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Competitive Shooting: Why Bother?

by John M. Buol Jr.

On one of my favorite discussion lists, [email protected], we recently were deliberating the merits of various shooting competitions and their usefulness for developing practical marksmanship skills. One of the participants, whose opinion I hold in high regard, made the point that the true test of field marksmanship is in the field!

He comments, "What I propose is that people go hunting...yes, HUNTING. Egads, no cardboard, no steel, no points. Just shoot a damn animal and eat it. No animal, no shot, no food. Its motivating far more than any point system."

At its best, HSA, or any shooting system for that matter, can only attempt to simulate some facet of the real world. Even the most elaborate shooting systems, such as multi-million dollar live-fire simulators for police or military training, is only one organization’s best attempt to simulate reality as they see it. And with hunting you don’t have to wait for a tragedy or war to find our if your skills are adequate. Hunters can find out if their skills are up to speed in the real world every hunting season. This brings up the point, why bother? Why do hunters need an organized shooting system like HSA?

We feel there are two major reasons why the Hunter’s Shooting Association is important for the future success of hunting and shooting. In our opinion, these two benefits can only be provided by an organization like HSA. These benefits are:

Development of individual skills
Promotion and publicity of hunting and shooting sports.

Let’s look at them one at a time.

Developing individual skills

The first thing an organized shooting system provides is a greater awareness of shooting skill. The very nature of hunting requires hunters to pursue their activities alone or in small groups. Their knowledge is limited by their personal experience. By participating in a National-level organization open to the public, hunters can learn first hand what the very best shooters are capable of and smash their preconceived notions. I like to call this smashing of barriers the "Bannister Effect."

Let me give you an example. At a HSA match I ran we had a "Standards" scenario where Participants engaged circular plates while being timed. The first part was a snap shot from "standard ready" (muzzle up, butt on belt) on an eight-inch plate at 25 yards. After the match, a few of us wanted to work out on this drill. I took the line and one of the Participants ran me through a few strings. "I think these numbers are wrong" he said. Assuming he meant something was wrong with the watch, I dug an electronic shooting timer from my bag and repeated. Being a bit out of practice, I was averaging 1.3 seconds to deliver a hit.

"Oh, I guess the watch was fine," my friend said. When I questioned him, he replied he didn’t believe you could present and shoot a rifle that fast. I explained that my times were mediocre at best and a good shot could cut the time to under a second. "By rights," I went on, "we should be using a four-inch circle. Really good hunter-shooters can hit that in about 1.5 seconds."

My friend has been hunting for decades, but this was his first HSA Event. It really opened his eyes to what could be accomplished with a rifle.

A National-level shooting organization provides motivation and drive to improve. First of all, the simple fact that Events happen regularly and on schedule provides a timeline for you. Every gun owner wants to improve their skills "some day", but a regular HSA Participant can’t wait as the next match is next month or weekend.

Also, any regular, organized shooting program for score motivates competition. We emphasize "Participant" and "Event" over "competitor" and "match" for more than semantic reasons. HSA doesn’t have to be run as a pure competition, but if there is a score involved, people will naturally compare notes. As noted firearms guru LTC Jeff Cooper once said, "[T]he universal drive to excel spur[s] us to prove our shooting to be better than the next man's"

Organized shooting sets standards. To date, no state in the Union requires a minimum marksmanship qualification to apply for a license to hunt. As a volunteer Hunter’s Education instructor I know the only "standard" to graduate from a safety course is to pass a written test and avoid shooting yourself during the field day! These courses have done much to promote safety (that’s why I donate my time), but do little to promote skill. HSA fills this gap by providing set standards to meet. The Instruction Manual includes our Classifier. This standardized course allows any hunter-shooter in any part of the country to easily gauge their abilities. This eliminates the meaningless title of "Good Game Shot" and demonstrates who has really done their homework!

Finally, there is the issue of cost. Participating in a local HSA Event provides more experience for less cost than hunting. A typical Event will have about four Scenarios with about five strings each for $5 - $10. Participants can gain the experience of shooting 20-30 bucks in varying situations at every match, and they are guaranteed to find abundant "game." Here in Wisconsin, a deer license costs $20 ($135 for out of state) and you have nine days to shoot a single deer if you can find one. That means you’ll also have to invest adequate time for pre-season scouting before you can start. And then wait a whole year to try again . . .

Promote Hunting and Shooting

The Hunter’s Shooting Association can do much to promote hunting and shooting. For starters, HSA targets are "in season" 365 days a year. Marketing experts tell us that any potential buyer has to be exposed to advertising an average of seven times before they will buy, if they are inclined to buy at all. So a major part of the problem is simply getting the message out. With a mere nine day hunting season, and some states have less, how long will it take to get the message out seven-plus times? HSA can help by simple volume, as clubs can hold Events as often as they choose, monthly, weekly, even daily if desired.

Going along with this marketing analogy, the Hunter’s Shooting Association provides hunters a sports topic to discuss that is actually hunting related. My grandfather, who has been hunting most his life, spends more time discussing ball sports, like football or baseball, than shooting or hunting. He discusses shooting a bit before season, shares venison at Christmas (if he was lucky), and shelves the issue until next November. Shooting as a sport is foreign to him because, in his words, "I don’t know nothin’ about that fancy shootin’."

In my experience, this attitude is typical amongst many hunters. Traditional marksmanship tournaments, with their specialized equipment and rules, seem to turn many gun owners off. HSA isn’t like that. A hunter who isn’t interested in target sports can still participate effectively. The hunting gear they already own is not only legal, it’s competitive. With a minimum of instruction, and the safety protocol they should already know, a hunter can come to the line and be told, "You see that deer downrange? When I blow my whistle, I want you to shoot a clean shot to the vitals, just like in the woods. Go only as fast as can guarantee a good shot. OK? Ready? GO!"

By giving a shooting sport to big game hunters, who represent one of the single biggest groups of gun owners, HSA hopes to promote shooting as a viable sport to the masses. What do you think would happen if the 80 million gun owners of the United States, most of which already own suitable deer hunting gear, started going to the range regularly?

Finally, the Hunter’s Shooting Association helps demonstrate how dedicated good hunters really are. As I’m sure you are aware, there are animal rights groups who want people to believe that hunting is for slobs. These groups try to convince the public that hunter’s have no skill and are merely bushwhacking and blowing away poor, defenseless critters. Anyone who has tried hunting and shooting knows this is pure bunk. Even with modern technology, effective marksmanship requires considerable skill. And every animal in wild is operating with a home field advantage. I have yet to meet a hunter who felt good hunting was easy. But non-hunters and non-shooters don’t know this. It isn’t practical to invite non-hunters along on a hunting trip, but it is easy to have them come out to a HSA Event. Once these non-shooters are educated to how talented good hunter-shooters really are, they can comprehend the value of hunting and shooting.

We feel HSA can do much to gather the recognition hunters and shooters deserve. However, the most important thing is to get active! If you don’t participate in Hunter’s Shooting Association events, please, please participate in something. Hunting and shooting will only last as long as our interest.

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