COLUMBIA — Columbia native Curtis Bollinger took the title of U.S. Championship Anvil Shooter after a two-day competition in Farmington that ended on June 4.
Bollinger, a graduate student studying computer science at MU, became acquainted with the hobby at a young age. His father, Mark Bollinger, was a three-time U.S. champion in the '90s.
“I’ve seen it so many times; I know it by heart,” Curtis Bollinger, 21, said. “But this competition was the first time that I’ve done it on my own.”
Mark Bollinger got into anvil shooting in 1991 when he and his friend Gay Wilkinson bought black powder for a homemade cannon from a man named Tom Sawyer Nichols – an anvil-shooting savant.
“He asked if we’d ever shot anvils,” Mark Bollinger said. “And then he said, ‘Well you need to come over here and learn.’”
Nichols died only two months later. In his will, he asked that Wilkinson shoot an anvil at his funeral.
Thanks to Nichols, Mark Bollinger was hooked.
“Once we found out there were competitions, we started going,” Mark Bollinger said. “Curt’s been around it since he was 2.”
Mark Bollinger swept the championships held in Laurel, Miss., from 1997 to 1999, and Wilkinson won the title in 2000. Then the festival that hosted the competition hit hard financial times and ended.
It wasn’t until Farmington hosted a contest at its annual Country Days festival that the Bollingers and Wilkinson had the chance to compete again.
“This was kind of a revival of anvil-shooting competition,” Mark Bollinger said.
The championships in Farmington feature two competitions: traditional and super-modified. In traditional shooting, shooters pack one pound of black powder between two anvils before lighting the fuse. In the super-modified category, shooters can use two pounds of black powder, one anvil and anything for their base— in place of a traditional anvil — as long as it is no taller than 12 inches.
Eight teams from across the U.S. competed for the trophy in the traditional category, the Bollingers said. Their scores were based on the height of their top anvil shot in the air and how closely it landed to the base anvil.
Curtis Bollinger’s winning shot reached a lofty 202 feet, and the anvil landed only 7 feet away.
The second-place shot reached only 182 feet and landed 12 feet away, Mark Bollinger said.
Curtis Bollinger's technique was simple: Slow and steady wins the race.
“I just take my time and make sure everything is as precise as possible,” he said. “I use a really accurate level and a ruler to make sure everything is as clean as possible. I guess other people just go a little too fast.”
Also on Curtis Bollinger’s team were his mother, Dianne Bollinger, and Kevin Oehler, his cousin. Mark Bollinger’s brother and his son traveled all the way from Detroit to compete as well.
“Half the people that came to the competition didn’t realize that there were this many people doing it,” Dianne Bollinger said. “They were just excited to meet others.”
The Discovery Science Channel will broadcast Curtis Bollinger’s victory during a one-hour program hosted by MythBusters' Tory Belleci on Labor Day weekend.
“Having Tory there made it big time,” Mark Bollinger said. “You could tell he was seriously enjoying it.”
The production crew visited the Bollingers and several other competitors a month prior to the contest. They compiled hours of footage, including a mind-blowing clip of the Bollingers shooting an anvil from inside a camping trailer.
“I guess they got word that he’d shot it out of a house before,” Dianne Bollinger said. “That was fun, but the house still stood there. The Coleman camper – not so much.”
During the 11-year hiatus between competitions, the Bollingers brought out the anvils several times a year for entertainment.
“We’ve shot the anvil at our friend’s Fourth of July party now for probably 10 years straight,” Mark Bollinger said. “I’d probably get in pretty big trouble if I didn’t. They don’t even ask if it’s going to be there.”
Among other annual appearances, Curtis Bollinger returns to his Boy Scout troop every year to shoot off the anvils.
“I have the most memories from shooting it at Boy Scouts because there’s a really big crowd, and it’s mostly kids, so they get really excited,” Curtis Bollinger said. “After it lands, they all run towards it.”
Anvil shooting will likely remain a family affair. Curtis and the rest of the Bollingers plan on returning to the competition in Farmington next year.
“It gets me every time they go off,” Dianne Bollinger said. “It’s kind of a heavy hobby.”