In his early days as a professional trick shooter, Patrick Flanigan called himself an exhibition shooter, but he soon realized he wanted to direct his shows to kids, to get them more involved in the shooting sports. So he ramped up his act to make it more youthful, fast-paced and extreme. Now he bills himself as an “Xtreme Sport Shooter.”
Flanigan prepares for his job as he would for any other sport. “I treat myself like an athlete,” he explains. “I eat better. I train. I weight lift and work out. I do things that are going to make myself stronger.” It is this training, he believes, that allows him to shoot faster and more accurately from ever greater distances and from a variety of shooting postures. “It is,” says Flanigan, “an energetic approach to the trick-shooting sports.”
Flanigan’s shows are equally energetic. Music plays a big part, particularly the rocking music of his friend, country singer Aaron Tippin. But that’s just the beginning. “I get people with exploding things, shooting stuff, confetti cans. You name it, it’s up in the air,” he says with a chuckle.
An Early Start
Flanigan grew up in a family of shooters and hunters. By age 6, he was following his father around on rabbit hunts. He loved being in the outdoors, even though he wasn’t yet allowed to shoot on a hunt. After being coached by his dad, however, he was allowed to shoot a .410 shotgun at stationary targets. “That’s where I got my start, and that’s where the passion started,” says Flanigan.
By the time he was 16, Flanigan and his friends were challenging each other to see who could shoot the smallest object with a .22 rifle: an aspirin, for instance, or a small stationary object from 200 yards. They were all good shots, so the winner changed from one challenge to the next. “I thought everyone could do it because I had friends that could do it, too,” says Flanigan. “It’s just what we did.”
Flanigan was 22 before he became serious about becoming a professional shooter. As part of a college class on business marketing, he studied the concept of turning oneself into a product and selling it. Flanigan’s thoughts turned to a television show with a specialty trick shot in each episode. “It was really not with the intention of being a trick shooter,” he insists. “It was no different than I did at 16. It was just fun and a little extra flair for the show.”
Soon he had the interest of sponsors—but their interest was in trick shooting, not the TV show. With their encouragement, he started seeing himself in the role of a trick shooter. “That’s when I started putting it together,” says Flanigan.
The Show Circuit
When Flanigan started his professional sport-shooting career, he did 100 live shows a year. It was tough being on the road so much, but at the time he was unmarried and didn’t mind the brutal schedule. Today, with a wife and daughter, he has cut that number to a more reasonable 40 to 50 shows—and he takes his family with him. “If I couldn’t have my family with me on the road, I’d quit,” says Flanigan. Fortunately, his family enjoys the busy lifestyle. “My wife does all my organizing,” says Flanigan, “scheduling, audio stuff and the computer for the audio stuff. She does all my apparel. So we’ve got a team thing, and we have a ton of fun doing it. It’s great.”
Also in the “great” category is entertaining audiences. “The payoff for me,” says Flanigan, “is when I can go stand in front of an audience, and all those 30-hour trips that we have to drive—and that are so hard on you—pay off when you get that one hour of ‘this is what it’s all about.’ It’s the most incredible feeling to put a smile on people’s faces.”
And put a smile on their faces is what he does. Flanigan puts on a show for all ages, be it a 95-year-old man or a 6-year-old child, making sure everyone is having a good time. “It’s a wild shotgun party,” he says, laughing. But his main focus is on the kids, who all get to sit up front. And, says Flanigan, “I have youth come up into the show, and I use them to throw things, I talk to them and I try to include them as much as possible”
Less great, but necessary, is the amount of travel—even for someone who loves to be on the go. “I put on 150,000 miles a year in a pickup truck,” says Flanigan. “It’s tough on me. It’s tough on everyone who’s traveling with me.”
Practice Makes Perfect
When Flanigan was trying to attract his first sponsor, he shot as much as 125,000 practice rounds a year. Talk about dedication! These days, road trips take up so much of his time, he shoots in the range of 20,000 to 25,000 practice shots a year—except when he’s creating a new routine or trying to break a record. Then, says Flanigan, “I’ll go out like I used to, from 8:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night, until I have that thing mastered.”
Is It for You?
Is extreme sport shooting or exhibition shooting the career choice for you? Ask yourself a few questions. Are you passionate about shooting? Are you committed to practice, practice, practice until you get it right? Are you friendly and outgoing? Could you enjoy speaking to and performing in front of large crowds? If you answered “yes” to all four questions, trick shooting may be the “cool job” in your future.