Wausau, Wis. – Whether it’s for big game, small game, upland
birds, or waterfowl, hunting’s future as a major activity remains
uncertain. Although there are many factors that likely will come
into play, many knowledgeable people agree that shooting programs
and access to target ranges are needed if new generations are to
enter the hunting fraternity.
During the recent National Rifle Association state convention, a
panel of experts discussed the future of hunting, target-shooting
programs, and protecting ranges from frivolous lawsuits and zoning
regulations. Panel members included DNR Division of Enforcement and
Science Administrator Tim Lawhern; NRA Women on Target Coordinator
Diane Danielson; John Joines, from NRA Range Services; and Jim
Fendry, director of the Wisconsin Pro-Gun Movement.
Lawhern began by reviewing the decline in hunter numbers during the
past three decades.
“During those years, hunter numbers in the Midwest dropped from 21
percent of the population to just 7 percent today,” he said. “We’ve
seen a 33-percent drop in just the last 15 years, and license sales
in Wisconsin have been declining since 1996.”
The good news is that despite increased costs for guns, bows,
ammunition, licenses, clothing, and other gear, Wisconsin ranks
sixth nationally in the number of hunters. The state is first in
hunter safety education.
“We have 5,630 volunteer instructors. No other state comes close to
that number,” Lawhern said.
Most classes are offered in March and April and then again in
September and October. The number of courses ranges from three in
Florence County to 61 in Waukesha County. Average class size is 30
to 35 students. While the perception is that kids comprise the
majority of students, Lawhern said 50 percent of the graduates are
age 18 and older.
To illustrate the success of the hunter education courses, he
pointed to the low number of fatal gun-related accidents during the
state’s firearms deer season that brings nearly 700,000 hunters
into the woods during a nine-day period.
“Last year there were no fatalities and just one each during the
previous two seasons,” he said. “You can see … what hunter
education and social acceptance of blaze orange clothing and
hunting hours between sunrise and sunset have done to improve
Danielson began her duties as Women On Target Instructional
Shooting Clinics Program coordinator last July. She hails from
Milwaukee, where she worked in the printing industry for 33
“I took a basic rifle course at age 10 with my mom, who was a
police officer, as the instructor,” she said. “Shortly thereafter I
became a junior member of the NRA, and, thanks to my dad, I became
an avid hunter and (angler).”
She is involved in Women On Target clinics and Women On Target
hunting excursions, as well as the Refuse To Be A Victim program,
the Women’s Wilderness Escape, postal matches, and more. Her main
focus is getting clinics into clubs that haven’t hosted them
“Women are an incredible group of potential target shooters,
hunters, club members, club officers, volunteers, and voters,” she
said. “If you get mom involved it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll get
the kids to follow.”
For more than a decade, one of NRA’s top priorities has been to
reach out to women and increase their participation in hunting and
the shooting sports.
“When Women On Target was founded in 1999, its overriding goal was
to encourage and mentor women’s participation in what, until that
point, had been male-dominated activities,” she said. “Now, 11
years later, the program continues to make major strides. We had a
record-breaking 2010 that saw participation in Women On Target
instructional shooting clinics increase by 20 percent.”
She also credits former Alaska governor and vice presidential
candidate Sarah Palin for spurring interest in hunting and
“The ‘Palin effect’ has increased female membership 20 percent,
with the NRA teaching 10,000 new women a year to shoot,” Danielson
said. “Firearm manufacturers are also now gearing products toward
women. They’re scaling down stocks, and shortening trigger pull
lengths for our shorter fingers.”
Joines, an engineer with NRA Range Services, related ways new
computer technology can improve range efficiency and attract more
men, women, and youth to target shooting. Reporting on a
demonstration of an electronic target system, he said, “The
shooting was six rounds each, and with two targets we put 245
people through from 9 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Nobody went downrange
and nobody touched a target; everything was done electronically,
and when it was all done, we pushed a button and printed the
He said there are plans to acquire more target systems.
“We’re getting six of those this year, and will be putting them on
a trailer so more shooters will have the opportunity to see how
they work,” Joines said. “Ideally, next year I’d like to get one
set up in the state of Wisconsin.”
Having targets that provide instant feedback is a key to boosting
interest among youth, Joines said.
“How would you like to have a plastic rifle that takes a picture of
where the shot hits? Does this have a place in training youth?” he
asked. “How about a portable trap that throws a 10-inch by 2-inch
thick plastic disc that you can shoot at with a bow and arrow?
These are some of the new targets we’re looking at putting out
Joines also said that grants are available to NRA member clubs to
help improve or expand ranges and help develop new ones. He also
noted that assistance is available to help implement range
improvements from the NRA’s Range Technical Team.
Fendry reviewed provisions of state statute 895.527 that protects
ranges in operation prior to 2010 from civil liability relating to
noise issues and zoning ordinances.
“However, a city, village, town, or county may regulate shooting
hours between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., except for law enforcement
officers, and military and private security personnel,” he
Despite this legal protection, noise is still the biggest complaint
raised by the public against ranges, Fendry said. “Lack of adequate
range supervision is also a problem for some ranges today,” he
said, “but the critical issue is projectile containment. Fired
bullets and other projectiles must never be allowed to leave range
Fendry also advised range operators to establish a sizable legal
defense fund. “That will enable you to respond more quickly and
effectively to any legal challenge,” he said.