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Only a few years ago, many in the shooting world fretted about the future of our sports, pointing to the preponderance of grey and missing hair on the firing lines of shooting ranges and in the hunting fields. Without younger shooters, the older shooters worried, the sports would simply dry up.

Fewer shooters and hunters would also mean fewer gun owners and activists to stand against encroaching gun laws and fewer buyers of firearms and hunting equipment to fund wildlife and habitat conservation efforts.

Rather than stand by and allow the shooting sports to die by attrition, shooting groups and the firearms and hunting equipment industries, along with millions of individual shooters began actively working to make shooting more accessible to younger generations.

Hunters lobbied for, and got, special mentoring licenses and game permits to allow novice hunters better and safer access to game fields. Clubs and industry groups created new training and competition programs for young people. Newer, more exciting, action-shooting games began surpassing traditional, more staid shooting disciplines. An unintended consequence of three wars in the past 20 years is a boon to the shooting sports, as it has provided hundreds of thousands of young people with firearms training and sparked enduring interest in guns, shooting and hunting in many of them.

With a rising tide of young shooters, many mature adults who had been raised in shooting families but had drifted away from the sports began drifting back – and introducing their own children to the fun, challenging and character-building world of competitive shooting and hunting. And as the younger generations take over the run-and-gun world of action shooting, their parents and grandparents are reinforcing the once-dwindling ranks of the more traditional, precision shooting sports.

After years of declining numbers, participation in hunting and shooting sports is on the rise according to reports by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, or NSSF, a firearms industry trade association, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This in spite of increasing loss of hunting lands to residential sprawl, efforts by encroaching neighbors, government bureaucrats and the “guns are bad” crowd to close ranges and shooting areas and the steady shift away from rural communities and customs toward a more urban/suburban society and standards.

Gun sales spiked dramatically in 2008 and have continued at record high levels with not only existing gun owners acquiring additional guns, but also millions of first-time gun owners entering the market. Careful analysis of polls regarding gun ownership over the years indicate that the percentage of households with guns in them is right at, or a bit over, 50 percent, and that this rate has remained relatively stable for decades. Best estimates suggest that more than 80 million Americans own firearms at an average rate of 4 guns each.

NSSF also reports that the firearms and ammunition industry, including makers of targets, accessories and hunting gear, were responsible for almost $30 billion in economic activity and more than 183,000 jobs in 2010. The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute says that as many people go shooting every year as go golfing, and that the shooters spend more money overall in connection with their sport.

Years ago shooters and hunters imposed a special excise tax on firearms, ammunition and hunting gear with the revenue earmarked for conservation, safety programs and construction of public ranges. Between these taxes and various licensing fees, NSSF estimates that shooters and hunters generate 3.5 million dollars a day for these programs.

What’s more, while more people own more guns than ever before, the rate of firearm-related accidents is at an all-time low, and crime has been dramatically declining as gun ownership has been increasing. So much for the assumption that more guns equals more crime.

Recently America’s enduring interest in firearms has been discovered by TV producers with programs like the History Channel’s Top Shot and Discovery’s Sons of Guns. I have to say that I’m a bit disappointed in these offerings, as they tend to follow the American Chopper model of playing up the soap opera drama and giving short shrift to practical and technical issues that I find more interesting and entertaining. I suppose that in the world of TV ratings, drama, yelling and generally rude behavior generate higher numbers, but I’d sure like to see more of the thoughtful, responsible and overall pleasant people that I know make up the bulk of the shooting community. We have our share of curmudgeons and jackasses; I just hate the suggestion that they represent the entire shooting world.

How about a reality show that follows shooting stars Jesse Abate, Julie Golob and 15-year old phenom Torri Nonaka as they blaze through complex action-pistol courses, burning up female shooting records and giving the top men a run for their money? Three beautiful, intensely competitive and intelligent girls knocking down steel targets with some of the coolest guns on the planet … now that’s entertainment.

What it all boils down to is that shooting is fun, shooting is exciting and shooting is safe. It really is fun for the whole family, and there’s something for everyone. Whether you’re a complete novice or an old hand, there are programs out there to get you started and keep you challenged for a lifetime. From the simple fun of making a tin can dance with a .22, to challenging programs like the Scholastic Clay Target leagues that are generating future Olympic champions, to bird and big game hunting, to the excitement of action pistol and three-gun competition, or the confidence and security of personal defense training, there is a shooting sport for anyone and everyone. A great place to learn more about what’s available and were to shoot is at the web site of the National Shooting Sports Foundation at www.FirearmsCoalition.org.

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