Top tips from 'Top Shot' finalist

Formerly an attorney, Mike Hughes was looking for a hobby several years ago and decided to pick up shooting. It turns out, he had a knack, which viewers of the History channel’s “Top Shot” reality competition got to see in the latest season to air, which had Hughes finishing second after a rarely seen return following an initial seventh-place elimination.

The cable TV channel committed to programming on the study of past events has steadily held cable viewers’ interest with “Top Shot,” where a variety of first-class shooters compete for a $100,000 grand prize and the “Top Shot” title. Hughes, 39, beat 14 other tactical shooting instructors, military vets, homeland security agents and more, ultimately earning second place, beat in the finale by Christian camp director Dustin Ellerman.

Today Hughes owns his own company and works in the firearms industry. His company, Next Level Training, introduced its dry-fire training pistol called the SIRT last year at SHOT Show. I asked him to share some behind-the-scenes details, and an insider look at the competition, plus tips on how to not necessarily be a “Top” shot, but perhaps a better one. Hughes shares more tips and tricks on training on his company’s blog: nextleveltraining.com/mikehughesblog.

Top tips

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6. Diversify: The season winner, Ellerman, owns a variety of guns and shoots them regularly. Hughes thinks that was an element Ellerman’s competitive edge. “I’m trying to adopt that methodology a bit more,” he adds. “Whenever I get the chance to fire a different type of gun, I jump at it ... just to get a little bit more trigger time.”

5. Pick add ons that make sense. Hughes says there aren’t many accessories that he relies on, but there are a few good items out there that add up. For example, Rapid Adaptation Technology Grips makes kits that can hyper-customize the handle on the gun. “RAT Grips makes the most sense for your retention and forming a pistol to your grip, your hand.” He has also used a CLP from Audemous Inc., FrogLube, which is a biodegradable, non-hazardous, non-toxic and non-flammable gun cleaner, lubricant and preservative.

4. Primitive weapons like rocks, rock. Hughes says he liked the primitive tools challenges and the expert they brought on, Jack Daggert, because the fundamentals he taught—dropping your hips, shifting weight, etc.—were all good skills to learn that can be applied to any “primitive” weapon. Hughes says he likes to know that whether or not he has a gun, he can always be armed.

3. Some firearm intimacy is vital. But not in the way you might think. “A challenging thing with ‘Top Shot’ is that we don’t supply our own guns. In another type of competition where a competitor is strictly liable for the equipment, they own it, they clean it, they maintain it, they know the number of rounds through it, and so on,” Hughes explains. “Obviously that’s not the case in a competition like this. When there’s equipment failure, that’s very frustrating — particularly at times when you feel it could have been prevented.”

2. Don’t be afraid to look in the ugly mirror. Hughes says to get outside your comfort zone and shoot in all varieties of conditions. “What I like about ‘Top Shot’ is you’re thrown out of your comfort zone and doing something completely different.” He says go beyond a flat range. Shoot prone in the mud. Get muddy and see how it changes your grip and shooting.

If you only shoot the firearms, targets, ranges that you’re comfortable with and good at, they will stay the only tools and environments you’re good in.

1. Tax the fundamentals. “[It’s] about trigger control, line-of-sight alignment, snapping the eyes, really strong gross motor movements coupled with some fine motor movements,” Hughes says of the basics. Keep engaging the basics to refine, and keep response swift and “train at a high volume to make sure your live fire rounds count more.”

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