Texas-born Travis Mears still owns the 20-gauge shotgun that he mastered at age 9 after watching his dad shoot targets for years at their local shooting range.
“I grew up out there watching my dad and his buddies,” the 31-year-old trick shot artist said. “As soon as I could hold up a shotgun I started to practice. … I’ve spent my entire life at the range.”
Starting Friday at Game Fair in Ramsey, Mears will demonstrate where it got him.
In 40-minute shows twice each day at Armstrong Ranch Kennels, the former collegiate shotgunning champion will blow up fruit, eggs, vegetables, cans of shaving cream, a soccer ball and piles of clay targets.
He’ll fire while hanging upside down, jumping on a trampoline, holding a shotgun backward, behind his back, over his head and while standing 5 yards in front of oncoming, machine-fired clay targets. He’ll rip through 350 to 400 shells per show and use a backup shotgun when the first one overheats.
“It’s a fun, very active show,” he said in a telephone interview from his home in Aledo, Texas. “I include everything you can imagine with a shotgun and some things you can’t imagine.”
Mears has performed trick shots for audiences since he was 17 or 18 years old. The hobby is a sidelight to sporting clays competitions and the operation of his very own shooting range in Fort Worth. His passion for shooting sports and shotgunning has taken him into every corner of the country, but he’s never before been to Game Fair, a dog-friendly event that drew 45,000 visitors of all ages last year.
The annual outdoor sports extravaganza 5 miles west of Anoka is in its 37th year and will once again be packed with more than 300 exhibitors spread over a broad expanse of land and water. The milieu will include another trick shot artist — exhibition archer Frank Addington Jr., also of Texas and also making his Game Fair debut. Addington is known as the “aspirin buster.”
All in the family
Mears said his career was shaped by his father, an insurance salesman who recognized and supported his son’s earliest interest in shotgun accuracy, including youth competitions through 4-H and the Scholastic Clay Target Program. “He just really supported me,” Mears said.
Now his biggest fans are his wife of eight years, Raelynn; their daughter, Lakynn, 3; and their son, River. The clan follows to many of the 20 to 25 trick shot exhibitions that Mears performs each year, but Mears will be solo at Game Fair because River is only four months old. Game Fair happens over back-to-back weekends, and Mears will display his trigger work on all six days.
“They are my biggest cheerleaders,” he said.
If you ever watched ESPN’s “Great Outdoor Games” series, you could have seen Mears walk away with the event’s gold medal in 2004. His shooting also was televised once by NBC Sports.
Mears was a shooting pro teammate of Scott Robertson on Team Beretta at a young age, and it was Robertson who introduced Mears to trick shooting. John Bauer was the Beretta team manager at the time, and Mears said he “mouthed off” to him that he wanted a gig as a one-man headliner.
“A short time later he surprised me by saying, ‘You’ve got your first show in two months,’ ” Mears recalled. “I stacked up the targets and shells and went to work. The rest is history.”
Bread and butter
Mears still actively competes as a pro clay target shooter. His pedigree was as a five-time national collegiate champion on teams fielded by Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., as a scholarship shooter. He won 12 individual national titles in those years and returned to Texas with an MBA.
His first day job was as a Nationwide Insurance salesman, but he soon latched onto real estate work with the billionaire Bass family of Fort Worth. During seven years of employment there as an in-house “land man,” he also yearned to run his own shooting range.
Six months ago, his dream came true when he opened Defender Outdoors Clay Sports Ranch on 160 acres of land leased inside a 1,500-acre ranch on the west side of Fort Worth. That’s his mainstay now. In a Google search of Texas news sites, there was but one story about noise concerns from neighbors. Otherwise, the project’s unfolding has enjoyed clear sailing, remarkably free of controversy or government interference.
“Texas is pretty friendly to shooting ranges and shooting sports,” Mears said.
He said the industry’s growth isn’t limited to the well-documented explosion of participation at the high school level, including groups organized by youth associations. Clay target shooting tournaments for adults, corporate charity events and league play feed the expansion in other ways.
“The number of shooters has increased,” Mears said. “It’s only growing more every year.’’