Sunday, March 27, 2005

Hunter, Shooter or What?

I’ve avoided this topic, but I’m thinking it really needs to be on the table. I’m increasingly distressed by the firearms industry’s obsessive single focus on hunting at the expense of both the shooting sports and the self-defense sides of the culture.

What brought this to mind was the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s annual $500,000 contribution for “hunter recruitment and retention” programs. There are quite literally millions of dollars flowing from public and private sources into hunter recruitment and retention, not to mention the $293 million [2001 figures] generated last year by the 11% excise tax on shooting sports gear, ammunition, guns, etc., which goes back to the states for use in wildlife restoration, hunter recruitment and retention programs, hunter safety and the like.

This used to be a so-what issue, because hunting and shooting were "inextricably" linked, and what was good for huntiing was also good for shooting.

Driven by a whole series of factors, that inextricable link is now inextricably broken. "Hunting" and "shooting" represent different, but occasionally overlapping, markets. The two markets have very different recruitment and retention needs and are facing very different "breaking point" issues. For example, the key "breaking point" for the hunting side of the industry is loss of access to hunting lands, which is [I suspect] the primary factor in the small but steady decrease in hunters each year. The key "breaking point" for the shooting side of the industry is range protection and access.

The shooting sports have been booming at the same time hunting has been declining. Led by sporting clays, trap and cowboy action shooting, the range sports have enjoyed a spectacular five years. But they're now starting to bump up against a membership plateau, largely [again, I think] because of the absence of a nationally based recruitment and retention plan — and the budget to drive such a plan. Essentially, the shooting sports are 100% Balkanized, each sport operating its own recruitment operation paying surprisingly little attention on what other sports are doing. In other words, each sport is endlessly reinventing the wheel, unaware of what programs actually work.

The shooting sports desperately need national coordination of the simplest things — the shooting sports calendar, for instance. A national advertising campaign focusing on the shooting sports. A "news center" actively promoting shooting sports to the media. A media planning guide for the sports to give them access to programs that work. On-going promotion of shooting sports athletes. A nationally coordinated set of standards for firearms training, a la the ski and snowboard industry. Increased funding of youth shooting programs (NSSF's Scholastic Clays program is an excellent example of a successful initiative). Money for new ranges and protecting the existing ranges.

Yet most of those needs are not being met — not even being discussed!

The amazing thing to me is that the money is there...but its all flowing into an apparently endless "hunter recruitment and retention" programs. A lot of those programs are new and of questionable value (at least according to a good friend of mine, who has been involved in some of the most successful and most established hunter r&r programs).

The decline in hunting is being driven by mega-trends...urbanization, the suburbanization of farmlands, expansion of the concepts of legal liability, declining leisure time and increased competition for those declining leisure hours. Those mega-trends are only going to increase.

Ironically, the shooting sports provide an answer for hunting recruitment and retention issues — r&r becomes a two-tiered process...first get people to the range, then recruit those people to the game fields. Sport shooting is less time-intensive or place-oriented than hunting. It also helps the newcomer over the large barrier of purchasing a gun. If we focused first on getting people to the range — which we know how to do well — then on placing them in mentoring programs with experienced hunters, both sides of the industry would be happy.

If, however, we continue to pretend that hunting is the be-all and end-all of the shooting sports, eventually people like me — a sport shooter and not a hunter — are going to start asking where our 11% excise tax is going and why the industry organizations alledged to represent us don't address issues that are important to us.


Anonymous said...

Fat cats don't bother to hunt!
If the "powers that be" are comfortably ensconced in a "safe", that is non controversial, job of preaching hunting to those already hunters, why stir things up?

Any new venture has risk and sounds to me that we have non risk takers running these programs.

Jerry The Geek said...

In 1999, I attended a Forum in Nevada which was intended to introduce candidates to the office of President of the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA).

There were four viable candidates. I asked the question: "What steps would you take to ensure the growth of competition shooting sports, especially Practical Pistol Shooting, in the United States?"

The first candidate was a silvery haired earring-wearing competitive shooter who briefly presented a cogent, well-considered marketting plan.

The second candidate was a clean-cut International Grand Master who said: "I couldn't improve on what the previous speaker said, so I can only say ... yeah, what he said!"

The third candidate was another clean-cut ex-LEO with a long history in USPSA Administration who proposed to present the best National Match possible during his tenure.

The fourth candidate was a current Area Director who said he just wanted everybody to "go out and have fun".

Who won the election?
The "clean-cut International Grand Master", whose name was well known to all present and from whom everyone agreed they WOULD buy a used car. He presented no 'radical' agenda himself, but (supposedly) espoused one which had been proposed ... by someone else.

Six years later, we have a Grand Master President of USPSA who has, as far as I can tell, done absolutely NOTHING to promote the sport other than to subjegate USPSA rules to to nonsensical international (IPSC) versions. This policy was apparently intended to justify competition shooting to "the international community" by demonstrating an "internationally acceptable" profile.

Membership has declined, and USPSA has made no discernible effort to promote either this or any other shooting sport in America.

The Ex-area Director is no longer well-known in the sport. The Ex-LEO is now an Area Director of USPSA.

And the "silvery haired earring-wearing competitive shooter"?

He's got a nationally recognized TV show on the Outdoor Channel, promoting Shooting Sports like crazy, and blogging EVERY day on RKBA and Shooting Sports issues.

Unfortunately, these succesful efforts to promote shooting sports are not directed specifically toward USPSA marketting, and the members of USPSA must reply on their essentially unsupported (by USPSA) initiative to encourage non-shooters to a more accepting attitude toward competitive shooting. And, like Jeff Cooper, this person has renounced any official connection to USPSA becaused of the animosity of current USPSA leadership toward efforts to make Practical Pistol Competition in America more amenable to distinctly American priorities.

If anyone knows a guy with an earring, who once ran for USPSA president on the platform of marketting competitive shooting to the general population, they are invited to join me in saying:

"We made a REALLY bad decision; I'm sorry we threw away the best chance we ever had to survive well into the 21st Century as a viable gun-sport."

Anonymous said...

You couldn't be more right in your analysis of the USPSA elections. However, despite the poor leadership at the very top, the folks doing the day-to-day work have been able to increase membership (actual up-to-date paid members) to its highest level. They have also seen increased participation in the production class which is good news for manufacturers and new shooters. They have expanded their public relations efforts and increased their industry exposure by attending SHOT Show as an exhibitor. While your take on the situation is accurate you do overlook the successes at USPSA which were made possible by the hard work of their executive director and the staff. They deserve the credit and they deserve better leadership - but the members get what they voted for.

Anonymous said...

Michael, you are dead on when it comes to the trade association focus on the shooting sports. There was a time when NSSF was known as the 'National Shotgun Sports Foundation'. That seemed to change a couple years ago. But the people that helped turn that image around don't seem toe be there anymore which calls into question their real focus.

The question of the 11% FET is one that needs to be asked by the handgun comapnies of S&W, Glock, Kimber, Kahr, SIG Arms and others. They are the ones paying for the ones paying the money and what are they getting in return? More money spent on hunting? That doesn't seem right but until they speak up it probably won't change.

Anonymous said...

Aaaay-MEN Brother Bane!

I've put close to a quarter million rounds downrange without the benefit of full-auto, at least $10K worth of guns in the safe, yet only been 'hunting' twice-- and shot at nothing either time.

I'm sick of the Hunting-Is-Everything industry (and
NRA) attitude. Both my sweetie and I have little interest and no attraction to hunting. Get 'em to the range!

Anonymous said...

Aaaay-MEN Brother Bane!

I've put close to a quarter million rounds downrange without the benefit of full-auto, at least $10K worth of guns in the safe, yet only been 'hunting' twice-- and shot at nothing either time.

I'm sick of the Hunting-Is-Everything industry (and
NRA) attitude. Both my sweetie and I have little interest and no attraction to hunting. Get 'em to the range!

Anonymous said...


I work nights at a gun store/range to help offset the cost my 400 round-a-week addiction to handgun shooting. The shop is located in suburban Atlanta.

Come August, it's a nightmare with deer hunters. They aren't members of the Gun Culture, to steal John Ross's phrase, they are simply deer murderers who happen to use firearms.

Here is what I see:
They buy 20 rounds a year, and bitch up a storm because I won't break up a box. "My gun holds five 'bullets' so that's all I want."

They don't clean their rifles, meaning every summer we're swamped with "goo'ed" up Remchesters.

They insist on putting optics on everything, for shooting in thick woods where it's hard to see past 50 yards. Then they want us to "shoot in" their rifles for them.

They created the market for the Rem 710...a rifle that makes me break out in a rash. I could go on about how they trash the bathrooms, and rip down the soundproofing, but I'll spare you.


Screw those idiots!
If the Trade insists that guns exist solely for killing animals, or people, then we're in deep yogurt. Stop catering to them.

Guns are fun! That's all they need to push. It's purely subjective, but emotion sells every automobile that's better than a Honda Civic.

The gun 'zines, or TV shows, need to give deer hunters a serious reminder on how to handle handguns. Like not wrist-snapping the cylinders shut on revolvers, and other "kewl" looking foolishness they saw on 'Barnaby Jones.'

Anonymous said...

Boy, where have I seent hat before? Hunters needing only a handful or rounds and pissed they have to spend so much for one box of good bullets. They whine like there is no tomorrow. Then they complain that the hunting licence fee went up to a whopping $35 from $25 or something like that.

State agencies are terrified to raise fees for in-state hunters and go sky-high on out of state hunters. They get most of their operating revenue from only two sources, the tax Michael speaks about and the license and tags fees. While state budgets went up in the 90s these agencies had to make do with little additional funding and a larger roll in providing services for non-hunters and shooters.

If the industry pushed for more money out of the pot, the state agencies whould start crying like there was no tomorrow that they were being robbbed.

In the end it comes down to this one simple question: Where Is The Leadership?

Anonymous said...

Where is the leadeship? is right. Michael makes a very good point and the underlying truth in all this is that there isn't real strong leadership within the 'community'. Sure, NRA does a good job on the legislative front but they are victims of their onw success when it comes to other areas because of their heavy-handed tacics. (which I approve of by the way)

Then you have NSSF pumping mmore money into what looks like a dry hole or at lest one that won't pump out as much 'black gold' as the one Michael is pointing to.

Then you have the various sporting groups that never seem to play well with each other for soem irrational fear that the other sport might steal their members.

And finally you have the professional, empire building, conservation organizations. NWTF, DU and others have done great work in the conservation side of things but they too have broadened their focus beyond their natural role in a quest to become bigger, richer and more powerful. That isn't entirely bad but when they won't play well with others and constantly try and co-opt other events and programs, they cease to be partners.

We need leadership. Too bad everybody is too afraid to take on that role. And everybody else to afraid to let somebody take on that role.