Resourceful ranges find inventive ways to present these proven programs
Eight years ago, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) introduced the First Shots seminars program. The purpose of First Shots was to introduce non-shooters to firearms and shooting and reacquaint lapsed shooters with the shooting sports. At the same time, NSSF hoped that ranges who held a First Shots seminar would see an increase in range traffic as a result.
First Shots introduced thousands of new and former shooters to today’s shooting sports. It also created a dilemma for many ranges: once they had new customers engaged, how did they keep them involved?
A couple of years ago, NSSF moved to build on the foundation that ranges have established, by creating the First Shots Second Round program. The Second Rounds program has as its stated goals:
- To increase range traffic and activity by offering new shooters additional shooting opportunities.
- To introduce novice shooters to other shooting-related activities.
- To educate the general public about the opportunities for safe and responsible use of firearms.
“Once people get involved through First Shots, they have a thirst for more,” said Tisma Juett, Manager of First Shots for NSSF. “Second Round is the perfect opportunity for them to try something else.”
Juett said the Second Round program is not as structured as the original First Shots program was.
“The Second Round program is more about giving ranges ideas,” she said. “We’re saying, ‘Here are some things you could do. The world is your oyster.”
Ranges that took off with programs of their own after First Shots can serve as models for other ranges.
“Second Round can be a way for ranges with already established programs to share that information with other ranges,” Juett said. “They can say, ‘Here’s what’s working for us; you might want to try it.”
Besides a Second Round reference guide, NSSF also provides ranges with financial assistance to get started in the Second Round program.
“NSSF provides a $500 initial stipend for ranges to get started on Second Round,” Juett said. “They can use it to buy steel targets or ammunition, or can use it for advertising. This is a great way for ranges to jump start a program they already have in place but that they can’t get any traction with.”
“Don’t assume that new shooters will stay with it if you don’t help them,” said Miles Hall, president of H&H. “The key is to have options for your guests. We set up outlets for new shooters to channel their enthusiasm. Ranges that get involved in First Shots and now Second Round need to take a long term view of this. If you get started in this program and succeed, you must do something beyond that. You’ve got to send people in a direction, and you’ve got to make it easy.”
The worst thing a range can do, Hall said, is to imbue new shooters with enthusiasm and then give them nowhere to turn for more shooting experience.
“The most important thing a range can do for new shooters coming out of a First Shots program,” Hall said, “is to make a facility available where they can shoot at their own leisure.”
After that, he said, the sky is the limit.
“We have the ‘A Girl and A Gun’ program,’” he said. “We also have leagues they can shoot in, depending on their interest. Everyone’s desires are a little different, and you have to find what’s going to strike their fancy.”
H&H has partnered with groups such as the local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Friends of the NRA and other nonprofit organizations on various projects to involve new shooters with different aspects of the shooting sports.
Oklahoma Safety & Security Source in Tulsa, Okla., held three First Shots events last year and is moving forward with their first Second Round event to be held later this year.
“First Shots teaches people the basics and the safety aspects of firearms,” said Bart Batman, one of the range’s owners. “It’s fun, but then you have people who want more. Where we’re going with our first Second Round event is teaching people more of the fundamentals of shooting. We’re going to use ours to introduce people to some of the different styles of competitive shooting; for instance, we’re doing a bowling pin shoot. We want to break that fear barrier, that anxiety, that people have about shooting.”
Batman said he and his partners kept the e-mail addresses of everyone who participated in the First Shots seminars and sent an e-mail to them to invite them to the Second Round event.
“This whole program is probably the best way to introduce people to firearms,” Batman said. “Even in Oklahoma, we have people who don’t shoot and don’t understand firearms. This gives us an opportunity to introduce them to firearms and to shooting.”
Aimee Gregory, at Shooter’s Depot and Range in Chattanooga, Tenn., has a beginner’s class that is very similar to the First Shots program. After NSSF started First Shots, the beginning instructor made a few tweaks to his curriculum and folded the beginner’s class into First Shots.
“Our beginners got a taste of both pistol and rifle shooting in the class and loved it,” Gregory said. “We will be doing our first Second Round event this fall. At that event, for $5, each participant gets a ‘grab bag’ of ammunition of 10 rounds of five different calibers. We’re going to walk everyone through shooting firearms of those five calibers. This will take the participants one step farther than with the .22s we used in the First Shots program, and will give them a ‘feel’ for the different guns.”
Gregory said the range already is sending out e-mails to everyone from the most recent First Shots program who provided their e-mail addresses.
“We went back about six months,” she said. “I think we sent out about 300 e-mails and have 40 people signed up two weeks before the event. We know there will be a few people who don’t sign up and who just show up. We can accommodate 100 people, so we should be okay with whomever comes.”
At the Sig Sauer Academy in Epping, N.H., Director Adam Painchaud said the staff took a little different approach to their premiere Second Round event.
“We teamed up with NSSF and Simunition,” he said, “and did the training with Simunition guns. It’s a real Sig Sauer with a conversion kit in it so it shoots Simunition FX cartridges, which are marking rounds. We did some force on target training using silhouette targets, which allowed us to teach more intermediate skills, even though the participants’ skill level wouldn’t have been up to that if we were using live ammunition.”
Both instructors and participants loved it.
“Using the Simunition guns and ammunition brought a different twist to things,” Painchaud said. “It added a dimension that the instructors couldn’t have done with live fire at that level. We’re planning to do more events like it.”
“It’s a great program and I love it,” he said. “It’s something every range should be doing. I’ve been doing one to two a month since the beginning.”
Sprague offers a number of classes and events that keep First Shots participants coming back.
“We have NRA Basic Pistol classes, and of course we have the range,” he said. “We give participants goodie bags with giveaways from manufacturers, and coupons to encourage them to come back. We give them a range pass to come back and use the range for free, and we give them a $5 coupon to use the next time they come back. We try to let participants know about every aspect of how to get involved with what we offer.”
Sprague reaches out to the community to bring in groups as part of the First Shots program.
“For instance, once or twice a year the City of Yuma will bring a group of employees,” he said. “That lets us teach a group of 10 to 20 people about our industry and about the products we sell. We also reach out to private groups, and we accommodate their schedules; if they need a program in the evenings during the week, I’ll make it work. If they need it on the weekend, we just need to find a weekend when we don’t have another class in that room. There are a lot of large employers who are always looking for programs they can do for their employees.”
Tricia Sisson is one of the owners of The Range at Lake Norman in Cornelius, NC. She said her range puts on a First Shots program almost every month.
“We charge a $10 registration fee, just because we have a limited amount of space and we want to be sure people who register really are going to show up,” Sisson said. “However, we then give that $10 back to participants as a store credit for whatever they want to use it for.”
Once participants have finished the First Shots program, they have a number of options at The Range at Lake Norman.
“We offer the NRA First Steps program, private instruction, and courses in concealed carry handgun and advanced concealed carry,” Sisson said. “We’ve also gone all the way to force on force training, which is live-fire training in a controlled environment. It’s very situational, with things like home invasion, car invasion and grocery-store robbery.”
Generally speaking, Sisson said, more than 50 percent of First Shots participants return to the range.
“They come back for some kind of an event, for additional training, to buy a gun or to get their concealed carry,” she said. “We find that people are very attentive in the class and that they’re excited about learning what we’re teaching in First Shots. A lot of our participants tend to be families, parents with their children 12 years and up or fathers with their sons and mothers with their daughters.”
Doug Alley, owner of Ammo Alley in Hartsburg, Mo., said he has lost count of the First Shots seminars he’s done. He’s also done several Second Round events since the program started two years ago.
“We did a ‘try a gun’ event that was hugely successful,” he said. “But we also wanted to try something a little different to open people’s eyes to the ‘games’ aspect of firearms, so we’re planning an event that we’re calling ‘Gun Fun.’ It’s an introduction to programs such as IDPA, USPSA, action shooting, and that kind of thing.”
The purpose of this particular program will be to let people know about all the different aspects of shooting, Alley said, including target shooting, hunting, and self-defense.
“They’re all very important aspects of shooting,” he said. “We want people to know that they can have competitive fun with it as well.”
Alley said he uses social media as much as possible to publicize Second Round events. When he does a First Shots seminar, he said, many of those participants begin following him on social media, and he’s able to communicate with them that way.
“The program has been wonderful for us,” he said. “We’re doing about one Second Round event a quarter, and we try to coordinate those events with other things that are going on here, just to keep people involved. People now view us as the place to get an education about firearms. More and more people are referring their friends to us.”