Do you know anyone that “dabbles” with archery?
The dabbling phase doesn’t last long enough for anyone to notice. You buy a bow, you string said bow, you find a place to shoot and people to shoot with, and you’re an archer. It happens that quickly.
I used to play a Super Nintendo game called Super Black Bass when I was a kid. It was pretty fun, but nearly impossible to beat and spike-your-controller frustrating. As soon as you hooked a large bass it would jump out of the water about 50,000 times, break your line, and lose your bait.
I played several nights a week for an entire summer until I figured out you could catch one by locating it on the finder and pulling the boat up close enough set the hook and let it jump into your boat. You snagged it, in other words.
The archer’s progression is also similar: you’re handed a bow and are living event-to-event before you’ve even figured out how to shoot it properly. It is that fun and that addictive of an activity. That being said…
Why aren’t there more people shooting bows and arrows?
I’ve rattled this question around for several years, and have narrowed it down to two Black-Bassian hypotheses (yes, I’m going there again):
1.) We’re reluctant to try untested waters.
Coordinating a rendezvous and inviting people to attend is the best way to share our passion with non-archers, yet these are the fish often left in the water. I’ll use Michigan as an example because that is what I know. Our archery organizations have the same events in the same locations on the same dates. This wouldn’t be an issue, except we’re also fishing in the same pool for the same fish. Multiple organizations drawing on one community to fill their events isn’t sustainable unless an effort is made to expand that community.
Keeping an ear open for new opportunities is a good way to do so. Ask yourself the following questions to get you started:
- Does your local YMCA have an archery program?
- Are there scout troops in your area looking for an archery element?
- Does your county have annual fairs, festivals, or expos you can setup at?
- Is there an opportunity to demonstrate archery at local schools?
- Are there local churches looking for reasons to gather outside of mass?
- What is the DNR doing in your area to promote?
- Are there renaissance groups or re-en-actors operating nearby?
If we pursued just one of the above leads and gained three new archers from the effort, it would be a worthwhile endeavor, especially if families were part of the deal. This can easily be accomplished in addition to our own events and could have a huge impact on the traditional community.
2.) We aren’t always fishing with the right bait.
Archery-rich states like Michigan have a plethora of gatherings from June to August, but the best ones have more to offer than a few 3D courses. We call them “shoots” for a reason, as that part is implied. It is the other elements that help archers determine which they’ll be attending in a saturated market. Whether it is the hospitality of the organization, the number of vendors attending, the activities on the schedule, or the grounds themselves – something extra is required to make someone say: “Grab your bow Honey! We ain’t missing that one!”
We do a fantastic job adding this “special sauce” to our events in Michigan, but don’t always succeed in packaging it in a way that appeals to the non-archer. For instance, “multiple 30-target 3D courses” means nothing to a non-shooting mother of three, but a “youth range with bows and arrows provided” is a bullseye.
Audience awareness is a crucial marketing element and we could all do this a little bit better. When trying to describe an event to a non-archer, give them a window into our crazy world by focusing on something that speaks to them personally.
As the president of a traditional archery organization, I understand the necessary resources aren’t always available to do what I’m prescribing above, but can tell you its worth trying. The Michigan Longbow Association has been delving into outdoor community events and elementary schools and the impact is noticeable – not necessarily in our numbers – but in the synergy of our club. Our members feel they are making a difference for the sport and are quick to lend a hand reaching out to new folks. I am confident the numbers will follow, but am happy as long as our organization is healthy and continues to do positive things for the sport. The rest is icing on the cake.