On the heels of the annual Consumer Electronics Show, Las Vegas is hosting another gathering of hardware fans this week. Shot Show 2014 is a kind of CES for firearms that attracts about 62,000 industry professionals, according to organizers.
While the issue of guns can be polarizing, there's a growing batch of charismatic YouTube stars who offer a window onto what many consider a more mainstream type of gun culture -- safety-conscious but at the same time enjoying firearms and shooting in the same way that gearheads love cars and driving. Some are more vocal than others about Second Amendment rights, but what their videos have in common is that they are entertaining and educational, even for non-aficionados.
The growing popularity of these YouTube stars -- some with street cred as military veterans and others as competitive shooters -- means that their ranks could potentially yield the next big reality TV star in the mold of "Duck Dynasty."
Click through to see some of the rising gun video stars of YouTube.
As his YouTube channel name suggests, Eric Blandford served in Iraq, with the Third Infantry Division in 2005. And he puts his military experience to good use in his no-nonsense videos, which have racked up more than 313,000 subscribers and nearly 77 million collective views since he produced his first one about four and a half years ago.
"In the world of gun videos, anything over 100,000 subscribers on YouTube is considered pretty strong," Blandford told ABC News from Shot Show. "Like many YouTube channels, it started as a couple of friends coming together and doing something fun."
Blandford and his frequent sidekick Barry, both based out of Moss Pawn & Guns in Jonesboro, Ga., not only present detailed reviews of firearms but they also have some fun putting guns through grueling torture tests and giving tutorials on gun etiquette and safety.
"Gun safety is extremely important," said Blandford. "The last thing we want is someone watching us and then going out and doing something unsafe."
"People, more times than not, view [gun enthusiasts] as a bunch of crazies and I think that’s a big misconception," he said.
The reach of his channel, with about 4.2 million views a month, is particularly impressive when compared to a conventional cable TV hunting show, for example, which may reach about 50,000 viewers per episode. The production value at Iraqveteran8888 is consistently high nowadays, with judicious use of editing, close-ups and no jerky, out-of-focus shots.
An added appeal may be the rapport that he has with Barry, who Blandford describes as a "fatherly figure" that people seem to take an instant liking to. "Between the two of us we have great chemistry," Blandford said.
If there's an elder statesman of firearms videos on YouTube, it's hickok45.
This former teacher and competitive shooter has racked up more than 935,000 subscribers to his channel, and it's easy to see why. His gleeful videos, made from his backyard shooting range in Tennessee, run the gamut of topics, from historical firearms, including lever-action rifles that won the West, to high-tech modern pistols. He also takes the time to explain the intricacies of ammo in a way that's informative yet not condescending.
One reason he may have such a loyal following is that he is scrupulously apolitical, choosing instead to focus on the engineering and history of the firearms he reviews, with a healthy dab of self-deprecating humor. His videos have collectively logged nearly 204 million views.
Other rising YouTube gun video stars have cited Hickok45 as their object of envy -- both for his prodigious marksmanship and his well-appointed shooting range in his own backyard. No wonder he ends each video with his signature sign-off, "Life is good."
ABC News was unable to reach the host for comment.
In the introduction page to his YouTube channel, TWANGnBANG describes his videos as "equal parts 'redneck' and 'science.'" But don't let the modesty fool you. Host Cameron Martz of Raleigh, N.C., is an Ivy League grad and a former business consultant with a keen sense of what people like to watch.
"If I have a skill or a knowledge base, it’s in doing research. It’s not that I’m an ex-special forces military guy," Martz told ABC News. "From the start I tried to make it look and feel like a TV show."
That includes good production value, with intro graphics and music for each video -- all pulled off seamlessly by Martz, who owns a personal training company.
The name of his channel comes from the fact that he reviews both bows (twang) as well as firearms (bang). And true to his description, his videos are as much about the scientific method as they are about an enthusiasm for shooting -- think "Mythbusters" for gun and bow enthusiasts.
His channel has racked up nearly 30,000 subscribers with more than 2.4 million collective views, likely bolstered by his easy southern drawl and genuine chuckles on camera, which prompted one commenter to liken Martz to a "Mister Rogers of YouTube gun guys."
"I wouldn’t be doing this if this wasn’t fun," Martz said.
If hickok45 is the elder statesman, then FPSRussia is the wild child of YouTube gun videos.
FPSRussia, a.k.a. Kyle Myers, is the outlier in this group in that his main gimmick is an irreverent bad-boy streak, shooting a lot of rounds at targets often loaded with paint or explosives. The formula has earned him ample critics in the firearms community, but it seems to have struck a chord with viewers. His channel has attracted more than 4.7 million subscribers, with more than 584 million collective views, making it one of the most popular YouTube channels of any kind.
After a hiatus following a surprise raid of his house in Georgia by federal agents in March 2013, as reported by the Huffington Post, FPSRussia recently resumed producing videos, which are also known for showcasing some of the most unusual firearms from far-flung places, such as a Russian-made semi-automatic shotgun.
And like hickok45, FPSRussia has a signature sign-off, "And as always, have a nice day," which, in his Russian accent, is inexplicably funny when juxtaposed to the mayhem he has just caused to a junk car or a table full of paint cans.
Another military veteran on the YouTube scene is nutnfancy, who launched his channel in 2006 and was one of the first to refine the now-successful formula of extremely detailed gun reviews.
Since then his channel has racked up more than 403,000 subscribers and more than 145 million views.
Nutnfancy, based in South Jordan, Utah, according to his channel, often features the stunning mountains as a backdrop. But the true stars of his channel are the firearms themselves, with methodical, thorough videos that routinely run tens of minutes long, with barely an appearance of the host except his hands. These videos are the Consumer Reports of firearms.
The host of CrucibleArms is Kevin Vick, a firearms dealer in Lakeville, Minn. He's a relative newcomer to YouTube, with about 9,700 subscribers, but his detailed gun reviews and his on-camera delivery, reminiscent of a patient professor, have earned him a loyal following.
"It takes a while for the YouTube channel to get some traction," Vick told ABC News, but he admits to being "an up and comer."
"I am a big advocate of the shooting sports in general," Vick said of his reasons for launching his YouTube channel about two years ago.
Like most of his fellow video presenters, Vick is a stickler for firearms safety and etiquette, such as making sure the chamber is clear before beginning a review and never pointing the muzzle at anything you wouldn't want to hit, even when the gun is empty. "I want to represent the gun community well and show that firearms, when handled correctly, are safe," Vick said.
|Military Arms Channel|
Tim, the host of the Military Arms Channel, is a Hoosier and a former Marine who is well respected among his fellow YouTube gun video presenters.
His videos are tightly edited pieces, rather than the stream-of-consciousness videos that can try a viewer's patience. His on-camera presence is marked by his crisp delivery, in a no-nonsense style befitting a former jarhead.
The proof of his success is in the pudding. His channel has some 185,000 subscribers, racking up nearly 20 million views.
ABC News was unable to reach the host for comment.