I married up. I am the luckiest guy in the world. And, last weekend was another testament to this truth.
This year, my beautiful wife gave my son and me a special present: a guys weekend at Camp His Way, which is a marksmanship camp for teens, located in East Texas on Lake Sam Rayburn. Even though I did not pull one trigger all weekend, I have NEVER had so much fun watching others shoot! This weekend was all about the kids.
If you are a regular reader, you know that I am a shooting enthusiast. Growing up in Houston, I spent a great deal of time at a gun club owned by my grandparents. I cannot remember a time when shooting sports and hunting were not a large part of my life.
Over the last few years, the United States has seen a resurgence of shooting sports. Many new shooters and gun owners are entering the shooting world (thank you Barack Obama). One reason for the recent popularity in shooting is a show called Top Shot, which aired on the History Channel.
The host of Top Shot is Texas Tech Alum Colby Donaldson of Survivor fame. Top Shot featured sixteen marksmen involved in weekly shooting competitions. These competitions included a variety of weapons and disciplines: archery, knives, axes, shovel throwing, blowguns, rocks, slingshots, pellet rifles, bolt guns, 22s, ARs, MP-5s, and just about every type of firearm weapon system imaginable. Each week, a contestant would be eliminated from the competition. This show was total guy heaven.
Typically, Top Shot competitors included Olympians, Navy Seals, military marksmen and instructors, and pistol champions of all disciplines. Every great shot in the world wanted to be on this show. Season One winner was Iain Harrison, a former British Army Captain who moved to the United States after being forced to surrender his guns to the UK government while pursuing competitive shooting. Chris Reed, a Marine and national champion in 12-gauge sporting clays and 22 long rifle, won Season Two.
On Season Three, one competitor stood out from the group because he had no formal training. This competitor, Dustin Ellermann, an East Texas Christian youth camp counselor, surprised everyone and won Season Three. In the final round, Dustin defeated Mike Hughes, a lawyer and world-class pistol shooter. Entering Top Shot, Mike was coming off a seventh-place title at the national USPSA competition.
Texas has produced some of the finest shooters in the world. Texas shooting legends include Grant Ilseng, Danny Carlisle, Glenn Eller – and, now, Dustin Ellermann. Go over to the Greater Houston Gun Club and you will find four Olympic gold medalists on the membership rolls.
Want to know why so many great shooters are from Texas? Years ago, I was at a shoot outside the US. The Russian team coach was watching a group of American shooters and asked one of the shooters if he was from Texas. That coach wasn’t basing his question on patches, an insignia, or an accent. He later explained that he could identify Texas shooters by the way they shot and followed targets. He said that Texas shooters, especially from the Gulf Coast, deal with a constant wind when they are shooting, which automatically adds an increased difficulty into the sport. From then on, I realized that Texas shooters had a great competitive advantage.
Think about this while you watch Dustin Ellermann’s Top Shot audition tape. You will see Dustin overcome the wind.
I liked Dustin the second I met him. It was obvious that there is something very different about him. Dustin is a Christian youth camp counselor and he uses his talent as a master shooter to teach others about Christ.
This weekend, in true Top Shot fashion, Dustin immediately divided the kids into two teams. The kids, ages 14-17, came from all over the United States: Colorado, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Alabama, and, of course, Texas. On the first day, Riley, my son, learned about knife throwing, axe throwing, archery, blowguns, rock throwing, and 22 bolt action rifles.
Each skill featured instruction and practice time. A team challenge occurred after the introduction of each new skill. Victors received individual beads made from a shell casing. Additionally, the kids were able to keep their playing cards if they cut the card during the competitions with the bladed weapons.
In true Dustin style, a bead was also earned for completion of Dustin’s signature shot: a golf ball shot with a 22 at 50 yards (Dustin successfully made the shot from 100 yards on the show). The shooting was great and the camp is fun with all kinds of kid things to do.
I enjoyed watching Dustin, a great storyteller, interweave lessons from the Bible into his marksmanship lessons. Dustin knows the Bible and, no doubt, he could have come up with a lesson for every event throughout the weekend.
My greatest joy at marksmanship camp was listening to Dustin’s stories about shooting and faith. On Saturday evening, we gathered after our competitions and Dustin told us some of the background of what we saw on the show. He also told us that he believed the Top Shot producers placed him on the show as a joke . . . so he could be the Texan, Christian caricature.
Dustin, a Christian shooter without any formal training, was going against some of the most accomplished shooters in the world and the producers never thought he would make it past the first round. Obviously, the show’s producers have never been to a gun club in Texas.
As an avid Top Shot viewer, it seemed like the competitors underestimated Dustin too. Each week, the team would choose Dustin as one of the two competitors in the ultimate challenge where the winner stayed and competed and the loser went home. And, each week, Dustin won that competition. What they didn’t understand is that Dustin is the champ of Camp His Way in little ole Zavalla, Texas. The Lord had a purpose for Dustin Ellermann.
After our little gathering, we followed the tiki torches to the zipline where the kids shot a LaserLyte pistol. They rode the zipline with a paintball gun and a mounted flashlight. The kids shot targets as they moved down the zip line.
Dustin is the last person to tell you of his skills. He is one of the most modest people I have ever met, which is what inspired me to write this piece. It is not Dustin’s place to tell you of his greatness and he never would. Dustin Ellermann is a Christian first and one of the finest shooters this state has ever produced – and, coming from Texas, that makes you one of the finest shooters in the world. I enjoyed every minute of my weekend at Camp His Way and cannot thank my wife enough for this adventure.