll have their head high, watching the bird, not down on the stock. This obviously creates an incorrect point of impact.
I've created a shotgun sight that reduces the likelihood of this possibility, because to see through it, and align the gun properly, the head has to be held low. Called the EasyHit fiber optic sighting system, it's available at outdoors retailers and on my website, www.tomknapp.net. It's low-profile, and makes a nice match for everyone. And you don't have to remove your gun's front sight to install it.
That may sound like an advertisement. But it's a sight that works, and has helped a lot of people.
Q: Turkey hunters are often advised to pattern their shotguns. Is it important for wingshooters also?
A: Very important. Each gun and shell combination will fire differently, and unless the shooter knows how his gun points and shoots with various loads, he is really guessing as to what's going on. So, yes, always pattern your shotgun.
Q: Which clay target game is best for improving shooting by the bird hunter?
A: Skeet can simulate some shots you would get while hunting quail. Trap is good for pheasants. Sporting clays simulates many different hunting scenarios, ducks to pheasants, and is really the best, I think, to help bird hunters.
Q: Are special guns needed for each clay target game?
A: Many guns are made for these sports. But unless you're going to shoot competitively, your hunting gun will do just fine.
Q: On your TV show, you were noted for using a gun camera, which showed the viewer accurately where your point of aim was, say, on a crossing pheasant when you pulled the trigger. It was a great teaching tool.
A: Correct. If I missed a shot, it showed why I missed. Proper forward lead and gun follow-through when you shoot is critical, and the camera provided a very telltale image. Using it, it's clear to see when you're shooting behind a bird, for instance.
Q: During your trick-shooting show at Game Fair, you use both a pump and semi-auto. What's your favorite?
A: I'm very well versed in each, and comfortable with each. In Argentina, on a dove hunt once, I killed 1,506 doves--the birds are considered pests down there that eat agricultural crops--firing 2,020 rounds, and I did it in less than three hours. That was with a semi-auto.
But that's the exception, of course. And at nearly the age of 60, I don't need a bunch of shells in my gun anymore to make sure I get a limit. Pump or semi-auto, it's what your comfortable with.
Q: What type of bird hunting do you enjoy most?
A: I really love pheasant hunting in South Dakota. Unlike duck hunting, you don't have to get up at 4 a.m. I don't really care what South Dakota pheasants are doing at 4 a.m. I care what they're doing at 10 a.m., when shooting starts.
Q: Which shotgun loads do you recommend for duck and pheasant hunters?
A: I shoot for Federal Cartridge, and believe in their products. Gold Medal for targets. The new Prairie Storm for pheasants. In general, the only thing I would say is that I'm not a big fan of the big magnums. I shoot 3-inch loads. I'm not sure you need anything bigger.
Q: You hold various trick-shooting records--including one for throwing and individually shooting 10 clays. Are there more records in your future?
A: I'm not interested in that so much anymore. It was 1993 when I threw nine targets and broke them, and in 2000 I threw eight and broke them individually with a pump shotgun. It was 2004, in Tennessee, when I broke 10, and I did it in front of a bunch of Boy Scouts.
They were excited. I was, too.