Dennis Anderson: Knapp a worldwide shooting star

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 24, 2007 - 9:41 AM

Tom Knapp grew up in Maple Plain, inspired by the nation's fancy shooters. He then grew up to become one, traveling the world to show off his marksmanship tricks.

Kids pull wacky stunts, and many of the ones Tom Knapp pulled as a youngster involved guns. He shot the heads off dandelions, blew up cucumbers, and, generally, plinked away at anything he perceived to be a target, moving or stationary.

All the while, he dreamed.

Not of being a professional basketball player. Or starring as a pitcher on a baseball team.

But of being a trick shooter. Or what more appropriately today is called an exhibition shooter.

Throughout his childhood, Tom Knapp studied the lives and times of America's great shooters, from Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickock, to Phoebe Mozee (a k a Annie Oakley), Adams Bogardus and Adolph Topperwin.

But it was Herb Parsons, the great exhibition shooter for Winchester, who really fueled Knapp's imagination.

Parsons was born in Tennessee in 1908 and became a one-man traveling wonder after World War II.

He was the first wingshot to toss seven clay pigeons into the air and break each individually, with seven shots, before they hit the ground. He also could hold a handful of eggs between his legs, drop them, spin around and with a shotgun splatter each separately in the air.

And he was dead-on with a rifle.

Or rifles.

Using a mirror and two single-projectile firearms, or rifles, he could break two targets simultaneously, one in front of him, one behind.

"Throughout my young life, that's what I dreamed about, exhibition shooting," Knapp said. "Later, entering manhood, I still dreamed about it. I couldn't get rid of it."

As Knapp spoke one morning last week, he stood in the back yard of his Twin Cities ex-urban home, shotgun in hand.

He's a big guy with a handlebar mustache and booming voice; personal accoutrements that might not benefit his shooting, but help make him the showman he is -- just as his hero, Herb Parsons, was a showman.

"That was the thing about Parsons, he knew how to put on a show, and he was quick with his wit," Knapp said. "A great entertainer."

Yet whatever Parsons' accomplishments, Knapp seems to have surpassed them. He has tossed seven clay pigeons into the air and broken them, one at a time, before they hit the ground.

He's done the same with eight, nine and ... yes, 10 clay targets.

"But remember, Herb Parsons only shot seven because the factory-issue Winchester he used -- a Model 12 -- only held seven shots," Knapp said. "Who knows what he could have done" -- Knapp held up one of a half-dozen Benellis that lay on a table in front of him -- "with one of these?"

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  • The Tom Knapp file

    Saturday June 23, 2007

    Hometown: Maple Plain, Minn.Present home: Twin CitiesAge: 56World records: Three, all with a shotgun. The only person to break 10...

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