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AARON MIESSE grips the handgun between the big and second toes of his left foot and pulls back the slide with his right. He’s wearing his uniform of a dark-gray T-shirt, loose-fit jeans, and a backward ball cap. Beside the folding chair he’s perched in is a pair of Sketchers that look like clogs because their backs are permanently smushed. This is, after all, a guy who slides off his shoes countless times per day to drive a car, eat a pizza, or shoot a Smith & Wesson M&P. “Don’t let the gun own you,” Miesse tells me. “You have to own it.”
I have ostensibly driven to far-western Ohio for a shooting lesson, though I also want to see for myself if the YouTube videos of the double-amputee long-range shooting expert who goes by Chamber Brake are for real. Although the rain makes it hard to see more than a few feet ahead of me, the ping of metal on metal is unmistakable—he’s effortlessly hit the target.
I’m not the first person to wonder about Miesse. In April 2021, he uploaded footage of himself hitting a 52-inch-wide target at 5,280 yards. If the 3-mile shot had taken place in a tournament setting, the 46-year-old would be one of the undisputed greats in the sport of extreme long range (ELR) shooting. He’s been ranked as high as 25th in the world by the Fifty Caliber Shooters Association, but his longest shot remains unverifiable.
Despite the fact that I haven’t shot in a decade, Miesse insists that he can teach me to hit a 1,000-yard target with just two days of trigger time. This seems absurd on its face, but here I am in what he calls his “dinky little corner of the world,” suspending my disbelief.
After an extremely compressed PowerPoint presentation about minutes of angle, ballistic coefficients, and something called “the cone of accuracy,” we are finally out on the range and about to start small—relatively. The chassis of the custom-made .22 LR Miesse hands me is emblazoned with the American flag.
“Everyone goes nuts for this gun,” he says.
I do feel a little nuts. Trying to remember everything I learned just moments ago, I get into a prone position and spread my feet out like a fish’s tail. I hug the sandbag and close my left eye, trying to make the tiny white speck of a target stay still long enough for me to lightly tap the trigger with the pad of my index finger.
“Shooter ready,” I fib, and Miesse tells me to send it. Even though he’s looking through a 30X spotting scope, he can’t quite see where the first bullet goes. After a couple more rounds, it becomes clear that I’m consistently aiming a long way to the left of where I’m supposed to. It’s windy but not ridiculously so, and the target is only 100 yards out.
“I have significant doubts about this,” Miesse finally confesses.
It’s going to be a long 48 hours.
The Accident That Took Aaron Miesse’s Arms
Miesse’s right foot rests on the steering wheel at the six o’clock position while his left works the accelerator on the floor. His phone is mounted on the dash in case he wants to tap out a text message with his toe, though he doesn’t need the device’s GPS to get where we’re going. He spends as much time driving as other people spend doing their full-time jobs. “It’s basically all I do,” he says.
To begin with, Miesse manages seven construction crews around Ohio and Indiana and is constantly zipping back and forth between job sites. Then there’s the fact that ELR shooters might travel 25 hours just to pop off a dozen shots in competition—and then come straight back home if they don’t place. So, while 200 miles seems to me like a long way to travel from his house in Celina to reach a range with 1-mile targets, it’s possible he just doesn’t think of the journey as very taxing. As we head east in his Jeep, past abandoned grain silos and company towns and endless expanses of nothingness, Miesse begins to relax and unspool his life story.
During his youth, his family grew corn and soybeans in Celina. When he was 5 years old, his shirt sleeve got caught in a grain auger, which took both of his arms—one above the shoulder and one just below. To this day, he still remembers the look on the emergency room nurse’s face. “I don’t want to say it was one of horror,” he tells me. “But it was one that said, You are not wanted in this world.”
His father, normally a stone-faced farmer, was broken up about it. Though his mother encouraged him to connect with an older kid in a neighboring town who’d also lost his arms in an auger accident, the other boy wasn’t interested in a friendship. Both of Miesse’s parents were adamant that their son try new things to see what he could do. “We never went to counseling of any kind,” he says. “They realized they couldn’t hold my hand, which I didn’t have anyway, when I needed help.”
As we talk and drive, he stares off into the middle distance. The truck is where Miesse, a true introvert, does most of his thinking. To his mind, everyone deals with a certain degree of prejudice. When he walks into a room, most people assume he’s unable to drive, eat in a restaurant, live alone, navigate marriage, or shoot a rifle. “As a person at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to first impressions, I walk around with a chip on my shoulder,” he tells me. “It becomes this battle within yourself that makes you look like you’re arrogant, when all you’re trying to do is dig yourself out of a hole that other people have placed you in.”
Getting Into Shooting, Against All Odds
When Miesse turned 10, his parents gave him a BB gun with a door handle attached to the pump and encouraged him to work it with his feet. He shot the thing until it fell apart, and he did the same with the .22 he got as a teen. Then came a hand-me-down precision rifle. He continued shooting and tried to find an outlet for his frustration through competition. He trained in operatic singing and studied the bond market. In college, he taught himself to eat with a fork—the idea being that no one would take a stock broker seriously if they couldn’t take a restaurant meeting. After graduating from Ohio State in 1997, he became a financial trader in Chicago and Columbus, commuting back home to Mercer County to work his farm as necessary.
“I wanted to see if I could make it in the city by myself and have my own apartment,” he says. “And I did that.” Meanwhile, the precision rifle collected dust.
At 23, he met an engineer at his church and married her. His anger and fear of rejection dissipated. When they permanently relocated to his hometown of Celina in 2008, he found that the place had changed. The population had exploded and farms had gone out of business. What used to be homesteads were now decaying houses on fields leased out to major corporations. Kids no longer had anywhere to learn how to shoot a gun or hunt. That cultural shift gave Miesse and his brother, Justin, a business idea. The two started their own range called Iron Element in 2015 to teach youth firearms workshops and provide slightly more specialized services for church security teams.
Around the same time that Miesse started tinkering with his precision rifle again, a Russian arms dealer posted a video of himself hitting a target at 3,720 yards—and saying it was a world record. Other videos quickly followed of people shooting personal bests that seemed outrageous by the standards of just a few years earlier. Miesse became obsessed with long-range shooting. “I basically missed everything for a long time. Then I started studying, and that rabbit trail just kept expanding.” He learned about hunting bullets with polymer tips that melt uniformly in a way that stabilizes them at slower speeds. About humidity’s effect on true elevation. About barrel harmonics. He took long drives to long-distance ranges and shot round after round by himself.
Meanwhile, the Fifty Caliber Shooters Association came up with a series of organized shooting contests as a way to validate some of the social media claims. When Miesse finally competed in one, he achieved his sole goal of not coming in last. “I never could compete in any sport growing up,” he says, “and for the first time I was competing against world champions.”
The next year, he invented the YouTube persona Chamber Brake, named for his competition rifle’s muzzle brake and custom-cut chamber, which he considers his most important tools. He also started wearing a shirt emblazoned with his own inspirational saying: “Forward forever, backward never.”
Last April, Miesse drove to Kansas to attempt something unheard of. Perched in a lotus-like position on the top of a white Chevy Suburban, he leaned forward into the scope of his .416 Barrett precision rifle and sent a bullet the equivalent distance of 53 football fields in an attempt to hit a 1-MOA target at 3 miles. Referring to the time it took for the bullet to hit home, he says, “It was the longest 12 seconds of my life.” A surprising sentiment, given the horrific accident he’d just recounted to me.
To some, it was just another YouTuber making a wild, unverifiable claim out in the middle of nowhere. Miesse says he knows better.
Taking Aim at 1,000 Yards
When we finally get to the 1-mile range, Miesse unpacks his gear, lies down on a pad, and shows off his core strength. He is probably the only person in the discipline who can credibly call ELR an athletic pursuit. “The best part of my shooting position is that no one can criticize it, because they most likely can’t even get in it,” he says.
He closes the bolt with his right foot and folds his body in half, positioning his left index toe over the trigger guard. It’s one fluid motion that’s taken thousands of repetitions to perfect. Once he’s hovering over the scope, Miesse loudly sucks in air. He ostentatiously huffs and puffs—expelling everything from his lungs before sending the bullet. It sounds like the Space Shuttle taking off, and I instinctively jump. I’m not exactly afraid of guns, but his long-range rifle is a bazooka. When it goes off, he hits the 1-mile target with ease.
The upper pavilion of Thunder Valley Precision is empty, because this year’s King of Two Miles event is taking place on the other side of the country at the same time. I’m grateful for the privacy. Miesse has packed 200 cartridges, which is about $400 worth of ammunition.
Not exactly a vote of confidence.
“Look at the two flags out there,” he instructs, gesturing toward two pieces of fabric amid the range’s rolling hills. “Where is the wind strongest?”
Thankfully, the question is a rhetorical one. Miesse is already scribbling solutions on a small notepad. I read over his shoulder that the wind is gusting from 3 to 9 mph where we are standing, but at 6 to 9 mph out near the target. “The spotter is the most valuable person on a team,” he explains. That’s him. “The trigger monkey doesn’t need to focus on doing math.” That’s me.
I snug into the sandbags and load the cartridge as my hand drips with sweat. It takes me two solid minutes to find the tiny metal plate I’m aiming for out in the rolling hills of the range. I take several shots, and while I don’t catch the dirt splashes, Miesse does.
“One mil left,” he calls after my ninth round.
I make the adjustment on the scope’s windage dial, and with the rifle now on target, the challenge shifts to finding the smoothest way to load the cartridge, close the bolt, and get my hand back to the trigger in the same place without bumping anything. It may seem strange to say that someone with no arms has an advantage over me here, but the fact that Miesse is ambidextrous means that his left foot never has to move from the trigger guard between shots. It’s one fewer variable in the equation. Meanwhile, now that I know I have to stay completely still, I have an almost unbearable need to move. It’s the same thing that happens whenever I try to meditate. Actively thinking about not thinking? Impossible.
I take a deep breath and send it, hoping for the best.
The Next Target to Shoot For
Apparently rocks get stuck in combine harvesters all the time. It’s a couple weeks out from our lesson, and Miesse and I are talking on the phone. A bit of a postmortem. He is explaining how there’s a trapdoor that stops foreign objects from moving up into a combine’s main rotor. This area is located right in the middle of the machine. To get to it and retrieve said rock, a farmer must open a giant door over their head. “It’s a two-arm, two-hand job,” he says. I don’t understand where this story is going or what it has to do with shooting a rifle.
Miesse is a great teacher but not very emotive. I don’t take his clipped communication style personally—he’s like that with everyone. He doesn’t embarrass people who mistakenly thank him for his military service with a lengthy explanation. While other guys go to the Thunder Valley range to hang out with fellow shooters, he goes to bury his head in a notebook. Though he tries to encourage his daughters in their pursuit of soccer, the camaraderie of team sports is lost on him. He’s more interested in the way weather conditions affect the behavior of the ball.
All of that said, I’ll admit that I was kind of hoping for a compliment from my shooting coach.
Instead Miesse continues with his story, explaining that he was 23 years old at the time, newly married, and back home running the farm in Celina. Every time a rock would get stuck in the combine, he would have to call someone to come get it out, which could shut down his whole operation for hours. He’d somehow made city life work, but getting up into that combine harvester still seemed beyond the realm of possibility for him. Until one day it wasn’t. Ever since then, he’s made good on a promise to himself to conquer one new thing every year that had previously seemed too daunting. He still has that first rock in a glass case as a reminder, though he’s never told anyone its significance.
But he is telling me now. So that’ll do. And I think I can relate, just a little. The cartridge case from my first 1,000-yard shot, which I made on my 10th attempt, is sitting on my desk.