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Jay’s Blog: Bowhunting’s Future? Millennials and Recruitment Programs

Millennials are bowhunting’s future. We must quickly learn how to market to them, recruit them into bowhunting and retain them as our sport’s core for the next few decades.
Photo Credit: John Hafner

Author: Jay McAninch

When historians analyze bowhunting in the USA, I think they’ll conclude it was an activity of the baby boomer generation. Aided by thriving deer herds, treestands and the compound bow the past few decades, bowhunting has been a boon for state wildlife agencies and the archery industry.

As a baby boomer myself, I saw my generation drive bowhunting participation to record levels and, frankly, fool many industry and agency leaders into thinking the “good ol’ days” would never end. Unfortunately, change came and a new day has arrived for our industry, and the agencies and organizations that depend on bowhunters as members, volunteers and advocates.

Evidence of those changes stood out in a March 2017 ATA survey of bowhunters in 10 states: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Much of the data show startling differences between baby boomers (age 50-plus), Gen X-ers (35 to 49) and millennials (18 to 34). To wit:

  • 54 percent of boomers use crossbows and 68 percent use compound bows. In comparison, 20 percent of millennials use crossbows and 92 percent use compound bows.
  • Hunting time increased for 51 percent of millennials, compared to 27 percent for baby boomers. Also, hunting decreased for 20 percent of millennials and 29 percent of baby boomers.
  • Millennials owned blinds, targets, calls, treestands, trail cams and scent-control products at higher rates than Gen X-ers, while boomers had the lowest ownership rate for that gear.
  • 44 percent of millennials likely wait no longer than four to five years to buy a new bow. Only 26 percent of boomers say they’ll buy a new bow at that rate.
  • Although boomers will likely wait more than five years to buy a new bow, at least half will likely buy a crossbow when they do. In contrast, besides buying bows more frequently, most millennials will likely buy a compound.

The bottom line: Millennials are bowhunting’s future, based on their affinity for hunting with archery equipment and based on their buying behavior. In fact, for companies tied to vertical bows, millennials are the key that turns the lock. Our industry needs to quickly learn how to market to this generation. We must recruit them into bowhunting and retain them as our sport’s core for the next few decades.

Does Recruitment Grow Bowhunting?

“Bowhunting’s future – our future – relies on the success of school- and community-based programs like NASP, Explore Bowhunting and Explore Bowfishing,” said Jay McAninch, ATA president/CEO. “Likewise, those programs depend on peers, families and communities to help people of all ages capture bowhunting’s spark to ignite internal fires that burn a lifetime.” Photo Credit: ATA

With bowhunter numbers down the past few years, some question whether National Archery in the Schools ProgramExplore BowhuntingExplore Bowfishing and other programs are helping. Oklahoma provides some answers. Its license sales for youths (under 18) and adult bowhunters have increased for over a decade. Adult licenses increased over 20 percent and youth licenses rose 10 percent since 2012. Colin Berg, the information and education supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, attributes that bowhunting growth to programs in Oklahoma schools. The proof?

  • NASP launched in 2004, and it’s now in 550 schools.
  • Explore Bowhunting started in 2011, and it’s now in 300 schools.
  • Hunter Education started in 2011, and it’s now in 300 schools.
  • Fishing in the Schools started in 2012, and it’s now in 300 schools.
  • Explore Bowfishing started in 2013, and it’s now in 300 schools.
  • Scholastic Shooting Sports (trap) started in 2014, and it’s now in 155 schools.

Although Berg is quick to note these programs can’t by themselves turn people into hunters or anglers, they can increase the likelihood people will try hunting with friends or family members. Schools “spark” the interest, but it’s family, friends and community members who ensure beginners keep hunting during their early years. That’s akin to putting fuel on a spark to ignite fire.

Oklahoma’s archers also appear to buy new bows more often. In fact, bowhunters in the Sooner state have the highest such rates, buying new bows every two to three years.

Evidence shows that millennials buy bows more frequently than baby boomers, and most millennials will likely buy a compound. For companies tied to vertical bows, millennials are the key that turns the lock. Photo Credit: ATA

Still, for those working to secure bowhunting’s future, expect no quick fixes. Bowhunting is not an activity you adopt by visiting a store or taking a class, especially one online. Becoming a bowhunter is a long-term process that includes not only an introduction to archery, but also help from peers, friends or family to find places to hunt, learn hunting tactics, and acquire the skills to take care of game.

Bowhunting’s future – our future – relies on the success of school- and community-based programs like NASPExplore Bowhunting and Explore Bowfishing. Likewise, those programs depend on peers, families and communities to help people of all ages capture bowhunting’s spark to ignite internal fires that burn a lifetime.

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