James Jean didn’t set out to be one of the world’s greatest trick shooters. The 31-year-old from Carrollton, Georgia, just enjoyed bowhunting with his dad. He got in the habit of shooting his compound bow every day years ago, and in 2011, Jean ordered his first traditional bow off eBay. He was also shot sporting clays at the time, and he thought it’d be fun to try and combine the two.
“I just got to this point where I was kinda bored shooting still targets,” Jean tells Outdoor Life. “I started trying it with a bow without thinking much about it. I was shooting [clays] coming at me and I was hitting ‘em pretty easy, and then a guy saw me do it and started telling everybody in town.”
So, Jean bought some camera equipment and started filming shots for his YouTube channel as he pushed his own boundaries with a bow. Pretty soon he was shooting with his eyes closed and busting clays from a trampoline mid-backflip.
In one of his most recent videos, which he filmed three weeks ago, Jean used a spinning rod to cast a jig at a hard-crossing clay. He broke it on his first attempt.
Today, Jean’s following has grown far beyond the small southern town where he lives. Jean now has more than 200,000 followers on Instagram, where some of his videos have racked up nearly a million views. He records every one of these on his property west of Atlanta, giving himself just an hour of filming time in the morning before he works the farm all day. He also freelances, filming hunting videos for Trophy Quest and other outdoors shows. His most recent trick shot, dubbed the “incoming robinhood”, shows him shooting an arrow mid-flight as it’s coming directly at him.
“Oh, you can dodge it,” he says casually after I ask how he was able to stay calm with an arrow flying at him. “The biggest thing was getting the alignment right, and it didn’t really take that long. I took one step to the side and hit it the second time.”
With sponsorships from Black Rifle Coffee Company and Bear Archery, the young bowman now has three archery world records to his name, including the fastest moving target hit with an arrow—a crossing clay that was humming along at 48 miles an hour. He’s also been a guest on the ‘Go-Big Show‘ on TBS, where he showed Snoop Dogg and the other judges how to curve an arrow around an obstacle with his bow behind his head.
Scrolling through his Instagram feed, it’s hard to say which of his shots is the most impressive. Two years ago, he shocked even himself by tossing up a wedding ring and shooting through the center of it. This year, he says, he did the same trick but shot two consecutive arrows through the center of the ring as it spun in midair. It took him four tries.
“With me, it’s the harder shots that usually come easy and the ones I underestimate that come a little harder.”
Jean uses a Bear Takedown for most of his archery shots, swapping out between 40-, 50-, and 60-pound limbs. He occasionally hunts with the same trad bow, but isn’t against using a compound or even a rifle depending on the situation. As for his arrows, he says he uses Gold Tip Warriors for trick shooting “because they’re cheap.”
And just like how he got bored shooting still targets, Jean has moved beyond trad bows to incorporate other weapons and projectiles. He’s been experimenting with a Red Ryder by shooting falling water droplets with BBs. He’ll also throw an atlatl or use a shepherd’s sling to bust clays, and he’s even incorporated fishing rods into his repertoire.
“I’ve learned that once you figure out how to do a certain shot consistently [with a bow and arrow], you can make the same shot with other things,” Jean says. “These shots do come a lot easier nowadays, after all the time I’ve spent doing it. But I swear I’m just lucky.”