Dan Thorngren, V.P. Information Technology at Rock Island Auction Company writes:
Few names have the privilege of being mentioned at the pinnacle of exhibition and quick draw shooting. “Little Sure Shot” Annie Oakley is sure to be on the list, along with Bob Munden, Ed McGivern, the Fabulous Topperweins, D.A. “Jelly” Bryce, Herb Parsons, Dr. W.F. Carver, Howard Darby, Arvo Ojala, A.H. Bogardus, and more modern shooters such as Jerry Miculek and even YouTube sensation Kirsten Joy Weiss. However today’s article will be on a shooter whose infectious positive attitude, unmatched ambassadorship, and uncanny marksmanship made him a favorite of many a sportsman and collector: Mr. Tom Knapp . . .
Recognized as one of the finest and most accomplished trick shooters of the modern era, Tom was as impressive with his showmanship and likability as he was with a firearm. Unfortunately, Mr, Knapp left us on April 26, 2013. He left us with a shining example of what a shooter and brand ambassador should strive to be. Thankfully, many of Tom’s shooting feats have been recorded on video to inspire future generations, just as Herb Parsons unknowingly inspired him at the tender age of 10.
Something that should also inspire future aspiring or established exhibition shooters: the chance to possess some of the firearms used and owned by this shooting legend. Rock Island Auction Company is proud to present the Tom Knapp Collection of firearms in our February 2014 Regional Firearms Auction.
Tom was born Sept 30, 1950 in Maple Plain, Minnesota, the youngest of five children to Howard and Virginia Knapp. Tom and his buddies tried to replicate the feats of the legendary shotgun shooter Herb Parsons by throwing dirt clods in the air and trying to shoot them with their BB guns. In a 2008 interview with the Pioneer Press, Knapp revealed a thought that crossed his young mind. “If you can do it once, you know it’s possible, so you should be able to do it every time,” and if Herb Parsons didn’t set the hook deep enough, his determination would. In 2007 Tom told Field & Stream that, “From that day on, I dreamed about making a living with a shotgun.” that dream would take time to achieve . . .
In the 1970’s Tom would take himself to the St. Anthony Gun Club to shoot in leagues – a surprisingly common pasttime for such an extraordinary shooter. He would eventually take work for the Hennepin County, Minnesota Parks Department (later the Three Rivers Park District), a job he would hold for 25 years. Toward the end of his tenure with the parks department, his requests for sponsorship being answered, he could finally make enough money to step away from that job and tour full time as an exhibition shooter.
Tom’s sponsors included Winchester Olin, Federal Cartridge, Benelli, and CZ. Perhaps best known as the spokesman of Benelli, Tom worked as an ambassador for the shotgun manufacturer for 18 years, even hosting their “Benelli’s American Bird Hunter” for eight years, and undoubtedly inspiring thousands of Benelli purchases (like this author’s first shotgun – a Benelli Super Nova). Turns out he wasn’t too bad a shot with a rifle either.
Tom’s gentle demeanor, practice, and showmanship were just as noteworthy as his work ethic; Tom would often perform in as many as 100 shows a year, always staying after to sign kids’ hats, and setting three World Records with Benelli shotguns. Since he broke one of his own world records, he currently holds two.
2. Individually breaking TEN hand-tossed clays in 2.2 seconds was set on October 10, 2004, during a demonstration in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, breaking his previous 1993 record of nine.
It would not be long after setting his record for ten clays that Tom would be inducted into the Shooters Hall of Fame at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming in 2005.
Tom was destined to be a showman. With his booming baritone, contagious excitement and friendly demeanor, watching him shoot was like watching a favorite uncle or an old family friend even if you had never personally met him. If you haven’t seen any of Tom’s videos take the time to watch the following tribute made by his friend and cameraman for 7 years, Jason Steussy. It’s a fitting tribute to the man and if it doesn’t make you smile, not much will.
After starting, as Tom puts it, at, “9 years old, a Daisy BB gun, and an ugly dog,” he led quite the charmed life: working outdoors, then going on to live his dream and make a living with his shotgun, starting a family, and enjoying the quiet times away from his exhibition shooting by fishing, working on food plots, hunting, spending time with his grandkids, and grooming the walking trails on his property.
His talent was a tribute to those western shooters of another era; both it and his good nature will be long missed by those who saw him perform and especially by those fortunate enough to be close to him.
Click here to see all the items in the Tom Knapp Collection, including seven Taurus revolvers.