Does the future of hunting lay in the youth shooting sports?
It’s hotter than a two-dollar pistol on Rt. 92 in West Virginia, and Makayla Scott and a group of young shooters are turning up the heat. Shotguns are blazing on the Field of Dreams, a shotgun facility that exists mostly because of Makayla’s drive and determination. Here at this unique range young shooters can shoot a shotgun on a Trap, Skeet, or 5-Stand range. All they have to do is call ahead, show up, and be introduced to the wonders of shotgun shooting sports.
The Field of Dreams is all about shotgun sports, but young (and older) shooters have a wide array of different types of shooting events they can be involved with. There are organized events in big and small bore rifle, air rifle and pistol, Bullseye pistol, silhouette rifle and pistol, many different events in the combat and tactical genre, muzzle loader competitions, and to be honest, this is just scratching the surface as to what is out there.
Recently I had the good fortune to meet with some folks that work in the shooting sports industry and are well versed in the shooting sports and hunting world. I got to sit down with them and go over some of the problems and possible solutions as to the future of hunting and shooting that we are faced with. I was a little humbled to sit with John Linquist, Relationship Manager for Midway USA Foundation, Danielle Faris, Marketing Manager at Midway USA Foundation, David Miller, Shotgun Product Manager and Pro Shooter at CZ-USA, and Laura Billington and Dan Dittmann, from MEC Outdoors (makers of clay target throwers)
The Midway USA Foundation by the way, is a 501(c)(3) public charity working to sustain and grow the shooting sports industry by providing long-term funding to youth shooting teams. Midway USA Foundation’s goal is to pose endowed funds for the support and advancement of youth shooting sports. They help communities and organizations raise funds to support their high school, college, and other youth shooting teams and activities. They also manage a variety of special purpose endowed funds for the support and advancement of youth shooting sports. (www.midwayusafoundatioin.org)
“Right now we have about four and a half million young shooters participating in shooting sports” said John Linquist, “Seventy five per cent of those involved in youth shooting sports say they want to get into hunting.” “Yes, that has flipped from when we started hunting,” said Dave Miller. “We started hunting, sitting out there on a bucket in fence line waiting on a dove to fly by, or chasing pheasants. Through hunting, we learned about trap and skeet shooting and wanted to try that.” “We learned how to shoot a shotgun by hunting,” Miller continued, and now young people are learning how to shoot through youth shooting sports, and many want to move on to hunting, but how do we do that?” “So now that is our dilemma, how do we get them into the field to hunt?” “The segway from the trap field to the pheasant field seems easy, but it’s not.”
In my own not so humble opinion, we have struggled for years with the dwindling hunter number monster. This has been discussed to the levels of beating the dead horse, but the basic premise is older hunters, the baby boomers like me, are aging out of hunting. We as a group go to our reward and pass on, or we just quit hunting after reaching a certain age. The younger generations so far are not filling in this gap, replacing the dads and Granddads and uncles who came before them. The math has been done on this many times, and it is not pretty.
It is easy to predict a severe shortfall in hunter numbers that will have many repercussions down the road. The greatest of which will be a big decrease in funds through the Pittman Robertson Act. This is the main source of funding for conservation based programs to state fish and wildlife agencies. For decades, hunters have funded game management, purchasing public lands, and other initiatives which are vital to keeping hunting alive in these United States. An excise tax is charged each time we purchase guns, ammunition, archery equipment, and other outdoor sporting goods. This money is allotted to the states based on the number of licensed hunters they have. As the number of hunters drops, so does the hunting gear purchased and down goes the amount of money available to drive the engine of hunting based conservation. Guns and ammo purchased for the youth shooting sports programs help with this, but we need to find a way to get these young shooters in the hunting woods.
This problem is not insurmountable, it can be done, and I have great confidence in our hunting and shooting public. I am very encouraged with the prospect of a collab initiative of outdoor based companies and organizations working together to crack the nut of decreasing hunter numbers.
You know the old saying “It is amazing what we can accomplish when nobody cares who gets the credit.”