If you find yourself on the edge of your seat during an onscreen shootout, Taran Butler just might be the reason why. Since 2012, the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) Triple Crown Winner and three-gun champion has injected speed and versatility into the shooting repertoire of Hollywood A-listers like Keanu Reeves and Jon Bernthal.
What Butler teaches has applications for any gun enthusiast, whether a hunter tracking white-tailed deer in western Texas or a recreational shooter target practicing at the range.
Butler’s story ironically begins with the movies. When he and his brother took an interest in movies like Dirty Harry, Magnum Force and The Shootist starring John Wayne, Butler’s mother encouraged her sons to learn to shoot.
“She wasn’t against guns,” he explains. “We started shooting on our property and watching videos of Rob Leatham and Jerry Barnhart.”
While his brother’s interest subsided, Butler’s only grew. He followed competitive shooting “forever” but made excuses for why he couldn’t compete until 1994 when stuntman Bruce Barbour let him borrow a Glock for a competition. Butler finished seventh out of 118 shooters and was hooked.
As he racked up competitive titles, he naturally became friends with other shooters, including those working as consultants in Hollywood. In 2004, one of those friends invited him to meet Tom Cruise, who was training for Collateral. That meeting also led to an introduction to the movie’s director, Michael Mann, and an invitation to design guns for Mann’s next movie, Miami Vice.
The guns made a brief cameo in the movie but were later featured in the TV series, Heroes. Mann reached out again when he needed someone to train Stephen Lang how to reload rapidly for Public Enemy. Unfortunately, that scene ended up on the cutting room floor.
Butler’s next Hollywood contribution went viral, though. Director Chad Stahelski wanted his upcoming movie, John Wick 2, to feature the intense, fast-paced action you can only achieve with three-gun training, so he sent his star, Reeves, to Butler.
After working on technique, accuracy and speed, Butler recorded Reeves accurately hitting 19 targets using a rifle, pistol and shotgun in 19 seconds. The video received more than 16 million views online and was broadcast by TMZ, Access Hollywood and other major outlets. Needless to say, the public was impressed.
“No one had ever seen an A-list actor handle a gun like that.”
Hollywood was impressed, too. Butler has since consulted on The Fate of the Furious, Black Panther, as well as yet-to-be-released movies, and he’s worked with the cast of several TV series including S.W.A.T., Hawaii Five-O and Fear the Walking Dead. Specifically, he’s trained Chris Pine, Pierce Bronson, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Josh Duhamel and John Krasinski, to name just a few. Even Kendall Jenner and Khloe Kardashian taped a segment of their show at Butler’s range.
Some celebrities need a lot of instruction when they come to him, he says. Others, like Reeves, (who says hopes to compete in three-gun competition someday), and Mark-Paul Gosselaar of Saved By the Bell fame, are naturals. Aptitude and skill level aside, everyone can make improvements.
Butler says if you want to improve, the number one thing you can do is make sure you have a solid stance and a proper grip with as much skin on the gun as possible. Then, practice as often as you can and watch videos of competitive shooting.
“YouTube three gun,” he recommends. “If you want to get good at shooting, watch what they do.”
Practice and instructional videos won’t help if your equipment isn’t at its best. Butler regularly sees dirty components, scopes not tightened down and sights not zeroed in. Take the time to care for your equipment.
Zeroing in your sights is particularly important. Butler says he has worked with military personnel and police officers whose shots are off by as much as 6 inches or more.
“Guns don’t come out of the box dead on, and most people are going to put different sights on anyway,” he says. “You also have to keep in mind that if you travel with the gun, it can need to be zeroed again.”
The quality of your equipment—whether the gun you use, the scope you add/or other components—makes a tremendous difference.
“Good equipment really improves your shooting,” he says. “A good shooter with a bad gun isn’t going to shoot as well. It’s like a race car driver going from an F1 to a Honda Accord. The car just isn’t going to perform the same no matter how well he drives it.”
If you’re looking for a good, basic pistol, he suggests a Glock since it is accurate and rarely jams. However, if you’re ready to invest a little more, Butler’s company, Taran Tactical Innovations, sells competition-quality pistols, California-compliant rifles and accessories.
“Good equipment really improves your shooting. A good shooter with a bad gun isn’t going to shoot as well.”
Four Common Mistakes Hollywood Makes:
The entertainment industry doesn’t always get it right when it comes to firearms. Here are four common mistakes Taran Butler has noticed on the Big and Little screens.
Grip: Butler sees a lot of actors use a “cup and saucer grip” with one hand on the grip, the other cupping it underneath. Pierce Brosnan used this grip as James Bond before working with Butler.
Aim: Actors don’t always aim at the target. Butler cites Rick from The Walking Dead, who aims at the pavement yet miraculously shoots zombies in the head, as an example.
Reaction: When they fire, some actors flinch even though they’re portraying “bad asses.” Check out Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop.
Reloading: Hollywood doesn’t reload, and its guns fire more rounds than their magazines can hold. Butler again points to The Walking Dead as one of the biggest offenders.
Taran Tactical Innovations