Top Shot Episode 1: The Long Shot

If you haven’t yet seen the series premiere of Top Shot, you can watch the entire episode on Hulu.  Go watch it now, then click below the jump for my recap of the episode – if you hadn’t already figured it out, there are major league spoilers in the recap!

The episode opens with us walking up to the house and being divided in to Red Team and Blue Team.  I ended up on Blue Team, along with JJ Racaza, Adam Benson, Blake Miguez, Tara Poremba, Chris Cerino, Iain Harrison, and Jim Sinclair.  Red Team consists of Pete Palma, Mike Seeklander, Kelly Bachand, Andre Robinson, Bill Carns, Denny Chapman, Brad Engmann, and Frank Campana (who has the best hair on the show, sorry Tara).

What’s interesting about the teams is the backgrounds we come from.  Mike, Blake, JJ, and Brad are all USPSA Grandmasters, and while I’m an IDPA Master I’m nowhere in their league in terms of action pistol shooting.  But we have a wide array of backgrounds, Frank is a retired NYPD officer, Tara’s a Chicago PD officer, Chris trains cops, etc – so it’s not just competition shooters.

So we settle in to the house, and somehow I get shafted with a top bunk (being little and all) and then head out to the range to practice.  We’re greeted with 4 old-as-dirt rifles, a Mosin-Nagant, an SVT-40, an M14, and a 1903 Springfield.  I had only fired an M14 once before, and all the other rifles were alien to me.  Blake and I paired up as spotter/shooter, and we spent most of our time with the SVT-40.  Shooting in to the setting sun, the glare off the sights was absurd, but we managed to establish a point of aim/point of impact.

Blue team went back to the range and hand a little strategy session.  Since we’d all essentially only had time for one rifle per spotter/shooter pair, we decided that we’d just stick with those pairings for the competition the next day if that was an option.

The challenge gets here, and sure enough it’s spotter/shooter pairs hitting exploding targets at 50/100 yards.  Like you saw in the episode, we stayed with our plan and ended up winning.  Getting through that thicket was actually harder than it looked on TV – History made Blake and I look pretty good with our run.

Of course, with Blue Team winning, that brings us to the elimination challenge between Mike and Kelly.  I have to admit that I sold Kelly short – I thought that even with his rifle skill that he might buckle under the pressure and not be able to make the shot.  He absolutely proved me wrong, and showed that he’s a true competitor and a classy guy.  Both he and Mike treated the whole process with class and dignity, and were a credit to the shooting sports.

That’s all for this week, but I’ll have episode breakdowns and commentary that go more in-depth as the episodes get more complicated!  There was a lot of “intro time” and stuff like that in the first episode, the next ones are going to be even more action packed.


  1. Any thoughts you can/are willing to share on Mike’s fatal meltdown? I know he’s got a great reputation in action pistol, but is he just not a rifle guy? Or just had a bad day?

  2. I didn’t shoot Mike’s rifle, so I can’t really speak to that. I know that we had a lot of issues with getting our ’03 on target that involved the sights. It’s hard for me to say exactly what happened, because everything I heard was second hand after the fact. If I were picking, I’d likely blame a breakdown in shooter/spotter communication. Our ’03 Springer guys managed to stay pretty well linked up during their struggles which is what brought them on target.

  3. I know that they use creative editing to make the characters more compelling, but I was so happy to see Mike go in the first show I can’t tell you.

    In all of the previews he came across as a cocky, arrogant SOB. I can’t stand people who run their mouths and I had a feeling he was all talk.

    Kelly is on the USA National Rifle team, when Mike chose to go against Kelly in the elimination challenge, I knew Mike was gone…especially after the warm ups.

    Good riddance as far as I’m concerned.

    BTW: also might have been an artifact of creative editing, but the entire red team seemed pretty cocky going into the first challenge. They were basically saying that you guys didn’t have a chance. Ha!

    “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” [Proverbs 16:18, NIV]

    I have to admit that the fact that they didn’t even introduce you in the first show had me thinking that you were going to be gone early. I was thinking that they may not have wanted viewers to get too attached to contestants that were going to be eliminated right away in fear of losing them because their favorites were gone.

    Well, that theory was disproved because Mike got pretty heavy coverage from the get-go so I was actually a bit surprised when it became evident that he was the one who was going to be eliminated.

    It’s hard to tell because we never know what was edited out, but it looked like you hit your target with a single shot. Good job.

    It did look like you were having a little trouble getting through the thicket though.

    Oh…and I thought for sure that Tara was going to get her hair caught in the barbed wire. She looked like she was holding her head awfully high when crawling under that.

    Anyway, I’m not a fan of (un)reality shows, but it was different actually knowing a contestant so I did enjoy it. I know this is long over with so it may seem a little weird to speak of it in present and future tense, but to viewers it’s still an ongoing thing, so I’ll say it’s good to see you’re still in the hunt and good luck in the future.

  4. I did hit it with the first shot – what you don’t see is the five light primer hits and malf drills I did before that shot actually went off. But I’m not complaining, because History made Blake and me look like total badasses with our stage.

  5. Was a little annoyed at the lack of introducing the full cast and lack of “interviewing” of everyone else. I understand they’re trying to create drama and intrigue, which they did well. I’ve got a friend who I was texting during the whole premiere who was psyched about it. Gonna try to get more friends watching.

  6. That’s awesome, Will. The more people that we can get watching, the better off we are as a community. As far as the interviewing goes, the “story” gets created organically. When you put people together and they interact, you don’t have to do a lot of work to find drama there, all they have to do is pick the right interviews to flesh things out.

  7. For those of you who don’t know Mike Seeklander and have never met him, you may want to consider that History’s editors just might have cherry picked soundbites to make him look that way. I’ve dealt with Mike professionally for a number of years, beginning back when he was the head firearms instructor for the Federal Air Marshal program. Even I found myself wanting to root against him halfway through the show, and I can tell you it’s simply a function of how they portrayed him. It’s a real shame to see such a great shooter, and a guy who has served his country in numerous roles from Marine to federal agent, get booted like that.

  8. From my POV on the outside, it looked like the Blues had issues with their Springfield as well. As edited, it seemed the 03 took the most shots/hit for the Blues as well.

    Despite the editing, I took a shine to Mike; in the challenge I was rooting for Kelley only because some of the rest of his team clearly wanted “the kid” off the team because he was “the kid”. Mike’s stated reason for choosing Kelley as the other challenger was to face “the best” rifle challenger. I’m good with that.

  9. I said right up front that it may have been an artifact of selective editing. I don’t know Mike, so all I have to base it off of is what they showed.

  10. I give Mike props for owning what happened. I felt less favorable toward Andre; he seemed a little too angry and “not my fault”-ish over the whole thing. Not that I don’t understand where he’s coming from, but I did expect more, shall we say, professionalism.

  11. The only other reason (aside from “It’s GUNZ!) I can stand to watch this is that the folks getting “voted off” get to defend themselves in the head to head competition. I hate the backstabbing/politics crap…. I see enough of that in the real world. I also find it hard to believe that a professional shooter could not hit a pie plate at 100 yards, unless there was a pretty serious equipment issue ….. wandering sights or some such. The only time I’ve ever had problems even getting on paper was when either a sight or scope mount came loose…..

    …… either that or his spotter was being dishonest, for whatever reason.

  12. Another possibility is that the reactive target was bad. I won’t take credit for this I read it over at, and the only reactive targets I’ve shot are clay birds. Just a thought

  13. BEST. REALITY. SHOW. EVER. (not just because Caleb is on it)

    Actually Sailorcurt, I’ve found often there are a couple of “sleeper” cast members in the early parts of these reality shows. They normally aren’t that big players early on because they are getting things done and not causing drama. Granted I don’t watch much other reality TV but at the ones I do watch, like Top Chef that are based more on talent and skill and less on political cut-throating (that is often edited to look worse than it is), there are people half way through the season you are like, “Wow where did they come from? They’re good!” Early on they have to focus more on the drama because people having established a record of wins.

  14. It looked a little to me — and Tam confirmed it was even more so than I gathered — that the ’03 Springfield has a wicked learning curve. Hit that on an even slightly off day and it may not matter how good a shot you are.

    I don’t think that reflected badly on Mike professionally — unless he is in the business of training people how to shoot obscure rifles at middlin’ distances on short notice.

    As a game-show challenge, it was a good one. But it was not the usual sort of shooting.

  15. I don’t understand comments made during the show and in response to this post that Mike’s service to our country and/or his professional reputation should count as reasons not to vote for him to be eliminated. The point is to win, not to pay respect to people’s past service or professional reputation.

    The WORST thing about Mike is that he wanted to go up against Kelly in the elimination challenge because he, Mike, wanted to go up against “the best”. If he was any kind of a team player, he’d have voted for the team member who he considered weakest.

    Not the sharpest tool in the shed.

    Same goes for anyone who didn’t see how incredibly selfish/stupid that was.

    For Mike, it was all about Mike.

  16. I guess the problem with hitting your target first-shot is that you get less screen time, eh?

    Of course, and as previously said by others, this may simply be an affect of editing, but it seemed that Kelly lacked… professionalism, especially in the practice. He seems like a strong shooter, but… I don’t know, perhaps… immature, cocky almost.

    Looking forward to the next episode – It’ll be interesting to see if you can pull of another one-shot victory again. 😀

  17. He seems like a strong shooter, but… I don’t know, perhaps… immature, cocky almost.

    If you were on the national rifle team before you could shave, you’d come across as immature and cocky, too. Especially if the guys at the editing console wanted you to. 😉

  18. Don’t make excuses for Mike missing because he wasn’t familiar with the weapon. THAT IS THE POINT OF THE SHOW. Pull shooters together with different specialties to see who is the best OVERALL shooter. Everyone was shooting old guns that only the historical firearms buff was familiar with.

  19. Is Mike right handed and left eye dominant? It look liked he had scotch tape over his left hand lens?

  20. The WORST thing about Mike is that he wanted to go up against Kelly in the elimination challenge because he, Mike, wanted to go up against “the best”. If he was any kind of a team player, he’d have voted for the team member who he considered weakest.

    Not the sharpest tool in the shed.

    Same goes for anyone who didn’t see how incredibly selfish/stupid that was.

    For Mike, it was all about Mike.

    EXACTLY. That was more an indication of character for me than anything that came out of the man’s mouth. I was pleased to see the kid whip him so decisively.

  21. Really enjoyed the show. I am looking forward to the series. For anyone who missed it, it is on Hulu, too. I didn’t like the politicking. It seemed very straightforward to me, the shooter and the spotter should have duked it out. They were the only ones to blame. Mike was put in charge and chose that gun and that colleague to compete with. Even if he is the best in the world, on that day he wasn’t.

    Kelly was amazing. Did you see his bullseye (one of the few) with the pistol? He seems to be the one to beat. Caleb, I am rooting for you, but Kelly is my second choice.

  22. Just as an observation…

    During voting, Mike’s shot almost didn’t hit paper. I thought that a little odd, being what looked to be 7 yards to target. Maybe it was nerves or the 92FS DA pull.

    Kelly obviously knows his stuff. Sure he’s a bit cocky, but who wasn’t at 22? He’s still a young pup, but the competition is about shooting, not maturity.

    I got the in-laws watching the show, and they sure like it. It was good to see you run the guns, even though your role has been quite understated in the editing.

    I do think it’s quite odd that so very few of the shooters have never touched a Mosin-Nagant. Maybe it’s that I’m a relative noob, but it seems like the Mosin-Nagants are something that most shooters I know have at least dabbled with once. The 91/30 was my first gun and still my favorite for quality pleasure shooting at the range. I’ve got at least a couple thousand rounds through it. I also found it a bit humorous that folks were complaining of sore shoulders after the practice sessions.

  23. Sailorcurt,

    I don’t know Mike Seeklander well, but I have spoken to him from time to time and just did an email exchange with him about Top Shot. He has always come across to me as very gracious and he was effusive in his email in thanking me for my support of him as a fellow Tulsa shooter . He couldn’t explain his meltdown but thought there might have been some excessive play in the rear sight. He is a smokin’ handgunner, but I haven’t seen him in any rifle competition .

    In his defense, I think a lot of what you perceived was due to his natural self confident nature and some creative editing by the producers, just like any other reality TV show.

  24. Caleb,

    Any chance the producers might have messed with the Springfield to manufacture some drama?

    Liked the show, looking forward to seeing how you did.


    1. There is absolutely ZERO chance that anyone working on the show would have intentionally screwed up that gun. There were SO MANY lawyers there to ensure fairness that it would have been impossible.

  25. Curt,

    My ex-wife was a reality TV junkie. I can’t stand most of that because, like virtually everything else on TV, it’s so formulaic that the outcome is pretty obvious about 5-10 minutes into an episode. With reality TV, it’s pretty easy to tell the team that will lose a match; it’s the team that gets the most air play. The same applies to which team member will get cut. Just watch for the person that either gets the most air play, or the one they work the hardest to make you hate. The whole point is to make you feel some kind of connection (good or bad) to the person that ends up leaving so that you connect more with the show.

  26. On a related note, I do have to say that it’s not clear what in the hell Mike was thinking at the end there. If you’re a great all-around competitor, and you want to win, the last thing you do is go against an expert in one field at his own game.

    I honestly can’t think of any reason to go against Kelly in a rifle match that doesn’t involve not really wanting $100,000.

  27. Laughingdog

    Bulls eye! If you want to know who is most likely to face the axe in any particular episode of a ‘reality tv’ show, observe who is getting the most airtime. More often than not, the spotlight falls on the soon to be fallen.

  28. Process of elimination

    The previews of the show seemed to hint that all kinds of projectile weapons including non-firearms would play a part in the show. Yet the first episode focused on somewhat generic rifles and a simple target. Previews from the next episode seem to indicate a contest with M-9 pistols.

    That tells me the show producers may have a logical process by which they intend to weed out the contestants. They are beginning with the most generic weapons and common shots, and I believe as time goes on the more exotic weapons and bizarre tests will occur. Maybe the last contest will be tomahawks at ten paces while blindfolded!

    It’s just a theory.

  29. I just rewatched the show along wiht my wife. Couple of notes; in no particular order. Note – I wasn’t there, I don’t know personally any of the contestants (though I’ve been following Caleb’s blog is he was still using a pseudonym). Also, I’d be lucky to hit anything at the 50m line, much less anything else. My hat’s off to everyone there.

    First, I’ve caught other “reality” shows before, and this one was different in at least one way. The BLEEP was *much* minimized. And, really, who says “heck” any more on national TV 🙂 That was really refreshing.

    Second – (and I noted this on the first run through); both teams were having issues with the Springfield. Every other rifle, the Blues one- or two-shotted the 50m target and did well with the 100m as well.

    Third – I saw over at Anarchangel’s the theory that the reactive target didn’t for Mike. I’m not sure I buy that; or at least that it wouldn’t be noticed. His first shot’s impact into the frame was clearly visible through the camera; and I noted in the slo-mo’s of the detonating targets that there was significant spalling of whatever that orange stuff was.

    (Fourth, did that SEAL guy they had as an instructor really have no whites to his eyes? Inquiring minds want to know)

  30. The 1903 Springfield is obscure? The Mosin is?

    I’ve only been actively shooting less than 5 years, yet I’ve shot both those, plus the M14.

    The SVT-40 isn’t exactly common, but the other 3 are common at every range I’ve ever been at. Heck, Boomershooters have shot all of those, and I’m pretty sure I saw all of them there but the SVT-40 this year, though I couldn’t recall who had what!

    For active, engaged shooters to never have shot those rifles ever? Seems strange to me. I guess too many of us focus on what we really enjoy and neglect the rest.

    I’m of the belief that something was wrong with the sights on that rifle, but blaming the spotter when there were few impacts on the target face, and no real way of seeing impacts around the target due to vegetation seems a little strange.

    All of the people on the show have egos, or they wouldn’t have tried out in the first place! The fact that we got to see a few in this episode only means that there is some storytelling going on.

    My son and I watched with pretty real interest, since the shooter/spotter communication is something we try to work on. There were obviously some glitches with that on the show, but 100 yard targets? Something was up with those sights.

  31. Keep in mind that the Springfield M1903 (as opposed to the WWII era M1903A3, with it’s simple peep sight) has a really crappy battle sight for hitting an 8″ bull at 100yards.

    The battel sight is set for 400+ yards (depending on exact config of sight and which milspec .30-06 ball you’re using). And it’s a typical late-19th Century shallow notch.

    The trajectory is over two feet over point of aim at 100 yards. The round is landing hundreds of yards beyond where anyone is looking for dust. Thge spotter cannot assist with that which he cannot see.

    I didn’t see EITHER team flip the rear sight up to use the precision apeture, which adjusts to ranges as close as 100 yards. Did no one ever use a combined battlesight/ladder sight like the 1903 or the early No4 Mk1? Or did the rules prohibit the use of the precision sight already installed on the rifle?

    Also, I was surprised that Mike didn’t chuck a round into a patch of dirt somewhere around 100yards after five or so clean misses, just to FIND his POA/POI so he could adjust. With all the fire he was throwing out, I suspect the Brit on the blue team ended up shooting searching fire in the area around the target until he found an impact he could use to estimate hold.

  32. Iain, our Limey on Blue team did what he called “shooting the box” or something like that where he shot the 4 corners of the target, then four wider corners until he started getting hits on wood, then walked it in from there.

  33. Yup, as I suspected. It’s one of the “non-competitive” techniques for getting on target — so far as I know, it is completely absent from USMC rifle training (and may not even be taught in their machineguner training).

    Usually, you only see that used with tripod mounted machineguns, but Iain showed the technique is valid with rifles.

    The difference between “One shot, one kill,” and “Total kills count more than ammo useage.” (Just like the old “Bolt Action vs. Semiauto” sharpshooter wars.)

  34. They used the springfield 06 the day before, and so it must have been sighted in. As various others have written, 100 yards is pretty easy going shooting from a rest, with any sights, from most any rifle. The springfield is just a slightly modified Mauser, these are as simple to operate as it gets. I think that this fire-arm was in some way defective. And I don’t trust anyone not to mess with the sights of rifle that’s going to be used by someone else. I’ve seen it done. There was already a report of light primer strikes on another rifle used in this comp, a sign that the armorers for the show, did not go over these rifles as well as any enthusiast does. Sorry, it’s not rocket science, and I don’t trust the producers not to play games with the firearms. Kelly doped the wind nicely at 600. Once you go beyond 300, you do have to dope the wind well. Mike was foolish to pick him to shoot against… And he should have been looking for a weak link to shoot against. whatever, the team should consider that a long range champion is worth a spot on the team.

  35. You don’t adjust the battlesight. I’m not even sure you CAN adjust the battlesight on an M1903, unless you grab a punch and hammer and drift the sights, or you pull out a file and start removing metal — it’s a simple notch that is set for POA/POI several hundred yards out.

    That means it is over a YARD high at 100 yards. If you’re shooting Huns and you’re holding (as doughboys were taught) on the “Gott Mit Uns” belt buckle — no worries. A yard high is still within the height of a man.

    If you are shooting at an 8″ target 6 feet off the ground, a yard high is a clean whiffle through the air — no impact anywhere NEAR the target to adjust off.

    Unless your spotter is. . .

    1. Able to spot the path of the bullet through the air — there’s the bullet trace caused by differencial refraction through teh pressure changes in air (something fairly difficult to do if you haven’t trained to do it), or vapor trail, something difficult to see in low humitidy environments, as the range appears to be.


    2. Looking several hundred yards down range, AND

    3. Able to see the actual ground the round lands in (as opposed to it being obscured by bushes)

    . . . he CANNOT provide useful corrections if you are using a 500 yard sight setting on a 100 yard target, and not already holding low about a yard. Keep in mind that for #2 & #3, the FOV on your spotter scope that shows you the 100 yd target clearly is almost certainly NOT going to include the 500 yd POI at the same time.

    The fact that Mike’s first shot apparantly clipped the target frame might have been misleading, if that first shot was a flyer. (A flyer, on the first shot of an active movement course, with an unfamiliar rifle, on camera, in a race against another skilled team, where YOU do not even control all the performance on your OWN side? UNpossible! No one could have a flyer under those circumstances! )

    The fact that his partner apparantly hit the target after a few rounds could be luck. But any dinking around with the sights would have affected Andre as well — the difference between 50 and 100 yards is about an inch and a half or less. Plenty of slop to at least get it on teh target so you could walk it in!

    Adnre SURE as Hell didn’t fiddle the sights before handing the rifle to Mike. And no one else touched the gun between Andre shooting at 50 yards and Mike shooting at 100.

    Even if the battle sight is adjustable via the windage wheels (go ask Tam, she owns one), you’d have to crank it pretty far out of line to get such clean misses at 100 yards that you couldn’t get back “on paper” in 30 rounds, AFTER your partner just used it to hit at 50 yards. And I didn’t see either man TOUCH the wheels.

    The fact that NEITHER of them used the 100 yard setting on the precision apeture rather than the (roughly) 500 yard setting on the crappy open notch indicates that they DID NOT understand how the sight works. That 100 yard apeture would have been close enough to POA/POI for BOTH 50 and 100 yards.

    I believe Mike said he got about 8-10 rounds of practice with the M1903 — that is NOT enough to figure out the delta between the battle sight and the short range targets. Not without using a technique that goes against EVERYTHING held dear to both Marines and most competitors I’ve seen (i.e., “throwing rounds away” in an effort to find a good spotter round landing SOMEWHERE to help figure out the dope.)

    At no point did anyone claim he didn’t know how to operate the RIFLE ACTION (the part copied from Mauser), and the sights on a Springfield ARE NOT a “slightly modified Mauser” sight. They are RADICALLY different, even though the battle sight LOOKS a lot like a Mauser rear sight.

    For instance, the Mauser sight is NOT a fixed rear sight unadjustable for range, unlike the Springfield battle sight. The adjustable part is that flip up ladder sight with multiple notches and a nice tight apeture inteded for target competition level accuracy, with speciifc range settings that run from 100 to 2350 yards, not counting the various notches.) The battle sight setting on the Springfield IS NOT MARKED as to what range it is set for. Even if you know it’s a “battlesight”, and try to hold off to compensate, how much should you hold off? (Most people who would even try this would guess it’s about 4-8 inches high at 100 yards, based on what range most battle sights are set for. That’s almost a YARD short of the actual needed hold off!)

    The Mauser the Springifeld was copied from had a 300 meter (IIRC) minimum setting — which would have been on the target frame at both 50 and 100 yards. A Mauser 98K has a sight setting that goes down to 100 meters — PLENTY close enough for hitting an 8″ target at 50 or 100 yards, just holding COM. BOTH of these sights have range markings, so you can LOOK at them and know they will be throwing high at 100 yards (you can even guesstimate an approximation of the delta, if you are familiar with the trajectory of almost ANY .30-ish caliber full bore battle rifle cartridge).

  36. Hey, Caleb. Rewatching the show and was wondering: where are you guys? It almost looks like Arizona on the open, but then the lushness tells me probably not.

    Also, how crazy is the NDA they made you sign?

  37. what kind of targets are you shooting that give off that kind of smoke? can you buy them? second, during the first elimination challenge, i am curious were the scopes used MIL DOT? if they were could the shooters have zeroed rifle @ practice and just used proper hold over? 400 yard zero yelds foot high @ 200

  38. what kind of targets are you shooting that give off that kind of smoke? can you buy them? second, during the first elimination challenge, i am curious were the scopes used MIL DOT? if they were could the shooters have zeroed rifle @ practice and just used proper hold over? 400 yard zero yelds approx foot high @ 200 and 4 ft low @ 600 yards with loads i use also, was quality HPBT match ammo used?

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