I met up with former Top Shot competitor Jake Zweig this weekend on a range just north of San Antonio, Texas. RF had some questions that needed answering and I had an itchy trigger finger. So off we went . . .
Checking into the range and paying the toll gave me instant insight into Jake’s life since Top Shot. The owner of the range was standing behind the counter taking people’s money, wearing a t-shirt with the Top Shot logo. As soon as we walked into the shop, Jake (and his football buddy who was meeting us there) took one look at the shirt and started snickering.
The guy behind the counter looked at him for a second before declaring “I know you from somewhere.” All three of us did our best to not point at his shirt as he stood there trying to figure it out. According to Jake, he gets a lot of C-list celebrity recognition. In the drive through line at a Whataburger the guy behind him started screaming “Hey! Top Shot!” From the way Jake tells it, the attention doesn’t seem entirely unwelcome.
Once we left the office and headed out to the range, Jake shared one of the more memorable incidents during the filming.
During the episode with the Volquartsen custom rifle (Episode 7), as the competitors headed downrange, Colby Donaldson decided to pick up the .22lr rifle and aim it downrange. Competitors whose lives were in imminent danger protested Colby’s actions. Colby dismissed their concern by pointing out that the gun was unloaded.
Obviously, that little moment didn’t make the final cut. Equally unsurprising, Jake says Top Shot was edited to emphasize the drama in the house. Not that there wasn’t drama; Jake made no bones about his “psyops” campaign against the other shooters, and credits it with keeping him out of elimination challenges. But Jake insists that he was demonized post facto.
In addition to the editing-related knee-capping, Jake hinted that there may have been some “issues” with the equipment. Specifically, he highlighted the mucho expensivo raceguns that led to his abrupt departure from the show.
Jake said that the competition with the SV Infinity Sight Tracker race guns was one of the only times where each competitor had their own gun. No one was allowed the time to properly tune them; they were fresh out of the box.
That led to failure to feed malfunctions that varied depending on the luck of the draw (which gun Top Shot‘s producers assigned to a competitor). Jake reckons he got a dud, which cost Jake the event. Jake doesn’t go as far as Ashley (who claimed that the show was rigged), but he does think that the contest was inherently unfair.
More generally, Jake sees Top Shot as soap opera with some shooting thrown in for good measure, rather than a true marksmanship contest. He says producers use the competition give the show gravitas–-that it doesn’t deserve.
When we opened up our gun cases Jake whipped out one of his prize possessions: a Ruger P-85 that he’s owned since he was 16. Jake says that the ability to carry the P-85 without engaging a manual safety combined with the magazine size (being a double stack 9mm) makes it his ideal carry gun. I’ll agree to disagree on that point, but one thing I can’t deny was that it shot like a dream. Well, better than my 1987 Sig P226.
As we’ve advised before for anyone running a DA/SA gun for self defense, Jake spent at least half of the range trip working on that first double action trigger pull. Jake said it: the first shot is the one that counts the most. He wanted to get it right. After shooting at some standard targets, the Z Man moved on to some slightly less abstract targets.
Jake claims this is the way the SEALS practice; shooting real people seems much easier after practicing with a person’s head actually in your sight picture.
As we shot the breeze between strings, I learned that Jake’s first gun was a single shot .22lr rifle. He prefers 9mm over 45 solely for capacity reasons. His first range trips were some unauthorized visits to the local military base organized by his father.
But the most important thing I learned was that Jake isn’t quite the monster he appeared to be on national TV. He’s a down to earth kind of guy, someone who will gladly share his ammo or guns with fellow shooters and offer constructive advice wherever he can. In short, he’s a good guy who fell afoul of his own hype, egged on and edited by a TV crew bent on impugning his character.
At SHOT show this year, Crimson Trace held a get-together on the show floor with free booze and just about every Top Shot competitor. A number of the former cast members have been shilling for gun companies; nearly all of them have been offered deals to be spokespeople.
I asked Jake if he had received any similar offers. He shook his head. Jake’s slipped back into his old life, working as a football coach at UIW under his mentor Larry Kennan. Except now he gets recognized on the street. It’s too bad Jake’s casual admirers didn’t get to see the Jake Zweig I saw on the range. I think they’d like him.