Obituary: Tom Knapp / Clay target trick shooter

Sept. 30, 1950 - April 26, 2013

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Tom Knapp, an exhibition shotgun virtuoso who broke world records by picking off flocks of airborne clay targets with the flair of a western movie hero and dazzled crowds with his effortless precision shattering of golf balls, radishes, aspirin and other flying targets, died April 26 in Rochester, Minn. He was 62.

The cause was pulmonary fibrosis, his wife, Colleen, said.

Mr. Knapp, who was familiar to viewers of "Sharpshooters" on the History Channel and "Shooting Stars" on Discovery, mastered many kinds of long guns but was known mainly for his bravura with a pump-action 12-gauge shotgun.

A highlight videotape from 2007 (seen by more than 3 million viewers on YouTube) shows him firing his pump-action weapon from the hip, from behind his back and from over his head, each time hitting his airborne targets.

From 1993 to 2004, Mr. Knapp made and broke his own records for the number of hand-thrown clay targets struck in a single round and for speed in doing so. His last record -- 10 airborne targets hit (or "dusted," in shooting-speak) in 2.2 seconds, each struck with a separate round -- was set at an exhibition in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Oct. 10, 2004.

Mr. Knapp was widely considered one of the most accomplished heirs to an American tradition defined in Buffalo Bill's Wild West shows by Annie Oakley and A.H. Bogardus.

Thomas Knapp was born Sept. 30, 1950, in Maple Plain, Minn., the youngest of five children of Howard and Virginia Knapp. His father gave him his first gun, a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun, when he was 9. At 10, he saw a televised performance by showman Herb Parsons. It set the direction of his life.

"From that day on," he told Field and Stream magazine in 2007, "I dreamed about making a living with a shotgun."

Serving as sponsors, gun and ammunition manufacturers like Winchester Olin, Federal Cartridge, Benelli USA and CZ-USA made it possible in the early '90s for Mr. Knapp to leave his job with the Hennepin County, Minn., parks department after 25 years and tour full time.

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