ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — Aaron and Steve Gould would normally perform anywhere from 25-30 live exhibition shooting shows in a season that ends around November, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made life anything but normal for most people.
That includes the Alexandria, Minn., brothers, who have taken a dream of making a career out of trick shooting with shotguns and other firearms and made it a reality.
Now in their 11th season of performing live shows, Aaron and Steve were in Alexandria Sept. 22 to perform in front of a home crowd at the Alexandria Shooting Park. It was just their second show of the 2020 season due to the pandemic shutting down many events. An open schedule has allowed them more time at home with family, but it’s also affected them like any other business, with nearly 50% of their annual income generated through live performances.
“This isn’t just shooting. This is about performing,” Steve said after the nearly hour-long show at the Alexandria Shooting Park. “It’s talking, it’s jiving with each other, it’s getting into a rhythm and groove. You can go out and practice these shots, but you just don’t get that rhythm going when you’re not out doing shows week in and week out. It can be a little bit more of a struggle to get what you look for.”
The Gould Brothers were the main event in front of a capacity crowd of 250 people at the outdoor fundraiser for the Alexandria Technical and Community College Foundation that included live and silent auctions. The more than $67,000 raised from the event will go to provide scholarships for ATCC students.
Aaron and Steve hear the same refrain a lot from fans: They must never miss, right? The truth is they do miss once in a while, but they are quick to point out those misses themselves.
They always want to hit their mark, but they are performing shots that most people with plenty of firearm experience would have no idea how to execute. Their show includes busting multiple clays thrown at a time, shaving the corners off of charcoal with multiple individual shots, and exploding objects as big as basketballs and as small as grapes, aspirin and mustard seeds. When they do miss, they know how to have fun with it now.
“A big thing is your show presence,” Aaron said. “When you’re out in front of a crowd, there’s days things don’t go your way. The big key is not letting the audience know you’re having a bad day. So turning around, smiling, moving on and keeping the crowd having fun. I think that’s a big thing that has really made an impact on how crowds react to us, because in the beginning, we really did let our emotions show when we were having a rough day.”
Getting to this point has been a vision that has constantly evolved. The brothers rarely even got along as kids. Aaron loved the outdoors, and Steve did not get into hunting or shooting until he was in college. They started shooting together in 2007, and a passion was born.
“When we set out, the only idea we had is we wanted to perform live exhibitions and make that our full-time thing,” Steve said. “Now as time went on, that became a big part of what we do, but we also create a lot of digital content with brands like Reeds and Federal. So it sort of morphed where we do other things, not just live shows, which is really a good thing because in the COVID era, live shows have really been reduced.”
Aaron and Steve want fans to leave their shows thinking about more than just the shots performed. The brothers give each other a lot of good-natured flak through their interactions. Talking with kids and providing a smile to their audience is a big focus.
“Whether they’re a shooter or not, I want them to have a fun time,” Steve said. “I think that’s really what our aim is. It doesn’t matter who is in the audience or what their interests are, they can enjoy this show.”
They also want to showcase firearms in a positive way as something people can have fun with in a safe environment.
“We’ve had a lot of people come to us after shows and say, ‘Hey, I wasn’t going to come. I’m not even into firearms or I’m a little scared of them, but that showed me firearms in a whole new light,”’ Steve said. “We always love to hear that where we can show firearms responsibly but in a fun way.”
Finally, the Goulds want to show that much more is possible if a person has faith and a vision. There is power in persevering through challenges, and both Aaron and Steve have leaned a lot on their spiritual faith through this whole career journey.
“We had plans. Aaron was going to be a pilot. I was going to be a financial analyst,” Steve said. “God gave us a bigger, different plan that is way better than anything in our wildest imagination.”