Saturday, September 24, 2005

A Question About Hunting

Overload in Colorado asked a pretty interesting question in response to one of yesterday's post:
If all the manufactures know their own sales numbers of sporting vs hunting, and are members of NSSF, why did it just switch to an all hunting logo, and why does the NSSF and the industry promote hunting the way it does?

Peterson Pub, Primedia and others also know their sales of hunting vs sport vs tactical magazines (and of course the general guns magazines sales vary based on the cover and contents)

Again, if you're right, and I have no reason to doubt you, is there the emphasis on hunting?
Hell of a question, Overload, and a pretty complex answer that cuts to the heart of problems within the our gun culture. Let me just give you the Cliff's Notes answer, based on a lifetime as a shoooter (and occasionally a hunter) and almost a decade on the front lines, including time as a consultant to NSSF and the firearms industry.

1) Many of the people who run our industry and lobbying groups grew up in a time when hunting played a drastically larger roll in the gun culture than it does now. They are hunters; they associate with hunters; they understand hunters. Quick funny...I was talking to one of the most powerful men in the industry at a luncheon, a man who has run one of the largest gun companies in the world (and that includes one of the most respected shooting schools in the world). I was asking about comp'ing some media into the school; he listened for a minute, then stopped me. "Oh I'm sorry, Michael," he said, grinning and addressing the other people at the table. "You're talking about the shooting school! You're going to have to repeat yourself, because when you're not talking about blood sports, I'm just not that interested..."

2) The hunting lobby itself is old, extremely well organized, extremely heavily funded and extremely efficient. My hat is off to them.

3) Companies that service the hunting market understand the necessity of spreading a lot of money around.

4) The hunting market itself, while shrinking, is still extremely lucrative, especially in accessories (think cammie underwear!).

5) It has only been in the last decade that the shooting sports and the self-defense/tactical market have emerged a clearly separate, and large, markets, and these emerging markets are far less well understood by the majority of the industry.

6) Neither the shooting sports nor the self-defense/tactical market have anying lobbying efforts to speak of. The hunting lobby, however, was quick to see the emerging markets as threats to their dominance, and they have responded with an unprecedented push to retain that dominance.

7) In the absence of effective lobbies — or, for that matter, any effective representation at all — the shooting sports and self-defense/tactical markets have been unable to "make their case" to the industry as a whole. For example, studies tend to focus on hunting or hunting-related issues. Since there are no spokespeople or representatives for the shooting sports as a whole or the self-defense/tactical markets, no one from those markets is consulted on industry policies. The squeakiy wheel gets the grease.

8) The industry sees what it wants to see. I have been told repeatedly that hunting accounts for the majority of ammo sales in the United States, which is patent nonsense (we were able to quickly account of 40% of the ammo and components sold annually with competition and plinking). The studies the industry relies on lumps "plinking," which is informal competition, into hunting, disregards component sales and, occasionally, sales of "military" calibers...funny, since 9mm and .223 are according to my sources the best-selling ammo in the country. All shotgun shell sales are presumed to be for bird hunting or practicing for bird hunting, despite millions of "registered" rounds fired in shotgun competitions.

9) Hunting is politically correct; shooting is not. I would have preferred this not be a factor, but in my direct observation, it plays a huge role. Many of the people who represent us are uncomfortable with handguns used for self-defense or those pesky assault rifles...they live in states or cities where they sometimes can't own or carry handguns or possess an AR-15, so they don't have any "gut" feelings on the issue. Quick funny anecdote from a SHOT Show...I was getting ready to go out to dinner with my pal Scott Smith when we ran into a bunch of industry heavyweights, who invited us to go along with them. As we were walking out Scott turned to me and asked, "Hey Bane, you got a piece? If you don't, I got extra." I said not to worry, that I had my carry gun in the car. This stopped the industry heavyweights dead in their person said, "You guys are carrying guns?" Well duh, Scott said. "Why would you be carrying guns?" we were asked Think about it...

10) Underneath all these factors, there is a nasty undertone that, in the end, we are going to lose big chunks of our RKBA, and at least portions of the industry want to make sure their asses are covered. Out huge successes in the last few years — especially the pre-emption bill — have mitigated this factor somewhat, but the unspoken sentiment for years has been that whether there are carry handguns or not, there will always be hunting.

As you noted, our industry trade groups are moving more and more to hunting exclusivity even as their own numbers show hunting declining and sport shooting and self-defense/tactical shooting booming. I received my NSSF REPORTS newsletter for September last weekl, and they listed 13 partnerships and programs — every single one of them about hunting. They also reported that $1,363,278 of OUR MONEY has been given out in state agency hunter recruitment, rtention and access efforts. As near as I can tell, exactly $0.00 of OUR MONEY has been handed out for shooting sports recruitment and retention.

I support NSSF for their spectacular lobbying work in D.C., and I support hunting. But I am losing my patience with this industry continuing to act as if I, my friends, my fellow competitors and trainers and my viewers don't exist!



Anonymous said...

Michael: I just read your listed points and as usual they are well thought through, clear and cogent, but the future of 'hunting' in this country is, in my view, troubled. The reason is simple -- the lack of land for the average guy to hunt.

As a farmer and landowner in the cornbelt midwest many would think me 'friendly' to bird hunters on our farm ground. I'm not. The reason here is also simple -- liability laws and the insurance policies for blanket coverage for owners and operators. As a landowner, I simply can't assume the risk of allowing strangers cross our land and await the inevitable lawsuit when someone steps in an unseen tilehole or some other injury I did not cause directly.

Secondly, despite what all the biologists are saying there is something desperately wrong with our game bird programs because there is more 'no-till' farming practices being done now as compared to any time in agricultural history. No-till farming leaves more residue or cover for game birds than has ever been seen, but the numbers are not responding. The biologists are now arguing it's the wrong habitat, but the point they refuse to acknowledge is their mandated correct habitat is economically infeasible for the grain farmer.

The bottom line is the areas available to the vast majority of those interested in hunting within a reasonable driving distance of their homes is rapidly dwindling. It's shrinking at a faster rate than anyone is willing to admit in public.

It is my firm opinion the specific sport of "hunting" will within two decades become the sport of the "privileged". 'Privileged" can be defined as those who can afford arranged hunts (the species being hunted really doesn't matter as this situation will apply to everything from pheasants to high mountain elk), or those who are privileged enough through family inheritance to retain acreages dedicated to providing the proper cover for their chosen hunted species.

My view is my son will only be able to 'hunt' when he is my age by hunting land left to him by his family; i.e. my parents, my wife and I. Anything else will be economically out of reach, and as such he will be viewed by his contemporaries as "privileged", if not extremely fortunate.

Say what they will, I view the future of 'hunting' thirty years from now as the realm of the rich and powerful, not the sport of blue collar workers. I truly hope I'm wrong, but if I am where is the land for the average guy?

All The Best,
Frank W. James

Anonymous said...

Mr James brings up an interesting question himself: what is the current demographic of the hunter? Is it blue collar workers or the privileged? I receive a lot of hunting mail order catalogs, all with a different theme: English hunting, New England hunting, southern hunting, and even the Kings Ranch Catalog- Texas hunting. All these seem to be targeted to the privileged. Cabelas and Sportsmans Warehouse seem to be more blue collar (but the Gun Room at Cabelas is high end).

As to his main point, liability. There's still a bunch of public land to hunt (BLM and Forest Service), but these too could get shut down to hunting. I haven't heard of any of the MN hunters suing the private land owner for getting shot last year.

thanks for the reply. It all makes sense. It sounds like the non hunter shooters need to let someone know that their interests don't seem to be as important as hunter shooters. I think that the S&W Boycott hurt them. And they're a non hunting (pistol) company (yes, they make hunting pistols too). So, 'we' can make a difference. I wonder if the current NRA Phillips/Conoco boycott is doing anything? 'We' need a choice, somehow, through someone. Although, even if this group came along, how would it get funded?
The NRA has 5 magazines: Rifleman, Hunter, Freedom, Insight and Outlook. Wasn't there a Defender magazine at one time?

Michael Bane said...

There was a DEFENDER magazine at one time, and it was pretty good. Gone now.

Frank, I believe you have spoken an undeniable truth.Liability hans gover all of us like the proverbial sword of Damocles. I don't own enough property to allow hunters on, but if I did the question would I willing to bet my house, my livelihood, my guns, my royalties, everything I've worked to build over the years to allow someone to hunt my property? The answer would be an unequivocal no.

We also know that wasting disease is an unprecented disaster for hunting in the West (the last couple of years' record number of elk hunters has a very much "end of the game" feel to it). When I was a hunter, I prided myself in using everything I killed...I even skinned the deer and had the hides tanned! Here's the question for today's hunters...are you willing to bet that your large game is wasting disease free, or that wasting disease can't "jump" from elk and mulies to humans? That is one HELL of a hard question!

More response later...I gotta cook dinner (boiled shrimp, fresh corn, garlic bread and beer!)...


Anonymous said...

In talks you and I had several years ago, I said that I saw hunting as continuing to diminish in the future, primarily due to the increasing expense. Frank and Overload both described it more clearly than I.

When I worked in the industry, I found the same lack of reception to anything other than hunting. As I beleive I decribed it then, they could understand 15 million hunters shooting one box of ammunition a year, but they couldn't understand 15,000 shooters firing 20,000 rounds annually.

Much needs to be done to educate the public. I continue to feel the media seminars were a good thing, though you would know better if they had a positive effect. I have no understanding of exactly how they work, but a speaker's bureau that could provide speakers to address various groups, such as Lion's Clubs or others looking for program speakers seems a small means of introducing soem to shooting sports other than hunting. Combine such with efforts to use shooting as a backdrop in commercial advertising would begin to accustom the public to shooting in small ways.

I was very surprised recently to see an ad using a trap thrower and shotgun in it.

Well, enough for now.


Anonymous said...

There have been occasional efforts at making money from shooting games - a long time ago somebody tested Mosquito style claybird shooting indoors with ice balls on the bowling alley model.

What opportunity is there for big money supporting games?

For smaller money Heinie and the Single Stack or Wilson and IDPA are both companies supporting games/defense rather than hunting - these both seem to me limited. That is nobody could take them and expand to a growth market and get rich with an IPO?!

Ted Trueblood wrote sympathetically if somewhat disparagingly of the poor souls trapped in the East whose only sport was shooting rats at the dump compared to his own opportunities in the West. Duke Venturino did a column already years old in which he lamented that nobody today could follow his example of moving west and making guns their life - that the window of opportunity had closed to get the access needed. I suspect it is much easier for the privileged hunting class - safari if you will be it Africa or not - to form coalitions and compel or draw interests than it is for blue collar ccw or plinkers. Then too manufacturers catering to the ccw market, people who spend no more than they have to seem to me to be off-shore - Springfield or Taurus or what have you. That spend no more than they have to may be a key.

Anonymous said...

Couple thoughts..
Go into an REI store and check out all the displays of shiny technical gear. Then go ask management what they sell. Clothes outsell gear by a huge margin. Same is true for the shooting retailers. The gun department just gets people in the door. The camo and accessories is where the retail bucks are. Recreational and competitive shooters just don't need fancy duds every season (except maybe the Cowboy shooters).

What recreational shooters do buy in large quantities is ammo, powder, bullets, primers, shot, and so on, but how do you measure that since the market is so fragmented?
- Roy

Jim Shepherd said...

Just had a long conversation with Doug Painter of NSSF regarding the logo. He still holds to the idea that "hunting is the future of shooting" as well as the thin-excuse that "we couldn't show all the animals, targets, clays, etc. etc., etc" so they opted for the RMEF merger with NWTF logo. He called the old logo "very 70s" he didn't like my describing the new one as "the 50's redux". In other words, he still holds to the idea that hunting is the future of the industry. He also didn't like my asking him why a trade association was trying to "horn in" on the areas that were being very well covered by all the pro-hunting groups and the sportsmen's caucuses in Washington and across the individual states. He said it wasn't "horning in". He also didn't like my observation that he wasn't necessarily the best representative of SHOOTING as he'd never been photographed near anything that wasn't smooth-bore. He explained that as "a crime of convenience" since there are no ranges convenient to the NSSF's HQ. I then suggested that he take a "road trip" and visit other locations, or let Doug Koenig be the on-camera guy for NSSF and he stick to doing whatever six figure execs do when they're not doing standups in their tweed-hunting outfits.
Boy, clueless isn't the strongest word I'd use for the majority of the people at NSSF.
Incidentally, when NSSF put out the release characterizing the new logo as having been "unanimously adopted" by the board, that is a bald-faced lie. Two board members have told me personally they didn't vote for the new logo - and one said he told everyone involved that it, as was typical with all their efforts to create a logo that included the various areas of the shooting industry "SUCKED big-time."
Another friend in the industry offered $100 reward to anyone who could find a handgun in the logo.
Boy, what a "trade group" - they represent the part of the "trade" that's shrinking - to the omission and alieniation of the areas that are growing.
Maybe it's time for an "anti-trade" group to come together and represent the shooters who are just that, shooters.
Outdoor Wire Guy

Michael Bane said...

Hi Brother Jim!

Good to hear from you, and Guy N. as well!

Just as an aside to Doug Painter's comments, we ran TWO media seminars within spitting distance of NSSF WORLD COMMAND, at two different ranges, one indoors and one outdoors. There is a third range near HQ that NSSF used to maintain a group membership for NSSF employees (who were even allowed to take off early from the office to go shooting). However, they bought in A NEW BEAN-COUNTER, who insisted that NSSF employees could not either take time off work or utilize the group membership without seeking approval from Ms. Beannie first. That took care of that!

Hunting is the future of shooting? To paraphrase from a few years back, shooting needs hunting like a fish needs an AK-47!

However, the converse is definitely true...hunting desperately needs shooting, because shooting provides the "fodder" for the game fields. In terms of recruitng new hunters, there are two major "hurdles" — buying a gun and killing an animal. The shooting sports and the self-defense/tactical markets get a newcomer over hurdle number 1, which opens up a fertile potential bunch of recruits.

Regarding retail, we're sort of Catch-22'ed. Yes, the accessories keep the doors open. Yet the reason you see all cammie all the time in the big outlets like Sportsmen's Warehouse and the like is because they look at the same stuff we do...hunting hunting hunting. One of the most successful small retail outlets in the country is the Oak Tree Gun Club & Range in California, and then sell tens of thousands of dollars in NON-HUNTING accessories as well as their hunting stuff.

Hey, we BUY stuff; we'll buy other accessories, too. Last time I was at Oak Tree, I bought $50 worth of stuff I didn't need, because it was in my face!

And you'd better believe that the manufacturers of reloading supplies know down to the penny how much they sell, and to whom!

Hunting is the future of shooting? Ye Gods & Little Fishes! How can ANYONE in this industry be so wrongheaded?


Anonymous said...

You know... I have yet to really understand most hunters. Oh, I get the guys that shoot pests which are breeding in such numbers that population control is necessary (the roos over in Ausi-land, for example), and those who eat what they kill, but the people who just like to shoot animals? I don't know. I know they are gun owners like me, but some of them do it just for the death, and it has never made sense to me. In fact, I was absolutely shocked when I was at a gun show once and walked by a booth selling videos. One of them, that was on the screen at the time, was titled "Death by the Ton", and I stood there baffled as they ran video of people shooting all sorts of giant animals on Safari, and had the focus ENTIRELY on the death of the animals, which they then seemed to just leave there.

What an absolute waste and what a sick and deranged mind that would want to focus... no, OBSESS, with the death of another living creature.

I guess you could say I am a target/defense shooter, or am learning to be, and again, it isn't that I have some hideous aversion to death, I feel sufficiently prepared to shoot someone if I needed to or to hunt for the meat, something I would love to take up but haven't had the chance, and I have seen people die in person, one even bleeding to death out of their face in the past.

And maybe it is that and my experiences that have shaped me as I am now, but I just can't see someone being anything but deranged if they like to see another creature die, unless there was a need for their death (a violent attacker), or a use for it (hunting for more than just the thrill of the animal dying before you).

So in the end, I guess I am backwards in that the hunting group is often more... erm... unnerving to me than the tactical/defense/target group.

Anonymous said...

Part of the problem with shooting/defensive/tactical-whatever image are all the irresponsible and idiotic armchair commandos and mall ninjas. We all know what a negative impact these clowns have on shooting sports and on the perception of the defensive employment of hanguns. Unfortunatly, there is a segment of the gun media that plays to and emboldens the mall ninjas, thereby granting them some legitimacy. Combine that legitimacy with the attitude of those at the NSSF and we have what we have.

Hey, I sell guns for a living. Handguns and black guns keep food on the table and gas in the truck. Bolt gun sales are in the toilet and manufacturers have their collective heads in the sand.

As to the availability of land to hunt, that seems less of a problem in the Southeast that in the rest of the country. There are large tracts of private timberland with hunting clubs holding long term leases.

Middle Man

Anonymous said...

Follow the money!

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to make myself popular by saying this, but I HATE
hunters. Every damned Fu.D.D.
(Fu$%ing Dips!%t Duck/Deerhunter)
I've ever met has been an enthusiastic banner of any gun but their own Wabbit gun. In addition, while I've NEVER seen anyone at the range under any chemical influence, I can count the times I've seen sober hunters on two fingers. This was simply amazing to me, as I'm much more used to pickup trucks full of drunken idiots slathered with camo taking potshots at housecats and mailboxes on their way to the lake or river. Or, during deer season, "accidentally" shooting large dogs, hikers, HOLSTIEN COWS(!) and the occasional motorcycle.
So, the real question is not how to get these idiots on our side, but how to successfully disassociate shooters from drunken morons with guns, I'm sorry, I mean hunters.
As far as the wasting disease problem, that's a man made problem, and EASY to fix- stop wolf reintroduction. Wolves, contrary to disney fantasty don't kill the old, infirm and sick animals. They don't only kill what they eat, they kill the healthiest
animals in a herd for fun, ripping open the bellies to get the soft meat and leaving the rest to rot.
Kill off the wolves and snap! back comes the elk or whatever.

Anonymous said...

One other thing I'll mention: there are a lot more hunting TV shows than sport shooting TV shows. Before both there were animal shows, so that may be why. In the last few years, many non hunting shows have come on the scene: Cowboys, Shooting Gallery, Shooting USA (from the ashes of American Shooter), Sighting In w/ Shooting USA, Guns & Ammo TV, and American Rifleman TV. This is an impressive list. Am I missing any?

But... There are two networks plus ESPN Outdoors showing hunting and fishing TV. Might hunting and fishing be related?

I don't think it has to do with production values or being unable to cover the 'action'. Face it, hunting and fishing are both worse than watching baseball: long periods of nothing, accented by periods of action. Fishing at least has reeling in time that's action. Hunting is a split second trigger pull. Fishing can be relaxing, hunting is not (or is it?).

I enjoyed the old ESPN celebrity shotgun star shooting show.

More fodder,

Overload in Colorado

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Unknown said...

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