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?"

• • •

Though he lives not far from his boyhood home in Maple Plain, Minn., Knapp has come a long way in his 56 years.

His sponsor list reads like a who's who of international shotgunning, and includes Twin Cities-based Federal Cartridge Co. And he travels the world giving shooting demonstrations for Benelli.

"I just returned from Italy and Bulgaria," he said.

Knapp holds three world shooting records. One, set in 2000 when he tossed eight clay targets into the air and broke them individually, was accomplished with a pump shotgun. The other, involving the 10 broken clays, was completed with a semi-auto scattergun.

But Knapp wasn't always "A Shooting Star," as he is now billed.

For 25 years, he worked for Hennepin County Parks, mostly in maintenance, all the while nursing his shooting dreams.

Back then, the cost of pushing as many as 150,000 rounds a year through his shotgun, some for practice, some for show, was his alone to pay.

"I traveled around, giving un-sponsored shooting shows for seven years," he said. "Those were pretty hard times, financially."

But Knapp had just enough of Parsons-the-showman in him to figure out that the media -- TV in particular -- could help him get where he wanted to go.

"I had a lot of TV guys come out to film me, some of them reluctantly at first," he said. "I remember Tom Ryther, the sportscaster, came out quite a few years ago. I broke clays in the air, vegetables, everything. Then, at the very end, I shot a gallon of gas I had rigged with a detonator. That got him excited."

On the road, Knapp often called a local TV station to tell them "you might want to send a cameraman" to his show.

When he had amassed enough video clips, Knapp packaged them for potential sponsors.

He caught a break in 1989 when Federal said it would supply him with shotgun shells. In 1991, Winchester offered the same booty, plus a little cash.

Knapp rode a bigger updraft still a couple of years later, when Benelli took him on. And he's now back with Federal.

• • •

These days, he travels nearly every weekend, leaving from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Friday mornings, or sometimes Thursday nights, flying to California, New York, and everywhere in between.

Accompanying him are four shotguns, a patch-laden shooting vest, a pair of amber shooting glasses, special hearing protection -- and a knack for busting clay targets.

"Most weekend shooting exhibitions involve Benelli dealers advertising ahead of time that I'm coming to town," Knapp said. "I come in, put on an exhibition, and the dealers have shotguns for everyone to try."

In Italy, he said, he's considered by many shooters to be a modern American John Wayne. Recently at the Italian Game Fair, he was mobbed by people trying to get his autograph.

"I was pushed up against a tractor," he said. "Finally, the only way I could escape was to crawl underneath the tractor and get out the other side."

Minnesota kids who grow up with a knack for shooting usually also are hunters. Knapp is no different. The owner of two Labrador retrievers, he loves to chase birds, a fitting interest now that he is also host of "Benelli's American Bird Hunter," a TV show that airs weekly on the Outdoor Channel.

"We do 26 episodes, and when we begin filming in the fall, I arrange to film on the Monday, Tuesday and sometimes Wednesday after I do a shooting exhibition," he said. "Then I fly home, change clothes, and fly out again."

As Knapp spoke, he reached for a handful of clays, advanced a few steps, and heaved them into the air. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop.

Six clays up, six clays broken.

Then he whipped the shotgun behind his head, and tickled the trigger that way -- also hitting the target.

"You want to try?" Knapp asked.

"Sure."

And I shot a few holes in the sky, sometimes breaking clay targets that were thrown.

Sometimes watching the targets break when they hit the ground.

Dennis Anderson danderson@startribune.com

Kids pull wacky stunts, and many of the them 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 (aka 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 not only 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?"

•••

Though he lives not far from his boyhood home in Maple Plain, Minn., Knapp has come a long way in his 56 years.

His sponsor list reads like a who's-who of international shotgunning, and includes Twin Cities based Federal Cartridge Co. And he travels the world giving shooting demonstrations for Benelli.

"I just returned from Italy and Bulgaria," he said.

Knapp holds three world shooting records. One, set in 2000 when he tossed eight clay targets into the air and broke them individually, was accomplished with a pump shotgun. The other, involving the 10 broken clays, was completed with a semi-auto scattergun.

But Knapp wasn't always "A Shooting Star," as he is now billed.

For 25 years, he worked for Hennepin County Parks, mostly in maintenance, all the while nursing his shooting dreams.

Back then, the cost of pushing as many as 150,000 rounds a year through his shotgun, some for practice, some for show, was his alone to pay.

"I traveled around, giving un-sponsored shooting shows for seven years," he said. "Those were pretty hard times, financially."

But Knapp had just enough of Parsons-the-showman in him to figure out that the media -- TV in particular -- could help him get where he wanted to go.

"I had a lot of TV guys come out to film me, some of them reluctantly at first," he said. "I remember Tom Ryther, the sportscaster, came out quite a few years ago. I broke clays in the air, vegetables, everything. Then, at the very end, I shot a gallon of gas I had rigged with a detonator. That got him excited."

On the road, Knapp often called a local TV station to tell them "you might want to send a cameraman" to his show.

When he had amassed enough video clips, Knapp packaged them for potential sponsors.

He caught a break in 1989 when Federal said it would supply him with shotgun shells. In 1991, Winchester offered the same booty, plus a little cash.

Knapp rode a bigger updraft still a couple of years later, when Benelli took him on. And he's now back with Federal.

These days, he travels nearly every weekend, leaving from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Friday mornings, or sometimes Thursday nights, flying to California, New York, and everywhere in between.

Accompanying him are four shotguns, a patch-laden shooting vest, a pair of amber shooting glasses, special hearing protection -- and a knack for busting clay targets.

"Most weekend shooting exhibitions involve Benelli dealers advertising ahead of time that I'm coming to town," Knapp said. "I come in, put on an exhibition, and the dealers have shotguns for everyone to try."

In Italy, he said, he's considered by many shooters to be a modern American John Wayne. Recently at the Italian Game Fair, he was mobbed by people trying to get his autograph.

"I was pushed up against a tractor," he said. "Finally, the only way I could escape was to crawl underneath the tractor and get out the other side,"

Minnesota kids who grow up with a knack for shooting usually also are hunters. Knapp is no different. The owner of two Labrador retrievers, he loves to chase birds, a fitting interest now that he is also host of "Benelli's American Bird Hunter," a TV show that airs weekly on the Outdoor Channel.

"We do 26 episodes, and when we begin filming in the fall, I arrange to film on the Monday, Tuesday and sometimes Wednesday after I do a shooting exhibition," he said. "Then I fly home, change clothes, and fly out again."

As Knapp spoke, he reached for a handful of clays, advanced a few steps, and heaved them into the air. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop.

Six clays up, six clays broken.

Then he whipped the shotgun behind his head, and tickled the trigger that way -- also hitting the target.

"You want to try?" Knapp asked.

"Sure."

And I shot a few holes in the sky, sometimes breaking clay targets that were thrown.

  • related content

  • 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...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Philadelphia 24 FINAL
Washington 27
San Diego 38 FINAL
San Francisco 35
Minnesota 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Phoenix 99 FINAL
New York 90
Portland 114 FINAL
New Orleans 88
Utah 86 FINAL
Charlotte 104
Atlanta 104 FINAL
Houston 97
San Antonio 93 FINAL
Dallas 99
Indiana 73 FINAL
Denver 76
Milwaukee 102 FINAL
LA Clippers 106
Arizona 2 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Colorado 5 FINAL
Buffalo 1
Philadelphia 7 FINAL
Toronto 4
Ottawa 1 FINAL
Montreal 4
Washington 4 FINAL
New Jersey 0
Tampa Bay 1 FINAL
NY Islanders 3
Florida 1 FINAL
Pittsburgh 3
NY Rangers 3 FINAL(SO)
Carolina 2
Chicago 2 FINAL(SO)
Columbus 3
Nashville 6 FINAL(OT)
Minnesota 5
Calgary 2 FINAL(OT)
Vancouver 3
St. Louis 2 FINAL(OT)
San Jose 3
VA Commonwealth 68 FINAL
Cincinnati 47
Charlotte 78 FINAL
Georgetown 81
SMU 62 FINAL
Michigan 51
Louisville 76 FINAL
Western Ky 67
Mount St Marys 45 FINAL
American Univ 46
Abilene Christian 33 FINAL
Boise State 77
UMass Lowell 63 FINAL
Duquesne 79
South Alabama 65 FINAL
IUPUI 71
Ohio State 74 FINAL
North Carolina 82
Massachusetts 65 FINAL
Providence 85
Syracuse 77 FINAL
Villanova 82
Citadel 61 FINAL
Virginia Tech 64
Belmont 73 FINAL
Fairfield 61
St Bonaventure 69 FINAL
Binghamton 51
Montreat 64 FINAL
Campbell 90
Delaware 74 FINAL
Fair-Dickinson 76
South Florida 62 FINAL
Florida State 75
Vanderbilt 60 FINAL
Georgia Tech 65
SC State 71 FINAL
Houston 63
Missouri 59 FINAL
Illinois 62
Truett-McConnell 55 FINAL
Jacksonville 84
Toledo 83 FINAL
McNeese State 69
Elon 71 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 64
Drexel 68 FINAL
Penn State 73
St Francis-PA 73 FINAL
Rutgers 68
Albany 64 FINAL
Yale 60
PSU-Beaver 74 FINAL
Longwood 106
Eastern Ill 60 FINAL
Indiana State 56
Indiana 82 FINAL
Butler 73
Marshall 58 FINAL
Arkansas State 67
Lafayette 69 FINAL
Kansas 96
Oral Roberts 63 FINAL
Memphis 78
Western Mich 61 FINAL
Northwestern 67
Delaware State 70 FINAL
Oregon 83
Fla Atlantic 56 FINAL
St Francis-NY 61
Arkansas Tech 57 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 94
Howard Payne 50 FINAL
Texas-Arlington 89
UMBC 66 FINAL
Kennesaw St 53
St Josephs (IN) 54 FINAL
Chicago State 76
Eastern Mich 77 FINAL
Missouri State 65
UCLA 44 FINAL
Kentucky 83
UC Davis 81 FINAL
Air Force 75
Houston Baptist 67 FINAL
UC Riverside 78
Davidson 80 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 68
USC Upstate 53 FINAL
Miss State 51
NC Central 94 FINAL
Miss Valley St 60
Illinois State 77 FINAL
Murray State 89
Louisiana 85 FINAL
Northwestern St 89
Oakland 77 FINAL
Pittsburgh 81
Detroit 55 FINAL
Rhode Island 69
Presbyterian 60 FINAL
UT Martin 77
Monmouth 74 FINAL
Wagner 66
Southern U 39 FINAL
Wyoming 57
Iowa State 83 FINAL
Drake 54
Wake Forest 50 FINAL
Florida 63
High Point 80 FINAL
James Madison 71
Texas Southern 71 FINAL
Michigan State 64
New Hampshire 60 FINAL
Sacred Heart 73
Northeastern 78 FINAL
Santa Clara 72
Huston-Tillotson 56 FINAL
Texas State 90
Purdue 63 FINAL
Notre Dame 94
Prairie View 44 FINAL
Sam Houston St 61
Xavier 88 FINAL
Auburn 89
Bluffton 53 FINAL
Akron 92
NJIT 84 FINAL
Central Conn St 76
Hofstra 77 FINAL
Columbia 82
Boston Univ 62 FINAL
Dayton 78
Iona 81 FINAL
George Mason 86
Valparaiso 75 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 72
Texas A&M 64 FINAL
Kansas State 71
Morgan State 69 FINAL
Manhattan 73
Saint Josephs 75 FINAL
Marist 58
East Carolina 54 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 66
Richmond 65 FINAL
Pepperdine 63
La Salle 67 FINAL
Towson 53
Incarnate Word 110 FINAL
UMKC 104
CS-Bakersfield 59 FINAL
Idaho State 50
Iowa 44 FINAL
Northern Iowa 56
Milwaukee 56 FINAL
SIU Edwardsville 61
Long Beach State 68 FINAL
Texas 78
TX-San Antonio 57 FINAL
TCU 88
SE Missouri St 67 FINAL
Arkansas 84
Lehigh 84 FINAL
Arizona State 81
New Mexico 69 FINAL
New Mexico St 67
Oklahoma 67 FINAL
Washington 69
Utah Valley U 61 FINAL
Weber State 73
Jacksonville St 60 FINAL
Northern Colorado 69
St Edwards 55 FINAL
Grand Canyon 81
NC State 69 FINAL
West Virginia 83
TX A&M-CC 75 FINAL
CS-Northridge 68
Cal Poly 50 FINAL
Gonzaga 63
Fresno State 68 FINAL
Pacific 71
Montana State 60 FINAL
Portland 87
Ball State 57 FINAL
San Diego St 70
South Dakota St 68 FINAL
Utah State 65
Stanford 77 FINAL
BYU 79
Utah 59 FINAL
UNLV 46
Nevada 3 FINAL
Louisiana 16
Utah State 21 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 6
(23) Utah 45 FINAL
Colorado State 10
Western Mich 24 FINAL
Air Force 38
South Alabama 28 FINAL
Bowling Green 33
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Livingstone 77 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 81
Loyola-Chicago 58 FINAL
Dartmouth 70
Georgia Tech 65 FINAL
St Francis-NY 59
Auburn 49 FINAL
St Johns 56
East Tenn St 56 FINAL
Jacksonville St 57
Western Mich 71 FINAL
Detroit 57
Cal-Irvine 42 FINAL
Wright State 80
Gardner-Webb 47 FINAL
Kennesaw St 50
(7) Stanford 40 FINAL
(11) Tennessee 59
Alabama A&M 47 FINAL
Ole Miss 71
Central Michigan 45 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 80
Nebraska Omaha 50 FINAL
Creighton 67
FIU 69 FINAL
Western Carolina 83
Houston 65 FINAL
Nicholls 47
St Thomas Aquinas 45 FINAL
Army 70
St Bonaventure 72 FINAL
Niagara 60
Texas State 57 FINAL
Stetson 75
George Mason 65 FINAL
ULM 53
Grambling 38 FINAL
Kansas State 61
Missouri 79 FINAL
Wake Forest 64
Robert Morris 59 FINAL
Cornell 70
Air Force 44 FINAL
Abilene Christian 80
Hampton 53 FINAL
James Madison 85
American Univ 64 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 52
Texas Southern 63 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 68
Tenn Tech 49 FINAL
NC A&T 54
Presbyterian 45 FINAL
NC Central 33
Penn 58 FINAL
Drexel 67
Lipscomb 38 FINAL
Xavier 62
Vermont 40 FINAL
Green Bay 60
Charleston Southern 70 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 80
Ohio Christian 62 FINAL
Akron 97
Jacksonville 62 FINAL
Murray State 80
(17) Rutgers 66 FINAL
Iona 58
Indiana 88 FINAL
Oakland 61
Indiana State 64 FINAL
SMU 55
Denver 51 FINAL
Purdue 65
TX-San Antonio 48 FINAL
Texas Tech 64
UCF 57 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 79
Campbell 66 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 55
Florida A&M 67 FINAL
SE Louisiana 69
Northwestern St 61 FINAL
Jackson State 62
Lehigh 61 FINAL
Arizona State 81
Valparaiso 65 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 77
Liberty 60 FINAL
Minnesota 74
Wofford 60 FINAL
North Florida 68
Montana State 61 FINAL
Washington St 82
Marshall 56 FINAL
(22) West Virginia 69
Morgan State 40 FINAL
Chattanooga 55
Northeastern 65 FINAL
Harvard 67
Furman 51 FINAL
(15) Georgia 58
(18) Michigan State 65 FINAL
(9) Baylor 84
Ohio U 52 FINAL
Massachusetts 59
Prairie View 48 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 86
Toledo 64 FINAL
Southern Ill 48
High Point 57 FINAL
(12) Nebraska 83
Winthrop 20 FINAL
Wichita State 66
William Jewell 59 FINAL
UMKC 51
Louisiana Tech 52 FINAL
Utah 67
Southern Utah 51 FINAL
Gonzaga 70
Hawaii 85 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 76
San Jose St 62 FINAL
San Francisco 77
CS-Northridge 65 FINAL
San Diego State 54
Norfolk State 36 FINAL
East Carolina 65
Saint Peters 49 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 59
Arizona 60 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 72
Northwestern 92 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 44
Oral Roberts 52 FINAL
Wisconsin 70
Florida Atlantic 44 FINAL
New Mexico St 57
La Salle 76 FINAL
Georgia State 68
(16) Oregon State 73 FINAL
Nevada 50
Sacred Heart 72 FINAL
Villanova 49
Delaware 59 FINAL
Cincinnati 67
Troy 75 FINAL
Tennessee St 71
Saint Louis 68 FINAL
Utah Valley U 66
Washington 74 FINAL
UC-Riverside 71
Pacific 43 FINAL
Long Beach St 53
Old Dominion 69 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 63
Austin Peay 62 FINAL
Montana 83
Lewis-Clark State 48 FINAL
Idaho 74
(21) Miss State 73 FINAL
Illinois-Chicago 36
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close