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Explore Bowhunting and Explore Bowfishing: Creating Archers, Exceeding Expectations

Since Explore Bowhunting’s launch in 2011, over 353,733 students have participated in over 2,000 programs in 23 states.
Photo Credit: George Andrejko

Author: Cassie Scott

The Archery Trade Association’s Explore Bowhunting and Explore Bowfishing programs are growing in popularity nationwide as more beginning archers expand their skills beyond basic target shooting. Both programs help instructors, educators and program leaders teach students basic bowhunting and bowfishing skills, thus increasing overall archery participation.

The programs can be taught by retailers, school teachers and educators affiliated with a state wildlife agency, or city and county recreation departments. ATA created the programs to spark interest and inspire passion for bowhunting and bowfishing among youths, but the programs regularly introduce people of all ages to the sports. For instance, they’ve been used as mentoring programs for adults and college students, which emphasize hands-on classroom training. No matter the students’ age, the programs help them gain confidence in natural environments while strengthening their appreciation for the woods and wildlife.

By the Numbers:

Explore Bowfishing launched in 2016. Since then four states — Florida, Michigan, Oklahoma and Texas — have held workshops and are piloting the program. Photo Credit: George Andrejko

Since Explore Bowhunting’s launch in 2011, over 353,733 students have participated in over 2,000 programs in 23 states.

Explore Bowfishing launched in 2016. Since then four states — Florida, Michigan, Oklahoma and Texas — have held workshops and are piloting the program. Eight more states hope to launch the program in the year ahead.

How it Works:

When state agencies and nongovernment organizations decide to offer the program(s), ATA’s outreach team visits them to teach workshops that prepare educators and instructors to launch the program. The ATA’s team helps educators learn the necessary activities, lessons and materials; and explain how to fold the program into each state’s recruitment, retention and reactivation efforts. Ultimately, these programs help the archery and bowhunting industry by engaging more people in archery sports.

ATA-member retailers can get involved three ways:

1. If your state’s fish-and-wildlife agency adopts Explore Bowhunting or Explore Bowfishing, contact the agency to request customized materials and attend an instructor workshop. A list of state coordinators and their contact information can be found here.

2. If your community already offers the program through schools, 4-H clubs or the parks-and-rec department, get involved or partner with the program to connect students with equipment and your store’s experts.

3. If your state has not adopted Explore Bowhunting or Explore Bowfishing, contact your state-agency representatives to voice support for the program(s). In addition, ATA members can conduct their own programming after obtaining curriculum materials from the ATA.

Oklahoma’s Success

“The ATA creates and makes available high-quality educational programs that we can include in our outdoor education programs,” said Jay Rouk, information and education specialist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “Explore Bowhunting is interesting and serves as a next step for those who've had a basic introduction to archery. Explore Bowfishing does the same, and it's a good pairing or follow-up to Explore Bowhunting." Photo Credit: John Hafner

If you want to see examples of successful ATA programs, just look at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, which has offered both programs since their launches. In fact, the ODWC developed its own bowfishing program and helped the ATA develop Explore Bowfishing.

Colin Berg, information and education section supervisor for the department; and Jay Rouk, its information and education specialist, and Explore Bowhunting state coordinator, admire and support both programs. They consider the programs a great value to their state.

Berg said the programs fit Oklahoma’s model of getting schools to expand archery beyond the introduction students receive in the National Archery in the Schools Program. The state had 300 schools teaching the ATA’s advanced programs in 2016, a great leap beyond the 10 pilot schools that participated in Explore Bowhunting in 2011. As word spread, educators requested the program and asked Rouk almost daily how to apply for program grants.

“The ATA creates and makes available high-quality educational programs that we can include in our outdoor education programs,” Rouk said. “Explore Bowhunting is interesting, and serves as a next step for those who’ve had a basic introduction to archery. Explore Bowfishing does the same, and it’s a good pairing or follow-up for Explore Bowhunting.”

Rouk said teachers are excited to take the programs back to their schools, and students are equally excited to participate in the class. Teachers report most students stay focused throughout the lesson because it differs from the school day’s routines.

Berg and Rouk said the programs inspire and interest beginners, and mesh well with the R3 model’s recruitment section.

“These programs introduce new students to bowhunting and bowfishing,” Rouk said. “One could also argue that they reactivate some folks when the recruits need someone to accompany or mentor them in their new outdoor interest.”

The Michigan Partnership

Bryan Farmer, deputy director of Michigan’s Department of Special Services in Farmington Hills, said Explore Bowhunting and Explore Bowfishing’s curriculums help participants better understand the activities. “They prepare students to actually go bowhunt or bowfish,” he said. Photo Credit: Paul Sherar

In addition to state wildlife agencies, parks and recreation departments often help recruit archers by teaching Explore Bowhunting and Explore Bowfishing.

Park-and-rec departments consider archery a great “entry point” for attracting people of all ages and ethnicities. Archery also helps people understand why it’s important to hunt and fish. That’s the opinion of Bryan Farmer, deputy director of Michigan’s Department of Special Services in Farmington Hills.

Farmer worked with the ATA, USA Archery and the Easton Foundations in 2011 to become a certified archery instructor in Michigan. He began teaching programs, and introduced Explore Archery, Explore Bowhunting and Explore Bowfishing to the department when the ATA launched them. He also runs Farmington Hills’ community archery range.

Farmer said registration for the ATA’s “Explore” programs sell out quickly when held at an event or as a stand-alone camp, compared to traditional sports like soccer and basketball. The participants aren’t disappointed. Explore Bowhunting and Explore Bowfishing’s curriculums help them better understand the activities. “They prepare students to actually go bowhunt or bowfish,” Farmer said.

John Corriveau, director of the Thomas Township’s parks and recreation department, also attended Michigan’s 2011 workshop. He teaches the Explore programs, and thinks they boost archery participation.

“The best way to promote any sport is through education,” Corriveau said. “Explore Bowhunting and Explore Bowfishing are great educational tools that fit easily into parks and recreation camps and programs.”

Corriveau said archery is a growing program, and he’s confident the ATA’s programs will help the sport make huge strides. After all, students love the programs, too. The Thomas Township has over 900 students participating each year in programs such as Explore Bowhunting and Explore Bowfishing.

“Both programs get students outside and put a bow in their hands,” Farmer said. “I have yet to find a student who didn’t enjoy at least some part of a class. That tells me they’re excited about the curriculum and the sport.”

Get Involved

If you’re interested in launching an ATA program in your state or retail store, please contact Josh Gold, ATA’s education programs manager, for more information.

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