New Wil Willis series “Triggers” puts weapons in historical context

By Karl J. Paloucek

Gun and weapons enthusiasts have something to look forward to at the end of this month. Starting Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 10pm, Military Channel will premiere its new six-part weapons-profiling series Triggers: Weapons That Changed the World, hosted by Wil Willis. The series puts guns and other ballistic weapons in proper historical context, illustrating what made certain models the game changers of their times and showing how they did — and continue to — shape the world in which we live. I spoke with Willis about the series and learned that not only is he one of the most knowledgable people I’ve ever encountered when it comes to discussing guns, but he’s easily the most enthusiastic.

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One of the most spectacular facets of Triggers, and one that Willis obviously really loves, are the ballistics tests, which are shot with gun-mounted cameras and high-speed photography to capture the projectile’s entire trajectory as well as its impact. “We do a lot of ballistics testing, and testing of the weapons systems either against themselves or against one another,” he explains. “We’ll cover everything from pistols to battle rifles, to assault weapons, to shoulder-fired rocket systems, to artillery pieces. It’s a really exciting series, and it was a lot of fun to shoot.”

Triggers‘ premiere episode is typically fascinating — a look at the evolution of the handgun, from its early days on battlefields in the 16th century, through curious developments like multi-barreled handguns from the 19th century, the Colt 45 and up through today’s standard military-issue Beretta 9mm. Some of the models they fire in the episode are incredibly rare and often bizarre, and are often far from accurate, even for the experts firing them. “The weapons are predominantly from private collections,” Willis says. “Our armorer, Mike Tristano — he was our primary armorer — he has quite an extensive personal collection of weapons, which he allowed us to use for this series, which is great, on top of being in charge of safety and being the gun wrangler on the set.”

The handgun competition is compelling enough, with ballistics gel and other targets helping to measure and illustrate the impact of each weapon’s effectiveness and accuracy. But I had to wonder how they’ll compete with heavier artillery, where considerable destructive power comes into play and each projectile fired has a heftier price tag. “There’s still an element of [competition],” Willis says. “I think anytime that you’re engaging a target with a weapon like a shoulder-mounted rocket system, like a LAW rocket or an AT4, or even a Stinger missile, the challenge isn’t just hitting the target itself … now you’re talking about a one-shot deal. It’s not like I have 15 rounds in a magazine with a Carl Gustav. I’ve got this one shot. Am I going to hit the target? Am I not going to hit the target? And is my weapon system going to be effective against the target?”

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Although Triggers is a six-part series for now, Willis says that his imagination is pretty well unlimited when it comes to new directions to take this series, given the chance. “I think that we’ve just scratched the surface of what could be covered,” he offers. “I mean, you have aircraft platforms like the Spectre gunship and the defensive air platforms, and Little Birds — and all of these other weapons platforms that could be covered — that have evolved from some idea from the past.”

Of course, I had to ask what Willis would really like to get his hands on, either for Triggers or in general, and he naturally obliged with a wish list worthy of a kid at Christmastime. “Obviously, the belt-fed weapons haven’t even been touched yet, such as the M60 … the M249 SAWs; some of the foreign belt-fed weapons systems. I would love to get into machine guns and cruiser weapons. We haven’t really touched on mortars, which are man-sized, portable artillery that’s moved by infantry. And me, personally? I would love to get my hands on a minigun. Firing 6,000-9,000 rounds a minute — that sounds like a lot of fun, to me. I would really enjoy that. Especially a minigun fired from an air platform, like an H-60.”

If Triggers takes off for Willis as it’s expected to, maybe Santa will help Military Channel line up a few of those opportunities. (And that we’d also like to see.)


Photo: Military Channel


  1. In the episode on the M1 Garand, Wil shot one round each of the Enfield, K98 Mauser, and the M1 Garand into a block of something. (Wax? Wet clay?) The hole created by the Mauser was much smaller than that of the other two rifles. Yet, the 8×57 round is nearly the ballistic equivalent of the .30-06. Can anyone explain this? Were the ’06 and the Enfield softpoints vs FMJ on the Mauser?

  2. Watched several episodes and the cgi is terrible. When will shoots the briefcase mp5 you can see a second gun barrel in the upper left hand corner of the screen doing the shooting for him. In the rpg episode they blow up the. Targets without any projectiles being seen fired. Totally fake.. I like Will Willis so this is almost embarrassing for him. Hate to see him sell out like this. Great intel about the weapons but ruined by the terrible cgi and blatant lies of a the scenarios..

  3. Seconded Mike. The episode with the 105 was the first one I saw and when I saw that faked shot I knew I wouldn’t be watching this ever again.
    It’s one thing to simulate something like that as long as you make it clear. But to just openly ‘lie’ to the audience and do a piss poor job of it to? Insulting.

  4. Hi Will,
    I’ve seen a couple of the shows now, and enjoyed them well enough. However, I don’t appreciate the attempt to fool the audience into believing the 105mm howitzer was really fired and the auto was really hit by a shell. This bit of CGI and special effects sleight of hand was very disappointing. I won’t be watching any more shows since you hold my intelligence in such low regard.

  5. HI Will,
    I really enjoyed the show with the transition in weapons. I read the other posts and I am amazed that I didn’t see anyone else point this out. You with your previous service would have really enjoyed shooting the M1 Carbine. this was a paratroopers weapon with folding stock. or fixed stock for assault work. The light weight rifle really packs a punch for it’s size. It’s not a garand, but it was’nt designed to be.
    Thought I’d mention it.
    Bob Watson

  6. Will, on your sub machine gun issue, you showed most of the smg’s but left out the british Sten gun of which the Canadian military later use a modified version as stantard issued. I personnely enjoyed this weapon, as I also used it as a pistol when I was on the the ranges when I was with the Canadian Combat Engineers. @ 6’2″ and with big hands, I showed up a few officiers with the 9mm Browning HP pistol. even though it had a tendency to ride up on auto, due to the blow back action, at the hip with the left hand on top, this gun was a joy to shoot.

  7. I really like the show. Watched last night about submachine guns.. Just wanted to say that in the 80s I still carried the M-3 Grease gun on my recovery vehicle for the US Army. At 90 Meters I could take down a man target with a 3 round burst.Keep up the good work. Sgt Wittman
    US Army Ret.

  8. Loved Special Ops Mission so much! I would love to see more episodes of that.

    Watching “Triggers” as I write this(commercial). Love the new show.

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