When he was 7, James Sarkauskas was given a pistol by his parents and told to never point it at anything he didn't plan on destroying, never be reckless and never treat it as a toy.
Five decades later, he's imparting the same message while helping both novice and professional shooters sharpen their aim.
Sarkauskas, president of Rhinelander, Wis.-based planning firm Sarkauskas & Associates, is the owner of Rancho del Zorro Shooting Academy. “We give one-on-one instruction for anyone wanting to learn or to enhance their shooting skill,” he explains.
The idea for the school stems from his passion for hunting. “My parents were deer hunters, so I fell in love with shooting early,” he says. “I've hunted in Africa. I like to teach people the proper and safe way to shoot.”
He also happens to be pretty good at it, too. Sarkauskas won the 1999 side-by-side shotgun competition in the 20-gauge division at the Vintage Cup World Championship in Millbrook, N.Y.
“Part of my mission,” he says, “is to show people that someone with a gun is not a nasty, evil, horrible person that needs to be regulated.”
He tries to change minds at his academy, which welcomes women customers with a special offer. “Any woman who comes here with a boyfriend or spouse gets free instruction,” he says.
Sarkauskas says he enjoys seeing a woman who has never picked up a gun in her life become “unbelievably delighted at smashing a target.” Winning over skeptics is important. “The future of our sport,” he says, “is tied to females and youth.”
As a result, Sarkauskas donates hours of hunter safety instruction to local children each year. “I'll teach any youngster who has his first hunting license how to track and hunt for free, even though the academy is not a hunting school or lodge,” he says.
Although women and kids may get special treatment, Rancho del Zorro serves a diverse clientele. “We've had a congressman, a mayor, an assemblyman and every type of non-Hollywood celebrity there is,” Sarkauskas says. “We've even had some customers fly in from Africa. We've had kids from age 7 to people in their mid-80s — all ages, shapes and sizes.”
Sarkauskas' home is also located on Rancho del Zorro, which is 80 acres in the Northwoods of upstate Wisconsin. The name of the property is a tribute to his love of the Spanish language combined with his old nickname, Foxy. Fox is zorro in Spanish.
There's a lot wrapped up in the ranch — he lives, plays and builds business there, too. As a Safari Club member, a group with 20,000 other hunters, Sarkauskas blends his interests. “My academy and my asset management company complement one another,” he says. “I can prospect for business while getting customers for shooting instruction and vice versa.”