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Millennials take aim at hunting, shooting

Millennials are showing an interest in owning and shooting firearms. (Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press)
Millennials are showing an interest in owning and shooting firearms. (Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press)
By John Hayes Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

They’re “indoorsmen” quick with a hash-tag quip and safely anonymous snark, demanding instant gratification, high pay and comfortable lifestyle.

They’re too tech-dependent to function without electricity, too fragile to tolerate a politically incorrect word or action or thought.

That’s the millennial myth, as much a pejorative caricature as any stereotype of a large and complex social group.

Born before 2000, young adults comprise the largest generation of Americans alive today, totaling 75 million in 2015. Whenever a population that big comes of age, it brings new ideas and preferences. It brings change.

Afflicted with what best-selling author Richard Louv famously referred to as “nature deficit disorder,” the generation that grew up without outdoors mentors has started buying guns. Their purchases are generally used for hunting, shooting and self-defense, but in starkly different proportions than their predecessors.

A report completed last year by Southwick Associates, a market research firm specializing in outdoor products, analyzes their firearm interests and buying habits.

“Millennial hunters and shooters are often viewed as an elusive group, challenging conventional industry beliefs on how sportsmen respond to traditional marketing messages and make the purchase decisions they do,” said Southwick president Rob Southwick, in a statement.

Southwick Associates sells its custom and syndicated reports to trade associations and manufacturers of shooting, hunting, fishing and outdoor sporting products. The data is used to inform businesses on branding, product development and retail placement, while government outdoor recreation agencies and media find other uses.

Southwick’s Nancy Bacon said details of the report are proprietary, but a summary released to media suggests that the inevitable impact of millennials on traditional hunting and shooting sports may rock long-held conventional wisdom.

Cultural touchstones and motivations are clearly different for baby boomers (born in the years following World War II), Generation X (born between the early 1960s and mid-1970s) and millennials. Bacon said the report found that two key differences are the ages at which the generations first fired a gun or went hunting, and the first animals they pursued.

“The thing that struck me is that millennials were a little older – 18 to 24 – when introduced to hunting or shooting. Non-millennials had a higher propensity to have been 13 to 17,” she said.

“Also interesting to me is the first species pursued by millennials was deer, while research has shown that the older generations started with small game and worked their way up to deer.”

The Southwick survey found that millennials are predictably likely to research firearms online, but less likely than their parents’ generation to purchase online, preferring to buy hunting and shooting gear at specialty shops. The report didn’t chart gender differences.

“We don’t speculate in our reports, but you can make a lot of guesses as to what’s behind the data,” Bacon said. “It could be that millennials typically were brought up in families where guns had a negative stigma, so they didn’t get started until they were adults.”

It is likely, she suggested, that millennials’ youth experience with guns, or lack thereof, influences their adult interests and purchasing patterns. Without outdoors mentors to teach tactics and ethics, they may skip the educational small game hunts using .22s and shotguns and rush to high-powered deer rifles.

“Our guess is that millennials need to touch and feel it before they buy it,” Bacon said. “The outdoors specialty store could be part of their preferred shopping experience.”

Millennials are more likely to research online before they shop in a store, retailers say.

Many gun stores also are reporting that sales of weapons for self-defense are exceeding those for hunting.

Where a kid grows up might have much to do with whether he or she embraces the hunting culture. But self-defense weapons, especially handguns, continue to set new sales records, and millennials from rural and urban areas are among the most prolific buyers.

Joe Levdansky, 22, was raised in a family of dedicated hunters on the rural southern tip of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Starting at around age 10 during squirrel hunts with his dad, he learned to safely handle guns, walk quietly in the woods, clearly identify targets, shoot straight, respect wildlife and understand hunting ethics.

A few months ago, however, when he made his first firearm purchase, it wasn’t a sporting arm. He got a 9mm Smith & Wesson M&P Shield and a concealed carry permit.

“You see the way the world is now. You have to watch your back,” he said.

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