With the season finale of Top Shot season 3 airing tonight it’s time to finish up my exclusive behind the scenes interview with Phil Morden of Milford, Michigan. Phil stayed into the competition until the individual stage, when he was eliminated in a controversial challenge by returning contestant Mike Hughes.
In the first part of the interview Phil addressed allegations by a former contestant than the producers could “fix” the results of the challenges by not having the firearms function properly and in the second part of the interview Phil discussed his thoughts behind Jake Zweig’s sudden decision to quit the show before he was to face Phil in an elimination challenge.
In this, the final part of the interview, Phil talks about what went wrong during his elimination challenge, how he thinks Top Shot portrays the shooting community, and the impact the show has had on his life.
Rob: Ok, talking about your elimination challenge, when you actually got up there to do it, what happened?
Phil: When I got up on the platform my magazines were flipped with the rounds facing to the right and, being a rightie, I would have liked them flipped the other way, facing left. The people who set up the magazines and the guns are not gun people, for the most part. They don’t set things up for shooters all day, every day, so they aren’t familiar with that kind of stuff. I should have knelt down and flipped them over, but in the fog of everything you kind of forget those small things. So, when Colby shouted, “GO,” as I reached down to grab the magazine I tried to flip it in my hand without taking the time to flip it over, set it on the deck, and then pick it up again. I tried to do it all in one motion in the air as I was going to load the gun. The magazine literally dropped out of my hand and, when I went to grab it, I batted it off the platform.
I should have slowed down. Hindsight is 20-20. When you see that happen on TV, if I would have taken the two seconds to just flip the magazine over and establish a good grip on it, and then insert it in the gun, I possibly could have won that challenge. It was very close, even with me wasting four or five seconds having to jump off, get back up, load the gun and reengage the targets. So, taking two seconds to flip the magazine over could have saved me five.
Rob: How hard was it when that happened? Did that throw you off your game once you actually got the rifle loaded and in play or where you able to put it out of your mind until you had to go down at get it?
Phil: It was in the back of my mind from the immediate start of that challenge. As soon as it flew off the platform my first thought was, “I’ll jump off now and grab it.” That way I’m not doing it mid shoot. But, then, your mental game takes over: I had seen where it had fallen so I knew it wasn’t more than a step or two off the platform. So, I thought, “Ok, load the gun and start shooting.” If I can jump out maybe two targets ahead of him as I’m shooting, if he doesn’t shoot it clean and he has to either reload the magazine or breech load the gun, there’s a very good chance I can come back. But, you understand your chances go from 50 – 50 down to about 30 – 70 of winning this thing because you’ve just blown at least two targets you could have engaged and now you are jumping down to pick up a magazine, loading the gun, and then reengaging. It’s all about the sight picture, and when you take that away like that, it will kill you.
Rob: How hard was it to actually say, “Goodbye,” to leave the show?
Phil: When I went out there I thought, “I’m here to compete. I’m not going to get involved with any of this stuff.” But, like I said, you make such good friends. As soon as Colby yelled, “STOP,” I lowered the rifle and leaned over to look at Mike’s target. The last one he’d hit had a perfect hole in it and it didn’t look like it had broken. Then I saw on the front part a little glint of black and I knew he’d put a round through it. I put the rifle down, and I congratulated him, and I knew I was going home. It sucked. At that point you’ve made it so far in the competition, and then Jake threw a monkey wrench in the whole thing and kind of ruined that elimination challenge. Now you bring back a guy who is refreshed, who is a very good shooter, who is brought back to compete. It was very hard to walk away from that, because I thought there were a few different ways it could have been handled.
Rob: I assume you don’t know who won?
Rob: Who is your odds-on favorite to win?
Phil: Like I said from the start, Mike Hughes was the favorite of all of us. Mike was the guy we saw on the first challenge do awesome. He is very methodical. And he’s got that drive. He comes back into that house and he’s got that drive to win.
Gary (Quesenberry) is also definitely in the running. He is an extremely good shooter with everything he picks up. The only gun I ever saw Gary struggle with was the Tac 50.
I would also say Dustin (Ellermann) is one of the most dangerous people there. I shot against him in the first challenge. I didn’t get to see him shoot then because I was shooting against him. When I watched it on TV he was so calm, cool, and collected. He missed, got the gun reloaded with one round, took his time, got his shot off, and hit the target. He’s one of those guys who are there to have fun and that is what you need to do in these competitions. Be consistent and don’t let the little things bother you.
Rob: Are there any good behind the scenes tidbits you can share to tell the home viewer what it was like on the show? Something funny or something we didn’t see you want to let us know about?
Phil: We had very few things we could do in the house. There was a Chessboard, and three decks of cards, with two of the decks missing one card each. So, because of that we had only one deck of cards, unless you were playing solitaire, where you could make up a card for that. Jarett Grimes, he would throw dice a lot in the house. They would play dice in the hallway while waiting to go to practices and challenges. So, after Jarett left, I made a Jarett memorial craps table. I took a drawer out of the desk and put tapelines in and made a Craps table as a joke, for Jarett. And, before you knew it, there were people surrounding this table until 11:30 at night screaming while shooting dice in the living room on this dresser drawer. They haven’t shown any of it and I’m really hoping they show some of it in “Behind the bullet” because it was a lot of fun for us. You see 10 or 12 grown men throwing dice into a box, in the middle of the night, screaming their heads off, because there was nothing else there for us to do.
Rob: Starved for entertainment.
Phil: Absolutely. You don’t much understand how much you miss books and TV and talking on a normal basis when you aren’t allowed to do it. The first thing I did when I got to the hotel was turn on the TV. You just want to watch TV so badly and read something.
Rob: What do you think of the show and how it portrays shooters and the gun culture to the general public. Do you think it’s putting out a positive image, a neutral image, or a negative image?
Phil: There’s been a lot of controversy with Jake in the shooting world. How he lacks the sportsmanship, and the ability to handle himself in an environment where he’s handling firearms. You see him blow up a lot. Jake was the first one to admit to all of us that he is not a gun guy. He’s just there to compete. And that says volumes about it. It’s like I’ve always said,. people who own firearms, and operate firearms, are some of the nicest people I’ve ever meet. There were me and 14 other people in that house that I could sit down with and have a conversation about any kind of gun, or any kind of family thing, because they are very nice people. And, I think the show has done a very good job of screening people and getting very positive people on the show who have a love of the sport. I think that’s good.
The competitions on the show, they are a little extravagant. You aren’t going to set those up at your local gun club or your range up north. But, they show that firearms can be very fun. You see us out there during practice. We are laughing and having a good time, but we are being safe. I think that for many people who don’t like guns it’s because they have never handled them. It’s foreign to them. I’ve become very outspoken about how if you haven’t shot a gun before, come out to the range with me. I’ll let you shoot my guns, use my ammo, because I want you to familiarize yourself with these firearms. I want to show you they aren’t a scary thing when they are used properly.
Rob: How has being on the show affected your life? What has it done for you?
Phil: I think it has given me credibility in the firearms world. I don’t have people banging my door down for jobs or whatever. But, it’s amazing how many people, through my website and the videos I do, have asked me questions about stuff that otherwise they wouldn’t ask because before I was just someone from Milford to them. Now that I’ve been on Top Shot I have some credibility.
I’m trying to get more people involved. I show them my videos and try to inform them about guns. I’m getting more questions asked. I’m having guys who make stuff send me things they want me to do reviews of. I think that’s awesome. I love helping out. I’m a small business owner myself and I love helping out the small businesses in Michigan or other states. If they are willing to give me something to test, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be good, and I haven’t been disappointed at this point.
Rob:Let me give you a chance to get a plug in then. Can you give me the website URL and a brief one or two sentence description?
Phil: The site is runngunproductions.com. I have videos for advancing your own knowledge of firearms. I have gear reviews that have been helpful to many people. I’m doing this because I want people to become familiar with firearms and understand that shooting is a great thing to get involved with. There are reviews that have sparked interest in various kinds of firearms, especially AR-15’s, which tend to get a bad rap. I want people to see that shooting these so-called “assault rifles” is just another style of shooting. You can even have little kids shoot this gun. It’s not so powerful that it’s going to knock a kid down. You see kids coming out to Livingston Gun Club to shoot 3 Gun, and I think that’s awesome. I think AR-15’s, and AK-47’s, add a whole new element to shooting.
To read more about Top Shot season 3 here are my previous interviews with Phil Morden.
Phil Morden talks about Top Shot season 3 with the Michigan Firearms Examiner
In this interview Phil talks about his shooting background, the audition process, the importance of the audtion video.
Phil Morden wants to ‘represent Michigan well’ on Top Shot season 3
In part 2 of the first interview, Phil discusses what it was like living with 15 strangers in a house wired for sound and video.
Behind the scenes of Top Shot season 3 with Phil Morden
In this interview Phil talks about the competition, the personalities, and addresses allegations that the show’s producers “fixed” results by not ensuring that firearms were set up properly.
Phil Morden talks about Jake Zweig’s decision to quit Top Shot Season 3
In this article Phil talks about the differences between the Blue Team and the Red Team, the personality conflicts on the show, and gives his thoughts on what was behind Jake Zweig’s decision to suddenly quit the competition.
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