“When I was growing up, I always wanted to be a sniper in the military. There was something about the mathematics behind it. If you shift 1 millimeter from your spot and you’re trying to shoot something 1,000 yards away, that could make a difference—that’s crazy. I was always fascinated by that.”
It might not be as he envisioned when younger, but Brent Burns turned out to be a sniper after all. Playing as a defenseman for the San Jose Sharks in the NHL, Burns has led every player at his position in goals for the last two seasons, making him a sniper in his own right. But unlike most hockey players, Burns would rather spend his off-season tricking out his .300 Win Mag rifle from Desert Tech, playing with a new tactical goodie bag from Crate Club and shed hunting near his newly purchased Texas ranch with his two kids.
Brent Burns & His Path To Glory
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Burns is the most recognizable face in the NHL, thanks in part to his signature hair and beard. That combo has been shaved for charity on a number of occasions, including for the United Heroes League, a charity that provides millions of dollars’ worth of sports equipment, game tickets, grants and skil-building camps to military families across the U.S. and Canada.
His unconventional off-ice lifestyle is comparable to his unconventional route to becoming the NHL’s top defenseman. He was drafted 20th overall as a forward by the Minnesota Wild in 2003. The team transitioned him into a defenseman, which he quickly took to.
Burns was traded to San Jose in 2011, where he was permanently moved to the blue line in August 2014. Three short years later and the Sharks have arguably the most productive defenseman in the league.
The 32-year-old Ontario native finished the 2016-2017 season with 29 goals. That total was 12 more than the next closest defenseman. It was also the most by a player at his position since 2009. His play last season earned him the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman.
Then there was the 2017 NHL All-Star Game, the fourth of Burns’ career. It was there where he ripped a shot top-shelf from the red line. For those of you unfamiliar with hockey terminology, this means that Burns took a shot from center ice that traveled 89 feet into a very small opening in the top-left corner of the goal—almost like a sniper, if you will.
You can watch the shot in the video at the bottom of this post.
Similar to his fixation on becoming a sniper, Burns’ military interests stem from a young age. His grandfather fought in World War II with the Canadian artillery and lived with Burns’ family when he was younger, which first exposed Burns to the military world. “He always used to tell me stories from World War II,” Burns recalls. “I remember going through his army bags and fatigues and listening to stories.”
The interaction with his grandfather caused Burns’ curiosity to bloom. He read war novels and learned about the lives of soldiers.
“My two favorite books are Devil’s Guard and The Five Fingers. One is about the Green Berets and one is about the SS at the end of WWII,” Burns says. “They’re amazing books, but they also go into the technical details of firing guns and breaking them down.”
One of the answers to this technical fascination came in the form of Crate Club, a company that handpicks and ships special-operations-tested gear to subscribers’ doorsteps. For Burns, this was perfect for a multitude of reasons.
“During the hockey year, I don’t really go out too much to the mall or to the stores or stuff. It’s always fun when you come home from the road trip and you have six boxes of goodies from Crate Club,” he says.
The gear and gadgets also allowed Burns to fully explore the MacGyver/Rambo expanse he’d always dreamed of. They force him to learn what certain gear did and why it was useful.
“They ship things you’d never think to use but that you end up using all the time,” he says. “I like the stickers, too. I put them all over my laptop. I’m a nerd. I love that stuff.”
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“Nerd” is one term that may apply, although it might not paint an accurate picture of the man who decided to forego the traditional bachelor party shenanigans and instead shoot .50-caliber firearms—including a Barrett rifle and an M240B machine gun—and endure basic training with nearly a dozen friends at an undisclosed military base.
“We had the big tripod on the .50-caliber sniper,” Burns recalls. “You’re just sitting there, and you tuck your legs into it and let her fly. It was unreal.”
Deep military roots aren’t just reflected in Burns’ propensity for firearms, but also in his philanthropic efforts, which are almost more overwhelming than his facial hair.
It all started one summer when Burns had surgery while playing for the Minnesota Wild. That surgery forced him to remain in town for part of the off-season. The fortuitous surgery landed Burns on a corporate trip to visit with the National Guard.
“I met a guy at that corporate trip, Shane Hudella, who at the time was trying to get a charity through the military connected to hockey,” Burns says. “We both kind of met in a crazy synchronicity of an event. He brought Defend the Blue Line, now the United Heroes League, and I jumped on board with him and developed a great relationship.”
As mentioned, Burns has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of his career for military-based charities like the United Heroes League and Major Dan Rooney’s Folds of Honor, which provides scholarships to spouses and children of America’s fallen and disabled service members.
His efforts saw Burns earn San Jose’s nomination for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2014 and 2015. The award is given to “the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.”
Beneath the beard is a man with a true appreciation for the military and those who willingly put their lives on the line for their country.
“More recently I was able to start giving back to the military. I got to meet some of these guys and bring both of my passions into my life and live in both worlds,” Burns says. “Meeting these heroes and their families, and getting to hear stories and shoot guns with a lot of soldiers, it’s just been amazing.”
After San Jose’s 2017 season ended prematurely in the first round of the playoffs, Burns loaded his family into their RV and hit the road for a months-long trip. The road and outdoors are where Burns feels at home and, more importantly, where he finds the best ways to bond with his daughter, Peyton, and son, Jagger.
At his new Texas ranch, he finally has the location to explore the many offerings of Mother Nature with his family.
“We do a lot of shed hunting and looking at animals and shooting. It’s nice,” Burns says.
Hunting appeals to Burns, but it wasn’t something he got into until his kids came along. Why? Aside from being able to actively engage them in the outdoors, they had become picky eaters, as most kids do at some point. The result went beyond Burns teaching them how to hunt properly. He taught them to respect the animals they hunted and appreciate the food they ate.
It was also a learning experience for Burns, who educated himself on how to field dress an animal and process the meat. He is a true “child of Mother Nature,” which, if not evident in his love and respect for the outdoors, is in his field-to-table ideologies.
“It just tastes better. It’s cleaner meat,” Burns says of hunting for his own food. “You don’t have to worry about all of the garbage and hormones from having it be on a farm. It just makes it more special.”
As for family bonding over the great outdoors, Burns says there’s nothing better.
“I didn’t start [hunting] until I was older, but my kids are going to grow up in the outdoors. That’s going to be a big part of their lives—respecting the outdoors and respecting firearms and learning safety,” Burns says. “It’s just something I think is important for my kids.”
Similar to being one of the chief ambassadors for the National Hockey League—along with pretty much everything else he touches—Burns’ outdoor ethos and fervor for all things guns and gear is exactly what an ambassador of such a lifestyle should look like.
This article is from the winter 2018 issue of Ballistic Magazine. Grab a copy at OutdoorGroupStore.com.