In today’s outdoor recreation world, marksmanship and hunting — skills and pastimes that long kept us safe from predators, with food in our bellies — have fallen by the wayside.
Fly fishing got a lucky break back in the ’90s when Brad Pitt unfurled his silken line across a sunlit river. Tying this contemplative activity to cool music in award-winning videos, younger anglers overcame fly fishing’s stodgy historic image and are now socially accepted as cool recreators. Bait fishing, however, missed that marketing bandwagon, along with hunting, tethered as they are to Bubba Joes, Budweiser and chew.
Events like the Lake Christine Fire — which started at the Basalt Shooting Range — don’t help much, when extremely poor decision-making led to evacuations, a charcoaled mountainside and lost homes.
The hunting and fishing industries recognize that children are the future of their sports as the corporate retirees and bubbas age out. And to get to the kids, they need to get to Mom.
Beneath the mainstream media radar, an underground movement has been percolating.
Recreationists are seeking alternative adventures. Foodies (and even former vegetarians) are looking for more meaningful ways to source local, sustainable and most probably organic protein. They’re turning to hunting, in which they find profound connection to land, flora and fauna — aspects often overlooked by sportier Instagrammers and Strava junkies.
Amid this more welcoming environment, instructor Bart Chandler sees the new face of marksmanship showing up at the Basalt Public Shooting Range.
“I see more and more families involved,” Chandler says. “A lot more kids, more women and new shooters, which is really the key to the whole thing.”
Chandler has been involved with the range for 35 years and appreciates the trend.
“Today, I had a family out on a ski vacation drive over from Avon,” he says.
The son, a basketball player, wasn’t skiing. Too risky. They wanted to give him a memorable experience. Googling local adventure, they arranged for a shooting lesson. Neither had ever shot before. After introductions, safety measures and shooting tips, Chandler fit them with shotguns and guided them to a positive experience.
“The son broke the first target he ever shot at!” Chandler exclaims. “Then he missed a few, but got into it and was pretty much hitting the clays!” He eventually began hitting two in a row.
The mother was up next with a lightweight .28-gauge. She missed a few too, but then began to nail ’em.
“She wasn’t stopping after a couple!” Chandler chuckles. “At the end, she said ‘I was intimidated, but, boy, this turned out to be so much fun! Once you break a target that changes everything.’ I think this accomplished their goal of giving [the son] something to do on the family vacation.”
Shooting and marksmanship lead to confidence and mastery of a centuries-old pursuit akin to martial arts. It requires physical and mental stamina, working both fine and gross motor skills. Hours can disappear as shooters hone focus, cultivate awareness and deepen their wells of courage — skills that pour into all other areas of our lives. Many compare it to meditation.
The Basalt Shooting Range provides a critical service to our community. A safe, sure shot, ultimately, is a humane shot.
For marketing guru Kate Collins, “learning about firearms, ballistics and hunter safety was a great thing to learn in my 20s. I’m not afraid of guns. Shooting is a skill, sort of like swimming, that I think everyone can benefit from.”
Not every shooter hunts, but every hunter should practice target shooting.
“I only want to shoot one cartridge for a kill,” Collins says. “Injuring an animal is more than I can bear, so I only want to take a shot that I know is lethal. It’s a big responsibility to do this ethically and safely.”
The rewards of marksmanship can be lifelong.
“Shooting an elk, field dressing it, carrying it out of the woods, aging it, butchering it and then putting it into little white packages in the freezer is a lot like growing your own vegetables. It’s empowering,” says Collins.
Unless you own real estate nearby, most of us don’t notice the firing range until autumn, when hunters en masse sight-in rifles. It’s actually used year around, open to the public on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through Sundays.
The range isn’t what many might expect.
The first time I went to sight-in my rifle, I was freaky nervous: I was young, a girl, alone, with a well-researched but powerful gun I used but a few days a year. At that time, my Tikka .270 was a relative stranger to me.
There’s a protocol for safety at ranges beyond religion — everyone abides by it regardless of who you are, what you believe in or the size of your, well, anything. Guns are a leveler, instilling a palpable reverence and awe. Unlike the real world, everyone makes eye contact, everyone communicates and we all get along. (We all want to live.)
Bart Chandler saw my timidity and within minutes of exchanging a friendly handshake, gently, respectfully helped me out. He would eventually teach me to also shoot my over-and-under .12 gauge. I blasted clays out of the sky that afternoon, and, for my 39th birthday, fed my friends roasted grouse.
Once safety and protocol are second nature, it truly does become a rewarding way to invest time and blow off steam.
Women in the sport have increased 90 percent in the last decade. Diane Ostrander, office manager with the Roaring Fork Valley Sportsman’s Association, participated with a group of women that met on Monday evenings all last summer, sharing the blast of shooting. After last year’s success, Ostrander invites women to join in this spring. Hit up BasaltShootingRange.org for more info.
Ultimately, that’s what it gets down to: meaningful fun that connects us to nature and one another.
I purchased targets last week for an unusual situation: a male teen vegetarian newly interested in hunting. The sales clerk in the gun department, Geir, introduced me to “game” targets he and his wife get a kick out of. Geir was so helpful and fun, I felt no self-consciousness at being in the gun department — a hurdle to many females just starting out.
Women are naturals; most men will confirm this. And with women and youngsters joining in, a new dignity is growing in this long-maligned sport. A growing new edge represented by intelligent literary journals like Modern Huntsman, and by conscious conservation advocacy groups like Artemis, return our sport to the recreational realm — with dignity and purpose. Here in the Roaring Fork Valley, with hundreds of thousands of acres in public lands and wildlife populations in need of management, we are positioned to stake a legitimate claim in mountain adventure.