Sunday, June 12, 2016

Expert Panel: Hunters Must Adapt To Social Media

Hunters need to be ready to do a better job telling their story to the people on the margins.
That was the message delivered by a panel of experts in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
The group was convened by the National Shooting Sports Foundation as part of its annual “industry summit.” It's a gathering of representatives from wildlife agencies, firearms manufacturers, gun retailers, sportsmen's organizations and others.
The panel pointed to Cecil the lion as evidence of how, too often, sportsmen and women are late to the social media game.
Cecil was an African lion shot by a Minnesota dentist. His killing, which was later determined to have involved nothing illegal, turned into a referendum on big game hunting on social media, said Nick Pinizotto, CEO of the National Deer Alliance.
That wasn't by accident, said Ryan Bronson, director of conservation and public policy for Vista Outdoor.
He believes anti-hunting organizations were “keyed up” and ready to go on the offensive.
“They just needed a villain to play a role. I think that was part of their strategy. They were ready,” Bronson said.
“What it demonstrated to me is we were not ready with equal force.”
That proved critical, said Jeff Siegel, CEO of Media Lodge, a firearms ad network. If the hunting and shooting industry isn't able to respond quickly, it's often lost the game, he said.
“Social media has such an immediacy with no fact-checking behind it,” Siegel said. “People don't hear the facts after they've moved on.”
Just as important as being ready to respond is having a message that will resonate with people “on the margins,” who are neither hunters nor anti-hunters, Pinizotto said.
Oftentimes, when hunters try to explain to others why they do what they do, they talk about the North American model of wildlife conservation and trying to control wildlife populations and the like. The reaction of their audience is always the same.
“Their eyes glaze over,” Pinizotto said.
It's important to present facts, Bronson agreed. But hunters also need to show people — like their non-hunting friends and neighbors — the emotional side of it.
“We hunt because we enjoy it, because we love it,” he said. “And there's nothing wrong with that.”
Some don't understand the attraction of the sport, especially when they see photos on social media platforms of smiling hunters with bloody hands, Pinizotto said. Hunters need not shrink from that, he said.
But, he added, they must also convey there's more to the sport than bringing home an animal. Hunters get that; others don't always, he said.
“The killing, the pulling of the trigger, the releasing of the arrow, that's the smallest part for most of us,” he said.
Social media is not hunting's enemy, Siegel said. It certainly presents challenges, he noted.
But he added it's also an “on-ramp” for introducing people to what hunting and shooting are all about. The key from an industry standpoint, as with all public relations, is speaking with a singular voice and presenting a consistent message as frequently as possible, he said.
That's not always easy, Pinizotto said. The industry is big and, sometimes, made up of people who want to be out hunting and shooting more often than talking about it.
“We're trying to parallel park a tank here,” he said.
He suggested perhaps the industry needs to identify a handful of representatives to serve as go-to spokesman for the industry as a whole.
Whatever the approach, the shooting and hunting industry needs to keep its collective shoulder to the wheel, said Dan Forster, director of the wildlife resources division for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Changing minds takes time, he said.
“This is really a marathon that we're in,” he said.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Record Gun Sales Boost Grants To Wildlife Agencies

The majority of customers at Jason Doetzer's gun shop have one thing in mind.
It's not getting ready for deer camp.
Yet, they're partly responsible for an unprecedented wave of funding for wildlife management and hunter recruitment here and nationwide.
Doetzer sells traditional hunting rifles at his store, Iron City Armory in Bridgeville. He moves a few each fall, but they otherwise “pretty much sit on the wall.”
Instead, most shoppers want something — a rifle, shotgun or especially a handgun — for personal defense.
“The biggest surge I can tell you I've seen is with the person who's never owned a gun before. It's the 50-year-old guy from Mt. Lebanon who's never felt the need to have a gun but now, he does, for whatever reason. It's women, too. There are a lot more females carrying all day, every day than ever before,” Doetzer said.
“People just feel vulnerable.”
Increasingly, they're turning to guns for security.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's background check system, about 9.1 million people attempted to purchase a firearm in 1999. In 2015, a record 23.1 million did.
That marked 10 consecutive years of applications topping at least 10 million, seven consecutive of at least 14 million and three consecutive of at least 20 million.
Manufacturers are racing to meet demand.
According to the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, American gun makers built about 3 million firearms in 1986. In 2013, the most recent year for which numbers are available, they built a record 10.8 million. That was up 21 percent over 2012 and 40 percent over 2011, both of which set records.
Production increased across all categories: rifles, shotguns, pistols and revolvers.
That's been tremendous for wildlife and hunting.
Those who buy guns and ammunition — regardless of type, caliber or intended use — pay a federal excise tax. It's known as Pittman-Robertson funding. The Fish and Wildlife Service annually distributes it to state wildlife agencies based on their land mass and number of hunting license buyers.
The money can be spent on things ranging from wildlife research and habitat management to hunter recruitment and education training, said Tom Busiahn, chief of the service's division of policy and programs.
In Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has had its share of Pittman-Robertson funding grow from $7.4 million in 2005 to a record $24.9 million in 2015, said federal grants coordinator Gary Camus.
Established in 1937, Pittman-Robertson has accrued more than $10.1 billion.
Yet, few gun owners know it exists.
“We sometimes call it the greatest conservation success story never told,” said Jim Curcuruto, director of research for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the shooting industry's trade group.
There's likewise little awareness of Pittman-Robertson among all but the most serious non-hunting outdoorsmen and women, said Jim Bonner, executive director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania.
He knows a bit about the funding stream, he said. And he's been following news of the rise in gun sales in the media.
“But I never made the logical connection of the possible corollary between the two,” Bonner said.
Today, the issue is how to keep that money flowing.
The North American Model of conservation says wildlife belongs to everyone but relies heavily on hunter dollars to fund its management, Busiahn said. That worked for a long time, he added.
Hunter numbers have stagnated, though.
“We could be seeing a significant decline in hunting participation and consequently funding in the next 10 years. So that concerns a lot of people,” Busiahn said.
The new wave of gun buyers might be the “saving grace,” said Todd Holmes, shooting sports coordinator for the commission.
Figuring out how to turn those newbie shooters, who are more likely to be young, female, urban and first-time gun owners, into long-term customers or hunters is key, Curcuruto said.
Manufacturers are trying to show that firearms can be used for fun on the range and for protection, said Samantha Pedder, the Westmoreland County native serving as outreach and diversity manager for the Shooting Sports Foundation.
Wildlife agencies, meanwhile, are starting to look at non-hunting gun owners as constituents.
“State wildlife agencies are really trying to understand their position in the game right now,” Pedder said.
Legislation before Congress that would expand how Pittman-Robertson money could be spent might help, said Mike Bazinet, public affairs director for the foundation. It would, among other things, allow wildlife agencies to do more for and increase contact with gun buyers paying into the system, he said.
That's something Roger Elder would like to see.
The Ruffs Dale man hasn't hunted since moving to Pennsylvania in 1980. He is a competitive shooter and volunteer match director for the U.S. Practical Shooting Association at East Huntingdon Sportsmen's Club in Alverton.
The popularity of those events show the need to support all gun owners, he said.
“My personal opinion is that Pittman-Robertson should continue to primarily support wildlife management, but I also think there's a growing need for non-hunting related shooter education programs. It's not hard to connect the dots between the need for education and the need for safe shooting venues, which, of course, involves money,” Elder said.
“Small clubs like East Huntingdon struggle to pay the bills, so it's difficult to scrape up the money for facility improvements or new shooter program development. A Pittman-Robertson grant may offer a solution to those willing to pursue it.”
Industry leaders will debate that and more at the foundation's annual “Industry Summit” from Monday to Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
Many expect the gun boom to continue in the run-up to the presidential election in November.
Doetzer said he's “just waiting” for a rush of customers.
Keith Savage, owner of Braverman Arms in Wilkinsburg, expects the same.
“I think there will always be an interest in guns. It's what makes us free,” Savage said.
Bob Frye is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at