Author: Cassie Scott
The ATA’s Explore Bowfishing program helps retailers, educators and state-agency staff introduce bowfishing to those wanting to learn this fun, exciting activity. Most state agencies run the program on their own, but Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources is doing things differently to help staff work more efficiently. The state runs the program 10 percent of the time, while partner organizations oversee the rest.
How does this partnership work and what are its benefits? Can other state agencies or educators adopt similar strategies? Let’s find out.
The ATA launched Explore Bowfishing in October 2016. State agencies soon began hosting workshops taught by ATA staff so agency employees could learn the curriculum and pilot the program. The Wisconsin DNR held a workshop in December 2017 to evaluate the curriculum and determine how to use it statewide.
Most state agencies began teaching the program right away while Wisconsin had to hold back. The DNR received the curriculum and bowfishing kits through an ATA grant, but everything sat idle for months while agency staff weighed their options.
Daniel Schroeder, the Wisconsin DNR’s archery education program administrator, said the agency lacked staff and time to teach the curriculum. Everything changed when it partnered with the Wisconsin Bowfishing Association and the Rough Fish Assassins group. Their members bowfish recreationally and competitively, and have the knowledge and expertise to teach bowfishing. Plus, they want to recruit more people into bowfishing. Those factors made them ideal DNR partners.
The partner groups brought much needed expertise to the Wisconsin DNR. Photo Credit: Travis Gill
“We have a handful of agency staff who bowfish, but they don’t have the expertise or the knowledge of the water like these folks do,” Schroeder said. “That was the driving force behind getting these guys involved. It didn’t make sense to use state-agency dollars to train people to do something that someone’s already an expert in.”
The Wisconsin DNR supports its partners with funding, equipment, educational materials and other resources. In return, DNR partners share their bowfishing passions with eager archers seeking fun ways to expand their skills. As a result, everyone who learned bowfishing from DNR partners purchased the state’s fishing license. Those sales generate funding for the agency.
WBA and RFA members don’t teach the full Explore Bowfishing curriculum in traditional classrooms. Instead, they teach at archery and bowfishing events and tournaments.
Travis Gill is the captain of the RFA, and a WBA Region 4 representative. He works with RFA members D.J. Meyer and Caleb Dorn, who are also avid bowfishermen. The men regularly attend events held by the National Archery in the Schools Program, Scholastic 3D Archery Association, and other programs that teach bowfishing. Using information from the Explore Bowfishing curriculum, they demonstrate equipment and explain how to get started.
“We wanted to introduce more people to bowfishing,” Gill said. “The DNR’s backing adds legitimacy to our education efforts. They needed someone to teach the Explore Bowfishing curriculum, and we had the motivation. It was a win-win situation.”
Event-goers could practice shooting fish in a barrel...literally. Photo Credit: Daniel Schroeder
The partners even created a mock bowfishing setup to simulate bowfishing scenarios. The setup includes a 3-foot platform overlooking a 600-gallon cattle tank. Inside the tank are 3D-fish targets hooked to a motor that keeps the targets “swimming.” Gill said the attraction lures archers to their booth and generates excitement.
Gill and his team also partner with AMS Bowfishing to run events. The company provides equipment and sends representatives to work with newcomers. So far, they’ve introduced over 3,000 people to bowfishing.
“They’ve been amazing at using the curriculum, pushing [bowfishing education], growing the sport, and getting the word out about bowfishing,” Schroeder said. “This goes way beyond a partnership.”
Gill and his team hope to expand their efforts by working with school districts and other groups.
Likewise, the DNR will host another Explore Bowfishing workshop before fall. The agency will also track participants in Explore Bowfishing activities to see if they buy a fishing license. Schroeder said this research should determine if Explore Bowfishing generates more license-buyers.
“Explore Bowfishing is another avenue or pathway to introduce people and families to the outdoors, and get them to use archery gear,” Schroeder said. “I encourage other states to find partner groups to help run the Explore Bowfishing activities and programs. It’s less stress and time on agency staff, and it helps boost R3 efforts.”