Having retired from the NRA last February, I am beginning to view the shooting sports through a wider “lens.”
This past October, I competed in the 2018 New Jersey Outdoor Precision Pistol Championships and enjoyed meeting some of the host Cherry Ridge Club members. And in November, I shot the Bedford, VA, NRA Action Pistol match and learned a lot from match director Alan Strawn. These exchanges have renewed my appreciation for how successful shooting programs are run by hard-working club volunteers, with-or-without outside help.
As we begin 2019, some shooting disciplines are in decline, others are holding their own and the number of NRA Affiliated Clubs remains steady at 18,000.
An ongoing discussion throughout the shooting sports is: “How can we preserve time-honored traditions for the current shooting establishment, while attracting new shooters who have very different expectations?” Traditional matches, awards, rules and ceremonies have worked for a hundred years but are not attracting sufficient new shooters and club members to sustain membership, national funding, program support and sponsorship. Case in point: Youth shooters at the 2018 National Pistol Championships at Camp Perry made up fewer than 15 percent of registration.
As a teacher, father and grandfather, I see today’s youth growing up in an environment where traditional sports and interactive social activities are being replaced with rapid-paced technology and rich media stimulation that offer instant goal achievement for short attention spans.
What I saw at the New Jersey Cherry Ridge Club and in Bedford, VA, were folks that embrace both tradition and the next generation of sport shooters. While people my age enjoy the traditions rooted in the Creedmoor matches, people like Mary Badiak (see photo above) and other dedicated volunteers work tirelessly to support new shooters as well.
An interesting observation from Mary is the fact that youth shooters typically learn about the shooting sports through their friends. Not online, or the club bulletin board, magazine article or membership mail. Targeting these peer relationships appears to be the “X-ring” for youth recruitment.
Things that would interest new shooters such as electronic targets, real-time scoring linked to social media and the web, shorter matches and help with expenses are all ways that could help. Another idea: Should there be a novice class where rewards and recognition are more easily obtained to draw-in newcomers?
Your Club—“The difference between a club and a range are the activities.”
The day prior to shooting the New Jersey match, I was fortunate to attend a Bullseye Clinic conducted by National and State Pistol Champion Dave Lange. (Read his advice regarding dry fire training.) During the ride from the classroom to the range, Dave commented: “The difference between a club and a range are the activities.” By the time the 3-day visit ended, I was exhausted at hearing about all their activities, run by countless volunteers.
During my Marine Corps career, it was said that the Corps ran on the backs of Sergeants, Gunnery Sergeants and Captains. Similarly, the shooting sports run on the backs of volunteers and clubs. Any effort to preserve and improve the shooting sports should include backing our clubs who, in turn, offer direct support to grassroots members and volunteers. Here are a few ideas plagiarized from my recent visits:
- From food sales, raffles and donations, the Cherry Ridge Pistol Club subsidizes travel and registration expenses for their youth shooters.
- Registration fees are kept low to encourage participation. The Bedford match cost me $10, which included targets.
- NRA Grants help augment local funds to provide loaner club guns, shooting jackets, targets and related supplies to ease the burden on parents of would-be sport shooters.
- Independent of official scoring―local awards make for a fun match. Examples include Sacagawea coins awarded on the spot for a “clean target,” a box of ammo to the shooter traveling farthest for the day’s match, or a quick raffle during a break.
- While you have their attention, consider Club news announcements about future matches and activities while shooters are still on the line.
- An information-rich, mobile-friendly website that makes it easy to find ranges and activities. Example: www.njpistol.com.
- An open invitation to NRA staff to visit your club through reduced registration fees and clinics to offset travel expenses.
In closing, let’s “connect the dots” between clubs and your dedicated NRA staff by contacting them directly. Here’s the link for the directory of the NRA Competitive Shooting Division.
“It’s so much easier to suggest solutions when you don’t know too much about the problem.”
― Malcolm Forbes
Chip Lohman has been involved in the shooting sports over the last 10 years as NRA youth programs ambassador, previous Shooting Sports USA managing editor―and most recently the NRA Publications deputy executive director before his retirement in February, 2018.