A Southern Gentleman

A Southern Gentleman

Meet Brent Gibbs of the Gun Club of Tennessee

Words by Mitchell Goodbar
Photos by Jason Myers

The coffee in my mug was all but gone, some scattered embers in the fireplace smoldered, and the cold February air came drifting back in. I stood up to leave. “Imagine if we had just done this over the phone. If you had just asked me a list of questions,” says Brent Gibbs, founder and owner of the Gun Club of Tennessee, a country club for gun lovers, tucked away in Franklin, Tennessee. 

I couldn’t imagine it. For the past two hours or so, Brent Gibbs and I had talked. The conversation hailed from another era, one of stagecoaches and telegraphs. We sat on leather armchairs, warmed ourselves by a fire, and listened intently to what the other person had to say. We were in the Club’s lodge, more specifically the cigar lounge, where smoke and conversation often mingle in the air. I stared out the lounge’s long, panoramic window: a view bristling with towering green trees. In that moment, I felt like I was surrounded by wilderness, far from civilization’s grip. But I was only 30 minutes outside Nashville.

Brent Gibbs is in his mid-40s, and for the interview he wore a traditional tweed hunting coat and duck boots, a style debonair and dangerous. A medley of grey scruff and stubble stretched across his face. The grey grew darker, almost black, as it worked its way under his chin but turned into a wispy white as it ventured across his cheeks and toward his mouth. While we talked, he was almost always grinning, and his eyes—their fitful flashes of brightness or bleariness—often punctuated what his mouth had to say. 

When Brent Gibbs hit his early 40s, he had established himself as a respected tour manager in the entertainment industry. His clients spanned a wide variety of acts, from acclaimed country artists such as Chris Young and the duo Sugarland, to eminent writers such as Dave Ramsey and Donald Miller. In spite of the professional success, Brent wasn’t happy. “I was a tour manager, and I was gone basically 180 days a year, and I was half dad and half husband. A cliché in that lifestyle is that the next sentence would be, ‘And then we ended up in divorce.’ I didn’t want to be divorced. I wanted my family more than I wanted to be a tour manager,” says Brent. In 2013, when he would try to picture life as a non-tour manager, the image he saw was exceedingly grainy and blurred. Two things, though, were immediately visible. He was close to the outdoors, and he was with his family. A full year had to pass before Brent could perceive the rest of the picture. “In 2014, I was on a Brad Paisley tour, and I was discussing with his manager the things I wanted to do after I stopped being a tour manager—and we were just musing about different things—and I said, ‘I really feel like Nashville is uniquely populated with people who would prefer the experience of club membership, but they might not be golfers.’” Lightning struck. “In that moment, I said, ‘I need to do a country club for people who don’t golf.’ I believed, and bet, that Nashville was uniquely populated with people who had done well for themselves, who weren’t golfers. They were the guys who hunted deer in the fall and fished for bass in the summer.” The Gun Club of Tennessee was born.

At the age of 43, Brent Gibbs retired, ending his tour manager life and beginning life as an entrepreneur. The strict schedule of a nine to five would hamper Brent’s ability to meet with prospective investors. So, he worked a variety of odd jobs instead, trading in the briefcase and business card for a bucket and broom. “I was washing windows, selling vintage pipes, hanging Christmas lights, and raking leaves. I remember in 2014, I was at Bridgestone arena, with Brad Paisley and  Chris Young. I’m in the production office and in walks Sheryl Crow with her son. She was saying how she couldn’t find her son’s ear protection, so I reached into my backpack and gave him my pair. A year and a half later, and I’m now washing windows at Sheryl Crow’s house.” Brent’s money issues mounted, and the financial hurricane howled its hardest when Brent’s wife, Kara, who had previously been told by doctors they wouldn’t be able to have more children, was now informed of her pregnancy. 7 months later, their son was born. With no maternity coverage and little money, Brent recounted, “We were sitting in the hospital, unable to put gas in the car or buy formula or diapers. Our pastors and some people from the church had gathered together enough money to provide some temporary relief. And then the Benevolence Committee went further and paid our mortgage and some of our medical bills.” Brent’s eyes misted and his voice faltered when he spoke of the church’s generosity. 

Despite the financial turmoil, Brent never once doubted his dream, spurred on by his wife’s support and his belief that the business idea was a gift from God. “God gave me that idea. I’m not smart enough to come up with something like that. I never doubted the idea. Because of that, I had the courage to try and bring it to pass and not stop, and I won’t stop until God tells me I should.” Faith kept Brent firm in his mission, and in November of 2018, nearly four years after he had the idea, his resolve was rewarded—the idea resonated with a group of investors, and they reached for their checkbooks. 

Throughout the interview, Brent would periodically stand up, give the fire a few pokes, then sit back down, resuming the conversation without missing a beat. At this particular juncture we were discussing the Gun Club’s novelty. “Whenever you are introducing a new concept, people try to relate it to another thing that already exists. Everybody has a specific frame of reference. They’ll say, ‘oh it’s like this club, oh it’s like this range.’ But when you take into account all of the [club’s] elements—the complete 360˚ experience of shooting, fishing, archery—and you put it into close proximity to where people live, you realize that there’s nothing like it.” Rolling Hills Farm, the Club’s current residence, comprises 400 sprawling acres—land flecked with forests, decked with pastures, and brimming with lakes. Certain parts of the estate are reserved for specific recreations; sport shooting, archery, and ATV/UTV riding all occur in their designated areas. If shooting isn’t your thing, though, meandering throughout the property’s 400 acres are winding, wooded trails for hiking and mountain biking. Or perhaps you’d like to visit the Club’s stocked lakes, where fishing hooks fly and paddles whisk canoers and kayakers along, sending gentle ripples across the water’s surface. 

Brent’s primary concern, with so many activities happening on one property, some of them involving firearms, is member safety. “We have comprehensive safety provisions and gun safety features. Range time is under the supervision of a range safety officer. Because there are so many different things happening on the property, it requires management, it requires coordination, it requires rules and oversight, and members come here for the safety.” Member safety is partly why hunts are not held on the Rolling Hills Farm estate, but on other properties in neighboring areas that the Club routinely rents. There, members can partake in tower release pheasant shoots and walk-up quail hunts, organized with the help of the Club’s Director of Shooting Charlier Conger and Director of Field Support Don Purdy. 

The Gun Club of Tennessee is a misnomer. “Gun” should be written in small, slender letters, dwarfed by the bold and enormous word “Club.” “It’s about so much more than guns; it’s about creating a shared culture.” Family, by blood or by bond, is the Club’s driving force. Family is why Brent started the Club in the first place, weary of the tour manager’s hotel and highway lifestyle, wanting a life amid nature and among his loved ones. This initial intention, to preserve family, has invaded the Club’s 400 acres, and pervades every leaf, every pine cone. “Reconnecting families in the field” is a phrase Brent repeated several times during our conversation. With each new utterance, Brent’s eyes would widen and his voice would shake. People, male and female, old and young, enjoy themselves at the Gun Club. Older members preserve the sharpness of their sight, the nimbleness of their fingers, by firing at clays next to the young. And kids just beginning to shoot brush elbows with seasoned marksmen, getting the chance to learn from the Club’s skilled instructors—and the Club’s sage members. “This older gentleman and myself had just come inside from shooting, and I just sat down with this incredible retired guy, and talked about business, and he divulged in 45 minutes so much about himself and so much wisdom, that by the time we finished talking, it was too dark to go back out and shoot.” It’s a community, not a club, that Brent Gibbs has created. Gunfire’s shrill clatter is a prelude to members’ meaningful chatter.  

Had Brent Gibbs and I done this interview over the phone, I probably would have summed up Brent’s identity as “entrepreneur.” And is Brent Gibbs a profit-minded entrepreneur with a start-up and a dream? Absolutely. But after talking to him in person, sensing the passion that stirred in his veins, I know he is something else, something more important, something rarer in supply: a good person—a silver bullet among cartridges of lead.