The proliferation of Internet video channels featuring knowledgeable hosts sharing engaging ﬁrearms content has added new ﬁrepower to our computers, tablets and phones.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY OLEG VOLK
The best job, people say, is doing what you love. A similar saying goes, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
For decades, ﬁrearms aﬁcionados have successfully found ways to combine their passions with proﬁt. Some became manufacturers or gunsmiths, or opened retail gun shops. Some sought work as trail and hunting guides so they could spend the maximum amount of time armed and outdoors. Others turned to sharing their knowledge and experience for a variety of print publications, and still later, radio and television programs. For those who sought to expand their hobbies into full-time employment, it was nice work if they could get it.
That same time-honored tradition of “working at what you love” continued as the 20th century became the 21st, but in some diﬀerent ways. Today, a new generation of ﬁrearm fans seeking knowledge or information is as likely to access a computer search engine as they are to tune in a broadcast program or pick up a print magazine [Editor’s note: We think magazines are still pretty awesome], so it’s logical that many of the current outdoor industry’s most popular “media” personalities got their start online.
Like those who came before them, these social media mavens began as ﬁrearm fans before ever posting a blog or uploading a video. Far from killing the romance, this transition enabled them to do more of what they love and to bring their passions to the world. And while outsiders often erroneously perceive members of the traditional gun culture as stodgy and standoﬃsh, these new ambassadors are welcoming and engaging to wide and diverse audiences.
IAN MCCULLUM, the author of Forgotten Weapons blog and channel, started shooting while in school and continued recreationally afterward, often hanging out with collectors, where he learned by listening and reading. In 2010, a French friend who had some unique manuals and drawings of Pedersen devices – not just for M1903 Springﬁeld but also for M1917, Mosin, and Lebel – died. All of his info, including these unique and irreplaceable documents, were discarded by his family. That event prompted Ian and his friend Karl to begin to archive historic information about arms for the education of future enthusiasts, and his Forgotten Weapons blog was born. A supporting video channel launched in 2011.
Forgotten Weapons deals with historic and mechanical information in an academic format, rather than rely on ﬂashy Tannerite or exploding watermelons. The appeal to viewers worldwide, in turn, gives access to more gear. As the blog and channel’s reputation grew, museums and private collections became more readily available for perusal. Rock Island Auctions and the James D. Julia Auction Company gave Ian access to numerous unique arms all at once. The rise in viewership to 445,000 subscribers, and the promotional value of work done with auction companies turned a labor of love into a self-supporting enterprise. In addition to his own blog and video channel, Ian writes an “Exploded view” column for American Riﬂeman. On the extra-serious side, he is a technical forensic adviser to the Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners (AFTE.org).
TIM HARMSEN was taught to shoot by his uncle in the early 1980s, and he became a regular reader of Guns & Ammo, Combat Arms and several other print publications. Tim began collecting ﬁrearms in 1985 with a Ruger 10/22 bought by his mother. A Colt AR-15 Sporter and a Government Model 1911 came the following year, and more have shown up regularly since then.
He launched the Military Arms Channel (MAC) in 2008, originally making short videos about new guns he had purchased or to illustrate points made on one of the many discussion forums of the era. Thanks to the breadth of his own collection and to substantial industry support, he has been able to feature many weapons that otherwise we would have only been able to see in video games.
At the time of his launch, he was very active on the forums, posting reviews of personally owned guns and accessories. Slowly, he switched to making videos and posting links instead of writing the posts. More and more people liked the videos, asked for more and started subscribing. Tim increased the frequency of his videos, while maintaining independence from manufacturers. He does not accept money for favorable videos or product placements; he only reports on things he owns and shoots. Unlike other “traditional” reviews, MAC videos often delve into minutia down to the level of “this screw turns left and this one turns right.” In a nutshell, Tim records range sessions using items of personal interest, and brings viewers along through the camera.
For 20 years Tim worked as an advertising executive at Omnicom companies and Hearst, both prominent international companies. Then he traded that career for doing what he loves, shooting and ﬁrearms, and hasn’t looked back. The big pay cut was compensated by his passion being fed, and being happy to wake up and go to work every morning. The Military Arms Channel – which currently has 545,000 subscribers and many more occasional viewers – Copper Custom Armament and the Full30.com ﬁrearm video hosting site have comprised Tim’s full time work for the last two years.
DAVID NASH, better known to the social media universe as 22plinkster, has been shooting since age 5. His video production experience goes back to December 2011, when he rose to a dare by a friend about hitting a golf ball with a bullet at 100 yards and documenting the process on video. He hadn’t planned for fame, but 300-plus videos and 380,000 subscribers later, fame has clearly found him. Fifteen months ago he was able to turn “pro,” working mainly with Henry Repeating Arms, Vista Outdoors and the Sonoran Desert Institute.
The 22plinkster channel features mainly trick shots, gun reviews and “redneck” science (for example, how many balloons or silly string cans in a row would a .22 bullet penetrate?). He also does new product announcements, often getting to see preproduction samples long before anyone else in the industry. As with the other creators, David gets to have fun for a living, a nice gig indeed! Being able to lean over the porch railing with a lever action, make steel ring in the distance and call it the day’s work sounds pretty good to me.
While David possesses the technical skills required for much more sophisticated video productions, he has deliberately maintained the look of a backyard hobbyist on all of his pieces. Often shot with a single camera, the simple, accessible look and feel of his stories invites and encourages viewers to get into the game as well. Like many people in the outdoor industry, 22plinkster is supportive and cooperative rather than competitive, subscribing to “the more, the merrier” view. His goals include expanding the shooting sports, the attendant culture and the supporting industry, and most other members of the gun-themed new media hold the same values.
THE MAN KNOWN AS HICKOK45 may be the most reclusive of the currently popular online video personalities. His desire for privacy is easy to understand when you consider that a few of the 2.5 million subscribers occasionally turn up on his doorstep to worship the celebrity in person. That kind of attention, while ﬂattering, can creep out the family. Plus, at 6 foot 8 inches tall, he’s pretty distinctive, so we’ll use his screen name here as well.
A retired gentleman of leisure now, Hickok45 has shot guns all his life. He’s also always enjoyed photography, and was an early adopter of digital. When decent-quality pocket digital cameras became available, he always carried one. It was with the humble pocket camera that his ﬁrst video, now at a million views, was made. All it showed were ﬁve shots taken at a steel buﬀalo target with the .45 Colt SAA – but the viewers loved it. He made several silly videos back in 2006 – including ﬁlming himself shooting metal targets through the open doors of his car – mostly just fooling around. That was one of ﬁrst things he posted on YouTube, thinking that was just for “silly stuﬀ.”
Later, when teaching the novel Shane at a school where he taught for 23 years, he decided to ﬁlm “cowboy” guns in action and show the video in class so his students could see what arms the title character carried and used. That piece and a couple of Glock videos produced an unexpectedly high volume of positive feedback, encouraging him to make more content.
Neither he nor his son knew how to edit video at the time, so they just turned on the camera and let it run. They soon realized, just like 22plinkster did, that the simplicity and realism were a key part of his appeal to the viewers. Hickok45 had no idea that YouTube paid anybody, and so had no intention of making money from his channel. But a year into it, YouTube oﬀered to monetize his channel and share ad revenue. After some hesitation, they accepted the oﬀer, and the rest is history. As with the others above, his fame was largely accidental. Unlike some others today, he had no plan to create a big YouTube channel or to make money with it. His goal of simply ﬁlming for fun and sharing information kept expanding until it became a viable business. Hickok45’s most popular video has had over 15 million views, and ten more are currently at over 5 million views. Those are respectable viewer numbers for a large TV station, much less a father-and-son team having fun on their backyard range. While some of the guns featured are the latest and greatest high-tech models available, many videos show much simpler and inexpensive ﬁrearms. These, however, are often presented in a new light, such as smoothbore shotguns being successfully used with slugs against 200yard steel targets.
IT’S NO SURPRISE THAT people who have risen from humble hobbyist beginnings remain very friendly to other enthusiasts, including beginners. Recently, 22plinkster provided his personal range for a Midwestern gathering centered on a visit by California gun rights activist and writer Yih-Chau Cheng and his niece Dora (not her real name). At 14, she has not had an opportunity to shoot guns, nor had access to the NFA class of weapons brought for the occasion by Kris Paulson of DTV Tactical Innovations. Hickok45 was able to show up as well. Having several ﬁrearm instructors and two of the most popular online personalities all supporting the learning experience enabled her skill set to go from zero to competent with pistol, submachine gun and belt-feds in one day. It also underscored the diﬀerence between the cultures of Middle America and those found in those “less than gun-friendly” states such as California.
Each of these four – Ian, Tim, David and Hickok45 – possess a staggering amount of knowledge. But unlike museums that merely hold that knowledge for the occasional visitor, the quartet broadcasts what they know for the world to learn. What they don’t know, they investigate and then share.
The massive numbers of viewers indicate that the knowledge they spread is of substantial interest to American and foreign audiences alike. More recently, similar channels have sprung up in countries such as Hungary and the Czech Republic, presenting the best side of the gun culture to wider audiences. Hopefully, this positive trend will help reverse much of the oﬃcial anti-gun rhetoric inﬂicted on the European and American populations alike over the past century. AmSJ
Editor’s note: On the day this article was completed, YouTube pulled all advertising from ﬁrearms-related pages. The decision seemed to be driven by their parent company, and may likely push much of the technical and right to keep and bear arms (RKBA) content to other sites. By the time this issue is in print, we will all know more.