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June 28, 2019

First Shots is a ‘No-Brainer’ for Colorado Range

By Scott Mayer

At the Northern Colorado Rod and Gun Club, a busy and popular outdoor rifle, handgun and shotgun range north of Fort Collins, instructor Bryon Fessler finds that NSSF’s First Shots® is not only an easy and safe way to introduce people to the shooting sports, it’s a way to keep the club’s membership waiting list flush with future members. According to him, fully 40 percent of all adult First Shots participants sign up to become members, and a whopping 50 percent of all participants come back for future shooting events.

“It’s a direct feeder program in terms of ‘I met them for the first time, I interacted with them for three hours’ and then literally they are on our wait list to become a member of the club, a paying member of the club,” says Fessler.

Partnering With Local FFLs Pays Off

To find these First Shots participants and prospective new members, the club primarily relies on its website and social media, though Fessler says it goes one step farther by getting help from NSSF with creating flyers they distribute through area firearms retailers.

“We can all make a flyer or PowerPoint,” says Fessler, “but it’s really neat when NSSF asks if we need a flyer for an event and I just send the who, what, when, where and why and NSSF puts it together. Before you know it, it’s a very professional looking flyer on a pdf that we can take to the printer and distribute to about 20 local gun shops.”

First Shots Students - 22 Rifle - Northern Colorado Rod and Gun Club
Frequently, First Shots students ask where they can buy the Ruger 10/22 rifles used in the First Shots class.

Of those 20-some gun shops, some stand out as real lead generators for the club.

“We’ve got probably three or four really good local gun shops that partner with us routinely,” says Fessler. “They all support us in one way or another in the area.” That partnership goes both ways as Fessler tells me that often First Shots students are eager to buy the same Ruger 10/22 rifles used in the class and return to those same retailers who referred them to the club.

Keeping Them Coming Back

The club has never charged a fee for First Shots, as funding comes from individual members and grants that Fessler seeks out. It does limit its youngest participants to nine years of age, which is the same minimum age for taking part in Colorado’s Hunter Education program.

“I’ve held First Shots for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H, college students and the Colorado Home School Association,” Fessler says, noting that there are more than a million home-schooled students in Colorado and that the club has been doing a lot of classes for the Association. “I’ve had fraternities, family reunions, new club members and grandmas who inherited their husband’s firearms,” he adds as other examples of who make ideal First Shots participants.

Northern Colorado Rod and Gun Club - Girl Scouts - First Shots
The club has had more than 500 First Shots students including Boy and Girl Scouts, home-schooled children, college students, elderly widows and more.

Once through First Shots, Fessler stays connected with students through various outreach programs, including email.

“We ask for and encourage them to provide us with their email addresses and reach out to them whenever we have follow-on events,” he explains. “I have an event, for example, called the Annual Rimfire Carnival. It’s four years now in the making, and this event is going to have 20 stages, including bowling pins and golf balls, playing cards, rubber ducks, and steel and splatter targets. It’s just a fun, family-friendly new shooter event, so new shooters who come to the First Shots class around the Carnival’s timeframe I highly encourage to come out on August 10 and participate in this Rimfire Carnival.”

While at such family-friendly events, Fessler explains that First Shots students make those connections and life-long friendships with other shooters that lead to them attending more events.

“All of a sudden you start seeing them at Steel Challenge, Defensive Pistol, shotgun, ‘Know Your Limits’ and all the other events we host at the club,” he says.

Easy on Students, Range and Instructors

Fessler considers it incumbent on all of us to cultivate the next generation of shooters and says that the First Shots program is a great and easy way to do that.

“As soon as you see the curriculum for the First Shots program and see how easy it is get started, it’s a no-brainer,” he said of one of the reasons he selected First Shots as the club’s introductory program. To him, the continued support the club gets from NSSF is one of the things that makes the program unique, and he explained how it dovetails nicely with the club’s desire to promote responsible firearms ownership in the community through introductory seminars and hands-on activities.

First shots - Range Members - Northern Colorado Rod and Gun Club
Forty percent of all adult First Shots participants sign up to become club members, and a whopping 50 percent of all participants come back for future shooting events.

“We’ve had tremendous success with our First Shots program and recently surpassed the 500-student mark with a group of Girl Scouts. I think we’re closing in on about 540 shooters now, and it is truly rewarding for our club to get to those numbers.”

The simplicity of the program also appeals to students, he noted, saying “The tenets of the First Shots program are easy to articulate to students: educate, train and then go shoot. That appeals to a lot of people who are intimidated about taking their first shots.” He explained that First Shots is also a great opportunity to correct some of the misperceptions the general public has about firearms and shooting.

Fessler has the data that shows First Shots is both a community and business success, but still calls the total impact from the program “immeasurable.” To him, one of the greatest measures of success is the smile shooters have when they take their first shots. Of no less importance, once the seminar is over, Fessler has the knowledge that he’s trained students properly.

“You’ve trained them to always be safe and respectful of firearms and that is especially gratifying for me and all of our instructors.”

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