The Key to Personal Protection with Jim Curcuruto of Outdoor Stewards of Conservation Foundation

About This Episode

In today’s episode of Tactical Business, host Wade Skalsky sits down with Jim Curcuruto director at Outdoor Stewards of Conservation Foundation. He highlights the significance of practicing with firearms for personal protection and the fun uses of firearms that foster a vibrant community through shooting leagues. Jim emphasizes the role of retailers in encouraging training and the financial benefits for gun buyers. Watch this episode for a fun and interesting dive into this latest development in the firearms industry.

Insights In This Episode

  • Outdoor Stewards conducted $5 million worth of research over the past decade
  • First-time gun buyers with training spend 40% more at stores
  • The irreversible consequences of using a firearm, emphasizing the need for certainty in self-defense situations
  • Importance of practicing and being proficient with firearms for personal protection
  • The role of retailers in encouraging gun buyers to practice and join shooting leagues

About Tactical Business

Tactical Business is the weekly business show for the firearms industry. The podcast features in-depth interviews with the entrepreneurs, professionals and technologists who are enabling the next generation of firearms businesses to innovate and grow.

Episode Transcript

Wade: I’m your host, Virginia Beach based firearms entrepreneur and copywriter Wade Skalsky. Each episode will be exploring what it takes to thrive as a business owner in the firearms industry. We’ll speak with successful firearms industry entrepreneurs about their experiences building their companies, leaders and legislators who are shaping the industry, and tech executives whose innovations will reshape the future of the firearms industry. Let’s get after it. Welcome to the Tactical Business Podcast. I am your host, Wade Skalsky. And today we are talking with Jim Curcuruto of the Outdoor Stewards of Conservation Foundation. That is, I gave myself a challenge today, Jim. I wanted to really make it complicated for my intro. How are you doing today, sir?

Jim: Doing great. Yeah, thank you for that. And good job on the names. Good. Yeah.

Wade: No, I have a hard one. My last name is hard to say, so I try to pay attention and get it right if I can. And before we’re going to begin the podcast, people can find you with your website and end it. And your podcast is Outdoor Stewards Org. And that just I’m really excited to talk to you today. Why don’t we do a little bit of how you got to where you are, a little backstory and just the quick version of what Outdoor Stewards does?

Jim: Yeah, no problem at all. I grew up outdoors and somewhat mid state New York, not upstate, not downstate, and Putnam County did a lot of hunting, fishing, and enjoyed the outdoors more than the indoors and got fortunate to have a position with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is a trade association for the outdoor industry for 11 years, did a lot of market research for those folks, did a lot of work on participation, trying to grow the next generation of people that go outdoors. And then took that and about three years ago started Outdoor Stewards of Conservation Foundation, which is a 500 and 1C3 non-profit organization. And our mission is to work with all aspects of the outdoor industry, those manufacturers and retailers, media, as well as state agencies and other NGOs, and use research based communication and engagement programs to help recruit that next generation of folks. We call them hunters, anglers, trappers, and shooters. That’s our primary consumer base. There’s 60 million of them out there, but a lot of them are aging out. So we’re trying to help recruit that next generation and also promote the positive contributions of gun owners and those hats out there, because we don’t get to tell the good things, good side of the story as much as sometimes the bad things about gun owners are portrayed in the media.

Wade: Yeah, absolutely. I think conservation and hunting is a common ground that is a little more accessible to people. You talk a little bit about your research foundation, your research in the analytics. Walk me through a little bit about how that works and how you guys are targeting your audience.

Jim: Sure. Yeah. So again, I did a ton of research, right? $5 million worth of research over the past decade with my previous job and now with outdoor stewards. Just in the past year or so, we’ve conducted 3 or 4 research projects and provide the information to free for everybody out there. It helps grow the market with the more knowledge that you have out there. On one side, we’re looking at participation. We know that there’s a lot of people that participate. Those hats look like you and I. If the old white guys right, that go out outdoors, we’ve got that market covered. But we also know through the research there’s millions of folks that want to get started in the outdoors that don’t necessarily look like us. And through research, we know that they need two things information on how to get started. And more than anything else, an invitation. So we’ve got some research that works with we work with Native American tribes to understand their current participation and their potential to increase participation in outdoor activities. And again, they say, we’re waiting just to be invited. We need that information. So there’s a huge market of folks that are on the fence that are getting ready to get into the field. So we have built a program at Outdoor Stewards called Come With off of that research. What do you do when you go in somewhere and you want somebody say you want to say, hey, come with me when I go fishing, come with me when I go to the range. So we’re trying to instill that into the 60 million active hats. Say, hey, bring somebody with you, ask somebody to come with you. Some of the other research, more business related. We had conducted a study on hunting with AR platform modern sporting rifle.

Jim: So we know there’s a lot of stories about the AR platform in the news. But a lot of people, like 40% of hunters have used the AR platform, and a bunch more are going to be used in AR platform rifles to go hunting with their great versatile rifles. Different calibers, lightweight, accurate, reliable, and they’re being used for anything from squirrels to hogs and deer. But it can’t be just guessing that we need to put some facts behind that so the outdoor industry can use that data. We also keep pulse of the general population’s attitudes toward hunting, fishing, trapping, and shooting. Unfortunately, we learned in our latest study of 2023 that that middle the general population in the middle, not the 15% on either side, but they’ve we’ve lost support of them, about 4% of them, which equates to about 10 million people no longer support. They may not hunt, fish, trap or shoot, but in the past they said, yeah, it’s fine. Wait. If you do that now, some of them are saying, I don’t do it, but I don’t think Wade should do it either. So we’ve got to realize that’s a problem, right? We’re losing the communication battle and then try to win those people back through basically what NRA has called the cultural. Acceptance of hunting, right? So we need to shine a light on the positive contributions that outdoor folks have. And there’s a ton of it, right? We fund conservation, no doubt about that. We clean up nature. We’re not litterbugs. We like conservation. And we are. We actually help feed the hungry, solve the hunger crisis in America. Hunters donate 60 million meals a year through venison donations and stuff like that. We got to tell those stories.

Wade: I did not know that fact. 60 million meals a year through donations. Correct? That’s a huge number. I did not know that. Is there a geographic area of the country where that’s more prevalent, or is that kind of basically just across the country?

Jim: It’s across the country. But, you know, obviously there’s where deer are prevalent, the states with high densities of deer and very liberal harvest numbers. Those are the numbers where those are the states where there’s more harvest data. The NRA, I worked with them just this past year, and they started in November of 2023. They came up with National Game Meat Donation Month. Again, it’s a messaging campaign. They studied current hunters and identified what percent of them donate. Then they went out to the top 50 organizations, those hunters for the Hungry Hunters Feeding America type organizations and realized they’re getting a lot of donations. But it’s not meeting the demand of the food banks, right? The food banks always need more protein, and the food banks will tell you the number one source of protein for the hunger crisis in America is game meat donations. So got to tell that story. Who doesn’t like solving hunger, right? Yeah.

Wade: And that’s, you know, for me too, as someone who grew up hunting and in North Dakota and just obviously very pro-gun, I’ve never heard that stat anywhere. And so I was like, well, I know obviously that people do donate and the hunters donate, but that is a gigantic number, right?

Jim: That’s a great story and just gotta tell it. Yeah.

Wade: And you touched on it too. I think I was just having this conversation with our co-host John about he’s an avid, he’s into firearms and all that. But there’s this barrier to entry, even for him, into hunting itself. Right. So for example, if I shoot a deer, how do I dress the deer like I have? Like where do I learn to do that? So if that’s if you don’t learn that generationally there there is a bigger barrier to entry than other types of sports because of it takes a lot of knowledge to be able to do that.

Jim: Right. And you nailed it on the head hunting. You need somebody to teach you, right? For the most part, it’s most people get involved through their family. But there’s this adult onset hunting. A lot of adults now want to find locally sourced food or very interested in non-GMO protein that they don’t have to get from the grocery store and hear the horror stories about where the how that’s processed. So again, we’ve got a lot of active hunters that are now becoming mentors. And the feeling you get as a mentor, teaching somebody how to catch a fish, teaching somebody how to shoot a gun, or teaching somebody how to hunt. I tell you what, man, I’ve been doing it. That’s been my mission here for the last couple of years. It is a million times more satisfying for me to take somebody out and teach them how to hunt and show them how to gut a deer and all that stuff. Then for me, doing it for the umpteenth time. Right. So we got to get that message out to the active hats out there, bring somebody with you. You know, you’re going to be glad you did, because the feeling that the reaction is the same, whether they catch a first fish, they turn around and smile like, what a fish. When they hit that bull’s eye or hit that steel I hit, I hit the bull’s eye. It’s a great feeling as a mentor. So we want to use that come with program and get the message out there to bring somebody with you.

Wade: Well, and also too, I think if you’re going to really get good at something, teach it. So as if you’re going to mentor someone to it, it’s going to just make you better as a hunter yourself in terms of what you’re doing. The second thing is from the sort of the communication battle is, most communities think hunters are some of these trophy game, big game hunters they see on social media, right, where they see a picture of someone who just killed a leopard and wherever, or a mountain lion, or I don’t have any necessary challenge with that. I sometimes I think I might make trophy hunters mad, but I think the winning where you said to win the communication battle is to say, no, that’s not that is a very tiny minority of population of hunters. That’s not what hunting is about. Are you experiencing a lot of that in terms of sort of your research? And that’s the perception that people have?

Jim: Yeah, it is. And again, we lost the community. We’re losing the communication battle. Right? Cecil the Lion, you never even heard of trophy hunting until Cecil the Lion Peters did a he’s done a great job embellishing on every hunter is out there killing a lion and just taking its its mane for a trophy. There was no such thing as trophy hunting. It’s just words matter. They did a good job hijacking that terminology. Everything for for hunters. When you harvest your first doe, that’s a trophy, right? When when my kid harvested his first little four point buck. That’s a trophy, man. I’m not ashamed to say that those are trophies, but the terminology, right, has been hijacked from us, from the hats by the antes. And kudos to them. They’re doing a great job communicating. Misinformation about hunters. So it’s our turn to say we’re not as bad as as what some folks say.

Wade: Well, and I think, too, if you look at it as a generational story, right, like you said, like your son will always remember hunting with his dad, right? And that is something that is and I don’t know what the history of your family is, but either you’re continuing a tradition that started way back when, or you’re starting a tradition that you’re responsible for in your family, and that is a very powerful American story.

Jim: Yeah. And again, you know, your kids are great. That’s your responsibility as a parent, right? If you’re an active outdoors person, you want to teach your family how to do it. But bring a neighbor, bring a coworker, bring a the folks that sit next to you in the pew at church that have expressed an interest, or something like that. My son’s friend, his dad, came over to my basement. Oh, you got you’re a hunter. Yeah. You’re interested? And I’ve been teaching him. We’ve been unsuccessful, but we’ve been out deer hunting, turkey hunting and waterfowl hunting. He has a great time learning. And so. And he’s now out there doing it himself with his father in law and stuff like that. But again, I get a great feeling teaching editor how to learn a new skill set and stuff like that, and following the saga until he gets his first animal right.

Wade: And that’s something I think that’s important for people to, to understand about hunting and conservation is that it’s not. The actual harvesting of the animal is almost 5% of the whole experience, right? So when you’re going out and you have an unsuccessful hunt, it teaches you how to deal with adversity. When you’re going out and you have an unsuccessful hunt, it teaches you how to persevere and keep going. And then it creates a history and it makes it that much better for the family. And that’s not a real micro level. On a macro level, if we go, hi, what is your research telling you about the public’s knowledge about the need for conservation, that some of these animals must be harvested for the environment itself. Right. Like we can’t have too many deer, we can’t have too many mountain lions. Like, what is your information telling you on their sort of overall knowledge of that?

Jim: Right. Again, we state fish and wildlife agencies are the folks that get their hands dirty doing all the groundwork. They filled with these great biologists, dedicated staff that want to manage healthy wildlife populations. Now they’re funded by hunters, anglers, trappers and shooters, which we can get into a little bit, but they know for sure that you need hunters. Once humans are in the equation, they’ve got to be in the equation. You can’t just let nature take care of itself. If you don’t manage the population of whitetail deer, they’re going to overpopulate. They’re going to wipe out a food source. They’re going to hurt that habitat for other species. And then sooner or later you have a hard winter and you’re going to have disease, you’re going to have starvation on a mass scale. And that’s been proven. Again, biologists are great at talking to animals, or state agencies are now starting to do a better job talking to people. Right. So they’ve got to communicate. We need a deer season for these reasons here. We need the manatees. We need to have trappers. Trappers play a huge role in managing the nest raiders, right? Those raccoons and those opossums and stuff that wipe out turkey and waterfowl populations. Right. So if you have way too many predators, they’re going to wipe out the ducks and stuff like that. So people like I like ducks so well, hey, if you like ducks, we have to manage that population correctly. So we’ve got all the data. We just got to communicate it.

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Jim: Well, like, like I said, American attitudes. We know we lost about 10 million people in the middle. We actually are going to do a study starting in February here, just in a couple of weeks to better determine reach out to those folks. It’s a low incident rate. So we’ll find those folks that once said it was okay for Wade to go target shooting and now say no. So we need to identify the reason why and then identify some messages that will win them back. Right. So that cultural acceptance of hunting is huge. And it has to be in conjunction with what we call R3. R3 movement is recruit new hunters. Anglers, target shooters, retain the ones we have and reactivate lapsed participants. Right. So those are the things that Outdoor Stewarts is focusing on right now because of that funding model. If you do not have people that participate in hunting, fishing, trapping and shooting, you’re going to lose $3.6 billion a year to conservation. So those 60 million active hats right now are paying $10 million a day, $3.6 billion a year through purchasing excise tax products like firearms, ammunition, bows, arrows, rods, reels and all those fishing lures, coupled with the purchases of hunting and fishing licenses. Coupled with those donations from the Ducks Unlimited and the National Wild Turkey Federation, there’s not even a group that comes close to funding conservation the way that hats do. And without them, the state wildlife agencies, that’s 70% of their budget. Imagine wiping out 70% of North Dakota DNR’s budget. They’re not going to be able to manage the populations. They’re not going to be able to manage habitat and wildlife as we know it, and the clean water and the clean air that comes along with managing those habitats. It’s not going to be a pretty picture. So that’s going to be our focus over the next five years. Do you find.

Wade: That there’s with the sort of the attitudes that they’re in alignment with a two way attitude. So are they separate? Because for what we’re seeing, or at least what I’m seeing is that gun ownership is really increasing. The first time that in the history you have more people, more houses with guns than without guns in the country. Right. So gun ownership, are we seeing that trend like they’re going like this? Does that make sense? Like it’s okay to own gun for self-defense, but we’re going to be against hunting? Or are they both going in the same direction during the research?

Jim: Yeah. So the vast majority of gun owners and I did a study when I was with NSF firearm retailers. Your audience here too, that they’re the front lines. They know who they’re selling to. They can tell first time gun buyer from somebody that’s been back for the third or fourth, fifth, 10th, 20th gun. Right. So there’s I think there’s 10,000,001st time gun buyers during the two years of the pandemic. Now, not all those people are participants right now. They bought, for the most part, semiautomatic handguns for personal protection. They’re not involved in hunting. Now, when you become a gun owner and for the first time and you realize, well, it’s not as bad as what I heard on the media, right? These things aren’t just going off for no reason and shooting through walls and all that sort of stuff. So again, we need to do a better job recruiting them into participation, whether that’s target shooting first, and then the retailers will inform them of, hey, there’s other guns out there that you can use for other activities like hunting. So we’ve got a silver platter with 10 million people on it that are new gun owners. Unfortunately, most of them haven’t become active participants. So the messaging that we get to these folks is, hey, you bought that firearm for personal protection.

Jim: You need to practice with it. You need to be able to be proficient with it because if you, God forbid, have to use it for personal protection and you’re not proficient with it, you’re probably going to lose that battle, right? And that’s the opposite reason why you bought that firearm. And there’s a lot of fun uses for firearms that will help you remain proficient. Tons of different shooting leagues out there, all different disciplines, great people, great instructors. So get out there. That’s where the retailers now are, the front lines. They’re telling these people when they buy their first gun, they make sure you practice with it. You may want to join this league or come to this event. And it’s beneficial for retailers to do that because the research shows you have a first time gun buyer versus a first time gun buyer with training and that first time gun buyer with training going to spend 40% more at their store. So yeah, we’re finally getting there. And again, this is all relatively new within the last five years. So we’ve got some potential to do better communications, not just on conservation but on participation as well.

Wade: Through the people sometimes will go into the sort of the Gucci gun gear and they’ll go in. Into the like the tactical training really get serious with that. Whereas they need to understand is that if you go hunting, that is a form of tactical training. You need situational awareness. Your adrenaline is pumping, so you need to know, okay, my fine motor skills are going, what I got to be on target, right? And so it actually can make you safer, family safer for self-defense by being a proficient hunter, right?

Jim: Oh, yeah. And plus, right, when you pull that trigger, you can’t take that gun back. You kill a squirrel. Squirrel ain’t coming back. Right. So something it’s a mindset as well. So again, if you’re going to use a gun for self-defense, you got to be 100% sure that you’re in the right. Right. And because you can’t once you pull that trigger, it doesn’t come back. So and one of the things you were alluding to, right, you’ve got gun owners that might have tactical versus hunters and stuff like that there. And they’re just like everything else. There’s a little bit of infighting among archery people. Like, I don’t like crossbows versus I’m a traditional guy and Hunter tactical guys versus those Elmer Fudd’s and stuff like that. And that drives me crazy. It’s like, we got enough enemies, man. We gotta make our own bed and stick with it. And just because you might be a tactical guy, do not talk bad about hunters and vice versa. Hunters, don’t worry about we’re on the same page in the big picture. We got enough folks coming after us that let’s try to get along in in our own bed.

Wade: Yeah, well, and it’s one big tent, right. And so it’s we can understand that’s one big community because sometimes the there’s I read somewhere once where the solution to the thorniest problems that you’re having is in the opposite pole sometimes. Right. So if you’re a tactical person and there’s something that you’re struggling with, the solution to that might be in hunting. If you’re a hunting person or something, you’re struggling with the solution, might that be more tactical? Right. And so there’s a lot that the two communities can learn from each other. And it’s there’s more overlap than just guns. And I think you talked a lot about it too, with the mindset that’s so important, is that there is a big psychological barrier for people to overcome every step of the way with guns, right? So it’s like, okay, I’m going to buy a gun, I’m going to train with a gun, I’m going to hunt with the like. So it’s a journey. And if I think the community aspect of it, are you finding that the community aspect of it makes it easier for people to go on that mental journey versus trying to do it themselves?

Jim: Oh yeah. And I think we’re building a community too, right? We’ve got better communications with groups like Sportsmen’s Alliance and Howl org that are now informing us of what’s going on, and it can’t be localized, right. Because all right, I’m in Connecticut. They’re not mountain lions here, but mountain lion hunters in Iowa or whatever are getting attacked. And these organizations like Sportsmen’s Alliance and are sending out notifications to me saying, hey, you could write a letter even though you don’t live or out there, write a letter to these congressmen or these folks that are right in that bill to say, you oppose that bill if you do. Right? So we’ve got to stick together as a community, like you’re saying, because everybody talks about hunters is declining and maybe 15 million hunters on an annual basis, 21 million people consider themselves hunters overall because they don’t hunt every year, but they still maybe go hunting once out of three years. But there’s still a hunter, right? So 20 million is a pretty solid number. Plus you add in that 50 million target shooters and the anglers and the trappers, you know, collectively we are a big group and if we can support each other. So the fishing industry is getting attacked now, right. Because they’re trying to slow down all boats on the eastern Shore because of they’re running over right whales, or so the media says. Right. So they’re trying to cut the speed limits for all boats out there. And that includes fishing charters. So when you book a fishing charter and you normally take a 2.5 hour ride to the fishing grounds, well, now that’s a six hour ride right now. Are you going to do that if you’re your anglers are going I’m not going to do that now. I got a six hour ride back and forth or something like that. So those type of things and we’ve got to band together and support each other well.

Wade: And I think when the culture was more ingrained in sort of the American history and the ethos that people didn’t feel the need to have to be evangelists for it, because that’s what the culture was. But now is it. It’s now is that we’re a minority in the culture. We’re not necessarily a minority in the culture. Maybe collectively we’re a minority, right. In terms of how the culture views it. Because when I was a kid, you could walk into a hardware store and purchase a shotgun, like, no problem. Yeah, they would probably let me do when I was 14, 15 years old back then. So I never did it. But I’m for sure my dad’s generation. Right. And so that progression is not going to stop unless people come together and understand that, okay, I have a responsibility because I enjoy hunting. I have a responsibility to do what I can, even if it’s just a little bit to bring someone along or whatever to help grow it.

Jim: Yeah, we’ve got like I said, we got some cool programs there, the Commonwealth program, we’ve got a program at Outdoor Stewards Conservation called fill a Bag while filling your tag. And we distribute biodegradable bags to people that go outdoors hunting and fishing. And when they come across some trash, they just stop and take that out of the woods and waters with them. Which research shows about 80% of them have taken other people’s trash out of the woods and waters. But we need to show those stories. So we ask people to post photos on their Instagram or Facebook about, hey, here’s my trophy trash of the day. Didn’t catch a trout or didn’t see any turkey. But came across this old mylar balloon and I took it out of the woods. So tell those positive stories. Another one that we have video series called Connecting with Conservation, and we just have 7 or 8 videos. We just started a YouTube channel when we went to manufacturers and to state wildlife agencies. So we went up to Savage Arms in Massachusetts and brought along Massachusetts DNR folks took a tour of the facility. So Savage Arms writes those checks, those excise tax checks that get filtered down to mass DNR, who does all that good work, but both of them know they can’t exist without that third part, right? The hunters, anglers, trappers and shooters. So we’re again, we’re informing them that they are the primary funders of conservation, all about doing better communication wise things. So we feel like we’re covering a lot of those issues with the programs that we built here.

Wade: And I definitely think social media is going to be the new battleground, because the community is a little bit behind on that. Right. And because you just talked about Peta, PETA’s been doing they’ve been very good with the advertising and the images and the I remember they used to do magazine articles. They do pictures that are very striking pictures that you would remember. Right. So. Right, right. So they know how to get that head space. Are you seeing movement on social media or are you getting a lot you’re seeing a lot of resistance on social media. Whereas social media at with regards to the actual an accurate reflection of the culture.

Jim: Well, imaging right is something that we talked about. You had mentioned it earlier about the grip and grin photos, and I think they’ve evolved substantially. I think hunters have done a good job of putting better imaging out there on social media, rather than the dried up fish on the tailgate or the worn out hunter with a, you know, deer with a bloody tongue hanging out. They’re doing great job now, putting better photos out there. And that helps for sure, because we know for a fact that some of those anti-gun organizations were grabbing those crappy photos and sensationalizing them and lumping us all in like these. Look at these idiots out there. It was true. Like there was some horrible photos out there. So that’s good. And obviously social media is not going to go away. Outdoor stewards has on Instagram or at Outdoor Stewards org and we’re trying to again show the positive contributions of outdoorsmen with the trophy trash photos that people send in the story about how conservation is funded, the meat donations, the bring in somebody new with you. So yeah, take advantage of we got to take advantage of it for sure.

Wade: Yeah. And the great thing about the approach that you’re talking about is that it’s a multi-pronged approach. Right? So it’s you’ve got an evangelical approach, which is bring a friend, you’ve got the conservation publicity with the trash, like your trophy trash also, as well as just going from the top all the way down to the bottom. So it’s just really exciting to hear about what you guys are doing. Run through where people can find you again. Is the website all of your social media. I want to make sure people have access to you. How can they contact.

Jim: You I appreciate that, yeah. So it’s outdoor stewards. Org is the website. Got all our programs and information. All that free research is there as well. Instagram is our primary social media and that’s outdoor stewards. And then we just started a YouTube channel, got about 20 videos on there about showcasing diversity in hunting and then those connecting with conservation videos. So when you get to YouTube, just type in Outdoor Stewards of Conservation Foundation and you’ll find our channel. So yeah, I appreciate it. A lot of good things, uh, a lot of challenges. But we’re ready for them. We’re having a good time doing it.

Wade: I definitely learned a lot from talking to you today, and it’s actually starting to get me fired up to think about. Yeah, I probably need to do a little bit better job with what I’m doing in terms of doing a better job, communicating with the people around me about the benefits of hunting and how and those things. So I’ll definitely be taking advantage and checking out what you guys are doing. And Jim, thank you so much for coming on today.

Jim: All right. It was great. Thank you. Wade.

Wade: You’ve been listening to the Tactical Business Show by Join us again next episode as we explore what it takes to be a business success in the firearms industry.