A newbie’s perspective: From NERF, to computers, to guns

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[ Steve Says: I am very pleased to introduce our new TFB regular contributor. Chris is a very talented shooter and genuinely nice guy. I am excited to have him onboard and look forward to published blog posts by him in the future. If you have any questions for Chris, ask them in the comments or email him directly at chris.cheng [at] thefirearmblog [dot] com ]

Hi folks, if you don’t watch Top Shot on the History Channel, please let me introduce myself. My name is Chris Cheng and I am a professional shooter. I recently won Season 4 of Top Shot. Along with the $100,000 and the title of “Top Shot”, the prize included a professional shooting contract with Bass Pro Shops. I decided to quit my job at Google, where I worked as a program manager on the technical support team, and took up the Bass Pro contract. I loved my time working at Google, but this was obviously a once-in-a-lifetime chance to switch careers and see where life takes me. I am a self-taught amateur shooter who has ironically not shot very much in my lifetime. I relied on my childhood experiences shooting slingshots, potato & rubber band guns, BB/pellet guns, paintball guns, Super Soakers, NERF guns, and other childhood toys which helped me develop my marksmanship skills.

A timeless toy, and one that helped me hone my marksmanship skills when I was younger

I’m very excited to share my experiences navigating through a new industry and hearing what kinds of things you’d like to hear about. I will read every single comment that’s posted, and I will try my best to respond to them as well.

Now, on to the guns! Top Shot is a unique show where it provides an opportunity to shoot weapons not many people get to shoot. I simply have no access to an M1919 or B.A.R. machine gun, let alone an MK32 grenade launcher, all weapons I got to compete with on Top Shot. A common question I get is “What was my favorite weapon?” A very hard question to answer (sort of like trying to answer “Which is your favorite parent/child?”). I would probably say the B.A.R. since it was the first fully automatic weapon I’ve ever fired.

Firing the B.A.R. in the Top Shot finale. The Browning Automatic Rifle is sometimes referred to as a “Big Ass Rifle.” – Photo courtesy of History Channel.

With a slower cyclic rate of 500-650 rounds per minute, it was a great first machine gun to fire since it was easy to control. On top of that, having a full art crew set up the amazingly fun challenges, provide free ammo, let us meander in and blow stuff up, and then cleaning up our mess was pretty awesome too.

I’ll be a recurring contributor here on The Firearm Blog, and in my next posts I’ll talk about the weapons I recently shot at the Crimson Trace 3-gun Midnight Invitational.  Night vision and IR goggles/scopes, full darkness, plus automatic weapons. It was awesome. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Chris Cheng is History Channel’s Top Shot Season 4 champion. A self-taught amateur turned pro through his Top Shot win, Cheng very much still considers himself an amateur who parachuted into this new career. He shares his thoughts and experiences from the perspective of a newbie to the shooting community. www.TopShotChris.com.

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Chris Cheng

Chris Cheng is History Channel’s Top Shot Season 4 champion and an NRA News Commentator. A self-taught amateur (and former Googler) turned pro through his Top Shot win, Cheng very much still considers himself an amateur who parachuted into this new career.

He is a professional marksman for Bass Pro Shops who shares his thoughts and experiences from the perspective of a newbie to the shooting community. www.TopShotChris.com.


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  • Brian P.

    Hello, Chris. It’s nice to have you here. I haven’t watched Top Shot much, but from what I’ve seen, it’s a pretty fun show to watch. Congratulations on your victory.

  • KC

    cool, I was rooting for you this last season.

    Hope the career shift goes/went smoothly for you

  • Daniel

    way to blow the ending of season 4! im just gunna try and forget this

    • http://www.TopShotChris.com Chris Cheng

      Have a beer or four, that may help you forget :-D

    • BluegrassGeek

      Season 4 aired months ago. It’s not really a spoiler at this point.

  • Texas Sean

    Enjoyed the heck out of Top Shot from the first season on and was not surprised you won. Looking forward to reading your insights. Did you get to meet the First Lady of agin Blogging at the CT shoot, Tamara Keel?

    • http://www.TopShotChris.com Chris Cheng

      Hi Texas Sean- I didn’t get a chance to meet Tamara, but hope to in the future. One thing that was odd about a night time match was once it got dark it was really hard to chat with folks because everyone was bundled up due to the cold, and we were tired. I learned that next time I need to bring handwarmers and get more sleep!

  • gunslinger

    haven’t had cable for a year, didn’t get to see top shot (i always liked watching it)

    welcome to TFB, can’t wait to read some of your thoughts.

    • http://www.TopShotChris.com Chris Cheng

      It was available for free streaming on History.com and Hulu.com for a while. It’s up on iTunes and Amazon for purchase, or if you know how to use BitTorrent… well, I should just leave it at that :)

  • alannon

    Worked at Google. Quit to shoot professionally. I think I’m envious. :)

    I’ll be interested to see your perspective on things as a “new” shooter.

    • Nathaniel Watkins

      Ditto that. I look forward to your articles.

      One cool aspect about Nerf is it teaches you tactics about force on force in a way only Simunitions and airsoft can exceed. What are your thoughts on Airsoft? If you haven’t tried it in a competitive setting, I highly recommend it.

      • http://www.TopShotChris.com Chris Cheng

        Thanks! I’ve only done airsoft at home when I was much younger, and I haven’t gotten a chance to do it in a formal competitive setting. Looks like fun!

      • Nathaniel Watkins

        I really enjoy how realistic airsoft is. It’s a fantastic training aid.

        If you haven’t yet fled to a more gun friendly state, I highly recommend visiting Tac City, a new airsoft arena, to try it out in a public CQB setting. I imagine you’re rather busy, but they’re open 7 days a week (no I don’t work there or anything like that).

  • Joseph

    @Chris

    Good to have you around! I certainly do have questions already.

    Keep up the good work.

    @TFB

    Nice ;)

  • raven

    Welcome Chris. Congrats on the Top Shot victory and we all look forward to reading your future posts.

    This place just keeps getting better and better.

  • tincankilla

    Welcome! Big supporter of yours during the season! Given that your background is so different than the other competitors you faced, I do hope you bring the insights of a silicon valley geek/self-taught outsider to your posts.

  • Martin Rudolph

    I was ecstatic when you (Chris) won S4 of Top Shot. I myself am an amateur shooter from the IT realm. Hopefully overtime you’ll dig deeper into your work at Google as the geek side of me is stronger than the gun-nut side :D

  • Reverend Clint

    big fan Chris, was rooting for you the whole way through. You are more like myself than any of the other shooters in the comp and it was nice to see another regular non military/LE guy win.

  • RocketScientist

    Chris,

    Enjoyed watching you make holes on Top Shot, glad to see you win over some of the ‘big egos’. Welcome to TFB, you’ll find we’re (generally) a pretty nice bunch (just so long as noone brings up the ‘zombie’ marketing craze, then you’ll see tempers flare). I suspect your fresh face and blank canvas when it came to shooting experience probably worked in your favor. Unlike those of us who have been shooting since childhood, you didn’t have to train to overcome a lifetime of bad habits and misinformation passed along by fathers/uncles/brothers who, while having nothing but the best intentions, were by no means professional shooting instructors. Can’t wait to read more of your contributions, looking forward to having another geek from my generation around here. Welcome aboard!!!

    • http://www.TopShotChris.com Chris Cheng

      Thanks RocketScientist- Top Shot was an incredibly fun opportunity, and I think another advantage I had was that as the underdog, I’m expected to lose so there wasn’t a ton of pressure or expectations from my family, friends, and co-workers. The only pressure I had to manage was my own drive to win, and make sure I didn’t become a big ego or let any confidence get the best of me.

      I don’t quite understand the zombie craze either, and I guess all I have to say is that if it’s bringing in new interest to the shooting sport, then great. Otherwise, who is buying this zombie stuff?! :)

  • CUrob

    Welcome aboard! Always nice to have some celebrities on the blog!

  • Dave

    Chris I thought you were great on Top Shot. Looking forward to your contributions to the Firearm Blog.

  • http://www.TopShotChris.com Chris Cheng

    Thanks everyone for the warm welcome! I’m obviously getting my feet wet here and so please feel free to give brutally honest feedback about my posts. I want to make sure that you’re finding them interesting, and if not, let me know what you’d like to read about.

    The next few posts I have lined up are going to cover a lot of ground weapons-wise, and I’m excited to hear what you all think.

  • meanie

    Chris, first of all congrats for the win, and welcome. I wanted to know your opinion on the politics of the contestants of top shot. When I recommend the show I often up sell the evolving nature of the competition away from reality TV “drama” and more of the focus on the actual contest of the show.

    It seemed like the season you competed on was a remarkable bunch of human beings ( for reality television ) and a stark contrast from the previous seasons jersey shore type events. Do you feel like the show is getting more positive in this way, or was it just a fluke of group dynamic?

    Also, I have decided the best job, aside from winning, would be doing the design and build on the challenges.

    • http://www.TopShotChris.com Chris Cheng

      I think the show is learning what works and what doesn’t with each season. Many viewers, myself included, hated the drama stuff and wished they would just focus more on the shooting. I think they heard us loud and clear, especially after Season 3 with Jake.

      Season 4 was an especially great cast too, so I think we were a good overall group. There was personality clashing that didn’t make it on air, but it wasn’t really relevant to the competition so thankfully they cut it out. Hopefully they’ll continue this trend.

      I agree that designing the stages and challenges would be awesome!

  • Ed

    Chris congrats on the win! it was glad to see someone differnt win. just a self tought average joe. a couple questions whats your favorite gun you personally own and whats your next gun purchase.

    • http://www.TopShotChris.com Chris Cheng

      Thanks Ed! My favorite gun I own right now is probably a WWI/II Luger. It changed hands three times: German to British to Nazi Germany. An American solider ended the Nazi owner’s time on Earth and relieved him of his Luger and some other pieces of history. The American solider didn’t have anyone to pass it down to, so he sold it to a gun broker and I came across it and wanted to own a piece of history. I’ll do a blog post on it!

      The next two guns I’m getting are a Benelli M2 and a new Glock 34 for 3-gun, which are both going to get some custom work done on them. I’ll definitely do a write on them when they’re ready. It’ll be a few months and I can’t wait!

  • Mike V

    So let me get this right…
    You play with toy guns, you don’t compete and you are a professional shooter!?!?
    I can’t WAIT to see your amazing skills when your targets and time dictate how much you lose by to an actual shooter.
    PLEASE let us know when and where you will make your one appearance in a shooting contest.
    MV

    • tincankilla

      you might want to check out the show before you troll. the poster beat out some really skilled people who had shot for years and did it with weapons he’d never handled before. I’m not interested in reading his posts because he won some show or because he’s a competition shooter, but because he’s got natural talent for shooting and is a relative outsider.

    • http://www.TopShotChris.com Chris Cheng

      Hi Mike V- Call me old school, but I was raised where if I don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. I will assume you’re probably a very nice person, in person. If not, that’s fine too, but I hope my assumption is correct.

      The “pro shooting contract” is something I’m figuring out along the way. I’ll be the first to admit that there are plenty of “actual” shooters (as you put it) like Taran Butler, Mike Voigt, etc, etc, and even plenty of local shooters at my own club who absolutely dominate me. It’s great that there are so many other talented shooters for us to look up to. For me, I’m having fun and that’s the simple goal.

      My plan at the moment is parlay my Top Shot win into something on the spokesman and lobbying end of things. We all know that gun rights are a hot topic and I’m hoping I can help our cause. I’ll shoot competitively for fun, and if I happen to win a match or two along the way, then that’s great but it’s not my main goal. Moving forward, I’m focusing on putting a different face on the shooting sport, and bringing new shooters into the fold. These are things that will benefit you, me, and our community.

      If you ever see me at a match or appearance, please come say hi. I’ll provide updates at TopShotChris.com and Facebook.com/TopShotChris.

      Thanks for providing me with the opportunity to dive a little deeper into my mindset and future plans.

    • Kevin

      What a sanctimonious ass.
      I don’t even watch tv, but I’m always glad to see a new contributor here, especially someone with a fresh perspective as opposed to many of the ‘grizzled veterans’ that sometimes comment.
      And he did win the show…

  • george

    If you wouldn’t mind, please don’t write all about IR lasers, machine guns, and night vision. I didn’t win 100k on a tv show and can only afford normal guns, ok?

    • http://www.TopShotChris.com Chris Cheng

      Hi george, I feel ya, there will only be a few posts on those topics and we’ll see what everyone thinks. I can’t afford any of those toys either (they were supplied by the sponsors) so I’ll keep learning from you and other readers about that balance between me writing about things we can all afford, and the things we wish we could :)

  • null

    Well this just made my day, one of my favorite contestants from one of my favorite TV shows will be posting on my favorite blog. I haven’t been this surprised and happy since I learned that Iaine used to compete at the range I frequent.

    I’m looking forward to hearing about any suggestions or tips at the range you may have picked up, and hearing more info about what you did to prep yourself for the challenges and such. And any future posts you put up about your adventures with the new job.

    • http://www.TopShotChris.com Chris Cheng

      Thanks! Like competition in general, Top Shot is as much a mental game as it is based on skill. I think many competitors were well prepared skill-wise, but the mental game got them. Days and weeks without contact with the outside world, and lots and lots of downtime can make some people batty.

      I’m actually writing a book that touches on all of this, and so seeing as this blog is about “Guns, not politics” I want to make sure my posts have a strong emphasis on guns and gear, and less emphasis on anything else. That said, I’ll try and intersperse some of my thoughts on your topics of interest. Please feel free to give me your feedback along the way!

  • Clay

    Chris, first off welcome! I’m extremely excited to hear your insight as a professional shooter, Top Shot winner, and as a (until recently) non-professional shooting enthusiast.
    I’m in the same boat as far as being self-taught, non-military, non-LEO shooter and I think we often get overlooked due to our lack of tactical operations that we operated tactically with tactically operating tactical operators, and I would love to see the insights of an outsider being thrust rather violently into the professional shooting and gun industry. What was the hardest thing to adapt to going from your desk job to something that seems much more dynamic and completely different.
    Also, seeing as you worked at Google and I think I remember from the show that you were born and raised in California, what are some of the setbacks you faced growing up in a rather anti-gun environment? And for that matter, how did you get into shooting and how did you progress to being a Top Shot winner? I think those would make some pretty great articles. On top of that, as a professional designer I’d love to see some articles that look at firearm design whether it’s purely functional, aesthetic, or a combination of the two.

    Again, welcome, I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store!

    • http://www.TopShotChris.com Chris Cheng

      Hi Clay, thanks for your comment. I mentioned my Top Shot book that I’m writing below, so some of your questions may be more appropriately answered in the book, but to touch on some of your questions, it has been quite a shift going from a desk job in Silicon Valley to the great outdoors. The hardest part so far has been starting a whole new network. I invested 5 years of my life networking in Silicon Valley, and now I’m starting from scratch. It’s exciting, a little stressful, and exhilarating. I’m still finding my rhythm in this brave new world, and I’ll be sharing my adventures with TFB readers along the way.

      Living in California actually wasn’t a big hinderance since surprisingly there is a healthy shooting community here. Yes, there’s all the bullet buttons, anti-gun legislators, and a number of silly, ineffective laws, but on the margin it’s not too bad.

  • kjjohn

    I look forward to reading more of your posts, Chris. Congratulations on winning Top Shot.

    I will always admire and respect our veterans, but it is nice to see someone who could be described as an “average joe” win such a difficult competition with such skill.

  • http://www.exurbanleague.com/misfires ExurbanKevin

    Wow! Wasn’t expecting THIS to happen, but welcome to the show!

    One question: As competition shooting isn’t a big part of your firearms background, what sport(s) are you looking to participate in with your Bass Pro sponsorship?

    • http://www.TopShotChris.com Chris Cheng

      I’m going to focus on 3-gun since it’s a fun opportunity to throw more guns into the mix. I’ll do some USPSA/IDPA/IPSC shooting too to keep my pistol skills sharp.

  • Squidpuppy

    Congrats, Chris & welcome; very much looking forward to your posts! Geeks and guns; seems to be a common and winning combination. I work at a Silicon Valley big name too, and we have quite a group of regular enthusiasts. One thing about dyed-in-the-wool geeks is we’re very technical about what we’re doing, and we tend to have a mindset that’s very respectful of the technology; we need to see it work correctly; we want to operate it appropriately.

    What I mean by that is, make sure the hardware is functioning at an optimal level, let it do its job; you – as the operator, have the onus of measuring up to the capabilities of the hardware. I often say my guns shoot better than I do, and that’s the truth: as a geek I’m very cognizant of the design specifications of my hardware. When I let them do what they’re designed to do, that’s when I shoot best.

    Now I gotta go find your season of Top Shot…

  • http://www.SkarrAM.com Ken MV

    This is a great news!!! Can’t wait to read your up coming posts, you were my fav. contestant on the show, because I always want a nice person to win the title from TS 1 to 4, and TS has not disappointed me yet. On top of everything, as an Asian guy from Mission Vijeo myself, I just wanta say you have made us so proud!

  • Mouse

    You know, just out of curiosity, is this your first post on TFB, or have you been here before?

    • http://www.TopShotChris.com Chris Cheng

      First post!

  • Kdawg

    Welcome aboard Chris! As a PM for another multi-billion dollar tech giant, I was rooting for you from the start. I’m curious though, how did your coworkers and management feel about you first taking a hiatus to enter the competition? Did they know about your hobby beforehand? And what was their reaction when you won, and then quit your day job?

    Congratulations, and I look forward to seeing more posts from you here!

    • http://www.TopShotChris.com Chris Cheng

      Hi Kdawg- great questions, and thanks for your support! Google was very supportive of allowing me to take 6 weeks off of unpaid leave. They didn’t quite understand what I was leaving for, they knew it was a TV show and I was shooting guns, but they knew it sounded like fun and they are very good about giving employees the freedom and flexible to go off and do quirky things.

      A few of my colleagues did know that I shot beforehand and were just ecstatic when they found out I was on the show. And then when I won, they were bouncing off the walls. Here’s footage of my win at the bar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PYBesqFj1k. There’s also an extended version if you look at the right column with other videos.

      Afterward, everyone understood why I was leaving :)

      • Kdawg

        Thanks for the reply! I’m looking forward to the book you mentioned that you’re writing, as I bet you’ll touch on this in more detail.

  • Nicholas Chen

    Congrats Chris! I was rooting for the Asian American (as I am one myself). As many others have, I identify myself with you. You are my Jeremy Lin.

    I look forward to living vicariously thru you. I have endeavored to shoot USPSA and 3Gun since last October. I have gotten pretty decent with carbine shooting but my hand gun skills lacked immensely.

    I suppose the skills were proof enough for you to join the club. Or do you still find yourself an outsider in the industry looking in?

    • http://www.TopShotChris.com Chris Cheng

      Hi Nicholas! Keep practicing and hope you get to a few matches soon. They are incredibly fun not matter how good/bad you end up doing.

      I still feel very much like an outsider looking in, but over time I’m sure I’ll start feeling more like an insider. I expect it’ll probably take at least a year, if not many more.

      • Nicholas Chen

        I have been fortunate to find a club here in NY (thankfully not NYC) that allows me to run with my KRISS Vector in their Pistol Matches. I have been actively shooting in as many local matches since last October. Only twice a month but it is a start. I will be participating and staffing the FNH 3 Gun championship next month. Im excited but I know my poor pistol performance will give me many headaches. Sadly NY requires a permit to even touch a handgun. Im still waiting for mine to be approved.

  • Bob Z Moose

    Great to have you on this blog, Chris. I was rooting for you on Top Shot (though, I mostly watched them in reruns; schedule and what not). Top Shot seems like THE once in a lifetime shooting experience for anyone interested in competitively shooting. I wouldn’t imagine you had that many opportunities to practice in Cali before being on Top Shot. I really only have one burning question: Is Colby Donaldson a nice guy in person? I’ve always got the feeling that he might be putting on the personality for TV, but that’s just me. Great to have you on board and looking forward to your posts!

    • http://www.TopShotChris.com Chris Cheng

      Hi Bob Z Moose- Colby is a nice guy. Due to the competition wanting to avoid collusion, competitors couldn’t really chat Colby up too much, but we did get a few times to chat with him and we his demeanor around others which is a really strong indicator.

      The camera, sound, and other crew members had good things to say about him too, but they definitely had dirt on other Hollywood actors who they had worked with on other sets.

  • Nicholas Chen

    I’m sure it has been brought up before, but is there anyway that they could make a firing range or “Top Shot” Experience where people, like me, can pay to shoot the stages that you guys got to do? Ziplining and shooting ballons, suspended upside down and shooting sounds like a lot of fun.

    I know safety is paramount but the stages are why I watched Top Shot.

    • gunslinger

      I think it has been. Biggest problem i see is that safety would be the biggest barrier. it’s one thing at a regular range, but now hoist a guy 50′ into the air and have him free fall, that’s a bit of ground he could fire upon. talk about sky high insurance prices

      the next biggest would be the ‘material’ cost.

      shooting a 50bmg is what? 3-6 bucks a round? cost of guns, ammo, targets, etc? your 15 minute competition now costs over 500 bucks?

      i’d still like to see it happen. i don’t know how long it would last.

    • http://www.TopShotChris.com Chris Cheng

      That would be cool but it might get really expensive like gunslinger mentioned. BUT- many 3-gun competitions have some cool stages, like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zt_CI1LgHck

      • Nicholas Chen

        Thanks. That looks like a lot of fun. I was thinking about the cost issue. Perhaps a simulation of Top Shot. Safety and cost can be addressed with paintball and airsoft. I know it is not quite the same as firearms but for me the experience of those stages is the stage it self and not the weapon.

        Like the inverted suspended and dropped from height, zipline, wagon shotgunner etc.

        But of course experiencing guns like the grenade launcher is too cool.