View Full Version : How to Keep the Millennial Shooter...or Why Lowering the Shooting Age Doesn't Solve Our Problems

04-12-2015, 08:47 AM
From Ancient Sparta to the Southern Confederacy, organizations have sought to arrest declining manpower by tapping into the very young. They did these things out of desperation and in spite of very good reasons for why the young were excluded in the first place. These acts of desperation never stopped these organizations from declining and probably hastened their fall. The N-SSA faces a similar crisis and I hope that we will avoid a similar result. Below I lay out my concerns with this new plan and offer some ideas of my own to fix what I believe is the real problem, which is keeping the young adult membership (Millennial generation) after they leave their parent’s household.

I oppose the lowering of the minimum age for membership. Firstly, I feel that it is a short-sighted and reflexive action that doesn’t represent a larger strategy. It also just doesn’t feel like the action of an organization that is confident in itself. In other words…we are grasping at straws.

By lowering the membership age, we are in essence raising the dues for our current members with young families. This is a dwindling demographic of our organization and pushing the financial burden of the organization onto them may threaten their continued participation. Also this does not solve the problem of how do we keep the 14 year-olds when they turn 20 or 25.

As a member who grew up with my father shooting and who joined at 15 years old, it’s not getting a kid to shoot that’s the problem…its keeping him or her. I can tell you from my personal experience that being 20 years old at Fort Shenandoah can be a really boring time when you’re not shooting.

If we can’t keep these young adult members around, they can’t become the core of the next generation of shooters. In order to fix this problem, I think that the N-SSA needs to become focused and friendly to this demographic.

I teach high school and I know that there is one thing that 18-22 year old's want to do and that is hang out with other 18-22 year olds. So, my strategy for keeping these members is simple:

Let them camp together
Let them shoot together

If we can create a fun environment for these members, they will want to come down and shoot. I think we should designate a camp site where young adult members can pitch a tent and stay the shoot with other members their own age. By doing this they will be able to get to know members outside of their team and get to create their own fun environment at Ft. Shenandoah. Also, they won’t be staying in their parent’s camper where their dad snores all night driving them crazy.

I also think that we should allow them to form their own teams for individual skirmishes, maybe just the Nationals at first. This way they get to shoot together and stick it to the old guys. Also, I think that if there are enough of these members we should look at hosting a skirmish for them in the same way that the Veteran’s host a skirmish. At the Nationals, we should offer some entertainment that will make this a fun place for these members as well. If they have a good time, they will bring their friends with them and the organization might even pick up some members that way.

Regardless of what we do, we should focus on creating an environment that will foster the continued participation of our millennial shooters. This generation enjoys building communities made up of themselves. If we can build a place that young adults want to spend their weekends at, we may even get their friends to join who they bring down for the weekends. Before they know it, they’ll be lifelong shooters who will in turn help the foster the next generation of shooters.

Mike McDaniel
04-12-2015, 10:29 AM
Also, I think that if there are enough of these members we should look at hosting a skirmish for them in the same way that the Veteran’s host a skirmish.
I think an Old Geezers vs Young Whippersnappers Skirmish might go over well.

Joe Plakis, 9575V
04-12-2015, 10:49 AM
The idea of lowering the age is not a knee jerk reaction, it something that a committee researched and discussed, and then presented to the board.

Also there is an organization called the ACWSA, that is very big in the North-West and Western Regions, currently they have no age requirement. They allow the state minimum age to dictate what age the person can compete at. The issue is that a person can join the ACWSA at the age of 13-14, and at the price of only $10. All there dues are $10 per year. Also there have been no issues that have come up with their low age requirement.

When you look at it a person joins at 15 and most begin to fade at 18, when they go to college, and you are lucky if they come back at 24-25 when they are out of college.

"By lowering the membership age, we are in essence raising the dues for our current members with young families. This is a dwindling demographic of our organization and pushing the financial burden of the organization onto them may threaten their continued participation. Also this does not solve the problem of how do we keep the 14 year-olds when they turn 20 or 25."

I am confused by this statement, realize that when you turn 14 nothing forces you to join.... we are not the federal government, no one is conscripted. Currently we have bb-gun competitors that turn 15 and chose not to join... although the great majority do.

In the end realize that within our bylaws you must join a team, and to join that team the team must vote you on to the team. So in the case of a child not being responsible or capable of shooting, the team must conduct themselves according to the by-laws. Much like if someone at the age of 25 wants to join, a team can chose not to take the $$$....

04-12-2015, 01:59 PM
I don't have any particular objection to 14 year olds shooting, but whether we get them at 10, 14, 15, whatever, we still get them. Advancing the age that they join by one year isn't going to change the number of shooters we have one bit.

The real issue, as has been stated, is how do we attract a younger crowd of shooters to our sport? That's been debated over and over ad nauseum and I won't go into it again here. Suffice to say, the younger crowd who does shoot isn't interested in black powder as much as the modern stuff, and yes, to be fair, really does have other things that they would rather do than drive to VA or a regional skirmish. College, moving out into the work force, starting a family, you name it.

It's very hard to justify the entry to a sport with such high start up costs when you graduate college with 100k of debt and start with a 25k a year job. IF you find one at all. And, by the time the person is in their 30s and perhaps financially able to get back into it, it's been too long.

A large issue here was articulated well by gws. Something I have touched on myself. Asking the 18-30 crowd to go without reliable internet for a week is asking a lot. Good wifi coverage for the camp would be welcome, and I'm sure a local Winchester business would be happy to oblige. Make it a 'pay as you go' thing where you can get a 72 hour wifi password for 20 dollars or something- I know I would buy into it. Yes, you can tether your phone to your tablet or laptop or just use your phone, but try online gaming or streaming video that way. Not to mention crappy cell reception at many places in the fort.

Another issue is, you want to ask a newlywed in his late 20s with a kid or 2 to bring the wife and kids to the Fort and say, "Oh by the way... temperatures are in the low 90s... we smell of sulphur and sweat... but there is no running hot water, no showers, and some of the toilets don't have doors." That's a non starter. Most girls my age (35) and younger I have met would really not care to undertake that. I understand completely that we have a pump out system in place right now that couldn't handle showers; but at the same time, I know that a septic system could. Put in one or two showers on high ground feeding into a septic system so that sweaty skirmishers and family alike could hose off.

Finally, things are pretty dead after sundown anymore. I hear that 20, 30 years ago there were bands, dances, free beer on tap up at Sutler's row, shops open until 1am... I'm the night owl on my team in that I go to bed at midnight when most are already in bed by 9 or 10. But making it more friendly to a younger crowd interested in socializing would help a lot too.

In short, a few creature comforts would, I think, get a lot more people to commit to going to the Fort.

None of which will help us with the 18-21 year old demographic, but it might with the 22-35 demographic.

Again, just random thoughts.

Gary Van Kauwenbergh, 101
04-12-2015, 03:33 PM
Joe forgot to mention the ACWSA has had a 'First-Year-Free' policy for about five years now. After that, the annual membership is $10. I can't say new people are joining in droves, but we're not going broke and it encourages participation more than an initiation fee on top of relatively high dues.

I'm a member of both the ACWSA and the N-SSA. You can see all the ACWSA rules, by-laws, etc. (and even their insurance policy) at http://acwsa.org/Pages/MemberInformaitonPage.htm. The home page of the web site is http://acwsa.org/

Joe Plakis, 9575V
04-12-2015, 05:00 PM
There are issues here that are very prevalent. Yes we have membership issues, #1 we are not getting any younger, #2 it is difficult to attract youth. Obviously there is no magic pill for #1, and #2 is caused by many different factors. The economic cost of skirmishing does scare some away, and a lot of youth might rather shoot hi-power.

What I don't want to lost in the shuffle is that the proposal to lower the age to 14 was not seen at anytime as a cure for the membership issues. I personally see it as a way of making us more competitive with our competition. It also give a potential shooter one more year before most leave our sport to go off to college. Maybe the more time we give them to shoot before they leave it might leave a deeper impression in them. But again I realize that lowering the age is not a cure.

04-12-2015, 07:03 PM
If the goal of lowering the membership age by a year is to give kids one more year of shooting before going off to college, and to get some young eyes and steady hands into the sport, perhaps this proposal would be something to consider.

If someone is a junior skirmisher, and begins at age 14, 15, whatever- so long as they put a full year in before they go off to wherever, offer them the chance to return once they are done and waive their first year's dues.

Poor college graduate who can borrow one of dad's muskets and shoot dad's bullets but who doesn't have to pay for their first year back... that might be the hook to set them back into it.

Michael Bodner
04-13-2015, 08:22 AM
I see many good things with jonk's post:

1) It's looking at the (declining membership) problem from a different angle
2) It reminds us, we need to make sure the current generation (not just us old timers) are having FUN! in the context of 20-40 year olds of today...
3) We need to recognize that today's shooter is not as rough and rugged as yesterday's shooter. Not to start an argument, but folks want more comforts today....

To this end, perhaps a Survey should be conducted to answer the following questions (to be answered by 20-40 years old only)

1) What would YOU change about Skirmishing to maintain/increase your involvement?
2) What, personally, prevents you from skirmishing more?
3) If you had a magic wand, what would you change about Fort Shenandoah?

Folks certainly have an interested in maintain our sport and everyone certainly has an opinion. Perhaps a Round-Table discussion in the basement of the Historic Center the spring to brain-storm ideas.... Maybe Saturday afternoon during cannon??? I might be willing to host it (BTW)...


04-13-2015, 04:48 PM
To address the subjet of "nothing to do after the sun goes down". I dont know if I'm attending the same Fort Shenadoah that you are referring to. I am one of the locals that is in attendance to the majority of the skirmishes held at the the fort throughout the year and rarely am I ever alone or asleep before midnight on any night of a skirmish. There are plenty of teams and campsites with younger members that are up till the wee hours of the morning. These are friendly people that are more than willing to invite you into their campsite to have a good time. All you have to do is drive around and look for the group of people.

Bobby Hannula

04-13-2015, 07:24 PM
Hi all,

I apologize for the lengthy response but there's a lot going on here.

Everyone is talking about the well known problem that our association has. Ideas and suggestions are wonderful but above all, action is best. There's a simple action that all skirmishers can take part in, which we all already do: talk about it! I don't mean to other skirmishers about how we wish we had more members. I mean talk with your friends, family, coworkers, youth groups, classmates, churches, anyone that may have an interest in great history, shooting sports, camping, etc. Word of mouth is always the best advertising and every skirmisher can and should easily advertise.

As to Mike's questions, I'm a 30 year old female skirmisher so I fit the criteria.
1) I am already highly active in skirmishing and committed. I don't need personally need anything to push me to skirmishes
2) The only thing preventing me from shooting more is having a full time job!
3) if I had a magic wand, I would move the fort out of a flood plain! Also, I would like some fun activities like "the old days" that unite members (I suggest set required hours for Sutlers on Friday and Saturday nights and maybe arrange some musical entertainment there)

I am a 3rd generation skirmisher and was fortunate enough to be introduced at a very young age. That being said, I am much more active in skirmishing than my father and grandfather. It's my choice. I have student loans, a mortgage and bills too. But I choose not to go to bars several nights a week, or collect shoes, or spend the money I earn on electronics or whatnot that others my age may be into. I save my money for caps and powder and traveling to skirmishes.

Skirmishing can be an expensive hobby, but hey, so are a lot of other sports! If I was into ice hockey, how many thousands would I have spend on skates, knee pads, helmets, sticks, team fees, rink fees traveling etc. Not to mention all the physical therapy that may be required too! I don't believe the cost of skirmishing is our biggest problem. I can buy a smoothbore for the price of that new Apple Watch.

I'm sure there would be many members grateful for wifi and showers. I can only speak for myself and personally, I look forward to letting my cell phone die in my camper for a week. I want to enjoy the company of my teammates and other members. I shower in my camper and no offensive, sharing showers with skirmishers would not be very appealing to me. I know how dirty we get shooting... but let that be the female side of me. I go to the fort because of the environment it is. It's unique and out of the ordinary and that's what got me hooked.

There are a few ideas and thoughts I'd like to put into action and will put forward the efforts (help needed of course)to do so in order to attract more members in my demographic. Here are some:

1) Recruit competitors. Yes, we are a historical based organization but you don't have to be a history buff to join. The misconception is that we are renactors. There are a lot of Civil War experts in our ranks but to get young adults hooked on history instead of google, we should use our competitive angle. If you like competition, you'll love skirmishing and then the history comes naturally.

2) Open House Events: (ahem..Mike!) Saturday of Nationals, or whenever there are the most visitors, hold an official program for the visitors. Offer a guided tour, a short tutorial on making ammo, visit a couple campsites, Sutlers and explain all we have to offer as an organization and for families as part of your dues.

3) Recruiting events: WELL advertised regional recruiting events. Set up at gun shows. (Currently working on gun show "kit" for regions)* We can stand at tables and talk about skirmishing, but advertising a recruiting event where guests may try shooting different guns, learn about loading, safety, have a skirmish match demo, etc in their area allows us to follow up in person with people we talk to.

As to lowering the age to 14, I wish I could have shot at 14. My siblings and I were already shooting for years prior to turning 15. Ultimately, it is up to the parent AND the team, to vote that younger member in. Realistically, a 14 year old is not getting into skirmishing without a sponsor,* they can't even drive yet. But if we can recruit some 14 years before they commit to high school hockey because they have been hunting since they're 12 or their parent has taught them, then we should allow them. Like it was mentioned, they aren't being forced.

That's enough from me for now. But I'd be happy to hear all ideas people have and how they would like to help. Together, we can solve this.

Melinda Litvinas
Harlan's Light Cavalry
National Recruiting Officer

04-14-2015, 09:22 AM
I wanted to take a minute to respond to Melinda's post. She has raised some very appropriate observations. Electronic gadgets and young people...most of us see this obsession every day. I also agree with Melinda about cell phone usage. When I worked in my county's homicide unit I felt like my Blackberry was an actual appendage to my body, requiring me to have it on all of the time. When I finally retired in 2011 I was very happy to return my phone to my boss. Thus began the new regimen of turning my cell phone off at night and leaving it in a room other than the bedroom.

As an organization, I think all of us realize we are part of the solution to increasing membership. I try to talk about the organization to people who have no idea what our organization's objectives are. An explanation should not be onerous, but simple and informative. Invitations to visit a match goes a long way, even if the person may not be able, at that point, to join. The practice of letting guests shoot during individual matches during regional shoots is a great idea. I have had the opportunity to let two guests shoot my musket at a regional shoot and that is really a great way of letting guests see for themselves...the two guests were high-power rifle shooters and got a kick out of shooting my musket, especially when the dropped their shots into the ten ring; instant gratifying results for the two. Just my two cents worth.

04-15-2015, 11:59 AM
Was thinking a lot about what to do to keep members and get new members. Most the newer shooting sports that are doing good are based on smaller teams or individuals for the most part. Some are pick up teams, a team you sign up and so on that hold different classification like new shooter old shooter, youth parent, and so on. They group and rank all the shooters, shoot different events, different distance, something different to test your shot.

Lots of the events shoot hit or miss targets, shooting steel,and timed shooting for hits on targets at different distance.
Then you can go back to the paper target shooters that shootthe same paper targets for every shoot just shooting different distance andguns, they can fill a week shooting different types of guns in a one on one paper target up to teams and squad shoots.
I think the thing about most those shooting sports that is helping them is they are set so you can join the organization as a person,shooting or not, then you can join different shooting regions that have the shoots and the region hosts the shoot and the function.

Ours is more team based and based on a higher number of people in a team. If you can’t fill a team then you are just out having funshooting and or wasting powder and lead. We also have host teams that sit out shoots, making it had to have fun if you need to sit out shoots. In some cases 2 times a year if you host a Regional and a national or 3 if the Team hosts andyou have a regional and national that fall close.

Most the others somehow have picked up some big money backing and we really have not, guess just not the money in the Repop gun that there is in the Cowboy or Black Rifles.

Have a friend that pays for a lot of his shooting from selling guns he has won shooting matches. Few weeks back he stated that he soldmaybe 10, AR that he won and a few shotguns, along with 3, 1911 handguns. Kind of hard to get him to come play with us when we are just doing it for fun and metals.

Being that we are just doing it for fun and metals, maybe we need to change some of the things up and see if adding or changing some of the competitions to add something to the game that may could bring others into the sport.
Maybe something that would cut team numbers back and keep some of the teams shooting so they don’t fold up.
Do we need to shoot the same targets at every shoot? Can wenot move to smaller teams that get signed up or luck of the draw to promote friendship, training, and just a general chance to shoot with or against people that you have not.

Well the only thing I know, is something needs to happen to keep and bring new members to the sport.
Many of the teams are hurting and can’t field full teams andothers have and A, B and C Team.

Our team is not talking about this weekend’s shoot, So far only a few people not enough to field a team, It is a few days before the shoot, not knowing how, If and when they will be there, and if not enough for a team it is a hard pick to pack everything up and travel 2.5 to 3 hrs and see if maybe I can find a place to farm out and shoot. Having second thoughts aboutgoing.
I have a range I pay money for just down the road to shoot if I just want to go throw lead.

Who knows.
Look at some of the CMP shoots like the CMP Rattle Battle
http://www.theblindhogs.ray-vin.com/frsequence.htm (http://www.theblindhogs.ray-vin.com/frsequence.htm)

http://www.odcmp.org/0814/default.asp?page=NTIT (http://www.odcmp.org/0814/default.asp?page=NTIT)

Also some of the 3 gun, Cowboy, and Steel Challenge matches. All come along after us and have more members and bigger shooting evens. Is there anything we could take and learn from them to help us?

Lou Lou Lou
04-15-2015, 03:04 PM
The Western and The new England region went to smaller 5 person teams to keep us together. It mad a big difference to my team, as we had a legal musket team at all the regional shoots. Going to 5 person teams is up for a vote in the spring.

John Holland
04-15-2015, 04:45 PM
The North-East Region adopted 5 man team events as soon as the Board authorized it on a regional level. This concept has worked very well for us since we are a wide spread region with no heavy concentration of membership in any particular area.

C.W. Artillery
10-01-2016, 12:34 PM

01 October 2016

Hello Mr. "gws" ---

I do not know you, nor do you know me. However, I wish to complement you first for focusing on an important component of the human existence. That is the FUTURE. It is human nature to not acknowledge that there is a future. Dealing with the future is difficult for humans to deal with and face, which is especially true for youths. The most often taken route on the subject is, I'll take care of that tomorrow.

The good news is, that with specific knowledge and training, procrastination may be overcome and replaced with a new mind set that acknowledges there is a future and with preparation in the present, the future may be planned for successfully. If you, Mr. gws, have a management role in the organization known as the N-SSA, may I suggest that the leadership consider hiring a professional person/or/organization which deals with important issues of building or maintaining membership in the face of changing demographics, current social awareness, changing family dynamics, education, values, and purpose.

I have just touched on but a few points for your consideration and wish to leave you with the fact that it is not a simple proposition to solve. However, it may be solved with the right professional assistance and guidance.

Thank you,

Webb Brown

C.W. Artillery
10-01-2016, 06:03 PM
Hi all,

I apologize for the lengthy response but there's a lot going on here. Everyone is talking about the well known problem that our association has.
Skirmishing can be an expensive hobby, but hey, so are a lot of other sports!
That's enough from me for now. But I'd be happy to hear all ideas people have and how they would like to help. Together, we can solve this.

Melinda Litvinas

01 October 2016

Dear Ms. Litvinas
N-SSA Officials and Managers

I am an ex-skirmisher and my experience with the N-SSA was a pleasant and rewarding experience. It is well known that most, but not all, shooting activities in America are on the decline. There are a number of dynamics and reasons for the decline, which I shall not focus on for this writing.

Ms. Livinas is not the first person to advocate that N-SSA (the organization) can, "Together, we can solve this" problem. Others have said the same intent. There is no question in my mind that it is a loyal expression and a well meaning objective. But reality says otherwise. There are a multiplicity of forces and conditions beyond the control of the organization at work here, without being specific.

My observations and recommendations are that N-SSA acknowledge that the problem is more complex and of a greater magnitude than its resources available to solve the many issues outstanding. Its not like a leaking faucet that takes a simple rubber washer to repair. These are social forces, et. al, that need to be identified, recognized, and accommodated. I would not expect the N-SSA organization to have the necessary "in-house" expertise needed to respond with a high level of success.

Accordingly, my recommendation for N-SSA is to begin a wide geographical search for at least three (3) nationally recognized management consulting firms ( or individuals) who have proven credential which verify their past successes. Once those relationships are established, they will know how to investigation the issues and then identify the problem/s and make recommendation in a very general way about how the N-SSA should respond with corrective measure. The term used for what N-SSA will issues to these companies/partnerships is an I F P, for Invitation for Proposal. N-SSA may even have as many as five(5) companies on the initial prospects list and receive five(5) proposal back.

There is much more to this than needs to be out here in public, so let me conclude this session by saying there are solutions to be had for most situations, it simple needs to be placed into the hands of someone with the experience and aptitude to quantify the solution/s.

Respectfully submitted,

Webb Brown