Cans off a fencepost: Plinking is alive, well

• Target shooting is a much bigger sport — and provides more income — than the nationwide gun industry imagined

By Mark Freeman / The Associated Press

Published Jan 29, 2014 at 12:01AM

MEDFORD — Hard to imagine that the xBox age still is a time when a kid and his dad can spend an afternoon blowing through a box of .22-caliber shells in the good old pastime of shooting tin cans off the back fence.

Old-fashioned “plinking” is alive and well across America. In fact, not only does it dominate the target-shooting world, target shooting is much larger — and shooters’ wallets are much fatter — than the gun industry ever imagined.

A new study sponsored by the shooting sports industry shows target shooters make up an $8.2 billion industry that almost equals what hunters pay annually for guns, ammunition and other gun-related items.

And basic, behind-the-barn plinking accounts for almost three-fourths of all target shooting with handguns and more than half of all rifle shots at targets in the United States, according to the study.

“I don’t think anybody really considers themselves a plinker,” said Bill Brassard, communications director of the National Shooting Sports Association, which sponsored the study. “It’s kind of an old-fashioned thing.

“It’s good to know there are still places in the country where you can go out and do that sort of thing,” he said.

The NSSA released the report, called “Target Shooting in America: Millions of Shooters, Billions of Dollars,” recently during its Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show, known commonly as the SHOT Show, in Las Vegas — the largest trade show of its kind in the world.

The report provides the first clear look at U.S. target shooting-related purchases in the same sort of format that hunting-related expenditures have been tracked for decades.

It includes state-by-state statistics for the number of target shooters, retail sales, taxes and jobs supported by target-shooting — ranging from ammunition manufacturing and sales jobs, but not the 5-cent deposit on the thousands of cans shot off fenceposts across America annually.

“It’s the first time it’s ever been quantified, really,” Brassard said. “It’s the first time we have numbers showing how many people are taking part in this activity.”

The report provides plenty to chew on.

Oregon has 426,307 target shooters who logged 14.8 million days shooting annually, the report states. That data includes only those who bought goods or services specifically for target shooting and excludes air guns, the report states.

In Oregon, target shooting contributed $354,248,428 to the state’s economy and supported 3,574 jobs, according to the report.

Rifle and handgun shooting dominate target shooting nationwide, followed by shotgun and muzzleloader shooting, according to the report. California and Texas are the top two states ranked by retail sales, and there are more target-shooters in America than there are people in New York State, the report states.

The category of “plinking or informal” target shooting accounts for 73 percent of participation among rifle shooters. Sighting in rifles is a distant second, accounting for 22 percent of the activity. Only 6 percent of target shooting involves high-powered rifles and silhouette targets, the report states.

Among rifle shooters, 57 percent are plinkers, slightly above the 52 percent who target shoot to sight in their rifles. Benchrest shooting accounts for a quarter of all target shooting.

Last spring, NSSA and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies released its “Hunting in America” economic and participation report to a room full of hunting and shooting-sports writers.

“What we heard a lot from the audience was, ‘what about target shooting?’” Brassard said.

The report authors relied on target-shooting participants as reported by the National Sporting Goods Association multiplied by the average annual expenditures on firearms as reported by Southwick Associates’ annual report for the industry. Estimates were broken down by weapons, and deductions were made for firearms sold for hunting and target shooting.

The report also relies on manufacturers’ excise taxes as reported by federal agencies.

The report doesn’t assert that target shooting is as relevant to the American economy as hunting, which accounts for $8.4 billion in firearms and firearms-related sales annually.

Target shooters, for instance, typically don’t buy waterproof camouflage suits, tree stands, stay in as many hotels or travel far distances.

“Target shooting is much more localized,” Brassard said from the SHOT Show floor, where media credentials had to be cut off at 2,500 because of space.

Coupled with other studies that show one in five gun owners is less than five years into shooting, the study concludes target shooters tend to be younger, more female and more urban-based, Brassard says.

“In many ways, they reflect the changing face in target shooting,” he said.

And that face may look far more familiar than many expect.

“There are many more gun owners than one might think,” Brassard said. “They might not talk about it in the workplace or socially, but they are avid target shooters, from just plain plinking all the way up to competitive shooting.

“Because it’s fun,” he said.