The membership of the National Rifle Association is 4 million, and it is rare to hear a hunter or competitive shooter make strong statements against the organization.
That's because the NRA is viewed as the uncompromising, stalwart, shooters' rights defender.
So when Ray Schoenke, former Washington Redskins football player, a life-long gun owner and an avid hunter says, "They don't speak for me," it is an attention-getter.
Schoenke and his partners appeared at a national outdoor writers convention in Lake Charles, La., recently to muster awareness and support for the new American Hunters & Shooters Association, billed as an alternative to the NRA.
The association, said Schoenke, president of the new group, is more middle-of-the-road politically than the NRA.
"We think for most hunters and shooters, that's where they are," he said. "There's a middle ground."
The NRA's position on gun control is best epitomized by former group president Charlton Heston's legendary stance indicating the only way he would give up his gun is if someone pried it from his cold, dead hands.
For the Hunters & Shooters Association, the issues do not have to be black and white.
"No one needs an assault weapon," Schoenke said.
Robert Ricker, the Frederick, Md.-based group's executive director, said there are millions of Americans who are neutral, or who don't have informed opinions about gun ownership, hunting and the shooting sports, and they must be reached by an organization that doesn't seem extremist.
"We want to change the impression of hunting and shooting in the minds of the general public," Ricker said. "The heritage, the fathers and sons, gets forgotten. Instead, 'It's all bad.' What we have to do is teach all these people in the middle."
Not surprisingly, the NRA is attuned to such challenges from competing gun rights groups, hinting that the Hunters & Shooters Association might be a fifth column on the side of gun-possession foes. Though it sounds far-fetched in this case, the NRA says beware of enemy "antis" in sheep's clothing.
The Hunters & Shooters Association might be "trying to market itself as a hunting group," said NRA director of public affairs Andrew Arulanandam. "I would say they do support the (President) Clinton gun ban which encompasses semi-automatic weapons. We have no gray area in our support for hunting."
The NRA is the 800-pound gorilla.
"We have a presence in Congress," Arulanandam said. "We have a presence in all 50 states. Politicians at all levels pay attention to us. We are the largest hunting organization in the country."