Remembering Tom Knapp
When I saw a few weeks ago that Tom Knapp had died, I thought, “Do I know him? That name sounds awfully familiar. He was a shooter...” Upon checking his obituary, I instantly recognized his picture, and the past came into focus. “Yes, he’s the famous shotgunner who was showing off for Nancy Bittle.”
In the 90’s, there was an IPSC match called the AWARE Invitational that several groups in turn ran as a fund raiser for AWARE. Early on, one of those matches was held in New Jersey at a range in a place called the Pine Barrens. The match had tents for companies and sellers of stuff to set up their services and wares for all the kinds of things an IPSC shooter might want to buy.
Benelli, the shotgun company, was one of those vendors, and Tom Knapp was their rep there. Nancy Bittle (the founder of AWARE) and I were there. I didn’t know know of Tom Knapp was, but she did. Knapp was an exhibition shooter whose name could easily be put together with the likes of Annie Oakley. Nancy was almost as excited at meeting Knapp as she would have been if she had had a chance to meet Oakley. Knapp was a consummate performer who shot professionally for most of his life. He held a number of world records, and liked nothing more than shooting incredibly difficult targets, such as tiny aspirin.
I tagged along while Nancy chatted him up. Then, Tom looked exactly like Benelli’s photo of him - grey hair, big grey mustache, Benelli 12 ga shotgun, friendly, talkative. As I recall, Tom wasn’t scheduled to put on a performance at the Invitational. Nancy was disappointed. Tom offered to do a little shooting anyway. Nancy was delighted, and with me tagging along, we watched him shoot.
He must have gone through part of his usual show, because I remember clay targets, heads of cabbage, smaller vegetables, jokes about making chopped salad. Perhaps he ended with his trademark aspirin. I’m not sure. What I remember is him missing the first time, setting up again, glancing at Nancy with an expression that could only have said “I really want to get this right for this woman.” and saying softly to me, “This is really hard.” Maybe he added his trademark “No guarantees.” The aspirin went up, up and away. So did Knapp’s gun. That shot was perfect. Knapp satisfied, Nancy and I incredibly impressed.
You can see Tom Knapp’s amazing skill on YouTube - he breaks the old world record of 9 hand thrown clay pigeons by hitting 10 of them with 10 separate shots (2 clays broken by the same shot do not count) in 2004.
Some of his show is also on YouTube. About midway through, he has an empty shotgun, puts a shell between his teeth, picks up a clay in one hand and his shotgun in both hands, throws them both high into the air, loads the shotgun as he catches it, and makes the shot. Wow!
Tom, the shooting world will miss you, and so will Nancy, and so will I.