Celebrities like Randy Couture are a rare breed.
These days, political correctness has permeated the celebrity culture to the point that avid shooters are better off looking up to fictional characters rather than the real-life stars who portray them.
At least that's the notion floating around the shooting culture, that idea that all Hollywood actors — even the ones firing full-auto chain guns at aliens, terrorists or any other big-screen baddy in some epic soundstage shootout — would rather spend their time at coffee shops and ultra-high-end clothing stores than at the range.
Those shooters haven't met Couture.
After making a name for himself in the mixed martial arts (MMA) circuit — a sport he dominated at the professional level for 14 years — Couture has successfully crossed over to the silver screen, a move that continues adding to his legend. During his MMA rule, Couture captured the UFC World Heavyweight title three times and the UFC Light Heavyweight championship twice — becoming the first fighter to capture championships in two weight classes and earning the most championship reigns in UFC history — and was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame on June 24, 2006. Following his retirement from MMA, Couture etched his name alongside such legendary action stars as Stallone, Willis, Norris and Schwarzenegger, and in doing so, has stood up for safe gun use on and off the set.
For Couture, shooting isn't just some method acting or persona he adopts while on some Hollywood backlot.
"I've been an avid outdoorsman and a hunter since I was 7 years old," Couture said, adding that he served in the United States Army from 1982 to 1988, during which time he had plenty of time to put some lead through targets. "I've done a lot of shooting. Shot just about everything at one time another and own several guns myself. It's definitely something I enjoy, I find sporting, and I'm intrigued by the weaponry."
He doesn't mince words when it comes to hunting, either.
"I love animals. They taste great," he said with a laugh.
He also knows what his favorite tastes when it comes to wild game. "Elk, definitely. €¦ I've hunted them for over 20 years, and just this year was able to actually take a bull elk — they've eluded me for that long. They're amazing creatures."
So it's safe to say he felt comfortable holding a firearm when he was cast as demolitions expert Toll Road in the 2010 action ensemble film The Expendables and its 2012 sequel, The Expendables 2.
Alongside action legends Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger — and joined by former WWE wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin — Couture got plenty of screen time with a gun in hand as a member of the eponymous mercenary group, while simultaneously showing off a few moves straight from the Octagon.
But just like on the range, there are safety precautions to take on the film set. After all, those weren't fake rifles being wielded by the team.
"The guns we use are real guns; they were just adapted to shoot blanks instead of real bullets," Couture said. "But they're real M4s, real shotguns and real weapons. The handguns are real; they're just shooting blanks on a movie set instead of shooting real ammunition at real targets.
"Safety is a huge issue. Even with a blank, you have to be very careful where you're pointing a real weapon and firing it. That's part of the magic of making a movie, the camera angles and position, and what you're actually shooting at."
As such, Couture said, there's no need to overcompensate for recoil, something that real-life shooters have been quick to point out in film since the days of the Duke.
"With blanks, there's still an explosion going off, so recoil isn't a huge issue," Couture said, pointing to the full-auto shotgun used in the first film. "Look at Terry Crews' weapon, the AA-12. Even though he's shooting blanks out of that 12-gauge shotgun, it still has a recoil. €¦ It's not a full load, so to speak, as if you were shooting a real 12-gauge with 2 ¾- or 3-inch shotgun shells, but there's still a recoil there. You don't have to add anything to that. The only difference is obviously the lead coming out the other end."
Just like any action movie, The Expendables series features a plethora of guns that makes the rest of us shooters take a second look at our own arsenals and sigh. But if he had to pick a favorite?
"I happen to like the M4. It's obviously an American weapon that a lot of our soldiers are using nowadays. It can configured in many different ways with lasers, night vision and all kinds of stuff. Shot a pretty basic M4 with a red-dot sight.
"I like that weapon. It's light. It's good for close-quarter combat. It's a good long-range weapon, shoots about a little over 3,000 fps — the real round that comes out of it — which is a really high velocity. It's an effective weapon."
Obviously busy, Couture still does his best to make it out to ranges close to his Nevada home.
"I try to go on a regular basis," Couture said. "I have a gun range, the Las Vegas Gun Range, that's right by my house, and I live fairly close to the desert, so I enjoy taking the four-wheelers and guns out in the desert, and dragging the targets out there to shoot in the desert."
Couture added that he's especially thankful to live in a gun-friendly state such as Nevada.
"Nevada's a great state in that we still have a lot of the freedoms to use guns and own guns, both the normal variety, and even automatic weapons and such," he said. "It's one of the things that we, the people that live in Nevada, enjoy."
And that's a right he believes all Americans share.
"I think that our society and our nation was built and stands on a foundation of freedom and the ability to bear arms, and I think that may not be for everybody, but it's still a big piece of the foundation that our nation was built on and should not be revoked," Couture said. "It should not be changed because it's not for some people. You're never going to make everybody happy. But I think it's still something we need to keep intact."
In addition, he said, it's a right and a tradition that we should pass on to the next generation of outdoorsmen and women.
"As a nation, the things that we stand for are still going to be challenged continually, and are being challenged continually now," Couture said. "To take that opportunity to pass that on to my kids and to teach my kids how to use a weapon appropriately and be able to go out, first of all, and be able to hunt, eliminate the middle man and seek game to fill their freezer, and if need be, to protect ourselves if we have to. I think it's wrong for others to impose their wishes and what they believe on everyone."
But before you teach Junior how to handle a firearm, he said, be absolutely sure you know what you're doing.
"Guns don't kill people — people do. Understanding and respecting the power that you have and doing it with a qualified instructor so you do things properly, and recognizing that you need to keep the muzzle of that weapon pointed downrange," he said. "And take it seriously — it's not a toy. We make it look easy, the things that we do on set and through the course of a movie, but they're real things. They possess a ton of power and they can take somebody's life."
From an Army sergeant to one of MMA's top fighters, to action movie star alongside the genre's all-time greats, Couture has captured the public eye while still advocating safe, responsible gun ownership, a trait that is to be admired by his shooting peers.
But as exciting as emptying a mag in full-auto is, it still doesn't compare to stepping foot in the Octagon — that competitive spirit never goes away.
"They're both along the same lines in terms of adrenaline, but there's no real substitute for walking out in that arena in front of that crowd in nothing but your trunks and competing at that level."
The Expendables 2 is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD from Lionsgate Home Entertainment.