Professional Whip Artistry Training & Entertainment

Professional Whip Artistry Training & Entertainment

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  • Another Annie Oakley Wild West Showcase in the can.

    Another Western Arts Showcase at Annie Oakley Festival is in the can and it was a great time for all! In our new space at York Woods, the festival was well attended and may have a breath of fresh air to keep it going for the next half century.

    David Crain, Gery Deer, Luke Taylor, Kirk Bass and Chris Camp take a moment for a photo at The Whip Artistry Studio on the day before the Annie Oakley events.  (Photo Copyright 2014 GLD Enterprises)

    David Crain, Gery Deer, Luke Taylor, Kirk Bass and Chris Camp take a moment for a photo at The Whip Artistry Studio on the day before the Annie Oakley events.

    Of course, the event actually began the day before with a meeting of the whips at The Whip Aristry Studio ( in Jamestown, Ohio. Gery Deer’s long-running whip arts school played host to Chris Camp, Luke Taylor, his dad Chuck, Kirk Bass, David Crain, and of course, Gery. Everyone checked out the mini-museum at the studio but Luke probably spent the most time there, taking pictures and looking over nearly 20 years of studio history. He even convinced Gery to take the Zorro/Catwoman Morgan out of its case and give him a chance to try it out. Of course, everyone wanted to try it out.

    There were new tricks being tried out and David brought some of his latest nylon whip creations with some beautifully turned new handles for Gery’s four-foot studio whips. Chris Camp tested out a couple of new tricks and most everyone just relaxed, shared whip stories and talked about their year.

    As the day got later, the group migrated to Gery’s childhood home, the Deer family farm, just a few minutes away. There, they relaxed, ate and talked in the rehearsal hall of The Brothers & Co. until they moved outside for more whip cracking.

    The next morning, it was time to hit the road for Darke County and the Annie Oakley Festival. As we mentioned in earlier promotional material, we reduced the Showcase from three days down to one, capturing the essence of the weekend’s activities within about 7 hours. Most of the crew and equipment traveled aboard The Brothers & Co. tour bus, “Noah’s Ark,” making the 2-hour ride right on time, even with a slight detour due to a road closure on highway 49.

    As we pulled into York Woods, about six miles northeast of Greenville in Ansonia, Ohio, we were greeted at the gate with great anticipation. With everyone’s help, we had the entire outdoor performance and contest space assembled in just under an hour, right down to the sound system and target equipment.


    Rich Hoffman, Hollie Bradley, Chris Camp and Luke Taylor await their turn at the whip speed and accuracy competitions at Annie Oakley Festival. (Photo by Debra Bays / Copyright GLD Enterprises 2014)

    We started the day at 1 p.m. with the first set of whip competitions, beginning with the classic speed and accuracy program. Newcomer Hollie Bradley, from Kettering, Ohio, was as brave as any seasoned veteran as she jumped in to compete against some of the best. Barbara Deer served as official time keeper and recorded the results with newly-created, specializes whip contest score sheets. With some high expectations, the big winner was Chris Camp, with a score of 13:47, followed by Luke Taylor in second, and Gery Deer taking third.

    Our own Speed Switch Accuracy contest is a favorite because it requires the contestants to perform with both hands. Contestants begin at one end of the target range, using, for example, the left hand to cut only the left-hand targets. Then, they come back the other direction cutting only the right side targets with the right hand. It’s a challenging prospect, but everyone did well!

    First place in the Speed Switch whip contest was Rich Hoffman, followed by Gery Deer in second place and Chris Camp bringing it in for third.

    Next came the two most anticipated contests of the day, the International Bullwhip Fast Draw and the Indiana Jones-styled, Turning, Long Whip Fast Draw. In the standard fast draw, contestants are required to use only a bullwhip, no stock whips or minis. Contestants face off in a two-person heat with a

    Richard and Donna Best - BLackLightning Wild West Show. (Photo by Debra Bays / Copyright GLD Enterprises 2014)

    Richard and Donna Best – BLackLightning Wild West Show. (Photo by Debra Bays / Copyright GLD Enterprises 2014)

    whip that must be at least 6 feet long and remain coiled in the hand until the announcer yells, “Draw!” Everyone did well, and with a single target to hit, the competition was fierce! In the end, as they say, there can be only one, and this year’s winner was Melodee Bass, wife and performing partner of Kirk Bass (Bass Blades) the co-producer of the event and resident thrown weapons expert.

    Finally, the contest everyone was anticipating with, well, fear and confusion. The Indy-styled turning fast draw was a brand-new competition, based on the opening scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Jones hears the click of the pistol, turns and draws his trusty, 10-foot Morgan from his snapped holster, to thwack the gun from the hand of the bad guy! Umm, right.

    Anyway, we tried it and it was surprisingly fun to watch. It was probably more fun watching people try to figure it out beforehand. Handling an eight-foot bullwhip from a snapped holster to a targeted cut is no easy task but everyone did a great job and the audiences were having just as much fun as the competitors. When all was said and done, young Luke Taylor was the last one standing at the end of the contest. Luke has the title as “Turning, Holstered Fast Draw Champion of the World!” Congratulations to all of our competitors.

    The Brothers & Co. Hosted the evening performance at the Showcase.  (Photo by Debra Bays / Copyright GLD Enterprises 2014)

    The Brothers & Co. Hosted the evening performance at the Showcase. (Photo by Debra Bays / Copyright GLD Enterprises 2014)

    With that, everyone got the chance to relax, practice, hang out and do some whip cracking and roping. But not everyone was idle. Ohio western performer Richard Best and his wife Donna (Black Lightning Wild West Show) enlisted the whip pros in the group to help out with a new world record attempt for the Guinness Book. We can’t release what it is just yet, but, suffice to say it was very well executed. Rich Hoffman filmed the attempt while Gery Deer served as the media representative and Chris Camp as a professional witness. We hope to bring you the results and details soon!

    Finally, it was time for the Grand Wild West Show, hosted by The Brothers & Co. Entertainers, all of whom had been relaxing throughout the day, patiently waiting for their turn on stage. Gery Deer, pulling triple duty as producer, director and performer, led the Boys in Black on stage with Gary Deer Jr., Ed Jones, and Jim Karns kicking out some great country tunes, followed by a variety of performances. Richard and Donna Best started the show off with some great roping and assisted whip work, followed by Luke Taylor and his one-man, rhythm whips set to music. Chris Camp delivered a fan favorite, as usual, with Hollie Bradley helping out as target girl for the show.

    Newcomer Hollie Bradley during her work with Chris Camp in the evening show. (Photo by Debra Bays / Copyright GLD Enterprises 2014)

    Newcomer Hollie Bradley during her work with Chris Camp in the evening show. (Photo by Debra Bays / Copyright GLD Enterprises 2014)

    At the end of the day the shows went well, the new venue at York Woods was ideal for our needs and we’re looking forward to next year. Thanks to all who came out to see us and be sure to check out the photos on our Facebook page at

    Our special thanks to the Annie Oakley Festival Committee, Gary Deer & Sons, GLD Enterprises Commercial Writing, WDTN-TV2/Living Dayton, The Brothers & Co., Chris Camp (The Whip Guy), Bass Blades, and Production Manager Debra Bays (photography, Brothers show production).

  • Don’t underestimate the value of the swivel-handled cowhide bullwhip.

    By Gery L. Deer

    Director, The Whip Artistry Studio

    Three of the Gery Deer's original cowhide, swivel-handled American bullwhips. (From Left) 10 foot, hand-dyed black with 1/2 inch flat latigo fall; 24-foot, brown with modified "Australian styled" fall and popper; 6-foot, brown with modified fall and popper.

    Three of the Gery Deer’s original cowhide, swivel-handled American bullwhips. (From Left) 10 foot, hand-dyed black with 1/2 inch flat latigo fall; 24-foot, brown with modified “Australian styled” fall and popper; 6-foot, brown with modified fall and popper.

    I started working with whips when I was very young, but didn’t get too serious about it until my college years. Back then, the best whip I could hope for was a cowhide, swivel handled number with a plastic grip and a rope or twine core.

    One of the first whips I actually paid for was a 20-foot, swivel handled American bullwhip with what looked to me like a bailing twine core. It was bulky, heavy and awkward. Even so, I think I learned more from that than any of the fancy Australian whips I use to teach and perform with today.

    Most of my original cowhide models came from Schutz Bros. leather products in Arizona. That 20-footer was a major purchase for me back then, it was $55.00 USD and cost $5 to ship it. So for a whopping $60 I  had acquired what most professional whip artists would call the worst whip ever – with the possible exception of those five-dollar, India-made paper leather whips from eBay.

    Over time, I bought a few more of this style, all various lengths and shades of brown cowhide. There were no black ones at that time. Anything you wanted black had to be hand-dyed. Whatever the look, I got used to them and learned most of what I know now on that style of bullwhip.

    As a professional performer and competitor in the whip arts arena, I would never choose my old swivels over my Joe Strain or Paul Nolan Aussie styles. They’re superior in nearly every way. But I do get frustrated when I hear whip practitioners complain about the fallibility of their equipment. Naturally, as with any mechanical activity, like sports, learning the violin or racing a car, the better the equipment, the lower the learning curve. You’ll advance and learn faster with a better whip. Why?

    Put simply, you’re spending more time on learning to handle the whip instead of, at the same time, having to adjust to its deficiencies. For example, a swivel handle requires a different pitch and wrist motion to put the tip where you want it for targeting. A whip with no plaited belly or rope in the center is virtually impossible to throw ‘slowly’ and requires an excessive amount of energy.

    Even so, if you get too accustomed to one style of whip, no matter what kind, you’re cheating yourself out of the ultimate goal – to be a true whip artist, not just someone who crack one and make a big noise. The best whip handlers can maneuver virtually any kind of whip to do mostly what they want it to, even if it takes more effort or some adjustment. One whip may be more accurate or ‘prettier’ in motion than another, but they all can achieve the same tasks.

    I can honestly say that there is very little I can do with my Indiana Jones copies that I can’t do with my old swivels. Naturally, I prefer my professional whips, but it’s fun to give the old cowhides a run in the sun now and again, just to stay sharp.

    A few years ago, Chris “The Whip Guy’ Camp and I were doing some targeting at the Annie Oakley Western Arts Showcase in Greenville, Ohio. We were really just goofing off with our long whips, cutting spaghetti and Styrofoam from our contest stands. Chris was using a 25-foot Australian whip recently made for him by Joe Strain. It is a beautiful piece of work, as most of Joe’s whips are, double-bellied, 12-plait (thought it might have been 16, I don’t recall), and incredibly accurate considering its length. Of course, a large part of that depends on the skill – not to mention the eyesight – of the user.

    As Chris worked his targeting skills with the whip he now calls, “Big Momma,” I jumped in at the stand next to him with my 24-foot, cowhide swivel-handled whip. Over the years, I’d modified the fall to something that more closely resembled and functioned like an its Australian cousin. After a few minutes of acclamation to the older style, I found myself performing nearly as accurately as Chris at a similar distance and using the same materials for targets. We were each taking an inch or so from the spaghetti sticks with each cut.

    We were both surprised at how accurate I could be with the old cowhide, even at that distance and within the space – considering we were standing only a few feet from each other, side by side. Though I tired out faster, because of the excessive energy required for the belly-less swivel, I was able to keep up with Chris’s targeting level for the majority of our experiment.

    Over time, I decided to use the longer cowhide whip for more and more, wherever space allowed. It’s impressive to watch and makes a pretty nice “bang” indoors, depending on the popper material. Plus it’s virtually indestructible. Since that time I’ve created a candle snuffing routine around this 24-foot beast, I’ve done basic targeting with it and also re-created one of Chris’s signature routines, just to see if I could get it to work.

    Chris has one stunt he calls “Jumpin Jack Daniels” where he places a tin cup of water on top of a small paper Dixie-style cup, a wax-paper cup about two inches in height. The goal is to crack the paper cup from beneath the tin cup, letting it fall to the table without spilling any of the water. It’s not particularly hard with an average size whip but the size of the paper cup adds to the difficulty, requiring a respectable level of precision and talent from the handler. But it looks far more impressive when it’s done using a long whip like Chris’s “Big Momma.”

    Chris Camp’s version …

    With no ‘Dixie’ cups available, I tested it out using a 12-oz. Styrofoam cup below and an aluminum metal cup (about 1/3 full of water) above. After a few tries, I figured out the physics behind using the big cowhide swivel in such an accurate side-arm throw. It’s actually most functional in a side-arm or overhand flick because you’re using the weight of the whip to help build the momentum automatically granted by the bellies of other styles. In short, it’s not only possible but a crowd-pleaser. People seemed to marvel at the whip’s sheer length and power. Makes the performance side a snap (pun intended).

    In any case, the point to all this is my personal advice not to get too hung up on the type of whip you’re working with but to try to learn what you can from any and all styles you come across, provided they’re somewhat functional. You will be a better whip handler by the experience of diversity when it comes to your equipment and when you use your favorites, you’ll find you learn faster and with greater precision. Good luck and keep the knots out of your popper!

    Here’s the first and only video of Gery Deer’s version …

    Learn more about handling all types of whips!

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