Grow archery

What Motivates the Healthy, Happy, Hipster Hunter?

Millennial hunters are happy and, perhaps, slightly narcissistic. They care about fitness, red meat and doing their own thing. Bloomberg Businessweek reports, "bowhunting, in particular, is booming; because it requires more tracking, young, fitness-focused people are picking it up."
Photo Credit: Paul Sherar

Author: Scott Gieseke

For a while now, mainstream media has covered a trend that’s gaining traction: Young urban people — often millennials, often left-leaning nonconformists — are taking up bowhunting, and hunting in general.

These young people tend to be motivated by healthy lifestyles and organic food and, sometimes, a distaste for commercial farming. Sub-groups are cited and labeled in different ways, depending on the article you read. This makes it increasingly difficult to identify who these people are and what they’re about. They’ve been called hipsters, locavores, lumbersexuals, lefty hunters, urban hunters and red-meat hunters.

A few ATA-member retailers report customers fitting these personas, particularly those with stores in urban and suburban landscapes. However, little data substantiate the trend. At least not yet. Even so, we have a growing list of stories citing examples of this unlikely movement in the unlikeliest of places — Blue State America — which makes it worth watching.


The “Meet Your Newest Customer” signage at the 2016 ATA Trade Show explores an emerging trend: young, urban people taking up bowhunting.

Can Clean-Eating, Millennial Hunters Increase Product Sales?

What if these urban hunters continue to emerge, and their enthusiasm matches what we’ve seen among teen girls inspired by movies like “Hunger Games” and “Brave”? Would they make a difference? Are their numbers large enough to boost sales?

Recently, Bloomberg Businessweek published a piece on Kuiu, a high-end clothing line for hunters. The article doesn’t directly mention hipsters or young, urban hunters. It doesn’t even mention millennials, but it does compare Kuiu to brand names like Patagonia and Lululemon Athletica, two companies that profit by targeting affluent, urban men and women who are active in the outdoors and in athletics.

Granted, “the affluent” defines many different groups, but we know young adults have more disposable income than any other group. We can also assume the country will continue marching toward a more urbanized and liberal society, as evident in the past two presidential elections. So any inroads made between urban-centric young adults and rural-based hunting grounds — which increasingly includes suburban bowhunting — should bode well for bowhunting’s sustainability and industry growth, despite inevitable concerns about access.

And if we find, as the media reports have, that young, liberal urbanites are hunting more, it’s fair to ask if outside-the-box styles, high-performance hunting clothing, and custom equipment (think James Brand knives, for instance) would appeal to this group. Especially if products are marketed using the right story in the same way that outdoor-adventure brands like Osprey and Mountain Hardware appeal to customers. Yes, these companies offer exceptional quality, but they also package products with brand stories that emphasize social and environmentally conscience messaging. These branding efforts define products while creating an aspirational lifestyle that’s uniquely meaningful to urbanites, even elitists, with strikingly different ideologies than our current customers and those targeted by most hunting manufacturers.

This analysis boils down to a refined sentiment: Millennials want really nice stuff and they want it to differ from the brands and styles everyone else has. They especially don’t want to look or be like today’s core bowhunter, yet they do want to be an authentic bowhunter. They don’t want to win popularity contests. They’re nonconformists. They want to do things their way. (Check Pew’s survey data on this generation’s tendency toward disaffiliation. Also see Elite Daily’s — a website favored by 20-somethings —  recent analysis of pop culture’s most-famous millennials: Cam Newton and Beyonce.)


Writer and bowhunter Steven Rinella makes deer-heart tacos in the field. Photo: Meateater.com

This tendency toward authenticity could benefit our industry. How? As Bloomberg cites, although hunting appears to be a nonconformist activity in theory, that’s not the case.

(Y)ou may assume that hunting is a niche sport. You’d be wrong. Hunting is a huge and remarkably stable business opportunity: About 15 million people bought a license in the U.S. last year, a number that’s remained virtually unchanged for the past decade, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (it estimates that hunting gear and apparel take in about $23 billion annually). There are far more hunters in the U.S. than rock climbers or surfers, and almost as many as there are skiers and snowboarders, according to annual surveys by the Outdoor Foundation. Bowhunting, in particular, is booming; because it requires more tracking, young, fitness-focused people are picking it up. “We’re finding that it’s resonating with the farm-to-table movement,” says Jon Edwards, president of Schnee’s, a hunting retailer based in Bozeman, Mont.

While the assertion that bowhunting is “booming” might be disputed by some in our industry, that doesn’t change this fact: The illusion that bowhunting is a counter-culture activity could boost participation if millennials continue to disaffiliate from anything they consider mainstream. It’s also worth noting that all young, new generations lean toward independence and shun labels. But, as National Public Radio recently reported during coverage of the presidential primaries, there is a larger percentage of millennials disaffiliated from the Republican and Democratic parties than previous young generations before them. While that’s isolated to political behavior, it’s enough to disrupt the notion that millennials are no different than any young generation of 20-somethings. They seem more committed to their own individualism.

Either way, it’s helpful to understand what disaffiliation looks like in the market place. So here’s an example: if everyone is basking in the convenience of downloadable music and high-quality sound, guess who won’t be? Millennials. They’re buying vinyl records instead. According to Recording Industry Association of America, shipments increased 52 percent to $222 million for the first half of 2015. And the last time LP (long-playing vinyl albums) sales were anywhere close to what the recording industry enjoyed in 2014 was a quarter century ago, in 1989.

There are other “dead” products of yesteryear, like the tobacco pipe, that have surged back to relevance, thanks to millennial hipsters. They’ve made pipe smoking hip again. In 2014, for the first time in decades, the sales of pipes and pipe tobacco wasn’t down. There are countless stories just like these. Pocket knives are popular again. Heavy, old cast iron — the kind that requires curing — is the cookware of choice. And now, in light of this, if you think about hipsters and hunting, bows and arrows, field-dressing meats and making your own sausage, it’s difficult to resist feeling that this lifestyle — our lifestyle — is a prime target for millennials.  Maybe that’s this generation’s authentic “thing”: to seek out what’s dusty, so they can dust it off.

Plus, this behavior could generate cross-marketing our industry has rarely enjoyed. Bloomberg reported Kuiu’s plans to offer a clothing line that includes shorts and shirts for trail running. The company also makes a Guide jacket that’s well-suited for snowboarders. It’ll be interesting to see if this venture into nonhunting performance clothing works. For so long, there’s been little crossover between nonconsumptive (e.g., hiking and kayaking) and consumptive (e.g., hunting and fishing) activities and those who participate in them.

But, as I mentioned in a previous post about U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s outdoor habits, this might be changing. If so, crossover clusters of outdoor participation could mean inroads to nontraditional and unproven customer types for our industry companies.

Evolution Of the “Healthy, Happy Hunter”

We can track and consider the evolution of “healthy, happy hunters” by following what’s been reported by mainstream media publications. It’s helpful that many publications cited below cover topics and target readers outside the archery and bowhunting community. This makes the analysis objective, without the bias that favors a surge in hunting participation or its social acceptance.


Photo: Adam Coker

The urban, liberal hunter is born.

Emma Marris writing for Slate.com does a good job providing context to the trend. How did it emerge?

I think the evolution of the new lefty urban hunter goes something like this:

2006: Reads Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, about the ickyness of the industrial food complex. Starts shopping at a farmer’s market.

2008: Puts in own vegetable garden. Tries to go vegetarian but falls off the wagon.

2009: Decides to only eat “happy meat” that has been treated humanely.

2010: Gets a chicken coop and a flock of chickens.

2011: Dabbles in backyard butchery of chickens. Reads that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg decided to only eat meat he killed himself for a year.

2012: Gets a hunting permit, thinking “how hard can it be? I already totally dominate Big Buck Hunter at the bar.”

And all of it (urbanites adoption of hunting) takes is overturning two long-held beliefs among many urban liberals: that it is wrong to personally kill animals and that hunters are all rural conservatives.

A deeper look at the “garden factor.”

We often say archery serves as a gateway sport to bowhunting. Well, what if gardening is a gateway to hunting?


An article posted to The Telegraph captioned: “It’s cool to compost: a survey suggests that the young are increasingly embracing gardening.” Photo: Alamy

According to an article in Yahoo! titled “Millennials Fueling Green Thumbed Revolution”:

42 million households, 17 percent more than five years ago, now grow food in home and community gardens, according to a new five-year report from the National Gardening Association. And younger Americans—millennials, specifically—are driving the gardening revolution. The NGA found millennial gardeners increased from eight million in 2008 to 13 million in 2013—a 63-percent increase in five years.

If millennials are going “green,” then Slate’s assertion that hunting is green feels like hipster-hunter momentum:

Besides, hunting is green. Hazel Wong, a senior policy adviser at the Nature Conservancy, told me that to pass environmental legislation at the state level, “believe it or not, we work with hunting groups a lot.” I wasn’t surprised. Conservation in America was practically founded by hunters. Yellowstone was first envisioned as a giant game reserve that would create big populations of animals that hunters could nab as they spilled out over the boundaries. Our first conservation-minded president, Teddy Roosevelt, mowed down untold hundreds of animals in his long career as a sport hunter. And “hook and bullet” organizations continue to fight for land protection. You see, you need nature to go hunting. And hunters—liberal and conservative—generally like nature. That’s why they are out in it. 

Hunting is the new beekeeping, so get on that.

Or so says the headline from Jezebel, a feminist blog averaging over 8 million unique visitors monthly.

The adoption of hunting as a hobby by those who bear zero resemblance to the cast of Duck Dynasty continues! When last we checked in, it was women taking up their rifles in the hopes of bringing home the venison. Now it’s food-supply-conscious, authenticity-seeking urbanites—i.e., hipsters.


Photo: Paul Sherar

A red meat thing.

Minnesota Public Radio says little stands in the way of this movement.

(Locavore sensibilities) is what got (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources) plant ecologist Ethan Perry into hunting. “I’m into gardening, local foods, and hunting fit into that,” he explained. He said he remembers actually being “turned off by hunting as a kid.” But he slowly came around, went out for the first time three years ago, and has harvested a deer every year since.

Certainly, the motivation is already there. It’s only liberal guilt, as Organic Authority speculates, that lingers:

Really, the only things standing between many young would-be hunters and their first hunting license is the misperception that all hunters are rural, conservative stereotypes—and a heavy dose of liberal guilt. As writer Emma Marris says in her piece for Slate magazine, “hunting is not a red state thing. It is a red meat thing.”

But here’s a twist: the Minnesota Public Radio article was posted two years ago, while the Slate piece was posted in 2012. Since that time, the “liberal guilt” appears to be diminishing.

“Many state wildlife agencies now offer Field-to-Table styled programs that are hugely successful,” said Emily Beach, ATA’s director of partnership and program development. “People need and want a trustworthy source to learn how to hunt, beyond the required hunter-safety courses prospective hunters must take in order to obtain a hunting license.”

Beach, who led development of the successful Explore Bowhunting and Explore Bowfishing curriculums, believes one of the greatest barriers is simply not knowing how to bowhunt. Elements of Explore Bowhunting — which the ATA originally created for public school students, summer camps and organizations like 4-H and the Boy Scouts — are now being used in some Field-to-Table initiatives targeting teens and 20-somethings at universities and colleges.

The most unlikely trend? Hunters are influencing fashion.

At least according to The EconomistBuzzfeed and many others.

Reports The Economist:

Filson’s 21st-century gold rush started when an emerging urban generation began to prize its unreconstructed ruggedness for reasons more aesthetic than practical. It opened a shop behind Carnaby Street in London, a new factory in Idaho, and then made its Manhattan debut.

In Filson’s New York outpost the walls are lined with axes and cotton tote-bags emblazoned with line drawings of gun dogs. Display cases bustle with thermos flasks, copper kettles and nickel-plated screw-top canisters designed to keep your matches dry. According to the manager, they sell as many as ten of these a week to young Manhattanites.

And this from Buzzfeed in a post titled, “How Gun Culture Won Over Liberals”:

The “urban woodsman” trend has been well-documented, with one 2010 Esquire piece referring to the emerging flannel-and-boots hipster aesthetic as the “Field-and-Streamification” of fashion.


Again, it’s early. But it’s also increasingly clear that there’s something going on out there. Anecdotal evidence, fueled by acknowledgments of major media outlets, continues to show interesting trends. As it does, it’ll pay to keep an eye on them. Maybe change is on the way and new hunters will come from places and ideologies we’ve never imagined. As we learn more, we’ll cover it at archerytrade.org.

Further Reading:

Bloomberg Businessweek: A Camouflage Clothing Line Wants to Be Lululemon for Hunters
There are far more hunters in the U.S. than rock climbers or surfers, and almost as many as there are skiers and snowboarders, according to annual surveys by the Outdoor Foundation. Bowhunting, in particular, is booming; because it requires more tracking, young, fitness-focused people are picking it up. “We’re finding that it’s resonating with the farm-to-table movement,” says Jon Edwards, president of Schnee’s, a hunting retailer based in Bozeman, Mont.

Ozy.com: Not Your Daddy’s Deer Hunt
It’s not just that these Millennial hunters will someday teach their kids to let the arrows fly. It’s that even I — someone who for ethical reasons became a vegetarian at age 8 and can’t kill a cockroach — was floating down a river with a pack of twentysomethings decked out in cutting-edge gear and armed with rifles. And not only that, I was just about ready to go buy my own gun so I could be the one holding Bambi in my sight lines. The irony of it all is that the proliferation of bloodlust, in the end, may be what saves Bambi and her polka-dotted kin.

Garden and Gun magazineHunt Couture
When an invitation for a ladies-only dove shoot arrived two Octobers ago, Katherine Parker Clark didn’t worry about her aim. The Charleston, South Carolina, native is a crack shot who grew up hunting with her father and brothers. Instead, she faced a familiar dilemma that has long plagued women in the field: What could she wear that was both functional and feminine? Outdoor gear that fits that description makes for much tougher quarry than dove.

Washington PostTaxidermy Moves from Hunting Lodges to Hipster Havens
They are not burly men mounting the spoils of a hunting expedition on plaques for a man cave.
 They’re hipsters, 20- and 30-somethings with art backgrounds and thick-rimmed glasses and — “I hate the H-word,” one of them says.

Yahoo!: Here’s How Millennials Are Fueling a Green-Thumbed Revolution
Jessie Banhazl, who founded Green City Growers in 2008, says the spike in young gardeners doesn’t surprise her one bit; the average age of the farmers who work for her is 25. “It seems like millennials are writing their own futures because of the lack of jobs and traditional opportunities,” she observes. “They seem to be a very DIY generation because of that, and they also grew up in this current boom of sustainable awareness and practices. It seems like many young people see the value of growing their own, because it just makes economic and environmental sense.

Jezebel: Attention, Hipsters: Hunting Is the New Beekeeping, So Get on That.
The adoption of hunting as a hobby by those who bear zero resemblance to the cast of Duck Dynasty continues! When last we checked in, it was women taking up their rifles in the hopes of bringing home the venison. Now it’s food-supply-conscious, authenticity-seeking urbanites—i.e., hipsters.

Minnesota Public Radio: Hipster Hunting: Is the local food movement boosting deer hunter ranks?
That sensibility is also what got DNR plant ecologist Ethan Perry into hunting. “I’m into gardening, local foods, and hunting fit into that,” he explained. He said he remembers actually being “turned off by hunting as a kid.” But he slowly came around, went out for the first time three years ago, and has harvested a deer every year since.

Organic Authority: Hipster Hunting for Sustainable Meat
The government reports that the number of hunters in this country is up 9 percent since 2006—but a lot of those new hunters may not be who you expect. Forget rednecks swilling Lone Star; the new hunters are bicycle-riding, microbrew-drinking locavore hipsters.

Slate.com: Hipsters Who Hunt
The expansion of hunting into liberal, urban circles is the latest development in an evolving and increasingly snug coexistence between humans and beasts in North America. Jim Sterba’s new book, “Nature Wars,” examines the paradox of the rebound of many wild species, particularly in the densely populated East Coast of the United States.

Buzzfeed.com: How Gun Culture Won Over Liberals
The current flare-up in the long political battle over gun laws is coming at a moment when American gun culture is more expansive than ever, having gained a foothold among the type of coastal elites that, just a couple decades ago, would have dismissed the very idea of holding a rifle as obscene and offensive. Hunting and recreational shooting, once viewed by the left as backwater pastimes, have won over a liberal coalition of eco-conscious locavores, hipster hunters, and adventure-seeking New York media elites.

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