You seem to have equated target shooting with competition in your post, but is it REALLY? Are the people who answered "target shooting" casual shooters who shoot sporting clays or falling plates for fun but who have never entered a competition? The answer to that question would be interesting.IMHO, "target shooting" encompasses "competition," but competition isn't the whole of target shooting. Target shooting is the shooting of targets, both formally and informally. Plinking by any terms is target shooting.
If you look at the big surge of AR owners, I would say that the vast majority of those new shooters are "target shooters" but NOT engaged in formal competition. Some will find their way to formal competition, but based on my experience most won't (3-gun and Camp Perry type competition are are high barrier-to-entry sports)...which is fine. Shooting with one's friends is certainly every bit as valid an activity as competing in an IPSC match. Also, training is not competition, although you could probably make a case that it is target shooting — target shooting for a specific purpose.
In the past, the industry has tended to define ALL non-formal competition as "preparing/practicing for hunting," which is simply incorrect. At one point, the industry stats lumped both most .22 rimfire sales and most shotgun shells sold as "preparing for hunting," then used those numbers as "proof" that hunting was the primary driver in the industry. This wouldn't be important except that it skewed where the industry spent its promotion money for recruitment and retention, with 90+% of the bucks going to hunter recruitment and retention and virtually nothing going into the areas that had huge growth potential.
In a white paper several years back I argued for a 2-tier recruitment and retention system for the industry and the culture. My argument was that for newcomers participation in formal and informal shooting sports faced 1 major barrier, purchase of a firearm, while participation in hunting had 2 major barriers, purchase of a firearm and killing an animal. Rather than pour huge amounts of money into a 2-barrier jump hunter recruitment with what amounted to very low success rates, I suggested we put the lions' share of the money into recruitment for target shooting (both formal and informal), focusing on self-defense as the primary driver, and get them past Barrier 1. THEN create a mentoring system — which has been repeatedly shown to work very well — to introduce newcomers who got past the first barrier to the sport of hunting.
We talked about the transformation of the gun culture a couple of weeks ago on the podcast. Here's my nut graf: The gun culture has morphed from a hobbyist culture focused largely on hunting and somewhat on formal competition (back in the 1960s and earlier) into a more coherent culture built around self-defense, concealed carry, RKBA issues, training, competition and some hunting. The elements of our culture that are growing, as noted by another poster, are self-defense/concealed carry...and that growth is in demographics where we historically have never been strong — women, young men, etc.
In my brief tenure on the NSSF committee to translate their "omnibus study" into something of value, I argued vociferously that to NOT include the needs and wants of informal target shooters like the new AR owners and concealed carry permit holders rendered whatever was to come out of that planning committee worthless. And that has proven to be the case.
Our goal in this culture MUST be to drive growth — the bigger we are, the harder it is to step on us —and the intelligent way to drive growth is to push the machine in the direction it is already going! I believe, for example, that the growth in women hunters, one of the only hunting demographics showing any strength, is proof of my 2-tier theory...more women have come into the culture through concealed carry and self-defense training issues, and once in the culture they are more easily recruited to the other things the culture has to offer.