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Target shooting a booming business

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Punching holes in paper is big business, especially when the objects used to punch the holes happen to be bullets.

A recent survey, conducted for the National Shooting Sports Foundation by Southwick Associates, revealed that Americans spend $9.9 billion a year on target shooting. That's in addition to the estimated $38.3 billion they spend on hunting.

Those are pretty formidable numbers, because they reflect money actually spent on equipment, services, travel and supplies directly related to recreational target shooting.

The survey's authors also calculated an even larger economic impact based on certain "multipliers," but frankly, I question those larger numbers because they assume that the money from direct expenditures will continue to "turn over" within the nation's economy, an assumption that might or might not prove correct.

So for purposes of this column, I'll cite only numbers that reflect money actually spent in 2011, the year in which the survey was conducted.

According to the researchers, there are 20.1 million target shooters in the U.S., and they're apparently not one-trick ponies. Participation in the four principal disciplines - rifle, handgun, shotgun and muzzleloader - totaled well over 100 percent, so there obviously was crossover.

Sixty-five percent of the survey's respondents said they shoot rifles. An additional 65 percent said they shoot handguns. Forty-eight percent shoot shotguns, and 18 percent shoot muzzleloaders.

Perhaps because of its reputation for being a place where hunting still is revered, West Virginia gets portrayed as a state populated by gun enthusiasts. That might be true as far as hunting is concerned, but apparently not so much for target shooting.

According to the survey, 8.7 percent of all Mountain State residents engage in target shooting. While that figure stands well above the national average of 6.4 percent, it ranks lower than the per capita rates of 18 other states.

Wyoming led the nation at 19.9 percent, followed by Montana at 16.9, South Dakota at 15.2, Idaho at 13.0 and Arkansas at 12.4.

West Virginia did, however, rank higher than all but one of its surrounding states. Kentucky came at 9.1 percent, Pennsylvania 7.8, Ohio 6.0, Virginia 4.5 and Maryland 3.6.

Mountain State recreational shooters appear to favor long guns over handguns. The survey found that West Virginia has 113,800 people who target-shoot with rifles, 92,600 with handguns, 81,400 with muzzleloaders and 79,600 with shotguns.

Think about that. Of the 161,980 people identified as target shooters in this state, 70 percent shoot rifles, 57 percent shoot handguns, 50 percent shoot muzzleloaders and 49 percent shoot shotguns.

The muzzleloader figure is particularly mind-blowing. The nationwide per capita rate is 18.5 percent. West Virginia's is nearly triple that.

Researchers found that West Virginians spend an average of 6.9 days a year shooting rifles, 5.6 days shooting handguns, 4.2 days shooting shotguns and 2.5 days shooting muzzleloaders.

Shooting that much costs money - a lot of money. According to the survey, West Virginians spend $29.9 million a year on target shooting with rifles, $25.6 million with handguns, $15.7 million with shotguns and $8.8 million with muzzleloaders.

That's a total outlay of $80 million in retail sales of firearms, ammunition, optics, loading supplies, travel, range fees and instruction.

That's impressive. And when you add that to the state's per capita participation rate in archery, which leads the nation; and in hunting, which is one of the nation's highest, you end up with an argument for the shooting sports that's pretty darned hard to punch holes in.


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