I‘ve always thought of myself as a clever writer, able to turn some phrase, state some fact or tell some anecdote that would grab the reader’s attention and bring him into the story that I was wanting to tell. Unfortunately, what I want to share with you, the trap shooters, isn’t funny or clever. The fact is, it’s sad and depressing but it is important to discuss if organized, registered trapshooting is going to continue to survive.
Statistics can be used to prove either side of an argument, but in the end one side is wrong and one is right. In the end, facts don’t lie. Since the ATA’s announcement that it intended to leave Vandalia, Ohio for another location, that topic has dominated the discussion page on Trapshooters.com and what the fate of the Grand and the ATA would be. What the fate of registered trapshooting would be.
Location, location, location was the topic, whether Amarillo or Indiana or Las Vegas or in the end, Sparta. Reasons pro and con for each location were championed and rebutted. Wild opinions were represented as truths without any statistics backing them up, and then flung about as inevitable facts to come. It should be clear to even the most adamant Sparta supporters that the glowing proclamations and promises made on the joys of moving to Illinois haven’t worked out as advertised. Build it and they will come hasn’t proven so.
Below is a chart of Grand American Attendance Demographics by zone from 2001 to 2012. When you are looking at it, remember the last full Grand in Vandalia was 2004. The 2005 Grand was the one that some trap fields had been removed and shooters were told they had to qualify to shoot. The 2006 Grand was the first in Sparta.
Long time TSC.COM viewers should remember how shooters from points east said “don’t move the Grand to Illinois because we won’t go, it’s too far, and it is anti-gun”. They weren’t lying. The Eastern Zone attendance is down 77% from the last full Grand in Vandalia in 2004 and down 49% from the first Grand held in Sparta in 2006. The ‘build it and they will come’ crowd couldn’t have been more mistaken. It hasn’t happened. A look at the chart will show you that. It is the same story for every zone, lower shooter attendance.
From 2004 to 2012 Grand Attendance down: Eastern Zone - 77%, Central Zone - 57%, Southern Zone - 61%, Southwestern Zone – 7%, Western Zone - 54%.
Even the Grand’s held at Sparta are down in every zone from the first one in 2006 to this year in 2012: Eastern Zone - 49%, Central Zone - 45%, Southern Zone - 56%, Southwestern Zone - 38%, Western Zone - 52%.
The 2012 Grand American was down 57% from the last full Vandalia Grand American and this year’s shoot was down 47% from the first Sparta Grand of 2006. This is in spite of the new categories and hundreds of trophies. Even the overly generous amounts of money given by the Martin family for the past three years has not had an influence on attendance. Location is the key. If trap shooters don’t want to go someplace, they don’t.
The real legacy of the Grand’s move to Illinois is unfortunately in what it has done to registered trap- shooting as a whole. All concerned ATA shooters should check out the Trap and Field Average Book Target Participation page. In 2006, the number of registered ATA targets shot was 79,208,961. By 2011, the number had dropped to 61,562,330. A 33% drop since the Grand’s move to Sparta.
I didn’t take the time to figure by zones but I have compared some states from 2006 to 2011. Ohio -32%, Michigan - 36%, Pennsylvania - 28%, New York - 24%, Missouri - 24%, Kentucky - 14%, California - 38% and Illinois - 10%.
The only states having shot more targets were mostly not states at all; they were Arkansas, Alaska, the Atlantic Provinces, British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec and foreign countries.
These are targets shot by that states’ residents, not targets shot in that state. The three large Cardinal shoots don’t count for or against Ohio and the Grand doesn’t count either way for Illinois. Target shot stats give a glimpse of the health, or lack of it, of registered shooting state by state and year to year.
The economy would seem to be a factor, except for the fact that the firearm industry has enjoyed 40 plus months of its largest growth in history. While the economy has indeed been bad, the gun business has never been better. The number of hunters is up, the number of new gun owners is up, and the number of women gun owners is up. In every survey conducted it shows that these new gun owners are interested in target shooting or learning about target shooting games.
As trap shooters we each have a story about how we got started, who it was that introduced us to trap. Generally for the most part before we started shooting ATA all of us already had an interest in guns; we were hunters, plinkers, and backyard clay bird busters. Why should it be different today? Times may have changed, but not that much. Gun people are gun people and a gun is the most essential item needed to shoot trap. With so many more gun owners, hunters, and better press than ever, why is registered trapshooting dying? It isn’t the economy.
For the past seven years the ATA Executive Committee has been obsessed with proving Sparta the right choice, so much so that they have neglected the sport and future of trapshooting. All their energies and decisions have gone in that direction.
They have wasted the most part of a decade trying to keep the 20,000 active registered shooters shooting at the Grand American, and ignored why the ATA has lost so many members over that time and failed to attract new ones. Youth shooters have been viewed as a money resource, a way to pump up the Grand’s numbers.
The EC’s last year-and-a-half shows just how out of touch and desperate it is, wholesale yardage reductions, new categories, wanting even a softer target. This is the doubling down of the fool heartiness, feel good, and make everyone a winner attitude that caused the decline of registered shooting in the first place.
Making the sport easier so everyone could break good scores, so every shooter could feel special and be a winner has cheapened the sport and set the ATA on the path that registered shooting now finds itself. Registered shooting was from its founding about competition and money shooting.
If everyone is a winner and there are no losers, how special can winning be? The whole idea of being special is to be something unique, not average. If everyone is special then no one is. Without losing, what is the thrill of winning? What can be enjoyed? In making every shooter a special winner we have instead become common losers. Not unique at all, just registered practice shooters.
If registered ATA shooting doesn’t return back to its historic roots the declines we see in registered shooting will continue. Unfortunately, the group running the ATA today doesn’t know how to fix the problem, doesn’t see a problem, or don’t care and won’t admit to a problem; they appear content to keep throwing stuff at the wall, hoping something will stick. Registered trapshooting has lost its soul.
If the ATA was a stock, would you invest your retirement and your grandkid’s future in it? The future of every trap shooter who loves registered trapshooting is right there in black and white, in the numbers. Can registered trapshooting be saved? It’s sad, but I don’t think so? If it is to be saved, right now, right today, I can’t see where it’s coming from and how it will happen.