The History Channel’s Top Shot show has been very popular, and not just with gun owners. In fact, it was because of its success that I believe you see so many cable shows on 3-gun shooting as well as gunsmiths/gunstores.
Top Shot isn’t perfect. My main complaint with the show early on was that, like most “reality” shows, they pack ten minutes of action into an hour show. A second complaint I had was that there wasn’t enough actual shooting of guns on Top Shot. Contestants used blowguns, tomahawks…it wouldn’t have surprised me if the producers arranged a water balloon fight between the teams to eliminate some contestants. When they did use guns, especially the first two seasons, they were rarely anything I would own, or was interested in seeing shot.
Well, those of you who were watching might have noticed that things changed on Top Shot Season 3. Top Shot films in California, and you can’t combine the words shooting, California, competition, and Hollywood without stumbling across Taran Butler. Taran is a very successful professional shooter who has helped train many actors for movies. He has helped out quite a bit on Top Shot, both in front of and behind the cameras. He has appeared as a trainer on the second and third seasons of Top Shot, and most notably demonstrated to the contestants how to shoot upside down.
For the first two seasons of the show the producers of Top Shot were making do with whatever firearms they could acquire, and they weren’t the best. After spending a lot of time on the set of Top Shot Taran Butler became friends with host Colby Donaldson, and decided to help.
If there is one thing professional shooters know how to do, it is wrangle sponsors, as that is how they make a living (in addition to training). Prize money comes in a distant third as an income source, believe it or not. I remember seeing Taran and Colby at the SHOT Show in Vegas as Taran took the host around to a number of his sponsors, as well as many other industry manufacturers, to see if they would be interested in providing guns to be used on the show. A number of companies, knowing just how popular Top Shot was, were happy to provide guns to be used on the show, but none of those guns garnered as much attention as the Top Shot pistols from Strayer Voigt.
Strayer-Voigt Infinity (www.sviguns.com) has been one of Taran’s primary sponsors for years, and it is their high-capacity 1911 pistols he has used to win so many championships. If you’ve never held a custom 1911, much less a custom competition pistol, comparing a World War II-era 1911 to one of the custom-built high performance competition pistols SV builds is a bit like comparing a biplane to an F-16.
Taran worked closely with Brandon Strayer, son of SV founder Sandy Strayer. Brandon is a formidable gunsmith in his own right, and SVI built not just one but TEN identical Infinity pistols to be used on Top Shot, with custom serial numbers—Top Shot 1 through Top Shot 10.
Original SV and STI frames had polymer grips with a railed steel insert on which the slide ran. SV is now producing a billet machined modular grip with no plastic, and it is this grip which can be found on the Top Shot pistols. The frame is inlet slightly for skid tape, and the resulting gripping surface is very aggressive.
These are completely custom pistols, but then again that is all that SVI makes. Each pistol has an oversized polished magazine well, SV’s modular trigger system, and the cool Infinity logo on the slide. They have a high-mounted contoured beavertail grip safety pinned in place, and an undercut trigger guard, and the combination allows the user to get their hand as high on the gun as possible.
Each Top Shot pistol has an extended magazine release and oversize ambidextrous thumb safety. The slide serrations are unique—narrower at the back, with three very deep ones at the front for secure gripping. The Top Shot pistols were chambered in .40 S&W, and their extended magazines hold at least 19 rounds, depending on the follower.
The rear sight is SV’s copy of the much vaunted Bo-Mar adjustable combat sight. The front sight has a fiber optic insert, which glows as bright as a battery-powered red dot in direct sunlight.
The “gold” barrels on competition guns may throw some people off. It is not gold plating but rather titanium nitride. Many drill bits and other high-speed parts you’ll find at your local big box retailer are coated in TiN, because it is so hard and durable, and a barrel coated with the stuff will practically last forever. When new it is gold in color, but after a few thousand rounds that gold turns a bronze hue. I’m not sure if this has to do with built-up gunpowder residue, heat from firing, or a combination thereof, but the bronze color looks just as good.
If you’ll look close you’ll see that these are SV’s Sight Tracker barrels—the front sight isn’t mounted on the slide, but rather on a rib on top of the barrel that is contoured (and serrated) to match the top of the slide. There’s a slot cut into the top of the slide (rounded at the rear) to accommodate this rib. Competition shooters are always pushing the envelope, and a lot of them like having just that little bit of extra weight on the barrel rib stay out front, believing it helps reduce muzzle rise. The less disturbance to your sight picture, the faster you can get back on target.
Top Shots #1-10 are collectors’ items, and have long been sold. However, SV is a custom shop. They’d be happy to build you a gun identical in every way to one of the Top Shot pistols—minus the Top Shot serial number, of course. The “Gunbuilder” segment of their website allows you to design the pistol of your dreams. As every gun that comes out of SV is hand built with the finest parts you can find, these pistols are not cheap (I’m guessing a “Top Shot-style” SV will run you at least $3500), but you get what you pay for.