Who among us hasn't sat down to watch a few Lucky Gunner or Firearm Rack videos on YouTube and daydreamed about that being us? Is there anything cooler than shooting and talking about guns with thousands of people watching? I mean all you need is your camera phone, some shit to shoot, and an opinion, right? Turns out it takes a little bit more than that (but not much). So I decided to find out exactly what it takes if you want to start a YouTube gun channel.
When fellow writer Daniel and I were at Chuck Haggard's Low Light Pistol class back in April we met Mark. Mark owns the YouTube channel Fit'n Fire which has just shy of 25K followers. After class Mark and I chatted quite a bit, and I thought it would be interesting to do an interview and learn more about what it's like to be a YouTube gun guy. Unfortunately the Rona kept hanging around causing problems, but we finally got to get together recently.
Mark and I met at Tallgrass Shooting Sports in Manhattan, KS on a Sunday afternoon. This outdoor range in the heart of Flint Hills is a growing hot spot in the firearms training world. They have classes coming up later this year with some big name instructors. These include Mag40 with Masad Ayoob and Pistol 1 & 2 with Warrior Poet John Lovell. They also have a Carbine Elements Theory class scheduled in March 2021 with Chris Costa. As Daniel has shared in other AARs, it's a pretty cool place with lots of amazing features.
Tallgrass Shooting Sports is one of Fit'n Fire's sponsors so we had a private outdoor range for the day. We were there for a little over three hours shooting. I brought my Glock 48 and my BCM RECEE 11.5. For the BCM I used a Torkmag and a Savvy Sniper sling I was given to review. I'll need to arrange some more outdoor range time and probably a class or two before those are done, but it was nice to get rounds in using them finally.
Mark brought his video equipment, some gear, and several guns to get footage of. He spent about an hour recording various B roll footage that will be used in 3 or 4 different videos. The rest of the time we just shot for fun. The guns he brought were: Aero Precision M4E1 5.56 suppressed, Aero Precision M4E1 300 Blackout suppressed, a Tommy Built HK G36c clone, and a Cugir RH-10 Romanian AK-47. After we shot we went to his home where he records the A roll footage to talk and get out of the heat.
Mark and I sat down after our range trip and he graciously answered all of my questions about being a “YouTube gun guy”. Hopefully some of what I leaned will help more people get started if that's something you've thought about. Below is a summary the question and answer session.
How did you get started shooting?
Like so many people who are into shooting, Mark grew up around guns. His dad was a firearms collector and they were always going to gun shows. Wanemachers in Tulsa sticks out as one of the big ones they visited and it is still one of the largest shows today. Marks' dad loved showing off his new guns and talking about their history. They didn't go to the range a ton growing up, just occasionally to do some plinking.
What was the 1st gun you bought for yourself?
Mark was a little embarrassed to admit it, but the first gun he bought for himself was a Springfield XD45 back in 2006. Now he is very anti-Springfield after the 2017 incident with Rock River. I confess, I'm new enough to the firearms world that I had to look up what happened and ask the folks over on our Discord. If you also don't know, apparently Springfield and Rock River Armory colluded with an anti-gun group to get legislation passed in Illinois that was harmful to gun owners and FFLs, but not to themselves. The legislation limited the number of transfers between parties except the manufacturers. Springfield claims they didn't know their lobbyist was making the deal, but many in the industry still hold a grudge.
What made you want to start a YouTube Channel?
YouTube has been around since 2005 and has grown in popularity ever since. At one time it was the most used search engine after Google and is a resource for just about any "how-to" information you could need. Mark said he really started watching gun content on YouTube in 2015 and found more firearms content than he expected. Like many of us, he thought “I could do this”. He started buying more firearms stuff and looking at other people's videos and social media for ideas. He launched Fit'n Fire in July of 2017.
How long did it take you to get to almost 25k followers?
I asked Mark if he had done anything special to reach almost 25K numbers or if there was a specific turning point in the process. He said it took about two months of consistently posting to get to 100 followers. It took around another 6 months to reach 2,000 followers. Then he had a video go viral and he snagged a live interview with The Gun Guy. After that his numbers skyrocketed.
Do you feel the market is too saturated?
When asked about the number of gun related YouTube channels and if he thought the market was getting saturated, Mark said no. He believes that the more voices and more opinions that are out there the better our community is. More info helps grow the community and different personalities connect with different viewers. He also thinks all the available content helps advocate for training, which isn't required but is in everyone's best interest.
Do you buy the products to review or get them from companies?
The items Fit'n Fire gets to review come from a combination of sources. Mark is connected with a few companies that send him things to review but he also buys things himself. When buying things he strives to keep within a budget so that it doesn't get out of hand. He has gotten an AK to review from Palmetto State Armory and regularly gets items from Olight, who were one of his first sponsors.
I asked if he thought it was a conflict to get items to review from companies and he said no. He always does his reviews the same no matter where the item comes from. In his reviews, Mark covers the good as well as the things he would like to see changed. Most companies can respect that. Besides, he says, everyone has preexisting biases, they are unavoidable. You just try to be as fair and honest as possible because that's what the job is.
Besides Sponsorship, What Other Income do You Get?
Running any sort of review site is expensive. You have to have the proper equipment, hardware and software to record, edit, and upload your content. Strong research skills and a desire to talk about something you are passionate about is a must. You have to have experiences and training to grow your expertise. It's no different if you have a YouTube channel or run a site like Primer Peak.
For Fit'n Fire, Mark participates in a few affiliate programs and has a Patreon. Patrick has the same things for our site Primer Peak, just as many other content creators have. When you are starting out, these programs help cover some of the costs associated with running the site. As you grow, hopefully these programs start to be a real source of income and can start to replace some of your regular income. Right now Mark strives to keep his purchases within the budget of what he brings in. However, any classes and traveling for things like SHOT Show still come out of pocket.
Do you have a long-term goal for the channel?
Mark would love for the channel to be his full-time job some day. He wants to grow it and expand beyond just firearms and fitness content. He recently took up cycling and enjoys other things like camping that could make good content. Mark also said he could walk away from the site today without regret if he had to. It just depends on the level of risk versus reward on an ongoing basis.
When asked what it would take to go full-time, he responded they would need to reach certain milestones for that to be possible. He's not sure if that is 50k followers or 100k, or what that looks like exactly. He thinks the next 18 months will determine the future of YouTube and thus the future of Fit'n Fire to some extent.
Mark is also interested in becoming a firearms instructor but said he was not sure he would be any good. He asks himself, who am I to teach others? I pointed out that he basically did some instructing when we were at the range. He had to show me how the guns he brought work and how to aim them. I personally think he would be good at it. Being able to interact in a productive manner is the important part of instructor ability. The information to be taught can be learned, but not everyone has the patience and personality to teach others.
How much time do you spent on content creation? (shooting, editing, interacting with fans, etc)
Creating content for a site isn't as easy as many people think. So many people assume you just sit down and write or turn on your phone camera and boom, you have awesome content ready for public consumption. That isn't usually the case. For example; this article is going to be approximately 2000 words. That's a little higher than my 1000-1200 average. I drove 90 minutes each way to meet with Mark, spent around 3 hours at the range and another couple at his home doing the interview. I spent about an hour packing my range bag and gear, another two or three watching Fit'n Fire content so I could be familiar with his work before going, and have another 30 minutes grabbing the links sprinkled throughout.
I've spent about 2 hours this morning writing this article but have had some distraction from friends and family. It will take probably another 30-40 minutes in uploading images and checking for SEO and readability. Some articles take longer (hours at the range, days traveling for classes, weeks wearing uncomfortable gear, etc) while some, like the Legislation to Watch articles, are pretty quick and easy.
Doing a video for YouTube requires a similar level of commitment. Mark says one video usually involves one 2-3 hour range trip (though he can get footage for multiple videos sometimes). Then around an hour shooting A roll footage at home, close to 1.5 hours editing, and another hour posting. He spends about 30 minutes a day responding to comments on his various social media sites. He tries to do at least one video a week. All of this while working full-time and being a dad.
So the point of this wasn't to scare anyone off of becoming a firearms content creator, either in print or video. As Mark said, we need more voices! This coming week I am traveling to Tennessee to take a class with Tatiana Whitlock and she has agreed to do an interview as well. She said almost the exact thing Mark said when I asked. She said absolutely because we need more voices, especially female ones.
This article is meant to shine a light on the reality of being a content creator so that those who want to jump in the deep end with the rest of us do so as informed and realistically as possible. I had no clue what it was actually like when I started writing for myself a year ago. If I wasn't so damn stubborn I probably would have quit a long time ago and that would have been a shame. It would have been a shame for me, as well as for the people I have touched with my work. Did I mention a healthy ego helps if you're going to take the plunge?
So, reality check. If you think you're going to start a site this week and be making bank in 30 days, please reconsider. Doing this kind of work is about passion first. Any money and notoriety comes later, and often times not at all. If you do this because you love firearms and sharing information then go for it!
Message or comment below with your site, I'll try to follow along and support you as I can. If you want to get lucky and get rich, maybe buy a lottery ticket. Your chances are about the same and it's a lot less work.