The critical nexus between shooting education and hunter recruitment was the theme of an NRA-hosted breakfast Wednesday morning at the 77th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Atlanta, Ga.
At the gathering, which featured approximately 100 top leaders from state fish and game departments, federal agencies, and hunting and wildlife conservation organizations, Bill Poole, director of NRA’s Education and Training Division, stressed the importance of teaching young people to shoot as a key component of the hunter recruitment process.
“It is well-established that even if a young person is introduced to hunting, he may well drop out if he does not achieve some degree of success,” said Poole. “Good marksmanship skills and the ability to handle a gun safely are a critical part of that success.
“It is not enough to recruit young people into hunting. We have to retain them.”
Poole identified several factors that allow young people to achieve that success, including making sure that young people have ranges on which to practice, mentors to teach them how to shoot, and organized programs to grow their interest in the shooting sports.
“Based on our decades of experience, there is simply no question that once a youngster has a safe, enjoyable introduction to shooting, both he—and his parents—are eager to pursue continued opportunities in the shooting sports—especially hunting,” Poole said.
“That bridge between early shooting lessons and hunting is one reason why we must work to keep shooting ranges open—and not just private shooting clubs but recreational shooting areas on federal lands. Such areas provide perfect venues for family shooting activities where youngsters can continue developing their marksmanship skills.”
Many state hunter education programs, although extremely valuable, do not have the means or facilities to provide actual hands-on firearm training.
To help in the development and construction of new public shooting ranges, NRA has begun offering range grants to state DNRs, federal agencies and local governments from its Public Range Fund Grant Program. In the first three years of this program’s existence, NRA has helped building 16 ranges in 13 states, all on public land, and all for the purpose of making it easier for people to find places to shoot.
For years, NRA has placed a major emphasis on youth training programs. This is achieved through NRA’s more than 82,000 Certified Instructors, 5,000 Certified Coaches, and NRA-run programs like the Youth Hunter Education Challenge and the Winchester/NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program. NRA has also supported shooting programs run by youth organizations like the Boy Scouts, Royal Rangers, the American Trap Association, Scholastic Clay Target Program, and 4-H.
In particular, after more than 100 years of working together informally, NRA and the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) signed a Memorandum of Mutual Support recently that will result in more shooting opportunities for Boy Scouts and more qualified instructors to train them.
The memorandum calls for the development of teams of NRA Certified Instructors in each of BSA’s 296 local councils. These instructors will assist scouts in the completion of their rifle and shotgun shooting merit badges, as well in running year-round shooting activities aimed at reaching more scouts and keeping them involved in shooting programs.
Teaching more people how to shoot and exposing them to guns and the shooting sports will eventually mean more people who hunt, more people helping to fund wildlife conservation through the purchase of hunting licenses and associated equipment, and, ultimately, more people who support hunting and Second Amendment rights.
So while states are focusing on the factors that are driving people out of hunting, Poole stressed the importance of using basic shooting education programs to drive people back into hunting by giving them the foundation they need to be successful.
“You will hear many times this week that one of the strongest pillars of our hunting heritage is Pittman-Robertson funding,” said Poole, alluding to the federal program (which is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2012) that comprises a major portion of state wildlife funding. “We all know where that funding comes from—people who buy sporting arms and ammunition. As we look ahead to the next 75 years of hunting, rest assured that NRA will continue its commitment to teaching basic gun safety and marksmanship to an ever-expanding audience of American gun owners.”
To learn more about all of NRA’s youth hunting and shooting programs, as well as the new Public Range Fund Grant Program, please visit www.nrahq.org.