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The Aging Shooting Sports

By all indications, the shooting sports are growing, with the exception of hunting, which has been in decline.  But every time I go attend an event at my shooting club, I can’t help but wonder something: “Where the hell are all the young people?”  Where are the guys in their 20s and 30s?  If I go to a public range, I typically see a good mix of the young and the old.  Same if I go to my local indoor range.

But all the club events I’ve gone to, it’s been like a geriatric festival.  Are young people not into shotgun sports, silhouette or high power?  What can we do to get young people more involved at the shooting sports and into shooting clubs?

I’m not sure I have the answer, but I suspect the reason is that the barrier to entry for a lot of these clubs is high.  You typically have to know someone, and go through a process of being inducted into the club.  I think if we’re to be evangelical in our enthusiasm for the shooting sports, we have to work on ways to lower barriers to entry.

I think our club actually does a pretty good job in this regard, and we’re not hurting for membership, but it’s discouraging to think that a lot of the shooting sports are aging, and young people don’t seem to be stepping up.  I know the young shooters are out there, but I think a way must be found to bring them into the traditional shooting sports.

19 Responses to “The Aging Shooting Sports”

  1. The Duck says:

    When it comes to clubs, to keep them running it takes a bit of commitment in addition to just paying dues, Which I’m not sure younger people want to make.
    Also most clubs don’t have the “cool” factor that some commerical ranges have.
    Also some clubs don’t promote themselves well, to draw new members, there are some in my area with 1200 members, & a waiting list, & others with 50 members, & well if one of them dies it will be 49

  2. Matt says:

    Lack of clubs or places to shoot and cost of entry are other factors. Older folks tend to be willing or able to spend money on the hobby/sport. Most of the younger folks I see at the range are either sporting 22s and plinking or AR/AK pattern rifles.

    And given the bulk of young people are in suburban areas and the generally mentality against guns by media bias and lack of knowledge of anything different, is it any surprise that far fewer are interested in the shooting sports?

    It takes a lot of work in such an environment to overcome such conditioning. And if you do, getting anyone into anything above smallbore can be a costly undertaking. High power? Man, I could afford to do but the cost is enough of a deterrent.

    And The Duck is right about lack of promotion. I didn’t even know what the Izaak Walton League was until I stepped into their doors for a hunter safety course.

  3. kaveman says:

    The local club I belong to does a full-auto shoot at least twice a year. You pay $15 bucks at the door and then buy ammo inside to shoot other peoples’ legal machine guns. We get class 3 guys and their toys from 3 different states, so alway a good mix of guns. Always a good mix of young and old. Everybody leaves with a grin.

  4. Greg Morris says:

    Back in my hometown, there was one gun club. It was sort of an elite club, although membership was technically open to anyone. The problem with the club, and the reason I never joined, was that it was way too expensive. In WV, you don’t have to drive far to find an old quarry to shoot in. If you know someone with some wooded property (which there is a lot of in WV) then you just call them up and have a plinking party. There was really no incentive for me to join the club, other than having nicely kept rifle and trap ranges. They had various competitions and other perks, but I never thought they justified the high price tag.

    Now that I’m living in a major city, I kinda miss being able to just go out and shoot. I’m still not acclimated to the idea of paying money (aside from the cost of ammo) for the privilege of firing my gun. But as I get used to it, I find myself shopping around for the best range for each activity I am interested in. There are some clubs as well, but they are also not cheap. I find myself primarily interested in plinking, and staying proficient with my pistol.

    Of course I just bought a shotgun because my wife wants to get into clay shooting. That’s making me think harder about joining a club. There are some public ranges near where I live, but from what I can tell, the nicest places are members-only. The problem is, I don’t want a country club, and a few of the places I’ve seen are pretty close to that (take away the golf, add $5000 shotguns.)

  5. Lysander says:

    I can’t say for certain if there’s just a lack of advertising; the range I belong to (Gilbert’s Small Arms) I found through gun shops and looking on-line. They do have “monthly membership” which does lower the financial barrier to entry.

  6. Sebastian says:

    Our memberships are somewhere around 70 dollars a year, if you volunteer to help out with range maintenance and other club work. If you choose not to do that, you can pay off your hours, which brings it up to something like 120 a year I think. I don’t think my club has a very exclusive feel to it.

  7. Sailorcurt says:

    I think most of it comes down to cost and time. You don’t see a lot of young people with memberships at golf clubs either.

    In order to justify the expense, you have to be able to go often enough to make it worthwhile. Younger folks tend to have less disposable income AND less disposable time. Between work, getting the kids to soccer practice, overtime, getting the kids to karate, PTA meetings, getting the kids to piano lessons, homeowners association meetings, going to the kids school programs, the bowling league, getting the kids to do their homework, honey do lists, taking the kids to the zoo, housework, helping the kids with school projects…..

    There just ain’t much time, or money, left for gun club memberships.

    In my specific case (not that I’m that young, but I’m not exactly old either), the two nearest gun clubs are close to an hour away (sometimes over an hour depending on traffic). I simply wouldn’t have time to go often enough to justify the expense.

  8. Sebastian says:

    That’s a good point. I’m a single guy with no kids, but I have a difficult time finding the time to go as often as I’d like, and my club is a few miles away from me.

  9. Phoronus says:

    As a youngish guy, I think you’re pretty much spot on. Let me give you a quick rundown of the clubs in my area, but first a short intro, so you can know where I’m coming from. I’m 26 and have never owned a firearm. I like guns, and would like to have a collection, but finances being what they are, I haven’t had the chance. Also, I’m a bit of a gadget-guy, so I have trouble ‘settling’ and purchasing used/from a pawn shop. I want new and shiny. I’m working on curbing that, but haven’t had a lot of luck yet. Also, I am, frankly, an internet nerd. I’m an introvert and have a hard time being outgoing. I’m also not a big fan of the phone, I’d rather get all my info together on the web.

    The closest has an atrocious webpage, I don’t know if they are open for membership, what their requirements are, what their range is like, or what their members are like. It appears to be more hunting focused, which isn’t my thing, but it’s hard to tell. The only contact is the webmaster. I’m probably going to email anyway, if nothing else, to offer some help with their page.

    There are three clubs in the next town over (about a half hour drive):

    Two of them have no webpage at all (going from the NRA Shooting Range Directory).

    The third one has a membership fixed at 260 members. Taken from their page: “The Monocacy Pistol Club is a private organization. Our membership is fixed at 260 members. If you are interested in joining, we suggest that you participate in some of our matches and get to know our members. Once you get to know some of our members, one of them will likely endorse your application for membership. New members are accepted as membership slots become available. ”

    This doesn’t sound, to me, to be terribly inviting. I have to participate in matches, hope I become friendly with a member (not easy for someone like me who is totally an introvert) and then wait (and possibly wait and wait and wait) until a member dies, moves away or quits. Yeah…

    Also, as someone else mentioned, is the $X a year going to be worth it if I can’t make it to the range regularly? It’s a lot harder to justify spending it if I’m only going to go twice a year.

  10. GeorgeH says:

    Who in the world wants to do an ‘event’?
    Wait my turn?
    Used the prescribed equipment?

    I go to a public range so I can bang away with what I want, when I want.

  11. Sebastian says:

    Good point GeorgeH. I like testing my skill against other shooters though.

  12. Sebastian says:

    “The Monocacy Pistol Club is a private organization. Our membership is fixed at 260 members. If you are interested in joining, we suggest that you participate in some of our matches and get to know our members. Once you get to know some of our members, one of them will likely endorse your application for membership. New members are accepted as membership slots become available. ”

    Yep, that’s exactly the kind of barrier to entry I’m talking about. You have to go from nothing to matches. That doesn’t cater to inexperienced shooters. I also ponder that part of the problem is, it takes a long time to get proficient at shooting, and people are afraid to embarrass themselves. Granted, a lot of clubs only want proficient shooters with experience, which is great for the club, but not a great thing for the shooting sports as a whole.

  13. The Duck says:

    Our old club (Lost our lease after 40 yrs) & now in the hunt to purchase land that zoning will approve.

    Some clubs do have fixed membership just due to that all they think they can handle.

    Our club did have events, but there was also a lot of open range times, but the events were a way that new folks could get to know us & us them.

    I really don’t think it’s always cost, The one indoor range I have done classes at charges like $400 a yr, & $14 an hour if you don’t have a membership, on Fridays & weekends they have people waiting in line to use the range

    Lot of 20 somethings there,

    When I look back it’s funny I was driving 50 plus mile to shoot, because I was told the club that was 3 miles away was black powder only, then I found out they shot everything.

    http://www.wheretoshoot.org is a good way to find ranges it’s part of NSSF

  14. BobG says:

    Personally, I haven’t been to a range in over 40 years; I have always gone out into the boonies to target shoot. In this area, that is quite common, especially with the young people.

  15. Sebastian says:

    I guess a lot of you are from places you can target shoot informally out in the boonies. You can’t really do that here. We have public ranges maintained by the Pennsylvania Game Commission in each county (except a few), which are free to anyone if you’re willing to follow their rules (paper targets only, three rounds in a magazine at a time). I’m not sure if there’s anywhere in PA you can shoot informally. I’m guessing there is, but certainly not around the Philadelphia suburbs. Our club is located a few miles north of Philadelphia in an industrial area, but I’m an hours drive to get to any PGC ranges.

  16. Sebastian says:

    Also, one thing that turned me off to my club initially was the 5 round magazine limitation. You can shoot from a 30 round mag, but only 5 at a time in a magazine, or even in a revolver! I didn’t want to deal with that kind of attitude. But then they closed my county PGC range, so I figured it was a good place to shoot outdoors at a decent range (up to 200 yds), and the 5 round limitation was still better than the 3 round limit imposed by the PGC.

  17. PN NJ says:

    Younger shooters with less experience, less money, and less expensive firearms feel more comfortable at public ranges or indoor ranges with other shooters like themselves.

  18. Michael says:

    I’ve looked some down here in Georgia and all have some ridiculous requirements to join. You have to know somebody who can vouch for you, then go in front of a board for review. It is nice the want to keep standards, but I just don’t need the hassle, even if they do have a 600 yard range.

    As for hunting and its decline, I contribute this to suburban sprawl. Men in their late 30’s to early 40’s who’s fathers took out hunting, are not returning the favor with their kids. That is why I am all in favor of having 4-H in all schools, even the most urban schools. Get those kids back out into the woods and back to nature.

  19. KathyH says:

    *giggles*

    You haven’t been to SWPA, have you?

    Granted, much of it does depend on knowing someone that will give you permission to shoot on their land, but there are generally people around that will let you do that.

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