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April 24, 2023

First Shots Success Stories: How Ranges Are Making New Shooters & New Customers

By Carolee Anita Boyles

If your range hasn’t hosted an NSSF® First Shots® event yet, you’re missing an opportunity to attract new shooters while getting existing ones fully activated. First Shots events provide an enlightening introduction to the safe and recreational use of firearms, giving participants a clear understanding of the requirements in your area for owning and purchasing a firearm. A First Shots seminar can be offered to individuals on a walk-in, one-on-one basis daily, serving as a formal orientation for new customers, or by scheduling events to cater to larger groups of new shooters and those looking for a refresher experience.

Martin County Firearms Academy in Williamston, N.C.

Katherine Bell is the owner of Martin County Firearms Academy in Williamston, N.C.; she also instructs students in personal protection, self-defense and concealed carry.  She has been holding First Shots events for seven years.

“I started the year after I started Martin County Firearms and joined the NSSF,” she said.  She has been holding one First Shots event for women each month.

“We have the ladies come in in the afternoon,” she said.  “We talk about safety and demonstrate how to hold guns, how to stand, how to get a sight picture and how to shoot.  Then we go to the range.” Bell usually has two or three instructors and a couple of range safety officers all on the range at the same time, so everyone gets plenty of help.

“We let the ladies shoot five rounds from three different guns,” Bell said.  “That lets them get a feeling of whether or not they really want to learn how to shoot.”

At most events, Bell said, she usually has between five and 10 women.  About 50 percent of those women return to her for more training.

“I love teaching women, and I love having them come here for their First Shots,” she said.  “So many women have not shot a gun before, but they need to learn how to protect themselves.”

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)

In Lakeland, Fla., Jason Tackett is the Regional Coordinator for Hunter Safety and Public Ranges at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Each year he oversees a huge First Shots event during August, which also happens to be National Shooting Sports Month.

Tackett said he usually has between 75 and 100 attendees, all between 5 and 18 years old.  Youth are allowed to shoot rifles, muzzleloaders, shotguns and archery equipment; younger children shoot airguns.

In order to put on an event this large, Tackett relies on help from volunteers in the community.  Some of the 10 or more organizations that assist him include FWC Hunter Safety instructors, the Florida Frontiersmen living history group, the Florida Bowhunters Council, the Polk County (Florida) 4-H Archery Club and the Tampa Bay chapter of Safari Club International.  More than a dozen shooting groups and events have booths set up for youth who participate and want to continue in the shooting sports, so that nobody goes home with the feeling “now what do I do?”

Pensacola Indoor Shooting Range in Pensacola, Fla.

At Pensacola Indoor Shooting Range in Pensacola, Fla., lead instructor Harry Demmon said the staff there also has their own approach to First Shots.

“When I first heard about First Shots, I wanted to do it as a one-on-one class,” Demmon said.  “We do that for concealed carry, for people who have never touched a gun before and who are scared to be around a bunch of people with guns.”  For their one-on-one concealed carry class, Demmon takes a student back into the classroom for about an hour and a half private lesson.

“The First Shots program kind of sounded like what I was doing already for concealed carry,” he said.  “I asked if I could do the First Shots classes on a one-on-one basis.”  NSSF staffers told him it would be OK to do that, and he took the program and ran with it.

“That’s how we differ from a lot of ranges,” he said.  “Instead of involving a whole bunch of people, I take one person with me for an hour and a half back in the classroom and use the First Shots material for that.”

At the end of each session, Demmon hands out reward coupons from NSSF and said he has about a 30 to 35 percent return rate on them.

“As soon as we finish the one-on-one class, we take them to the computer and they do the survey and download the $25 coupon to use at the range,” he said.  “Probably 95 percent of those students will immediately take that off their next class, which is usually a concealed carry class.”  Demmon said that he does 30 to 35 one-on-one First Shots sessions each month.

East End Rod and Gun Club in Freewater, Ore.

Randy Kerby is the lead instructor for First Shots at East End Rod and Gun Club in Freewater, Ore.  He said the East End Rod and Gun Club generally puts on two First Shots events each year.

“About six years ago, one of my friends at the club and I decided to look into hosting First Shots for handgun events because just before COVID started our local sporting goods stores were asking us to do something for all the new handgun buyers,” Kerby said. “We signed up to host a First Shots for handguns, and the participants loved it.

“We have so many first-time shooters who are buying handguns for protection there’s a real need for it,” Kirby said.  “Now we do one a month except when there’s snow on the ground.  We generally have between 20 and 30 people every month, some of whom are repeat ‘new shooters’ looking for a refresher.”

Each April, East End Rod and Gun Club does what Kerby calls the “Full First Shots,” for rifle, pistol and shotgun.

“We start off with .22s in the rifles and pistols, and use 20-gauge shotguns for the most part,” Kerby said.  “For younger participants, I have some 28-gauge shotguns.  We use the regular First Shots syllabus.  We want to get them on target, and we want them to hit the center.  We bring things close and make them easy.”

Kerby encourages participants to bring their own firearms when they come to the First Shots event.  Participants don’t shoot their own firearms during the event, but after it’s finished, they can shoot on the range informally.

“I go over their gun with them and make sure they know how to shoot their own gun,” he said.  “After the event is over, we shoot as friends.  I have other guns available, such as some 9mms, .380s and AR-15s.  They start out shooting .22s and gradually move into MSRs creating a more fun and memorable experience for everyone!”

Become A First Shots Host

First Shots is for all ranges and instructors, whether you feature indoor or outdoor shooting options, and all types of firearms, including handguns, rifles and shotguns. By signing on as a host, NSSF provides you with all the support materials (including eye/ear protection, rimfire ammunition or financial support to offset the cost, co-op advertising funds, targets, handbooks and more) to cost effectively host First Shots events and even rewards customers for coming back!  To learn more or to get signed up today, contact Ann Gamauf, NSSF Member Services Coordinator, or 203-299-2079.

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Categories: Bullet Points, Featured, First Shots Ranges, R3, Ranges