I’m one of those guys who lurks on the Bullseye-L, pours over other websites, and because of that, one thing generally rises to the top. It’s my concern of a dwindling membership of conventional pistol shooters.I’ve seen this play out locally. I’m fortunate enough to live well within one of the largest bullseye communities in the country: South-central Pennsylvania. Adjacent states such as Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and West Virginia are the Mid-Atlantic’s epicenter for conventional pistol.
|Camp Perry 1926|
Unfortunately declining participation doesn’t appear to be letting up.Forty years ago or so, we were just about the only game in town. If you and your friends wanted to do competitive pistol shooting back-in-the-day, you’d almost be forced into contact with our kind.
In the ‘70s and before, there might have been the very faint beginnings of six-gun fast draw or the practical disciplines. At that time they were pretty much under the radar. Cowboy action or three-gun events weren’t even thought of. In years past articles about our sport would have dominated the old American Rifleman magazine. Today we’re relegated to a digital magazine with dubious distribution.The reality is, today we have competition from a vast assortment of shooting sports. And for whatever reason, we’ve been left adrift without leadership to even modestly promote our own sport.
It’s a sad commentary for a sport that has such a rich history and enormous living talent.My local club’s outdoor bullseye range is a little over 200 feet wide with 60 covered stations. That’s right, 60 stations! Originally it was built without a roof and fewer stations in the late ‘40s. It routinely saw substantial improvements over the next 30 years, to deal with the utilization demands local bullseye shooters placed upon it.
This range, as it sits today, is a legacy of a golden but bygone era. Few facilities modern or timeworn generally can’t compete with its vastness or dedicated buildings. It was created from a vision by likeminded people at a much earlier time.Sadly, there was a time many years ago when two relays a day would utilize the range for a full 2700 match. 100 to 120 bullseye shooters would descend on the club’s property on a typical summer day—after a dozen or so would be turned away due to space limitations. Today, that type of participation is reserved for only two or three other venues in the country, possibly once a year.
At the height of the Cold War, in the 1950s and 60s, the DOD found it worthwhile to promote all types of shootings sports. The federal government didn’t want the Soviet Empire to run away with the Olympics or world championships. And they didn’t want to lose any of the high level international prestige that might be bestowed from such events.Unfortunately we’re structurally stuck, in some respects, within the same limitations imposed upon us from nearly 60 years ago.
Back then, little more than a third of the world’s population was under communist rule. The era of substantial US government sponsorship with shooting sports is now long behind us much like perestroika, glasnost and détente. Those old geopolitical threats to the West have long been settled. This was the period when Don Hamilton, Bill Blankenship and Jim Clark, Sr. shined with all their well-deserved glory.In the current post-Regan era, we no longer have any real government support. But those restrictions placed upon us from the Cold War are still in play, especially at locations such as Camp Perry.
Clearly some of this dilemma is beyond our ability to do anything about. Times change. But one big handicap we appear to have is tunnel-vision.We’ve managed this sport for the better part of a century and its leadership has grown complacent. If not complacent, they’re stuck in a multi-decade rut.
The basic problems are that we don’t recruit and the leadership at the NRA wants to do things the same old way. There is no real money being spent by our sponsoring organization to promote us, let alone have the world know that we even exist.I give credit to the NRA. Their recent rule change to allow for new and different classes to participate appears to be a good start. It’s their attempt at recruiting new shooters. But they should have had a marketing program—in the hopper, ready to go—long before they rolled this one out to all of us in the middle of the night.
I could be wrong but it appears they didn’t have a plan. Their mindset was probably something like: we’ll tinker with the rules and let the locals figure out everything else. In other words, after sampling a dozen or so people, found an appropriate path but didn’t craft the necessary beginning or end. And I have yet to see anything resembling an established benchmark to determine success or failure.Let’s throw it on the wall and hope it sticks.
The NRA has vast resources. Good Lord, how many NRA banquets do you or I need to attend? Money they have. And they also have an army of marketing/branding people, copywriters, graphic artists, in-house bloggers, webmasters, videographers and a flippin’ cable show.It’s begs the question why weren’t any of these people rounded up and brought into the process of a rule change to gather new shooters?
Let’s face it, part of the problems listed above rest squarely on our shoulders.How so?
Since we participate in a well-established sport many of us are guilty of expecting things to be the same, day after day. It’s human nature. Some might even refer to it as a “sense of normalcy.” We all like to participate because it’s fun. And I’m all for the fun part of things.But we rarely ask or demand anything from the NRA. And we take them for granted, assuming all will be right in the world if we never make direct contact with them.
When I pick up the phone and call the Competitions Division, they act as though they’re the bastard step-child within the Association. I routinely hear about budget cuts, and at the same time, hear about vast sums of money being applied to other national pistol shooting events; events with very low participation compared to ours.If I hear another statement at the nationals from an NRA staffer saying, “That’s how we do things at the Bianchi Cup,” I think my eyes are gonna explode right from their sockets.
It’s easy to throw rocks and that’s not my intent here. But as a group of people bonded by a similar interest, we don’t need to take a backseat to other lower participating disciplines.The bottom line is we’re passive.
When the NRA asks for money (which some telemarketer will certainly do) inquire how those funds are going to be spent. Will it go to competitive shooting? When you arrive at the next NRA banquet, use the same tactic there. Everyone does, except you and me.It’s alright to pick up the phone and let someone know at the NRA you want more capital applied to the sport. A phone call to Dennis Willing or Kayne Robinson isn’t going to hurt anyone. And while you’re at it, remind them they have plenty of in-house resources.
Take the time and go to the shooters meeting at Camp Perry and express your concerns. Or when you need to phone the stat people in VA, politely let them know you’re not happy with their limited attempts at recruiting or lack of marketing.We haven’t communicated our desires to the leadership, nor have we expected much out of them.