Behind the counter at Moss Pawn and Gun is shooting enthusiast Eric Blandford, usually sporting a baseball cap and smile. After a lifetime of handling and firing guns, he happily gives customers suggestions on what equipment to get or ammo to stock. However, in his off time Eric also manages one of the most popular shooting channels on YouTube with over 200,000 subscribers.
Around the gun shop he’s known as the “YouTube Guy,” while his fans know him as Iraqveteran8888. With a team of fellow experts, Eric offers a variety of videos that touch on gunsmithing, firearm tests, politics, and even the oddball favorite such as firing chocolate shotgun slugs. We recently got the chance to talk with Eric after a video shoot and ask him a few questions that his fans have been dying to know.
So Eric, what got you into making these videos?
Well it actually is sort of interesting story. I never thought much of YouTube in terms of making videos or especially making a living out of it. Then I got back from Iraq in 2006 and found work to be in short supply. I wasn’t unemployed, but I wasn’t working full-time either. I had a lot of spare time on my hands to do little things. I don’t know what made me start, but I started making these videos and put them up on YouTube. One thing led to another.
Me and my cousin-in-law would go out shooting and I would film these trips. YouTube rolled up their partners program around the same time. I got invited to join the program and I didn’t really know anything about it at the time. I decided okay, if it can pay for some ammo and make little bit of money, we’ll try it. If I remember right we were among the very first YouTube partners with the first 75 people. It was very early back when you required an invite. The first checks started rolling in, a couple hundred bucks here and there. Then they started getting larger and as the years went on they became a grand or two. We took that money and invested it in better equipment, high-quality cameras, and overall better production. We try to keep up with the game so to speak. Later I started working at Moss Pawn and Gun and definitely made good use of the resources available to me. Having a gun store at your disposal is a great thing when you’re trying to film the videos that we do. I think it gives us an edge up on the competition.
What troubles did you come across while first gathering subscribers and pushing your videos out there?
Initially the biggest obstacle was trying to retain people’s attention, getting them to go the extra mile to subscribe. I think the hardest part was getting people to actually engage with my content. Eventually I had to learn that if you desire something, just tell your viewers. People are pretty impressionable and gun people are generally open-minded and easy going. I tell people, “Hey, leave a comment, check this out.” I discovered I had a pretty loyal fan base. Very early on it was a small fan base. In the first two years I had about 20,000 subscribers, but they always supported me. You would be surprised what you can do with a dedicated fan base.
Now we’re running across the same problems with our new channel ReelMen8888 And I’m finding myself relearning everything that went with starting up a channel.
Which was the episode you had the most fun making?
The videos I enjoy making the most are the unrehearsed, off-the wall ones. They usually get best reception too. I’m not sure if people catch on to the fact that we’re enjoying ourselves or that we’re being really genuine. The most from-the-hip, B-roll videos that always tend to do the best. A good example would be the mall ninja AR video we made. That video was completely unrehearsed. We went out there and had a very vague idea of what the video was going to be. We didn’t have a script or anything, just the goal of shooting this crazy gun. Satire all the way. Those are the ones that are the most fun to make and best of all, the video gets a lot of views and people love it. The challenge is to consistently make this kind of viral content and to integrate it with our more serious stuff.
Which videos were the most frustrating to make?
I’m going to be honest with you, it’s the ReelMen8888 videos. I can tell you with all trepidation that filming a fishing video is not easy. There are all these things you can’t control. You can’t control the weather, when a fish is going to bite, water splashing or boat rocking. There’s also the fact that everything around you is dangerous to your $2,000 camera. If your camera takes a dip in the drink you’re going to be flat out of luck. I have a lot of respect for people who film fishing full-time because it is really difficult.
Now on Iraqveteran8888, the most difficult gun videos to produce are the range videos where we spend a lot of time in post-production, showing close groupings and detailed shots. If you want to showcase what a gun is capable of you have to factor in a bad day at the range. It is probably two or three times as hard to edit these videos in post-production.
What is your carry gun?
I carry a Glock 26. It’s equipped with a Crimson Trace laser grip and I’ve got it set with a night sight as well. It’s a good quality side arm and probably my favorite carry gun. I’ll carry it either in my pocket or back pocket and sometimes in summer, if I want to conceal it real deep, I’ll carry it inside the waistband. If I’m feeling very casual or depending on the situation I have been known to carry a .22 Beretta Minx.
Which firearm are you most impressed by?
That’s really hard to say. There’s so many guns out there that are worthy of being mentioned. What I look for in gun quality is workmanship, materials and value. I would have to say probably that pound for pound and dollar for dollar the best you can buy, in my opinion, is the Swiss K31 rifle. It is a World War Two-era service rifle that comes in 7.5x55mm and I will say that you won’t find a better gun for the money. I have a K31 produced in 1958 and with a decent optic I can shoot that thing all day long. I can get it zeroed in and ping a eight-inch plate at 600 yards.
What’s one gun you really want to get your hands on?
Definitely an FN SCAR 17. I was amazed by how light and dead-accurate this firearm was, shooting steel targets at 1,100 yards with a non-magnified EOtech. In my opinion it is everything a good battle rifle should be and I would love to get my hands on one.
There will be more interviews and Eric's "War Stories" coming soon in the Members Only section.