A shot in the dark


A year ago, Jared Sanders wanted to give students a new recreational club on campus that was different from the others.

Now, with more than 150 members, he’s on target for creating one of the most mnpopular student groups on campus — the Shooting Sports Club at South Florida.

Sanders said he was never the stereotypical Old Western-type gun enthusiast. He said his parents were not into guns and he never was himself. However, when he wanted to get a permit to carry a weapon last summer, he said he became more interested.

“Then I saw a YouTube link talking about the NSSF grant and I figured, ‘You know what? That would be pretty cool if I can start something like that,’” he said.

Sanders’ “cool” idea turned into a phenomenon of sorts. From students with experience who wanted to compete to students who have never held a firearm, Shooters World filled with college students every other Tuesday when the club held practices, averaging 30 or more attendees. Last year, the club offered free practice to members, including ammunition, targets and rental gear, for first-time attendees.

In the fall of 2012, Sanders, a senior majoring in biomedical sciences at the time, started the process to start a club at USF.

“I just had the minimum of 10 members,” Sanders, now an alumnus, said. “That was it.”

The club won the Outstanding New Student Organization Award at the leadership banquet at the end of the spring semester.

“My goal was to create a club that, at the end, had 40 members,” Sanders said.

Sanders’ club didn’t just pique the interest of USF students. Interest came from all around the Tampa area — and all without any form of advertising, he said.

“That was all word of mouth,” Sanders said. “Even the St. Pete campus — we had someone come from there. I had someone from the University of Tampa contact me. It became a pretty big hit.”

In terms of student organizations, Sanders hit a gold mine. The support he received was plentiful and almost instant. When starting the club, Sanders said he first reached out to Army ROTC. He said he figured that was his “best bet.”

“They said (they) had the idea of starting a club like this before, but (they) just never really put it into use,” Sanders said.

The shooting club also received a grant from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), which Sanders said helps the club pay for the bulk of the expenses such as the practices they hold at Shooters World on Fletcher Avenue.

Despite the club’s popularity, Sanders said he knows even after his graduation the original intent of the club is still in sight — that is, to just have fun while trying something new.

With its inaugural year over, the Shooting Sports club could be aiming for more competitive goals. From ski shooting to shotgun and rifle shooting, the sport of shooting has its variations.

“I think the goal for the USF team is to have some sort of pistol or rifle team. They can take it (in) all kinds of directions,” Sanders said. “The goal of the club is to actually create a team to go around and compete with other schools that have teams. Last spring it was just this fun thing,”

Skilled shooters aside, the club also attracts students who yearn to shoot a gun simply because it’s a new experience. This club offers that opportunity, and Sanders recalled a moment when he witnessed that firsthand when a small girl came into Shooters World alone during practice.

“Everyone was looking at her like, ‘What is she doing here?’” Sanders said. “She came up to us and said, ‘Hey, I’m here for USF and I just want to learn. I’ve never shot a gun before — it’s not something my family really promotes, but I’m interested.’”

From that day, Sanders said she was hooked.

“She kept coming back and was firing bigger and bigger rounds and she got really good at it,” Sanders said. “It was rewarding to see someone that wanted to learn and keep coming back for more.”

Sanders said he looks back at the experience as “a pretty big sense of accomplishment,” but after all the work he put in, he still reminisces on when he first came to USF.

“I remember when I first got into USF how cool it was to be part of clubs,” Sanders said. “But to actually start a club would be impossible.”