Jul 29, 2009

Save The Ranges

A rusted, bullet-riddled refrigerator was left right in the middle of the private, county-zoned shooting range my local club uses for events. Not one, but two cars in similar condition were there as well. In the corner rotted a trash heap taller than a man and some 30 paces deep.

Yes, really!

Having recently moved to this dump/shooting range, our club members had to clean it up. Despite the warts, the location, available space and super-low overhead costs made it too good to pass up. However, you can rest assured the trespassing, half-literate plinker-slobs who created the mess weren't there to help clean it up.

Part of the problem was the property owners had used it as their personal dump for 20 years and the folks who originally zoned the facility as a shooting range didn't do anything about it. It was a textbook case of "broken windows theory" in action.

If that isn't bad enough consider this. One hundred yards up the road a landscaper built a meticulously groomed golf driving range. Not one junk pile ever. Consider what impression of gun owners and golfers the hundreds of commuters who travel that state highway road every day took away from that scene.

While this may be an extreme case, it is by no means an isolated incident. Our own industry periodicals (Shooting Industry, Shot Business, etc.) have reported that promoting ranges and shooting activity is the only viable long-term choice to retaining private gun ownership, yet under promoted, sloppy, even unsafe, range conditions are wide spread.

Sound harsh? Compare the conditions of your local golf course or bowling alley to your range. Note the difference between the atmosphere (appearance, signage, etc.), location, and promotion (number of ads and stories appearing in local media.)

It's endemic throughout the shooting world, and the fault lies primarily within our own industry. Gun people like to blame their woes on the "anti-gun media" and politicians. However, I'm convinced that negative media and political attention are merely symptoms of the real problems.

When someone already has made the choice to be gun owner and then finds more joy in *not* using their firearm more than once a year that is, collectively, our own fault.

When a gun owner chooses to trespass and vandalize private property, and nobody does anything to curb or plain ridicule such activity that is, collectively, our own fault. Sure, such an individual is rare but all it takes is one bad apple.

When highly skilled shooters do make the effort to participate and even run the events that prove their skill, but the industry largely ignores their hard work and contributions that is, collectively, our own fault.

When the man and woman on the street is unable to make a distinction between these two classes of gun owner and writes them both off that is, collectively, our own fault.

This is the sad reality, but it is also the hope. Internal problems can be remedied regardless of any external forces. The solution is to take full control of our own destiny by better managing our efforts. Smooth Operations, rapid Administration, and aggressive Promotion will fix all this and more. And this is something we can do for ourselves.

Jul 22, 2009

Hunters, Go Back to School

Back to School Special

How important are shooting skills to hunters? How well can an "average" hunter shoot? How well should they be able to shoot?

I posed questions like these to a number of hunter's education administrators, writers, and the general public who frequent hunting-related news boards. The good news is the large number of positive responses from administrators who look forward to creating and having such data available. A few folks offered actual data they've compiled, which will be shared with you after we assemble it.

Strange as it might sound, I also had some negative response. Not much, an insignificant percentage, but it cropped up occasionally. I don't understand why offering a hunting-specific shooting format and suggesting that hunters should go out to the range and practice marksmanship occasionally is somehow a bad thing. People who have never participated in any type of shooting match, and have no idea what HSA is or how it compares to other formats will sometimes complain about it!

I'll agree there is much more to hunting than shooting, especially static position shooting on bullseye targets, however:

Shooting is a critical element!

My standard challenge to the "shooting is unimportant to hunters" crowd is to invite them to leave their ammunition or arrows at home. They may conduct their hunt anyway desired using any equipment or technique they wish, but can't actually employ any "unimportant" marksmanship skills.

So far, nobody is willing to take me up on this.

I believe the problem is a lack of understanding what organized shooting can do for all gun owners. Upon hearing the suggestion that matches are a good, safe way to practice shooting a few people become defensive, declaring that hunters need not win any match in order to hunt successfully.

I agree! But this isn't about winning matches. It is about learning.

Learning (and re-learning) shooting skills is best done in a safe, controlled environment on a range, instead of missing or wounding real animals in the field. We all should go "back to school" once in a while.

A relatively poor marksman *can* be an effective hunter IF he has an honest, accurate assessment of what he can and can't do. The key is knowing which shots to take and which ones to pass up. But so many hunters do not.

Many times, I've had hunters with years of experience come out to an Event. I'll put them on a target at a measured 50 yards, but they are sure it's "at least 100 yards away."

As they prepare to shoot throughout the Event, I'll remind them that HunterShooter shooting is freestyle, "You don't have to shoot Offhand. Go to Sitting, Prone, or use a rest as you wish. Do what you need to do to get clean hits to the vitals, just like in the woods."

"No, I can hit it just fine," they too often respond. The gut shots and misses on their stationary full-size deer target indicate otherwise.

Are you confident that you would never make such a mistake? These hunters felt sure they wouldn't either, until they bothered to try.

Occasionally, I'll see the opposite. The new hunter with a bit of practice under their belt but worried about wounding sometimes underestimates their skill. They'll Decline a few scenarios, only to end up with nicely centered hits in the vitals.

The beautiful thing is how rapidly all participants adjust to what they discover. Regardless of the results, a few scenarios like this paints a true picture of reality. The hunter starts making better decisions. And no matter what, everybody wins because everybody learns!

But unless the hunter bothers to get out to a range once in a while, he won't learn . . . until he misses and wounds real animals.

Standard advice is "Don't shoot unless you are at least 90% sure."

I agree. But without trying it first, how can one ever know what "90% sure" is for them?

Start participating in Events and find out!

Jul 15, 2009

The Ten Percent of Shooting

The Ten Percent of Shooting

Complaints about trick gear found in organized target shooting are usually the refuge of the incompetent.

Admittedly, this stuff makes a difference. If it didn’t then nobody would create or use it. However, it makes much less of a difference than most people realize. Ten percent seems to be the “magic” range.

Now, to a top end competitor, ten percent is a huge margin. That’s 30 points over a 300-point course. For example, the cut off to make the “President’s Hundred” over the 300 point President’s Match is usually somewhere in the mid to high 280’s. Shooting perfectly but losing even five percent due to equipment will ensure missing the cut off.

However, that means highly skilled field shooter with “regular” gear can shoot an equal score on the same course of fire as a highly skilled target shooter with all the trick gear, allowing for about a ten percent difference in the score.

So, if you truly believe that target shooters are only good because of their trinkets and that you are just as skillful, then you should be able to show up to a bullseye-type match and come within about ten percent of the top competitor. For a 300 point course that a Master-level shot routinely cleans, shooting your deer or small game rifle in your regular hunting clothes, you should score above 270 points if your skills are truly up to par.

Jul 8, 2009

Carpenters and Plinkers

Let’s say a fellow is a power tool enthusiast, presumably a carpenter.

He and his buddies study tool catalogs religiously, love to cruise hardware stores and trade shows, and can quote the characteristics of most tools by rote.

Thankfully, this fellow is good about following basic safety protocol with no problem, as are his friends (most of them, anyway.) He reads the included manuals and follows the recommended safety procedures, such as wearing eye and ear protection when using these devices and insists everyone else in the area does as well.

Unfortunately, not all of his brethren are this careful. Unbelievably, a few diehards don’t bother with such “unnecessities” as eye and ear protection. Missing digits (and pending lawsuits against manufacturers of “unsafe” tools) of a few of the real hardheaded show some are even less prudent. Thankfully, these types are a minority, but none of the group really does anything to remedy this.

He’s usually in the garage once or twice a month, sometimes more, sometimes less. So what does he do in there? Throughout the week he collects random pieces of lumber. Often, its scrap throwaway pieces. Once in a while, he’ll visit a hardware store, drool over the new tools and occasionally splurge for a piece of standard length lumber.

In the garage, drilling and cutting is done a random. A bit is picked casually and a hole bored aimlessly somewhere with little regard to placement. A chunk of wood is tossed on the table saw, an angle picked out the air and a cut make. When a piece becomes too short to cut or has too many holes, it’s disposed of. Once in a while, he’ll find a bit of junk and poke a hole in that to amuse himself. Again, safety usually isn’t a problem and he’s pretty good about keeping the area and tools cleaned up, at least better than most of his peers.

Once he started a basic woodshop project but partway through, after realizing his cutting and drilling weren’t as accurate as he thought, he quit and went back to the scrap. Most of his friends haven’t even bothered with this much.

The local hardware shop hosts classes and even sponsors woodworking shows encouraging patrons to bring in projects to demonstrate their ideas and skills, but none of these folks attend or support such activity. “Pompous”, “arrogant”, “crackpot” and “snobs” is how they describe woodworkers who use blueprints, take classes, submit entries at shows, and assert the idea that other power tool owners should do so as well. They are convinced such activity isn’t necessary to maintain their “real world” carpentry skills, provided you don’t ask them to demonstrate by showing something they’ve actually built.

Would it feel right to apply the title of “carpenter” to these fellows? Contrast this to how a serious woodworking enthusiast or professional carpenter works.

Now replace the hardware store with gun shop and public range, lumber switches to targets, replace cutting and drilling for shooting, and the woodworker’s projects and shows become shooting events and training. Note how many gun owners and plinkers follow a very similar path.

Jul 1, 2009

Cost of Shooting

Costs are up! The end is nigh! Or is this more a problem of perception?

NationalMatch.us, a great forum discussing the Conventional Shooting discipline of High Power rifle, recently had a thread discussing the costs of shooting and, using the price of gasoline, better put this in perspective.

In 1942, gasoline was 19.9 cents a gallon and John Garand was making $3800 a year as a senior engineer at Springfield Armory. That works out to $1.90 an hour. So 10 gallons of gas was an upper middle class worker's hourly wage.

Today an upper middle class wage may be $40/hr or $80K a year. At $4 a gallon, it has the same bite as it did in 1942, except we can get cars that make 30-40mpg, while a WW II car was likely to get 10mpg or worse.

When adjusted for inflation gas was about as expensive in 1981 as today.

Not trying to jusify inflation, just trying to put things in perspective.