At the 2020 SHOT Show, Ron Spomer introduced me to Robert Thacker and Jamey Wojtaszek. Robert owns the Pennsylvania Gunsmith School and Jayme works there. PGS is doing fine but they’re concerned about the dropping numbers of students across the country in the majority of the gunsmithing schools.

Due to this concern they’re encouraging young people to choose gunsmithing as a career. I hear similar concerns among the gun experts that the numbers of hunters/shooters are dropping and the current ones are an aging group.

So as not to start off as a Negative Nancy, here’s some encouraging news. I attended a seminar at the SHOT Show put on by Safe Shoot, which is an Israeli company. One of the speakers said that actually, shooting is the No. 2 sport in America, even ahead of golf. That surprised me.

If that is the case, then it’s alarming that the number of kids going to gunsmithing schools is dropping because there will obviously be a need for more, not fewer gunsmiths on the not too distant horizon.

I’m about to say something that up until the last few years I was on the opposite side of the aisle. In the past, I encouraged kids if at all possible to go to college. If they couldn’t afford that then at least work and attend a junior college and get an associate’s degree. I no longer hold that stance. Let me explain.

Higher learning institutions have lost their compass. Their goal is no longer to teach kids to graduate work ready. They now have too many hidden social changing agendas. Kids go off to college conservatives and return as socialists. The colleges spend way too much time teaching/pushing these agendas. Many kids no longer graduate with useful skills.

I used to hire a lot of college kids when I was the director of quality control for Con Agra. I had five large beef plants and a cooked plant under me so I had a large QC staff and hired a lot of college kids. Even back then the colleges thought that they knew more what the kids needed to be taught than the industry did. I only had one professor inquire what skills their graduates were lacking in. Is that not bizarre? Would any business survive if it didn’t do customer service audits? Investigate open markets?

Due to my ignorance, I thought trade schools were for kids like in my high school that would have dropped out but due to shop classes they hung in and graduated (Yes, this was all nearly 50 years ago).

Then 15 years ago I started learning what some of the skilled workers were making. Such as linemen, electricians, dental assistants, etc. It costs an arm and a leg to hire a good maintenance man — if you can even find one. So now, if a kid can’t afford college, I recommend they go to a reputable trade school. They may graduate right off the bat $200,000 ahead of the normal college graduate because of no student loans and have an extra two and a half years of wages already in the bank by the time their college buddies graduate.

So, let’s play this out. They could work for an established gunsmith after school and learn the ropes.

After four or five years they could then open their own shop while their college graduate counterpart is still in some menial job barely getting by with no hope in sight and a huge student loan hanging over their head.

So what I’m saying is, if a kid is a hustler but for whatever the reason doesn’t have the option of going to college, I don’t see him/her as being handicapped. There are a million options. Go to beauty school. Same scenario. Work for someone else, learn the ropes and then in a few years open your own shop. When you have a few employees then you are making money off of them as well as your own labors.

Before you think I’m nuts, think about it for a minute. A high percentage of kids go to a four-year school and graduate with a degree that is not in demand and come out with huge debt. On the other hand, a kid could go to somewhere like the PGS and graduate in 16 months. With a part time job, they may be lucky enough to graduate with no/low debt.

It takes four semesters to graduate. Students of any skill level can expect to complete the program. Every student starts at the same spot and being a course hour program, they typically finish at the same time. They have graduates in all 50 states and 18 countries.

I’ve never been to the school but here’s what I’d loosely suggest if you attend the PGS school or another trade school. Get a part-time job so you’re not racking up loans. After you graduate, get a job with a reputable gunsmith that you can learn from. Work for him a few years and learn the ropes instead of opening your own business right off and making costly mistakes at your expense. Then in a few years when you’re comfortable open your own shop.

I stand to gain nothing if you go to the Pennsylvania Gunsmith School or not. If gunsmithing isn’t for you, find what you like to do and be the best you can at it. The moral to the story is don’t feel like a second-class citizen if you can’t afford or have no desire to go to college. Be a hustler and sharpen your skills and you may actually end up better off.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.