Though the sale of hunting licenses are in something of a holding pattern in many states with slight declines or nearly stable numbers, one thing has jumped in recent years – the number of people participating in shooting sports – activities formerly dominated by hunters. Some attributed the increased number of firearms shooters to the fear the anti-gun Obama administration would curtail access to guns and ammo. Then, once people owned firearms, it’s only natural they started shooting them – and along the way they discovered shooting targets and clays is fun and challenging.
Some attribute the increase in archery to blockbuster movies, particularly Hunger Games which feature the stars wielding archery gear as part of the story line. Perhaps that’s true as well; but for whatever reason, according to research commissioned by the Archery Trade Association, archery and bowhunting participation jumped over 20 percent from 2012 to the present with about 25 million American citizens age 18 and older now listed as archers. That’s about one person in 10 drawing bows and shooting arrows for hunting, competition or recreation.
Hidden in this increase in archery participation is the fact, statistically, the growth is all in recreational archery. Bowhunting participation peaked a decade ago, declined for a few years and has since remained fairly steady.
The newest statistics reveals archery participation rose 9.2 percent from the last survey results and over 20 percent from a similar study a few years earlier. Of the current participants, 64 percent were male and 36 percent were female, an increase of 14 percentage points in female participation. The ATA’s 2016 study also found 62 percent of all archery participants used a compound bow, followed by nearly equal percentages who used a crossbow, 22 percent; a recurve bow, 21 percent; or a long bow or any other type of traditional bow, 19 percent.
What’s driving individuals to shoot arrows? In a word, fun. According to the survey, 45 percent of all archery participants are recreational archers, who shoot casually or for fun. Meanwhile, 35 percent are bowhunters who shoot only to prepare for bowhunting. Twenty percent are competitive archers who practice for tournaments or bowhunting. Seventy-six percent list multiple reasons as in they hunt but also shoot competitively.
Remember when computer and other electronic devises were nearly obsolete by the time manufacturers put them on the market? It was nearly the same in the archery world a decade ago. Every year archery equipment underwent significant, meaningful improvements and bow hunters and bow shooters who wanted to stay on the cutting edge had to upgrade their gear almost every year. As in electronics that rapid growth in innovation has slowed or users realized what they had was way good enough for them.
As a result, retailers have not seen the increases in archery equipment purchases they once expected. Generally, sales at many retail shops are down significantly. Of course the ATA wants to figure out how to reverse this phenomenon of declining sales in light of increased participation.
The ATA, acting on behalf of its member retailers and manufacturers, has long worked to grow archery and bowhunting through programs like Explore Archery, Explore Bowhunting and Explore Bowfishing. It has supported other programs like the National Archery in the Schools Program since 2002. The ATA focuses staff and financial resources on joint programs with schools, state wildlife agencies, local parks and recreation agencies, and shooting and hunting organizations to build community archery programs and shooting facilities.
To take advantage of recent media-generated excitement about archery, the ATA also developed Archery 360, Bowhunting 360, websites and social media pages that help attract people to archery and then sustain their interest. The sites build those connections by providing how-to content and a connection to local archery retailers via the site’s store locator.
Regardless of how folks enter archery, their participation helps conservation through federal excise taxes paid on bows and arrows through the Pittman-Robertson Act. For over 40 years, the special tax paid by archery manufacturers and passed on to bow-shooters has generated revenues for state wildlife agencies to buy and support access to public lands as well as manage the nation’s game and non-game wildlife.