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I’ve often helped new members of the clubs that I belong to learn how to shoot and ease into club life. One thing that has often shocked them is not only my age, but also how long I have been shooting for. At the age of 23 I have 10 years of shooting under my belt, 6 of those as a Firearms and Shotgun Certificate holder, it goes without saying that I am part of a new generation of shooters, those who started shooting after the pistol ban. We are the social media generation, the Facebook and Youtube generation, a generation that is more widely connected than ever, with many of us knowing shooters across the globe due to the new forms of media. We are active and we are passionate about the sport and about our rights, it does not go unnoticed that in the university club that I am a part of that many of the members wish to partake in shooting handguns and centre fire self-loaders. With this in mind, the question is not how to make young shooters active, but, how to encourage more of us to take up the fantastic sport of shooting in one or several of its many guises.
It cannot fail to pass the notice of shooters that we are an ageing population with many clubs having an average membership age in the region of 40 to 50 years old. In many clubs there is a complete scarcity of young members, especially those who are 25 and under, it is even rare to find someone in this age group who did not start shooting with a member of the family. Obviously if the sport is to survive, grow and potentially take back the rights that have been stolen from us then we collectively need to recruit more ‘young guns’. Just to make it clear, this is merely a piece of brainstorming as some of the ideas mentioned here may not be practical to all clubs, the usual financial, time, insurance and range certification limitations will make some options viable, many impractical and a few impossible to a number of clubs.
Firstly, beware of the costs, the main reason many new members to clubs in are in their 30s is because, for many, this is the age range when shooting can become relatively affordable as a sport. For those under 25 cost is often the major issue, schooling, low income part-time jobs, university loans and the ensuing debt limit the budget for many under 25s. Most clubs already have a junior membership fee, usually around half the price of the membership fee for those who are 18 and above. Some clubs have a student membership rate comparable to that of the juniors, this I highly recommend if your club can afford, university students often have some disposable income, and from experience they are more than happy to spend what they have on their chosen club.
Be exciting, even for the most avid shooter the same discipline can after sometime become tiring, for new young shooters, especially those not initiated into the community by cadet forces or scout groups, disciplines such as target rifle can seem rather stale. I am not saying that target rifle is, I initially started off as a prone target rifle shooter, but there does seem to be a general trend in young shooters to go for the more ‘exciting’ disciplines, with practical shotgun, mini-rifle and gallery rifle. I am not advocating the wholesale abandonment of one discipline for another, but if your range or club can accommodate for several disciplines then take them on, and where possible add even more to your clubs repertoire.
Make connections, it is easy enough for me to say make yourself more attractive as a club to younger shooters and make yourself more affordable within the confines of what your club can realistically manage, but, it is another thing actually bringing in these ‘young guns’. Some universities have shooting clubs that are well entrenched into uni life, some have their own guns, kit and ranges and many of these clubs have managed well on their own for decades. What is of concern to this article are fledgling university clubs, those that can only survive with the help of already established clubs. Range space is scarce in this country and setting up a live firing range is a difficult and costly activity in its own right, let alone trying to do this on a university budget and on university property. The remedy to this can be one of 2 routes; clubs can either rent their ranges out to university clubs that have gained Home Office approval (factoring cost of course) or set up a student membership, integrating the university club, whilst allowing it to maintain some autonomy. If possible try to set up an exclusive shooting session every so often for them. The latter is probably the easiest and most cost effective route to take for the university clubs, admittedly it will involve more work for the clubs, but this is the cost of a potentially large young membership. With all of this in mind if you have a new member who has joined as he has moved to your club as their university is nearby or if you’re a young shooter going to university think about setting up a club if there is not already one there.
There is also another body of young potential shooters who often go overlooked, cadet forces and scout groups, whose members will have some form of experience in the shooting and safe handling of firearms. This potential pool of new shooters is surprisingly untapped by most clubs, I know of a couple of clubs that do have a system in place with local cadet or scout groups but these clubs seem to be the exception rather than the rule. With this in mind, get in contact with local groups, many cadet forces and scout groups lack adequate range facilities and many may jump at the chance to get some more range time and training.
In conclusion, the ‘young guns’ are the shooting community’s future, without them we simply cannot survive, they are also a potentially vital source in our struggle to repeal the unjust restriction that have been foisted upon us. There is no doubt that the current crop of young shooters are active and will do what they can for their sports, we just need more of them. As previously stated, there is no expectation for clubs to go through a wholesale transformation process, but as the old cliché goes, ‘every little helps’ and one more young shooter who joins the sport brings with them many more potential shooters. Shooters who will learn the great lessons that shooting can teach, discipline, control and respect among others.